July 22, 2013
Outside the cemetery are dozens of flower sellers; inside, the topiary is in weird forms, with two or three bushes often conjoined at the top, and cones juxtaposed with giant candle flames. It’s packed with folks in their Sunday best placing flowers in the tombs, most of which are in massive walls. We unexpectedly find a Jewish section, right in the center, nicely cared for; the fresh flowers indicate that there must still be some Jews in Sucre, whom I plan to search out. A small hill is covered with tiny brightly painted graves very close together—the section for dead babies.
Sunday evening we climb up to La Recoleta and then further up the hill to a house that looks like it belongs in Santa Fe. And indeed, a Santa Fe artist named Ryan lives there—he has just built this wondrous complex in the last year. It features a gallery modeled on a kiva, an underground studio, a grape arbor and olive trees, and huge open spaces amazingly shaped. Unfortunately, he has run out of money and can’t build all that he has planned.
Philly, a British woman who has lived here for seven years and runs a children’s magazine called Inti, has taken our kids up there a couple of hours early to sketch and play with Ryan’s puppy Ayni; they seem at home in this sparse, modern, adobe space. Philly’s eighteenth-century house has exposed wooden beams in the ceilings and a Jalq’a weaving on the wall; Ryan’s twenty-first century fortified castle has frightening Colonial-era ceramic rooftop statues of beasts with three faces. And while Philly is full of laughter and daring, Ryan is the quietest man. He has been here twenty-five years now, ever since he came from Chiapas to do Peace Corps service. We reminisce about Na Bolom in San Cristóbal de las Casas, where we both stayed about twenty years apart, and he shows us some of the ceramics he has made, and more of which our kids may help him make. We drink tea, eat quinoa biscuits and whole-wheat banana bread, watch the sun set over the entire city, and silently wonder at the strange magnificence of it all.