Sunday, April 3, 2011

Na Balom and the Zapatistas

Another foggy morning which burned off rapidly by 9:00. There was no gas for the stove or the water heater. My upstairs neighbors and I share a large propane tank which had obviously gone dry. I heated water in a large cup in the microwave to wash dishes with, and then fixed myself another bucket for a quick sponge bath like we used to always take in India.  Today I had planned to see the Mayan museum, Museo Na Balom which is in Centro. So first I stopped to tell the landlady we were out of gas, and to find out if she has another apartment or at least a room with it’s own bath for John in May. (She does!)  He will probably not want to stay in this apartment with all those stairs and the long climb up from the street.
Beautiful streets in El Centro.

The whole area of Centro is lovely, clean, and cosmopolitan. How they keep the graffiti artists out is a mystery. One cafĂ© roasts its own beans and the smell attracted me for a late breakfast.  For 55 pesos (about $4.25) I had the most wonderful meal of eggs with ham, green salsa, two tiny freshly baked rolls, butter, marmelade, coffee, and slices of fried banana. The Andadores are lined with galleries and craft shops, wine bars, bakeries, and cafes that serve Thai, Chinese, Argentinian, Bolivian, vegetarian, and local cuisines.  I expected the area to be crowded on a Saturday, but in fact there were fewer people than a normal work day.

I have a decent map of the central part of town, which locates the museums and the businesses that have paid to be in it.  The east and west edges are dominated by cerillos (hills) and each sports a small beautiful church with incredible views, best seen on a sunnier day.

Museo Na Balom means the Jaguar House. It’s also a play on the owner’s name. In the 1920’s Franz Blom and his wife refurbished an old abandoned monastery into their home. He was one of the first archeologists to work at Palenque. The wife was a photographer and dedicated to preserving the Lancondon Mayan people and their way of life deep in the Yucatan jungles. They had been surviving in their traditional fashion up to that time with little contact with the Spanish Conquistadores or the later Mexican government. However, these days, they’ve been discovered by missionaries and their lifestyle is radically different.  So are the jungles.

Courtyard at Na Balom.

Oil companies, lumber companies and others bent on utilizing the untapped resources of the jungles have created tension with the local Mayan groups, tension which erupted into war in the 90’s with the Zapatistas. San Cristobal was one of the cities the Zapatistas took over, for a few days, before being squashed by the army. Everywhere in town, there are signs of support for the Zapatistas. The restaurant I went to, the night I arrived, has a bookstore devoted to the issues of independence for the Maya, and a women’s cooperative that sells clothing and other crafts. I was so impressed with the quality of workmanship and intricacy of Mayan designs.

Na Balom is a typical museum, dusty, full of bones and pots and ratty looking ancient textiles. It has signs in Spanish, with good information, but you can’t read some of them because someone placed a pot in front…... What makes it interesting is Blom’s office. His chair was hand-carved and is huge, the desk made to match it. There are copies of his wife’s photos and her letters describing individuals in the pictures, the life they led, and the ceremonies that were so important to their communal survival. Artifacts abound, they had an enormous collection. 

I met a Frenchman who was staying at the guest house, part of the museum. He told me that all proceeds go to the foundation. A few vendors were exhibiting over priced trinkets, seed necklaces and woven goods way more expensive than the artesania market. It was a great place to wait out the afternoon thunderstorm.

On the way back home, I picked up a cooked chicken that came with onions and salsa, and stopped by the little amber shop to buy that Labrodorite pendant. Too bad I didn’t bring any jewelry or necklaces on the trip. I have nothing to put the pendant on!

Three little embroidered Mayan pot holders.