The classic children’s book, The Three Little Pigs, teaches that wolves have an amazing lung capacity and that a stone house is better than a wooden or straw one. Stone houses last a long time. In Peru for a conference, it seemed imprudent to be in the South American country without making the trek to the famed, ancient city of Machu Picchu. The trip was replete with the challenges and peculiarities found so far off the beaten path – trains don’t run in some places during the rainy season due to frequent mud slides, locals drink a beer made from corn and strawberries (yes, it is pink) to wash down a meal of Guinea Pig (yes, the rodent), and central heat (let alone air conditioning) is a luxury beyond even the most deluxe hotels. But, the sheer beauty of the place and the ingenuity of the native people makes for a compelling journey.
The city, built as a retreat by the last of a long line of Inca (loosely translated as King), is believed to have taken many years and as many as 8,000 people to build. The permanent residents of 300 or so were doubled when the Inca and his entourage rolled into town. Engineers perfected stonework, water distribution, and agricultural terracing allowing for what must have been a high quality of life for the privileged few.
With the Spanish invasion, technologies like glass mirrors were introduced. While the Inca may have seen themselves for the first time, we see them only in the stone they left behind. Like the Inca, the Spaniards did not believe in a shared culture. Maybe, those who live in stone houses shouldn’t throw glass. Ultimately temples were replaced with cathedrals and stone gave way to stucco. Even as we build great monuments, can we expect to enjoy them?