Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Climbing into the Past




On our fourth day (I believe it was the fourth. Maybe it was the fifth or sixth--I lost track of time in paradise), we grew weary of lounging under our palapa, gazing at the turquoise Caribbean between intervals of reading/napping/swimming, reading/napping/swimming,
reading/napping/swimming. Truth be told, we'd probably never weary of this peaceful rhythm, which was perfectly synchronized to the lapping of the waves, perfectly synchronized to the rhythms of our souls.

But when you're in the Yucatan, you're supposed to check out the Mayan ruins, right? So we rented a car and ventured into the interior. Our destination: Chichen Itza, home of one of the Mayan pyramids, the Templo de Kukulkan.



On each of the four faces of Templo de Kukulkan are 91 steps. Consider the top platform a step and do the math: 4 X 91=364, plus 1 platform. There are a total of 365 steps, one for each day of the year.

At the base of the pyramid are snake heads, their huge mouths gaping at passers-by. At the spring and fall equinoxes, thanks to the angle of the sun in relation to the edges of the steps on the north side, light undulates down the steps, yes, like a giant serpent crawling down the side of the pyramid. To this day the snake heads appear to come to life twice a year. With their slithering bodies of light, they usher in the spring. Then they usher in the fall. Clearly, the people who built the Templo de Kukulkan were highly attuned to astronomical rhythms.



And they took their ballgames very seriously. We saw this enormous ball field, about the size of three football fields. If you enlarge the image, you'll be able to make out two tiny rings, one attached to the walls on either side of the field. Apparently, balls were kicked through these teeny-tiny rings.



Remember what I said about the Mayans taking their ballgames seriously? At the end of the game, either the winners or the losers--the scholars haven't decided which--were beheaded and offered as sacrifices to the deities. Such sacrificial heads are depicted as impaled skulls on the walls of Tzompantli, the Platform of Skulls.



I must admit that seeing all of this death imagery in person was bothersome. I tried to fathom a culture which seemed to be so attuned to the rhythms of nature, and yet saw fit to offer up its own to gruesome sacrifices. A culture that created stunning architecture and art, but with the labor of enslaved people.



But what really haunts me is the knowledge that in our own time, hundreds of years later, we still live with such contradictions.

And that, my friends, is why we all need to take a break from contradiction once in a while. We need to go on vacation. We need to be quiet and submerge our tired selves in the rhythm of the waves. In that rhythm and warmth there is no contradiction. Just one languorous wave slapping against the shore, then the next, and the next, and the...





...yes...that's more like it.

103 comments:

Angel... said...

I hope you had a good time. I hope you enjoyed alott

I love going beaches...I enjoyed seeing the pictures very coool

nice blog

San said...

Thanks, Angel. We had a great time.

I appreciate your visit, and I look forward to reading your blog.

JafaBrit's Art said...

Reading your blog entry was such a pleasure and very interesting.

ah, I am ready for swimming, reading, napping, swimming, reading, napping :)

San said...

Thanks, JafaBrit. I could fall into that rhythm any old time.

Celebration of Life said...

Hi San! I am back from Frisco! I will blog about it in a day or two when I get my camera back that was in the bag the airline lost! I had a great trip, had lots of fun after the conference and lots of stories to tell. Love the pictures and my oh my, Bennie is so cute!
(see if he reads that line out loud twice!) lol
Jo

Celebration of Life said...

P.S. The next time we win a trip for our blogs, I get to go! LOL

Lee said...

Wonderful pictures, San! And it's a really good post! I'm glad you experienced all of that. Forget who said it but, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Things that make us think about our lives make them richer. Welcome to wealth, my friend!

Peace! Hope! & Joy!

San said...

Welcome back, Jo! Will Bennie read that line twice? He'll print it and put it in a safe deposit box.

:-)

So, why wasn't I invited to San Francisco?

San said...

Lee, my friend, I believe that's why we blog--to examine our lives.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Wealth and peace to you!

Kim said...

Whew San! I am glad you took me back to the beach at the end! I was starting to worry you were going to hang me up there with the slithering snakes and beheaded ball players! Normally I would be able to talk myself out of it, but here I am ready to head for la la land...thank goodness I am going there with the image of the beach in my mind!

