Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Friday afternoon saw me returning to the office from a conference in Dupont Circle. This was before the wind and the rain that washed-away the oppressive heat. The humidity gave the avenues between the hotel and the metro a claustrophobic character and veiled the sky in a diffusive sand-colored glow. As the escalator took me over that rollercoaster angle at the top, a place other than the one right in front of me came into view. Lamp posts became impossibly green trees; brownstones, temples. The algae-covered concrete tube that conveys riders from the brightly-lit circle above to the dim underworld of trains and tunnels below was a cenote. It was, in fact, a particular cenote I had stood above a month before.
The cenotes are, in the most profane geological sense, the result of the action of moving water on the soluble limestone landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula. Ultimately, the water will leave behind an orotund shaft that reaches down to the groundwater level and far beyond. Convoluted networks of underground channels link one cenote to another, and some of these networks even open into the ocean. I've read that some cenotes, miles inland, contain water that tastes of sea salt.
The cenote I recalled at the station, the one within Chichen Itza, is a primitive thing indeed. A circular chasm two hundred feet across, you’d fall six stories from its rim before you got wet. Birds dive into it, but not as far as the opaque green water, while lizards hunt its vertical walls. It is one of those places where the fortress wall that separates the here and now from a harsh old metaphysics fades into a beaded curtain just out of reach. On the one side are sad domesticated men wearing brown knee-socks with sneakers and carrying camera bags, and on the other side, watching, is that primal thing that made building pyramids and cutting a person's still-beating heart from their chest a good idea.
That gaping maw descends not only into the intimate places of the Earth but well past the thin shell of my mind into an unlit vault within. I can only infer what resides there, the thinking layer of words and analysis buffered from it by the ascetic layer of dreams, and impressions, and memories half-remembered.
I thought about posting one of the pictures my wife or I took of the cenote, but that seems totally antithetical to what it is. Even writing about it is not quite right, the thing being described so far removed from the rational part of oneself that arranges letters into words. To understand the cenote I peered into, recall that evacuated state that you may have only experienced a few times, surrounding rage, lust, victory or defeat, or profound loss.
Places like this one connect the visitor to ideas and experiences that are otherwise outside the network of modern consciousness. The computer on the table in the coffee shop or on the desk in the office deny the observer important pieces of the experience.
Once connected by one’s own experience, these memories become entwined into the network in one’s head. From there, they flow unseen beneath the surface into otherwise inane activities, like walking to the train station.


Jacqueline Gens said...

ER--Wow !!! Some great writing here. I'll be back for this one. jacqueline

E. R. Dunhill said...

I take that as quite a compliment from a writer of your caliber. Thank you.