Ancient Mayans, Bugs & Donald Duck
Saturday, August 04, 2007
As a little boy in Buenos Aires, living near the Coghlan
train station I always anticipated with great pleasure going to school on Tuesdays (I believe). My mother and I would walk to the station to take the electric train to Belgrano R where my mother taught at the Colegio Americano and I would walk the two extra blocks to the American Grammar School. Tuesday was special since that was the day the new Aventuras del Pato Donald
would appear. There are three particular issues that remain in my memory (and of course I cannot remember their titles in Spanish). Secret of the IncasThe Prize of Piz
arro (which preceded by many years the rolling balls of Raiders of the Lost Ark
).The Seven Cities of Cibola
were dark and scary and this is where I became fascinated by lost civilizations, the Incas, the Aztecs and the mysterious fading away of the Mayans. I have never lost this fascination and every time I go to Mexico, or Peru, I feel the pull of the ruins. When I saw the beautiful Yucatecan women, some with receding foreheads and angular noses wearing their flowered uipiles
they seemed to be visitors from that exciting past.
But Rebecca, at the almost age of 10 has yet to feel that pull. She is more inclined to get excited by bugs (bats), snakes, birds, horses, fish and any fauna you can think of. While I was admiring the pink stone of Uxmal Rebecca was busy running after huge iguanas, trying to record them on her pink Samsung.
And this she did. The picture here she took on a pile of rubble right next to the Palace of the Governors. But she did manage to almost smile for me by the courtyard of the nuns.
In Chichén Itzá between the terrible humid heat and the constant talking (it was interesting ) of our guide Juan Jara, Rebecca was complaining and almost in tears as you can see here by El Caracol. She was in her element posing by the mare, Cilindrina at the Cenotes of Cusamá.
Rebecca Eats Mexican
Friday, August 03, 2007
Rebecca was most disappointed that Howard Houston's wife Lynne did not serve either deep-fried bat wings (with chipotle sauce) or baked armadillo. I had told Rebecca this was to be our menu in our first evening in Texas. Rebecca will eat anything and she will try anything, at least once. Instead Lynne served us the best barbecued pork loin I have ever had in my life. Even Rosemary had second helpings.
In Mérida Rebecca particularly liked the ordinary Yucatecan dishes and her favourite was Pok-Chuk
which is a grilled pork steak that is fly sliced very thinly and smothered with Yucatecan red onions. The most distinguished restaurant we went to was at the Hacienda Xcanatún, 12 kms outside Mérida on the way to the seaport and seaside resort (a favourite of Meridanos) of Puerto Progreso. You can see here the day's menu. Rebecca had Pok-Chuk and for dessert real vanilla ice cream (it was creamy yellow) with crepes with cajeta and brandy flambe.
We loved going to the main square to Heladería Colón where Rebecca soon found the sorbete de mango
her favourite while I liked the one made from the Mexican lemon.
Since it was so hot (it hovered around 36°)we had to eat our sorbetes
quickly. I suggested to the waiter that they keep the glass cups under refrigeration but he looked at me as if I were crazy.
At our hotel, La Casa del Balam (jaguar in Mayan) we modified our continental breakfast fruit plate so that we were only served the intensely sweet red papaya.
Rebecca decided she was extra hungry, a few times, and ordered huevos rancher
os or huevos benedictinos
. When this happened I had to help her.
Casa De Frida - Calle 61 No 526-A X66 & 68
For me the name of a street is important. In 1945 they changed 6th Avenue in New York City to Avenue of the Americas. It has been 6th Avenue since to all Newyoricans. Miguel Angel de Quevedo in Mexico City has always been La Taxqueña. In Mérida and in the rest of Yucatán they have a system. North/South sreets are called by even numbers and East/West by odd numbers. Thus the address of the restaurant Casa Frida
(where I photographed Rebecca as seen here) is written like this:
Calle 61 No 526-A X66 y 68.
That means that the restaurant is on 61 Street between 66 and 68. While the system eliminates the concept of a romantic sounding street name it is very logical and efficient.
The dish you see here is called Chiles en Nogada
(Stuffed Chiles in Walnut Sauce). While I photographed the dish with Rebecca I had ordered it for myself.
It is native to Puebla and it commenmorates Independence Day, August 21, 1821. It honors General Agustin de Iturbide who at that date signed with the representative of the Spanish king, Juan O'Donojú, the Tratado de Córdoba
, ending the war and giving Mexico independence. Its colors are those of the Mexican flag - green, white and red. Unfortunately the appearance of this dish was subdued as the cook must have wanted to save money and did not liberally garnish it with as many pomegranate seeds as he should have.
