Monthly Archives: December 2011

et lux perpetua – Winter Solstice and the light

Overnight, the Winter Solstice will arrive for the Northern Hemisphere, and northern cultures around the globe are in the midst of a great festival of light.

This is the time of the last harvest feasts before the starvations of deep winter.  The cold and dark are beginning to wrap the earth in a shroud of icy morbidity.  While we feast our last, we create light – for heat, of course – but also to recognize the tipping of the cycle back into sunshine, back towards the promise of a distant spring when the world will be plentiful again.

To fill the night with our own light, to stave off darkness, is one of the most fundamental of human characteristics.  And in December, examples of this are countless  – in the pre-Christian rituals of the British Isles,  Scandinavia, and Russia, in Zoroastrianism, in ancient Japanese myths of the sun goddess, in Buddhism…

– Hannukah, which began last night, celebrates the miracle of perpetual light in a time of great trial.

– In later period of ancient Rome, the harvest carnival of Saturnalia morphed into a celebration of the “Invincible Sun” on December 25.

Of course, in the Christian tradition, this day is far more well-known as a celebration of the life of Jesus, whose birth brought light to the world, and was signaled by a giant star.  Right now,the Christian world is decked in evergreen plants, candles, hearths, and lights.

– Another great Christian tradition came on December 13 – the Day of St. Lucia, protector of holy light (and of the blind).  Originating in Germanic and Scandinavian Europe, the commemoration includes candlelit processions led by a girl who wears a candled wreath on her head.

Happy Winter!

All photos Copyright Matt Logan – may not be reproduced, published, or used in any way without written consent.

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Sacbe

Last week, I posted about Chichén Itzá

This is a song I wrote and recorded, inspired by the ruined city:

It’s kind of a cello-infused psychedelia.

“Sacbe”:

 

More of my music here:

http://soundcloud.com/snazz-1

Obstruction of the Right to Document in Public.

***This past Monday, December 12 (also known as #D12) , saw the largest coordinated action by the OWS so far.  In a bid to halt shipping operations on the West Coast, many of whose ports are held by companies of a particularly anti-labor portion of the 1%, Occupy’s in at least 11 cities, marched on their ports and managed to completely shut down the Ports of Oakland, Portland, and part of Long Beach.  The stance of the port workers was divided between support and disdain and the action’s success overall is questionable.

— Solidarity marches were held in many cities, including Tokyo.   In New York, birthplace of OWS, protesters marched on the Goldman Sachs headquarters and the World Financial Center.  They ended their march at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden.*** 

I have mixed feelings about what happened Monday, but one nasty facet of that day has stuck in my brain:

Photographers are becoming increasingly targeted by the police.  It’s been this way since day-one, but efforts to censor what’s happening are becoming more and more bold.

In the three months that the Occupy movement has grown from one park into a global phenomenon, countless pictures and video of heavy-handed police behavior have circulated the internet and the media (graphic language warning):

A compilation of raw video from Occupy Oakland, showing the injuries that put Iraq veteran Scott Olsen in the hospital with a skull fracture.  As protesters rush to his aid, a tear-gas grenade is thrown at them:

This incident from New York from back in September, which now, disturbingly, seems tame:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNyMr6VmGJo

And this now infamous photo from UC Davis:

These images expose the violent crackdown on what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful movement.  Needless to say, images carry a lot of power, and now more than ever.  Something that happens most anywhere in the world can be seen by anyone else in the world in a matter of seconds.  People are less and less reliant on a handful of media outlets.  Anytime the police act with undue violence, a chant rises from the crowd: “The whole world is watching!”.  From the Middle East to the U.S., 2011 has exemplified this fact more than in any other year in history.  (Just yesterday, Time magazine declared “The Protester” as person of the year)

And so, there’s been a concerted effort by authorities to target  photographers, journalists, and even regular people documenting on their phones.

This was abhorrently clear on Monday –

In Houston, a tent was placed over arrested protesters, and officers had duct tape covering their badge numbers – The reason for this is unclear, but the only logical answer is that the police wanted to hide something.   And this begs the question – why the need to hide what should be a routine arrest?

At the Winter Garden in Lower Manhattan, the first people arrested were those toting livestream cameras, and some just taking video on phones.  As has happened numerous times in the past months, even credentialed members of the press were blocked.  This was the experience of a NY Times photographer:
http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/brookfield-deals-with-protesters-again-but-not-at-zuccotti/

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, fast forward to the 2 minute mark.

(The Times has issued a formal complaint to the City)

By law, a citizen is entitled to photograph and document anything that happens in public space.  The law even provides that anyone in public is denied right to privacy (except in reasonable cases like bathrooms, and places which have special security needs, like bridges).  Documenting police actions in public have no restrictions, except in cases where the photographer is deliberately obstructing the police.  Private property, like the Winter Garden, is of course allowed to make its own rules on photography.  But the Winter Garden has no restrictions, except in cases of photoshoots involving an obstructive amount of gear.  Earlier this year, even, I was at a photoshoot of a toddler inside the atrium.

