Sunday, April 29, 2012

raw shrimp with lime juice

raw shrimp with lime juice,
red onion, chili peppers, 
avocado, mango

Dinner at a pizza restaurant with a band from Bolivia, who play three songs from Chile for our Chilean twins. Because we're in Mexico, I don't want to eat pizza. Ceviche, a regional Mexican dish, is on the menu, but I also don't want to get food poisoning from eating raw seafood. I ask Gabe if it's safe to order the ceviche camarón and he assures me that the shrimp is fresh. 
          Ceviche, popular along all the coasts in Central and South America, is raw fish or seafood marinated in citrus juice. My shrimp is marinated in lime juice, liberally spiced with chili peppers and red onions, and topped with avocado. I order fresh mango juice to tone down the hot spices. The combination is as beautiful to the eye as it is delicious to the taste.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

clinking his pesos

clinking his pesos
a Maya shoeshine man waits 
for scuffed zapatos

On our way back from Chichen Itza we stop at the plaza central in Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatán in Mexico. Spanish conquistadors built Mérida on the site of the centuries-old Maya city of T'ho or Ichkanzihó, "city of five hills (pyramids)." Because of its long history, Mérida may be the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas. 

           Mérida was named for the Spanish city of the same name. The colonial builders incorporated carved stones from T'ho into their buildings, including the main cathedral across from the plaza central. In colonial times the city was surrounded by a wall to protect the citizens from revolts by the indigenous Maya. Today, ironically, Mérida has the highest percentage of indigenous people of any city in Mexico.

          Around the plaza, buhoneros wait patiently with their braided belts, balloons, handmade hammocks and food carts for touristas to purchase their wares or get their shoes polished. 

This is their ancient home. They have all the time in the world.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

a brown pelican

a brown pelican
preening on the dock lifts her
long neck to the sun

Brown Pelicans are common all along the Yucatán coast, often perched on a post or diving into the turquoise water for fish. While waiting for the ferry on Cozumel island, I watch a female on the dock preening her feathers, lifting her long neck and opening her long beak, as if she's serenading the sun. Under the dock, a white-headed male paddles around, dives for a fish, then gulps it down. These sea birds are so large, I am amazed that they can lift their bodies up into the air, but they do fly, usually low over the water, often in single file like a line of bombers. When they spot a fish, they dive, folding their wings and hitting the water beak first with a huge splash. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

under the unfurled

under the unfurled
green umbrellas a single
white blossom curves down

By mid-April the May Apples are in bloom, but you have to peer under the canopy of green umbrellas to see the singular white blossoms sheltered below. Each flower has seven petals, matching the seven lobes of the leaves. The blossom curves down on a slender "neck" between the two upraised "arms" of the pair of leaves, coyly waiting for a pollinator to visit her golden heart.

a pair of furled green

a pair of furled green 
umbrellas slowly open
their seven-lobed leaves

May Apples began emerging in March, pushing up through the litter of last year's leaves, sometimes pushing through a dead leaf, the strength of living sap pitted against brittle cellulose.

The new shoot looks like a furled green umbrella.

At the top of the umbrella, a pale green flower bud appears. At this stage plant with its unfurled leaves below the bud looks like a little wood gnome wrapped in a green cloak.

This one looks like a bald monk holding a robe up around his ears.

When fully open, each scalloped leaf has seven deep lobes.

In our sunny meadow, May Apples grow into a colony, like a plaza crowded with green parasols.

Monday, April 23, 2012

fuzzy gray ovaries

fuzzy gray ovaries
topped with curly red stigmas --
petals fallen away

Only one red tree peony blossom is still intact after several days of hard rain and frost at night. The magenta petals of all the other flowers lie scattered on the ground. Having done their duty of attracting pollinators, the voluptuous petals have fallen away, leaving the fertilized ovaries naked to the elements. The sticky red stigmas on top have also finished their job of catching pollen and they will slowly dry up and turn black. But right now, each seed heads looks like a cluster of downy baby penguins with red heads curved down on their fuzzy gray breasts.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

flying upside down

flying upside down
Voladores de Papantla
worship the sun god

We're sitting on the top row of a little amphitheater in Xcaret, waiting for the show to begin. Xcaret, which means "small inlet" in Maya, is an eco-archeological theme park on the Yucatán Riviera that combines elements of Disney World with National Geographic. This afternoon we've joined a small crowd to watch Voladores de Papantla, "flyers of Papantla," perform a ceremony to the sun god. Four of the men, the flyers, represent the elements of earth, air, fire and water, while the fifth man represents the unifying element of space. 

