Contretemps

Aaaauuugh! I Lost My Passport!

As my Guatemala vacation approaches, I find that I have misplaced my passport. I applied for a new one to be rushed to me, but now it appears that our Ogre President is considering shutting down the government because no one likes him or his moronic policies. At this point, I am not sure that the U.S. State Department is scheduled to close its doors; and there is a chance that I will get my replacement passport before the Friday witching hour of midnight.

If that Marmalade-Headed Horror screws up my vacation, I will do my best to wreak revenge on everything he holds dear, like selling Ivanka to a notorious white-slaver or feeding Don Jr to one of his African hunting trophies.

I will attempt to be patient while visions of revenge rule my thoughts.

 

 

Maya vs Aztecs

Aztec Warriors in Battle

Yesterday evening, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine about the fierceness of the Aztecs as compared to the Mayans. Unfortunately, it was during an intermission at a Christmas concert which was about to start up again before we came to any resolution. So I decided to marshal my arguments here in print.

Two Archeologists Weigh In

Some years back, I attended a symposium at UCLA including two eminent Mesoamerican archeologists, Michael D. Coe and Nigel Davies. At one point in the discussion, they mused whether they would rather be prisoners of the Aztecs or the Mayas. Both quickly agreed that they would fare better with the Aztecs. After all, they fearfully accepted Cortes and his conquistadores despite the fact that they outnumbered his forces by thousands to one. Also, the Aztecs were an empire: If the emperor (Moctezuma) said the Spanish were welcome, then the welcome mat was unrolled for them everywhere in the empire.

The Maya, on the other hand, lived in decentralized city states which, in the Postclassic period, were ruled by merchants and nobles. If Tiho (present-day Merida) accepted the Spanish—which they most certainly did not—there were other Maya city states nearby such as Mayapán, Cobá, and Calakmul which may or may not. The Maya were never unified. Even today, there are some twenty-eight Mayan dialects among the eight million Maya living in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Who Was Stronger?

Cortes didn’t take long to conquer the Aztecs, only about a year or two. After that, the Aztec culture went into a precipitous decline. Today, there are few speakers of the Nahuatl language around, and few Aztec religious rituals practiced by those Nahuatl speakers.

The Maya were eventually conquered by the Spanish, but only after almost two hundred years of warfare. In 1697, Martín de Ursúa y Arismendi attacked the last Maya sate, Tayasal, with hundreds of Spanish troops and native auxiliaries.

Kneeling Maya God/King Running a Sting Ray Spine Through a Hole in His Tongue

Who Was More Fierce?

The Maya were a tough people. Imagine the lives led by their god/kings. On certain ceremonial occasions, they punctured their tongues or their penises with sting ray spines and let the blood drip onto pieces of paper which they sacrificed to the gods. And the various Maya polities frequently fought wars with one another. When a king lost, he was sacrificed in a bloody ritual.

The Aztecs also went in for human sacrifice, but the Maya have been known to resort to cannibalism of their victims.

I think that Coe and Davies were right: You’d have a much better chance of surviving with the wavering Moctezuma than with the Maya.

 

“Too Blue”

This Poem Is the Essence of the Blues

I have been paging through Kevin Young’s Everyman collection of Blues Poems and came across this one by Landston Hughes. Mind you: It’s not the way I’m feeling right now, but it is a beautiful statement of what the blues can feel like when it lurches into your life. It’s called “Too Blue”:

I got those sad old weary blues.
I don’t know where to turn.
I don’t know where to go.
Nobody cares about you
When you sink so low.

What shall I do?
What shall I say?
Shall I take a gun
And put myself away?

I wonder if
One bullet would do?
As hard as my head is,
It would probably take two.

But I ain’t got
Neither bullet nor gun—
And I’m too blue
To look for one.

 

Can the Democrats Come Together?

The New Zealand All Black Rugby Team Performing a Haka

My first introduction to the Maori haka dance was watching a YouTube video of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. According to Wikipedia:

It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. Although commonly associated with the traditional battle preparations of male warriors, haka have been performed by both men and women, and several varieties of the dance fulfil social functions within Māori culture. Haka are performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

The other day, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with the ogre Trumpf to discuss a wall separating Mexico from the United States. It was an interesting moment, fraught with symbolism of a changing order. As a result of last month’s midterm elections, the Democrats were (at least in the House of Representatives) no longer in the minority. If anything, the elections proved that Trumpf’s support was beginning to erode. Even though he gained in the Senate, the gains were in two Republican butt boy states: Indiana and North Dakota. It was interesting to see Schumer rub this fact into Trumpf’s face.

Our president repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if he didn’t get his wall. Then he lied egregiously, as is his wont, that much of the fence was already built. (Not even remotely true.)

