If religious people do indeed live longer and are indeed happier, as some studies claim to show, then the evolutionary basis and reason for the continued existence of religion in the face of rationality and common sense is self-evident. Humans would have evolved a propensity to become religious because it helps their survival.
The truth may set you free, but you might not be as carefree and happy. It will eat away at you — what hurts you does not necessarily make you stronger.
I would maintain that a healthy (i.e. substantial) amount of denial is therefore genetically heritable, that it allows us to blithely go on (despite reading Beckett) and to ignore the basic sadness and desperation of life. We can live in an illusion — in fact we are genetically predisposed to do so. These illusions can be small — I am just as good at catching game as Bob, my rival, for example — or they can be very large — that death is not the end and that I will be rewarded for my faith and Bob, the apostate, will rot in Hell.
Either way, they allow me to go on, to persevere in the face of unlikely odds or limited chance of success. We have evolved to be less rational that one might think, and to be slightly more delusional and even stupid.
Weimar Reality shows
This was in the 20s. Erwin Lowinsky’s Weisse Maus was a cabaret night that encouraged hopelessly amateur performers to get on stage — dreamy housewives, deluded bank clerks. They were encouraged to make fools of themselves. Sounds familiar.
The Black Cat Cabaret featured theme nights — nude girls in imaginary sacrificial Mayan ceremonies, mock bullfights, and naked novices being humiliated by lesbian nuns — with rituals involving silver crucifixes.
Then came Hitler.
Rode out to Grand Army Plaza on Saturday and yes, Kenny is right, the arch is indeed filled with puppets. While we were there a woman and her daughter stopped by and the little girl was trying on (some of these are big puppets) some of the heads for size. A spiral staircase winds up to the crossover, where performances are sometimes held!
(They’re open Saturdays noon to 4PM tel: 718-853-7350. Link)
Went to visit the UNESCO world heritage industrial ruin in Essen. It’s not really a ruin, as it only closed a decade ago, but it does have the feeling of an abandoned city, from a sci-fi movie maybe, or City Of Lost Children. From the web: “The Zollverein mine-cokery combo started in 1847, creating the largest coal mine in the world.” The goal was steel, and the region is dotted with coalmines and foundries. Here they connected an incredibly large mine in one area with a cokery via an elevated tube that moved the coal, in train type cars, hundreds of meters through the air to the cokery — a wall of vertical ovens that would cook the coal and covert it to coke, which burns hotter, and is needed for making steel. The cokery is a factory, but looks more like a bizarre machine that puny humans attend and feed. It’s as long a two football fields, and the heat (these are ovens, after all) and the coal dust must have been unbelievable. (The venue we’re playing in Bochum was a former gas works, supplying gas to these various factory-machines.) The architects, Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, inspired by the Bauhaus style, designed the buildings. Zollverein XII remained in operation until 1986. I remember seeing it right after it closed — I was scouting locations for a film interpretation of The Forest, the piece I did with Bob Wilson. The Gilgamesh character in that story had been updated to an industrialist like Krupp, whose steel factory was nearby.
It’s a massive site — the size of central park, almost — and has been turned into a combination park, memorial to industry and cultural center. The cultural center part is aided by the legendary German arts budget, but even so it still moves incrementally. Only one of the giant gasworks buildings has been converted into performance spaces, for example. Next to it sits a turbine hall — 2 turbines still squatting there in the semi darkness.
The Essen site sprawls across grassy paths linked by pipes and elevated conveyers. One building houses Russian artist Kabakov’s “Palace Of Projects”, a kind of imaginary world’s fair pavilion as if made by a group of high school science students — crude, handmade and full of preposterous utopian and visionary proposals. It’s like a magical Calvino book come to life.
Another building will soon house the Essen art museum, which has outgrown its current site. There are plenty more empty shells available after that.
Buildings like these, but on a much smaller scale, have been converted in the U.S. — the Mattress Factory in Pittsburg, MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass., and the DIA Nabisco factory in Beacon. But nothing approaches this scale or sheer amount of metal. This region is doing a wholesale changeover from industrialkulture to the culture industry.
The next day Thomas takes me to another Essen industrial site — this one the blast furnace complex. We view a semi-outdoor venue that is often used for the Century of Song dates and an indoor black box theater above a turbine room that can be reconfigured according to the needs of the show. A possible venue for Here Lies Love?
