Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Opening of Museum

I have been waiting for the opening of the Alabado Museum of Precolumbian art for weeks now, and today was the day. I took the Trole for a change, which demands a walk across Carolina Park and up a hill to Diez de Agosto to catch it at 'Estadio' or 'Carolina' station. The Trole is just as efficient and comfortable as the Ecovia, but perhaps because I am unfamiliar with it, I feel less comfortable and less secure. It travels a route that looks a little more ragged than the Ecovia just a few streets away on Seis de Diciembre. I like that I can disembark at the Plaza del Teatro and climb up Guayaquil, which slopes up gently to the Plaza Grande, so I can avoid the steep climb up from La Marin, which is the Ecovia stop. Walking through the Centro Historico is always a workout, with lots of climbing up and down.

I was excited to arrive at the Alabado, but as I approached it I found the doors closed again (this is my third visit), despite the banner announcing its opening today. I waited for a moment in consternation, and when suddenly the ornate wooden door opened, I asked the security guard whether I could come inside. I was informed that there were legal issues preventing the opening today and that in eight days, the museum would be up and running. Since this is Ecuador, who knows when it will open. I decided to see if the Colonial Museum near the Merced was up and running after several years of restoration work, but although I could peek into the courtyard, the iron grille gates were closed, and again the security guard informed me that the museum would open in a week.

Precolumbian and early colonial history and art is always interesting to me, but I have been avoiding 18th, 19th and 20th century history since my arrival in Quito. So, I decided to return to the Alberto Mena Caamaño Museum near the Centro Metropolitano. I had visited the museum with Maya months ago, but did not pay much attention to the wax figures at the time, and understood only a small part of the guided Spanish tour. The museum was empty today, and I took my time reading every bit of information available. It was spooky moving from room to room, the movement sensitive lights blinking on and off, but mostly off, so that it was dark and ominous most of the time. The purpose of the museum was to demonstrate in a very visual way, the early stirrings of the independence movement and the subsequent rebellions, battles and final rupture between Spain and its colonies.

I realized that I am reliving history everyday as I wander through the streets of Quito. Seis de Diciembre is the date that the city of Quito was established by the Spanish conquistadors. There is a weeklong celebration leading up to the sixth of December when the whole city goes wild for 'Fiestas de Quito'. On August 10, 1809, a group of Quito's elite overthrew the president of the Quito audencia in the name of the Spanish king (Napoleon had invaded Spain and deposed the Spanish king, putting his brother Joseph on the throne). The Quiteño rebellion was the first declaration of independence in the Spanish colonies, and all the main players were executed by Bonaparte's troops after a short time. Diez de Agosto is celebrated yearly as independence day, and it is the road to take to the airport and to Maya's school in Carcelen. There are huge parades and evening entertainment each tenth of August.

There is a 24 de Mayo Ecovia stop, and a wide street in the Centro Historico called 24 de Mayo, and the 24 of May is a vacation day from school. The Battle of Pichincha on the 24 of May 1822 was a decisive victory for Sucre (in alliance with Bolivar from Venezuela and Martin from Argentina) against the loyalists and the establishment of independence from Spain. Ecuador was part of 'Gran Columbia' for a short time, but became its own country in 1830.

I was trying to figure out what the date of Doce de Octubre (in front of Catolica University) meant, and searched through the museum for clues, until I realized that that was the day that Columbus 'discovered' America. I hear mutterings of discomfort about celebrating that particular day, but I suppose every country in north and south America acknowledges the significance of that particular day.

I found myself far more interested than I expected in the museum, and sat in the courtyard of the building reading more historical details and realizing that I knew far more about this era of history because just walking through the city, one encounters statures of Eugenio Espejo (and a hospital and a Trole stop) and Jose Martin and Bolivar and Sucre and Pizarro and Benalcazar (Ecovia stop near our apartment). Their pasts and significance remain very present in current Quito life.

Massacre of Revolutionaries

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