Sunday, 24 November 2013

Of Death, Design and Cuenca's Independence Day: Part the Third (3rd November, 2013: Snapshots from the 193rd Anniversary of Cuenca's Declaration of Independence)

It is dusk and whilst strolling along the riverside of the Rio Tomebamba in central Cuenca I am drawn in by the anti-hubbub you get when the milling masses pull up and huddle for a moment, focusing their collective attention on something.  I approach to investigate. 

A small crowd have gathered around a street artist who is hunched over a sheet of posterboard, a can of spray-paint in hand.  He is using the can to spritz the delicate curve of a tree-trunk haloed in the twilight onto the posterboard.  He reaches down to pick up another can. 

But hold on, ¿why has he got a cigarette lighter in his other hand?  ¿What's he doing with...
¡BWOOOOOMSSSSSSHHHH!  A great leaping arc of fire emanates from the point where the projection of spray has crossed the lighter's flame.

It turns out he has not become disenamoured with his work and attempted to destroy it in a fit of pique, but is merely using a rather grandstanding method to quick-dry the paint.  I spend the next 15 minutes or so watching the variation of slow, gentle arcs of spray paint counterpointed by sudden bursts of noisy conflagration, quite transfixed by the showmanship of it all.

This is one of the many artistic and artisanal delights on view from artists and makers who have gathered about the riverside over the independence weekend as an (in this case quite probably not officially invited) part of the 11th Festival Artesanías de América, organised by Cuenca's Interamerican Centre of Crafts and Popular Arts to coincide with the 193rd Anniversary of Cuenca's declaration of independence.

A veritable glut of gazebos have been set up, from which artisans from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Uruguay are peddling an eclectic mix of alpaca shawls, straw hats and diverse items of leatherware; woolen sheep figurines and wooden tea dispensers; elephant-shaped ovens and children's mobiles made out of painted gourds hung from strings; handmade guitars and charangos; jewellery of silver, gold, stone and bead; etchings, paintings, carvings and playthings many and splendid in their variety and ingenuity; and, around the edges of the festival proper, more cheap and cheerful tat than you can swing a bag of cents at.

It is a sun-drenched early afternoon and I am standing watching delegations from each of Cuenca's barrios (neighbourhoods) filing past in celebratory high-spirits; all togged up in traditional dress, spinning and twirling, skirts a-whirling, offering sweet treats to the assembling masses from the backs of gaudied-up trucks

Crowd Control

A few hasty wanderers attempt to cross the path of the parade and are pre-emptively headed-off by a traffic steward who halts them by the simple expedient of blowing a streamer in their faces, which makes a satisfying wooshing sound.   The swirl and colour of the parade continues unabated. 

People relaxing in Parque de la Madre, taking the sudden appearance of pre-historic predators with impressive serenity.
I wander south of the Rio Tomebamba to Parque de la Madre in order to check out the progress on the construction of Cuenca's new planetarium ('the largest in Ecuador' as the under-construction sign proudly proclaims) and am presented with a most fearsome sight.  The park has been invaded by a group of fang-baring dinosaurs who are stalking ominously across the field.  This doesn't seem to have deterred the people from coming out for a picnic however.  Perhaps the pre-historic beasties have been roped-into lending their considerable bulk to help out with the construction effort.

Cuenca's new planetarium - now open to the public.

A Chola Cuencana in traditional dress made entirely from flowers - displayed in the Plaza de Flores.
And the extent of the celebrations doesn't end there.  It seems that in every park and open space in the city there is some kind of event going on.  The rest of my Cuenca independence weekend flies by in a melange of military parades (tanks, mortars and all), late night street concerts (all cumbia dancing, toffee-apples and sausages-on-a-stick) donkey races, orchestral performances (replete with cannon fire, mariachi singers and pyrotechnics), traditional dance displays and a thousand call-and-responses of:

<<¡QUE VIVA CUENCA!>>                                                                       <<¡QUE VIVA!>>

Long live Cuenca indeed.