I am so glad you had a wonderful time. I know it was a very welcomed respit in the middle of life!

Thanks so much for sharing!

Carol said...

Thanks for sharing the interesting photos and facts about the Mayan artifacts.

The ocean photos are WONDERFUL! I can feel the air and hear the sounds right now. It's almost like being there...

HMBT said...

These pictures look amazing! I wish I could have been a mouse in your pocket. :) I would have had to paint all those statues, they would have probably had to drug me to get me come home! :)

Angel... said...

U r always welcome honey!!!

Celebration of Life said...

Good morning San! San Francisco was a work trip but you are certainly welcome to tag along the next time I go! I loved that city and that is a rare thing to hear from this country girl! lol

Cestandrea said...

Dear San, I came over from Kim's blog, wanted to thank you for having taken the time to read the interview and leave a very encourageing comment!

Thanks for sharing these amazing pictures with us, they made me travel! And I like your thoughtful writings about the maya culture and the effect on you while looking at the remnants!
Andrea

San said...

Kim, I hope la la land was replete with soothing sea rhythms...or if you dreamed of playing ball with the Mayans, I hope you're still here to tell the story (and paint the painting.)

Thanks for your comment, Kim.

San said...

Carol, for me, reflecting on a vacation is almost as pleasureable as the vacation. Notice I said "almost."

I certainly recommend this place for a getaway. And we all need that from time to time.

San said...

Heather, the pictures of course don't do justice. Seeing it all up close and personal is powerful.

You would be in your element!

San said...

Angel, I went to your blog a few minutes ago. I enjoyed it!

San said...

Jo, although I wouldn't say "I left my heart in San Francisco," I will say that it occupies a fog-enveloped spot in my heart--lots of great memories. I can hear the foghorns on the bay. Or is that indigestion?

San said...

Andrea, the pleasure was mine!

Thank you for visiting and reading my ramblings-- I'm glad you enjoyed them.

CHEWY said...

San,
What are the round tall columns? I've seen photos of Mayan pyramids, the game field and the snake heads before... but not the columns.

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

OOO it all looks a bit dragony to me. But I bet I kno a littol sister hoo will like this!

:@}

San said...

Chewy, I'd never seen those either. I wasn't expecting anything like that. They're the Group of a Thousand Columns--yes!--the columns are perfectly aligned and they're believed to have held up a grand roof structure. Perhaps the enclosed space was a big meeting hall.

San said...

Hi B.T.!

I agree--it is a bit dragony. As a matter of fact, when we toured another ruin at Tulum, we saw Dilly's cousins--iguanas--sunning themselves on the rocks.

Sparkling Red said...

What a gorgeous beach! I wish I could be there right now. :-)

The ball games got me thinking about Mayan school kids. I picture them skipping gym class so that they don't have to play ball and be sacrificed at the after-game party. Yikes!

San said...

Hi Red!

I kinda wish I was at the beach right now too!

Love your Mayan school kid projection--were I one of those gym students, I'd be trying my damndest to get a doctor's excuse to get me out of P.E. For good.

A.Bananna said...

wow! that is neat! Thanks for the history lesson!

have a great weekend!

San said...

Thanks, A. Bananna.

You have a great weekend too!

Celebration of Life said...

Hi San! I will be blogging about my grand adventure with the cable cars and me making everyone singing that song as we went up Nob Hill! lol

San said...

Love those cable cars, Jo! And that view going up Nob Hill is amazing.

leslie said...

Hi San, thx for popping by via David. Looks like you had a wonderful vacation - just what I'd love to have right now! :D

San said...

Thanks, Leslie, for returning the visit.

Vacations, they're necessary, aren't they?

Jeff B said...

It is hard to beleive that the carnage of the past was present in their culture. Bust as you point out it continues today in many other places.

What a contrast to the picturesque setting.

San said...

I know, Jeff. It's such a beautiful place, it makes me wonder how such carnage could occur there.

Then again, they weren't on vacation.

david mcmahon said...

Did you miss us? No?

Did Bennie miss us? No.

Righty-o, I'll go off and sulk, then.

(AS a kid I read a Nat Geo article about these ancient ball games, with an artist's rendering of what they would have looked like. Would love to visit this place.)

San said...

Of course we missed you, David. Don't sulk. You'll make us feel bad.

