Second day high: yo amo Cuzco!

You know, high as in altitude. 10,900 feet, to be precise. Mind you, this would be a great city in which to be an active addict. Products made from coca leaves are a cultural mainstay, I was handed a flyer to a hemp club with “special homemade brownies” and get getting massage offers as I walk down the street. Thank goodness Im not practicing anymore.

So, I just flat out love this city. Its very laid-back and mellow, and the vistas are consistently stunning- mountains in every direction, steel blue skies and big puffy white clouds. The whole place is pretty much geared to tourism, which is double-edged. On the one hand, you cant help but reflect on the us and them divide and any time you pause or make eye contact, somebody trying to sell something will intercept you. On the other, it makes everything so easy to do and to find and figure out, which definitely was not the case in some of the smaller towns I was in.

Today I started off in the Iglesia de Companeras Jesus, a Jesuit church with one of the most stunningly ornamental gold altars Ive ever seen. Like 30 feet tall and stuffed with sculpture and paintings. I was drawn in just by the church aspect, Ive always been powerfully drawn to Catholic things. I think I probably was Catholic in a past life. Not a very Christian notion, although we could have an interesting discussion about early Gnostic beliefs, but thats why Im not Catholic in this life, so I can entertain notions like that.

In any case, yes, wowed by the church, but even more intrigued by the things I learned from the student guide. The Spanish clearly co-opted the local culture- building churches on the remains of Inca palaces, planting crosses atop mountain worship sites, converting and intermarrying with Inca nobility and installing them as figureheads, etc. But the new pseudo-Inca elite did some coopting in return. Hence pantings of Christ as an Indian, statues of Mary in the style of an Inca goddess, and angels with parrots wings in imperial Inca colors. There was also an anti-Protestant painting that I thought was hilarious- Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, readings his rules of religious practice to cowering figures labeled with the names of Protestant leaders- Luther, Calvin, John Wyclffe, etc.

Later in the afternoon I visited two museums, one devoted to the Inca and one to the pre-Inca pre-Colombian period. This later one was my favorite. While it featured historical and archeological information, it treated the exhibits as an art musueum would. It featured descriptions of the artisitic aspects of the artifacts juxtaposed with quotes from modern artists- Matisse, Gaugin, Klee, Picasso, etc. that made clear the influence that so-called primtive art styles had on Cubism and other areas of modern art.

I finished up the evening by going back to the Iglesia for mass (something about the visit in the morning had inspired me to) and then heading back to the neighborhood Im staying in, San Blas, for dinner. The area is kind of an aglomeration of tourist and local artist hangout spots, so I had dinner at a place that was a combined restaraunt and art gallery. Cause thats how I roll!

Tomorrow I am rolling, extremely early, to Macchu Picchu. More to follow…

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