buried mirror: latest reflections

mesoamerica and the maya world

Category: highlands

Photo Wednesday: Furniture delivery

antigua, guatemala, street scene

This photo of a furniture deliveryman on the streets of Antigua, Guatemala, comes from Michael R. Swigart’s photostream.

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Photo Wednesday: Agua Volcano, Antigua, Guatemala

agua volcano, antigua, guatemala

This view of Agua Volcano from somewhere near the Parqueo Central in Antigua, Guatemala, is from hexod.us’ photostream.

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Photo quiz, part 3

Here’s another image by our mystery photographer (see also the past two days’ posts). What’s going on here? (Hint: the picture documents a subject for which the photographer is well known.) Who is he? What is the approximate date of the photo?

san isidro

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Photo quiz, continued

Come, come, I know I have some readers. Surely someone can guess the famous photographer of yesterday’s image. Okay, maybe this will help. Here’s another photo by the same lensman. Who is it? What is it? When was it? Someone has to know the answer!

lago atitlan by mystery photographer

Photo quiz

Here’s an image from Guatemala. Can anyone guess the subject, photographer, or approximate date the picture was taken?

volcan

113 images of Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

112 more like this at En Antigua.

semana santa procession, antigua, guatemala

via el Blogador

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Guatemalan worry dolls

guatemala worry doll

Worry people are small, rather crude (but charming) dolls, usually sold in batches of several in a bag or box. As far as I know they are particular to the Maya of highland Guatemala. Children put them under their pillows at night as a sleep aid.

Tradition — or the vendors of the dolls — has it that one confesses one’s worry to the doll before putting it under the pillow. Then by morning the worry people will have taken that worry away.

The image is from dickuhne’s photostream.

Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

Two videos via Carpe Diem, the blog of Luis Figueroa.

Photo Friday

Chichicastenango market, from gepiblu’s photostream.

vegetable market in chichicastenango

Antigua through the back door

hippies use backdoor

Paramañana paints one of the more recognizable portraits of La Antigua, Guatemala, that I have seen in a while (of course, the best portraits are from steady bloggers like Rudy Giron, El Blogador, and Luis Figueroa).

After a little getting used to, you don’t really notice the no tap water or no electricity situation any more. After all, there are more important things to think about.

The photo is from Café No Sé.

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Antigua elves bring seasons tidings

christmas wishes from antigua, guatemala

San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala

 san antonio aguas calientes, guatemala

This photo was taken a long time ago in Aguas Calientes, near La Antigua, Guatemala. The town is known for its beautiful textiles. Back in the day it was a quiet and tranquil place. I wonder if it has changed much.

Fuego volcano eruption

Fuego volcano, near Antigua, Guatemal, erupted in November. Inner Diablog posted a photo by Aldo Bonilla, or you can follow some of these google image results (click screenshot).

fuego volcano eruption

Sites we like: La Antigua Daily Photo

You can hardly go wrong with Antigua, but Rudy Girón goes the extra mile. Every day he posts a new photo from the city, along with some pretty interesting commentary. Some of his favorite topics are food, architecture, and signage, but really nothing is out of bounds. Well worth checking out (click iamge below).

la antigua daily photo

The ruins of Santa Teresa, La Antigua, Guatemala

santa teresa, la antigua, guatemala

In 1677 three nuns arrived in Antigua from Peru. They had been sent to establish a Carmelite convent in the then Guatemalan capital. A few years later, building began on the church of Santa Teresa, where the foreign nuns and their new local sisters would be based; construction was completed in 1687. Unfortunately, thirty years later a major earthquake damaged the church. The nuns were terrified, and thereafter lived in thatched huts in the convent garden.

But that would not be the last earthquake to damage the building. Another hit in 1751. Then, in 1773, a catastrophic earthquake caused the building’s total destruction. These are the ruins that are visible today (which is remarkable, since most damaged buildings in Antigua are quickly rebuilt). Although the facade may appear fairly intact from the street view, the interior is in total ruins, and cluttered with rubble to this day.

