The sun if soft on mismatched chairs. ‘Goooaallllll, real madrid’, is being screamed into the room from a TV screen. Three waiters are transfixed, whilst in the corner the left arm of a gold Japanese plastic cat is waiving on a shelf, supposedly bringing the proprietors luck and fortune.
I’m in Paris. Not the country. The cafe. A cafe. One of the four or so I’ve discovered and where I’ve marked my territory. Each one for a differing mood. I come here, to its shabby chic interior and (usually) good flow of gentle music, to write. The words in my head have been pushing against walls. Frustration at not getting it all down. Putting the experiences into font as I use the time to assimilate my life. I flew down to Oaxaca. Left behind the gentle caress of La Condesa, Mexico City. I arrived to pollution, searing, beastly sun and tourists. Lots of tourists. I hated Oaxaca. Hated its smell, the feel of the place. As always though, time softens.
It unfolded. Hate softened. Morphed into respect. I made the most of my time. Gathered quite a few good memories, walked the tourist steps and then plotted my own course. One of the tourist sites that filled my imagination, fed the learning centre in my brain, was Monte Alban. An archaeological Zapotec site, 20 mins outside of Oaxaca in a rattling, old bus. $40 pesos, a return trip, to what was a highly important Mesoamerica site. The grandeur of Teotihuacan was lacking, but Monte Alban promised more.
I hired a short, solid looking local, with skin as dark as Oaxacan mole, to guide me around the site. I knew I’d lacked the depth behind my visit to Teotihuacan. Here, I wanted to know more. A brief trot around the entrance and I enlisted a married couple from Nanaimo, Canada to share the $250 pesos fee for the guide. £4. A bargain. His name was Coyote. Named from the Mayan 18 month calendar. Each month making an animal its talisman. My heart fell for him. He was gentle, full of knowledge and had marked up 46 years of kicking up the dust covering the once alabaster floor of the site. Time had not dimmed his enthusiasm. He was a well-spring of knowledge. My attention caught. He beckoned us to the centre, we stood and took in the pyramids and buildings that surrounded us. He clapped. His broad, solid hands creating brief, raps that reverberated around the site. We laughed as we followed suit. I took the cap off my camera to start capturing what was before me. I was devastated to find a message flashing on my picture screen, ‘no card in camera’! Oh crap! What a fail! David, said nothing. Just fished in his camera bag and held a memory card in front of me. ‘Use this…I will email the photos you take’. I issued a flow of ‘thank you’s. May have even declared him my hero!
Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian archaeological site. Sun bleached in the low mountains, a climbing drive, six miles from Oaxaca City, Mexico. The site, levelled by hand long ago, got its name from the white stone that covered it – albino..alban. White Mountain. It is one of the earliest mesoamerican (meso means middle) sites in Mexico. Thought to have been inhabited by the Zapotecs for a thousand years. Mostly used as a place of learning and, barbaric ritual, the Zapotecs were never thought to of used the site for residence. Before my visit I kept reading or hearing about ‘ball parks’ and thought it meant something else, like a term for something. I was wrong. They played tennis in narrow courts, flanked by steeply rising stone bleachers. The sport was not to entertain but to find the human sacrifice for the altar to the Gods. Some ponder at whether the winner or the looser were used, perhaps the winner as some kind of honour?! So glad I was born in modern times! Who on earth ever had the idea that the Gods needed human blood to send a good harvest?!
David, Marg and I followed Coyote around the site. I was in awe of him, and the tribe who’d created this place. They have an pentagonal building to the South of the central quadrant of the site. Used as a place of astronomical discovery and research. Charting planets, stars and the movement of the earth. They created their calendars and plotted the best times to sow and harvest their crops. To the south east corner, here was where they studied anatomy. Human figures, with deformities, organ deficiencies, and detailed reproductive system where carved in great detail onto large grey-stone tablets. Even a figure masterbating had its own stone in the long ling of medical references. Whether they were showcasing it as a natural human doing or a medical complaint I do not know!
These sights were rich. After we walked back down past the line of huge trees and took shade in the onsite museum. Bling of of turquoise and gold, dragged from the tombs and now in lit cabinets amazed me. Their jewellery unfussy, geometric and looked strangely contemporary.
I met with David and Marg’s travelling companions. A group of 3 couples. All who’d known each other since college. We swapped a few travelling stories. Shared a moment, and I went on my way. My heart glad to have shared with them such a dear and memorable excursion. Tinged with a familiar sadness for such a brief encounter.
David and Marg were true to their word. Some of the photo’s shown are his.