Monday, August 10, 2009

If It Ain't Baroque

The next day Eyal and I put on our American tourist caps, with the express intent of covering as many 'greatest hits' as possible. We had about 12 hours and over 500 years of history of cover, so there wasn't much time to waste.

We purchased an all-access pass to Cusco's religious sites, including one cathedral, two churches, and a museum of religious art. All were built in the middle of the 17th century at the height of the Baroque period.

In full disclosure, I normally can't stand Baroque. It's the Renaissance on steroids; a train wreck of a sequel on par with Caddyshack II. If it's Baroque...please fix it. Tear it down, melt it, bury it- do anything besides permit it to continue in its gross excess. The local style known as Cusco Baroque, characterized by its "fear of unadorned spaces," brought me head-to-head with one of my strongest loathings.

The experience became an unexpected lesson in tolerance. By my third altar, endlessly intricate and gilt to the hilt, I began to appreciate this style in new found ways. Baroque's beauty, I meditated, is in precisely what I detest the most: its incomprehensibility. In these 30 foot golden monoliths, there was so much to take in- so much pattern, symbol, narration- that I would never fully grasp their meaning. I would never be able to grasp the wholeness of this altar, just as I would never fully comprehend the meaning of the Holy Trinity. There was another world within the altar- one which I could only partially understand- and that partial understanding only increased my desire to be a part of it.

My visit might not have converted me to Christianity, but it did convert me to Baroque.

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