Snap-Happy on Queen

23 April 2017 – I’m still swooning around Toronto, noticing things with a keener eye now that I shall not be living here & therefore can no longer take them for granted.

During this walk along Queen St. West, for example — nothing capital-S Significant, but all quietly significant to me.

Garage art down Cayley Lane just south of Grange Park, for example …

the garage door bright & probably fairly recently painted, but just one component in a total “urban installation” that also includes a scrawled-upon fence, some older low-level brick attached homes, & a soaring new glass condo tower as well.

Back onto Queen, over to Peter St., and yes! that funny frieze of street art still decorates one top edge of the corner brick building that, at street level, has long housed the Peter Pan Bistro.

Another bit of familiar street art in this neighbourhood, over by Soho: the dead tree stump that Elicser turned into street-sculpture years ago, and still refreshes from time to time.

I always look for the latest version — and this time literally clap my hands in delight.  Construction is underway right next to the sidewalk, and each city tree is carefully boxed, to prevent damage.

So is Elicser’s “tree”!

I love it, I love it.

Eyes up, more high-level artwork, this one new to me.

Low-level now, and why do I show it to you?

It’s vandalized, dirty, & the relic of another technological time.

Well I don’t know, but it snags my attention even so, there’s something about a phone-shape sculpture to encase a phone, even if only the smallest fragments of the physical phone still exist.

Exuberance & jollity a bit farther west, over by Spadina. Not new, but always delightful.

It’s another mad exercise in geometry & spatial relationships, courtesy of Birdo.

I veer left (south, that is) into Rush Lane, aka Graffiti Alley; also aka Rant Alley, since this is where CBC-TV’s Rick Mercer famously films his rants. (South of Queen, parallel to Queen, roughly between Portland & Spadina, if you want to visit it yourself.)

Year over year, the artwork morphs & evolves, coming & going, some images untouched, others repainted, yet others palimpsest. I’ve been here lots, it is slightly different every time. And … or … what I happen to notice is slightly different every time.

I’ve seen this doorway Poser bunny before, of course, but today I take near-curatorial delight in its “installation”: neatly tucked into its own niche, framed all around by other murals, with a final visual/spatial punch from the indigo wheelies.

Queen St. again, and sidewalk signs. This one is out of date, but it startles me into hiccupping giggles, even so.

One more sign.

Not for a café, as you will immediately appreciate. It’s for a denim shop — what’s more, for the best denim shop in the city. Says the website. (Their Vancouver website makes the same claim.)

First, I pick up on the pun.

Then I pick up on the skinny jeans [sic] walking into frame, right on cue.

So T.O.

25 March 2017 – As you all know by now, many things in Vancouver make me wriggle with delight. Moss, mountains, ocean, rain, signs about rain, images of rain … you name it, I’m wriggling.

But I have to say: when it comes to wandering down a lane to see what you can see, Toronto is usually more fun.

Starting with the name.

Which of course sends me online, searching. Thanks to number 10 in the list, I learn why this little lane just S/E of Queen E. & Jarvis is called Bootlegger.

At first it looks disappointingly tidy & polite.

But then … aha …

Love the context? Traffic sign & recycling wheelie & fire escapes & all?  Me too.

I also love the flower-power mural.

So I am satisfied.

Bootlegger Lane has rewarded my detour, and I spin on my heel to walk back out.

And laugh.

One more reward!

Oh, oh, oh, I wriggle with delight … this is so T.O.







Moss & 13th (East & West)

14 March 2017 – The sky is exceedingly grey, & the air oozes moisture. The trees are grey-brown-black, sombre camouflage for a sombre day.

Only the moss stands out.

How happy it is! I stop thinking about the air, the mist, & focus on the moss.

I am besotted. I lurch along 13th Avenue, East 13th morphing to West as I go, following the moss, tree to tree. Admiring the branches’ furry sleeves, stretching out from the trunk …

Admiring swirls of colour, texture, pattern …

moving in close …

then refreshing my eye with the restraint of this narrow trunk, just one tree farther down the line.

