Monday, April 28, 2014

Xela is my town

A to Z Challenge

Day 24: X is for Xela, my town

Xela is Guatemala’s second largest city. It’s not often you stumble upon a city named after you, especially when the city is Mayan and you are Irish. In the Mayan alphabet X gives you the SH sound. So, Xela is pronounced Sheyla. I had several people ask me if my parents had named me for the city where I was conceived. The idea of my parents doing something this romantic let alone traveling outside of Canada made me laugh.

Xela is short for Xelaju, which translates from Quiche Maya as “beneath the ten gods.” The ten gods are the volcanoes surrounding the city. A couple are still active. Although it is Guatemala’s second largest city, Xela doesn’t get the same amount of tourism as other parts of the country. It’s is Guatemala’s culture capital and has produced many writers and musicians, probably due to its three universities and dozens of music schools.

I fell in love with Xela walking through its streets and stumbling across it Parque Centramerica. This wide expanse of park has a classical with lampposts built on Greek columns, Corinthian columns, circular staircases and statues in various poses. There are plenty of park benches to sit under giant trees with wide sweeping branches.

At one end of the park is Museo Quezaltenango, a Greek temple with bold columns and a sweeping staircase. The second floor is my idea of what a museum should be: A weird mix of interesting things to pique your curiosity. There are some Mayan artifacts, stuffed animals and a collection of antique soda bottles. Next-door is the marimba museum. A seriously underrated instrument that I appreciated much more after seeing it in action at the Sunday market. It produces this light cheery music that makes you feel like everything is going to be okay and that you should dance instead of worry.

Off to the side of the park is Pasaje Enriquez, this beautiful passageway was created by the architect Alberto Porta and decorated by the sculptor Luis Liutti. They started the work in 1898 and finished in 1900. Liutti sculpted the front with intricate gold laid designs and created a special floor for shops and hotels. It’s a charming corridor serving great coffee.

I also loved the Teatro Municipal built in 1884 built by local artists and architects. It’s a Greek-Roman style theatre with a wide staircase leading to a vaulted roof held up by large pillar and a plaza decorated the busts of famous Guatemalan artists. I went to hear a classical concert at the theatre and felt like I had stepped into an opera house in Europe. I do believe there is a bit of resemblance between the statue of Minerva and me.

Along with all the unexpected surprises, what I loved most about the city was the feeling of being at home. “I could live in this city,” I thought walking along its cobbled streets. Notjust because we share the same name.

The small wooden bus marked with XELA that I bought at the market sits on my desk and I think about going back there often. The man who sold it to me said I would be back. “You can’t stay away from a city named after you very long.”

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