Sunsets, Caves & Fireworks
Some years ago Vancouver master photoprinter Trevor Martin and I were asked to judge a photo show at St. George's School for Boys. Without saying anything we made three piles. One pile consisted of sunsets, the second of cat pictures and in the third we put everything else. We judged only the third pile. I feel that the excitement of a sunset, a display of fireworks or a stalagtite that might resemble a roaring iguana is lost when photographed. I don't want to go as far as saying that when you see one of these you have seen them all.
In 1966 on a slow boat from Buenos Aires to Veracruz I photographed as many sunsets as we had during the almost two-month voyage. I have long lost the Kodachromes and I don't feel all that sad.
Going up the stairs to our room in Mérida, Rosemary pointed out the sunset and suggested I photograph Rebecca. The clouds in Mérida, and much of Yucatén seemed to hug the ground.
They hovered above and I felt I could almost touch them. These clouds filtered the sunlight (but not the heat!) so that the light in the evenings had a warm pastel glow. And so I took these photos.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Seeing Brother Edwin Reggio
in the company of Howard Houston, his wife Lynne, Rosemary and Rebecca was the high point of our trip to Texas and Yucatán. Even though Brother Edwin Reggio C.S.C. is a member of the Brothers of the Holy Cross I somehow remember the Jesuits and Barry Lopez
. The reason is that all those years ago at St. Edward's High School in Austin we were taught by Brother Edwin to put AMDG at the beginning of our essays and test papers. We knew that the initials were always present at the end of the name of Jesuit priests. We also knew that this was the motto of the Society of Jesus (commonly known as Jesuits) and that it stood for "For the greater glory of God". In many respects this motto preceded by several centuries the idea behind the concept of Opus Dei
(the work of God). Brother Edwin told us that any act, even the most menial could be enhanced, modified and or given a special meaning by simply dedicating it to God. Through Brother Edwin I grew to admire the Jesuit order and their reputation for knowledge and philosophy. So a few years later while in Buenos Aires I tackled a famous work by a famous Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
. I also wrote about this Jesuit here
While I don't think there are any Jesuits left in Mexico they left their influence in the form of unusually beautiful churches scattered in major cities. These churches are always known as "la iglesia de la compañía
" which means the church of the company (of Jesus). One of the most beautiful is in Guanajuato, Mexico but the one in Mérida had two very large paintings, one of the crucifixion and the other of Jesus facing Pontius Pilate.
Rebecca has a fascination for very large religious paintings so I photographed her in front of them in the Mérida church. The church was very dark so I had to use her Samsung.
Defect, Defect, Waiting For The Real Thing
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
The chorus of The Pointed Sticks's song The Real Thing
(Nick Jones/Stephen Macklam, ©1979 Daily Tunes/Stupid Music, SOCAN 1979 Quintessence Records)goes:Defect, defect, waiting for the real thing
The catchy chorus of this circa 1980 Vancouver pop band kept repeating itself in my head as my friend Howard Houston and I feasted our eyes on the first page of an Albert Einstein letter in the second floor of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin a couple of weeks ago. After seeing the world's first photograph by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
and a lovely Gutenberg Bible
Howard and I went to the second floor and I asked him what document he wanted to look at and hold in our hands. Howard said, "Anything by Albert Eistein." We had to go through a video that instructed us in the protocol of asking for and viewing rare documents. It was here where we lost Rebecca (she was bored by the video) who went down with Rosemary and Howard's wife Lynne. We sat down at a table and put on white cotton gloves. A file was placed in front of us and we opened it. It was a letter in Einstein's hand with the title as seen here in a copy of the Harry Ransom call document.
It was a thrill to not see a facsimile or a reproduction or a web page scan of a real document. We were looking at the real thing.
In an action that I now regret I rejected a copy of that first page. A copy would have given us the date (I didn't notice it) or to whom the letter was addressed to. I rejected the copy because the copy was a copy. And that was it. It was the flying flamingo
all over again.
Quetzalcóatl Versus Huitzilopochtli
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Anybody who has ever spent time in Mexico and has chosen to explore the Mexico that lies beyond the beaches might arrive at the same conclusion that I did some years ago. In Mexico you have Mexicans and then you have Jarochos
(from the state of Veracruz) and the Yucatecans. When Mexicans get drunk they get morose or violent. Their songs are sad, of loves lost. When Yucatecans
drink their songs are lively and happy. I have discovered that the state of Veracruz was at one time the domain of one of the Mayan branches and that the culture of Tajín in Veracruz was a variant of the Mayans. This explains to me the kinship between these states and why our stay in Mérida has been a pleasant one. Meridanos
are friendly and always smile. They are gentle, too. We never felt unsafe. Taxi drivers charged us the going rates no matter how much Rebecca would insist in speaking in English in the car.
