miércoles, octubre 29, 2008


Even though my skills at interpreting the handwriting of 18th century scribes is improving, this morning I met my match in one critical document. It was written in 1700 and defines the financial and labor obligations of young Cristobál Dávalos. He was apprenticed, at 13 years of age, to Tomás de Torres, a locksmith and blacksmith. It would seem like a promising career opportunity. I have yet to find another 18th century locksmith and very few ironsmiths. Of course, I am working with legal documents and it is very possible that the others had no occasion to visit an official scribe or their documents have been lost.

I am reading apprenticeship contracts and they seem to vary little over the 18th century. Guardians are sometimes responsible for clothing but virtually all expenses from room and board to healthcare and even burial expenses are incurred by the master craftsmen. In one instance, in case the master watchmaker should die before the completion of the contract, the apprentice was to inherit the master´s tools. None of the documents mention anything related to the eventual acceptance of the apprentice into the respective guilds (gremios) but in one instance, the master guarantees the "graduate" apprentice´s work for five years.

Back to paleography. I'm hoping that a haircut and lunch will give me the patience, concentration and imagination to tackle the rest of the document. Paleography reminds me of the Sunday Times double crostic. Fragments of words, marks on paper which could go one way or another are juxtaposed against my Spanish vocabulary (which, I am happy to report, is pretty good) trying to build the most plausible narrative. It is slow going but reveals so much detail. My initial database, developed from the index summaries of the collection of 18th Century Escrituras Publicas enabled me to identify the documents that called for closer inspection. And that will be my work for the next month.

domingo, octubre 26, 2008

An Outing with Architecture Students

Five years ago, during my last Tulane sabbatical, I taught in the Architecture School at the Universidad Mayor, Real y Pontificia de San Francisco Xavier de Churquisaca (South America´s second oldest university founded in 1624.) My friendships with both facuty and students have made this time in Sucre most enjoyable. This year, I was named Docente Honorario (Honorary Professor) and, on occassion I have been invited to participate in design reviews and other classes. The school is planning a new building and on Tuesday afternoon, I will join in on discussions of proposed alternatives. The following photographs were taken during a field trip with Arq. Guillermo Layme and his students to a site for a class project, one of the few times I have been able to enjoy the countryside.

It seems that all of the photos in this blog from Sucre seem to be taken on sunny, cloudless days. Indeed, cloudy days are rare. So, here are a group of photos taken in softer light conditions. San Lázaro was Sucre´s first cathedral. It was built on a terrace which served as an outdoor atrium, a space for the conversion of the indigenous population. Santo Domingo was the center of the Dominican Order and the Inquisition.

Santo Domingo

San Lázaro

Calle Oruro - once a street of craftsmen.

Gran Fiesta presented by the School of Finance and Business Administration of the UFXC. Note the menu - stuffed potatoes, piquante noodles, basically spicy meat sauce, and (mmmmmmmm) spicy tiny flavorful potatoes (papa lisa.) All of this plus music and dance for 5bs or 75 cents.

miércoles, octubre 15, 2008

A day in the Life

The House on Abaroa Street

Santa Mónica

Spring, in all its glory, has arrived in Sucre. This morning, rather than going directly to the Archivo Nacionál, I decided to take care of a few errands. But first, I wanted to take advantage of the early sun angle to photograph the facade of a colonial courtyard house on Calle Abaroa that I have been looking at for years. The elaborate portal was decorated in a style which relates to the clearly mestizo facade of Santa Mónica. Half of the palacio has been demolished allowing a revealing sectional view of the typical adobe construction.

While I was clicking away, a charming young woman approached and as she unlocked the carved wooden door, she asked me where I was from. I was able to get myself invited into the remarkable patio and took the photos included in this post. As you can see, it contains a truly remarkable and completely unexpected staircase. The austerity of the patio itself and the baroque exuberance of the stairs suggest that they were a later addition. But they also point out the love of contrast found in most colonial buildings here – direct basic bearing wall construction largely of unadorned walls with a few simple openings combined with rare but with richly sculpted entrance portals.

On my way to the Brazilian Consulate (to enquire about visa requirements – I will be returning via Rio), I joined the Dino gym (Sucre is noted for its dinosaur tracks recently discovered at the outskirts of the city.) It is on the top floor of the MultiCentro Céspedes on the Plaza. The penthouse gym has a terrace with a panoramic view. Unfortunately, their aerobic equipment is meager and in bad repair but it appears to be the best-equipped gym in the city. I should have joined a month ago but, now that my research path is clear and I have completed a body of work, its time to work on my own body.

Fortunately, he Brazilian consul was not in. I will have to return this afternoon. There I was, only a few blocks from the Colonial neighborhood, Los Tres Molles. (A molle is a native tree with clusters of small red berries.) It occurred to me to photograph the remaining examples of colonial architecture in the area. I had just read a document from 1740 certifying the purchase of a lot and house by Nicolás de Herrera, a silversmith (platero) I have been studying. It occurred to me to see if the name “Tres Molles” meant anything to current inhabitants. A shoemaker directed me to a corner store and its elderly (can I use this term) owner. He was quite familiar with the term and described the neighborhoods boundaries. When I told him about Nicolás de Herrera, he said that Calle Destacamento 111 was once known as Calle Herrera. Also, a Doctor Herrera had offices near the corner on property possibly part of the original purchase. I will be speaking with him this afternoon.

Aha!!! I now have a whole new avenue of historic research and a brilliant excuse to change focus and escape from the Library from time to time.

Barrio de los Tres Molles

miércoles, octubre 08, 2008

The Prado Today

It´s an unexpectedly chilly morning in Cochabamba. I´m sitting in Dumbo´s, a clean and pleasant gringofied restaurant on the Prado, not far from the spot, now long gone, where David Erbe and I took pension in the ´60s as Peace Corps volunteers.

In those days, the Prado and Sundays were synonymous. Bolivians would sit at tables along the sidewalk eating salteñas (spicy meat pies), drinking the local beer (Taquiña) from liter bottles and playing “Generala” (poker dice) for beers. All this, while admiring Cochabamba´s golden youth as they promenaded (chaperoned by their parents) up and down the park-like neutral ground (New Orleans for median strip.)

The promenaders would disappear into the church in the Plaza Colón for Mass before repeating the ritual afterward. Meanwhile, the observers made plans for afternoon excursions – bike rides into the countryside or poolside relaxation at the Cortijo, a country-club like spa, now a luxurious private residence.

It could be the weather, more likely cultural changes, but the Sunday morning promenade is a thing of the past. Many of the Prado´s small apartment buildings and fancy houses have been replaced by high-rise hotels and office towers. Ground level restaurants have moved indoors and the Prado has become something else entirely.

In the ‘60’s, Cochabamba was a rather slow-moving city of 100,000 with very few private automobiles. We, along with our students and many Cochabambinos, traveled by bicycle. Today, the same streets are choked with traffic and the metropolitan area has upwards of 800,000. Sucre has its own problems of rapid urbanization but its scale and temperament remind me more of my Cochabamba.