Wednesday, September 17, 2008

September 17, 2008 7:04 am

Good morning from Quito! Much to say, but no ability to say it—waiting on some black tea. I think that is the only thing that I don’t like about the homestay—I don’t feel comfortable preparing things like that in the kitchen, especially when my host mom is there preparing breakfast (okay, how spoiled did I sound in that last sentence? Breakfast is being prepared for me—I really and truly cannot complain). Yeah, life is good. Today is laundry day, which I think means that I leave a pile of nasty, stinky clothes in the hands of my host mom and return in the evening to fresh, clean clothes on the clothesline. Believe it or not, this is all kinda hard for me to get used to, as I’ve become accustomed to doing all this on my own. But again, not complaining. Just making a simple observation.

Yesterday I walked around the old part of Quito (the colonial part). It is very different from El Mariscal. The streets and sidewalks are smaller, and there are so many people. Ironically enough, I saw more gringos there than I did in gringolandia. Bunch of backpackers looking for “authentic Ecuador” and smaller groups of middle-aged tourists on arranged tour groups, perhaps given a few hours to explore Old Quito on their own. At one point I just sat in a plaza and observed everyone around me: young boys carrying around kits of black shoe polish, offering shoe shines for a quarter (two approached me and offered a shoe shine. If I didn’t like my hiking boots so much, I would have taken them up on the offer, just to see how they would deal with shoes made of brown mesh instead of black leather), groups of young girls in those stereotypical Catholic schoolgirl uniforms, the aforementioned tourists (one man approached an indigenous couple and asked to take their picture—an interesting interaction to watch), men in suits holding clipboard, stopping passer-bys to talk to them (maybe get their opinion on some topic), the aforementioned backpackers (and every single on of them had a backpack—too funny).

Well, tengo hambre and I think breakfast is ready…

2:30 pm

Just finished lunch… pasta, potatoes, and plantains…. (and fruit juice). All very good (though a little heavy on the starch). The plantains had a peanut butter sauce on them—yum! (Food of the Americas: bananas and peanut butter in any form).

I spent this morning exploring El Parque Carolina (and braving public transportation there and back), so I think I’m going to take the rest of the afternoon off and go through my pictures, write some more for the ‘blog, and digest my starch. (I also inhaled a bit too much of the bus smoke on my way to and from the park, so I’m going to give my lungs a bit of a rest. I need to build my immunity to bus fumes, I guess.)

Back to yesterday: While walking around in the old town, I started to learn some of the rules of traffic. I had previously started to piece together some of the rules in El Mariscal. For example, major roads have crosswalks and signals. A solid green person means that you are probably okay to cross, but you should hurry. A blinking green person means that this is the least crazy this road is ever going to get, so you should put another person between yourself and the on-coming cars and make a run for it. A solid red person means, not surprisingly, don’t even think about crossing here—instead, go up or down a few feet, and cross where there is absolutely no crosswalk.

A lot of the roads here are one way (and, by the way, the roads are all very well marked here. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a place where there was better signage even on smaller side streets. New Jersey could definitely learn some lessons from the Quiteños—ahem). The smaller streets do not have lights or even stop signs. When a car approaches one of these intersections, it speeds up and honks its horn. I will never drive here.

I visited the San Francisco Church and Museum. The museum contained art from the Escuala Quiteña. That was a school of painting in Quito during the 1800s, under Spanish colonialism. In order to promote their brand of Catholocism, the monks and friars and whatnot (I don’t really know what they are all called—I guess I’m going to have to learn all that, huh?) gathered together talented indigenous painters and taught them how to paint in the Baroque and Roccoco styles. Now, generally I don’t like (eh, make that detest) Baroque (think of cherubs barfing fluffy pink vomit) and Roccoco art, but… well, I liked this. The paintings didn’t show the same technical skill found in European art of this time period, but they more than made up for it with a sort of folk naitivite. And, of course, I didn’t get the same sense of barfing cherubs (not a cherub in sight. Plenty of bloody Christos, though…)

Ah, yes, the bloody Christo of Latin America. Actually, the Christos here are no where near as gruesome as those in Mexico. These ones are definitely toned down a lot. But…

Well, I was in the museum by myself, and the lights are on timers. Good for cutting down on energy usage, so I completely approve of that. However, it does make it a little more difficult to enter a dark, empty room when one can only see the barest outlines of a carved, bleeding Christ. I swear I jumped out of my skin every single time the lights clicked on.

The Museo de Banco Central also uses lights on timers. This is not, as one might think, a museum of Ecuadorian banking throughout the ages but rather a museum contain anthropological artifacts and paintings by Ecuadorian artists. The artifacts were all very well arranged and organized chronologically (with dioramas! I love dioramas in museums! Especially when they contain little people!) with information in Spanish and in English (yea, gringolandia! Oh, I know I’m going to cringe when I read that later…). Yeah, so we had pre-Inca, Inca, during-Inca… the usual suspects. Everything ended, of course, in 1534 when the Spanish came.

Now, just last year, I was in Greece and Turkey, staring at pottery fragments. I must confess, I found the pottery here to be much more impressive than the pottery in Greece and Turkey. Not only that, but there was definite forward progress. It made me wonder what would have happened if the Spanish (or, I suppose, European in general) had not ventured to the Americas—at least for a few hundred years. I wonder how the civilization here would have developed. But I guess that is akin to wondering what would have happened if Corsica had not been part of France when Napoleon was born.

There were four room in the Museo: the anthropological room, the Colonial Art room, the Republic/Modern Art room, and the Contemporary Art room. The Republic/Modern Art room showed the progression from the Escuela Quiteña through portraits and landscapes to art inspired by social activism and issues. The Contemporary Art room—well, it was Contemporary Art. Not my thing. The highlight (?) was a statue of a man with his pants down, peeing. Yeah.

I went through the Colonial Art room last. It was on the mezzanine and it took me a while to find the steps (yeah, no holding back on my more embarrassing moments here…) It was more or less the same situation as in the Museo de San Francisco—empty, dark rooms with lights on timers. Only this was just before closing and it was raining really hard outside. A very creepy environment indeed.

This morning I went to the Botanical Garden and the Vivarium (snake house) in El Parque Carolina. The bus there was very crowded, but I managed to not get pick-pocketed (or, if I was, they did an excellent job of not being discovered by leaving everything in my purse). It was nice wandering around the gardens after spending so much time going through the city. One thing I will say about Prague, it had tons and tons of gardens—smaller ones tucked away where one could stumble upon them during walks and larger ones where one could escape the bustle of the city for awhile. I do find that, the older I get, the more I long for the tranquility of green spaces. I do get the impression that, while there might not be that many green spaces in Quito, I can always hop on a bus and venture into the jungle (although, after visiting the snake house today…).


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