          The men, dressed in colorful costumes and playing traditional rattles, drums and flute, march in a row into the open space below a large pole 30 meters (almost 100 feet) high and as big around as two men, set in a wide stone foundation. They dance around the pole, shaking rattles. 

          One of the men plays a small wooden flute held in his left hand along with a small drum, which he is beating with his right hand.
          One by one they begin to climb the pole, placing their feet on narrow foot rests set on alternate sides and grasping a thick yellow rope that's wrapped around the poles at intervals. 

          As each one reaches the top, he sits on a narrow bar forming one of the four sides of an open square painted red, green and white. They hang onto the bar, their legs dangling down.

          The fifth man mounts a conical spindle in the middle, wrapped round and round with the yellow cable. He wraps his legs around the spindle, leaving his hands free for his musical instruments. The four flyers begin leaning out and throwing their weight to one side, causing the platform to rotate, while the musician, perched on top and hunched over like an eagle, plays his flute and drum.

          Suddenly the four flyers simultaneously lean all the way back and drop upside down off the platform, arms spread wide, the ribbons on their headdress streaming behind them. Each flyer is suspended only by a yellow rope looped around the body. One foot is hooked around the rope while the other foot hangs free. 

          While the musician continues to play, I find myself holding my breath as the flyers slowly descend, circling wider and wider until they near the ground. Then, like the acrobats they are, they miraculously right themselves to land on their feet.

          But what about the musician in the eagle's nest? While one of flyers holds his rope at an angle from the pole, the musician lowers himself down the cable. I finally start breathing when he reaches the ground and the crowd applauds.

          But they're not done yet. On one side of the area there is a low wooden windmill with four blades, painted red, green and white. The four flyers don their large solar headdresses and mount the four blades, hanging onto pegs. Again, they use their bodies to begin rotating the windmill, which rotates slowly. While the musician pipes and drums, each flyer moves from face up to head up to face down to head down. 

          Finally, they all dance around the windmill and then bow to the applause of the enchanted audience.

          Some of their colorful fringed scarves and headdresses, decorated with flowers, ribbons, rainbow fans and circular mirrors.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

a round wicker basket

a round wicker basket
just big enough for two
to take a cat nap

     "May I help you?" the lady behind the Hy-Vee pharmacy counter asks.
     "Yes, I'd like to pick up prescriptions for Ginger and Pepper, last name, Connet."
     "Oh! Ginger and Pepper? Those are unusual names. Is someone in the family a cook?"
     "Actually, we named the twins that way because Ginger is ginger colored and Pepper is pepper colored."
     The pharmacist is giving me a funny look.
     "They're cats," I explain.
     "Oh!" she says. "Then those aren't such unusual names."
     "I actually know a pair of human twins named Sugar and Spice." I look pointedly at her name tag, which says COOKIE. "Is someone in your family a cook?"
     "Oh! That's my nickname, 'cause I love to cook. And I especially like to bake cookies."
     "Maybe I should send Sugar and Spice over to sample your cookies!"
     Cookie laughs as she goes off to fill the prescriptions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

unfolding gangly

unfolding gangly
black limbs a spider monkey
stands fully erect

The little black ball of fur in the open enclosure at Xcaret is clearly a monkey. While I watch, he pops something in his mouth with his agile fingers. Then he begins to unfold like origami. First he comes to his hands and feet, his thin arms and legs elongating, and now he does look like a four-legged black spider. Then he starts to stand on two legs, bent over like an old man. Finally he stands fully upright, looking like a gangly teenager, peering over his shoulder. When I look at what he is looking at, a barefoot toddler is walking by. I imagine the spider monkey thinking, "Sure, she can walk on two feet, but can she swing through the trees?"

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

with rattles and drums

with rattles and drums
Maya musicians shake and beat
their pulsing rhythms

Like the ritual dancers at Xcaret, the Maya musicians are wearing paint, feathers and elaborate costumes. With their ancient musical instruments -- rattles and drums made from gourds, hollow tree trunks, wooden boxes, seeds and feathers -- the troop of musicians beat a mesmerizing rhythm for the masked dancers.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

with paint and feathers

with paint and feathers
a man transforms from human
to spirit being

The climax of our visit to Xcaret in the evening is a cultural show on a mammoth scale, covering the entire history of the Yucatán. The costumes are fantastic, transforming ordinary humans into different beings. The masquerade is more than the donning of a mask and costume, more than playing a role. The person becomes the persona.