Dear Friends – we are ten days away from trying to leave Cañar for Portland. “Trying” because the trip is a complicated jig-saw puzzle that hasn’t quite come together. We have reservations on United Airlines from Quito to Houston on July 2 (their one flight a week), but the problem is getting from here to Quito. TAME, the national airline, was recently liquidated by President Morena in the face of “la crisis económica” (along with the postal service, the railway and other public companies, as well as a reducing public sector salaries by 25%).
The other airline serving this area, LATAM (based in Chile), has just declared bankruptcy. While LATAM has this week begun a daily flight from Cuenca to Quito, it’s too late in the day to make our connection to United. So we’ll go the day before and spend the night in an airport hotel to make the flight to Houston, where a 12-hour layover means another night in a hotel. THEN, a flight to Denver, and finally home to Portland on the evening of July 3.
Of course we’re worried about exposure traveling 48 hours through two countries and three states, but we’ll take all the precautions I’ve been reading about, such as upgrading our seats so we don’t sit near bathrooms (too much human traffic). We’ll also try not to go ourselves. In any case, once in Portland we are planning to self quarantine for 14 days.
Update: we’ve just been informed that we have to show Covid-19 negative test results from a laboratory within 72 hours of flying within the country. Michael went up to town to find the one lab in Cañar that provides tests – at $70 per person! No wonder the statistics from Ecuador are totally out of whack; no one can afford to be tested.
All things considered, it would be smarter to stay here, but our tenant leaves our Portland house on June 29, Michael has medical appointments, we both have dental appointments, and so on. Also, we simply want to be with our friends and closer to family after seven months in Cañar.These last three months have been special, however – even relaxing. No more trips to Cuenca, no more running around the countryside with projects or climbing the streets into town for meetings. We’ve discovered we have everything but luxury food items here, and local commerce has really picked up with people selling their produce from doorways and driveways.
Michael marvels that he can find beautiful tomatoes on the Paseo de los Cañaris, the little commercial strip near home, and no longer has to wait for Sunday market. And, wonder of wonders – the giant langostinos are back after a three-month hiatus, looking fresh, and sold from a new storefront open to the street for $4.00 per pound. Michael cooks them on skewers in the fireplace.
It has been a delight to have our goddaughter Paiwa with us these three months. She’s 24 years old, in her 5th year of civil engineering at University of Cuenca, and spends up to 12 hours a day in her room with classes, homework and exams, emerging to join us for meals, practice her English, appreciate Michael’s cooking and do the dishes. It’s been like having a young but mature and engaging house guest. When we go to Cuenca to catch our (supposed) flight on July 1, she will return to her rented room near the university, although her classes will not begin again until September or October.
Masks are still mandatory in town, but I notice that folks continue to use them in almost all everyday activities in the streets and cars, except for in the fields or their own houses.
Also, as the restrictions on small stores lift, I see a new mini-industry arise – homemade “hazmat” suits in various colors and sizes on mannequins (and in the streets), along with embroidered and beaded masks (I’m wearing one above in photo). Cañar has many seamstress shops – mostly owned by Cañari women making the beautiful elaborate Cañari skirts and blouses – so it was a no-brainer to switch to what is selling – masks and protective suits.
As for me, I’ve grown “garden proud” during the three-month quarantine, right down to obsessively plucking dandelion heads on the lawn (made up largely of tough African kikuyu grass that needs no watering) and digging up its long tendrils below my flower beds. But It’s been thrilling to see this:Become this:Normally I would not pay such close attention and simply let nature takes its course, but being in the house every day with all these windows to the outside, I couldn’t help but become obsessed with the flowers, the vegetables, hummingbirds, and the grass – which I insisted we have someone cut with the weed whacker every two or three weeks, for heaven’s sake!
Now with our leaving it becomes what I call my Sisyphean garden – I’ll come back in six months to find everything back to beginnings – grass raggedly trimmed by our compadres‘ sheep, flower beds filled with weeds, vegetable garden maybe still producing some of what I’ve planted. It’s the arrangement we’ve had for nearly 15 years – our compadres are responsible only for checking on the property and watering the plants in the patio. I don’t mind at all. I’ll start again with renewed hope and patience, like any good gardener.
