Monday, March 12, 2007

The Sherpani Meets Lima

In anticipation of our impending trip to Machu Picchu, we invested in a child carrier called the Sherpani. Once upon a time we bought and almost never used a Baby Bjorn. We even carried it with us to Buenos Aires and decided to put Caleb in it during our tour of the world famous and truly spectacular Teatro Colon. Caleb had a meltdown of epic proportions and had to be removed from the tour (after being shushed by our fellow Americans on the tour -- to this day I wonder what that woman would have had us do to keep him from making noise). In an effort to avoid another such episode, we decided to slowly introduce Caleb to the Sherpani by making short trips around Lima to sites of interest.

Caleb in the Sherpani
For those of you who are regular blog followers, despite the fact that the blog is not always worthy of regular following, you will recall that Lima is not our favorite city. Let me refresh, it is big (somewhere between 8 and 12 million people), it is dirty, it suffers from 50% unemployment, it is rife with petty crime and, let's face it, it is not pretty. Luckily, Peru is not Lima, but it is where we live and we at last decided that there must be something worth visiting in this enormous city. So, we pulled out our handy guidebooks (Lonely Planet is proving to be the best of them all), a resource surprisingly few of our fellow expatriates acquired before coming here, and with the Sherpani in tow headed to downtown Lima, destination: Monasterio de San Francisco. This Franciscan monastery and church is situated just 2 blocks from the Plaza de Armas and is famous for its library of antique texts and catacombs. We joined an English tour with two other couples one from Japan and one from China. Our guide was very nice, but began the tour by informing us that she was a student of English and to please bear with her.

The Monastery
Much of the tour went like this: "Here are some frescoes," "here are some paintings of apostles," "these are the catacombs," etc., in truth much of the building was destroyed by 2 severe earthquakes, but the tour was just not what we'd hoped it would be -- thank goodness for the aforementioned guidebook. Our tour did not include the library, for reasons passing understanding, but we were able to spend some time in the catacombs where it is estimated that some 70,000 people are buried. For simplicity's sake, the bones were grouped together by type and the catacombs are filled with large pits of skulls, femurs and tibiae carefully arranged in geometric patterns (sorry, photography was not permitted). Above the catacombs in the part of the monastery that is accessible to tourists (there are still monks living at San Francisco) there were several rooms of religious art. At one point, we walked into a large hall with 11 large (more than 6 feet high) canvases depicting the life of Christ each with a small sign indicating that the artist was Peter Paul Rubens. REALLY? 11 Rubens in this lovely, but somewhat obscure monastery in Lima, Peru? Do the guidebooks mention anything about this? Surely this is not the same Peter Paul Rubens of The Three Graces and The Judgment of Paris? I asked Kenny to clarify with the guide, though at this point I was a little unsure of her ability to shed any light on the question even in her native tongue. Her explanation was as follows: the paintings were produced in Rubens' art school and it is "assumed" that 2 of the 11 were either painted by the master himself or that at least he helped as a woman in each painting bears a resemblance to the painter's wife Isabella Brant. Ah! So, not exactly an unexpected treasure trove of art, but still beautiful paintings nevertheless. After leaving the Monastery we walked out into the square which was bustling with pigeons and people.

The Church and the Pigeons

Caleb was mesmerized by the pigeons and the people were mesmerized by Caleb and the Sherpani. Locals and tourists alike stopped to point, stare and smile at Caleb in his throne. He seemed content, so we decided to press our luck and take a walk through the church. The church, like so many we have visited all over the world and particularly in Latin America, was beautifully appointed with numerous altar pieces and depictions of the Virgin in lavish garb. What was unique about this church was the aroma of fresh flowers that overpowered us as soon as we walked in. We are so used to plastic floral displays it was a pleasant surprise to find ourselves in such aromatic surroundings. Just a block from San Francisco is the building which once housed Lima's central train station. Very little of the original station interior exists and the building itself now serves as a community center, but the roof is still intact and we thought it quite striking.

Train Station Roof

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