Dear Friends: March 1 marks our three months in Cañar, with three more to go. It’s a beautiful Sunday and Michael is playing chess with a new young player, Byron, while they listen to Led Zepplin. Byron came yesterday too and they listened to Pink Floyd. Some things never change.This is a shorter than usual chronicle because I’m getting ready for a trip to Costa Rica next week (March 15-23), for an exhibit of the photographic work I did there in the 1980’s with folksinger/composer Guadalupe Urbina. We worked together about 5 years, making trips to her home province of Guanacaste when I could get time off my regular job. We documented the musicians, storytellers and anonymous music of this northern province, next door to Nicaragua and with a strong afro-mestizo influence. Lupe recorded, I photographed and we produced a body of work that was shown before I left in 1991 for Ecuador. Now the national library of Costa Rica, with funding from the US embassy, is sponsoring an exhibit/concert/archive deposit and a workshop in community archives. I’ll write more about this project, with photos from San José, in my next chronicle, but for now a bit of local news. Each year we try to take one trip within Ecuador, usually with some silly excuse such as a birthday. Last year it was a week’s sojourn to a nature resort, Mindo, northeast of Quito, that involved a three-day bus trip, lots of rain, a cold bed made of solid concrete, a landslide blocking our way back to Quito, a refusal at the airport to allow us to board our flight because our IDs were photocopied, and a mini-bus ride back home. We were not particularly happy with the experience, but at least pleased with ourselves for having carried it off despite all the hurdles.
This year we kept it simpler – 3 days in Loja, a city to the south that we’ve visited before, beginning with a 6-hour bus trip with spectacular countryside as we climbed, then gradually dropped to a lower elevation and warmer climes.
Michael, working on his daily puzzles as usual, had to be reminded again and again to look out the window. Loja is a small proud city that has carefully protected its heritage with well-preserved houses, churches and public squares, and gorgeous municipal murals (there are two in this post – see if you can spot them).
We rewarded ourselves with two nights at the Casa Bolivar, a 236-year-old house that has recently been converted by the family into a hotel/museum, with lots of original quirky features such as an entryway paved with animal vertebrae and black stones, trees in the patio growing to the second floor, a private chapel, a hidden spiral stairway for the help (always a necessity), and crazy patterns on walls and floors and ceilings that I loved, and which the young host claimed were mostly original (or reconstructed from the originals).
The last image is the patriarch of the house, who before he died in his 90’s had papered his office with the lottery tickets he bought every day of his life. (We were told he had won three times.) Another obsessive lover of repeated patterns. I had a lot of fun taking photos and ended with this panorama of our room.
Cañar Book Club
To all book writers, readers and lovers, I have a special announcement for our March book club. This past year Anne McClard and I started Aristata Press, a women-run, non-profit press that came out of our recent experience publishing two books on our own: Megan McClard’s LEAVINGS: Memoir of a 1920’s Hollywood Love Child and Memorias de una prisionera política en El Salvador,the Spanish translation of Ana Margarita Gasteazoro’s memoir edited by Andrew Wilson and myself. Anne and I were so pleased with the results, and impressed with all that we’d learned that we said: “We can do this for others!” Aristata Press was born. This year we will publish four titles (more on those later) and now we are looking for new submissions. Aristata Press seeks fresh literary fiction, poetry and non-fiction authors. If you have a novel stashed in a drawer, know someone who has written a memoir, have a friend or relative working on a non-fiction book, or know a poet who is ready to get out into the world, let’s start a conversation with this contact form.
“Our community of publishers and writers are passionate about reading, creating, and sharing great writing. Come join us!”
PS: Regular book club will return in April, so keep reading and sending those recommendations!
PSS: the two murals from Loja are the header image of the woman with flowers, painted on the side of a church, and the cat and books, painted on the side of the library.
Dear Friends: The two worlds of Cañar have never been clearer to me than this past month, with the Fiesta de San Antonio de Padua in Junducuchu, a Cañari village high on a mountain above the town, and the “town” festival as the “Archeological and Cultural Capital of Ecuador.” The former, an eight-day fiesta built around a tiny saint reportedly found in a local field many years ago; the latter a self-declared affair created in 2000 to draw national attention to humble, homely, backwater Cañar, whose main “archeological” distinction is its proximity to the Ingapirca ruins nearly two hours away. Since then, the town holiday has grown into a two-week extravaganza that included, god forbid, a Moto-Fiesta with a punk concert. AND it happened on the same day. On the Saturday afternoon of the San Antonio procession, the SUV of the friends I was with couldn’t make it up to 11,000 feet Junducuchu (clutch burned out), so we came down to town for a bite to eat and ended up at the motorcycle/punk event with a bunch of gentle giants dressed in black leather. A sight in Cañar I will never forget. Michael and I happened to arrive in Cañar on the very day of the first declared holiday, January 26, 2000, to find a parade blocking the streets while we were looking for a place to live. All these years later, the event has grown to last from January 17-28 and includes a “bank holiday” for schools and official businesses, a massive parade with a queen wrapped in ostrich feathers, followed by days of events such as poetry and photography competitions, and battle of the bands concerts.
