Friday, November 22, 2013

Time Well Spent Among the Maya

Have you ever wondered how the aggressive empire-building Maya of classic times transformed into the comparatively amenable Maya of today? Maybe you should. If the Mayan concept of time as more loop than line is correct, this history may be prophecy of how the U.S. empire will end not with a bang but with a whimper. Care for a glimpse into that ancient future?

Time Among the Maya by Ronald Wright is a travel narrative that enlightens the reader on those obscure centuries that took the Maya from a dominant to an endangered culture. It's an easy read. Nevertheless, you will learn stuff. (Did you know that some 19th-century Maya were an independent state allied with the British against Mexico? No, you didn't. Stop fibbing or I'll tell your mother [next time she and I are having one of our tender moments]). Even so, Ronald could only have gotten me as jazzed about the Maya calendar as he is by including a foldout of Maya calendar girls.

Like most journalists, Wright tends to use the phrases military general and wealthy landowner as cuss words rather than descriptions. This is unfair. Shrewder observers of Latin America know that both capitalists and socialists here have legitimate past grievances and future concerns. Neither should be wholly demonized or canonized. However, Wright was blessed to spend much of his life in polite, well-organized British places like Cambridge and Canada. You can't expect him to know the real world as most people experience it like he knows archaeology. I generally love British travel writers but do not prefer their companionship for dancing or a bar fight. Sorry old chap.

Time Among the Maya is a valuable read for aficionados of the Americas. Still, if you'd rather traverse the Maya region in a book that's funnier, sexier, and more up-to-date (there's the wind-up, baseball fans, and here's the pitch), check out my new work Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man's Adventures in Primal Mexico. If you're not completely satisfied, I promise to either refund your money or make sure that your sister is. (Legal disclaimer: refund may be issued in dollars, pesos, or bananas and satisfaction guarantee does not apply to sisters who used to be brothers.) Not every author can make you an offer like this. Some have a little class.

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