A live nativity in a large replica of a clay pot. The church we visited in in the background.
The annual crafts fair was today. Nativity scene accessories proved to be the most popular item.
It all started when Matt offered some beer to the dentist. Still skeptical of eating out, I cooked us pasta for dinner, which we ate at our hotel. Another guest, Gerardo (whom I mistakenly called Geraldo…), was also upstairs, enjoying a cup of tea. The bottle of beer was quite large, and feeling friendly, Matt offered some to our fellow guest. We got to talking, mostly in English, but using some Spanish when words were hard to find. Gerardo is a dentist. He is originally from Lima, but now lives in a rural part of Peru. It was to far to go all the way to Lima, so he came to Cusco for the holiday instead. Many of his patients are miners. Sometimes they pay him in gold. He does a lot of gold teeth for people too. That is the stylish thing to do.
It came about that Gerardo was going to mass later. Other than the inside of a few churches and a sopash festival (which I guess isn’t exactly Catholic, just Portuguese), I have never been to anything Catholic. Part of that is just circumstantial, I’ve never really had an opportunity to go, but then again, I have never sought one out either. Various people have told me masses and other ceremonies are long, ritual, and boring. But I wanted to see for myself—at least see what it is like in Peru, in Cusco. So Matt and I put on our best available clean clothes, which wasn’t much, and we met our new friend downstairs.
We walked down the hill to the main square. The nativity suppliers were packing up their goods, dozens of people were walking around carrying Jesus dolls dressed in white satin and gold (they take them to be blessed at one of the many churches), and there was an overall sense of festivity and expectant excitement in the air. We came to the big wooden church doors, and walked inside, past the partition used to shield the view from curious tourists. In front of me, at the end of the room, was the main alter. It stood about three stories high and was covered in gold. It glowed.
I wish I had a picture of how it looked tonight, but it’s not something that would really work in even the best photo because you wouldn’t be able to see the movement of light across the gold. The three of us found seats halfway back and waited for the misa to begin. There was a lot of ritual, some of it was boring, it wasn’t as long as I thought, but it was also wonderful. From what I could gather from the sermon, which was in Spanish, one of the priest’s main points was that we can celebrate because Jesus was born. This is a message I have heard many times growing up in church, but somehow it took on a more understandable meaning in the very stunning and ornate room in which I sat. The way that cathedral glowed in the soft light was one of the most amazing things to see. I mean, have you ever seen a 3-story wall covered completely in gold relifs? It was special. It was like a wedding. People go all out for weddings. They are special. A wedding is a celebration. A party. A new step. And it’s happy. So thinking about Christmas this way, in a room that glowed gold, offered an old perspective, but new to me.
Traveling does that in general, offers new perspectives that is. But only new to the traveler—you, the one experiencing a very small taste of the way others have been living and experiencing things for a long time.