But back to the Fiesta de San Antonio, which I’ve been documenting since 2006. I love the rukuyayas, the “festival fools” who work very hard for three days, leading the processions, gamboling about, saying rude things, playing tricks, asking for coins, and entertaining the crowd with their acrobatic antics. In their homemade masks, it’s impossible to know their identities and I usually stay clear of them, as they love to tease the gringa. But this guy played nice and allowed a photo.
This year the Fiesta de San Antonio was more colorful and exuberant than I’ve seen, with larger crowds, partly the result of the three-year Covid hiatus. And the Saturday and Sunday I participated were beautiful weather days, which helps the fiesta spirit.
On the domestic front, I know I’ve said before that our comfort here depends on the fireplace, where we sit, eat and watch movies from about 5:00 every day. And that means a constant supply of firewood that begins with Chirote, who drives by in his big truck and yells “MIKITO” from the street. This leads to loud discussions in the patio, bad jokes about how “Judy will go off with another man and ‘cuckold’ Michael,” a run by the two of them to examine some wood, negotiation on a price, and finally the wood delivery. Then begins Michael’s labor, as he hauls, cuts and stacks the wood. Then, of course, he has to build the fire and feed it until bedtime.
Meanwhile, Chirote continues to drive by regularly to keep an eye on our wood supply and yell HOLA MIKITO from the street.
A final note on the two worlds of Cañar. Mid-term elections were held this past Sunday, and our indigenous mayor, Segundo Yungsi, was running for a second term against a “town” candidate, Pablo Padrón. While news of the winning candidatesr fom the rest of Ecuador began to trickle in on Sunday night, Cañar was a blank. Sunday night… Monday… Tuesday… until today, when the news became official: Yungsi has won by about 4,000 votes – a count that was apparently known on Sunday night soon after the polls closed. But the delay was caused when Pablo Padrón the town candidate, pulled a TRUMP, cried fraud and demanded a recount. This bought out two groups of supporters holding vigil during the recount outside the elections office in the provincial capital of Azogues. Among one of those groups was our goddaughter, Paiwa, who now works for the municipality and was called on to spend two long nights in Azogues. This morning she told us the count is final, Yungsi has officially won, but she said the Padrón supporters yelled ugly racist taunts during the vigil. Although many of the townsfolk are saying, “We need a change!” Segundo Yungsi will be Cañar’s only second indigenous mayor in the nearly 200 years since the town was established.
Cañar Book Club
Dear Readers: I’ve been on a reading tear lately on my iPad, mostly e-books from the Portland library that give me only three weeks – and then they tend to come all at once. So this past month I’ve gone down the Annie Ernaux rabbit hole (forgive me!) with A Woman’s Story, A Girl’s Story, and The Years. I loved the first two and am finding The Years hard going, as the author has removed herself from the narrative and writes as an observer of the post-war years in France. I also read The Book of Goose by Yuyun Li, and Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 Nobel Prize winner from Tanzania but has lived many years in the UK.The first had me puzzled, wondering at the point of the relationship between two young women in rural France; the second was a wonderfully written, old-fashioned tale set in German East-Africa in the early 1900’s, on “the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” I have always loved Elizabeth Strout’s books, but I’m really beginning to be bored with Lucy. In Lucy by the Sea, Strout’s third book with this protagonist, Lucy seemed to have lost all sense of direction and self confidence as she waited out Covid with her ex-husband William in a house by the sea in Maine. Please take me back to Olive Kitteridge!
Joanne in Mexico: Just read Foster – a miracle of a book. Claire Keegan is a master of spare prose that evokes a world now nearly gone. With a few words, flicks of the wrist, she captures complete characters. I can see why the Irish school system teaches her books.
Bruce in Portland: On the reading front, I’m thoroughly enjoying The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings. He evokes an alternative New Orleans, using powerful language to make the magical mundane. I finished Lincoln Highway. Too on the nose.
