Monday, 28 October 2013

Cuenca: Bounty, Beauty, Blood and Bureaucracy - Part III (Parklife)

A young boy, barely 18 years of age, stands tall, holding a banner aloft.  He is 3500m above sea level, on the side of a volcano and in the midst of utter chaos.  He is reeling from altitude sickness and dog-tired from a grueling night march up the mountainside, trudging through gullies which the night's persistent drizzle has turned into veritable quagmires.  

Despite his tender years, this young lad, one Abdón Calderón, is already a veteran of 6 battles.   A Lieutenant in the Yaguachi batallion of Marshal Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá's liberation army, he has good reason to hate the Imperialist Spanish army, who had his father Francisco Calderón shot in the face and confiscated all his worldly goods for good measure.

Down below Lieutenant Calderón lies the city of Quito and around him all hell has well and truly gone and broken loose.  It is the 22nd of May, 1822 and the Battle of Pichincha is in full flow. 

Lieutenant Calderón charges ahead of his troops, flag held high, screming the revolutionary cry:

¡Viva la Patria! ¡Viva la independencia!>>

As a reward for his revolutionary zeal, he gets shot in his right shoulder.  This doesn't deter him though and he hefts the banner skywards and charges anew.  As a reward for his continuing revolutionary zeal, he gets shot in his left shoulder.  At this point, his fellow soldiers gently suggest that he might want to take a trip to the medic to get the multiple gunshot wounds seen to.  Lieutenant Calderón doesn't think much of this idea and continues fighting and carrying the flag until, having clocked up a very respectable four gunshot wounds, he finally gives up the ghost.

At midday, when Field Marshal Melchor Aymerich of the Royalist army orders the retreat, Lieutenant Calderón is taken into the newly liberated city to receive medical treatment.  

In Marshal Sucre's post-battle report, he specifically mentions
Lieutenant Calderón's bravery, describing his refusal to leave the field despite four gunshot wounds and calling him an 'heroic officer'. 

Thus is born a legend.   Later versions of the tale will tell of how plucky Lieutenant Calderón, having had both arms blown off by cannon balls, picks up the flag with his teeth and charges on Monty Python and the Holy Grail's Black Knight style.  The glamour of the legend is tarnished a little when you realize that Abdón Calderón died in the hospital fourteen days after the battle from an intense bout of dysentery

To honour him for his bravery, the central park of his hometown of Cuenca will be named after him, with a statue of his heroic last stand placed in its centre.

But that is still four centuries away, and the city of Cuenca doesn't even exist yet.  The year is 1556 and all around the ground where the park will one day stand is ruins and desolation.  The shattered corpse of the once great city of Tumepampa, laid waste by the sibling rivalry writ large of Atahualpa and

Not far from these ruins lies farmland around a little hamlet called
Santa Ana de los Ríos.  This farmland is worked by Don Rodríguez Núñez de Bonillade, treasurer of the Real Audencia de Quito.  When I say he worked the land, I mean he got indigenous people to work the land, took the product and rewarded them by not having them beaten or killed. 

Don Rodriguez saw great potential in the area: it was fertile, had abundant water and was well placed at a midpoint between Lima and Quito.  To his mind, it was the perfect location in which to found a new city.

So he went to the viceroy of Lima,
Don Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, chief representative in the new world of his imperial majesty Rey Felipe II 'el prudent
e'; Rey de España, Portugal, Nápoles, Sicilia, Cerdeña, Inglaterra e Irlanda (jure uxoris), Duque de Milán, Soberano de los Países Bajos y Duque de Borgoña.

File:Hurtado de Mendoza1.jpg
Don Andrés Hurtado de Mensoza:
keeping his eye on the new world for Rey Felipe II

Don Andrés was mighty keen on the founding of cities, and decided that this new one should take the name of the city of his birth, Cuenca, in honour of, well, him.

He was far too busy being terribly important  to do the dirty work himself and so sent one of his chief assistants, Don Gil Ramirez Dávalos, Sheriff of Quito, to do the hard-yards of city founding for him.

