Sunday, January 24, 2010

Patches of Scenery in the Past and Future at Once

In the weeks since I’ve gotten back to quite a busy semester, I haven’t really blogged anything. I decided to drop the gossipy post I wrote about my time in St John’s. Suffice to say that my friends who are doing well are doing rather well, and the rest should really move to the opposite side of the country. Or at least Montreal. Cabs in St John’s are now impossible to flag down now that they’re the regular targets of rich coke-addled morons visiting back from Fort MacMurray. The downtown is marvellously beautiful as always, only slightly marred by the charred gap in the joined buildings on Water street from the last fire.

However, the best part of my month so far has been my week in Cuenca. I don’t count having to stay the night in Quito airport or the non-existent internet connection at my hotel among my highlights. But the conference itself offered some wonderful ideas to steal, we had a formal reception with the mayor of the city, and I made some pleasant and intelligent new friends, one of whom has even given me a lead on a job when I finish my degree in 2012.

The heat of the tropics was not particularly hot, hovering around a comfortable low to middle twenties every day. The architecture was beautiful, a blend of buildings constructed over three centuries in Spanish, French/Spanish, French, and occasionally industrial American, styles. The streets were narrow, and mostly one-way, at least in old Cuenca, where I spent all my time. There were churches everywhere, magnificent stone buildings where there were daily masses held, all of which had impressively high audiences. On the way to the formal conference dinner, a couple of other attendees from my hotel wanted to take pictures inside. It was during a service, and I walked behind them for a moment, but had to step outside. The aura of their submission and devotion was too powerful for me, and I began to have trouble breathing.

Being out of breath was especially common in a city eight thousand feet in the Andes. Walking from my hotel to the University of Cuenca, where the conference was being held, I had to cross a small river over a stone bridge that consisted of three stories of stone steps. Walking down the stairway, even though it was crumbling on the edges of some steps, gave a fantastic view of the university and surrounding houses spread out through the valley between enormous green mountains. The university itself was peppered with pictures of Ché, sometimes two stories tall, along official buildings. I felt a strange pride at being in a place where leftist revolution was actually taken seriously, not just a stereotype on the walls of politically ignorant guitarists.