Directorate! We are here . . . in Ecuador. For those who follow international news, your Directrice and her Photographer were pulled up short last Wednesday evening — whilst packing — by news of turbulent events outside Quito.
After hearing from people on the ground in Quito and checking the State Department’s guidance, we decided to go/come. And thusly, posts will roll out over the next two weeks.
Managing expectations! There will be little to see here in terms of clothes because I packed the same city clothes that I wore in Chile (2017) and Argentina (2019).+ And as a travelogue, you will be getting my off-beat interpretations of what I’ve seen — not a comprehensive review of all cultural points of interest. Less Baedeker, more Rome is where we saw the yellow dog.++
With that said, here I am on Day 1, standing on the balcony of our hotel in Quito wearing an old Cuyana dress that I really love.
When abroad, I like to dress up a little. It seems respectful to me and makes me feel like I am adding something to, and not just taking from, the scene. Sleeves provide protection from the sun and modesty for entering churches . . . which are somehow 50 percent or more of the sights to see even for the irreligious.
We stayed in the Old Town, which was among the first World Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO. Old Town Quito is considered (and by UNESCO, declared) to be the best-preserved historic town center in Latin America. This means that Quito is the Spanish colonial vision that the Directrice has been chasing; perhaps she should have looked at the UNESCO list a few years earlier.
Why so well-preserved? Quito, like Lima and Santiago, is earthquake-prone and has experienced considerable political upheaval over the last 250 years. Could it be the elevation? That Quito’s elevation (harder to invade?) serves as a natural deterrent to change? I’m not joking. If anyone knows the answer, please chime in.
We stayed at a beautiful hotel that blended modernity with history, the Illa Experience Hotel in Old Town. Its entrance is rather unassuming, but here is a striking view from an interior courtyard.
Our first activity was climbing from 9,000 ft. to 10,000 ft. to see the Virgin of Quito — a monument, not a person. This stunning statute watches over Quito and is visible from any point in the city. She is also known as the Virgin of the Apocalypse, a name that conjures a very different vibe, doesn’t it? VoQ (or VotA, depending on your outlook) stands 135 feet tall, fabricated in aluminum — but was modeled on a human-sized early 18th Century wooden statute housed at the Convent of San Francisco.
I know what you’re thinking. It must be struck by lightning all the time. Correct! It is! So if you find yourself in Quito, on this hill, during a thunderstorm: Do NOT seek shelter inside the Virgin. She will not save you.
The Virgin is beautiful, from a distance or up close. She is a timeless work of art, classical and modern simultaneously. The style of the work (visage, clothing, the apocalyptic dragon she is stomping) is Romantic, but the material — square aluminum tiles assembled with visible soldering– is contemporary. The views from the balcony that encircles her base can’t be beat.
After visiting the Virgin, we returned to Old Town to begin our review of churches, starting with the Church and Convent of St. Francisco.
To be honest, the front view of St. Francisco is a little dull. It’s a long, white building. So I am showing you a different side of Plaza San Francisco, featuring the Casa Gangotena hotel, which looks (to me) like French Empire. St. Francisco is to the right.
But here is a beautiful view of the Convent of San Francisco — an interior courtyard with classical garden design. A place for quiet contemplation of the simple life, lived in service. Simple. Service. Remember those worthy ideals.
Remember “simple” and “service”?
This is the interior of the Church of San Francisco, as viewed from the friars’ seating area.
If you think this church looks shiny and bright, almost like gold — that’s because it is covered in gold. Gold gilt, made by melting objects and art stolen from the Incas.
If you squint, you can see the original Virgin above the altar. If not for her prominent placement, she would be lost in the bling.
Tomorrow, another church and pre-Columbian pots!
+ The Chile posts were published in April 2018. The Argentina/Patagonia posts were published in November 2019 (plus one in mid-December 2019). You can find them using the Year index on the home page. Go back and take a look. They are entertaining.
++ I know you know: A Room With A View.