The blast furnace here, and its small hole, about half a meter across, at its base, is the ultimate focal point, the goal of this whole industrial valley — the coal mines, the cokeries, the gas works, the trains, the barges and ports are all about making the molten steel pour out this relatively small hole at the end of the process. Hard to conceive so much manpower, effort, creativity, sweat and resources with their vanishing point, their glorious final product, the glowing red steel that spews out the mouth (or ass?) of this giant furnace. All the elements brought together — by pipe, road, train and sea — all to make this substance that would be used to make other machines. Trains, rails, cars (eventually), cannons, ships, tanks, bridges, dynamos, girders, tools, guns. The steel makes machines that allow for the production of more steel.
There is one bridge over the Rhine from which one can see the smokestacks and cooling towers dotting the landscape in an amazing 360º panorama. Most of these factories are inactive, but a few are still puffing away. I was told that during its heyday the Ruhr valley was like Pittsburg, where the skies were so darkened by the amount of smoke that one had to turn on lamps in the daytime.
Someone else said to me, “it was here that the two world wars were ‘made’.” It’s puzzling then that the factory buildings are still standing — Berlin and Dresden were reduced to smoking hulks while so many of these factories and steelworks, so essential to the German war effort, survived. Did the Allies think they would do a Halliburton and take them over for themselves, and therefore they spared them the bombing? Or maybe they realized that without industry a defeated Germany would have no possibility of reconstruction — they would be shattered refugees — desperate, pathetic, ready for anything that would restore some dignity.
Before/after photos of bombing in Essen (Link):
And more about the bombing of the factory (Link):
Thomas W. tells us that the Chinese wanted to buy this entire site when it closed — their own coalfields are not entirely depleted — not just yet — so they can actually reanimate this creature. As this Essen colliery/cokery was the last one in the area to close the local government hesitated approving the sale, and decided instead that their glorious industrial past should be remembered, memorialized rather than obliterated and forgotten, so they declined that particular offer. They call them industruialkulture monuments. Cathedrals of Industry. Other nearby sites had been sold in entirety to the Chinese — in Dortmund a similar site was completely dismantled and shipped to China. Hundreds of workers were shipped in, housed in tents on site, meals and facilities provided, as they took the beasts apart. How did they do it? We gaze at the tangle of pipes around us, the huge metal machines that dwarf human scale. How could anyone keep track of the parts? Where would you begin? The scale is like ants taking a car apart and then reassembling it — and hoping it works.
Last night was our first performance — 3 encores, so I guess we did all right. I was pretty nervous — if you get off the rails with the orchestra they don’t accommodate, they keep right on playing what they’ve got in front of them… so you have to kind of surf their wave, and if you’re successful the connection feels natural and the intensity of my singing, for example, will anticipate what they’re going to do. If it works it doesn’t sound like anyone is following or being led; it sounds like you and the orchestra are emotionally linked. Luckily for me many of the songs have some kind of groove, so I can focus one ear on Kenny’s percussion or hi-hat and hope the orchestra and Anthony the conductor do the same. Watching and paying attention to Anthony’s baton is fun and exciting, but conductors tend to give the rhythm almost a full beat ahead to an orchestra — sort of a “this is where we’re going not where we’re at” — so looking for a downbeat from the baton is hopeless — but the tempo and the crescendos and diminuendos are all there.
The orchestral Philly soul version of "Here Lies Love" went over well, as did "Un Di Felice", which was a surprise, as I thought I’d get giggles from the classical crowd on that one.
A story from Thomas Wordehoff, one of the coordinators of this festival:
“Volare”, that song some of us remember as a kitsch lounge standard, and others from a TV commercial advertising a car of the same name, was about…Yves Klein, the painter! The chorus of the song goes “volare”, but the original title is “Nel blu dipinto di blu”, a reference to the famous Klein blue that the painter made his signature.
I wonder if volare, meaning “to fly”, is a reference to the famous photo of Klein caught in mid air, seeming to be doing a swan dive out of a Parisian window?
Drummer Kenny Wollesen revealed this morning at breakfast that the “arc de triomphe” at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn is hollow, and it houses the New York puppet lending library! The arch is filled with puppets! In fact, a spiral staircase winds up and the walls are filled with them, many life-sized, categorized by type, one of which is insects. (Verification)
Recent research and discoveries connecting chemistry and love:
• Yes, Always. Prairie voles are monogamous and meadow voles are not. However, by injecting meadow voles with a virus that “carries” the prairie vole gene to the meadow vole’s brain, the meadow vole becomes monogamous. Ladies, take note.
