Archive for November, 2006

‘Mother’ … (SLAP!) … ‘Daughter’ … (SLAP!) … ‘Mother’ … (SLAP!) …

November 29th, 2006 by ejalbright

Like Faye Dunaway in the movie “Chinatown,” the debate whether the Chicxulub meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, which earlier this year had been discredited by a small group of scientists, has again been affirmed.

The most recent number of the Geological Society of America Bulletin contains an article by Kenneth MacLeod of the University of Missouri in which he claims that samples from a recent ocean drilling program in the “western tropical North Atlantic” show that the Cretaceous period of the dinosaurs is separated from the Paleogene period (no dinosaurs) by a layer of ejecta that could only have come from meteor strike.

According to Prof. MacLeod, the location from which these samples were taken would have been little affected by the earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and firestorms that would have resulted from the strike. The implication is that other samples, which some scientists claim prove that the meteor strike was 300,000 years too early, were taken from areas that would have been affected by the impact and therefore are suspect.

As yet, the leading proponent of the “Chicxulub did not kill the dinosaurs” theory, Prof. Gerta Keller of Princeton, has not weighed in on MacLeod’s findings. Expect more sparks to fly …

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Caste War Author Tackles Chichen with Novel

November 21st, 2006 by ejalbright

Nelson Reed’s book, The Caste War of Yucatan, is considered the definitive history of the 60-year conflict between Maya and Mexicans in the 19th century. From the perspective of someone like myself who is researching the Caste War, it can also be one of the most frustrating books. The early edition of the book contains no footnotes, making it difficult to confirm his information and his conclusions. According to the book’s foreword, Reed submitted the book without footnotes. His editor asked him to put them in, but later changed his mind and had him leave them out. Reed updated his classic in 2001, so perhaps this later edition corrects this.

One of the strengths of Reed’s book, at least as a populizer of history, is that he writes using a narrative style that brings the Maya uprising to life. In his latest book, Reed applies his ability to tell story to do exactly that: Tell a story.

The Cocom Codex is Reed’s first published novel. It tells the story of the discovery of a previously unknown Maya codex, a unique fold-out book of the pre-Columbian Maya. Only a handful are known to have survived, and deal with astronomical and religious subjects. Reed’s fictional codex, by comparison, is a version of the Chilam Balam, a book of Maya history. Reed’s Macguffin, as Hitchcock called such story devices, is unique in that unlike other Chilam Balam’s, this one is written in Maya hieroglyphs and comes with a Spanish translation. As such, this codex is the “Rosetta Stone” that Mayanists have sought for more than a century.

Furthermore, this Chilam Balam covers the history of Chichén Itzá, and was apparently written by Nachi Cocom, the Holy Lord of Chichén Itzá whose visage can be found carved in stone inside Akab D’zib, the “House of Dark Writing” in the archaeological zone.

A host of colorful characters attempt to recover the codex. The heroes of the story are two college professors, a man and woman, who fall in love and engage in premarital sex whenever the story begins to drag. There are bad guys, a Dutch treasure hunter, and Mexican police inspector, and a Maya revolutionary who wants to sell the codex to finance his revolution. Most of the book is set in Yucatan, which Reed knows very well and describes the landscape and culture with great relish.

In the novel, Reed mixes fiction with fact. Although most of the hieroglyphs inside Akab D’zib cannot be translated, Maya scholars have been able to determine that the glyphs do speak of a Nachi Cocom. Here’s a photo of the glyphs, complete with the likeness of Cocom:

Lintel at Akab Dzib

What is somewhat mystifying is that Reed published the book himself, using Barnes and Noble’s iUniverse publishing software. As mystery novels go, Reed’s is better than most of the dreck coming out of the traditional publishing houses, and unlike the majority of other mystery authors, he has a track record (not in fiction, certainly, but as a successful author). In any case, because the book is self-published it is riddled with distracting typos and misspellings. On the plus side, you can download it from iUniverse for less than the cost of typical paperback book.

I read the book in just a few hours. If you have an interest in the Maya, in Yucatan, and in archaeology, it will hold your interest. And better, because it’s fiction you don’t need to worry about footnotes.

