March 14, 2005


Since The Other Caroline expressed interest in Chichen Itza, here's another story from our recent vacation.

Chichen Itza was a walled city, and covers quite a large piece of ground. Our Mayan tour guide has worked on the digs and reconstruction for some 20 years, so he had lots of first-hand experience to share with us. One of the first sights we stopped at was a small temple or pyramid that had carved snakes coming gargoyle-like alongside the lower steps. Our guide explained that the Mayans had invented a very durable cement -- the Mayans chewed the sap, called "chicle," from the trees and this chewed gum, mixed with ground limestone, was strong enough to hold the stones together through these many hundreds of years. (Today the Yucatan Peninsula, where Chichen Itza is located, exports annually some phenomenal number of pounds of chicle, which is the base for chewing gum.)

When we arrived at the main pyramid, our guide told us how the ancient Mayans had created a calendar more accurate than the ancient Europeans' -- the steps of the pyramid represent the 365 days of the year, and the steps are divided into 18 terraces, and these represent the 18 months of the Mayan year. Inside the great pyramid is a smaller pyramid that is accurate for the lunar calendar. The Mayans observed four directions, and the great pyramid is aligned to the north. Just next to the great pyramid but offset from it by 18 degrees is a smaller ceremonial pyramid, and this one is aligned to magnetic north -- so, our guide said, this shows that the Mayans discovered magnetic north, which is 18 degrees different from astronomical north.

Here's our guide showing us the carving in a wall at the ball field:
To play the ball game at Chichen Itza was to be at the pinnacle of the sport -- it was the Superbowl, the World Series, the ultimate contest of the season. The type of game that was played, according to our guide, was a precursor to tennis, jai alai, soccer, and basketball -- so you might say that the Mayans invented tennis, jai alai, soccer, and basketball. The game pitted two teams of seven players against each other. They played with a large rubber ball that they kicked or moved forward using their hips, thighs, legs, or a handheld racket. The object of the game was to get the ball through a ring affixed to the wall.

To play at Chichen Itza, one must have beaten all of one's competitors in the territory. And for the captain of the winning team at Chichen Itza, it meant that the only ones left to challenge were the gods. So the winning captain would be sacrificed at the end of the game, so that he could go to the next world and play against the gods. But the winning captain wasn't sacrificed by the Chichen Itza king or a priest. No. For losing the game was such a humiliation that it fell to the captain of the losing team to decapitate his opponent. How do they know this? The carving on the wall that our guide is pointing to, shows the players in their headdresses and anklets, holding their rackets. And it shows, in blood-spurting detail, the most important player kneeling, and his opponent wielding a knife and holding an upside-down head. (Actually, the stone that would show the knife in the hand is one stone that is missing. But the rest of the carving is intact and . . . well, a picture is worth a thousand words.)

And so it was, all day long, our guide touting the benefits of Mayan culture, past and present.

When we arrived back at our hotel room that evening, I had the urge to check my e-mail and to update my blog. "I want to use the computer," I said.

Scott, without missing a beat, said, "The Mayans invented the internet."

We left Chichen Itza too early, though. The time to make a pilgrimage there is March 21. That day, the first day of spring, the rising sun casts shadows down over those terraces on the great pyramid, and reportedly those shadows give an undulating appearance to the snakes carved on the pyramid. The whole light show is supposed to take about 45 minutes. Thousands of people come to see it every year. Caroline, get your ticket now!

Two Swans news: Today, at last, the Shore Lines book by Di Gilpin arrived. It has a very artsy feel to it, quoting lines of poetry and having rather atmospheric photography of the models (all friends of the designer, and all, apparently, real people) wearing the garments. The subtitle of this book is "Inspirational Knitting," and that is what it aspires to be. The designs call for Harris Aran and Harris DK yarns. (Harris 4-ply is not used in this book, after all, which is a good thing, as the Harris 4-ply has been delayed.)

I like the Caspian Jacket . . .
. . . and I am fascinated by this Herringbone Kilt . . .
such a wee little thing shouldn't take long to knit. Although, at my advanced age, I would wear the longer version of it. Check out those stockings and coordinating boots!

And here's a sedately solid sweater. The same sweater also has a two-color version, with intarsia motifs worked between the cables.

Most of the sweaters in the book are intarsia designs. Caspian is, I think, the only one using stranded colorwork.

Why did the rooster cross the driveway? Keep those answers coming, folks! Wittiness wins!

Posted by Karen at March 14, 2005 08:20 PM

The Roosters crossed the road cause one said to the others, 'Follow me, I know a great place to meet chicks.'

sorry, I'm up too late; it was hilarious to me ROTFL

You know the Mayans invented the road. snort

Posted by: Aarlene at March 15, 2005 08:55 AM

Aarlene, maybe *I'm* up too early, but I laughed out loud at your comment!

Posted by: Karen at March 15, 2005 03:16 PM

because it's something he could COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOOOOO......

Posted by: Katie at March 15, 2005 05:58 PM

Oh, Katie, you're crackin' me up, too!

Posted by: Karen at March 15, 2005 07:46 PM