• Trust Me. Oxytocin is a chemical intimately related to emotions and sex. Its levels rise after orgasm in women, during arousal in men (note the timing difference) and the levels rise even from touching and massage (Kevin Costner, read on.) Oxytocin also boosts trust. Given a whiff of oxytocin spray, hypothetical “investors” would hand over all their money to anonymous “trustees” with no guarantee of return. Kenneth Lay, please hand over your aerosol can.
• Bad Judgment. Left on our own we tend to select partners who have a set of genes known as the MHC complex that are dissimilar to our own. Pairing these different gene sets produces healthier offspring. It is thought we do this by scent. (Here’s to sensory abilities we didn’t know we had.) However, women on the pill tend to select men whose MHC is the same as their own. Something gets blocked or short-circuited. They make what is not necessarily the best choice…but, they won’t have a child anyway, so it all evens out.
• Chocolate. The neurotransmitter phenylethylamine (PEA) is also known as the “love” molecule. It induces “excitement and apprehension” according to the magazine New Scientist. Sounds like a roller coaster ride if you ask me, and maybe that’s not a coincidence. PEA is also found in chocolate and its levels also rise when you exercise. So, when I jog am I getting a little bit of that loved up feeling and is that good or bad for my personal life? The ancient Maya valued chocolate (cocoa pods) possibly more than gold.
To be honest, the prospect of oxytocin sprays and chocolate flavored PEA drops is frightening (and tempting). It’s hard enough out there without chemicals clouding the issue even more. And what happens when some scam artists and white-collar crooks get a hold of this stuff — if they haven’t already? I see a counter-development of substances that can tell if your “friend” is using, spraying, or not. Sort of a Breathalyzer test for love potions.
There are soldiers on the beach. A couple of them appear at one end and then, after sauntering leisurely, overdressed in their camos for this heat, they disappear around some rocks at the far end. I’m reminded of my military prejudices. Although in some countries and in some places they are seen as representatives of the people — they are usually ordinary boys from ordinary homes — I cannot help but view them as representatives of power, the government and politics. To me they represent the government’s will to manage the people, often their own people, not to protect them.
Some of this prejudice probably stems from my youthful experience and politics — the debacle of Vietnam and then the Cold War paranoia established in my mind the military as oppressive, righteous, frightening and narrow-minded. They were by nature, in this view, serving the interests of the ruling class — and still are. The lads have been brainwashed to believe they are fighting for freedom and peace — lies that have been told to soldiers for thousands of years.
So, when I see them on the beach my instinct is to stiffen, though I suspect that in Mexico it might be some poor Mayan community that is being squashed and not a handful of pale tourists.
I realize that my instincts are unfair. In some places and at some times the military does indeed represent the people and not just the greedy adventuring of those in power. Sometimes the military persist as politicians come and go, are made up of skilled professionals out to do a clear-cut job, and will stand up to the lying politicians and ally themselves with the population. There comes a point where their own professionalism is at stake.
This happened with the People Power movement in the Philippines in the mid 80s, and it threatens to happen now in Iraq. The U.S. military may just bring the Bush-Cheney adventure to a speedier close. The soldiers are being stretched beyond reasonable limits, the troop commanders are being asked to put their men in danger — and for what? They’re approaching their limits. Has there ever been a revolt emerging from within the U.S. military?
The Maya have many Gods and “saints” — some dedicated to tattoo artists, comedians, lovers and….suicides! And, of course — corn (maize). Their staff of life. Archeologists and anthropologists propose that the structure of their mythology is at heart maize-related. They see their myth of a God who dies and goes into the ground only to miraculously sprout back to life as a metaphor for planting and of the mystery of agriculture. The God is a seed, dead it would seem, who, when buried in the earth, suddenly returns, living again, bringing benefits for all.
Isn’t Jesus the same thing? Dead, buried in the ground, a seed in a hole, miraculously returning to life with benefits for all.
What do we have now, when for many that faith is gone? Post Enlightenment we put our faith in science and technology. Jung proposed that Flying Saucers were mechanical God metaphors — perfect mandala-shaped symbols from the sky — technology perfected, transcendent, loving, beneficent.
