Saturday, March 21, 2015

Museum Madness in Quito

When planning the trip, I found four different Quito walking tours online. I copied and printed them out to give direction to our time here. On our full first day, we tackled the museum walking tour with seven institutions listed. The thing I really dislike about the museums here is that they all forbid taking photos, even without a flash.As a predominantly Catholic country, many of the museums include more religious art than other types.

The exception to the rule was our first stop, the Museo Camilo Egas. Free entry was an added bonus to this museum dedicated to the work of one man: Egas. As an Ecuadorian artist, he has the opportunity to study in many European art centers. This is representative in his work, but I did not realize he was an indigenous person until we returned home to read more about him. “Throughout his four stages of indigenism, expressionism, surrealism and abstractionism, Egas always represented the cultures, history and struggles of indigenous peoples.” (Source)

One great benefit of visiting art museums with Ron is his knowledge base. Having been a docent at the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest for so many years, he has availed himself of numerous art history courses and lectures. Even if he is not familiar with a particular artist, he has insightful comments.

Moving on to the National Museum of Colonial Art, we worked our way through the 17th century mansion, the
former home of the Marquis of Villacis, now houses the collection. This is where the blood and gore start, as Ecuadorian artists had an influence from the Spanish conquistadors. Most of the scenes or sculptures of Christ are beyond bloody, more so than what one normally witnesses. Entrance was $2 each.

Next was a bit of a disappointment at first. The Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño is located inside the Metropolitan Cultural Center. When we walked in, the third floor was closed off for restorations. The last time we were here, we were able to go out on the rooftop balconies to have a panoramic gaze at the city. The interesting parts of the second floor could not be accessed either. On the ground
floor, the last time we were in the city, there was a wonderful photo exhibition. This time around, it was just a vacant space. As it turned out, to enter the Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño one needs to walk outside and go to the side of the Metropolitan Cultural Center for entry after paying $1.50 per person. They immediately apologized that they have no tours in English. We self-guided as best we could. The art pieces and the life-like was figures were quite impressionable without a great deal of explanation.

We decided to have lunch at the restaurant inside of the Metropolitan Cultural Center. Thinking in terms of a snack, we noticed people at the next table had a fabulous bowl of soup sitting in front of them. We asked the waiter what it was, but the response was incomprehensible. Taking a different approach, I asked the price. He, I thought said “dos y cincuenta” ($2.50) so we each ordered it. Later, we learned he said doce y cincuenta ($12.50). 

Regardless, it was quite a meal. What we did not know it at the time, but this is a meal only served during Lent and Holy Week. This thick soup or stew, called fanesca, is created with 12 types of beans, corn, squash, sambo, achogcha. Embellished with a mini empanada, sliced hardboiled egg, and plantain, the bowls were overflowing. In the center of all of this were chunks of what I had hoped were chicken, but it was fish. Ron received my offering. 

This was the first course. Little did we know more was to follow. Next, served was a plate of spiced mashed potatoes set on a bed of lettuce with plantain slices. Taking deep breaths wondering how we were going to survive this while also realizing this was not a dos dollar lunch we swallowed hard. Still, it was not over. Thinking we were going to ask for the check when the waiter returned, instead he brought two more servings of food. This last course included two very healthy sized figs, three generous slices of white cheese and all of it covered with honey syrup. 

We rolled out of there. The next museum on our list was the Museum of the Convent of Saint Francis. It was ill-fated that there was major restoration going on, so many of the rooms were closed off. At first, we thought the only place we could see was the chapel. I went to the ticket office to complain that all other spaces had “Do not enter” signs. Feeling sorry for me, the ticket seller told us to follow her. 

It seems the entry to the main exhibit was hidden by scaffolding. Once we negotiated our way around it, we had plenty of Colonial art to frazzle our brains. The building itself
is historic for being the very first church in Quito. It is the Colonial Monastery and Church of San Francisco dating back to the 16th century. 

Refreshing the brain, we returned to the Museo Maria Augusta Urrutia, a wealthy heir to an industrial fortune, who created a social service system for children. It continues today for 15 children. This is a guided tour only, with a tourism student intern doing the guiding. 

Our last venture for the day was the Casa de Sucre. With closing time only 45 minutes away, they wanted our real
passports, not the color photocopies we supplied. When we explained we did not carry them, they waved us on. Sucre was an Ecuadorian freedom fighter and hero. Everything in the house was in Spanish as it was in all the museums. We were able to get the idea, but still be out in time for closing. 

The only museum we did not get to on the list was the Museo de la Ciudad. We have been to it before and it is huge, so it will take a good part of a day another time. 

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