sábado, julio 25, 2009

Silver, Sucre and La Virgen de Guadalupe

One of the advantages of wearing a coat outdoors is that it permits me to carry my digital camera with me at all times. This morning, I was able to get into the Chapel of the Virgin de Guadelupe. The Chapel, adjoining the Cathedral, contains a miraculous image of the Patroness of La Plata (Sucre.) The image itself, Mary and baby Jesus have painted faces which were placed on a gold-plated silver triangle, is encrusted with jewels (pearls, diamonds, emeralds, etc.) and is rumored to be so valuable that, if cashed in could pay off Bolivia's national debt.

In the Plaza, along the side elevation of the Cathedral, a line of cars were being readied for a procession and eventual Mass in the Guadelupe Chapel. The cars were covered with family treasures (weavings, silver bowls and plates, and stuffed animals and dolls.) I missed the procession itself, but I spoke with one of the women sewing silver objects to the weavings. She told me that it was a family celebration. Years ago, in Cochabamba, I saw a similar ceremony. Then, I learned that each year, a family becomes the protector of a religious image for a year. The procession and fiesta occured when the next branch of the family takes guardianship. Perhaps, this was a similar occassion.

My Piece of Bolivia's History

I first came to Bolivia in 1964, when I was 22. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I taught at the state university in Cochabamba (La Universidad Mayor de San Simón.) Twelve years before, Bolivia experienced the first major social and economic revolution after that of Mexico in 1910. The MNR (National Revolutionary Movement) initiated land reform, the nationalization of the mines, health reform, public education and unversal suffrage. Bolivia's revolution was supported by Washington. It preceded Cuba's revolution by seven years, a revolution definitely not supported by Washington.

This comes to mind after a conversation, last week, with a recent graduate of the local School of Architecture. He is working, part-time, for my best friend here, Arq. Darío Canseco. Mario (his name) is from a village near Zudañez, a small city about 50 miles from Sucre. His father works the land and plants potatoes, wheat and corn. I can't vouch for this, but it very likely the land was once part of a hacienda and was distributed to the peones who worked for the hacendado five days a week to be able to work a small plot of the master's land the other days. Clearly, Marios' family made major sacrifices to enable him to receive a university education. While in architecture school, he worked as a waiter in one of Sucre's tourist restaurants.

What I am trying to say is that the education and land reform MNR revolution has had a major impact on the lives of Bolivians. Evo Morales' presidency is a direct result of the 1952 revolution and the increasing participation of indigenous groups in national politics. On my way back from the Archives, I passed through a group of "originarios" (the latest term for indigenous peoples) from the community of Qhara Qhara. For the past two weeks, the members of the local allyu (traditional tribal group) have been protesting over their political leadership. At present, they are represented by a "sindicato de campesinos" (peasant union.) I haven't figured out whether this has to do with the strength or values of individual leaders or the authenticity of the governing structure. What I do know is that the "sindicatos de campesinos" was the mechanism used by the MNR in the 1950s to organize the new land-holding ex-hacienda peones. The syndicatos were used by the government to channel campesino votes in their favor. Evo Morales is similarly marshalling "originario" votes emphasizing traditional political organizations with the same objective - maintaining political power. In a complex society with conflicting interests and needs, in the end, is the concentration of power productive?

martes, julio 07, 2009

The Other Sucre

I realize that almost all of my photographs show Sucre at its most picturesque. This has alot to do with my fascination with the Colonial Period, with my stay in the historic core and the chaos of unplanned rapid development which surrounds the center. When I first came here, in 1965, Sucre had about 60,000. One hundred years earlier, the population was 18,000. Now, forty plus years after my first visit, Sucre has the current population of New Orleans, 350,000.

When I lived in Cochabamba in the mid-sixties, Bolivia had not experienced the rapid urban migrations that had such an impact in other Latin American countries. Subsequently, the effects of the land reform initiated by the 1952 MNR Revolution and the closing of the tin mines in 1982, enabled by neo-liberalism policies of privatization, brought about this uncoordinated urban growth.

I took these pictures last Friday. My friend, the architect Dar ío Canseco, took me along on a site visit with his clients, a lawyer and pharmacist. They had purchased a property in one of the more stabilized areas around Sucre and had built a protective wall and two temporary buildings which they currently occupy. The site presents some extraordinary design challenges and I wish Darío great good luck in their resolution.

The last two photographs were taken from the property. The second to last shows an automobile dealership in its context. The last, I hope you can discover it, is a house Darío designed for his uncle. They both represent distinct approaches to dealing with the problems of finding an architecture in contemporary Sucre. I’m happy to apply my own creativity to reconstruct the texture of the social and professional relationships which formed the basis for contemporary society.

viernes, julio 03, 2009

In the Sala de Investigadores

I don't know what community he came from.(*) I will have to ask today, when I return to the National Archive. I didn't want to stare but he was fairly young, pouring over a document in his traditional clothing, which was immaculate. His was showing the utmost respect to the Archive and to his people's past. He wore sandals, cotton pants which reached his calves, an embroidered shirt and a magnificent poncho - stripes of red, yellow and blue in varying widths and quite asymmetrical - unlike those I had previously seen. He wore a chulo - a knitted cap with ear flaps common in Bolivia and on the heads of hip college students in the States - of cream and dark brown wool. Over the chulo he wore a high crowned natural felt hat - quite common among the indigenous people of this region - but his was brand new.

My photograph of the indigenous scholar in the Sala de Investigadores, sitting at a Danish Modern desk, surrounded by bookshelves and other researchers would have been a prizewinner. Unfortunately, cameras are prohibited in the Archive.

(*) I subsequently learned from a librarian that he was from Tapacarí, in the Cochabamba Province and he was carrying bolas (a weapon made famous by the gauchos in Argentina), indicating that he was a chief. Tapacarí is the mountainous area between the Cochabamba valley and the Altiplano to the West. It is sparsely populated and consists of small interconnected mountain valleys. The main route from Cochabamba to Oruro and La Paz passes through this region.