Archive for December, 2006

Merry Christmas Present

December 25th, 2006 by ejalbright

Yeah, I know this is actually the Friday before Christmas, but I probably won’t be around much on the Big Day itself, so here’s a Christmas present early. Unfortunately, you have to do a little work first.

First, download the following software:

I can’t vouch for it. But this company does a lot of work for large corporate clients, so it should be a reasonably safe bet that the software doesn’t come with spyware or other horrors. But it might.

Then, go here.

If you’ve downloaded Octagon, click on the link that says “Map”. And explore to your heart’s content.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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State Tourism Chief Bails for DF

December 20th, 2006 by ejalbright

The state of Yucatan’s first tourism secretary, Carolina Cárdenas Sosa, has left for the greener pastures of the administration of Mexico’s new president, Felipe Calderón. Cárdenas’s new position is Subsecretaría de Planeación en la Secretaría de Turisimo (the Undersecretary of Planning in the Secretariat of Tourism).

Cárdenas leaves behind numerous unfinished projects, including the proposed $30 million illumination of Chichen Itza. She had applied to the federal government to light Chichen so that tourists could visit the ruins at the night.

Now that she is part of the federal government, perhaps she can approve the funding for her own proposal.

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The Mayan Expert

December 18th, 2006 by ejalbright

If the Internet says it, it must be so. From now on I would like everyone to address me by my new title, “Mayan Expert.” Or just “ME,” if you prefer, because, after all, it’s all about ME.

My new title comes courtesy of an editorial by Don Ediger at Consortium News, an alternative Web site. Don wrote an editorial about the movie Apocalypto. “I asked another Mayan expert, Evan Albright, about the likely effect of Apocalypto,” Ediger wrote. “Albright, a writer who recently completed a book on the Mayas of Chichén Itzá, had a positive take on it. He said that, despite the film’s shortcomings, it may inspire more people to study Mayan culture. He even mentioned that Erich von Daniken’s bogus history, Chariots of the Gods?, has inspired many students to become interested in the Mayas. (The book links space aliens with Atlantis and Mesoamericans, among others.)”

I met Don about a year ago researching my book (which, contrary to Don’s assertion, is far from finished). I interviewed him about a book he had written, The Well of Sacrifice, about his experiences as part of the team that dredged the Sacred Well at Chichen Itza in 1968. When the opportunity to write this editorial came up, apparently I was one of the first to pop into his mind. “I haven’t seen the movie yet,” I told him at the time. “That doesn’t matter,” Don said. Certainly it doesn’t matter to a Mayan Expert like myself.

If you want to read Don’s editorial, go here.

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Maya Says, ‘Go See Apocalypto’

December 14th, 2006 by ejalbright

Apocalypto“>Apocalypto is important,” says the first Maya to see the film.

An article in Tidings, the newspaper for the archdiocese in Los Angeles, interviews a Maya cleric in the Los Angeles area who saw the film. Here’s the article:

Mel Gibson’s bloody “Apocalypto” film about the fall of the Maya civilization is important because audiences “will realize Mayans still exist,” says Deacon Felix Rac, a Mayan native originally from Guatamala City who ministers at Christ the King Church in Hollywood.

“This movie will help us,” said Rac, who saw the movie during its opening weekend Dec.8-9 where it came in at No. 1 at the box office earning $14.2 million. Even though the movie “in general showed only one side — the survival side” with gory depictions of human sacrifice — it brings attention to the “underestimated” Mayan people, said Rac.

Rac described the movie’s “one after another” ritual killings as a “very extreme” portrayal of a people “desperate to please God.” He said the violence didn’t negatively impact him since, “that was then, this is now.”

From his perspective as a Mayan immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, Rac says he often encounters people who believe the Mayan civilization died out a long time ago, including a diverse group of Los Angeles Community College students he spoke to a few years ago.

In reality, more than a million Mayan descendants live in Mexico, and Mayans are the majority in seven out of 22 states in Guatamala, according to Rac. Because the language in the film is in Yucatecan Maya from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and Rac speaks the Mayan Cakchiquel language, he only understood two words in the film: “balam” for jaguar and “Kukulkan” for God.

Though the movie focuses on the “crude and cruel beginning” of a new life for the main character, “Jaguar Paw,” and his family, it also portrays positive aspects of Mayan spirituality which continue to this day, said Rac. “The Mayan people see God in everything, in every breath they take. They are faithful to family, God and nature,” he explained.

