children, relatives and precious friends
Often, the ancient Greeks, who were carrying inquisitive minds, were trying to come to grips with the issue of what it is beyond the wall they believed
it fenced the universe. City (polis) dwellers, they couldn’t imagine a urban unit without bulwarks except the Spartans who considered their manic martial training as the most reliable defense. Today, interesting enough, people, countries are coming back to walls for some similar reasons. Fence or not fence? that is the question! Certain astrophysicists suggested that the universe is infinite but has borders. Only that these borders, because the continuous expansion, are becoming wider and wider every moment. What occurs in the universe is reflected in the microcosm? It is the fate of my suitcases (maletas) to continuously inflate? I still didn’t mention my subject. Let’s calm down, call it Quito still or Quito two and check what kind of memory shreds survived from a trip that took place four years ago. Here comes the letter I sent to a dear friend after a first shock and after that I began cautiously to climb the slope back.
My excellent friend,
I am at the end of the first leg, read the first four days of stay in Quito. Tomorrow I will leave by bus for Lacatungna, which is the door of the Volcanoes’ Valley. La Avenida de los Volcanes, if you like exotic sound. The Andes are a young chain – hot, boiling and moving. All together, till now my account carried histories of legs. Not all of the same kind. I arrived here with elephant stumps after that I was canned into a pigmy economy seat for 20 long hours. Delta curse… The next day I hurt the stumps by wandering bare soles on the local murderous cobbles seeking a new pair of Hawaiian sandals. The mines broke in the middle of the street. After five hours of desperate ambling I found sandals and also realized that my stumps were not more functional at all. I mean, in order to stay on the concrete that I was hardly able to go to pee. Add to this a diarrhea, me that I was an unblemished veteran of India travels (ostrich stomach) and a nasty athletic foot and you will have the clean image of a failing machine. These are miseries of the human body: we got the lower quality contraption. When you think that the Greek Gods with whom we are fairly alike got the best model: bacteria proof, aids proof, water proof, fool proof, wound proof and so on you began to depress. Disadvantaged, that is not a vain word! No wonder that many people are continuously frustrated, the poor for example… Doubts began to assault me! Did I bite a morsel I wasn’t able to chew? Thanks God ( God comes back anytime that health problems are in view) maniacs have a kind of special strength but as I am not completely a moron my strength has some limits. However after a couple of days of rot I begin to crawl out of the pit. I have seen things, that each one of them justified the trip and I stopped to worry about my decision to come to this remote country: Ecuador! Do not forget my excellent. We have Ecuador and Equator, like the buckle and the belt. Easy to fool yourself! There were unique mental and visual experiences like the Church of the Jesuits, one of the most stylistically eclectic and splendidly decorated in South America, a jewel; the Alabado museum of pre-Columbian Art, which could very well be in Paris close to Musee Dapper another “maravillia”; and also the monumental extravaganza of Il Monumento Mitad del Mundo, which is one of the kind. The middle of the world monument says the dictionary. However, the real catharsis occurred yesterday when I took the cable car to mount Pichincha and meet a couple of friendly llamas. At 4100 meters my legs begun to move and up I went like a tank to thank the Gods of the Mountain who own the Banco de Pichincha, the only bank in the city that honored my card while the hundred others were giving me(!) the boot. I know, I told that already but I still feel the emotion I experienced when the green tickets began to roll out of the machine bowels. To conclude, without to get into a Mistinguette (a famous dancer, the most beautiful legs of the XIXth century) stance I am happy that the size of my calves reached a better state than they had during the last three months. I have to keep going.
PS. Everything is cured, the athletic food it will be with me for a while, but I will run it down, ha!ha!
Let’s relate to this letter as a kind of abstract. Somehow it was too visceral, with me complaining a lot about the ills and providing quite unpleasant details. That is quite remote from my cautious and educated reports where foul language is prohibited and paraphrase is recommended for any ambiguous situation. Let’s mention only a few particulars that will permit to grasp the specificity of the site and of the people. The amount of ethnicity around me is impressive. I am into a Native American Indian country and I do not feel racial tension. You cannot have everything and according to the today vocabulary there is not such a thing like race. The locals seem industrious, well mentally balanced and stores are protected in full simplicity by armed guards. Better than Rottweilers! I remember than out from the Lassen Volcanic Park I went with my grandson and my son to an enormous (eight million trees) olive oil farm to buy some. At the office there were two huge, muscular Rottweilers doing nothing, just yawning. We didn’t feel comfortable at all. They, I am back to Ecuadorians of the Indian stock, 70% of the whole, handled two conquests, the Inka and the Spanish and came out of that not only psychically sane but richer. They are polite without being servile and very much self-sufficient. I passed the aguardiente bottle to an middle aged Indian fellow who was seated near me in the bus or I was seating near to him if I should stick to the today correct phrasing. He took one sip or two and gave it back to me without to break into a discussion. It was not necessary. Also, in the market I handled some discount issues with vendors who failed to fall into hot or hate drive.
Women as always got my full attention. The local ethnic diversity is dominant but the traveler’s eye catches through repetition the common features of the recurrent image. The volume of fedora type hats sometimes decorated with small feather reaches the status of national symbol. Add to that the omnipresent multifunctional shawl, serving among other to carry children or merchandise, the knee long (the sexiest ones) or ankle long pleated skirts, long socks, black shoes, a single shiny charcoal black hair braid (fancied also by some men) and a particularly sensuous brick red color of the face (everything else is covered) eventually close to a copper hue to some thanks to the vicinity of the solar furnace. I avoid to get into the bottomless issue of the dress’ colors wanting to finish sometimes this post but let’s say that the multicolored approach is very much alive in the Indian markets and in the country side.