Irene in Salem: My favorite book I read this year was Atomic Love by Jennie Fields. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. It is well written and an easy read.
OK, dear readers, I need more book suggestions for the March chronicle. Until then, stay safe, keep in touch, and keep reading!!
Dear Friends: I was so pleased by your responses to my first Cañar Chronicle, and overwhelmed by all your book recommendations! But minutes after I hit “publish” I lost Internet/phone service for three days (“real old world” texted my son), and once back on I was chagrined to see that some crazy algorithm had chosen my least favorite photo to accompany the email splash page: Michael sprawled on the double bed of a sterile hotel room in Guayaquil. I had intended it to be something like this:
Over the past few months I’ve worked with a wonderful web designer to straighten out my mailing list, arrange for responses on my blog (thanks all for your comments!) and refit the way the chronicles land in your email. She did instruct me at some point, now way-back remote, how to use the “featured image” function on WordPress. I think I’ve got it right now and I hope to send inviting photos to your mailbox with every blog.
So on to news from the bagel capital of Ecuador. Our first social visit of two friends from Cuenca last week inspired Michael to ask Google Home, “How long should I boil the bagels?” and the response sent him (me) to this website, Sally’s Baking Addiction. I downloaded and printed the recipe, and here is the result! (Boiling clue: 1 minute per side.)
Getting ready for guests, I smartened up the house with some flowers and textiles. Susana and Patricia offered to bring salmon, cream cheese and a panettone. We had a perfect long lunch from 12:00 to 5:00, on a rare sunny day that allowed for a leisurely tour of the garden and a long chat in the patio. Just another slow-food day in Cañar!
Christmas in Cañar: along with new customs brought back by returning US migrants – twinkling lights, Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas gifts – most indigenous communities maintain some rituals of Kapak Raymi to mark the winter solstice. On December 25, after a couple of too-quiet days, I went along to one of these fiestas in the village of Correouku, the first place that welcomed Michael and me almost thirty years ago. It was Mama Michi Chuma then who opened her arms with: “I thought I could trust you because you arrived without a car or a bible.” Since then, we have watched a generation of the young grow to adults, and it was their names I noticed on the program that landed on my FB messenger. I walked over around 3:00 on the last of three days of celebration – hoping to watch the feria del cuy – a contest of guinea pigs – the fastest, the fattest, the cutest. But all I saw was a soccer game. I was about to take a longer walk and go home when a group of brightly dressed folks come out of the casa comunal and begin walking down the hill. I fell in and soon found myself with this lovely bunch of welcoming people, mostly older, some known to me over the years, some strangers. Before long, I was sitting in a room surrounded by about 40 people, dancing and toasting with chicha and beer. Soon, each of us was served a huge plate of food that included half a cuy, pork, chicken, potatoes, salad and mote (hominy). The protocol with these ritual meals is that you politely pick at the overloaded plate in your lap until the hostess brings out a handful of plastic bags, into which you slip your food to take home for later, or for others. You never leave a bite behind. After one last dance we regrouped for the procession back to the soccer field, led by two vacas locas – men holding papier mache “crazy cows” over their heads, running back and forth, playing at impaling anyone who gets close. Someone explained that our procession was a corrida taurino, confusing because that term relates to bullfighting, and three women carried large breads formed as bulls.Leading the procession, young women carried a tremendously heavy kuynaña on a platform, a cornucopia offering covered with fruit, candies, breads, soft drinks and more, to be shared by all the fiesta participants.And there was music, of course, in this case a sole accordionist and raspadora, with the voices of women.We were headed back to the soccer field, where the breads and kuynañan were to be presented to the soccer champions (aka bullfighters) and others. But by now it was late afternoon, getting dark and beginning to sprinkle, so I decided to walk home cross country. I followed what I thought was a through-path that ended in a house. I skirted the sheep in the yard but then came face-to-face with a billy goat. He didn’t seem like he wanted to butt me, but I backtracked and stumbled onto a path that took me to our road. Then up the loooong hill……home to Michael, a fire, and a dinner of leftovers from my fiesta lunch. Finally, I want to thank all who contributed to the Cañari women’s scholarship fund this year. The 2022 newsletter is here. I hope to get the thank yous with IRS info out in next couple of weeks. A late update: our only physician, Luisa Duchi, who graduated about five years, just left for Russia for a three-year specialization in dermatology. She sent this photo.
The best of 2023 to you all. Stay warm and safe and keep those comments and book recommendations coming. I love hearing from you.
