La Paz, Bolivia – February 16, 2019
At first glance, the title of this blog post may seem a little odd. It is a rendition of how the artist signs his works, MAMAN!MAMANi. The first letter, “i” is rendered upside down.
When we left our house at 09:00, it was a cool 54 degrees (12 degrees Celsius). It was not foggy, but the clouds were quite low. A bit of a breeze and a bit of drizzle made the morning all the cooler.
Our destination this beautiful morning was the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery. I learned of the gallery the day before Valentine’s Day from our good friend Tia. She and some of her friends had recently visited the gallery and met with the artist, Roberto Mamani Mamani. I was intrigued by Tia’s description of both the work of Mamani Mamani and the historic area in which the gallery is located. I suggested to Leslie that we should visit the gallery. If we found anything we liked, we could buy it as our Valentine’s Day gift to each other. She agreed, so we were set to visit.
Tia agreed to go to the gallery with us. We met Tia on the street about a block from our house. Just as we met her, a taxi passed. Tia flagged down the cab for us, and we began our ride to the Teleférico Verde. Our eight-minute trip to the Teleférico Verde Irpavi station cost us $15 Bolivianos (US$2.18). That amount included a tip of $3 Bolivianos.
On the upper level of the Teleférico station, we boarded one of the gondolas and began our steep ascent up and over the San Alberto area of La Paz. The San Alberto area has dozens of multi-million-dollar homes. No doubt the owners directly under the Teleférico remain very unhappy that the public transportation always flies overhead.
As the Teleférico Verde crests San Alberto and begins to drop into the Obrajes area, the gondolas are at the highest point above ground. My guess of the height is about 400 to 500 feet (122 to 152 meters). Leslie detests this part of the trip. She was also cold. I assured her she would warm up when we began walking.
We rode the Teleférico Verde to the final station at Del Libertador. At that station, one can switch to the Amarillo line or take a short walk over to the Celeste line. Our destination required us to walk the short distance to the Celeste. Once on the Celeste line, we continued to the final station, Prado. As an aside, the cost to build both the Verde line and the Celeste line was US$88,000,000 each!
Emerging from the Prado station, we walked a short distance uphill to Avenida 16 de Julio to hail a taxi. After a minute or two waiting, a taxi stopped for us. The driver was a lovely man. I told him we wanted to go to the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery. At first, he did not know the location. I showed him the address of Indaburo #710 esquina (corner) Jaén, and he immediately began driving. Traffic was a little heavier in this section of La Paz than it had been near our home. The driver quoted a rate of $15 Bolivianos to get us to our destination. When we arrived, Tia paid the driver $20 Bolivianos (US$2.90).
Immediately upon getting out of the taxi, we saw the art gallery. One cannot miss the building. There are large murals painted on the building; undoubtedly done by Mamani Mamani. The building sits at the southern end of Calle Jaén, where it makes a 90-degree turn to the east. We walked into the gallery at about 10:00.
One is immediately struck by the very colorful artworks when walking into the gallery. Everything in the gallery seems to pop out at the viewer. As we walked through the gallery, one of the employees accompanied us and quoted prices of the various works about which we inquired. He spoke excellent English. That made our communication easy.
I asked about one enormous work that caught my eye. He said it was 5,000.00, I thought that might be in Bolivianos; but then he finished his sentence with the phrase, U.S. dollars. I quipped that was way out of our neighborhood! We settled on a much smaller painting and a painted stone frog. We asked the employee if the artist was at the gallery. He said no, but he thought he would arrive in about an hour. We really wanted to meet the artist. We paid for our items and said we would return in about an hour. With that, at about 10:30, we began our stroll north on Calle Jaén.
Calle Jaén is a cobblestone pedestrian street. There are no vehicles allowed on the intricately paved road. It is intricate because of the size of the stones used and the alternating patterns interspersed along the street. The largest cobblestones can be no more than four inches. It must have taken a very long time to pave that street!
Not too far from the art gallery, we spotted the Hostal Ananay. We decided that would be the perfect place to stop for a coffee. Walking through the door from the street, one is in a small hallway about 10 or 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters) long. At the end of the hall, one is surprised by a cozy courtyard. Across the courtyard from the hallway was a door to the café. We walked in, sat down, and ordered our drinks.
The café was surprisingly large. There were multiple tables scattered about, a stage set up for musicians, and various works of art. Two art pieces caught my eye. First was a very odd painting of Jesus Christ depicting Him with three faces. We learned later the painting is titled, The Trinity. I guess that makes sense, but it was still nothing I would want to own. I could not read the name of the artist. The other piece I noticed I could see hanging in my house. It was a wood carving of an indigenous Andean man playing a Bolivian pan flute.
After our break, we continued our walk north. We soon spotted a small art gallery. We climbed the treacherous, no-handle-available stairs to enter. Once inside, a nice young woman greeted us and asked if we spoke Spanish. We answered, “a little.” We asked if she spoke English, and she responded similarly. She began telling us, in Spanish, about the various items in the gallery. One of the things that she made were sculptures of cholitas that are about one-inch tall. We had to get one. She also pointed out some refrigerator magnets. Each magnet was a bottle cap with a scene painted inside that her sister made. We bought a magnet with a cholita painted inside. I was remiss; I should have asked her if I could have taken a photograph of her. Oh well.
Leaving the gallery, I saw a sign on the wall noting that the Club Atletico Jaén, a football (soccer) team, was founded here in 2005.
