Monday, January 23, 2012
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
Saturday, January 14, 2012
I've rapidly latched onto Patricia's inside joke with her sister, whenever they vacation together. If one makes a solid move, like taking a screenshot of gelato translation, or asking a waiter how he spices his own meal before loading up yourself, the other uses the best new compliment you can get: "good travel."
Friday, January 13, 2012
Still playing catch up, since Patricia is alive and well and watching the Gonzaga game on her computer. But that won't be revealed until later. Read on.
I began my education in Qorikancha, just off the town square. Qorikancha, or "golden temple" in the native language of the Quechua, was one of a handful of the Inca's most celebrated religious sites -- and since gold was always used to signify the sun, it was certainly the best decorated.
To understand the whole gold thing, you have understand a few things about the Incas, and a few things about the Spanish conquistadors. Peruvians didn't have a monetary system in the 1500's. People grew surplus crops, and traded them. There was no gold standard. Spain, on the other hand, had a carefully codified system for gold -- a certain weight was worth one peso, more was two pesos, and so on. A certain amount of gold would take care of you for a month, or a year. So when the Spanish took the Inca king, Atahualpa, hostage, his promise was music to their ears:give me my freedom, he said, and I'll give you a room full of gold. Not decorated with gold. Filled to the brim. He even specified the measurements of the room. If he can offer us this much gold off the top of his head, the Spanish thought, how much do these people have?
When Pizarro, the head hauncho, sent three of his men to travel to Qorikancha to expedite the gold gathering, they figured it out. The temple was covered – from floor to ceiling – with gold. Solid gold fountains. Solid gold llama replicas. Even the walls were covered in over 700 squares of gold leafs, that measured two inches thick.
What you see of Qorikancha now is the result of that day. The Spaniards quickly set to work, stripping the gold off the walls, as confused worshippers entered and whispered to each other – some of their first thoughts were that, perhaps, these men who wore beards and rode horses actually ate gold, and needed it for survival. Imagine aliens entering the Vatican and getting really excited over fresco paint, ripping hunks out of walls by the barrel. The Incas saw these walls as a beautiful homage to the rays of the sun. The soldiers saw their retirement funds.
In addition to the colorful story, my tour guide, Caterina, had loads of interesting tidbits about the architecture of the temple. I’ll spare you all of them and hit you with my two favorites.
First: The city of Cuzco was purposefully designed in the shape of a puma, the most powerful animal the Incans knew. The head was the site of the military quarters. The heart was the town square. The tail was where the roads left Cuzco and ran off to other villages. “This temple,” she said delicately, with its tribute to the male and female deities of sun and moon, along with its power to spring the seed of the Incan culture throughout the empire, “is located where the genitals of the puma would be.”
Second: The Spanish were freaking amazed, as I am today, by the Incan’s grip on architecture. They routinely wrote home to their families, describing the stone masonry as unlike anything they had ever seen: every stone, no matter how massive, fit perfectly with those around it. No mortar was used. And miraculously, though the new Spanish churches and markets fell down with every passing earthquake, the Inca structures still stand today.
My dad, a structural engineer who gives lectures on seismically-sound design, would probably be able to point to the thing that the Incas got, and the Spanish didn’t – arches. The Incan architects understood that a trapezoid was stronger than a rectangle. Add that to the fact that trapezoids fit the religion well – they pointed to the heavens, they ran along the earth towards the edges of the empire – and the shape begins reappearing everywhere. Niches to hold bodies are in trapezoidal shape. Walls are built on a slight angle, bracing themselves against quakes. Coolest of all, they build trapezoidal windows in which you could see a hundred yards.
These people knew what the eff they were doing. So did Caterina. She kept calling me Brad Pitt.