You would no doubt love Chichen Itza. And Tulum. And...Then again, I'd love to visit many of the places you've been.

kate said...

Hi San,

This was a wonderful trip to embark on with you this sunny, but cool (freezing by your standards) day! I would love a stint on the beach - the Mayan ruins are amazing ... ah, yes, contradictions that plague us even in our daily lives. Yes, vacations are perfect ways of restoring balance and a sense of serenity.

San said...

Kate, here today we have rather unseasonably warm weather--I have the gallery door flung open! Of course we have a southern exposure and lots of halogens too.

It's not the Caribbean though. Sigh.

Celebration of Life said...

Hi San! I posted a couple of pictures that I took from my cell phone. You will probably recognize the area.
Jo

San said...

Headed over now, Jo...

Meg Wolff said...

Wow, you had a nice long vacation! I liked your contrasts. Thanks for adding me to your sitings!

Sandi McBride said...

Oh San, what a lovely holiday you just gave me. I had just come in from my beach in my mind and found this waiting for me...lovely
Sandi

San said...

My pleasure, Meg. Good to see you here again.

San said...

Sandi, you know how to make a person feel good.

Thanks!

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Thank you! As a history buff. I would truly enjoy visiting Mayan ruins.

Dilly said...

MWEAH! Snakey stones look wagonny!

¬"

Calamity Jane said...

Although that beach looks wonderful I don't think I could hang around on it all day long so I'm glad you took us out for a trip to see the Mayan ruins. What a gifted people yet so brutal. Like you said, how could the 2 traits co-exist in one culture?

San said...

Nick, I would enjoy your theological take on cultural contradictions--theirs and ours.

San said...

Very wagonny, Dilly. Very, very wagonny.

:-)

San said...

Jane, thanks for visiting.

Yes, the ruins are amazing on the outside. Apparently, there's quite a bit inside, but the turistas aren't allowed to go in there.

katydidnot said...

next time, can i come? lovely!

San said...

Of course, Katy. Especially if you wear that purple towel on your head!

Daryl E said...

Great pix, wonderful recappage .. David sent me ..

San said...

Thanks, Daryl. Love your profile pic!

Nicole P said...

David sent me....what wonderful photos!

San said...

Nicole, thanks for the visit.

Please come again!

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Sounds like fun! :-)

Beautiful pics.

San said...

Whimsical N., thanks.

See you around...

CrazyCath said...

OMG San, that is awesome.

Thank you so much for this post. The history is spellbinding, and the paradise.....
I'm with you on that one. That IS more like it.

San said...

Cath, that profile image of yours looks like a little bit of paradise.

Thanks for visiting!

CrazyCath said...

It's my paradise. Kassiopi, Corfu, Greece.

Fave place to hol.

San said...

I have always wanted to go there, Cath!

Shrinky said...

What a wonderful post San, thank you for taking us on a guided tour. I walk on the beach most days (well, get blown across it, truth be told), I only wish our weather was as clement here!

Mima said...

San, it looks so beautiful, and brought back the most fantastic memories for me. I lived in Grand Cayman for 4 years, and loved those gently lapping waves to bits. We also did a trip into Central America, and as a part of that saw some Mayan ruins which were just spectacular. There is nothing quite like the feeling of standing in the middle of a ball court, trying to imagine what it would have been like so long ago. I also found it amazing just how much had been preserved. We were able to stand and look out over an area of housing that they were in the process of excavating, with the main ceremonial buildings already having been done. Just awe inspiring. So glad that you had a wonderful time.

The Moody Minstrel said...

It used to be believed that the Mayans were the "make love, not war" culture of Central America. Hoo, boy! They were a bloody people. That was the whole point; their whole religion was based on blood and the shedding thereof. Being a Mayan chief or his wife was particularly nasty as you were required to do all kinds of awful things to your body to draw blood in the most painful and gruesome manners in order to appease the more dangerous gods. Now imagine doing that several times a year...

murat11 said...

"But what really haunts me is the knowledge that in our own time, hundreds of years later, we still live with such contradictions."

I was thinking something exactly along the same lines when I read the paragraph that precedes this. We sacrifice and enslave our beautiful selves at times: the same dynamic continues on up and down the food chain of possible human (and other living) contexts.