Don Gil Davos Ramirez was famed for his loyalty, his ability to command, his spirit of sacrifice and his spectacular ugliness.

A soldier from the age of 15, he had lived in Mexico for 16 years, pacifying local resistance to being drawn into the warm embrace of the Spanish Empire, before making his way south to the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Whilst in the bushlands of Nochistlán in southern Mexico, using a freshly-sharpened sword to convince the people of the benefits of civilisation, Don Gil received a rock in the face from a local who was not entirely in agreement with his arguments.  This crushed his jaw, destroying most of his teeth and leaving him with a somewhat sour and lopsided expression.

But an unpleasant countenance was no impediment to the efficient carrying out of his boss's otders and on Monday the 12th of April 1557, the first day of Easter week, he officially founded the city of Cuenca; mapping out the grid-patterned street plan of the city.  The plan centered around the Plaza de Armas, which was to contain a grand plinth at its centre, topped by marble vases, and be surrounded by such important edifices as the principal church, the main government buildings and the various houses of
Don Gil Davos Ramirez.

Urban layout of the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, created by Octavio Cordero Palacios (1870-1930), with lithography by A. Sarmiento, for his book "Miscelánea histórica del Azuay" (Historical Miscellany of Azuay) (1915). It is a reinterpretation of the original layout of the city according to its certificate of establishment given by Gil Ramirez Davalos on April 12, 1557.

It is 1590 and in Cuenca's Plaza de Armas the people are making their way to mass at the Iglesia del Sagrario (Church of the Shrine) all dressed up in their Sunday best.   One thing you will quickly note about the people however, is that they are all rather white.  The church is the centre for the 'Parish of the Spaniards' within the town and no indigenous people are allowed entry.

La Iglesia del Sagrario in 2013 - It is now a museum of religious art
Planning for the church began when the City was founded in 1557 and construction commenced ten years later, using stones from the ruins of Tumepampa in the church's foundations and walls. The building was then completed in adobe and white-washed in the traditional style of colonial basilica

So having pilfered the buildings of the indigenous people to build the church, told the locals that they are godless idolaters who must convert to the true faith from their barbaric sun/moon worshipping ways lest they spend all eternity in the hell-fires of damnation, the colonists then deny them access to the main church in town.  Ain't that just imparting the wonders of  civilisation upon the heathens at its very best. 

It will not be until after Ecuador's independence that the indigenous people will be allowed access to the same churches as the 'blancos'.

It is 1736 and there is a great bruohaha in the Plaza de Armas.  The people have gathered to watch the novel spectacle of a group of foreigners waving oddly shaped bits of metal at the Iglesia del Sagrario.

The foreigners are part of the French Geodesic Mission, led by French scientists Charles Marie de La Condamine, Pierre Bouguer, Louis Godin and the Spanish geographers Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa and sponsored by King Louis XV.  They are here to test Isaac Newton's hypothesis that the earth is not a perfect sphere, but bulges around the equator. 

They have been working their way south from Quito over the last month, taking measurements along a particular meridian arc in the Yaruqui plains running perpendicular to the equator.

As well as confirming that the earth is indeed an oblate spheroid and not a perfect sphere, the group will manage to fit in a few other little scientific tinkerings: Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa will discover platinum which is nowadays used in catalytic converters, laboratory equipment, electrical contacts and electrodes, platinum resistance thermometers, dentistry equipment, and jewelry;
Bougeur and Ullloa will make the first study and recording of the phenomenon known as a fog bow;

A Fog Bow - also known as Ulloa's halo or Bouguer's halo
and Condamine will be the first westerner to study the properties of rubber, as well as observing the manner in which the Quechua used cinchona bark to fight malaria and through experiment finding the most effective form of quinine extract from the cinchona.

