Procession in La Antigua, Guatemala, celebrating the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Trumpeter waiting alongside instruments outside a church in La Antigua, Guatemala, on Easter Sunday.

Yesterday, I stumbled into the very cool Iglesia y convento de Santa Clara, founded in 1699 and later destroyed (a number of times) by earthquakes. Now it’s a tourist attraction, but it has another purpose as well: retreat for horny teenagers — I ran into three couples (like the one above) macking in hidden corners.

 

For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to climb a volcano. “Where else but Guatemala?” I thought. In that same spirit, I decided to climb not just to the top of volcano to ponder its awe-inspiring power, rivulets of flame snaking down the side of the hill, but to explore mere feet from cascading flows, the bottom of my sneakers even beginning to melt. We spent so long on the volcano that the sun set and the group (a motley crew of about 50 ne’er-do-wells, ranging from high school kids studying Spanish in Antigua to a BBC correspondent and a duo that was driving from North Carolina to Colombia) had to hike for two hours in the pitch dark, saved only by a few prescient souls who thought to bring flashlights or headlamps.

Stupid tourists! Get away from that lava!

No! I said away, not closer! Doh!

(Above: Surf ad in Chichi.)

In addition to some great painted advertisements, I discovered a bit of graffiti in Chichicastenango, the market town about an hour from Antigua. I didn’t ask anyone for details about it, what it means, who the artists are, but I’d be interested to know more about local visual culture and artistic resistance, etc.

Textiles at Chichicastenango’s Thursday market.

Tiny little cars, so bright!

Paintings galore!

Spotting of the day: Sarah Chalke from Scrubs in an advertisement for a pharmacy, shot at the market near the bus station in La Antigua, Guatemala. Trust her! She’s neurotic and quirky!

In honor of my upcoming trip, links to Guatemala information:
Mayan ruins!
Contemporary art by Mario Madriz
Oil paintings by Mayans at Arte Maya Tz’utuhil!

It’s strange to me that I’ve never been to Central America (not even Mexico) but have spent so much time in India. My Hindi is better than my Spanish, but a four-hour flight is much more appetizing than a ten-hour one. I’ll primarily be in Antigua, taking in the festivities surrounding Semana Santa. If you’d like to meet up, or have any great tips for me, fire away! Trip is somewhat inspired by Xeni Jardin.

One of my latest guilty pleasures has been doing Google Book searches on my favorite topics. A search for “tea” yielded a full scan of Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, a meditation upon the social meaning of the beverage (particularly in Japan, but larger meaning can certainly be extrapolated). Okakura writes:

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the ordinary facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life. … [W]hen we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup.

Okakura also offers insight on the foibles of globalization (applicable, still, 100 years after he penned this tome):

Unfortunately the Western attitude is unfavorable to the understanding of the East. The Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Your information is based on the meagre translations of our immense literature, if not the unreliable anecdotes of passing travellers.

(And, an addendum in the form of a cool link: the National Institute of Health has an interesting collection of info on America’s tea craze, which blossomed right around the time Okakura’s book came out.)

“By the time I learned what I was really supposed to be afraid of in New York, I knew better—which isn’t to say that there was nothing to be afraid of, because, as all of us know, there are always dangers, everywhere.

But even now, at a much more wary and guarded age, what I feel when I am told that my neighborhood is dangerous is not fear but anger at the extent to which so many of us have agreed to live within a delusion—namely that we will be spared the dangers that others suffer only if we move within certain very restricted spheres, and that insularity is a fair price to pay for safety.

— Eula Biss, “No-Man’s-Land,” The Believer, Vol. 6, No. 2

This weekend, my mother brought up her discomfort with my plan to go to Guatemala alone for Easter. “Isn’t it dangerous there? And what are you going to do, anyway?”

I tried to placate her by talking about Antigua’s tourist police, and noted that I had hacked it alone in Delhi for quite some time — not to mention the fact that I’m navigating New York living with relative aplomb. But what I really wanted to do was launch into a tirade about American ideas of safety and danger, comfort and discomfort, abundance and want. Biss does so much more eloquently in this essay, which “expos[es] the delusions and hostility of the American fear of ‘bad’ neighborhoods, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Chicago’s North Side.”

Final photo posting from Florida; these are from Bradenton’s Red Barn flea market.

In addition to the crazy-awesome barnside mural, we saw huckster tactics aimed at those fearing a recession ….


(Sign reads “Depressed by the recession/Relax with a good book or C/D”)

… as well as inappropriate black-face magnets for the bargain price of $1 (I suppose that while we red-blooded Americans fear the fall of the almighty dollar, we’re always game for a bit of insensitive racial politicking).

