Thursday, November 14, 2013

Paseo de los Museos, at Casa Santo Domingo

The destination was Paseo de los Museos, at Casa Santo Domingo, Hotel y Museo. The story of the structure was that it was once a monastery, established sometime in the 16th/17th century and built up over time. It had been converted at some point into what it was now: a popular resort/hotel where people came for lunch and weddings on the weekends. The entrance was crowded and we had to push past some señors selling tourist wares, beaded necklaces, small boxes, and bits of silver here and there. It was about the same kind of push I would expect to go through more in China outside any tourist spot. Oddly, the same type of pushy selling has been reduced over time in Korea so that usually the ajjumas were set up in a more orderly fashion around with tables. They still hawked wares, but it was not the same kind of pushy hard sell.

One of señors selling wooden flutes came straight for me, but a hand took mine and with a tug forward we went through the adobe arch and onto the cobblestone walkway that lead into the museum. At the first entrance was a small art gallery, where a local artist worked with executing floating fabrics in oil, which gave each work a somewhat more solemn feel of Marguerite without being Marguerite, but still very pretty to look at. Our Esmeralda commented “I know her and her work; before it was nothing but copies of masters. She was very good, don’t get me wrong, but nothing but copies. And I told her, you have to do something else you can’t just copy, and this is what she is doing, and it’s not so bad, it’s better than just copies, copies are misleading. What do you think SA-ra!?”

I smiled again. She had this habit of seriously emphasizing the first syllable of my name so that evey time it was a very distinct as the second syllable just sort of disappeared into the ether. I didn’t mind at all.

“It’s very difficult work she’s doing. This is hard to execute, getting the light right to create the perspective of depth; it’s not easy. It’s interesting.” Like I said, no Marguerite, but pretty. I’m not much of an art snob; however, the story was failing to tell itself to me in the execution of 20 pieces that were all plays on the same theme. Clearly it meant something to the artist, captured her imagination for a bit; however, we could not all be captured by the whispering allusiveness of fabric falling through wisps of air. It was trying too hard to be abstract while ending up being too literal. It was still pretty and interesting.

“That’s a good way to describe it. SA-ra. What do you want to see? We should go out into the gardens.” So it was that I was dragged forward once again through the busier restaurant and into the gardens of Paseo de los Museos.

The first thing that struck me in the garden was (again) that green. Green, green green, shades of green that would stick to your soul if given half a chance. The air was fresh and crisp and although there were people wandering about, the gardens felt lush and huge and empty compared to the compact, dark space on the outer walls of the monastery that was filled with a café and restaurant. Where the space we had just passed through felt like a commercial space, this felt more like a place of reverence.

We passed under long green trellises and hanging plants and into the stony walk of the gardens. I was taken in by the pretty macaws sitting up on their perches and crunching away happily on something they had to crack in their jaws. Signs were posted about, warning us not to feed the birds and commenting on how dangerous it could be to upset them.

We dipped further into the monastery-turned-museum and came out in the middle of a beautiful courtyard with a withered old stone fountain in the center of it. I asked someone to take my picture, feeling very touristy indeed.

“They like to come here for weddings. It’s very expensive, but people love to get married here. Now so many people come to Guatemala to get married. Go and look around SA-ra; I want to have some time to talk and maybe have some coffee. I never get to relax here, I’m always so busy, I think I just want to sit, but you go, you go.” Esmeralda pointed me off and I said that was fine. I heard my name being called and one of my other companions waved tickets and explained that he would be my guide through the museum.

The museum, aside from the paintings at the entrance and the pretty gardens, was composed of a series of underground displays. The displays including sepulchers and cellars set down at the bottom of winding stairs.

“I love stairs!” I proclaimed. It seemed silly, but I did. I loved the stylized stairs in older buildings that brought you in and out of strange and unusual places. I loved the dark hidey-holes that you could disappear under, feeling secret and hidden and taken away from the rest of the world. The first set of stairs were deep granite and clung to the outside of the cavern that we descended into the cellar. At the bottom was the glow of metal.

“This is the silver museum.”

Yes, it was. There was the light polish of gleaming silver in the dim light that illuminated all the pageantry of a 16th century monastery. There were crowns and plate guards, scepters and sensors. All manner of the trappings of religious life where the life was transparent dietization of normal people. I’m sure there was a Catholic monk or two somewhere that still thought about those times as the good old days.

From there we went back up the stairs and down into a few sepulchers, taking in the placement of the bodies and old bone casings. I explained to my Guatemalan guide that the heads were traditionally placed to meet the rising suna custom also used in Europe and one that was quite steeped in the traditions of several cultures that used similar ritual practices for encasing the dead.

In all it was dark and lovely, mysterious and Gothic and I rather enjoyed myself jumping up and down and in and out of burial places. We finished up the ancient museum part with a tour of a small collection of art pieces carved in wood and then laminated in paint. One thing, which I don’t think I had ever seen before, were some excellently realistic carvings of the lost souls of purgatory. The use of fire to envelope the lower half of the body and the subtle way in which tears were carved running down the cheeks was quite fantastic.

From there we went over to a more modern part of the museum where there were more abstract paintings by a local artist. This artist had an entirely different relationship with color and idea, making the abstract powerful. The art was very inspired by Rothko, with a touch of Pollock, but quite lovely in how it was portrayed on the canvas. I looked through a few different pieces for sale before heading into the last gallery.

This gallery was one of the most interesting, as it included ancient Mayan art pieces juxtaposed with modern interpretations. I didn’t get it at first, looking and seeing these glass pieces and thinking they seemed out of place, but then realizing that was the purpose. The ancient Mayan pieces had been sent around the globe to a variety of countries, and from there the pieces were reinterpreted and experienced by the receiving artist into interesting glass pieces. I found this a very profound exchange of art, culture, and tradition; a unique experiment with creating a sense of global community.

From there I tripped lightly back into the museum, and my guide called the rest of the party for us to meet up and head toward lunch.  

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