Though “Apocalypto” has been described by critics as a heart-pumping “chase movie” through the jungle, the film has more than violence, said Rac; it also reflects glimpses of Mayan spirituality and empathy for one another. He notes an early scene where Jaguar Paw’s father counsels his son never to succumb to fear and a later scene where a husband’s eyes fills with tears as he helplessly watches an attacker rape his wife.

Growing up in Guatamala as the only boy in an indigenous family of eight children, Rac experienced racism first-hand as people would cross the street to avoid him. “They called us Indians,” remembers Rac. When his parents moved to Guatamala City, they learned Spanish to aid their assimilation.

“We are looking for peace and a land to grow up in and to grow in faith,” said Rac. “We have been displaced from wars, violence and killing and are still looking for a new beginning.

“I thank Mel Gibson for at least showing Mayans to the world,” said Rac. He urges “Apocalypto” viewers “not to get trapped into thinking that Mayans still act that [violent] way. They still have faith and love for one another and nature. They are looking for peace.”

And, regarding the Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012 according to the Maya calendar, pay no heed, says Rac. “That date is when the Mayan calendar ends — not the world,” he stated with conviction.

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‘Apocalypto’–What Were They Thinking? …

December 13th, 2006 by ejalbright

One of the consultants working with Mel Gibson on “Apocalypto” has told her side of the story. Barbara McLeod, a noted Maya scholar (if you ping her name in Google Scholar and add the word “Maya” you get more than 500 results of scholarly works that she either wrote or is referenced).

Here’s what Dr. MacLeod had to say:

On Dissin’ Mel…
I haven’t seen the finished product yet, though during post-production I saw some scenes 20+ times, and over many work days saw most of it 5-6 times. I have some of the Yucatec dialogue memorized–the high priest’s speech especially. I also saw the rough cut (minus the score and the special effects) at a secret screening in October. Apocalypto is a thrill ride, and that was its core premise–a high-adrenaline Precolumbian Native American foot chase. Mel said it was originally going to be a northern North America setting, but then he decided upon the Maya. The allegory developed as the story evolved.

Some of the academic Mayanists are offended that *their* view of the Maya (historically accurate, intellectually superior, politically correct) is not represented by someone else’s fictional narrative. And the offense is exacerbated by the appearance of authenticity (to which yours truly contributed), so that the “unsuspecting public” (that is, you!!) will be suckered in. Horrors!!! We academics should instead shepherd you along the path to righteousness! And the issue of Maya blood sacrifice may still be a bit embarrassing to these folks (not to mention ancient Maya ritual torture–ripping off lower jaws from living captives, breaking fingers, binding alive in a ball and kicking down steps, etc.–none of which appears in the movie) and they would rather set up the Aztec straw man (“THEY did mass sacrifices, not OUR guys!”) than face the truth of it…and then mask their own personal intolerance for gore with professional indignation at Mel Gibson’s indulgence of it–which w!

As to be expected; that’s part of his artistic palette. If they can’t stomach it, fair enough, but let’s be honest about it.

And of course the press eats this scorn up with titles like ‘Bungle in the Jungle’:

Dang. Didn’t them ivy-covered types ever read comic books when they were kids?

I saw the heart-ripping-out scene a dozen or more times as we did the overdubs. One habituates quickly. Mel’s personal haircutter was there cutting his hair (before the Diane Sawyer interview) while that scene repeated and repeated and she didn’t faint or vomit, or gasp in horror. As she left, she was sworn to secrecy, tongue-in-cheek, by both Mel and myself. We were all laughing, believe it or not. But I still have my reality coordinates about me.

I am acutely aware of the parts of Apocalypto that are not authentic (five-minute eclipse, for example, and the merging of Preclassic mural art and Classic architecture into a Postclassic setting, the innocent forest-dwellers who have never heard of the big city, the high-rainforest mountainous landscape, and more), but I accept it and suspend disbelief just as I shrug off the incomplete representation of, say, American culture in a movie like The Firm, which makes all lawyers and law firms look utterly sleazy (heh, er, surely they aren’t *all* that bad??).

So, in defense of Apocalypto, it is a visually stunning action-adventure film in an exotic setting, with blood aplenty, but it’s far less gratuitous than the violence in many Hollywood films. Apart from the sheer numbers of victims (a real exaggeration), the violence is itself pretty authentic. That the Maya were far more than violent, that they were intellectually advanced with astonishing art, science, math and literature (which I can read in the original) and complex social organization–is indisputable. But when a filmmaker has two-plus hours to tell a story, there’s a lot that has to be left out. And yes, the image of the Maya in the film is distorted so as to make the ponderous aristocracy into warlike villains who are themselves at the mercy of bloodthirsty gods. I am not so sure that’s fiction, and I know a lot about them.

