Friday, November 30, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Casa y Jardin

Very naturally, as if I was one of her babies, Juanita patiently repeats simple Spanish words and phrases to me. Juanita Cerda is the cook where I am staying and we have become friends through simple exchanges. “Como esta?” is her morning call and “Muy bien” is my proud response.

Juanita lives with her husband, Anibal Torres, and their four children in the San Cudo Community, which is a mile away at the end of the path by the river. San Cudo is named after a type of mosquito, not an obscure saint.

The night before my visit to Juanita’s home, the rain fell, heavy and drenching for 8 hours without a pause. The Rio Napo breached its banks and the canoes were pulled up near the path for safety. We set out for her house after lunch, but the track to her house was still flooded and fish were swimming among our feet. With a leap and cry of, “Pescado!”, Juanita lanced one with the tip of her umbrella and wrapped it, still flopping, in a foot-long leaf to carry home.

The Torres-Cerda family lives in a five room house. The ground-floor room is mostly for storage. The stair to the second story leads into the kitchen, which has a large window, without glass or screens. Off the kitchen are two bedrooms and a family room with TV and VCR and a couple of beds for lounging. There is electricity but no running water, so rainwater is collected in the cistern for cooking and washing. The bathroom is in a small separate shed behind the house.

At home were three of Juanita’s four children, Edison, Andrea and…

baby, Natalie, who enjoyed chicken for lunch. Couples tend to have large families in this region and are proud of the fact. In a place were income is small, perhaps many children and...

many chickens are satisfying sources of wealth. After the kids and fowl were fed, Juanita and I followed the line of laundry into the garden.

The laundry, like family flags, hangs on a rope that stretches from the house deep into the garden. Sheets and towels and shirts and shorts hang flat, until they catch a little breeze and inflate into the shape of people whose sweat and stain is bleached and sweetened by the sun. It’s better than confession to watch laundry on a line.

The clothes line ends at a quiet stream, which catches the light of the sky and tucks it beneath the lemon trees.

Unlike gardens in the North which are sown and harvested on a timetable set by the seasons, this garden grows and dies everyday. Lines and grids are suitable for gardens on a schedule, but a garden with no beginning or end forever evolves and the shape it takes is irregular and temporary.

When the banana tree flowers, fruits and falls, the trunk quickly rots adding nutrients to the soil, which is so quickly rinsed to depletion by the constant rain.

The space left by the old banana tree is used for a new crop of yuca, a ubiquitous plant whose tuber is a staple of the Amazonian diet.

Besides yuca and bananas, the garden produces plantain, corn, rice, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar cane, papaya, cacao, grapefruit, lemons, limes, and a variety of medicinal plants like, Sinviyo, (pictured above) which is a natural insect repellent.

Juanita also grows Cuyamuyo, a fruit whose hard shell is used for bowls. Like fancy china, this tableware can be monogrammed.

The stream feeds a fish pond which is stocked with Tilapia and ringed with beans and bananas, and …

another lemon tree loaded with the drooping nests of the Oropendola.

Hidcote and Longwood are glorious but this little equatorial garden is just as lovely and more poignant for feeding the family of Juanita Cerda.

Friday, November 16, 2007


It’s good to share the stories of a day with those you love forever. But when it is time to speak to those important people, it seems at first that there is nothing much to say. Maybe this delay is just the slowness of memory rising like bubbles through syrup. Or maybe it's stinginess or maybe it's the fault of melodrama which makes everyday events seem unremarkable. But each round day is full of accounts that should be banked and spent on family and friends.

It was cool last night as I stood in the bathroom debating my fate with a scorpion at my feet. But the morning broke clear with a distant view of the volcano. After breakfast the heat and the humidity mixed like yeast and flour into a dense, redolent lump. It sat all day under a floral towel in a gray bowl at the back of the stove to rise. Late in the day, the swelling burst with waves of electricity, sound and water, propelling a pair of buzzards to their stinking nest at the root of a six-story tree where I spent the day painting.

Soon a stranger arrived with a brown sloth hanging from her neckline. Middle- aged, short, and voluptuous, she wore thickly drawn lines around pretty eyes that did not blink as she peppered me with urgent comments and questions. Since I could not understand her, she pantomimed a request to paint her portrait by posing like Betty Boop, one hand on a shifting hip, the other behind her swiveling head. The sloth held on with as much fervor as a sloth can muster, swinging from the neckline, exposing increasing amounts of motherly breast.

Most of the people here are Quichua, the dominant group of indigenous people in this part of Ecuador. Curious about native culture and history, I asked about the Quichua and other indigenous rain forest groups like the Huaorani, who by legend are fierce and aloof headhunters. To answer my questions about traditional life, Freddy, a Quichua, offered a CD of Mel Gibson’s, "Apocalypto", which stars, he says, the Hoarani, who filmed on location nearby.

Insects are eating the ears of the Great Dane who lives here. The tips are gone.

There is a bird nearby whose call is the “submarine” prompt on a Macintosh computer.

An enormous tree flowers profusely on tiny stalks which shoot directly from the trunk. It’s disconcerting, but reassuring to see sexy, fragrant growth sprouting from the thickened core and horny surface instead of the youthful tips.

That’s it. Those are the unnecessary details of the day, rehearsed for the telling so you’ll know I love you.

7 Paintings in Progress

The following 7 works were created out of doors in the Oriente of Ecuador near the primary forests of the Jatun Sacha Foundation. Arranged chronologically, the paintings are mostly complete, although touch up may be necessary when I see them in the studio. The title of each painting includes the date that the work was begun, the temperature of the moment, the latitude and longitude of the place, and a verbal description of the subject that motivated the painting.

October 10, 2007, 94° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, 2007, orange spotted butterfly

October 11, 2007, 89° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, caciques and heliconia

October 14, 2007, 90° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, morpho butterfly

October 20, 2007, 89° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, rainforest

October 22, 2007, 91° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, rainforest canopy

October 26, 2007, 88° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, rainforest canopy

November 1, 2007, 92° F, S 01° 02, W 77° 36, , elephant ear shoots