Then a big guy, big fat trunk.

I step in to enjoy the sheen of the day’s moisture upon the bark …

which brings me close enough to see how the buds are just starting to swell.

Another block, and I start to laugh. No need to get close.

Nature’s very own Wretched Excess, flaunting herself out there in front of God & everybody, totally shameless.

I’m attracting attention; people turn, try to see what fascinates me so. They can’t find anything. Small dismissive shakes of the head, & they walk on.

Oh, but look …

is this not totally loopy-delightful?

I move even closer to the trunk, crane my neck backwards …

study the black & white of fern silhouette against bare branches & sky.

On westward, another tree, and I’m laughing again.


Visions of a mad orchestra conductor, resplendent in green velvet, raising his arms for the downbeat. “Our tempo,” he intones, “is 30.”

Out to Cambie Street & north to 12th. Time for some visual contrast.

No furry-fuzzy textures here.

Just the strong, clean lines of Vancouver City Hall — built & opened in 1936, a make-work & civic-pride project that tempered the architectural exuberance of 1920s Art Deco with the sobriety of 1930s Moderne. The only colour all those flags, and the neon-circled clock.

I giggle again, thinking of the old joke: “What’s black & white & read [red] all over?” A joke that only works when spoken. Because then you can triumphantly reference the other spelling, and contradict either correct answer.

(I debate not giving you the answers. I relent. Answer # 1: “A newspaper.” Answer #2: “A blushing zebra.”)

Sun City

27 February 2017 – Vancouver knows how to get even. I twice label it “Wet City” and what does it do? Next time I go out the door, it pummels me with sunshine.

But my initial thought is not for the sun, as I stand on the Main St.-Science World Station platform; I am thinking about the mountains. About how they pop up, at the turn of your head, at the flick of an eye, where you don’t expect them at all.

Through the Skytrain station’s north-facing window, for example.

looking north from Main St.=Science World Skytrain station

Right there, apparently at the north end of Main St., but more precisely across False Creek and across downtown Vancouver and across Burrard Inlet and behind North Van. Right there. I allow myself a small, tourist-y wriggle of delight. In my Calgary days, the mountains were always leaping into view — but even then, I loved every flash. Never got tired of it.

What fun to be playing peek-a-boo with mountains again!

I decide to ride the train right to its Burrard Inlet terminus, Waterfront Station, and then walk back south through the city.

A choo-choo train station when it opened in 1914, now — to use the jargon — an “intermodal transit link” and beautifully restored to boot. People stream in, for various Skytrain lines; or out, into the city; or onward, connecting with SeaBus for the ride across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver.

Whichever, they stream through a glorious lobby, in all its Neo-Classic splendour.

"The Station" - Waterfront Station, Skytrain

I stream out, first to play tourist on Granville Square facing the Inlet and the iconic sails of Canada Place. And the mountains …

Canada Place on Burrard Inlet, facing north

I don’t have a very firm plan of action, but I do have the Official Walking Map of Downtown Vancouver. And I have my own two eyes, showing me inviting pathways southward through green space.

Which lead me to the dolphins. Well, I think dolphins. Something heraldic & fanciful & marine, in any event. Very elegant.

window ornamentation, Sinclair Centre

They adorn the lower ledge of elegant windows in an elegant, restored building. The Sinclair Centre, I read: now a shopping mall, but very upscale, and brought into being by connecting four heritage buildings via an atrium. I don’t go in; I just smile at the dolphins. I’m pretty sure they are smirking, not smiling, but the sun is shining and I don’t mind.

Onto Grenville Street proper for a while, I pass an alley and — of course! — turn into it. I’m up for some alley art, that’s my Toronto training.

No alley art.

But who could resist a pink-&-gold playground? With a hopscotch painted in at this end, and dotted arcs for basketball (or perhaps ball hockey) farther down?

off Granville, between W. Pender & W. Hastings

Something leads me sideways, don’t remember, but here I am on Howe St.and — boom! look! I recognize that! (I’m still at the stage where I can’t anticipate what will come next, geographically; I can only enjoy whatever appears, awarding myself modest extra points if I recognize it.)