The convent itself — which had been abandoned by the nuns in favor of the garden huts — actually faired considerably better than the church. It was used as a men’s prison well into the twentieth century

Mudejar architecture in La Antigua, Guatemala

facade of the church of la merced in antigua, guatemala

Antigua’s distinctive architecture is not all in a single style, yet a certain spirit seems somehow common to each of the examples. Elaborate facades such as that of La Merced (shown) have been called churrigueresque (a term indicating elaborate symmetrical ornamentation). Other writers have called Antigua’s architecture hispano-indigena. But S.D. Markman, in his excellent Colonial Architecture of Antigua Guatemala considers Antigua’s architecture to be in essence mudejar.

The term mudejar is applied to Moors who remained in Spain after the Christian reconquest. It is a corruption of the Arabic word mudajjan, meaning “domesticated.” In book arts, a mudejar binding is one decorated with intricate interlaced designs, and in architecture it refers to a late medieval and early Renaissance Spanish style influenced by Moorish tastes. The mudejar architectural style, in essence, involves the use of simple materials such as brick, tile, plaster, metals, and wood, which are then elaborately worked. For the Spanish workers who developed the style, labor and creativity were more obtainable than were fine, expensive materials.

Cartuja Monastery, Cadiz, Spain

According to Markman, the Spanish examples closest to the Antigua style are found in the provinces of Seville, Huelva, Cadiz, and Malaga (which collectively were called the Reino de Sevilla). “But this comparable stylistic mood is not to be found in the monumental churches of the capital cities of this part of Spain, rather in the small towns of the countryside.” The image at right is the Carduja Monastery in Cadiz, Spain (the image is from somewhere on the web, but I have lost the address).

The mudejar style was exported to the new world as a craft tradition, which underlay all of the iterations and evolutions of the architecture of the often-rebuilt city (most of its architectural landmarks contain elements from a variety of different periods). “The mudejar is the one Iberian style which predominates and underlies all the other recognizable styles from which the Antigua style is derived,” says Markman. It is “the basic core on which the other imported Iberian styles appear as an accretion. In this respect, the architectural tradition of Antigua is but an extension of that of the Reino de Sevilla where the mudejar style is not confined to a single stylistic period, but one which lies submerged in the nonindigenous styles such as the Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque. The same process of assimilation and acculturation of architectural styles seems to have taken place in Antigua.

In future posts we will have an opportunity to look in more detail at some of the elements that characterize the mudejar-influenced Antiguan style in architecture.

Easter carpets in Antigua

One of the great festivals in Guatemala is Semana Santa in Antigua. On Easter celebrants bear heavy floats depicting images from the passion of Christ; the floats, some requiring dozens of carriers, may weigh thousands of pounds.

semana santa procession, antigua, guatemala

Elaborate carpets — alfombras — of pine needles, corn kernels, flowers, and sawdust are created on the cobbled streets. These beautiful artworks will soften the treads of the bearers of the heavy statuary as they make their way across the hard, uneven cobbles. And they will be destroyed by them.

easter alfombra, antigua, guatemala

These photos were taken many years ago. The corn in this alfombra detail is interesting. The figure appears to be presenting the corn as a form of offering. The corn seems to emerge from a cooking vessel.

Maize has been the main crop of Mesoamerica since time immemorial. One of the chief deities of the classic Maya was the corn god, who is associated with death and rebirth. He descends to the underworld and reemerges in youthful guise much like a young shoot breaking through the surface of the earth at the beginning of the growing season. So it is natural that he would become associated with Easter, a springtime festival that is also associated with death and rebirth.

Palo volador, Chichicastenango

flying poles at the fiesta de santo tomas in chichicastenango, guatemala

During the fiesta of Santo Tomas (Dec. 21), in Chichicastenango in the Guatemalan highlands, extremely tall pine poles are consecrated and erected in the plaza for the ceremony of the palo volador — the flying pole. Pole dancers climb in pairs to the top via platforms and ropes, and then they spin at the end of the ropes dizzyingly (and dangerously) down in great swooping circles. The ceremony’s origins must lie in the Maya tradition of yaxche, the tree of life.

Santo Tomas is Chichi’s patron saint, and with Christmas approaching this festival is one of the years biggest events, perhaps equaled only by the semana santa festivites in La Antigua. The festival attracts a very large crowd from all over the highlands. The rowdy, noisy, alcohol-fueled ceremony extends for several days around the saint’s official days. That day is marked by colorful processions, which include the baile de la conquista, the dance of the conquest, in which masked dancers portray the Spanish conquistados. It is the best market day of the year in Chichi, which is the prime highlands market town.

This picture was taken many years ago.

