Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Town Full of Grace


 Street in Gracias, Lempira

 A Shopping Centre

 Motor Taxi

 Statue of Lenca Warrior, Lempira

 View of the town from the Fort

Town Church

The town of Gracias in Lempira department in western Honduras has the misfortune of sharing its name with another town (Gracias), and a province, (Gracias á Dios) on the Mosquito coast. Nestled in the mountains, at the foot of the highest peak in Honduras, Mt. Celaque, it is also as remote and isolated as its namesakes.  

Once the administrative capital of a region from Southern Mexico to Nicaragua in the mid 1500's, Gracias' prosperity lasted only for a brief historical moment. After a few years, the center was transferred to Antigua in neighboring Guatemala. 

One of the oldest, colonial cities in Honduras lay dormant and inaccessible until various foreign aid organizations started arriving in the last few decades. With the arrival of aid organizations which have a compelling reason for being there, Gracias, Lempira started to come alive again.

Gracias, Lempira can count its blessing in its relative isolation, historically and geographically. The town on the whole looks and feels as authentic as it might have been.  Even the new buildings (mainly hotels) that have recently sprung, blend in with the landscape of the town.

While the remoteness and isolation has withheld the material quality in life for a great number of its residents, the town has maintained something valuable in its circumstances.  Its saving grace is in its simplicity - an under appreciated quality of life.

I took the pictures last month during a 2-week stay in Gracias, Lempira.  Looking at them now, I am reminded of the time I spent living and working in a gracious town that deserves the name.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Silent Testimony of the Mayans


 Pyramid in the Ceremonial Court

 Tree trunk in the East Court

 Hieroglyphic Staircase

 Stellae and sculptures in the Ceremonial Court

 East Court

 Replica of the Templo Rosalia in the Museum

 Facade of a building

 Friezes in the Museum

Head sculptures

We all know by now that 12.21.l2 could be a significant event if one were to follow the Mayans.  Either they ran out of space in the round stone tablet they used to create the Mayan Calendar, or on December 12, 2012 some significant event is bound to happen. Maybe, we start all over again?

Unfortunately, the originators of the calendar are not around to explain the significance of the date, since they just upped and left 800 years ago or so, possibly for a beach life according to National Geographic.

The Mayan civilization is the oldest, most developed and longest lasting civilization or empire in the Americas.  The Mayans and their descendants, the indigenous peoples of Central America, have been around since 2000 BCE, developed a civilization that peaked between 300 to 900 CE and slowly faded away until the conquistadores took over. 

Whatever happened to them is such a mystery and a loss. What they left behind had been overtaken by the jungle, looted by the Spanish and the British, and now painstakingly being dug up and pieced together by archaeologists.

Copán in Honduras is one of the many Mayan archaeological sites that range from the Yucatan to Guatemala, Belize to El Salvador.  The city was a capital and one of the most important cities during the Mayan civilization. It flourished between 300 to 900 CE, then abandoned, and now, the original site of Copán, is a UNESCO World Heritage.

The Copán Ruins (or Site les Ruines de Copán, Copán Ruinas) is an archaelogical site turned into a park, the Copán Archaeological Park.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I took the long and complicated trip from Gracias, Lempira (Honduras) one weekend last October. 

For sure, a pyramid here and there, massive stone edifice here, sculptures there, and a lot of rubble every where.  To my surprise, the site has more than archaeology in mind, it is indeed a park: beautiful forest, lots of green open spaces, even some wildlife (colourful macaws, and a rat like creature) with the ruins, the statues serving as props.  What props.

The more formal and organized display of the artifacts are in the museum about 100 metres from the main entrance.  The entry way is a replica of a tunnel, and when you come out of the tunnel, you get hit by glorious sunlight and the more glorious sight of the Templo Rosalia, a faithful replica of the original in the park. 

The displays are all made of stone, from parts of edifices to friezes, busts, and a predominance of stylized depiction of jaguars, monkeys and macaws. Oh, a few stone skulls as well.

The Mayans, it seems to me, had a very rigid social structure, bloody including human sacrifices.  For a tropical country, the singular use of stone for everything gives off a sense of massiveness, heaviness, and drama. Fortunately, the park atmosphere of the ruins and the wonderful atrium in the museum soften the experience.

We may never know the significance of the date, 12.21.12. However, with the onset of winter, people in the northern hemisphere can follow the Mayans' lead. Maybe, head for the beach.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tomato Soup and a View


 Creamy Tomato Soup

 Mint Tea

Restaurant at Landgasthof zum Hirschen

Jagged Peaks of the Dolomites

Above the town of Bolzano in northern Italy is a tiny village called San Genesio Atesino or in Geman, Jenesien.  This is of course South Tyrol, an Italo-Germanic area, which was once part of Austria until end of World War I.

To get to San Genesio, one takes a tourist bus downtown called Bo Bus, to the Funicular San Genesio.  On the way up, for about 15 minutes the cable car ride treated the passengers to a spectacular view of the Italian Alps.

In this village last July, two delightful events happened to me.  First, I spent a couple of hours admiring the  jaggged peaks of the Dolomites from the restaurant deck, the reason for my being there. The second, was a culinary surprise - cream of tomato soup for lunch that knocked the socks off me at the Landgasthof zum Hirschen.

The soup took awhile to come but when I took my first taste, it was well worth the wait.  It had the colour of pumpkin soup, but had the right balance of tomato and cream with subtle blend of herbs. At the end, came the distinct taste of some very old Italian cheese.  This soup just went way up high on my tomato soup taste meter.

With my creamy tomato soup, fresh bread, mint tea and wonderful appel strudel, the view of the Dolomites became more sumptuous than I had expected.   

Please click the link for more information:  The Dolomites - UNESCO World Heritage