A love letter to Quito

Inspired by John Green, Atahualpa, Frank Ocean, and Lucy from Tennis
A view from the city from the TelefériQo (Teleférico Quito)

Querido Quito,

Who would have thought? Exactly a year ago, Madrid was the city I was supposed to be in. COVID turned that into Argentina, which would later turn into Chile, and finally, you, Quito. Honestly, I did not see you on my radar. Nor did I see you coming; you could say it was fate that we were meant to meet. Regardless, you really have embraced me in your own way.

The weather is unique, almost like a cycle that happens in a day. I now understand why some people carry sunglasses and a raincoat. Shivering in the morning and sweating at noon. How can I not forget you? The way the clouds roll over to hug the mountains is literally breathtaking.

Views from La Basílica del Voto Nacional

The food is amazing. Street food. Restaurant food. Locally prepared empanadas. Sweet pastries. Non-processed fruits. While I describe this from a privileged, foreigner’s gaze, I love the diversity the creativity in food.

I have tried lots of ramen. This ramen is in one of my top three.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the narrator ponders about the Dutch looking at what is now New York. Fitzgerald goes on to say, “for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

While I can imagine that the view of New York was as stunning as Fitzgerald describes, I would say that that moment was not the last time in history one was stunned in awe at something. At a pre-Colombian museum, I had the chance to learn and connect more with indigenous artifacts from before Columbus. There is always this presumption that somehow the indigenous were far inferior to the European people.

However, one can see otherwise through years of architecture, agricultural techniques, and traditional medicine advancement. In the museum, we had the opportunity to observe an ancient indigenous whistle. Contrary to modern whistles, where one blows to create sound, this whistle worked with water. The current and movement of the water work in conjunction with physical properties to produce sound.

Immediately I was marveled. A simple piece of wood with two openings and water created a sound so like that of songbirds. As I kept listening to the bird sounds, I was drawn deeper into an aesthetic contemplation that I neither understood nor desired. There are thousands of indigenous and cultural artifacts. In a way, it is our attention that is quite limited. We spend our daily lives focusing on some trivial things and yet complain that there is not enough in the world that we can admire or be attracted to. However, from the human cell to the arrangement of the planets, it is truly our own attention and contemplation that is lacking. Revisiting pre-Colombian museums reminded me that aesthetic contemplation really is what you make of it. Rather than being trapped under the conflict of objectivity vs. subjectivity, we ought to embrace experience and continue to contemplate the reality that we can perceive.

The group from outside the Hospital Calderón

Quito has been excellent thus far. Everyone in my program is unique in their own ways and I am lucky to spend time in Quito with them. I have no doubt that it will keep teaching me new things; I am keen to embrace this challenge.

Yours truly,

Hector O.