The fountain at La Merced, Antigua, Guatemala

merced fountain, antigua, guatemala, 1975

The church of La Merced is one of the most distinctive in Antigua. Its history is strongly marked by earthquakes. Originally built in the mid-sixteenth century, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times until assuming more or less its present shape in the eighteenth century. Perhaps its most striking feature, its churrigueresque facade, was added in the nineteenth century.

But this post is not about the church — I will save that for another time. This is about the fountain in the adjacent courtyard. Called the Fuente de Pescados, it dates from the eighteenth century; it was restored in 1944. Twenty-seven meters in diameter, it’s said to be the largest classical fountain in Guatemala, or in Central America, or in Latin America — it doesn’t really matter.

The fountain is in the shape of a water lily. Water lilies are more common in the lowlands, in which bodies of water tend to be still or slow-moving, than in the highlands. In Maya symbology, the water lily, perhaps as a result of the way it seems to emerge out of the watery depths, is associated with creation. A Lancandon legend says that the first god created a water lily, from which all the other gods emerged (Miller and Taube, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya).

I took the picture at the top of this post some three decades ago. Compare it to the following one, which I took about five years ago. Here you can see that the surrounding arcades have been completely restored. The stucco-like surface has been replaced with brick. It’s not an unpleasant change, and now one can walk all the way around the courtyard, looking down on the fountain from many angles.

Still, the romantic quality of the ruins in the first photo brings a wave of nostalgia. I feel fortunate to have been among the last to see the fountain in this form. I don’t know when this latest restoration occurred, but I suspect it followed the massive earthquake that struck the highlands just a few months after the first picture was taken. Nothing is permanent in Mesoamerica, where Christian churches are built on the foundations of ancient temples, and the earth itself rearranges the surface of things at frequent intervals.

la merced fountain in antigua, guatemala, 200

Casita in Mixco, Guatemala

Many years ago we lived in this little house in Mixco, on the outskirts of Guatemala City. The house was near the police checkpoint at the edge of town, where the road to Antigua (as I recollect you got there along Avenida Roosevelt) began to leave the broad Guate valley and wind up the bucolic hills toward the old capital. The area was largely rural — we would watch lizards sunning themselves on the fence outside our kitchen window; on the other side of the fence cattle grazed. Down a dirt road was a little cantina.

Today there is a broad freeway to Antigua. It bypasses this area, which has all been swallowed up by the grim urban sprawl that characterizes the city today.
casita in mixco

Kites

Flying giant kites on Nov. 1 is a tradition in Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala.

Deadly elections in Guatemala

This year’s presidential elections are the deadliest since the 1980s. Frontrunner Alvaro Colom has called his chief opponent, Otto Perez Molina, an idiot. Perez Molina has called Colom a thief. Meanwhile, “the electorate is tremendously skeptical.” And people keep dying.

Francisco Goldman is releasing a book that implicates general Perez Molina in the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerard, a human rights activist.

LINKS
Los Angeles Times
Inner Diablog

Zacatenango

chicken bus in antigua

Thanks to Rudy of La Antigua Guatemala Daily Photo for pointing out “Zacatenango” by Francis Dávila, part of a compilation of electronic music from Guatemala. The compilation can be downloaded here.

The image was taken in Antigua in December 2001.

Here’s “Zacatenango”:

Antigua Door Knockers

Tigre fe54 has a nice set of door knocker photos from Antigua, Guatemala, at his flickr site. Clickable thumbnails appear below, via the Crossroads plugin.

Alto in Antigua

alto en antigua

Rudy Giron at Antigua Daily Photo posted the photo above of a wall in Antigua. He makes the point that “the flavor in life is found in the little details.” The stop (alto) signs in Antigua are made of ceramic tiles in metal frames.

Below is a photo I took in Antigua near the church of La Merced.

stop sign in antigua

Bagel Barn in Antigua

bagel barn, antigua

At Antigua Guatemala Daily Photo, Rudy Giron has posted about the Bagel Barn, which offers coffee, bagels, and free WiFi.

How times have changed. When I was teaching in Guate — there was no internet, so don’t even think about WiFi — we once got so desperate for bagels (nowhere to be found in the entire country) that we tried cooking our own. As I recall you have to drop the dough into boiling water. My colleague Marvin Schwartz pronounced the result decent. “But,” he concluded, “they aren’t bagels.”

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