Friday, July 6, 2007

Starting Out

Mouth like a dragon, feathery appendages protruding from the top of his head, the Mayan god K'awil sits on his jaguar throne with one leg delicately bent before him.

I found him in the public library in Merida. By the good graces of Fund For Teachers I'm here in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula studying Mayan culture. The library seemed like a good place to do some research and a little writing, but at this particular venerable institution there´s a protocol to be followed.

They made me check my bag. They wouldn't let me browse the stacks. Instead, the guy at the front desk told me which room to start in, and when I got there a different clerk took over. She looked me over through her standard-issue, Severe Librarian Glasses. What was I looking for? Oh, Mayan stuff. You know, images of the gods. Photos of reliefs, maybe. She brought me books and journals. Then she retreated to her corner desk to monitor me as I worked. I could be dangerous.

I found K'awil in Arqeuologia Mexicana, vol. VII no. 37. He was discovered at the ball court in Ek Balam, carved into a stone lid. He's surrounded by the strange blobs I now know are the written form of the ancient Mayan language. The larger blob he sits on is a jaguar throne: I can tell from the big black blotches. According to the article, there's a date inscribed: September 3, 841 CE. Was that when he was carved? Which part of the inscription is the date? Why he was there at the ball court? What kind of god was K'awil?

So much to learn. After two weeks in Merida I'm going to the Puuc hills: Oxkutzcab and Akil. I've got a photo album and a video to deliver to Rey and Jesus' grandmother, a slightly crumpled photo for Maya's aunt, and a box full of pencils and crayons to give to a school. Two days before my trip, I sat on the couch at Rey and Jesus' apartment in San Francisco. The kids watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dubbed in Spanish, the Johnny Depp version. Their mother Camelia fed me tamales and taught me a few Mayan phrases. Before I get to Oxkutzcab, I'll need to learn a few more.

The library closes in fifteen minutes, the library clerk told me. Then she smiled. If you didn´t finish, she said, you can come back tomorrow.

Maybe I will.