I would look at our art and museums as well for an answer — our contemporary secular temples. Modernism certainly celebrated the machine, the machine-made, the shiny and mass-produced. The cult of scientific self-improvement — perfection, progress. It’s all a kind of faith.
Modernism, for the most part, has passed. Science and intellectual rigor — its handmaidens — are revealed to be as slanted and biased as religions ever were. The great industrial revolutions did not deliver utopia. What will take their place?
A surge of millennial movements is everywhere. The oil and fossil fuels that powered the explosion, expansion and development of previous centuries are running out. An end is within imagination if not within sight. A way of life is coming to an end. The plains Indians created a millennial cult as their world collapsed under the Westward expansion — the Ghost Dance.
On our way to Coba we stop at a large roadside restaurant. A giant thatched roof over an open area with plastic chairs and wooden tables. A sign on the way in says “Di no a las drogas” (Say no to drugs). As we’re leaving the girls point out to me that one of the waiters was dealing to a group of guys in a pickup parked near us in the parking lot.
Over one of our meals the girls trade notes on who at school is faking ADD. It seems that if you are certified as having ADD, and better yet if you are on medication, you get extra time to do homework, take tests (including SATs) and it doesn’t go on your record. You’ve got a built-in excuse and the world will cut you some slack. So at least half the students are on Ritalin or some similar drug. Some are “diagnosed” but don’t take the drug, as it interferes with their other activities (sports). But many are zonked much of the time.
I tend to see this as a big pharma conspiracy. Create a public awareness of a new medical “disease”, supply “experts” to document it and then, miraculously and conveniently, provide the “cure”. The aim of big Pharma is naturally not to get everyone well, but to convince everyone they are sick.
I am constantly reminding myself of what was happening in Europe while the classic Mayan civilization was at its height. Early middle ages, massive cathedrals being built as well as scattered walled cites. Learning and knowledge confined to proscribed sects — priests and alchemists. Little general exchange of information, goods or communication. The general population fairly well off and content as far as diet and health goes. (This contradicts what we were taught...but from reading the French historian Braudel he seemed to imply that daily life was O.K. — my sense is that there was some revisionism going on and the middle ages — the "dark" ages — were the victim of Enlightenment propaganda.)
The art too was similar — exaggerated and stylized. It is sometimes assumed that this approach was a regression from the high realism of the classic period, but that attitude is not universally accepted now (particularly as our own art is so abstract and stylized.) Stylization and abstraction of figures and scenes taps into a more transcendent and universal emotion. It’s a choice, not a lack of technique.
The Mayan images are filled, overflowing, with resonant symbols. The king stands in profile, animal faces surround his waist, curlicues of smoke emerge from his brow, and on his head there is a massive biomorphic crown surmounted by yet another creature. He is a piece of living theater. His sandals are jaguar skin, his cloak, puma. He appropriates attributes from these animals. Feathers form a huge array behind him, like a heavenly aura or the rays emanating from the Virgin de Guadalupe. He’s a walking palimpsest of mythological symbols. Layer upon layer, super dense and baroque. He can be emotionally felt and read. He’s a mobile temple.
The Maya survive. After decades of U.S.-supported genocide and persecution in Guatemala they are achieving some measure of power and respect there — the survivors, anyway. In Mexico the government push for tourism has had a profound effect on the culture. It destroys what it reveres. Like stockbrokers and merchant bankers moving into an arty neighborhood. There are still completely Mayan towns, but much of the land often gets appropriated and turned into gated resorts.
I suppose our little group is a guilty party too, even though we were staying in more modest “eco” accommodations.
4 days ago a photo-op at Chichen Itza:
Geology as destiny
So, it’s proposed that given the weird water situation, and the fact that limestone and its soil are notoriously limited for agriculture, the Maya did amazingly well, given the extreme physical limitations of their environment. As they mastered field and crop rotation, water and irrigation, and plants that could grow in the poor soil, their population grew — to the millions, it is estimated. So many survived on such a fragile ecology that when the scales tipped — there was a drought that lasted for years — the civilization began to fracture. This was all well before the contact with Europeans… and one wonders at possible contemporary parallels — economies based almost entirely on oil, for example.
