Sunday, August 30, 2009

72632 part 3 beginning a narrative on narrative (draft)

In 1970, Eureka Springs was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Historic District Commission was established to preserve it in 1976. The movement for Eureka Springs to receive this status and to set up the governing body to preserve it was led by Eureka Springs artist, Louis Freund. Louis and his wife Elsie had traveled widely, had observed the loss taking place in most communities of their unique architectural significance and interest, had recognized the unique beauty of Eureka Springs and had become advocates of historic preservation. When they had first moved to Eureka Springs, homes could be bought cheap and many had been torn down for the value of the lumber and cut stone. They had purchased Carrie Nation’s home, Hatchet Hall for $200.00.

Having a historic district is kind of a pain in the ass. If you want to repaint your house, you have to give assurances it will be the same color. If you want to change colors, you have to get approval from the Historic District Commission. And as projects become more complicated dealing with the HDC can get worse. If you are new to town, jumping through hoops and facing the well-meaning but sometimes petty tyrants of the HDC would make you wonder why you decided to move here in the first place. But I’m not complaining. Eureka Springs is the well preserved tourist and arts destination that it is due to the tireless efforts of what some call the “pretty police.”

This may seem like a very odd leap in my own narrative, but when Francisco Pizarro led his band of conquistadors into central Peru in 1532, his small armed band of 160 horsemen and foot soldiers slaughtered thousands of Incan warriors whom they regarded as barbaric, and appropriate for domination in their quest for gold. The Spaniards considered themselves morally superior due to their belief in Christianity, and their horses, their armament and methods of warfare well tuned from their battles to expel the Moors gave them a distinct advantage. In their first battle the Spaniards consisting of 106 infantry, and 62 cavalry, armed with 4 cannons and 12 harquebus killed 6-7,000 Incan warriors without the loss of a single conquistador. Prior to the battle, Incan emperor Atahualpa asked to see a Bible when Friar Valverde said it "spoke to him". Unfamiliar with how to open a book, the emperor became enraged when the friar tried to help him, and struck his arm. Then he opened it, but was unimpressed with the pages and words and threw the book to the ground. Outraged at desecration of their holy book, the conquistadors launched into one of the bloodiest one-sided battles in world history, as the mounted soldiers with swords and supported by cannon and harquebus mowed down Incan warriors like blades of grass. Short–term peace was achieved after Atahualpa’s surrender when he promised to deliver a room full (3074) cubic feet of pure gold, and 2 equal sized rooms of silver. Atahualpa’s hopes were that when the Spaniards had been satiated with gold, they would go away. Little did he know what was coming for his people. Even after watching them in battle, he knew little of their moral depravity.

The hippie/artist/craftsman takeover of Eureka Springs was far less bloody than the conquest of Peru. Even though some locals, like Atahualpa thought that the hippies were just here for the short term, passing through. There were some fundamental differences between the conquistadors of the two distinct eras. In Peru, the Conquistadors saw value in two things, Gold and the Bible. They would walk past massive stonewalls while completely out of touch with the advanced sensitivity of hand and intelligence that created them.

In Eureka Springs the arriving hippies were looking for something beyond gold and in stark contrast to the Spanish conquistadors we fell in love with the stone walls, winding streets, and the hand crafted ornamentation on the Victorian cottages. The hippies arriving with money bought houses on the cheap and hired both locals and other hippies to restore them and bring them back to Victorian colors. Others settled in to rental property and took to the streets. Some started businesses in the downtown. And some began careers as writers, craftsmen, artists, and restauranteurs.

It may seem very goofy to my readers to bring the Incan empire up in my discussion of the role of my fair city in the development of the arts. While the founders of the Great Passion Play came carrying the same book that inspired the conquerors of Peru, and while they built their own city on the hill, East Mountain, complete with a “New Jerusalem” and a huge concrete statue of Christ, they had arrived at the edge of a city already established as a destination for the arts. My purpose in bringing the Incan empire into this brief discussion is related to a concept that some artists and craftsmen call “narrative.” Essentially, everything tells its own story to those who have the literacy and understanding to read it. Just as Atahualpa threw down the Bible, opening it and finding that it did not “speak.” Blinded by gold, and ambition and holding the Bible as rationale, Pizarro’s conquistadors walked or rode though thousands of miles of Incan culture and chose not to read its meaning or acknowledge its value. And while the Passion Play founders came bearing the book, the creation of their new Jerusalem came through the hands of local craftsmen.

And of course, the most important thing was that unlike Spanish conquistadors, the newly arriving hippies were attuned to (and developing a literacy in) the narrative told by winding streets, carefully laid stone, and Victorian bric-a-brac.

More to come….

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