Busts of the Geodesic mission scientists at the Mitad Del Mundo muesum
There is now a rather grandiloquent inscription on the tower which was used to help prove that the earth stuck out at the Ecuator which reads:

  <<Torre más célebre que las pirámides de Egipto>>

<<A tower more celebrated than the pyramids of Egypt>>

It is a cold, still early morning on the 20th of March, 1887 and Coronel Luis Vargas Torres is taking a morning stroll in the Plaza de Armas in Cuenca.  Inconveniently for him, his stroll follows the line indicated by a sword held by a serious-looking soldier who will in a few moments order some other serious looking soldiers to shoot Coronel Vargas Torres in the head.

The serious-looking soldier orders the colonel to drop to his knees:

<<Drop to my knees...a gunshot should be received standing face on.>> the colonel retorts.

The soldier takes out a bandage with which he makes to cover Vargas Torres' eyes.  The colonel waves it away with disdain.  He turns to face his executioners, raises himself to his full height and stares death in the face. 

If at this point someone had leaned in and told him that in 20 years time, this very sqaure would be renamed in his honour and that 100 years later a university in his native Esmereldas province would come to bear his name, it would likely serve as rather cold comfort in the face of hot lead.

In 1895, Vargas Torres' ally, Eloy Alforo, will lead the liberal revolution, which Vargas Torres fought for, to victory over the conservatives;
legalizing divorce, allowing religious freedom, and weakening the stranglehold of the church over the state, but Vargas Torres will not live to see this come to pass.

The last words he shares with this world are as follows:
<<God wishes that the heat of my blood which spills out upon this execution ground,
shall serve to harden the hearts of these good citizens and save our people.>>
And then the gunshots flare and all is silence.

Let us turn our faces away from this grim spectacle and look elsewhere. 

At the opposite end of the square from the Iglesia El Sagrario, construction is continuing apace on the new Cathedral.  The population of the town has outgrown the Sagrario and a grand new building is being executed.  Designed by a German-born friar called Juan Bautista Stiehle, who arrived in Cuenca from Alsace in 1873, to design suggestions made by Bishop León Garrido, the cathedral is to be surmounted by three giant domes covered by striking blue and white glazed tiles brought from Czechoslavokia and topped by two grand towers. 

Unfortunately. the designs will prove to be too grand for something as small-minded as reality.  The towers will have to be truncated due to a calculation error in the architectural plans.  Had they been raised to their planned height, the foundation of this Church to the Immaculate Conception, would not have been able to bear the weight.

Here's a model of the Cathedral as it would have been if that killjoy physics hadn't intervened...

...and here's how it would have looked if it was physically viable but made entirely of chocolate.

Is it a beard or was Cordero a dragon: you decide..

It is January 1912 and an old man with a splendour of whispy grey facial hair is sitting staring at a circle of pine trees  in the centre of the park.   The crowds wandering by seem to be paying him rather more attention than you would expect to be lavished upon an aged academic sitting around in a park.  ¿So why all the attention?

Well, the name of this wrinkled and hirsute don is
Luis Benjamín Cordero y Crespo and as well as being a noted scholar, poet, and biologist, he was once President of all Ecuador.   The people of Ecuador will come to know him as 'el grande' (the great). 

It was he himself who brought these eight pines, which form an elegant crown in the centre of the park, from Chile in 1875 and planted them here in the city centre.

He is starting to show the weight of his 78 years and he will be dead before the month is out, but I wouldn't feel too sorry for him if I were you.   Only fifteen years before, at the ripe old age of 63, he married a lady who had just turned 32 and sired two sons with her; the sly old goat.  

His interest in, and knowledge about, nature came from his upbringing, the son of poor farmers in rural Cañar province.  he spent his youth in the countryside working the fields.

As a child, he learned to speak Quichua from his indigenous friends and developed from them a keen sense of the inequalities of the society of his day.

During his presidency, he oversaw the construction of schools and colleges for poor children

He wrote extensively, penning poems in both Quichua and Spanish, as well as publishing the first Spanish-Quichua dictionary.

