Dear Friends: Well, since it’s still barely the first week of 2022 I can say – best wishes to you all for the new year, and please let it be better than 2021!
Looking back this past month, the holiday season in Cañar is always mixed for us, without family, visitors from far away or Portland friends. Christmas and New Year’s here are all about family gatherings, and it’s rare to include outsiders. However, we had just enough special visitors and events to make us feel loved. Here’s a lunch with our favorite architect, Lourdes Abad (red necklace), and her sister Ana.
I debated whether to take part part in my first crowd event on December 31 (called Año Viejo, or Old Year), but it was a beautiful day and I knew the hours-long, outdoor procession would be in constant motion. In the Cañari world, this day is all about music, dance, masks, disguises and irreverent fun. So early afternoon I tried out my persona/mask – I think it’s Ugly Betty? – packed camera, water, sunscreen, and joined several hundred comuneros at the highest village of Junducuchu at about 11,000 feet,-truly up in the clouds.There, with a 10-piece band leading, and dancing women and girls called damas, we began winding down the steep mountain. I in heavy boots, concentrating hard not to slip on the loose gravel or tip over the edge where the roadway collapsed, hanging onto tree branches and an occasional fellow walker… …while the women and girls stepped alongside me in their little wedgies sandals and plastic slippers without a pause. We stopped in several other comunas on the way down the mountain where the band played, the damas danced, and others joined in, many in funny masks and disguises.Men dressed as women is the favorite (no Cañari woman would ever make such a gesture).
Along the way I saw various life-sized rag dolls propped up at the entrance to villages, called monigotes, with names tacked on representing known figures, to be burned at midnight in a symbolic gesture of “regeneration” (though history says these were often effigies of hacienda overseers or other hated authority figures). Past years Michael and I have stayed up late enough to burn Trump, but this year I bought two masks to add to my collection and I don’t want to burn any of them: the devil signifying the pandemic, and a Dr. Fauci representing medical heroes.
By the time we got to the next-to-last village it was nearly 6:00 PM, the temperature was dropping, I was tired and Michael was at home by the fire with dinner on the stove. I nodded goodbye to the last monigotes and started on down the mountain.
I’d like to give a last credit to the great mask makers of Cuenca, the Alejandro Flores family who have been hand-crafting these papier maché masks for seventy years. Made with scrap paper from schools and other sources, glue and paint, they show up in the markets in Cañar the week between Christmas and New Year’s, costing about $2 each. Pictured below is Susana Flores, one of Alejandro’s ten children, four of which have stayed in the business.
Cañar Book Club
Our Cañar Book Club members have awaken after their holiday stupor and are reading books like crazy. From my Wine and Whine girlfriends in Portland: The Master and the Emissary. “Iain McGilchrist presents a fascinating exploration of the differences between the brain’s left and right hemispheres, and how those differences have affected society, history, and culture.” Cloud Cuckoo Land. “Already in 100 pages; Anthony Doerr is certainly a master of simple writing that makes for page-turning.” Two memoirs of special interest according to reviews: Home in the World by Amartya Sen and Sentence by Daniel Genis.
From Bibi in California: Mothering Sunday, Graham Swift; Moonglow, Michael Chabon and Rescue, Anita Shreve. “All of them are intriguing stories well told. The kind that makes you sad when they’re over. But my favorite book of the year: Garlic, Garlic, Garlic, by Linda & Fred Griffith. Even if you are not a gardener or cook, it is a wonderfully informative and entertaining book.”
Bruce in Portland gets the prize for most complicated title: “I’m reading The Standardization of the Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann. It’s about a career Stasi officer in East Germany around 1989. So far, it’s a pretty good read. Very tight prose.”
Pat in Bend, Oregon: I am in the midst of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane, and it’s great. I picked it up after reading Mountains of the Mind by him, a geological and psychological history of mountains and mountain climbing. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Native American botanist and teacher of environmental biology, weaves science with indigenous wisdom and teaches us how to listen to plants. I wonder what your aloe has to say? Louise Penney recently co-authored a political thriller with Hilary Clinton called State of Terror that has details only an insider could know, and has cameos by Penney’s characters from her mysteries. Loved it! (Daphne from Edmonton, Alberta seconded this opinion.)
Alan the “The Avid Indoorsman” in New Jersey seems to be reading a book a day: Of Women of Salt, Gabriela Garcia. “It is beautifully written brutally honest and hard to put down. The story is brilliantly woven together and ends with unexpected hope.” Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, Kory Stamper. “Finally, a book that tells the truth about our language. Here is why the rule against final prepositions is preposterous. Its bent and worn pages are a testament to how thoroughly I studied this tome.” Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, James Loewen, “…about how we remember and avoid the facts.”
Claire in London (with with a leek and lentil gratin in the oven, reminding me we need to start again with our recipes – Claire?). The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. “Great fun, well structured with lots of twists and turns and very entertaining.” Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud. “If you don’t mind getting into the patois (it’s set in Trinidad) it’s a wonderful story of love and loss through food and friendship. I couldn’t put it down.”
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. “It takes a few pages to get into it but I was soon gripped. Beautiful writing and so evocative.” For those, like me, who LOVED A Gentleman in Moscow, the new Amor Towles, The Lincoln Highway, might well be a disappointment. Multiple characters, none of them that believable or interesting and a story that seems to be taking ages to get going. However, I see from Twitter reviews that people who didn’t take to Gentleman rather like this one! I adored All the Light One Can Not See by Anthony Doer and was initially dubious about his latest – Cloud Cuckoo Land. But I kept going and it grew on me, though I still had reservations about some elements (and mostly skipped those elements). Next I might try The Promise by Damon Galgut which won the Booker last year.
Ed on Vashon Island noted my interest in walking books and sent this recommendation: The Salt Path: A Memoir by Raynor Winn, who with her husband walked 600 miles of coastal paths in southwest Britain when they found themselves homeless and broke. I read it earlier this year and loved the story.
I’ll finish with a couple from my own very eclectic reading list. Friend Liv in Oslo recommended Trieste: A Novel by Dasa Drndic that I have just begun to read and had a hard time grasping the jumble of facts/figures/time periods. But I’m just getting into “this many-layered novel of WWII combines fiction with a collage of facts to explore the fate of Italian Jews under Nazi occupation, through the intimate story of a mother’s search for her son.” For some reason I brought Old Filth by Jane Gardam with me to Cañar, and for some reason I loved reading about the last days of an elderly lawyer called affectionately by the acronym FILTH: Failed in London Try Hong Kong. First of a trilogy that I’m hooked on. I’m also meandering along with The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, but yearning for a really great novel or thriller. I’ve already ordered several from the fantastic recommendations above.
That’s it, dear friends. Please stay in touch and write me with all your news and book recommendations at: firstname.lastname@example.org