The final scene is, I think, what rankles all the PC advocates the most: the Spanish are coming! The Spanish are coming! –ah, to save the Maya from themselves.

The plague seen in the movie suggests that they have already brought smallpox. That’s hardly salvation. In fact, smallpox reached Yucatan from Central Mexico before the white man arrived in Yucatan .

I see that final scene as a deliberate and wrenching twist of irony, recalling the lyrics of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again:

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
I’ll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
For I know that the hypnotized never lie …

Me again. Dr. MacLeod forgot to add the last line to that verse, where
Pete Towsend shouts out: “DO YA?”

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Paean to Uncle Fernando

December 12th, 2006 by ejalbright

The nephew of Fernando Barbachano Gomez Rul has written a tribute to his uncle in the latest number of La Revista. don Fernando passed away last week. I have translated as much as I could with my limited Spanish ability, and taken liberties where my ability failed. If you wish to read the original in Spanish, go here.

Adios, Don Fernando …

By Francisco Solis Peon.

When one speaks of a personage like Don Fernando Barbachano Gomez Rul, their speech overflows with adjectives: Entrepreneur, industrialist, gourmet, intelligent, passionate, cultured, extraordinary, fabulous, but most of all, yucateco.

It often struck me that the strong personality of my uncle Fernando Barbachano hid the facets of a boy, mischievous, impatient and lively, whose eternal love was Yucatan: its land, his culture, his people.

I remember perfectly once when, at the age of 78, he gazed furtively at beautiful women who passed. “God would not bother with us if we did not appreciate His creations in all their splendor,” he liked to say.

Barbachano Gomez Rul is a worthy representative of the generation that was born between the two world wars and that lived after the “golden age” of the henequen boom that transformed Yucatan from plantation economy to ropemaking industry and then to an absurd nationalization.

Man of his time, Barbachano was a hedonist in the best sense of the word, a member of a generation that fell between the principled entrepreneurs of the early 20th century (which his father, Don Fernando Barbachano Peon, occupies a seat of honor) and the irreverent “beats” of the 50s, founders of the alternative and precursors of the hippie movement that would later devastate all convention within one decade.

This rare combination made of Don Fernando an exceptional, all-encompassing human being and extraordinarily interesting, by all means able to enjoy good opera or good rock and roll.

No doubt the result of the influence of his family’s business, Don Fernando loved traveling, seeing the world; spending Bohemian nights with his relative (I don’t recall exactly if he was his uncle or his nephew, in spite of being contemporaries) Manuel Barbachano Ponce, evenings that were legendary regardless whether they happened to be in Vienna, New York, “Ma Maison” in Hollywood, or even the “Chemas bar” in the center of Mérida.

For Barbachano every day constituted an adventure without equal that represented an infinite accumulation of possibilities. He lived life intensely and never wasted a second of his eighty years of existence; not even disease in later life could snatch his love of life.

During his later years he came to understand that life was more about people than parties,
included/understood that citizens had to vindicate themselves before their equals ones, leaving behind the tradition forms of political class.

He stood up to the Government of the State and later he supported without reservation the citizen candidacy of Jorge Castañeda, asking nothing in return, and instead gave all for the sake of a civil society that still cannot manage to organize itself.

In my mind’s eye is the elegant memory of don Fernando smoking, with bowler and cane, impeccable, walking by the Zona Rosa of the DF; the memory of him in pajamas, writing an article for the Internet; he was the same person, enthusiastic, vibrant, giving.

Good bye, Don F, Yucateco universal. Always will you be first in our memory and later in the history of your town…

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Apocalypto Rules

December 11th, 2006 by ejalbright

Apocalypto opened this past weekend to generally favorable reviews, and went on to win its opening weekend, taking in $14.2 million in admissions.

The movie, which critics described as “bloody” and “gore-filled,” surprised industry experts by drawing an unanticipated demographic: women over 30. According to surveys, that demographic rated the movie the highest and more importantly, thanks to the heavy turnout by that group, the “chick flick” “The Holiday” came in second.

Disney, which released the movie, had predicted that the audience for the film would be “all male,” according to industry bible Daily Variety. Disney, obviously, was wrong. According to the other trade journal of the movie industry, the Hollywood Reporter, the breakdown between men and women was 60 percent to 40 percent.