According to Lost Cities of the Maya (Baudez/Picasso) the first meeting between the Maya and Europeans was with Christopher Columbus in 1502. The ships of Columbus appeared to the Mayans first as floating islands in the bay of Honduras, islands with only 3 leafless trees on each of them (the ships’ masts.) The local king met them in the royal canoe, bringing gifts, and a pleasant exchange took place. The Mayans were slightly taken aback at the hairiness of the faces of the Europeans — to the Maya this made them appear monkey-like.
These Europeans never set foot on Mayan soil.
The next meeting was not so pleasant. A European boat was shipwrecked off the coast of Jamaica and the scrawny survivors washed up on the shores of the Yucatan.
They were taken to the Mayan city where they were seen as a God-given opportunity for sacrifice. Handy as well that they were complete strangers, so no local grievances would arise. A group of them were then sacrificed almost immediately — in the accepted manner, one assumes — the still-beating heart torn out of the chest (exactly how this operation was performed by the Maya was not described — I’ve read Aztec accounts.)
However, as these “gifts” for sacrifice were all so undernourished and scrawny they were not the best quality as sacrificial material goes. So the remaining survivors were locked up and began to enjoy the local cuisine, until they too were sacrificed. All except 2. One man became a loyal slave to the king and another managed to escape to a neighboring town where he married a local gal and settled down.
Others followed. Though the subjugation of the Maya didn’t happen as quickly or easily as the Spanish in particular might have hoped. Shades of George Bush and Co. Murderous priests intent on destroying the local culture and Christianizing the Maya, gold seekers, conquistadores and others all made inroads, but couldn’t conquer the little people.
None of the Europeans at first could believe that the little people around them, living in tiny villages of thatched huts with dirt floors, could have possibly built the massive complexes that surrounded them. How could these people have done this? And then how could they have no recollection of it?
The Europeans came up with other explanations. One explorer believed that the great Mayan cities were a remnant made by survivors of Atlantis, the disappeared mid-Atlantic utopia. Others thought that, somewhat logically, the builders of the near east must have made their way here — the ziggurats of Babylon and Sumer were similar, no? Romantically inclined explorers proposed that the classical Romans must have landed there. And if they didn’t stay, they at least imparted some of their classical skills and wisdom to the locals before departing. It seemed obvious that these locals could never have come up with this by themselves.
Priests and missionaries, possibly viewing the monstrous faces and serpents adorning the Mayan temples and other buildings, became convinced that only the Devil himself could have made these cites. They could only be the cites of the Evil One himself! Ay!
From a Catherwood painting — one can see where the missionaries got their notions.
Lastly, post-conquest, even some Maya themselves became convinced that their own ancestors could not have created the network of cites and roads around them. They saw that the only people they knew who seemed capable of such great works were their new masters. So when asked who built the cities they answered, “The Spanish.”
Wandering through these sites I ask myself, “What is this fascination with ruins? Explorers followed by tour busses, all gazing in rapt wonder and awe — what’s the deal? It’s just a pile of rocks, right?” Ruins are a classic romantic image, used again and again in paintings and poems…and now in movies and TV…of a once great Ozymandias and his people whose only legacy is an impressive and inscrutable pile of rubble. The Europeans were endlessly fascinated, as the planet seemed to be revealed to be filled with the remnants of faded greatness, now covered in jungles or desert sands.
Ogling ruins is way of meditating on our own inevitable deaths, and also, one assumes, of acknowledging our own hubris and that of our own civilizations. A humbling reminder that, yes, it all does return to dust, no matter how tall, massive or impregnable the buildings might be. There is, I admit, impressive survival — the tombs of Egypt — but it’s all for nothing in the end. The collapse, one senses, is always inevitable, despite leaders’ claims to eternal good and greatness.
I asked myself, “Where are the contemporary ruins? Where are the ruins in progress? Where are our once great cites that are being abandoned as these ones were?”
I came up with Detroit. (Sorry, sports fans.) Vast stretches of the city are already uninhabited, crumbling. The central temples, yes, are still in use — the temples for sports, conventions and ritualistic music concerts — but for how much longer? Will the beautiful deco buildings erected as working shrines by what were once the largest companies in the world (GM, Ford) soon be abandoned? They’re already surrounded by a no man’s wasteland; it seems only a matter of time. And then how long before people wander into that zone and ask themselves, “Who built this incredible building?”
Detroit inner city urban decay (thanks to Ian Freimuth for the photos):
Or New Orleans, possibly, the first urban victim of global warming.
