Soaring in a roaring propeller plane over the hilly midlands of Guatemala, little fluffy clouds between my window and the vague contours of the volcanos in the east, I find myself pondering on how I am ever going to get back to writing. Had I fallen for the trap, the one I had warned others and myself for, once again? Did I let my creativity be constrained by asking myself what people want to read, rather than what I wanted to write? I missed it. The self-indulgent joy of constructing, associating, picking the exact right words, angles, poetry versus prose, smiling while reading back stuff that just “feels right”…
Time to dig up the proverbial pen. And not just that. I want to share my stories with my fellow travelers, as they have with me… Challenge accepted. Blog number one in English, number three for this journey, long overdue.
“I dye my hair and beard black”, he said, as I was finding the best angle on the orange five-ball. It was a response to my joke earlier, where I pointed out that only old men make a noise when they sit down.
“I have worked a long time to get to this many years”, he said and took a sip. We watched him both, Eddie and I. “Sixty-four,” he said grinning with a set of teeth blinking and shimmering, curtained by an apparently, though not visibly dyed goatee, raising his dewy Coca-Cola bottle. “Sixty-four!”, Eddie and I repeated in unison.
“Who does this fella remind you of?” Eddie asked me a few minutes later, while Danilo was “finding out what my job is tomorrow” at the reception desk in the next room. His sparkly eyes reminded me of one of my uncles, his complexion of every Spanish person I ever saw, his outfit of Crocodile Dundee, notably because of his leather hat from under which the dyed black ponytail crawled onto his shoulders, his boots reminded me of an ex colleague who would always wear hiking boots to any occasion. Most of all, however, the grinning smile and the cheeky wrinkles round his eyes reminded me of The Ugly from the aptly named nineteen-sixty-six Sergio Leone classic spaghetti western. I imagined him screaming “Blondie!” while balancing himself on top of the gravestone, his hands tied behind his back, noose around his neck, forcefully smiling away the idea that The Good might be playing an all too cruel joke on him, accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s drums slowly beating “dummm, dummm, dumdumdum, dummm, dummm, dumdumdum…”, the sound of the hooves of The Good‘s horse fading away in the distance. “Blondie! You dirty son of a …” – ayee-ayee-aaaahhhh!
Danilo reappeared and recalled he had seen me meditating in the forest. Ennio’s drums would have been a fitting addition to such a scene, I pictured, as I mumbled to Eddie: “I was just sleeping”. Eddie shrugged. “Meditating,” he reaffirmed. Alright. I was meditating. Being one with the tree…
“It has more consciousness than people realize, the Temple”, Danilo said, picking up his cue, referring to Templo IV, one of Tikal’s beautiful and ancient Mayan temples we had visited that morning under his guidance. “I am licensed as a shaman, too. My name is Black Jaguar. Jaguar Negro.” He scored another powerful shot. “I can make sacrifices, but people want to know about blood and decapitation… I don’t want to talk about that. It is not about that. It is about balance. We must give something back, and we must bring something if we want to ask for something.” He circled around the table, his eyes never leaving the table while it was his turn, every now and then chalking the tip of his cue. “Sacrifice is ‘do something sacred’. Sacre – Face” – which he pronounced Sah-cray – Fah-Tjay. He crouched. “That’s all it is.” Another shot.
I was involuntarily reminded of the fact that we had witnessed such a sacred act two weeks ago. A live chicken was torn to shreds by bare hands, something that seemed a cleansing ritual right outside a church that was dedicated to San Simoon, an odd mixture of a Spanish toreador and conquistador, The Bad with matching black hat, and a bored farmer sitting on a wooden chair on some porch smoking a cigarette. This combined Mayan and christian figurine is sprinkled all over the town of Antigua Guatemala, our home base for this month. “Antigua is a good place to live. Muy bien.” Danilo had spent his childhood on the central park square. “Living my colonial dimension”, he said, the cue behind his back resting on his left thumb with his fingers stretched between a cluster of pool balls, half-sitting on the side of the table, “I am now in my Mayan dimension”, he continued. I couldn’t help but notice the tip of his tongue sticking out from a faint smile just the tiniest bit, before a hard blow secured the eight-ball in the far corner pocket.
Eddie and I, both decent players, we thought, looked at each other. I got my ass kicked. Just as Eddie had his, the game before.
“I played this game many many times.”, Danilo said, grinning, offering his hand.
A couple of hours earlier, I was staring to the east on top of another temple in the “Lost World”-complex, while the setting sun slowly pulled its veil of light off of the silver-specked deep blue canopy. First appeared Venus, exactly where the sun had been a mere twenty minutes before, followed by Jupiter, high up in the eastern sky. Both Mercury and Saturn followed faintly. We all looked up at the ever-increasingly stunning spectacle of the milky clouds of our galaxy, constellations some of us could name, tried to remember, or invented names for at the spot. I, for one, had never heard of the Ligma Dipper, which Nate pointed out after we couldn’t find neither the Big Dipper, nor the Small. Ebony couldn’t restrain her enthusiasm about what this all could mean. The new year starting, year twenty-two, a multiple of eleven, her “angel number”, taking off on a place like this and these planets showing up, must mean something. “We are just on a big ball hurling through space. We mean nothing,” Kadeem pointed out, vaguely tranquil. Brian was lying on his back with his hands folded on his belly. I pictured everyone reflecting on their relationship to all we saw and had seen that day, the first day of twenty-twenty-two – space and time, the far, far away, the long, long ago, connected and mindfully aware of it all, the past, the universe, our futures – the good, the bad, the ugly…
Just before we climbed the temple, we stopped briefly to hear Miguel, a colleague and friend of Danilo’s, speak enthusiastically and passionately about Mayan history. Wars, famine, kings, priests, water reservoirs, population growth control by poisoning those, offerings…
“What God would ask such a thing?”, Ariel asked, when the inescapable subject of human sacrifice was brought up. Miguel did not respond directly, letting out a small sigh, frowning and looking at the ground. Rembrandt’s Abraham and Isaac flashed before my eyes, the blade hovering above the young boy’s flesh. Droughts, famine, disease were plaguing society, the gods required appeasing, Miguel explained. Balance needed to be restored, somehow…
On our way back Miguel explained to us that a great war between the Mayans that had migrated north for better times and the ones that stayed behind, was called “Star Wars”. “Why that name?”, I asked. Because it was a win-all, lose-all battle. Nobody would return from it without being the victor. “I wonder if that is how George Lucas came up with the title”, Nate said.
I don’t think Nate meant “A New Hope”.