After living next to this giant red church for 3 months, and peering out of the window down at the tops of the overflowing vegetation of its courtyard, I finally managed to go inside.
The courtyard is big and dark, because the trees block out the light. There is a fountain in the middle. The ground is wet unpaved dirt. It’s very quiet. Around the courtyard there are large white arches with dark, almost black, thick beams overhead. There are smooth large terracotta tiles beneath the beams and arches.
The rooms surrounding the courtyard house the colonial museum- what is really more of a collection of religious relics than colonial ones. The light is poor, the windows are small and the sparse track lighting is garish at times, spotlighting old rotting dolls fashioned after saints and skeletal Christs covered in blood and tacky wigs. Catholicism is depressing and frightening, it made me think. But there is a large room dedicated to huge paintings depicting the life of Saint Francis, which I found inspiring. I decided I would read more about his life and miracles.
As I walked back out into the courtyard and towards the exit, I passed a small older man wearing a baseball cap, faded jeans, and gardening gloves who started talking to me. He asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied ‘a little.’ He proceeded to beckon me to follow him over to the trees, pointing at various plants and talking fluidly.
I tried my best to follow along. I think he asked me if I was familiar with this or that, to which I said ‘I know the Araucaria’ pointing to the biggest and oldest tree, the most visible from my window. It’s over 500 years old, he said. He brought me to another tree and plucked a leaf from its branch, giving it to me. He said something about putting it in the wallet for good luck, then proceeded to take the leaf from my hand, break it apart, and hold it to my nose. It smelled wonderful, like warm sugar. I took out my wallet and gestured to him to show that I was putting it in my wallet, smiling in place of the words I didn’t know. He then showed me a plant that looked like a variety of bamboo, and said what I think was something about the old priests using it to beat themselves. I just nodded, turning to the fountain.
"I like the fish," I said.
"There are turtles," he said.
We circled the quiet fountain but found no turtles. Then he pointed to a beautiful rooster crossing the path near us, saying something about the variety of bird. It had long flowing tail feathers that were dark emerald green. Where had it been before? I hadn’t noticed any animals when I first arrived.
Then he signaled for me to look around a corner and see a large male peacock, walking casually and freely among the bushes. It looked strange. Then the man, who asked me what my name was and said his was Milo, explained that the bird lost its feathers to prepare to grow new ones.
"I have not seen this bird without the big feathers" I said.
"Wait a moment," he said.
I saw him walk into the bushes towards a wrought iron cage, an aviary, and go inside. He picked something up off the ground and came back. He had two small feathers from the body of the peacock, about the size of my palm. He gave them to me and then made an opening and closing motion with his hands, “put them in a book, to mark the pages,” he said.
Buen idea, I told him, and que bonita!
"You are very pretty, señorita," he said, smiling.
I thanked him, flattered, and wished him a good afternoon. I left, crossed the loud and bright street to my apartment building, and went home.