“‘Apocalypto’ turned out to be one hell of a date movie,” wrote Variety’s Ian Mohr.

Apocalypto, according to Disney’s Chuck Viane, will be the “water cooler” movie of the weekend. The buzz around it was even picked up by last weekend’s Saturday Night Live. To see their parody of “Apocalypto,” click here.

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Mystery Park Shutters Doors

December 5th, 2006 by ejalbright

As promised, Erich von Daniken’s theme park dedicated to his theory that aliens assisted ancient civilizations closed its doors Nov. 19. Unless a buyer comes forward, the park will be sold at auction in January.

Mystery Park, which contains a one-half scale replica of Chichén Itzá’s El Castillo, promoted a theory that an alien space ship crash landed in Maya territory several thousand years ago, and the aliens inside were assisted by the natives living there. In return, they took several teenaged boys with them into space, and returned them 52 years later with their minds full of the teachings of their hosts.

The story of Mystery Park, according to one German reporter writing about the closing, was “written in the stars,” but failed because of its terrestrial obligations. The park attracted 500,000 visitors in its first year, an attendance that, had it continued, would have guaranteed financial success. Instead annual attendance fell to 200,000, and the park quickly found itself in financial trouble.

Von Daniken himself showed up on the last day and gave a speech to visitors and the staff. He said that Mystery Park was never a place of the “Rechthaberei,” but instead a second chance earned. “Rechthaberei” is one of those wonderful German words that describes an attitude perfectly, but for which there is no direct English translation. It roughly means thinking one is always in the right while others are in the wrong, but even that definition fails to
convey the self-righteous, sanctimonious attitude people of this ilk possess. The word has been used in regard to von Daniken, but I think the author was implying the word better suited his critics.

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Chasing Mexican Ghosts in Boston

December 4th, 2006 by ejalbright

For the most part I’ve set aside major research on my book until someone buys it. But when events occur in my own backyard, I believe I have a responsibility to check them out.

Twice last week I went into the big city, Boston, on “research” trips, and on both occasions I was skunked.

On Thursday, Jesse Lerner was premiering his new film at the Coolidge Corner Theater. Jesse is a California filmmaker who made a couple of unique documentaries about Yucatan, “Ruins” and “The American Egypt.” I liked the latter’s title (based on a controversial book about Yucatan published in 1909) that I stole it for my own book. You can read more about him and his films here.

I had interviewed Jesse over the phone, and exchanged numerous e-mails with him, but never met him in person. After work on Thursday I drove to the Coolidge Corner Theater to see his newest project, but also to stick out my hand and introduce myself. The evening proved to be a disaster. It was the warmest Nov. 30 on record, the thermometer that night hitting 65 degrees. Coolidge Corner, which is near Northeastern University, was mobbed with college students. I could not get within a mile of the theater to park. Eventually I gave up and drove home to Cape Cod.

On Saturday the “Mexico Mobile Display” was in town, touting the benefits of vacationing in the true “land down under.” According to a press release from the Mexican Tourism Board, “The clear glass buses, called Promobuses, will feature a variety of themes, from impressive seaside spa displays to eco-adventure tourism scenes. The beach-spa buses will be filled with sand, palm trees and real-life spa-esque visuals. The eco-adventure displays will highlight Mexico’s abundant flora and fauna.” These buses drive into the city and hang out at key locations with lots of pedestrian traffic where workers hand out brochures.

You can read about it here.

The Promobus was scheduled to be in Harvard Square Saturday morning, so I drove 90 minutes to see what they had to say, if anything, about Chichen Itza. I never found them. I just missed them three times. Apparently the Promobus had no permit to stop anywhere, and what’s worse, there is absolutely no parking in the area. Apparently the bus just drove around Harvard Square a few times and then left. How very Mexico, I thought …

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‘Apocalypto’ Backlash Begins

December 1st, 2006 by ejalbright

Earl Shorris, writing in The Nation, decries Mel Gibson’s forthcoming film about the Maya, “Apocalypto,” as racist. Shorris has clearly not seen the film, but that doesn’t stop him from commenting upon it. The article gives him an excuse to present the current plight of the Maya as second-class citizens in Yucatan.

“‘A Maya, of the middle class, like me,’ May May said, ‘went into a Ford dealership here in Mérida. He intended to buy a new pickup truck. He was well dressed, but clearly Maya. The dealer offered him ten pesos to wash a truck.'”

Gibson perpetuates the stereotype because he did not cast Maya in the leading roles, Shorris says. You can read Shorris’s commentary here.

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