Lonely in America

An MP in the U.K. has called for the introduction of tea trolleys — manned by a bevy of beautiful young ladies, natch — at airports as a salve for weary travelers.

The managing director for Waitrose, who also supports the idea, said, “I do a lot of foreign travel and I have been progressively disappointed with how poor it feels when you return home. The whole experience is pretty bleak. I thought wouldn’t it be nice if, when you arrived in the UK, you were greeted with a nice cup of tea.”

But for the concomitant sexism, I’d say it’s not a half-bad notion.

Despite a late-breaking sty (thus adding to my growing list of travel ailments, which includes giardia, a bacterial infection on my lip, and countless episodes of sun stroke), we managed to eke a bit of fun out of our whirlwind trip to visit the in-laws in Bradenton, Florida.

Being deathly pale, I made sure to wear a T-shirt, capris, and thick sunblock, but others at the beach seemed nonplussed by the dangers of skin cancer. Alas, their foolhardiness is surprisingly picturesque,

Visiting the in-laws in Florida. A note: JetBlue’s terminal at JFK, terminal six, is infinitely superior to Delta’s ramshackle terminal two. Long live Papaya King!

The Times has a brief today about a man in Queens who has been charged with a hate crime. I suppose the racists are never known for having a nuanced grasp of the world, but it’s always dimly amusing to see yet more evidence of their ignorance.

 David C. Wood was charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after he shouted “Arab, go back to your country!” at 63-year-old Chadha Bajeet, a Sikh, and punched him in the face. Bajeet, who presumably ties a turban (as many Sikhs do), suffered a broken nose and jaw.

Violence against Sikhs in the U.S. isn’t new; particularly after 9/11, the visual cue provided by the turban has made the religion’s predominantly Indian adherents a rather easy target. From Congressman John Cooksey’s reactionary comment urging racial profiling after the terror attacks (“If I see someone (who) comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over”) to the Sikh Coalition’s exhaustive listing of hate crimes and bias incidents against Sikhs since then, discrimination is blatant and well-documented. But I still find it confounding: Really? You’re so threatened by this Other that you have to break a 63-year-old’s jaw? What did he ever do to you?

The subject gets me all het up, I suppose, is that my husband is Sikh; even though he doesn’t tie a turban, he has long hair and a beard, which means we are inevitably pulled aside at the airport for grilling and patting down. The worst that’s happened is a TSA official asking the hubby why he looked so fidgety; hubz remained calm and explained, “It’s the first time I’ll be visiting my in-laws at their family home.” But when you hear about random attacks in a neighborhood less than five miles from your own humble apartment, it’s easy to get a little paranoid.

 

 The International Herald Tribune offers a guide to New York’s libraries in “A Bookworm’s Holiday.” Unsurprisingly, the Rego Park branch of the Queens Library (which, by the way, is the No. 1 library system in the U.S. by circulation) was not highlighted; I go there every weekend, and though I appreciate the teeming hordes of library patrons, it can be quite annoying to fight with the unwashed masses (once, a woman even forcibly pushed me while I was browsing the CDs and loudly accused me — wrongly, I might add — of flatulating with abandon).

The Smithsonian gets in on the list game by presenting 28 must-see destinations, broken down by theme (for example, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” — wonders on the verge of extinction — and “In the Presence of God” — temples “so magnificent they could only have been built by divine inspiration”).

I’ve seen two: the Taj Mahal (which I don’t have any fond memories of) and Angkor Wat (which really did make me feel alive in some intangible way). I may happen upon http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/lifelist-tikal.html when I’m in Guatemala, but I imagine that I’ll be so absorbed in watching Holy Week unfold that I won’t go too far from Antigua.

So … can you beat my utterly inconsequential score?

I’m thinking, Trans-Mongolian Railway, then extended sampling of Fujian brews — a combination of two of my favorite things, train rides and tea. (This rash, fevered dream brought to you by “All The Tea in China” from the San Francisco Chronicle.)

(Photo from Xeni on Flickr)

Or, how I ended up buying a ticket to travel to Antigua, Guatemala, for Easter.

I’ve been obsessively looking at travel sites and last-minute-deal hawkers, feeling very uncool for having only traveled to Oregon since I’ve been back in the states. I wanted to go somewhere that’s relatively cheap, that has a culture I’ve not yet been exposed to (which would be pretty much any culture that is not Indic or American), and that has something going on when I’ll be there.

I’m going by myself (unless anyone wants to join me!) and I have yet to figure out where I’ll stay (a pressing concern, as Easter is probably Antigua’s busiest time, what with its Holy Week traditions), but I’m feeling oddly … excited about dipping my toe in the waters of Central America. I have no idea what to expect and a lot of preparing to do, but it’s about time for me to do something wacky and wild again.