Sunday, February 8, 2009

On the Bus - Chichen Itza


What impresses people about Chichen Itza is of course the sheer size of the city. Clearly the gods were mathematicians and astronomers, or honored by same. The main ziggurat is cunningly put together. Imagine how it must have looked stuccoed and colored.
All its parts represent something on the Mayan calendar and their numbers are manipulate-able in significant fashions. I wonder what I'd have thought to build or worship (as an elite, of course) on a dark and warm jungle nights.

What I liked best was that the steps on one side of the temple and the big carved snake head at their base, and those pieces alone, shine when they are lit by the solstice sun twice a year, to create the effect of a plumed serpent descending. It must have been quite a sight for people unaccustomed to "special effects."

Then there’s the Ball Court where the best players got to play for their lives, or should I say, for their deaths. For it was an honor for the winner to die, beheaded, spurting blood, as shown in the stelae. That's the loser groveling in this one. You’ve got to wonder if the glory of the sacrifice was enough to keep the winners sanguine as long as they needed to be, or if they’d have second thoughts at the end.



The third thing was how did all these jillions of stones get shaped and placed with no metal and no wheels? Flint, and manpower, said the guide (I should have asked about the beheading). Why didn’t they use carts and pulleys to move things around? Because the religion was so devoted to cycles and renewals that the use of a round symbol for such prosaic purpose would have been offensive. Or something like that. Looking for a modern equivalent, I came up with the controversies over stem cell research as an example of a culture that would keep such tools sheathed for intellectual reasons.





And then we were on our behemoth of a tour bus, being shopped at the Mayan souvenir center, and dipped in a cenote sinkhole/cave/pool before getting shunted to a different bus for the long ride home. UPS couldn't have done better delivery job!









There was a bathroom in the basement of this bus. The guide did a long riff about making phone calls down there: that you could make all the local calls you liked, but no long distance please “and we will all know, because the air conditioning will tell us.”

1 comment:

yachtboy said...

testing the waters...