Yes, the Vancouver Art Gallery, which I visited just days ago with my friend Sally to see the Susan Point exhibit. Now I walk on down into Robson Square, and half-climb steps back up, to just right here, to position Abraham Etungat’s “Bird of Spring” just so against the VAG façade.

looking north to the VAG from Robson Square

And on down through Robson Square, very uncompromising concrete at its lowest level, then climbing up, literally up, into more greenery, and up again on narrow pathways, and I’m not sure where I’m headed, or if it is public property. But no gates, and it is appealing, so I keep climbing.

landscaping on upper level, The Law Courts

Terraced shrubbery & plants around me, but I become fascinated by that tower, and the reflections mirrored onto it. The influence of where I am, surely, but … don’t they remind you of totems? Twenty-first century urban totems?

tower detail

No exit up here, it turns out, all doors locked. I rewind my steps, down onto the sidewalk, see I’ve been up in The Law Courts landscaping.

I turn onto Smithe St., no particular reason except that eventually it will feed me onto the Cambie Bridge.

And then, at Homer, I have another of those “boom! I recognize that!” moments.

This time thanks to a walk last fall with my friend Louise, who pointed out The Homer. An apartment building with ground-level retail when first built in 1909, and that same combination today. Except that tenants undoubtedly now pay a lot more rent, and the ground-floor sequence of a dye works, a steam cleaner, an ice delivery service & a corner store has yielded to a very elegant café & bar.

Fair enough, The Homer has been restored to elegance as well.

bay windows of The Homer, at Homer& Smithe

Happy with my discoveries, my rediscoveries, I let Smithe St. guide me onto Cambie Bridge. Where I hang over the edge to gaze lovingly at False Creek (inconveniencing the cyclist who, rightly, thought that side of the shared track belonged to him). And flick my eyes upwards at those mountains again.

view eastward into False Creek, along the north side

I think I’m done with them, as I hit ground on the other side and walk east into Mount Pleasant.

But of course I’m not.

I stop to admire the painted building at Ontario & East 8th, and there, above it all …

view north past Ontario& E. 8th

dancing with the sky & clouds … the mountains.


Yes, the sun shone all day like crazy & at one point I was carrying my jacket, not wearing it.

This morning I stepped out into a snow flurry.

POP! Go the Chairs

22 January 2017 – It is a totally pissy day (dull, damp, raw, intermittent rain-spittle), & I march out into it anyway.

And I am rewarded.

If waterfront summertime chairs can be this cheerful, if they can go POP! despite the weather, who am I not to join in?

chairs in Harbour Square Park, lakefront & Bay St

I’m in Harbour Square Park, by Lake Ontario just opposite the ferry terminal, starting to walk west along the lake and thinking how my attitude has changed to out-of-season accessories. Such as these Muskoka chairs, for example.

I used to sneer — yes, peaceful broadminded me — when confronted by public facilities designed, so I thought, for one season only. And for summer at that. When we inhabit, in fact, a primarily not-summer environment.

Now I delight in them — the chairs, the huge umbrellas at HTO Park and Sugar Beach, the lot. Why? Because so many others delight in them, and enjoy them year-round. So I am now an old dog with a new attitude. (Woof woof.)

More of those chairs keep popping at me through the drizzle as I walk along.

For example, when I meet Leeward Fleet in Canada Square. Background, but still definitely a presence.

2 of 3 components, Leeward Fleet, Canada Square

I read the signboard, and learn these pivoting structures (by RAW Design) were inspired by iceboat & sailboat technology. “Ancient fleet, blowing in the wind,” says the slogan.

The signboard also excuses me for not having noticed this installation before: it is one of five along Queen’s Quay West that together make up Ice Breakers, an exhibition that only opened yesterday and runs until 26 February.

