Saturday, February 28, 2009

This is Home!

I am finding myself looking at this city very differently now. I am reminded that this will be home in a few months and that I will be part of this collection of humanity. So many people look familiar to me; the passport control officers, the baggage handlers, the receptionists at the hotel, the servers at the restaurant. Or perhaps I am looking at my surroundings in a new way, or paying more attention. 

Eric's favourite bookstore is 'Libri Mundi', just a few blocks away from the hotel. We looked for books for Maya, with each page presented in both English and Spanish, and a couple of them with Quichua as well. I am committed to helping Maya learn as much Spanish as possible in the next few months, so this is a start. We looked for a good coffee shop. I have yet to adjust to Ecuadorian coffee, so a cappuccino or espresso is a must to start my day. Eric wanted me to look at a nearby apartment available  for rent; it looked wonderful, but we were unable to contact the landlord.

We joined our group for the afternoon, with a stop at my favourite museum in Quito, the Banco Central. It has an extensive collection of pre-Incan artifacts. Our guide was very enthusiastic and did an excellent job of describing 11,000 years of Ecuadorian history. I was reassured, because he reiterated so much of what I had presented in my lecture about pre-columbian art and history, and added more perspective and unique insights, so that I found myself more and more enthusiastic. I could have spent many more hours in the museum, and that will be one of my plans for when we return here to live. 

We took the bus to the colonial centre of Quito. The main plaza is is flanked by the 'White House' where the president works and could sleep, but he prefers to live in his home in another part of the city, the Archbishop's Palace, two lovely old hotels, the ugly concrete city hall and the cathedral. The city is a international world heritage site, because it is well preserved in the style of the colonial era. Ruminahui, Atahualpa's Quitan general, had razed the Incan city to prevent the Spaniard conquistadors from conquering the city. He also took all the gold of the city and hid it,  fought the Spaniards valiantly, and it is possible that his gold was never found. There is a legend that the gold  is is still hidden in the Llanganate mountains south of Quito. The Spaniards used Incan stones for the foundations of their new city, and these are still visible at the base of the buildings, above which adobe bricks were used for construction. There are many churches and religious complexes in the city. Fransiscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, almost all the orders are represented. We visited the most spectacular church, the Compania, which was home to the Jesuits. Every surface inside the church is covered with gold. It reminds me of the Jesuit church in Rome, which it was modeled after, but the profuse use of gold makes it unique. Although remarkable to look at, I find the church unsettling, I cannot imagine praying there. 

The church of San Fransisco was being restored, so we could not enter it. We were able to get in the back way through the choir stall and peek over the balcony to see the renovation process. Initially the ceiling was to be restored, but the renovation process revealed that a major crack in the foundation arch required repair, and then the columns attached to the arch. Finally, archeologists discovered skeletons under the church floor. Ultimately the project expanded to a much more extensive renovation process, which will take years to complete. 

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