Some Updates

It's been about a week since I last wrote about life here in Quito. The truth is, not too much has happened - but I'll update you all with the little things anyway.

Work continues along at a steady pace. We learned from Mark & Chuck's visit that the SEJP isn't going to get as much funding as we initially thought it would (America in default, blah, blah...) so there has been a lot of restructuring and self-assessment going on at the SEJP. We're trying to figure out which initiatives are the most productive, have the most impact, and are thus worth the money. We're re-working budgets and quarterly proposals. Yet, at the same time, last week we held three workshops in three cities outside Quito for operators of justice (which, nicely, meant a more relaxed few days at work as the head honchos were out of office). I follow along the whole way, translating it all to English.

Evenings are still spent going to dance/cardio classes or relaxing at home. Over the past year, I haven't enjoyed much of the long-lost pasttime of "relaxing at home," so just nestling in in a comfy spot and reading a magazine or watching a TV program while not multitasking on anything else is pretty nice.

Friday night I went out dancing with a friend of mine, which was a lot of fun though it wiped me out after having had an actual dance class earlier that evening. Saturday I spent resting and checking out some of the appendages of everyday life. I browsed around the stores in Quicentro Mall, where I bought two Mario Vargas Llosa books (in English, so I can be sure to understand them completely): In Praise of the Stepmother, and The Way to Paradise. The Colombian Gabriel García Márquez is probably my favorite author of all time, so hopefully Vargas Llosa, another artist of the Latin American Boom, won't let me down. In Quitcentro I also stopped by the AeroGal Airlines kiosk as I try to work on my plans for next weekend. Then I went to the MegaMaxi superstore next door, which is, unbelievably, more expansive and all-inclusive than a Super Wal-Mart.  I picked up some necessities like a webcam for chatting friends and family and added money to my phone in the Movistar shop there.

Sunday I went to the National Museum of the Central Bank of Ecuador. It is BIG. I spent the first hour or two exploring the first exhibit, which was all historic artifacts from the precolonial era, dating back tens of thousands of years. My favorite parts were probably the jovial pots and other artifacts that had smiling faces tucked away in them, on the necks of bottles or the like. After running out to grab some lunch, I came back (two thumbs up for free entry) and moved on to the Golden Court, which was full of the metallurgy work in gold, silver, platinum, and copper of the pre-conquest tribes. Those were really a sight to behold - a lot of them were incredibly small and intricate.

From there I moved onto an exhibit of colonial era art, which was all religious in nature. Lucky for me, one of the guards must have been bored because he started telling me great histories and tidbits of the works and the exhibit. The exhibit starts out with figures of Mary and baby Jesus imported from Europe, with clear smooth skin and soft features. When the Spaniards arrived, they taught the locals how to produce works, but the locals started mixing in some native twists - particularly rosy cheeks, for example, to signify darker skin; or backgrounds with themes disparaging to the Spaniards. These artists didn't sign their work, in part because they were illiterate and in part fearing the punishment they might face if their gimmicks were figured out. Then, the guard explained, the locals started to beat the Europeans at their own game, developing ever better techniques. They started using glass eyeballs, real human hair, and other elements to make their work more powerful. They developed a style that the guard called something like opaque-clear, where if you stare at the work straight on the colors are all very dark and the picture is hard to see; but if you move to another angle closer to parallel with the picture you can see the action and sharp differences in color. They also started working fabrics into their art. There was also two techniques for painting with gold: one to paint the gold accents last, for a particular pop, and the other to paint the entire figure gold and then paint color over it to give the whole piece luster.

The Quito School of art developed as the Europeans encouraged Catholicism, and the school developed characteristics visible in the exhibit. As I mentioned, their work was very fine and detailed. One artist, the guard explained, had studied anatomy under the first doctor in Ecuador, so all his statues are VERY accurate - down to miniscule teeth on a tiny statue. Also, the Quito School started subversively using and changing the style of art. Jesus on the cross became a man wounded all over, gushing blood, with the lashes on his back clearly noted - the suffering of a native people expressed. The use of bright colors develops in this period too.

The last part of this exhibit shows an epoch in which the Church stopped paying artists for their work. Thus, rich citizens would commission a painting of Jesus or Mary or a religious figure, with the figure of the rich citizen praying solemnly in the corner of the scene. The citizen would then donate the art to the church in hopes that people's prayers to the painting would save his soul.

The guard also told me about two particulary intriguing pieces the museum had that he showed me, that he said would have been burned by the Church. One was a painting of Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus and the other a statue of the pregnant Mary. I found all of this Catholic art information and development very interesting - it is one of the things Quito is best known for, with all the centuries-old churches it has in its Old Town, all testaments to a time and a style in history.

I lastly checked out the temporary exhibit on indigenous seasonal celebrations. I saw that one of them, Inti Raymi, is supposed to happen in two days on the solstice, so we shall see if I get to see any interesting sights on Tuesday. When it was time for me to leave the museum four hours later, it was raining and there were no taxis to be had. Luckily, the Museum was a half-block from the street my building is on, so I had my first adventure on the Ecovia. The Ecovia is one of three bus lines that runs north-south through the city, and just happens to run right by my building. It doesn't run to too many convenient places and it's pretty crowded most of the time, but I figured it was just what I needed today, so I got on and figured it out. For the hefty price of 25 cents I got back to my apartment safe, sound, and fast. For all my hesitance to work out the bus system considering the inexpensive abundance of taxis most of the time, I found myself liking the experience and vowing to make use of them more.

That' s all for now! Not the most interesting of posts, and no pictures as the museum would not allow any. But next weekend I am planning to travel to Guayaquil to see old friends and old friends that are like family, so hopefully I shall have more to report!