A little farther west through Harbourfront Park, and my eyes follow my ears, to discover the source of the shrill squeal that fills the air …

marina along Harbourfront Park

Oh, I know, not a Muskoka chair in sight. But we can’t let ourselves be hamstrung by a theme, can we? And the sight does support my “out-of-season” sub-theme. All these little boats in the basin, tucked away for winter, and one man out there anyway — in a T-shirt! — power-drilling his way through an off-season project.

North side of Queen’s Quay, down by the Peter Street Basin, I spot giant hands. And jaywalk to check them out.

Tailored Twins, Queen's Quay W at the Peter Street Basin

Wouldn’t you?

It’s Tailored Twins (Ferris + Associates), another of the Ice Breakers installations, 3-metre-high faceted wooden hands, their golden palms glinting, even on a dark day. “Put your hands where my eyes can see,” says the slogan, and my eyes say thank you.

the west-end of the two hands

Well, that’s fun, and I head back east full of bounce.

Another of the installations, this one Incognito (Curio Art Consultancy and Jaspal Riyait), with — yes — a POP! factor.

Incognito, Queen's Quay W at Rees Street

This time the chairs, highly visible as they are, counter-balance a theme of invisibility. “An invisible city inside a park, can you see it?” The design, the signboard tells me, copies the same camouflaging technique used by World War I warships.

And on east I go, and on, and short winter days mean that by 6 p.m. it is already dark.

I turn north up Jarvis, and at King West see one final chair. This time it is just part of a tableau, and it is the tableau as a whole that goes POP!

through the Second Cup window, Jarvis & King West

I like everything about this scene: a warm, dry refuge glowing into the rainy night; a man ensconced in that refuge, head bent over his acoustic guitar, coffee near to hand.

I pick up the pace, walking on to home. The sooner I am there, the sooner I, too, will have coffee near to hand!

White Churches, Dark Burro

29 December 2016 – As if I’m not lucky enough just to be here at all, I am about to become even luckier. I will join the students of the Art Restoration Training Course on a field trip to the Colca Valley.

Oscár, Michaela & other instructors are nearing the end of the 2nd unit of training for 20 interested students; the first unit focused on sculpture, this one is devoted to paintings. The day I drop in, each work table has reached the “colour reintegration” stage in the laborious process of bringing these badly damaged works back to life. Here Michaela discusses colour choice with Jaime (who, days later, will give me the origami owl featured in my Las Motocholitas post).


The Colca Valley is known for its depth (twice that of the Grand Canyon), its wildlife, its hot springs, its strong Quechua-Aymara traditions, its bungee-jumping even — and its gleaming Colonial-era churches.

Once again gleaming, that is, after some 15 years of patient restoration work throughout the Valley, largely funded by Spanish international development money and led by Peruvian art restorer Juan-Carlos Cavera Catalán. Juan-Carlos himself, a resident of the Valley, will visit some of the churches with us.

But first we have to get there. It means a long day of combi-van travel that first drops us south to Juliaca, then west into Arequipa Region and on to Chivay, the Valley’s main town.

En-route we drive through the Salinas & Aquada Blanca National Reserve, an eco-reserve where, if you’re lucky, you may spot wild vicuña. (Unlike llama & alpaca, they refuse domestication; you spy them in the wild, or not at all.) The van veers suddenly onto the shoulder & brakes — vicuña!

Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aquada Blanca

Snap-snap, goes every smart phone, and we’re on our way again.

More good luck, we arrive in Chivay in mid-festival: days of celebration in honour of the Vírgen Inmaculada Concepción — and also of ethnicity, including dress and dance. The plaza is a-whirl, the decorations as exuberant as the danzas Wititi.

Chivay, decorations for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

Across the plaza, the town church: Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Not gleaming white, but otherwise a foretaste of what we will see in the days to come.

Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Chivay

In Yanque, for example …

Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción, Yanque


and in Lari.

Purisima Concepción, in Lari

Did you notice the long crack running down from the bell-tower on the left? And the tip-tilted angle of the cross on that tower? This is volcano country, earthquake country. You can lovingly restore a church, and then …

Ichupampa church, after the Aug 2016 earthquake

another earthquake can hit.