Glad you got time to let the waves draw you out of the contradictions.

Wave on.

San said...

Shrinky, you live in a beautiful place! How lovely to be able to walk on/be blown across the beach daily.

I miss being near the ocean as we were when we lived in San Francisco, although the desert has its own beauty. New Mexico is known as The Land of Enchantment, and I find the moniker rather appropriate.

San said...

Moody, you've inspired me to read more about the Mayan culture.

Thank you for your interesting commentary!

San said...

Paschal, you are wise. I believe it's our inner contradictions, at least in part, that give birth to such cultural horrors.

Now to keep that wave in motion...that's the trick.

San said...

Mima, thank you for a lovely comment!

I would love to read more of your Grand Cayman and Central American experiences.

John said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and the comment. You have some really nice pictures on here!

San said...

John, thank you for returning the visit.

Please come again!

QUASAR9 said...

wow San,
looks like someone has been having a whale of a time climbing into the past

San said...

Climbing out wasn't so bad either.

Good to see you, Quasar.

Ashley Ladd said...

Beautiful pics. Look like you had a wonderful vacation. Some day, I hope to visit Mexico.

Thanks for sharing.

Am'n2deep said...

Now that is my kind of vacation--peaceful relaxation with the mesmerizing sounds and beauty of the ocean! And oh, could I ever use some vacation time.

San said...

Ashley, thanks for coming by.

Mexico--there are many beautiful, friendly places to visit there.

San said...

Am'n2deep,

"Mesmerizing." That's the perfect word here.

I hope you get your much-needed vacation sooner than later.

Celebration of Life said...

Morning San! Wow! Your site counter must whirl at times! You have a great blog and lots of visitors! Have a great week!
Jo

Angel... said...

Thanks San,

Hope you are doing fine.

Angel

San said...

Good morning, Jo. And thanks--I thought it was the room that was whirling.

You have a great week too!

San said...

Hi Angel,

I'm doing well, thank you.

And I always appreciate your visits.

Angel... said...

Ur very welcome!!

Have a good week

bye for now

david mcmahon said...

No updates?

Okay, so you and Bennie are still in holiday mode.

I understand.

Sigh .......

I'll be back later, then .....

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

Popt by to see yu- hope yor ok, well an happy!

Nose hugs!

:@}

velvetginger said...

WOW~!!!What a fabulous trip!

San said...

Hey, David. I'm in the home studio today working on a painting. My vintage laptop here won't let me put a new post on the blog.

I'll second that sigh.

San said...

Thanks for the nose hugs, Bob.

I needed that.

San said...

Hey, Velvet G!

It WAS great. Now I'm trying to get back into the rhythm of painting.

Gretchen said...

Looks like a wonderful trip! Some day we'll get there, but at least I can see your photos. Thanks!!

San said...

Gretchen, I too like to see photos of other people's trips.

Thanks for visiting.

Celebration of Life said...

Good morning San! I stopped by for coffe and cinnamon rolls and I brought the rolls!
Jo

Angel... said...

Jo,

Good morning! I thought you brought the coffee and cinnamon rolls for me :(

Have a good day to all of you.

Angel

San said...

Morning, Jo. Morning, Angel.

Thanks for the cinnamon rolls, Jo. Oh, alright, Angel, you can have half of mine.

Angel... said...

San, You are such a sweetheart.. Thanks alott.

Jo...Well I am not that bad..still thanks to you for your cinnamon rolls.

Love you guys.

Angel

Celebration of Life said...

San and Angel,
There's enough for all of us and anyone else who happens to stop by. ;o)

Angel... said...

I think you right...

Anna said...

San thanks for the introduction to the 'culture that created stunning architecture and art, but with the labor of enslaved people' - this is really nice post giving good details about the pyramids, I may one day considered. Thanks for sharing, Anna :)

San said...

Anna, thank you for your kind comments.

See you around...

No Cool Story said...

I LOVE!!!!! Super awesome.

And thanks for visiting my blog.

San said...

NCS, thanks for stopping by.

Glad you enjoyed!

indicaspecies said...

I'm perhaps one of the last to comment here.

Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and I'm just back from exploring another wonder, the Petra.

San, what a fantastic post with awesome pictures. Thanks for sharing. :)