In 1904, he wrote the lyrics for what would become the anthem of Cuenca and its surrounding province of Azuay:

His love of writing, of his native land, and of nature can clearly be seen in this ode to Cuenca's principal  river Tomebamba, which I've reproduced here in its original Quichua with Spanish and English translations:

Taquishpa uraycun. Ishcay pataman            Canta y corre, chispeando diamantes,            Run singing, oh sparking diamonds
     huaylla jahuapi, shullata shitan
                      que aljofaran la verde ribera                           that pearly seed the green bank.
    Paypag llipiacug llambu riripupi
                          En su terso cristal revebera                    In your smooth crystal reverberates
     inti ninica cunyagman rigchan.
                      sol que lanza centellas radiantes                   a sun that throws out sparks aglow.

   Jucu lligllaca puyushinami
                           Como copos de niebla errantes                                 Like wisps of wandering mist
 yuraglla cuyun caypi chaypica.                      albos linos ondulan doquiera                           Snow-white linen, rippling here and there

 Pasag rigrami pachata huagtan,                   De cien brazos fantástica hilera                             A hundred phantom arms in a row,
timbug puscuta jatarichishpa.                      bate la onda con lienzos flotantes                   which beat the waves with floating canvases

¡Masnami chayan! ¡Masnami huambun!      ¡Cuánta vida! ¡Qué inmenso gentío                   Such life!   Such an immense multitude:
Shugcuna tagshan. Shugcuna chimbau.      en el cauce, en la orilla, en el llano                         in the riverbed, on the banks
Maycanca purin. Maycanca llandun...          y entre el grupo de arbustos umbrío.                          amongst the shaded trees!

     ¡Ima yacuta cantag atinga,                       ¡Tomebamba imponente y galano,                     Oh Tomebamba, gallant and grand
  Tumibamballa, manyapi jatun                      
tan hermoso cual tú no habrá río,                            as fine as you no river shall there be
    Solano yaya shayarigpica!                        
Si aparece en tu margen Solano!                                  If Solano apears at your margins!

The Solano to whom the poem refers was one Fray Vicente Solano,
a Cuecnano theologian, writer and polemicist who helped to found Cuenca's first printing press in 1828. 

It is the year 1920 and the park is in a state of great upheavel; new trees are being planted, others uprooted (although not Cordero's octagon of pines) and new paths are being laid. 

These momentous changes are taking place under the oversite of Octavio Cordero Palacios, who is taking time out of his work as a dramatist, professor and mathematician to do a little public planning and garden design.

It is Cordero Palacio's decision to rebaptize the park, Parque Abdón Calderón, after the heroic/crazy (delete as applicable) young soldier we met at the beginning of this blog post.

In 1929 a statue of Calderón in suitably dramatic pose will be placed in the centre of the 8 pines, replacing the plinth and marble urns of old.

It is 2013 and Cordero's pines, Calderón's statue and the new and old cathedrals have been joined by a new cast of characters: there's a host of assorted hobby horses, a giant cut-out Shrek with accompanying donkey and some straight-from-the-crayon-packet-primary-coloured model cars. 

Every now and then a kiddie will wander up to one, grab their parents and plead to have their photo taken with them.

At this point, the toy's owner will magically appear with a camera and offer to take the photo, for a very reasonable fee.

The sun is out, couples are lounging into each other on benches, luxuriating in their proximity; young bootblacks are approaching likely businessmen with the tempting offer of a well-lustered shoe.

 At the bandstand at the edge of the park, a group of break dancers is hopping, swooping, twisting and flipping around on their heads for the benefit of nobody in particular.

There are hawkers selling wares, families relaxing, teenagers enjoying an ice-cream, the odd gringo here and there snapping away furiously with their cameras.

Everyone seems to be relaxed, off-duty, in no way concerned with timetables or deadlines or anything so onerous as paperwork.

And look, there I am, making my way out of the park exit nearest the cathedral, panting a little with the exertion of a brisk high-altitude stroll, heading towards that notaries in the corner, ready to be administered with the modern day equivalent of incaic bureaucracy;

Túpaq Inka Yupanki would be proud.

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