Which happened this August, once again shattering the church in Ichupampa.

Later we spy Volcán Sabancaya on the horizon, still breathing great plumes into the air.

Sabancaya exploded in August 2016, it is still venting, still active

The church exteriors are pure white; the interiors a blaze of colour & texture.

Largely blue & white in Corporaque, where Padre Miguel (L) and the rest of us listen to Juan-Carlos (R) and then ply him with questions.

Corporaque, Padre Miguel (L) & Juan-Carlos

The Lari church has more green in its colour scheme.

interior, Lari

I am truly awe-struck by the intricacies of retablos, altars, pulpits — but my heart responds more to simpler (& typically, slightly later) details. An angel guarding a window peak in Yanque, for example …

a window angel, in Yanque

and this doorway motif in Lari.

in Lari

Tourists come & go. Villagers come & go. Ladies of the parish, as with this duo in Corporaque, just quietly get on with their work.

arranging flowers, Corporaque

Then there’s the late morning we make the long — oh I do mean long, the long & bumpy to be even more precise — yes, the very long ride to Canocota. Where the church is firmly locked up, no key to be found. And the plaza is empty. Except for the burro. Who trots briskly back & forth & back & forth. And back & forth.

We watch him.

the burro of Canocota performs for Michaela

And then we pile into the combi-van and bumpity-bump, drive back to Chivay for lunch. We revisit a pollería down the lanes by the market. I choose fried chicken & rice, just like the kids at the next table. Every now & then I, too, raise my eyes to the big screen.

fried chicken & fútbol, in Chivay

Liverpool & West Ham are tied 2-2.

Then we dive right into the market. Tonight will be our last night, we’ll pile up a huge fogata (bonfire) in the grounds where we’re staying, roast vegetables in the coals & grill chicken & sausage to go with them. Michaela has the shopping lists: we divide into mini-squads of Arms To Carry Things.

in the Chivay mercado

Not asleep, just quietly peeling her mandarin orange. She jumps right up once we start buying.

Back to our residence out in Achoma, a couple of hours of uni-sex fútbol

at play in Achoma

and it’s time to build the bonfire, cook our food, spend a long, last evening with each other.

roast corn, roast sweet potato, friends

Next day, and the next few days, it’s zip-zip for me. Back to Ayaviri. Back to Cusco. Back to Lima. Onto the final plane — at 3:15 a.m., heaven help me.

I sleep.

When I come to again, peer out the window …

over Lake Ontario, perhaps?

I can see I’m back in Canada.



Posies & Selfies

27 December 2016 – We spend December 8 in the town of Orurillo, an easy motorcycle hop of 48 km or so from Ayaviri. Michaela knows the town well & loves it for its charm; like the rest of the Ayaviri team, she also cares a great deal about its church, el Templo de Santa Ana. It is high on their priority list for restoration support (should they ever be in a position to expand their efforts beyond Ayaviri).

Santa Ana is very old (late 16th c.), Oscár tells me, original but for the metal roof  — and one more example of the churches now crumbling away all over Puno Region. “The authorities have graded it as unsafe for human use. They use it anyway,”

So I’m eager to visit the church. But it’s not the first building to catch my eye, as we dismount in the central plaza.

Municipal Offices, Orurillo Puno District

I am enchanted by the municipal office building. Michaela is horrified at my enchantment, begins to reassess her opinion of my aesthetic instincts. Don’t care, I love it. The world now recognizes Andean Baroque as a valid school within the larger Baroque, I hereby launch my own support group for Andean Art Deco.  A touch of bright exuberance in the sere landscape.

But yes, the Templo de Santa Ana is much more important.

side wall, Santa Ana, Orurillo

This side door is disused, signs of erosion are visible across the entire adobe wall. Yet somehow, despite fragility and loss, everything about it still exudes a powerful sense of peace and calm dignity.