I can also imagine formerly vast Soviet cities in the Russian heartland that may have already been abandoned. Cities, like Detroit, of steel, industry and manufacturing. With temples to the Party and the Worker, now derelict — filled with grass and stray cats, like the once great factories of the Ruhr valley.
The beautiful Fisher building, Detroit:
Part 2, Tulum
Various European explorers canvassed the region during the 1800s. John Stephens and Catherwood, his illustrator, published books based on their travels around 1841 that entranced the English-speaking world. Catherwood’s engravings and paintings were romantic, as were Waldeck’s before him, but Catherwood’s possessed more accuracy and had the aura of scientific objectivity, as did Stephens’ texts. They still indulged in the romantic aesthetic of Lost Worlds and were entertaining as mysterious and dangerous adventures, but their renderings of the architecture and reliefs were more accurate and less pseudo-classical than those of Waldeck or Castañeda. Catherwood used a camera lucida, an optical device that made drawing more accurate. It made the drawings and lithos look like what the eye was seeing. (See Hockney’s theories about historical artists using scientific optical devices.)
(You use the lens to view your subject and the drawing becomes more like copying, to our sensibilities, a photograph. Here is a camera Lucida. $7 at the time.)
Here is one of his works — apocalyptic and yet accurate:
Naturally, like any kid now who has seen Scooby Doo cartoons or Tomb Raider, the 19th century world was entranced when they saw these images. These were tourist brochures for the unconscious. A confirmation, in fact, of what the European imagination had seen only in their darkest dreams. Freudian and Jungian images, before those men existed.
Charney, a French explorer, visited Uxmal, the site pictured in the postcard style view earlier. He came upon the large plaza just beyond the pyramid of the Magician (a structure of 3 low buildings now called the Nunnery) and decided he needed to stay there in order not to waste time traveling to and from the nearby village where they had set off. He decided to camp inside one of the rooms that faced the large plaza. The Mayan helpers begged off — they wouldn’t stay the night — which he naturally attributed to silly local superstition. You can tell what’s coming next.
The first two nights he set up his gear and a hammock in one of the ancient rooms and nothing happened. But on the third night he awoke in the middle of the night to find himself covered in huge bugs, crawling all over him, even in his face. They were everywhere, and they were sucking his blood. He fought back, massacring the lot, in a horrible bloody rampage. He went back to sleep, but it was no use, they had discovered him.
He moved to another room — the plaza has many rooms facing it — and had another good night. But soon they discovered him again. He moved once more, and the insects found him once again. It seems the native “superstitions” were not so crazy after all.
His account of all this, like Stephens’ book with Catherwood’s engravings, could be seen as an early blog, an entertaining (I hope) journal, of which this one is a much abbreviated contemporary example.
Why are the Mayan Gods so monstrous? Here is one from the Lost Cites book that to me looks an awfully lot like the monster in Predator:
Is the spirit world so full of danger and death that it is almost entirely populated by demons of one sort or another? Are there no angels or beautiful Goddesses? Is there no blissful heaven with glowing maidens beckoning? Are these scary creatures possibly a truer reflection of the natural world and the struggle for survival than the images of Athena and Aphrodite? The word for love in Mayan — yail — means both love and pain.
Here is a (protected) skull from the center of a ball court. This game was for keeps.
Here’s one that looks like Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars 6. The European eyes are a conceit — added by the European artist, but the teeth — those are meant to be teeth — are accurate.
Pain was something the Maya were familiar with. Not only were prisoners and slaves ritually sacrificed (children — bastards and orphans — were highly prized for this) but even the elite during the Classic period let their own blood be shed. On specific dates men would use a stingray spine or an awl to pierce their penises and, as is shown on some stelae, the holy blood would drip down. The blood splattered on “paper” which was then used to anoint the idols. Women used a different technique, of course. They would draw a thorny branch or tendril (like that of a rose) through their tongues! Priests engaged in fire walking. Needles were jabbed through ears, cheeks and lips as well, but that all seems tame these days.
Many of the Gods, and many of the personal doppelgängers, are animal/human hybrids. Dog-faced or jaguar-faced humans. Parrot beaks on jaguar heads on a human body. And of course the serpent with feathers — now confirmed by dinosaur science to have actually existed in some form. Birds are indeed descended from dinosaurs, and flying feathered lizards did exist as one time — so this stuff is not all imaginary, it’s not all the result of those peyote enemas.
