Please excuse my delay in writing! I sincerely apologize for keeping you waiting (I understand it was tough) and assure you that I will not to be so ungracious to you, my beloved reader, again. Though I’ve been in Argentina for a few weeks now, I know you’ve all been on the very edge of your seats for the last month waiting to hear about Ecuador. So, with hopes that reading about the wonders that make up this geographically small but amazing country will soften you, I begin again:
Full of energy after our adventure across Colombia’s Caribbean coast (and aware that I’d only experienced a small portion of the rich, diverse country I was leaving and that I will most certainly have to return one day), we flew from Cartagena to Quito in late February. After shaking the altitude-induced headaches and mild nausea (we traveled from sea level to over 9000ft in just a few hours!) I enjoyed the capital city of Quito immensely.
Our first stop in the city was El Museo Guayasamín and the artist’s Capilla del Hombre. The former is an impressive array of the work and collections of the man who was probably Ecuador’s most famous contemporary artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín, and the latter one of his final and most extraordinary works, a massive architectural feat that is in itself a museum for much of the rest of his work. The museum, housed on the compound that is Guayasamín’s former home, showcases many the artists’ own paintings, sculptures, and elaborate jewelry as well as his substantial collection of others’ work, from pre-Colombian artifacts to scores of religious paintings…An impressive and fulfilling museum experience, to say the least.
The museum’s impressiveness is quickly overshadowed, however, when one walks uphill a few blocks to the second Guayasamín monument, his home until his death in 1999 and the site of his Capilla del Hombre, or “Chapel of Man.” More than 10 years in planning and creation, the architecturally astounding Capilla del Hombre is without a doubt the crowning jewel of the artists’ long and prolific career. Besides a breathtaking home for many of his most famous works, it is also a tribute to the subject—humanity—of his study and work over those years. Guayasamín traveled all over the world in his lifetime and his works portray the wide array of subjects, issues and events he encountered. His works paint both the joys of humanity and the trials of innocents around the world, from the plight of the indigenous populations of his own country and the horrors of the dictatorships that plagued his region, to the agony of those affected by the atomic bomb and the sorrows of victims of slave trades across the globe. Interestingly, both his most tragic painting and his most hopeful one (according to our museum guide) depict a mother and child, the former a hollow mother who cries black tears for her child who has starved because of her dried-up breasts, and the latter a mother and child embracing. One of his most distinctive characteristics is the extraordinarily striking and expressive hands he paints, and also characteristic is the use of bright colors to offset tragic images painted in gray and brown.
Thinking about Guayasamín’s incredible talent and his vast influence and importance in Ecuador (we saw copies and recreations of his work and style all over the country), I’m struck by the realization that he’s virtually unknown to much of the rest of the world. I had never heard of him, which means very little, of course, but neither had Shepard nor any of the other non-Ecuadorian’s I’ve asked since (excepting my friends who studied in Quito and recommended I visit the museum… thank you Mary and Amit!). This reality is even more troubling when I think about the international nature and the diversity of his subjects because it brings into stark relief how educated he was about the rest of the world and how uneducated we all are about him. How is it that someone can be so talented, so locally influential, so experienced and knowledgeable about the worlds’ people, while those same people know nothing of him/her?
Beyond contemplating the myriad social injustices Guayasamín’s works raise and that of his anonymity around the world, Shepard and I spent our short time in Quito exploring the “Old Town,” the original part of the city. Full of character and steeped in history, this neighborhood is crawling with locals out for shopping and socializing at all hours of the day.
We were lucky enough to land in the city on a weekend, which meant we got to see some of the marvelous artisanal work of the Otavaleños (indigenous peoples from a market town north of the city) at the Saturday market in the park, to enjoy a Caribbean/Andean fusion concert over tapas in the Plaza del Teatro, to try out our dancing shoes at a local salsa club, and, best of all, to enjoy excellent people-watching all day and night. Whether wandering through the narrow, bustling streets among breathtaking colonial buildings and churches and haphazard old businesses and residences, nibbling on a variety of local specialties (empanadas verdes, or plantain and cheese empanadas, were my favorite) including ice cream from a 150-yr old heladería, or simply sitting and observing the hive of activity that is the Plaza Grande on a Saturday, I was one happy tourist in Quito.