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Diario de Yucatan Whacks Mexico’s Seven Marvels Campaign

November 20th, 2006 by ejalbright

Now that Chichén Itzá has fallen out of the top seven in voting for the New Wonders of the World, the Diario de Yucatan is pointing fingers at state and federal tourism officials for failing to promote the ancient Maya city’s candidacy.

In July, Chichén was running fifth in the voting; two weeks ago it had fallen to somewhere between eighth and 14.

“The displacement of El Castillo at Chichén Itzá … is a consequence of the increase of other participants … and of the weak official promotion in favor of the pyramid,” the newspaper of record for the region wrote over the weekend. Promised promotion of the campaign has not materialized, or if it has, government tourism officials are not talking. The state’s tourism council has ignored three requests by Diario for information on the campaign.

The only campaign effort was last summer’s visit to New York by state and federal officials. On a personal note, that trip was not a complete waste, as the governor and state secretary of tourism were interviewed for my forthcoming book.

The Diario article contained no comment from official sources.

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‘Good Morning America’/USA Today Name Chichen Sixth Wonder (cont’d)

November 16th, 2006 by ejalbright

Chichén Itzá is the sixth wonder of the world, according to the company that owns Disneyland and the nation’s leading McNewspaper.

November is known in the television trade as “Sweeps Month.” The ratings generated by this month are used to set advertising rates for the next quarter. Television networks and stations tend to bring out their very best and most appealing programming during this period to generate the greatest viewership.

The producers at Good Morning America decided to name the new Seven Wonders of the World. But unlike the former Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the show did not limit itself to manmade structures, or even physical locations. The selections have included the Polar Ice Cap, the Northern Hawaiian Islands and the Internet.

Picking “the Mayan Pyramids” seemed absolutely mundane by comparison. But on Thursday, a crew from ABC News was at Chichén Itzá for a live broadcast. Co-anchor of Good Morning America, Robin Roberts, was there to be the show’s talking head. The program opened with her climbing El Castillo, demonstrating her clue from the day before that the sixth world wonder was a place where you can “walk a year in one day.” El Castillo has 91 steps on each of its four side for a total of 364. Adding the platform at the top gives you 365, the days of the year.

The sixth wonder, it should be said, was not Chichén Itzá or El Castillo, but “The Mayan Pyramids.” Good Morning America ranged all over the Yucatán, but most of the show was done at Chichén.

There were moments that made me chuckle out loud. The host, Roberts, could not pronounce Chichén Itzá to save her life. She called it “Chich-ah Itz-ah.” She climbed the pyramid, but that is not permitted anymore (she did clarify this midway through the program). At the end of the show she interviewed Federica Sodi, the regional director of INAH, and thanked her for giving Good Morning America special access to places where the general public is not permitted. Sodi is under fire currently for doing the same thing to her sister.

All told, the show probably spent 10 minutes on Chichén. The segments are archived here.

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ABC/USA Today Names Chichen ‘Sixth Wonder of the World’

November 16th, 2006 by ejalbright

I got an IM from a friend yesterday asking me if I knew that Chichen Itza had been named one of the Seven Wonders of the World. No, not THAT Seven Wonders of the World. This was another Seven Wonders picked by a handful of experts rounded up by ABC and USA Today.

Sure enough, this morning on Good Morning America, they announce Chichen as the sixth in their list of seven. A crew from the show is broadcasting from Chichen Itza as I write this …

(more later)

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Turning Japanese (At Least I Think So)

November 15th, 2006 by ejalbright

Tomorrow Aeromexico will begin regular flights between Japan and Tijuana, but the federal Secretary of Tourism is seeking to extend the route to Cancun so that Asian tourists can take advantage of Mexico’s biggest tourism draw.

Asian tourists are among the most lucrative, and the numbers visiting the Yucatan Peninsula are growing. In 2004, an estimated 23,986 Asian tourists visited Cancun; in 2005, the number grew to 24,361. Tourists from Asia paid $2,500 in taxes per person, and spent five days and four nights in the region. Visitors from the Far East are drawn to Yucatan’s culture, food and, most importantly, archaeological zones, especially Chichén Itzá.

