Heights Living: Holiday in The Heights

December is a really nice time to live in The Heights, the weather is perfect for walks along the oak shaded streets, the cottages and bungalows come alive with lights, and the entire neighborhood is ripe with holiday themed activities!  I want to share the happenings in our neighborhood with all you readers, if you live in the Houston area, or planning to visit, take advantage of them:
Friday November 30th starting at 5:00pm all of the shops on the Heights' most historic street will open their doors for a retro Holiday celebration.  Channel your inner "Mad Men" at the annual Holiday on 19th - "Paint The Street Red", and enjoy sophisticated cocktails and music along with your shopping.  Guests are encouraged to wear retro red fashions. Visit the Shops on 19th street for more information.
Friday November 30th and December 1st The Houston Heights Association presents "Carols by Candlelight, Holiday Home Tour". Six neighbors will open their homes and welcome visitors with the sound of carolers.  November 30th hours are 6:00pm-9:30pm, and December 1st hours are 3:00pm -9:00pm. For tickets and route information visit The Houston Heights Association
Sunday December 2nd at 7:30pm, First Presbyterian Church will perform their 32nd annual Messiah Sing Along.  This is not a Heights event (it's actually down the street in Montrose), but it's a Christmas tradition for me.  When I lived in Lincoln Park, I used to go every year to the Chicago Lyric Opera's "Do it yourself Messiah", 3000 voices singing (mostly in tune) the famous chorus!  My first Christmas in Houston I discovered First Presbyterian's Sing Along, and though 3000 voices it is not, the beautiful Georgian Architecture of this church is the perfect setting for Handel's oratorio which, though today is performed in grand concert halls, was composed and performed in 1741 Dublin for a smaller and humbler audience.  Visit First Presbyterian for more information.
Saturday December 8th starting at 6:00pm the Woodland Heights will light up the neighborhood with their 25th annual "Lights in The Heights", a festival of color, music, and light. Visit the Woodlands Heights Association for route and parking information, and if you want a sneak peek of the event, visit my post from last year's festival: Let's light it up!
I hope the Holiday Season is off to a good start for all of you!

The Navel of the World

Sunrise over Lake Titicaca, Peru.
Inti, the sun decided to civilize the peoples of the region who, naked and sheltering in caves, lived like wild beasts.  He sent his son Ayar Manco and his daughter Mama Ocllo to build his empire, and out of the waves of Lake Titicaca, the children of the sun rose carrying with them Inti's golden staff, which they must sink into the earth to find supple ground.  Northwards they marched, thrusting the staff in the unyielding land along their path, until they found a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains; here the soil was soft and the golden staff sank gently into the earth.
Ayar Manco turned to the men of this land and taught them how to farm, hunt wild beasts, and build houses; Mama Ocllo turned to the women and taught them how to cook and weave the wool of llamas into clothing, and together Ayar Manco and his sister-consort Mama Ocllo built the city of Cuzco, center of the Tahuantinsuyo, and navel of the world.
Plaza de Armas in Cuzco, Peru.
My father, the professor, taught me history and folklore in the guise of bedtime stories, and I traveled to Cuzco in his words and in the hazy memories of my childhood.  Fairy tales set high expectations which reality sometimes cannot surpass, but Cuzco did not disappoint, its exuberant Baroque churches and stoic Inca buildings were every bit as beautiful as I had imagined. 

Capilla del Triunfo at Cuzco's cathedral.

Cuzco was founded in the 13th century by the Inca rulers of Peru and in the 15th century became the capital and administrative center of the Tahuantinsuyo (the four regions), the vast empire that encompassed Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and northern Argentina, and in the 16th century it was invaded by the Spanish Francisco Pizarro, who waged a bloody campaign of conquest against the Incas. 

The Amaru Qancha (left) and the Aqllawasi (House of the Chosen Women) which was transformed into the convent of Santa Catalina. Cuzco, Peru.

Cuzco, like Rome is a city of architectural layers, with vestiges of Inca achievements surprising the visitor at every corner.  The 1536 siege of Cuzco (in which the deposed emperor Manco Inca Yupanqui, marched into the city in an effort to expel the Spaniards) may have burned the thatched roofs of the capital, but the stone precincts (Qancha) that made up its temples and palaces remain, witness to the genius of the Inca civilization.

The Archbishop's palace, formerly the Hatumrumiyoc, residence of Inca Roqa.
The 12 angle stone at the Hatumrumiyoc.  For scale comparison, my height is 5'-4"

The Monastery of Santo Domingo is built on the foundation of the Qorikancha, (or Golden House) temple of the Sun. 

Conquest and colonization gave birth to what Peruvians call "sincretismo", that is the union of two ideologies, two styles, two races.  This union can be experienced in the religious fervor that holds in equal value the reverence of the ancestors and the spirits of the land with the cult of christian saints; or in the daily exchanges conducted in Quechua and Spanish, or in the cyclopean walls that lend Inca gravitas to the Spanish Baroque.

Calling the winds at Saqsayhuaman.  Cuzco, Peru.
Quechua visitors at the Plaza de Armas.  Cuzco, Peru.
Calle de las siete culebras.  The street of the 7 snakes and the corner of the Convent of the Nazarenas.  The Snake in Inca mythology is a totemic representative of the underworld.
Cuzco's beauty moved me, and the visit brought me such joy...to finally see with my eyes what I had "seen" in my father's words.  Rome, AthensGranada, Mycenae, and now Cuzco.  To my father's memories John and I now add our own. 

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