Sunday, January 4, 2009

Open, shut, shut, open

The visual field in Panajachel takes getting used to -- it's hyper-stimulating.

Color on color, signs, tuk tuks and pick-up trucks threatening to run you over. Women with babies on their backs and baskets on their heads shaking trinkets in front of your eyes, wrapping trinkets around your neck, bouncing trinkets on your shoulder, brushing trinkets soft against your face.

The Mayan women speak few phrases in Spanish: "buy something," "I have other colors," "for your mother, for your father, for your brother, your sister, your friend," and one that they all know in English: "I give you good price."

Space works differently there, a game of streets and alleys. That's where children stand in rows arm to arm, while a cat chases a mouse up and down the streets. If the mouse yells, "alleys" all the children spin so the lanes run perpendicular. What were rows become columns.

The streets of Panajachel and Antigua feel that way. You walk down a narrow, penned-in road. The sides of that road feel solid or at least impenetrable . . . iron doors, stone, hanging tapestries and sheets of corrugated metal. Then a door opens, or a color catches your eye, and you realize that a whole new space has opened up, a new, deep corridor.

Depending on which vendors set up where on a given day, the landscape shifts.

Sometimes, you will think that you're seated outdoors only to look up and see a thatched ceiling or ivy pressing down. Sometimes, like in this Antigua cathedral, you'll think you're indoors and look up to find that the lid has been lifted off by a bomb, or a volcano, or a mudslide, or maybe all three.

And because of this continual opening and closing, Lake Atitlan, a huge expanse with no walls and no lids, comes as a great relief.

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