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.
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.