The Perfect House

Courtyard of the Casa Montejo in Mérida, Yucatán

When most Americans think of the ideal house, they always see it as set back from an immaculately manicured front lawn. Perhaps owing to my hatred of mowing lawns, I much prefer the Mexican house, which presents a blank face to the street—no windows, one regular-sized door—and with a delightful courtyard which can’t be seen from the street.

I cannot for the life of me see myself doing anything on a front lawn other than working my butt off. But a courtyard, that is a different matter altogether. I could set out a chair and read there, or talk to my friends, or even have breakfast.

Courtyard of the Former Archbishop’s Palace in Mérida

In Latin America, you can live in a beautiful house—as seen from the inside—and not have to worry about what the neighbors think. When I think of sliding glass doors opening onto decks, I wonder if most American houses are secure from theft and home invasions.

Street in Campeche: No Front Lawns Here

Above is a typical street in the center of Campeche. Some of the buildings are businesses; other, homes of the well-to-do. There isn’t much zoning in effect.

Truth to tell, unless I win the lottery, I cannot see myself as owning a house. And if I could somehow afford one, my idea of the perfect house would come into conflict with zoning regulations and local customs. I will probably continue to live in an apartment, where I don’t bother my head about perfection in any sense of the word.

Magical Architecture: Mesa Verde

It’s Like a Miniature City Cut Inside a Cliff

As a kid, I got a lot of my inspirations from Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge Comics. One episode that particularly got me going was entitled “The Seven Cities of Gold,” about a city of cliff dwellings made of gold that the Spanish conquistadores had somehow overlooked. It was called Cibola.

After the city was accidentally destroyed by Huey, Dewey, and Louie, I vowed to find it—and I did. It was at Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado. Here are a few images from the comic:

Uncle Scrooge Finds the Seven Cities of Cibola

If you ever get a chance to visit Mesa Verde, be sure to visit the Cliff Palace ruins. You can actually climb down to see them with a ranger (that is, when the coronavirus infestation finally dies down). Martine and I saw them some years ago, though Martine was troubled with altitude sickness. The elevation there is between 7,000 and 8,500 feet (2133 to 2591 meters).

Anasazi Ruins at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

Life must have been difficult for the Cliff Palace dwellers, as they had to haul water in using ladders. The ruins were deserted around the same time that many other Anasazi ruins, such as Chaco Canyon, were abandoned.

What happened to the inhabitants? As I wrote earlier regarding Chaco, I am sure their descendants are the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico.

Magical Architecture: Santa Catalina (Arequipa)

A Warren of Narrow Pedestrian Walkways

Surprisingly, the most magical places I visited in Peru were not the world-famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu or other places, but rather the Spanish churches and convents. After all, the Inca had no writing, so while their ruins showed an incredible knowledge of masonry that could withstand severe earthquakes, there was little that aroused my imagination.

A place that did, however, was the giant convent of Santa Catalina in Arequipa. It occupied something like a whole square mile that was walled off from the city that surrounded it and had a warren of narrow pedestrian walkways.

It Was, After All, a Convent

I spent an entire day, from morning to late afternoon, wandering around the grounds of Santa Catalina, with its monastic cells, courtyards, kitchens, chapels, and even a strange room where the faces of nuns who had died were painted on canvases and displayed.

At Times, It Was Almost Like Modern Art

As Christianity begins its slow fade in the Western World, I begin to look upon religious monuments of the past as being every bit as interesting as that of ancient civilizations. In Peru, I loved visiting the old churches, convents, and museums of ecclesiastic art. I must have attended a dozen masses, just because they took place while I visited.

The Walls Were All Either Blue or Dark Orange

I took dozens of photos which I could have shown here, because Santa Catalina mesmerized me. If you should happen to go to Peru, you will probably wind up in Cusco and Machu Picchu, but for your health, it is better to go first to a place where you will not be so afflicted by the dread soroche (altitude sickness). Arequipa, at 7,660 feet (2,335 meters) is a good place to prepare yourself.

And not just because of Santa Catalina!