Let’s turn our attention to monuments. The Compañía de Jesús, is by far the first in my HEART, a masterpiece of religious, political and even cultist architecture. The combination between blood and gold (the inward is profusely padded with gold leaf) as both symbols and media (structural connection I bet) reaches striking heights in the resplendent and not little
scarring church. Two “bleeding hearts”, of the Jesus at the left ( with thorns crown and the cross) and of the Virgin at the right (with leaves headband and lilies), rising in high relief from the dynamic baroque façade, center the coats of arms like arrangements. The assemblages is composed of organic elements (hearts), complete figures( seated angels) and symbolic contraptions (the flying angel’ heads) combined with cosmic symbols (clouds and sun rays) within a tight architectural frame built of a window hood, two slender volutes and the window sill, It is possible that the assemblage symbolizes concomitantly Christian identity, if you read it as a coat of arms and a vista on a higher reality if you read it as an open window. The result of this amazing accord between sculpture and design is a carrier loaded with the seminal features of the Christian faith: suffering, empathy, sacrifice, hope and redemption. And for those who do not want to understand or to believe there is inside a magnificent and very detailed LAST JUDGEMENT (Pompeian red) that will take from one the wish to sin FOREVER!
Conversely, the pre-Columbian museo de Alabado, the extravagant and sophisticated creation of the leftist millionaire Daniel Klein who single handed, he must have some very long arms, thought and modelled it, is a place of peace and relaxation. Cuba, he said, opened its heart to him! Hearts are flashing here! Did he took the inspiration from the progressive Caribbean nation? Better them to have opened their prisons than their heart to this sneaky Jew! His museum reeks somehow of fashion design and plutocratic elegance but why not? Ashes with ashes and art with art!
However within this country of PLENTY where the beauty of the nature is kindly accompanied by works of art of first magnitude without to forget that the price of gasoline is symbolic and the fruits seem to come from the Garden of Paradise it was the story of a scientific endeavor that brought to it its NAME on a silver plate and eventually its IDENTITY. Ecuador was before that the department of QUITO. It didn’t exist as a distinct country. That peerless cultural enterprise was the French geodesic expedition of 1736. It led to the more or less, the exact calculation of the roundness of the earth at the equator, reinforced Newtonian hypothesis of an oblate earth, and had far reaching touristic consequences bringing good year bad year cohorts of distraught travelling blokes delighted to keep a leg in each hemisphere and happy to cash for it. Thanks God that the Earth doesn’t SPLIT suddenly during this tasteless posture.
Then 13 kilometers north of Quito is the 30 meters high pyramidal monument which commemorates the French expedition, its nine years of work in the country, houses an important ethnographic museum, the country is a mosaic of different ethnic groups, and offers a breath taking view on the Quito plain and the volcanic peaks and a less striking one on the ugly cultural mall called La Ciudad Mitad del Mundo.
A wide avenue leads to the monument bordered by the busts of the 13 members of the French team. They were all wig wearing CHARACTERS. I still have difficulty to understand how they survived in such torrid and humid surroundings infested with vermin of various kinds, with that THING on the top of their heads. Some suggested that they wore them only on official occasion and the rest of the time worked half naked like everybody around. The monument is supposed to lay exactly on the equator belt but malicious blokes and would-to-be scientists succeeded to prove that the real equator belt is some 240 meters north east far away. Never mind. Some smart fellow built
immediately a museum, Intiñan Solar Museum half rustic and half pseudo-scientific compound, provided with various tricks meant to convince the nulls that they are going to get the thrill of their life: one leg in each halve, some gravity checking stunts, some rotation effects etc. To make the things round I will inform you that the Intinan joint isn’t on Equator either but I have to stress that I warmly support all non-violent attempts to cheat the lazy bones, feeble minded homo touristus. Give them hell and make them pay!
Within the Intiñan museum because of my apocalyptic views and rants I devoted my attention to a sequence of some five murals depicting the various stages of preparation of curare exercise that plunged me into a murderous daydream. Exhausted I decided to go back to my posh hostel offered by my dear friend to whom I wrote the above letter when I remembered that I have first go and pay my respects to Mr La Condamine, the major leader of the French expedition. I have to avow that beyond the unlimited admiration I had for him I was seriously embarrassed by the heartless (again!) way in which the Ecuadorians treated their benefactor, honoring him only with an modest andesite bust, instead of a heroic size sculpture let’s say not smaller than that of the Virgen de El Panecillo (44 meters high with the podium) which was assembled, please pay attention to numbers, from 7400 aluminum plates. I suggest that in this time of erasing the inequality between the bearers of different chromosomic configurations the males should not be reduced to DRONES miserable status.
But let’s go back to my hero, a true Renaissance man, Charles Marie la Condamine who became after disbanding from the army, an outstanding geographer, mathematician, astronomer and chemist. He made some cardinal studies on rubber and rubber tree, on chinchona tree whose bark contains quinine and on the very efficient CURARE concoction. Of noble origins, this pioneer of vaccination took the pain to get a papal derogation to marry a poor niece and died childless of a hernia in Paris. Quite an untimely and meaningless end for this peerless explorer, who was the first European to travel on Amazonas from the source to the mouth and map the river. An outstanding WANDERER La Condamine remained till today an enormous inspiring example for modest vagrants like me. IN MEMORIAM…