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Designer at Chichen Honored

November 10th, 2006 by ejalbright

No one knows who designed the monuments at Chichén Itzá. But the man who designed the entrance and museum is being honored in Mexico City in a retrospective of his work.

The architect Teodoro González de León, who designed the Museo de Sitio de Chichén Itza, is being celebrated in his 80th year with an exhibit at the Centro de Cultura Casa Lamm in Mexico City. “Teodoro González de León. Pintura y escultura 1975-2006″ will run for a month and will feature paintings and sculptures by the renowned architect.

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Mexican Tourism Chief Pledges to Support Chichen

November 8th, 2006 by ejalbright

Like a lumbering freight train picking up speed, the effort to name Chichen Itza one of the new Seven Wonders of the World has acquired another important ally.

La directora general del Consejo de Promoción Turística de México (CPTM), Magdalena Carral, told reporters earlier this week that she is optimistic regarding Chichén Itzá’s chances to be added to the list. “I believe the site deserves it,” she said, “and we are going to target an all-out attack to get it on the list of seven new wonders.”

Of course, that’s not really what she said. For Spanish-reading nit-pickers, Carral’s actual words were: “Yo creo que el sitio lo merece y vamos a hacer todo nuestro esfuerzo para que quedemos entre esas siete nuevas maravillas del mundo.”

In the same interview, she also said that Oaxaca is still a great place to vacation, despite the unrest in the state’s capital. Also, the country still has not recovered from Hurricane Wilma, but she expects that it will soon.

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Pop Star Thalia Continues Her ‘Apology Tour’

November 7th, 2006 by ejalbright

I realize now that the best way to promote my forthcoming book will be to stand nearly naked at the top of El Castillo. As a strategy, it’s doing wonders for the career of pop singer Thalia.

Every time she shows up in public (as she did over the weekend at the Latin music Grammys in New York), reporters ask her about the pictures her mother took of her last spring at Chichén Itzá. You may recall, Thalia posed in locations where the general public is not allowed (top of El Castillo, riding the Chac Mool at the top of the Temple of Warriors). Those photos appeared in July in Televisa Espectáculos, a Mexican magazine devoted to television programming and celebrities. Two months later, the union in charge of the workers at Chichén Itzá raised a stink, and the ink has been flowing ever since.

When a reporter caught her on the Red Carpet at the Latin Grammys, Thalia repeated the same apology that had been reported several weeks ago. And once again, newspapers and Web sites all over the world carried the story. It even appeared in National Geographic’s Spanish Web site.

She said she recognized that she had done wrong, she said, but her intentions were pure. “I wanted to share the wealth of our mother country all to those countries that have opened the doors to me,” Thalia said. “Now I am like a “regañada” and a punished girl, but I deserve it, because one cannot abuse national treasures, even though I did it with a very good heart,” she said.

Thalia also reiterated that her sister, Federica Sodi, director of INAH’s Yucatan division, had nothing to do with the photographs.

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Remembering William Styron

November 6th, 2006 by ejalbright

Carlos Fuentes has written a moving tribute to his friend, William Styron, who died last week across Vineyard Sound, a couple of nautical miles, from where I write this. Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice and the brilliant Confessions of Nat Turner, apparently held a strong affinity for Latin American writers. The affection was returned, and Fuentes describes many late-night conversations he had with his late friend.

You can read a translation of the article here.

You can read it in the original Spanish here.

The two men met at a rather wondrous symposium held in Chichén Itzá in 1965. They were invited by Robert Wool, the editor of Show Magazine of New York, and joined fellow left-leaning literary heavyweights Lillian Hellman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Oscar Lewis, and a host of Latin American writers. I’ve found only one account of the symposium, by Jose Donoso. According to Donoso, the purpose of the symposium was less to bemoan the state of the arts than to drink, fornicate, play trivia and, most importantly, build friendships that would last a lifetime.

Donoso was starstruck. He wrote, “Suddenly those personages transformed themselves into people, eating in front of me, irritated when arriving and behind schedule … they requested my opinion on this or that, or simply they asked me to light their cigarette.”

A dios, William Styron …

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