Part of the Mayan aesthetic mixed aspects of youth and age in these creatures — a creature with a child’s body and the face of an old man was common. The Gods, being of many aspects and avatars, crossed what we see as the line between humans and animals. The Maya saw no such dividing line.
What if, and this is a big if, not all of these chimeras were mythical? What if not all of them were figments of the Mayan imagination? What if the Maya had some kind of genetic science, lost of us now, which enabled a limited creation of these monsters? Don’t laugh. Plenty of the world’s knowledge has been lost, though much of it has been “found” again — the science and astronomy of the Arabs was “lost” to Europeans for centuries, then “rediscovered”, resulting in great leaps forward. Other skills and techniques of ancient cultures are still a mystery to us.
So, given that we now know you can indeed mix a pig with a fish, maybe these people actually did it. Maybe the monsters on these walls and frescoes are not mythical, but are historical. This nasty dog below probably existed. It is known that dogs were bred to be hairless (the escuintle still exists) and barkless.
It took centuries for archeologists to realize that much of the rest of what is left carved in stone is historical. Previously they had thought it was all religious décor. These are the records of kings, of their times. There are kings entombed in the pyramids — well, in some of them, for sure. Long descending stairs — purposely blocked with earth and huge triangular stones — lead into the heart of the structures, where bodies of the kings lie, the desiccated corpse wearing a beautiful jade mask. The carvings illustrate real battles, real rulers and…real monsters?
The beauty aesthetic too is far from ours. Babies, right after they were born, had their heads bound between two boards, to achieve, as far as possible, the aesthetically pleasing look of fore and aft flattening.
Being cross-eyed was also seen as a pleasing look, so mothers would leave the babies with a beads on a string dangling right between their eyes, in the hopes of training the eyes to go more inward.
O.K., this seems a sure sign of cultural and aesthetic relativism. We might like to think that our ideas of the beautiful — swollen botoxed lips, emaciated women, men obviously on steroids — are universal. Or at least approach some universal ideal of physical beauty. Others maintain that the Kouros figures and sculptures of Michaelangelo and others evince the true ideal.
But no, as we can see, there are others whose ideal is, and this is but one example, a cross-eyed pinhead, so where is the universal ideal?
Evolutionary biologists maintain that the universal ideal is found in symmetry and suitability for child bearing and rearing, for women, and survival and security, for men. The signs we interpret as beauty, they contend, are actually obvious outward signals of biological health and potentiality. Do swollen lips do that?
More to come.
First things first.
My reading material tells me that the Maya took hallucinogenic enemas. Amongst the materials found at digs and matched to images on walls or codexes were leather and/or rubber tubing and narrow bone funnels for inserting up the bum. Through these would flow pulque (a fermented agave brew) or chih (dunno what this drink is)…or hallucinogenic teas. The Huichol (central Mexico) still do this with infusions made from Peyote buttons. No pictures available.
25 years ago I seem to remember that the roads other than the main Merida-Cancún highway were mostly dirt tracks trough the forest. Cabanas existed around Tulum, but not the hotels that are going up now. Highways and road improvement proceed rapidly. In fact, many of the newer nice paved roads that interlace the peninsula are not on any of the maps. They can't make new maps fast enough to keep up with progress.
The Maya were possibly the last large “civilized” group of indigenous people in the new world to capitulate to the European invaders. Yes, there are still small scattered groups in the Amazon, and the Lacondon (a Mayan subsidy) in Chiapas have preserved some of their way of life, but the Maya were still fairly organized in large cites when the Spanish arrived — though their massive empire had dwindled a lot. (It's estimated there were millions in the larger empire, which may have been part of the problem.) They were still worshipping at the pyramids in 1930 when the Mexican government took control of some of the sites and instituted tourism and conservation programs. That makes 5,000 years (at least) of continuous culture — some kind of record.
When the Spanish moved in they created a series of race-based “castes” based on the various racial mixtures that occurred in the New World (results of interbreeding between European, Indigenous and African peoples.) The castes have curious names — Lobo (wolf), Tentenelayre (have you up in the air) and Saltapatras (a jump backwards.)
The Maya rose up against the invaders a number of times. They fought guerilla style — so the Spanish could never fight them on open ground or in broad daylight. The Spanish, for decades, took terrible losses…there was no central head to cut off as there had been with the Aztecs. In 1847 the Mayan uprising was called the Caste War and a cult of talking crosses arose simultaneously. The rebel bases were at Carrillo Puerto and Tulum. When Carrillo Puerto fell it was left to Tulum, which was ruled by Maria Uicab, the Queen of Tulum, to defend the remaining Mayan forces.
