Friday, June 18, 2010

Colonial Art

Grey on Grey Plaza San Fransisco

We transfered the truck to Santiago's care (friend and colleague of Eric) today. I did not feel ready to say goodbye to my absolutely favourite vehicle ever. I have felt safe and protected in the Landcruiser, and will miss it. But when Santiago came, Maya and I took the elevator down to the minus 3 level to help guide him out of our very tight spot without scraping off the top of the truck, and then said good-bye. I wish we could take the truck with us, my fantasy has always been to drive from Baltimore to the tip of South America and back. When I proposed this to Eric, he was quite adamant that it is not possible to drive through Columbia, so we shelved the project, but it still sounds like a good idea.

I have been asking everyone for advice about where to go to the beach once school is over. I am cautioned over and over again re safety issues, in that the places I can afford are not advisable for a woman alone with a child, but the 'safe' resorts are simply not possible for me. Santiago suggested we stay at his inlaws' place in Esmeraldas, and will check to see if it is available. It appears to be a complex of condominiums in an enclosed area with pools and a private beach; not at all what I imagined, but quite wonderful nonetheless. We will be absolutely thrilled if this works out for us!

Maya has three more days of school left, but had today off (I have no idea why). It worked out well for her, because she had a rehearsal at the Teatro Bolivar downtown for the afternoon, and I was not sure how I would manage that with school finishing at 3. While Maya danced throughout the afternoon, I enjoyed the Centro Historico except that it was raining and cold and getting colder as the afternoon progressed. It was a museum visiting sort of day, and I returned to the Museo Colonial, in an effort to appreciate the style of art more than I have. My inclination is always to direct myself to the pre-Columbian collections. At the Banco Central, after seeing display case after display case of the incredible art of the pre-Inca indigenous cultures, the colonial section feels incongruent and unsettling. The captions inform the viewer of the destruction of all that came before the Spanish, and the imposition of the religion and values and styles of the West. The local craftsmen and artists were instructed in western art techniques, which were all directed entirely to religious art. Somehow looking at the colonial art emphasizes the incredibly oppressive conquest of the original inhabitants of the continent.

So I have been uncomfortable when I see the bloody crucifixes and mannerist 'virgins with child', so today I wanted to spend more time and appreciate the aesthetic more than I usually do. The museum is set up as a guided history of the growth of Quito the Spanish/colonial city. Initially the focus is on all the religious orders that established themselves in Quito soon after the city was designed after the conquest. The priests brought craftsmen and artists with them who taught the local mestizos and indigenous inhabitants how to sculpt and paint for God, and both converted their religion and their way of seeing. The first generations of artists all signed their work 'anonymous', but later, by the 17th and 18th centuries, some artists began standing out from the rest, and signed their work. When the local artists became more comfortable in their new style, they began to assert themselves, by painting local landscapes with familiar flora and fauna, mestizo faces and native dress. I had been told all this before, but never really saw the differences. I spent time today to look for clues that the paintings were Ecuadorian. There is a distinctive Quiteño style, which I can now recognize, but today I began to see more, and appreciate the art more than I have before.

It was drizzling when I left the museum, so I dashed into La Merced for a short visit, and then to San Fransisco, which is further down from La Merced, and then stopped into Casa Alabado just to get in out of the rain. When I returned to the Teatro Bolivar, the ballerinas were not out yet, so I spent some time in the Plaza Grande reading huge billboards lined up in front of the Independence memorial statue in the centre, describing the history of Manuela Saenz, the lover of Bolivar and one of the Quiteño women famous for her role in Ecuadorian independence.

Maya and I stayed in the Centro Historico for dinner. She likes to eat at 'Hasta la Vista, Señor', where local specialties fill the menu. I like llapingachos with chorizo and egg and avocado. I am not sure when we will have another chance to eat there. Maya and I took turns reading the Spanish and English sides of the placemat describing the story of Father Almeida, who used to escape from the monastery to carouse with his friends and women of the night. He would climb over a crucifix to get through a window in the chapel to get out for the evening. Christ would talk to him and ask him when he would stop the behaviour. At some point he realizes the error of his ways and decides to stay in the monastery and do good work. The intriguing part of the story is that early on in Quito's history, with so many priests and religious orders in the city, it was not unusual for the young priests to regularly party and drink and consort with working girls, without much consequence. So much for 'holy' behaviour. It appears that it was expected that the errant monks would one day realize the error of their ways and get back on track.

I had wanted to stay for the folkloric dance at 7:30, and we saw the dance troupe arriving and preparing for the show, but it was cold and rainy and we decided Maya needed to get warm and into bed early to prepare for her concert and ballet performance tomorrow. No taxis were available (whenever it rains everyone gets into cabs and it is very difficult to find an empty one), but the Ecovia was fast and easy and by the time we arrived at 'Naciones Unidas' the rain had stopped and we arrived home cold but dry and ready to cuddle into bed to get warm.

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