Along Calle Jaén are multiple small museums. We stopped in one. The attendant said we needed a ticket to enter. He said those tickets were available in the first museum at the end of the street. Sure enough, at the T-intersection of Calle Jaén and Sucre is the Museo Costumbrista (Museum of Customs), where they did sell tickets for the museums. Residents of Bolivia can enter the museums for $8 Bolivianos (US$1.16) while foreigners pay $20 (US$2.90). Tia and I were considered Bolivian nationals because we had our residency cards. Leslie was considered a foreigner since she did not have her card. The fee allows one access to four museums on Calle Jaén:
- Museo Costumbrista Juan de Vargas
- Museo Litoral Boliviano
- Museo Metales Preciosos
- Museo Casa de Pedro D. Murillo
The Museo Litoral Boliviano had several dioramas depicting episodes in La Paz history. Some of them were rather gruesome. I have included some photos I found on the internet.
The above photo dramatizes the quartering of the Indian leader, Tupac Katari, some 237 years ago (credit the Bolivian Ministry of Culture and Tourism).
The photo above is a diorama of the death of Pedro Domingo Murillo. His house is on Calle Jaén. It is now one of the museums (credit the newspaper La Region).
We opted to skip the final two museums because we were anxious to meet Mamani Mamani. That ended up being a lapse in judgment. The good news is our entry ticket is valid until August 22, 2019.
As we left the museum and began our walk down Calle Jaén, named after Don Apolinar Jaén, I saw a tile sign that provided the history behind this beautiful street. He was born in Oruro, Bolivia in 1776 and later executed on May 29, 1810, because he was involved in the revolution for independence. He and others in his group are referred to as the Protomártires de la Independencia (martyrs of the independence).
I call skipping the other two museums a lapse in judgment because when we returned to the art gallery, we found out the artist was still not there. The employees assured us he would be there soon. We could have easily toured the other two museums. Instead, we walked outside and sat on some benches to await his arrival. Leslie and Tia opted for the sunny side of the street. I was happy to stay in the shade.
My bench faced a building on which was the name, Residencia del Adulto Mayor “Maria Esther Quevedo.” It translates to a retirement home or old folks’ home. As we sat there, more and more older adults came to take their place on a bench. Some of the people we saw were disabled. At least two walked with visually impaired canes. Some of the elderly sat near us on the seats (Leslie and Tia finally moved to the shade). The Bolivians are so polite; as each one sat near us, they greeted us with, “buenas tardes (good afternoon).” We all responded in kind. I busied myself with more photography…imagine that!
In the photograph above, one can see a cross on the side of the nearby building. It is La Cruz Verde, the green cross. A plaque below the cross provides the following story, my best translation from Spanish.
The tradition is that in colonial times the alley – Calle Jaén today, was a dark place with constant appearances of supernatural beings and phenomena (ghosts, goblins, souls in pain, infernal noises of horse-drawn carriages and chains dragging on the ground). But, above all, there was the presence of a condemned widow who seduced all the men who gathered drunk in the wee hours of the night to take them on a mysterious adventure. Then, the neighbors of this street, heirs of a deeply rooted Catholic faith, decided to place the green cross to scare away all the evil creatures that frightened them.
I thought it was an interesting story.
It soon became evident that the people were waiting for lunch at the home. The door to the home was closed and locked. A couple of men, over time, rang the bell and tried to gain entry. One of the men did enter after a lot of talking and continuing to step into the building. At about 12:20, a woman from the facility opened the door and announced it would be ten minutes until the doors opened. She opened the door again at 12:30 and said, “pase (come in).” Interestingly, not one person seemed to rush to the door or even get up off the bench. Finally, one by one, people made their way into the building. As each one departed, they said, “buenas tardes” to us again.
As the drama played out in front of the home, Leslie walked back to the gallery to ask about the artist’s arrival. This time the employees told her he was by San Francisco Church and that he would arrive momentarily. Leslie came back to the bench to report and sit down. As soon as she gave the report, a taxi arrived, and Roberto Mamani Mamani emerged! He greeted us all and walked with us to his gallery.
Roberto Mamani Mamani is from Cochabamba, Bolivia, born December 6, 1962. He is Aymara, one of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia. He is world-famous, having enjoyed exhibitions of his work in more than 50 locations, including Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Munich, and London. As of 2017, he had made more than 3,000 paintings and nearly 70 series. He is also well known for painting large murals on buildings.
Inside the gallery, he immediately turned over our painting and began writing and drawing on the reverse. He wrote in Spanish, for Terry and Leslie, all the energy from the Andes, happy Valentine’s Day. Below that he drew a rough sketch of the sun and moon. He said I was the sun, and Leslie was the moon. Mamani Mamani is a lovely and genuine person. It seemed he could not do enough for us to demonstrate his gratitude. He gave us a small book documenting several of his works. He also gave Leslie a ring that has one of his works under a bubble of resin.
For anyone planning to visit La Paz, it is worth the time and effort to visit this quaint corner of town.
We departed the gallery with all of our purchases in tow. We hunted in vain for a taxi. Everyone that passed already had passengers. We walked about six blocks before Tia was able to hail a cab. It was just in time. Just as we got into the taxi, it began to rain.
The traffic was absolutely nuts! The traffic was barely moving. To travel about eight blocks, it took nearly 20-minutes! At one point, our driver set the emergency brake and turned off the taxi while we sat in traffic. It is at times like that I am glad the taxis in La Paz do not rely on meters. If we had been in New York City, I would probably have needed a line of credit to pay for the taxi ride.
Our driver let us out of the taxi about a block from the Celeste line. We walked quickly in the rain to the station. Then it was merely a repeat of our morning journey, just in reverse. We were back home by about 15:00.