While reading El Conquistador
a new book by Argentine author Federico Andahazi (purchased at one of the many highbrow Mérida bookstores called Dante) I found out why Yucatecans are the way they are. El Conquistador is a reversed version of Columbus´ discovery of America. In this novel Quetza, an adopted son of a great Aztec wise man, sails east and lands in Huelva, Spain and discovers his
new world. Quetza explains that for the ancient Mexicas the world was always in conflict. It was a conflict between the god of light and life, Quetzalcóatl and the god of death, war and sacrifice, Tezcatlipoca. For the Aztecs the the conflict is ultimately won by the latter in the form of their blood thirsty war god Huitzilopochtli.
But, and this is important, the Mayans, with a few exceptions worshipped the far gentler Quetzalcóatl (whom they called Kukulkán) and to this day I can see the influence.
As we leave today for Houston, Seattle and then home, I will try to keep my spirits up (we will no longer have the constant company of Rebecca) and think of the plumed serpent (Quetzalcóatl) and how he prevailed even over Rosemary. As we waited for a cab in the outside heat of the Hacienda Xcanatún she said, "I have come to enjoy the heat."
Buying Shoes For A Doll (Difficult)
Monday, July 30, 2007
On Saturday we took a bus (13 pesos for all three of us or $1.30) to the Gran Plaza shopping mall in the newer and richer part of Mérida. We zoomed through Sears and visited at least 10 shoe stores. For Rebecca the shoes were either too round at the front or made her look "girly". I am not sure what she means by this last term. Perhaps she means she does not want to look to much like a little girl. Another problem is that little girl shoes stop at the Mexican size 21 and the next size up is 2. Some stores carry a transitional half number up from 21. Rebecca liked many that were size 2 but these were simply much too big. When I pointed out that the round front was a classic she would say to me, "You are giving me the classic guilt trip," and would immediately reject the shoe. In one store I mentioned to the sales clerk that Rebecca would have a hard time shopping for shoes in the future with her husband. With a smile on her face the clerk said, " First will be the problem of finding a boy friend with patience."
In the photo above which I took in Morelia last year you can see a pair of shoes that is a favourite of Rebecca's. By the time of Rebecca's tenth birthday on August 17th they will be too small. And another fragment of Rebecca's childhood (to my dismay) will be behind her.
Palenque & Beetles Again
Sunday, July 29, 2007
With little girls like Rebecca culture (or in this case the culture of ruins) has to be eased in. Uxmal and Chichén Itzá were enough even though we were very close to Kabah and Tikul. One place we will perhaps never see with Rebecca is Palenque in the state of Chiapas. When I was there all those years ago (27 or 28 years) I found it to be a magical, almost mystical experience. When I first spotted Palenque it was shrouded with a wet mist and it rained. The only way to keep the bugs at bay was to chain smoke my Veracruzan Flor de la Costa
cigars. The place was almost deserted and I felt like Stephens and Catherwood discovering a place no white man had seen yet.
This morning while reading Stephens's account of his first entrance into Palenque I read this which caught my eye and brought me some memories I had all but forgotten.The rain continued, with heavy thunder and lightning all the afternoon. At night we could not light a candle, but the darkness of the palace (Palacio de los Gobernadores, see first photo here) was lighted up by fireflies of extraordinary size and brilliancy, shooting throught he corridors and stationary on the walls, forming beautiful and striking spectacles. Known by name shining beetles, they are more than half an inch long, and have a sharp movable horn on the head; when laid on the back they cannot turn over except by pressing this horn against a membrane upon the front. Behind the eyes are two round transparent substances full of luminous matter, about as large as the head of a pin., and underneath is a larger membrane containing the same luminous substance. Four of them together threw a brilliant light for several yards around, and by the light of a single one we read distinctly the finely printed pages of an American newspaper. It was one of a packet, full of debates in Congress, which I had as yet barely glanced over, and it seemed stranger than any incident in my journey to be reading by the light of beetles, in the ruined palace of Palenque, the sayings and doings of great men at home.
Incidents of Travel In Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan
John Lloyd Stephens
It was in the province of Corrientes, Argentina
, sometime around 1950 that my cousin Jorge Wenceslao found a couple of these shining beetles and with the cruelty that a child is certainly capable of we would put them on their backs and we would bet which one of our beetles would right itself first.