These forces were not militarily subdued by the Mexicans until the early 20th century. Whether they were ever culturally subdued is doubtful.
The tiny Maya endure. The civilization is in the people, embedded and quiet. The temples have crumbled, only 5 codexes remain in all the world out of thousands, the roads between pyramids are overgrown, but the little people who were always there are still there. Living life not so different that what they always did. The kings and priests are gone, but the people remain.
Coe suggests that much about a culture can be explained by geology and agricultural science. This is a bit the Guns, Germs and Steel school of analysis. The upper Yucatan peninsula has no rivers. No rivers! Where on Earth are there NO rivers? So, after the rainy season, there is no fresh water. It has all sunk into the earth or evaporated. Yes, there are giant ceramic jars in abundance, but how many months of dry season will that last?
The peninsula is a limestone plateau, heaved up from the seabed where the limestone was created and deposited. It's flat as a pancake. The rainwater seeps down into the porous stone and eventually etches out caves, as often happens in limestone-rich areas. In the Yucatan this is where the water goes — it ends up in underground lakes, ponds and aquifers. Occasionally the roof of one of these caves in, and a way becomes available to the fresh water below. The Spanish called these cenotes. Here's one:
It's hard to see, but in the lower left corner there is a wooden stand with a mattress propped up vertically at the back left. A kid has rigged a zip line that runs from the far right earth surface down into the hole — if you can't stop, the mattress will cushion your impact. For a small fee you can try your luck.
Here's a painting of how the ancient Maya got water:
Like something out of Myst or some work of 19th century imaginative fiction….like those on which the Indiana Jones series was based.
Nowadays many of the cenotes are tourist attractions. We descended into one near the Coba site (many former cites were build to include cenotes or with ones very nearby.) From the surface one can see a hole in the ground about as big as a child's wading pool. Inside is a spiral stairway that goes down about 4 stories. At the bottom was a Mexican man making sure no one broke off any stalagmites, and a crystal clear pond. Clear fresh filtered water. I went swimming. In other cenotes one can go scuba diving through various underground chambers.
Went for another surfing bout yesterday. Last time was about a year ago in Perth. Mauro was the organizer, naturally. He's the most avid surfer. We had to drive south, to the bottom of the peninsula, about an hour away, where the actual sea was. Lovely beach, if a bit windy, and I could get up on the board as far as my knees and steer with them — and be hands free!
Saw llamas, parrots, kangaroos and some ibis as we drove back north.
Stopped at McLaren Vale winery area for an early dinner on the way back and fell out when I got back to the hotel.
More Aussie cuisine:
Here are some local election posters — Keep those bastards honest, Kate!:
Nice piece in 3 Quarks Daily on Trapped In The Closet. I’m jealous. It’s a lovely musing that begins with observations of this surprising pop phenomena and segues into thoughts about how our brains organize our thoughts and how we tell stories — with some words I’ve never heard before.
Ganda cooked over 100 dumplings for everyone last night in her room after the show. Dana’s mom dropped off cupcakes that spelled “Here Lies Love”.
I went by the museum and took some pictures of their lovely dioramas — but was stopped for using a tripod. But I managed to get a few off before I had to put it away.
Tonight is the last show…until when?
Giant animals that used to live in Australia:
In Pleistocene times, giant "megafauna" inhabited Australia. These animals mysteriously disappeared in Australia about 15,000 years ago, including:
Here they are seen in a kind of Antipodean garden of paradise.
Aboriginal stories which have been recorded throughout Australia indicate clearly that the animals were a part of the environment of early man on this continent, remembered with both fear and awe for generations.
The oral tradition goes back that far…15, 000 years! It makes written history seem — well, not worth the papyrus it’s written on.
Tonight’s show was the last one here. It was probably the best played one we’ve done. Really beginning to lock and rock on many tunes. Kind of sad to be putting the performances on hiatus for a while, but we’ll see. Got lots to think about — how the narrative can be transmitted without my talking bits — which are fun but kill the momentum, etc. etc.
Had a pot luck late lunch in Graham’s room…almost everyone brought food or cooked food in the hotel kitchenettes and we had loads of leftovers that we ate after the show.