Cusco Characters: Miguel Angel

In some ways, Miguel Angel is much like the city in which he was born. The 28 year old Cusqueño with a cheerful countenance and easy manner seems torn between the same two worlds that divide Cusco: the world of the traditional and world of the tourist.

Miguel Angel was named after his father, the Italian translation of which echoes the name of one of the world’s greatest sculptors: Michelangelo. Miguel Angel’s father is a well-known wood carver and sculptor who makes pieces of wood come alive with intricate and detailed workmanship. The father makes altarpieces, armoires, picture frames, headboards, doors (see photo) and all types of furniture. As I write this I am sitting in one of his chairs, a beautifully carved, high-back dining chair. He is particularly well-known for his altarpieces which adorn many churches in Cusco and one of his best sits in a museum in Denver, Colorado in the United States. The father has been able to support a large family through his work and they live very comfortably by Cusco standards. He’s done well enough to build 3 floors above his house to rent out: we live on the third floor. I’m guessing that there is some degree of pressure on his sons to follow in his footsteps: Miguel Angel carries on the Michelangelo name and his older brother is named David, after one of Michelangelo’s greatest works. I occasionally see Miguel Angel working on small pieces, just like his father; the other day he was gold-leafing a small carved picture frame downstairs. He’s also shown me a large painting that he’s done that is pretty good.

Like Cusco, I think it’s been hard for Miguel Angel to resist the allure of tourism and the money it brings in. One of the University of Cusco’s most popular degree programs is tourism, which combines history, language (English), cultural anthropology, archeology and business. The number of travel agencies in Cusco and the number of Cusqueños who speak some English has increased greatly since I was last here 23 years ago. Whenever I talk to someone working in a travel agency and ask them where they learned their English, they usually reply “in university.” Miguel Angel and his cousin have had plans to start a travel agency for some time now, but it has been slow getting off the ground. They have an office space downstairs with desks, phones, printed literature and some large posters of the various sites in and around Cusco. With his personal charm, good looks and ease around people, I think he would be very successful.

One of the pre-requisites of running a successful travel agency is being able to speak English. Miguel Angel was studying at a language school for a while but had to postpone his lessons in order to help his father build out the apartments upstairs. When I asked him about this, he smiled quickly, shrugged and said “My father needs my help.” Now that the apartments are finished and rented out, it will be interesting to see which direction he takes: the world of the traditional or the world of the tourist.

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