I saw the meeting as a haka by the Democratic leadership that the game to follow was going to be different. Trumpf and the Republicans have proven that they are incapable of governing: All they can do is strip Americans of their rights and privileges and satisfy their corporate paymasters.

Then, as the meeting ended, Nancy Pelosi crowned her haka by putting on a fashionable coat and a pair of cool shades, as if acknowledging that, this time, she won; and the Democrats were not merely a circular firing squad. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

OK, Reality TV “Star” Trump Gets Trumped by Nancy Pelosi

Midnight in Reykjavík

The Guesthouse Óðinn in Reykjavík—At Midnight Around the Summer Solstice

The first time I visited Iceland, in 2001, I went in June. In 2013, I went again—this time in June so that I could see “The Land of the Midnight Sun” for myself. My first day back in Reykjavík, I deliberately stayed up late. I believe it turned out to be a 32-hour day, as the whole country is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). It turned out to be a day and evening crowded with sights:

  • I took a harbor tour to see the puffins
  • Twice, I stopped in at Bæjarins Bestu for their famous pylsur (that’s hot dogs in Icelandic)
  • I discovered pear-flavored skyr (like yogurt) at a market on Austurvöllur
  • I had a delicious and leisurely fish dinner at the Fish Company on Vesturgata
  • As a lover of Icelandic Sagas, I visited the Culture House on Hverfisgata to see the original manuscripts
  • I toured the Settlement Exhibition, which is an archeological dig of one of the first settlements in the city dated around AD 871
  • Finally, I took a ghost walking tour of Reykjavík, including the cemetery on Suðurgata

After the walking tour, I was good and tired, but I knew that I didn’t want to hit the sack until after midnight local time to minimize the jet lag. (That actually worked.) Secondly, I wanted to see when it started to get dark. I wasn’t about to stay up until 3 am local time, but I did snap a picture of my bed & breakfast right around midnight. Fortunately, the guesthouse had good blackout curtains, so I was able to drift off within minutes of hitting the pillow.

 

Green at the Heart

Atop Mount Hollywood with Clear Views in Three Directions

Cleveland, Ohio, used to be called “The Forest City” because of its semicircular diadem of parks. It was one of the few good things about the city of my birth. It is interesting that from Cleveland, I moved to Los Angeles, which not only has parks but giant mountain ranges within the county limits. In fact, at least one peak—Mount Baldy, a.k.a. Mount San Antonio—is almost two miles above sea level.

There is one rather large park right near the heart of Los Angeles: Griffith Park, with over 4,000 acres. Mount Hollywood  overlooks downtown L.A., the San Fernando Valley, and southward to Palos Verdes and Long Beach. With over 10 million visitors a year, it’s not exactly uncrowded. Within its boundaries lie the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, and the Travel Town Museum, to name just a few. There is also an equestrian center, a golf course, a famous observatory, a merry-go-round, and numerous picnic areas.

The Hollywood Sign from the Back

Over its history, many famous films were shot in the park, beginning with D. W. Griffiths’ The Birth of a Nation in 1915. My favorite, however, was Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955) with James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. The scene at the observatory is one of the most classic in the whole history of the American cinema. The nearby Bronson Caves were used in Don Siegel’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It was there than Dana Wynter drifted off to sleep and was irrevocably lost to the human race.

Then, too, there is the famous Hollywood sign. It was originally erected as a real estate promotion for a development called Hollywoodland. The “-land” was eventually dropped. See if you can find Dory Previn’s album Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign.

A Signpost to Little-Known Great Books

A Wonderful Book by a Dartmouth English Professor

Although I was an English major at Dartmouth College, I never had a class taught by Professor Noel Perrin (1927-2004). Nevertheless, he has had an outsize influence on my reading with his book A Reader’s Delight, consisting of collected essays on interesting byways in literature which he originally wrote for the Washington Post. I always like to acknowledge my sources. For instance, there were the essays of Jorge Luis Borges, which, since around 1970, have been my principal guide to the world’s literature.

Second, however, has been Noel Perrin’s A Reader’s Delight. Following is an alphabetical list by author of the books that Professor Perrin has pointed me toward:

  • Peter S. Beagle, A Fine and Private Place
  • Ernest Bramah, Kai-Lung’s Golden Hours *
  • Bryher, Roman Wall *
  • Lord Dunsany, The Blessings of Pan *
  • William Dean Howells, Indian Summer *
  • Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary *
  • Joseph Mitchell, The Bottom of the Harbor *
  • Marcel Pagnol, My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s House
  • Freya Stark, The Valleys of the Assassins *
  • Stendhal, On Love *
  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Far Rainbow *

What do the asterisks signify? Only that since reading the recommended book, I have read other works by the recommended author. That’s quite a record.