By the way – those creatures at the top of this blog are a part of our coat rack in the patio. A collection of paper mache masks that are traditional around Christmas and New Year’s, bought for to make effigies to burn ( you’ll recognize Ugly Betty with the freckles and the guy who looks like Nixon was meant to be Trump).
Anyway, this will be my last chronicle from Cañar for 2020, unless our flights are cancelled, we fail the Covid-19 tests, the U.S. stops all in-bound air traffic, or the sky falls.
But there’s always meatballs! Scroll down below the book club for Michael’s famous recipe, which he’s making for our first dinner guest Sunday evening.
Cañar Book Club
Well, I’ll be sorry to miss you all and your wonderful reading suggestions, but I plan to be back for our last meeting of the year in December, when you’ll have lots more to report. So let’s begin…
Sandy in Portland: One I highly recommend is Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon. It is a memoir, though a friend said it should be called a reckoning, and I agree. It is challenging emotionally and really well written. Also I have just started reading Sapiens, A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari and am enjoying it. It overwhelms me, but does go into enough detail that I am learning a lot. Jill LePore’s 785 page tome, These Truths: A History of the United States, took awhile but it helped me deal with the current political situation – turns out Trump isn’t the first!
Bruce in Portland: The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. “Preston’s account of this amazing world, by turns terrifying, moving, and fascinating, is an adventure story told in novelistic detail by a master of nonfiction narrative. The author shares his protagonists’ passion for tall trees, and he mastered the techniques of tall-tree climbing to tell the story in The Wild Trees—the story of the fate of the world’s most splendid forests and of the imperiled biosphere itself.”
Arlene in Toronto: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Wiener – I galloped through that one — tracing the lives of two sisters from the 1950s to the 2020s through the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the Vietnam war etc etc. I am currently reading On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous by Vietnamese-American writer Ocean Vuong, but slowly because I find it both beautiful and painful.
Char in Austin The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, National Book Award and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. “An adventure story about
scholarship that locates the foundations of modern secular, scientific thought in the brilliance and heroism of our intellectual forebears.”
Yup, one for the quarantine. Nothing but time. It’s very engrossing.
Joanne in Mexico: did I mention A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar? I love his work, both novels and his memoir, The Return. Siena is about art and much more. A beautiful little gem. I just started Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis – “Winner of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, this intoxicating story of a teenage girl who trades her middle-class upbringing for a quest for meaning in 1980s Mexico is ‘a surreal, captivating tale about the power of a youthful imagination, the lure of teenage transgression, and its inevitable disappointments'”. (And, after a recent trip from Mexico to Portland, she writes: The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich – good flight book)
Michael’s Meatballs (with a chance of clouds`)
- 1 pound ground pork
- ¾ cup fine breadcrumbs
- 5-6 good-sized garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1 egg
- Salt to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 3 T chopped Italian parsley
- ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
- ¾ t. fresh-ground nutmeg
In a wide bowl:
- Beat the egg
- Put the pork on top of the beaten egg, and with the back of a big spoon spread out the meat in a layer (this makes it easier to add the seasonings and later mix everything).
- Distribute garlic, salt, pepper, nutmeg, parsley, onion, crumbs as evenly as possible over the ground pork.
- With your hands or other implement, fold and mix ingredients, incorporating the egg throughout. Let the mixture sit a few minutes to allow the crumbs to gain moisture.
- Make a small sample meatball and fry it in olive oil until done. Taste for seasoning, especially salt.
Once that is done:
- With your hands, form the mixture into about 16 meatballs a little smaller than golf balls, and as smooth as possible.
- Brown all sides in a skillet in olive oil, as evenly as possible.
- I don’t finish cooking the meatballs in the browning process, but when they have a nice color I remove them from the pan to a plate.
- Using the drippings in the skillet, add white wine or stock or water (or beer).
- Bring the stock to a simmer, taste for salt. Now you can add tomato puree or paste, or cream, to make whatever sauce you fancy – and/or thicken with a little flour-and-water mixture carefully stirred in.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer in skillet for about 20 minutes.