Especially that door …

disused side door

Lots of action at the main door, where townspeople are beginning to gather for today’s Mass. It will be a double celebration: the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and the First Communion for an entire group of children.


detail, door in side wall


We go in. It is my first experience of one of these rural churches. Perhaps especially because of the simple exterior, I am entirely unprepared for what I see inside.

Templo de Santa Ana

Sumptuous, layer-on-layer, Andean Baroque glory. Propped up with scaffolding.

I blink at the centuries-old riches, the current extreme vulnerability, and find myself focusing — just for a moment of something easy to grasp — on the white posies at the end of each pew. Of course! To honour the First Communion.

I’m not the only one who is fascinated.

oh, the temptation!

I begin to take in more of the detail. Ornately framed paintings line both side walls …

side wall, Santa Ana

also with strategic support-poles, as needed.

supports throughout the church

Once the ornamentation was not limited to paintings & sculptures; the walls themselves danced with colour. Slightly later, and more decorous, tastes chose to cover up all that gaiety.

Now time is gaiety’s accomplice, and patches of colour escape to dance once more.

palimpsest -- earlier colour shows through the later whitewash


But they dance with the rest of time’s handiwork as well.

the wall cracks...

The Mass ends, the congregation makes it way to the door …

leaving Santa Ana after Mass

and into the warm sunshine beyond.

Where the excited new Communicants cluster with family, Padre Julian & friends …

& out into the sunshine

it’s Selfie-Time! Of course.

Michaela & I are invited for lunch by a couple who live in town. She has become warm friends with this family; over coffee, cheese, eggs & bread they swap affectionate updates. At one point, as context for a current situation, they allude to the era when Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path,” Peru’s Communist Party) & government forces battled throughout this region for control.

As usual, the fight for abstract nouns led to countless very real deaths; also as usual, the poorest suffered the most. No-one here escaped the impact. Eyes veil for a moment, sentences are half-finished & end with sighs. The moment passes. Now is now. Again smiles, & another round of coffee.

We drive home through splatters of rain. Lightening dances in the mountains.



“Cultural Patrimony” — & a child with a flute

25 December 2016 – Everything, of course, flows from the imposing, 18th-c. Cathedral.

San Francisco de Asís is the still centre of it all: spiritual purpose; spiritual, artistic & cultural resource; the heart-beat that drives Padre Miguel’s campaign to help people value, truly connect with, their own heritage.

Catedral San Francisco de Asís

But this is where you feel the connection being made — in the cheerful, very approachable little Cultural Centre & Museum, a few blocks away on Jirón 25 de Diciembre, whose front reception room doubles as a restoration workshop for objects that can be hand-carried from the Cathedral.

Centro Cultural y Museo, Ayaviri


Michaela performs introductions; I talk first with Oscár, a seasoned art restorer & consultant in the field, while his younger colleague, Jesús, continues to work quietly in the background.

“You came here a couple of years ago ‘for two months,’ ” I tease him. “What happened? Lose track of time?”

Penny, Jesús (background) & Oscár in the restoration studio of the Centro Cultural


He grins, shrugs his hands into a there-it-is gesture. “I feel a very strong social motivation,” he says. “For me, this work is all about taking pride in our past, respecting our past. Everyone is welcome, people come in, they see us loving these objects, bringing them back to life, they see the results in the museum, it can open another dimension in their lives, a very special space …  Young people especially,” he adds. “They come in, they’re not intimidated, they feel this is part of their lives.”

He is silent a moment. He draws breath. “We have to do something! Here in Puno Region, there is so little protection for this culture.”

And so, in this former mining-company office, now owned by the Prelature of Ayaviri, they are doing their something.

Jesús still bends over his work …


Jesùs at work


and Oscár leads me on a quick tour of the Museum, which houses restored objects that have no role in the present-day liturgy, most of them from the 17th & 18th centuries.

The first room is devoted to sculptures, including — and I chose it with today’s date in mind — a Nativity scene from the early 18th century.

Nativity scene early 18th c.

