July 21, 2010
A little knit duck and the Black Christ
Taypikala Hotel Cusco, Cusco
Today we meet our guide, Teddy. He is fantastic, a gem of this trip. He is fun, sweet, and knowledgeable. He is also one of the friendliest people we've ever met - he shakes hands and jokes with everyone, from the little old ladies hobbling down the street (Okay Mamita, let's race!) to the crustiest cabdrivers. He puts us to shame; we've decided to be more like him, and like the friendly Peruvians in general!
We only have an afternoon in Cusco, so we get ambitious: we tell Teddy we want to see the Cathedral, the House of the Sun Virgins, and the Temple of the Sun. As it turns out, some of our best experiences happen before even the first of these.
We start at the Plaza de Armas, where we are instantly mobbed by vendors hawking their handicrafts. We shoo most of them off, but a persistent 10-ish-year-old girl sits by Sandy and won't leave. When he says no she pouts and says "Por Que?" in such a put-out, annoyed way that we are instantly reminded of our own daughters. It's funny. Then she points at Sandy's roundish stomach and says "You have a baby. You have two babies. You have three babies!" This is so funny, and she is so great, that we buy a little knit duck from her. It's one of the best purchases of the trip.
The vendors are selling some kind of dried gourd covered in lovely hand-carved designs. One, a young woman with quiet eyes, has fine work, and as I admire and question she lights up. I tell her I'm an artist too, and she digs to the bottom of her bag to pull out her finest pieces, much more intricately carved, and painted as well. She must have used a brush with one hair to paint designs so fine! We talk about art, how she's worked for 6 years but wants to go to art school in Cusco, and how I'm self-taught too. I buy the piece - much too cheaply - we hug, smile and move on.
Teddy takes us to the Cathedral. What a happy surprise! Indigenous culture is everywhere in this temple of Catholicism. There it is, a beautiful painting of The Last Supper, prominently displayed - but with roast guinea pig and fried cheese on the menu! The choir, meanwhile, has armrests carved into fertility-goddess pregnant women. And, my favorite thing in all of Cusco: in a niche, lit by dozens of candles, is the only black Jesus I have ever seen in a church. Teddy says he was found under the Cathedral after an earthquake, and is sacred to the indigenous population.
In Cusco, I begin to see, the blend of indigenous and colonial is everywhere. My gourd-girl spoke Spanish with me but Quechua with her friend. On the street from our hotel, there is a Convent wall built right on top of an Incan temple wall. The sun symbol is front and center in Catholic alterpieces. Even those black mens' hats Peruvian women wear are of Spanish origin.
The convent I mentioned is the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, the next stop on our route. This was built in the 1600's over the ruins of the Incan "House of the Sun Virgins". Actually, "Chosen Women" is a better name for these women, as virginity wasn't a requirement; these women were the best of the region, chosen to serve the Sun God by weaving clothes, cooking, and assisting in religious ceremonies. To me it is wonderful to think of all the centuries of holy women inhabiting this site.
At the base of the convent are a series of small temple rooms. This is my first taste of Incan temple architecture, and I am blown away. The perfect, smooth stonework, using no grout at all, each stone precisely fitted to the next. All walls are perfectly straight and flat. Enormous blocks form the entry corners - it's impossible to imagine how they were moved and fitted. The Interior windows align exactly, like a string of pearls. In the center room is a ceremonial block table. It's all so perfect, such stunning craftsmanship.
To tell the truth, the colonial architecture of the convent above, with it's columns and arches, pales in comparison.
We have only a little time left for the Temple of the Sun, so we just get a taste. There is a replica of the kind of gold plate that covered the interior of the temple before it was looted and melted down by uneducated Spanish soldiers who kept no record of what they destroyed. Heartbreaking.
Funny moment: The virgin in indigenous garb. Sandy says: She looks just like all the women trying to sell things to me this morning!
Tonight we eat at Cicciolina, a great tapas restaurant. My first taste of guinea pig! Granted, in a tiny shredded mound atop tapas, but still. Excellent food, and we risked a glass of high-altitude wine. Funny moment: we have no reservations, so we sit at the bar, and our bartender (we think) looks (we think) entirely Peruvian so we start babbling bad Spanish at her and telling her how the restaurant is good enough to be in NY, all sorts of foolishness (it had to be the wine and altitude). After a while she answers in English, and we find out that not only is she Australian, but she's the owner. Ouch. Luckily she just laughed with us.