Friday, July 07, 2006

Souvenir

Tuesday, my wife and I visited the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. We arrived there after a long drive through the endless wilderness that surrounds Cancun, punctuated by a couple of quick stops in towns peopled by the heirs of the pyramid-builders. Despite having studied geography in college and having worked for several years in cartography, I was surprised by the first person reality of the landscape.
Miles would fly past us in which the scenery was a homogenous mass of knotted scrub and densely packed small trees. Stretches of forest a quarter of a mile long were leaned at nearly a 45 degree angle, the lingering footprints of Wilma, we were told. Here and there, a farmhouse of cinder blocks and coconut palm thatching would occupy a slashed and burned plot. Towns were collections of simple buildings crowded around the roads in much the same density as the vegetation.
Chichen Itza was as unfamiliar as the landscape around it. Having grown up with constant trips to the national parks of the US, I was surprised at how informal the temple complex was. Local artisans and tourist-junk mongers occupied blankets along the trails connecting the various structures, and concessionaires offered gigante margaritas for US dollars. None of this detracted from the complex in the least, though the tacky margaritas pass only on kitsch value.
The buildings nearly defy words. I’d seen them a hundred times before in books, on art history exams, and as a backdrop to the talking heads on Nova, but in person, it was again the matter of scale that struck me. The ritual ball court spread out like a battlefield; the 70-meter cenote gaped green water and dozens of tiny shrieking birds; the sprawling pyramid of Kukulkan thumbed its nose at the heavens.
El Caracol, an ingeniously designed astronomical observatory was the highlight of my visit and was where I obtained my favorite souvenir. The Maya were brilliant astronomers, geographers, and mathematicians. El Caracol was their observatory, laboratory, classroom, and supercomputer, aligning the world with the heavens, measuring out the year, sighting the cardinal directions, and correctly predicting the future of when to plant, when to harvest, and when to revere. Here amidst the centuries-old paths of astronomer-priests, I connected heavens and earth in my own 21st century cartographer way:

N 20.67923
W 088.57096

Once Blogger starts playing nice again, I'll post some pictures of the temple complex and the towns.

2 comments:

nobody+knows. said...

WOW. i'm so speechless from seeing your ability to express in words. your blog is composed of such descriptive prose. i'm so glad that you looked over my resume and i'm really grateful for your suggestions, since i'm so new at this. and that sounds like a beautiful place to visit. your wife must've loved it =)

i wish i could write half as well as you do. i feel i'm going to be a regular reader from now on. =) after reading some of your entries i am put to shame by the loose style of speech i use. i'll definitely come back from time to time, for sure.

and yes, 'the stolen child' is wonderful. amazon does a great job of promotion, at least. it's sad to say i would've never come across it otherwise though, because i'm more one to follow the crowd than to explore on my own, for paperbacks anyway. if you have any great reads to recommend similar to that, let me know. =) thanks and umm... thanks again!

E. R. Dunhill said...

Kit,
You are very kind. I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written.
As for the tips on the resume, I’m happy to lend an extra set of eyes. I remember how stressful it was when I sent around my first resume. The good news is that it gets easier. I’m finding that writing is like that too.
On the subject of books, I don’t know that I’m much help on fiction. Studying got me into the habit of reading nonfiction, a genre in which I can make more recommendations than you will care to read. It was only a little over a year ago that I got back into reading fiction, and I’ve developed a seriously geeky reading list for myself. Some of these I’d already read before, but I’ve recently ploughed trough Animal Farm, 1984, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and will be starting Gulliver’s Travels as soon as I have time to devote.
Among literary nonfiction favorites are (some classics) Walden; Nature; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I also highly recommend Einstein’s Dreams; Riddle of the Ice; and Fermat’s Enigma, if you enjoy science writing.
If you like poetry, my absolute favorite poetry title is Jack Kerouac’s Pomes All Sizes. But that’s not for everyone. I’m also a fan of E.E. Cummings and Robert Pinsky, and am just starting to read Ginsberg.
Thanks again for reading Phrenology.