C a ñ a r B o o k C l u b
Dear Readers: Your wealth of book recommendations sent me to the library for ebooks, and making lists for the future (all those end-of-year recommendations!) Thank you all! I’m re-posting the books suggestions below for those who didn’t read them in the comments on the blog post. For my part, like everyone else it seems, I’m reading Annie Ernaux, starting with A Woman’s Story. I was inspired by her straight-forward description of her mother’s life to begin thinking about writing about the life of my own dear mother, Adelene Blankenship (1920-2013). Otherwise, I’ve just finished Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams, a re-issue of a novel set in Colorado in the 1870s about Buffalo hunting: “One of the finest novels of the West ever to come out of the West,” says it all. Finally, I’ve just started the first novel by a favorite author, About Grace by Anthony Doerr. I loved his blockbuster, All the Light We Cannot See; couldn’t finish his second so am giving him another chance with his first.
OK – here’s the first batch of readers’ reviews. Keep them coming in the new year!
Claire in London: Mariana Leky whose What You Can See From Here is utterly beautiful. A quirky, almost magical realism but not quite, uplifting story which – as the blurb on the back says – will “get you through dark days”.
Char in Austin: Leavings by Megan McClard, as I read every word of the hardback and was enlightened and entertained. I will buy the paperback just to have that wonderful cover.
Patsy in Oregon: Two five-star reads I hope are on your list: Horse by Geraldine Brooks and How to Catch a Mole by Marc Hamer (it’s worth mentioning, as it delves into the smallest details of the natural world, like your rufous collared sparrow in the aloe. Great photo.)
Nancy in Portland: I am sneaking in a reread of Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui before gifting it to a friend. It’s healing and meditative to be back in the pool again, lap after lap driving out thoughts of the day. Also, A Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. Booker Prize winner in early 90s, the historical fiction of a British slave ship’s fateful 1752 trip to Africa. Beautifully written, sad and deeply revealing of both the evil of the exploiters and the suffering of the exploited – which included not only the enslaved Africans, but the poor, impressed crew members. But revenge is sweet (which I won’t reveal here)!
Marathon reader Bibi in California: Here are some of the books I have been reading and liking lately: Fabric: The History of the Material World by Victoria Finlay. Also by the same author Color: A Natural History of the Palette.Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Also his Tomato Red. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Just out is Barbara Kingsolver’s Deamon Copperhead, which I have just started and A Girl’s Story by Annie Ernaux, the recent Nobel Prize winner
Bruce in Portland: I’m reading Amor Towles’ “The Lincoln Road, written after The Gentleman From Moscow. Also starting Tess Ganty’s, The Rabbit Hutch, this year’s National Book Award winner. In addition, I plan to read a recommended nonfiction book by Susan Linn entitled Who’s Raising the Kids? It documents how social media has damaged an entire generation, emotionally and psychologically, and reminds me of the courageous work of Maria Resa, the Filipino journalist who recently received the Noble Prize.
Liv in Norway: I am reading the Nobel prize winner- Annie Ernaux’s: A Man’s Place and A Woman’s Story (about her father and mother) and I am looking forward to The Years. She is 82 – still going strong, demonstrating against the horrible electricity prices and of course the wars.The warmth in the Canary Islands will heal our body and soul after a tough 2022. In this regard: I recommend: John Fante’s 1933 was a Lousy Year” and Heinrich Mann’s “The Turning Point if you want dystopia.I will have the peace of mind to enter the book we have waited for for a long time, the biography of Anna Margarita Gasteazoro, Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoir of a Political Prisoner in El Salvador. What a woman. Gracias a la vida for 2023.
Shirley in Oregon: I just read two memoirs by Bill Browder about his financial doings in Russia with the oligarchs and his fear of being assassinated. A good look at Putin too. Red Notice is how he got started in Russia and Freezing Order really delves into the money laundering. Fascinating look behind the scenes.
Macon in Colorado: I read Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste. It was very good. Right now, I am reading a book she wrote 12 years ago about the migration of black people from the South 1915-1970. I am sure that many of your readers will have read it: The Warmth of Other Suns. Then there was All God’s Dangers by Nate Shaw. He was a resilient, strong and ambitious man, and the book follow his life through several generations, including a dozen years in prison starting in 1932 for standing up for another black household, to keep the planter from taking all the family’s belongings.
Finally, I just read Imani Perry’s book South to America. I believe it just won the national book award. Written by a Princeton professor who spent her first five years in Alabama, but then moved north with her parents, she shows how so many of the things firmly rooted in the south have become tightly woven into the language, music, sport, religion and culture.