Unusual, says Oscár, because the figures are near life-size. Unusual too, I think, for the very tender treatment of the animals.

detail, Nativity scene

Next room, paintings. Almost all the paintings & sculptures are identified as anonymous works of the Cuzceño school, including this Señor de los Tremblores (late 17th-c., painted on linen).

Señor de los Tremblores

Now a room devoted to silver and liturgical objects. I am embarrassed to have taken no specifics about two of these wonderful items. Neither this silver plate …

silver offertory plate

nor this hand-stitched case, probably for Mass linens, surely the work of patient, skilled nuns?

linens case, hand-stitched

But I do know something about this portable wooden altar (retablo de campaña).

It is early 18th c., and, unlike almost all the other items in the collection, comes from elsewhere. In this case, from the church in Orurillo — which I am about to visit in a motorcycle day trip with Michaela.

portable alar, early 18th c.

The last room is devoted to regional archaeology — everything from snakes coiled in protective fluids in jars (“Eeeuwww!” go the schoolkids, delighted) to pottery. This vessel probably dates from the Qaluyo culture, which pre-dated not only the Inca but the Pukara before them.

vessel, probably Qaluyo culture

Next to all that, a children’s corner, with child-sized tables & art supplies, where young visitors can share their impressions, enter the artistic dialogue.

Could I be more pretentious?

How about… where the kids can grab a crayon & have some fun.

kids' corner

Speaking of fun. We follow our ears to the tiny central patio, drawn by giggles & chatter, to discover  a handful  of kids has wandered in — not part of an official school visit, just ’cause they want to.

One little boy clutches a flute. Oscár asks him to play.

child plays his flute in the patio

One of those plaintive Andean flute-strains fills the air. (Why do I think of the tremolo of a loon’s call?)

I am so touched. The children feel welcome, and want to visit. They hang around. They connect.

Cultural patrimony in action, I think. Exactly why Padre Miguel, Oscár and the others put in all these hours, day after day, doing what they do.


The team is physically in their little corner of the altiplano, but the Internet touches all corners. (Note: these three sites are all in Spanish.)

  • For more about the history & architecture of the Cathedral, click on this Enciclopedia entry;
  • for an appreciation of the work that is starting to happen, including some reference to the restoration workshop, click on this Sodalicio report;
  • and for a visit by Telecultura Ayaviri to the workshop, check out YouTube !






248 Km (& 1 Puppy) Later …

23 December 2016 – My last post got las motocholitas aboard the BMW, its snout pointed toward the maze of downtown streets that will eventually lead us to the highway. Michaela is in superb control of the machine; I am uneasily aware that from now on, it’s up to me to get the biking gear on & off my body and my body on & off the motorcycle, all by myself, just like a Big, Brave Girl.

Finally we’re free of the city. We hit Highway 3S, and there’s nothing between us and Ayaviri but 248 km of top-of-the-world open road.

I don’t have to worry about anything now but mirroring Michaela’s body angles with my own. I am free to exult in this fiercely glorious play of sweeping mountain ranges & brooding sky. My brain makes a few comparisons — highlands of Iceland? the Canadian high arctic? — and then settles down to enjoy the Peruvian here & now.

“We’ll stop for lunch,” says Michaela eventually, her voice popping into my ear via our headsets. “This is my favourite place, if I’m not powering right through, I always stop here.”

Ocobamba is just a village strung along the highway. Dogs & pedestrians take their chances as huge trucks roll on through, doing the Cusco-Puno run.

Ocobamba, along Highway 3S

I admire the wall art — !! I’ve been dying to see some up close for the last hour or so!! — and learn that it’s almost exclusively political sloganeering, left over from the 2016 national elections.

I join dogs & other humans in judging the moment, and dive back across the highway to join Michaela under the fronds of the open-air restaurant.

the must-stop restaurant, Ocobamba

Fried trout, potatoes, rice & salad for both of us, plus a generous selection of herbal teas. I snag Clove & Cinnamon, Michaela chooses Camomile; when the trout arrives we both drop slivers under the table for a very persistent, astoundingly noisy, kitten.

