SUCRE, THE WHITE CITY OR, CIUDAD BLANCA

I have been busy lately! I have been in Sucre, Bolivia since April 7th and will be here until June 7th. What an amazing experience. This is a gem of a tiny city, all painted white. The sky is piercingly blue. The contrast is breath-taking. I was told that long ago a plague came to the city and they started painting the buildings white, I am not sure why, perhaps to indicate which house had the plague or which house didn’t. The habit stayed and eventually, all the buildings were painted white. And so they still are, today, making this city unique and memorable.

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I came here to write and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working on Cave of Secrets, the third book in the Night Angels Chronicles series. This place has truly inspired my writing. I have become obsessed with the churches. The heavy austerity, the gold on the alters, the light pouring down from high windows. I can never fully reconcile the contrast between the beauty of these monuments, built to display the power of God, with the poverty of the people upon whose bent backs these monuments were built. It is the same around the world, religion is used by the powerful as a form of control, through fear, of the masses. Yet, you also see how these awe-inspiring buildings bring comfort to those who enter them to pray. A young woman, an old man, I have seen so many people sitting in silence, staring up at a carving of a saint, and you know they have a heavy heart about  something and have faith that there is an answer and that these lifeless images hold that answer.

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I am here long enough to get a real feel for these churches and how religion is so integrated into every aspect of life. The churches dominate the city, they are the landmarks you look for when you are walking. If the door is open and you go inside, there is always something happening, musicians practicing for a performance, ladies placing flowers in front of statues, children laughing and playing, preparing for something, who knows what. The schools all seem to be associated with the churches and I have been told that children are brought here from the outlying villages. Since there are so many churches at the center of Sucre, children are everywhere. You hear them playing, practicing in bands, and at lunch break and at the end of the day, they spill out onto the streets in hordes, from the tiniest tots to college age. I really have never seen the center of a city so filled with children.

As a visitor, you cannot escape the overwhelming spirit and presence of the churches. Mostly, the doors are closed and locked, as are the gates in front of the churches. If you are a tourist, you can pay to visit certain ones of the convents or the churches, during visiting hours. At San Filipe Neri, my favorite church, you can climb up to the roof and enjoy a view of the city and the mountains. If you go at sunset the beauty is astounding.

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Remembering back to my time in the Sahara Desert, in Morocco, during the month of December, 2015, it would be hard to find two more contrasting places than Sucre and village Tissardmine. In the desert, I was finishing up Book of Angels, while in Sucre, I am finishing up Cave of Secrets. I signed the contract for Book of Angels while in Sucre. Both places inspired my writing but in such different ways–going from the stark desert, endless, undulating waves of sand and rock, to the up and down streets of Sucre and the ornate colonial buildings. Here, the altitude takes a bit of getting used to, as it is over 8000 feet. In the Sahara Desert, the wind and flies, the freezing nights and often hot days, the heavy shadows and blinding light, everything spoke of extremes. In Sucre, the extremes are in the altitude, the brilliance of the white against the blue sky, the heavy dominance of colonialism, almost as if old spirits still haunt the streets at night.

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At least a few times a week I face the challenge of walking up the steep cobbled path to reach La Recoleta, a big plaza with, yes, another church  and convent, established by a Franciscan order in around 1601. There is a garden café up here and I like to sit outside and enjoy the warm sun. Relaxation takes over, after hours of sitting at a computer, writing. In fact, I think I will go up there after I finish this! From there, you can look down on the sparkling jewel of a  city, with the Andes Mountains a purple shadow in the distance.

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Although I have been here for five weeks already, I still huff and puff my way up that hill, never getting enough oxygen. Once I reach the top, the feeling of accomplishment makes it all worthwhile. Fortunately, it isn’t a long climb, but the last block is extremely steep. Again, the plaza is often filled with children playing soccer, if they are on break from the school attached to the church. This church has a beautifully serene monastery with a one thousand year-old cedar tree. The tree stands outside the convent wall, somewhat forlorn and forgotten, looking down on the city below. I was shown it by a young girl who guided me through the various parts of the convent open to the public, all the while, listening to some television show on her phone. It was an odd juxtaposition of the past and the present.

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I am looking forward to being here on May 25th, Independence Day, which happened in 1809. I was wondering why early every morning I was awakened by bands playing the type of music you associate with military functions and political events. Well, they are practicing for Independence Day. Although, every day seems to be an excuse for some kind of celebration. The main square, aptly named Plaza 25 de Mayo, is always alive with music and parades.

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I still have four more weeks here and it is going by way too fast. This is my first visit to South America and I would definitely like to return. I knew nothing of Bolivia or Sucre when I came. At the place I am staying, Casa Verde, I have encountered only two Americans. Which is one of the reasons for its appeal, I wanted to completely escape from everything that was familiar to me. And I am happy I made this choice. It is a renewing experience.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to come to this magical place. Of course, every place that I visited has been magical. I can’t wait to see where I will end up next.

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