There is also a puppy lolloping about, but he is otherwise occupied.

puppy vs coat hanger, Ocobamba

Well … somebody has to show that coat hanger who’s boss!

Back on the bike (yes! I make it!), on we go, and eventually here we are, in Ayaviri.

It is the capital of Melgar Province in Puno District; population 25,000 or so (I slightly nudge the 2007 census); market town for an important livestock region (beef & dairy cattle, sheep); at 3,907 m./12,820 ft., it is some 500 m/1,670 ft higher than Cusco — and, one must admit, it is not particularly attractive.

Raw-boned, scoured-looking, functional.

Ayaviri, Puno District

Though, and you get a glimpse in the image above, with some very colourful sidewalks.

Ayaviri, Puno District

Colour, too, in the market, its stalls heaped with fruit & vegetables from other parts of the country and elsewhere in South America, as well as local cheese, butter & yogurt. (Michaela gives me a quick smirk — I’m interrupting her contemplation of this apricot versus that one.)

Michaela chooses fruit...

Colour in the mini-taxis …

mini-taxi by Plaza de Armas, Ayaviri

less so in local dress, seen here in Plaza de Armas — though up close, some of the women’s traditional woven mantas (ponchos) are vivid in their intricacy.

Plaza de Armas, Ayaviri, Puno District

All this is fine, and I am ready to eat, ready for bed, but I am also so eager to wake up again & start meeting the people, seeing the work, that has drawn me to this place.

It is, of course, centred around the Cathedral of San Francisco of Asisi, whose towers poke above the level of surrounding shops…

San Francisco de Asis, from Jiron 25 de diciembre

and whose majestic 18th-c. bulk commands the Plaza, and indeed, the city.

San Francisco de Asis Ayaviri

Tomorrow, I tell myself; tomorrow.






Adelante! The Adventure Begins

4 December 2016 – I ended my last post with a tease, a street mural in Toronto by Shalak Attack. The tease is this: the mother & child are in the traditional dress of the Peruvian altiplano — and here I now am, in the Peruvian altiplano.

In Cusco, to be exact, with this Jesuit church anchoring one corner of Plaza de Armas …

Jesuit church, Plaza de Armas, Cusco

and this view of serried, tiled rooftops climbing into the hills serving as a Plaza backdrop.

view from Plaza de Armas, Cusco

But I am not here for Cusco, or Machu Picchu, my destination is the small city of Ayaviri, located between Cusco & Puno. It is not at all on the tourist track, but it is special to me, because it is the focus of an art restoration project with which my friend Michaela (a formerAGO volunteer colleague) is closely involved.

She & her partner rent a small apartment here in Cusco, to which she typically returns most weekends. It is in a 17th-c. building in the old quarter, once a private home, now in the same family for three generations and restored & maintained. Like all homes of that era, it presents a wall to the outside world, and has tranquil patios within.

Here, the main courtyard …

main courtyard

and here, a view from a window overlooking a small rear courtyard.

view over back patio

If things go as planned (cross-fingers time), tomorrow I’ll hop on the back of Michaela’s motorcycle for the 3 1/2 trip down the road to Ayaviri. They’re equipping me with serious biking gear for the trip — I’ll not recognize myself!

The work in Ayaviri centres around the cathedral, which dates from 1580. “It all began almost 3 years ago,” says Michaela, “when Padre Miguel decided he wanted to restore the cathedral — water was leaking in, grass growing on the roof, all that Colonial Baroque artwork was deteriorating. He began with some parish funds, then obtained some support from the Church & the municipality. Now there is a little art restoration workshop, and we are running our first training course in art restoration as well. We’ll see where it can go from here.”

Here we all get to see Ayaviri’s Catedral de San Francisco de Asís through the lens of Michaela’s camera …

San Franscisco de Asisi, Ayaviri

tomorrow, I hope to see it for myself.

You’ll see it, and the rest of the activity, along with me. But not immediately, for internet connection there is unreliable.

Until later!


    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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