Of course, police are obligated to enforce the law, and civil disobedience/arrests are a key component of any movement of fundamental change.  That’s beside the point here though.  The point here is that if nothing unusual is happening, then why the need to hide actions from view?  You can turn on “Cops” and watch full-on police work against hardened criminals, but why is it that that you can’t watch the arrest of someone who, at worst, is resisting arrest for not following police orders (or in many cases not following them quickly enough due to crowds, etc)

To an OWS supporter, the answer is clear, but twisted:   For whatever reason, American cities do not want the world to watch.   But the blatant logic of this argument should stir concern even in the non-supporter, or the indifferent.  We’re all watched by camera every time we enter a store, and the common perception is that: “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why care?”.  Shouldn’t the same be applied all around?  If the police feel they are doing nothing wrong, why care if they’re being watched?

As a funny side note –

After their arrest at the Winter Garden, a number of livestream videographers were held at a local precinct.  A fellow livestreamer came to await their release and kept filming inside the station lobby.  In the back, police were monitoring live feeds and suddenly realized that one of them was coming from right under their roof!  I saw this live…

Another side note –

In a Quinnipiac Poll yesterday, it was found that 49 % of New York City voters approve of the mayor’s handling of the protests, and only 44% approve of the NYPD’s response to OWS.  81% agree that OWS has a right to protest, and 68% support the movement.  http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1302.xml?ReleaseID=1680

The ruins of Chichén Itzá

Templo de Kukulcan - Chichén Itzá

Nestled deep in the forests of the interior of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula sits one of the world’s foremost archeological sites –  Chichén Itzá.

It was a city built to intimidate, influence, inspire, and empower-  and as such, it is not at all unlike the cities we know and live in today.  The practices carried out here were so alien to what most of us know today, but nevertheless, we can still understand what it is like to exist in a certain time and place, and to define where we are as home, for all better or worse.

The ruined buildings here display a great deal of imperious civic pride.   But it’s thinking about the day-to-day that is most compelling.  Countless people walked these streets, entered these buildings- each with their own hopes, dreams, and intrigues.   Each trying, within the society they were brought up in, to make sense of the world around them.  Each with their pleasures, vices, gripes, and shortcomings.  Some with imagination that could vault the stars.  Some who devoted themselves wholly to the city and society around them, and surely others who dissented, perhaps quietly, living entire lives under the radar.   In terms of the day-to-day, it is poignant to think of all the countless mornings in which the residents of Chichén Itzá walked out of their homes and casually gazed at the huge pyramid and surrounding grandeur and perhaps marveled that humans could be capable of such things.

But what other people shrank back in horror- disgusted by the brutality of humanity?

and how many countless others were perhaps mortally terrified of their rulers and the constant bloodshed of their religion?

It is also captivating to think of how many people might have taken their cityscape for granted.   We have no real way of knowing whether or not our most cherished modern monuments will someday be ruins themselves, drawing from strangers a similar sense of wonder and mystery, a thousand or two thousand years hence.

The "Ossuary" - beneath this temple is a cave with 7 burials - presumably of significant people

The name Chichén Itzá means “at the the well of the Itzá”, a reference to the Cenote Sagrado (a huge sinkhole) which provided the water to make this city flourish in the riverless Yucatán.

The city was regionally significant as far back as AD600, during the Classic Period of Mayan history.   At that time, as the major Classic Period city-states further south, such as Tikal and Palenque, enjoyed being at the very heart of civilization, this was something of a far-off backwater outpost.

"La Iglesia" - an example of pre-Toltec, classal Puuc style architecture. These light and intricately detailed buildings are a great contrast to the later, more totalitarian architecture. The imagery of death and blood is largely absent from this older section of the city.

The oldest visible remaining architecture here represents the Puuc (“hill” in Mayan) style  and was probably built around 900AD.   Sometime soon after that time, Chichén Itzá underwent a huge upheaval.  This was the end of the Classic Period, when the great civilization of the south was collapsing (for reasons unknown, but probably tied, at least in some way, to overexploitation of the environment).

Temple of the Warriors, in the domineering style of the Toltec-influenced period. The columns in front were once supported an enclosed complex- perhaps an administrative building.

As many of the major centers of Mayan civilization collapsed,  Chichén Itzá came under great Toltec influence-  the Toltecs had their capital at Tula, in the west, near Mexico City, and were the precursors to the Aztecs.   Whether the Toltec influence was via direct invasion or via the Itzá Mayans is still debated.  Either way, the city became deeply connected to the ideology of Central Mexico- an ideology which was strongly connected to the idea that the perpetuation of earthly life was only guaranteed by sacrifice to the gods- a bloody, bellicose tradition that is exemplified throughout the newer portions of the city.  The very same spectacular architecture that captivates visitors today seems, in some ways, to be desperate expression of a culture in decline, a culture trying to keep hold of itself….

Detail of the Tzompantli, a platform upon which were displayed the heads of sacrificed humans.

In short, the older portions of the city demonstrate a deep connection to its Classic Mayan predecessors, via the Puuc tradition; and the newer portions (ca. AD 1000) demonstrate a fractured, and more desperately extreme time, highly swayed by outside forces.   I have read that anywhere from 35,000 to 90,000 people lived here at its peak-  a huge number for ancient times.

Turmoil continued into the 1200’s, after which point the city finally declined totally, being absorbed by the Spanish in the second half of the 1500’s.

If you really want to truly appreciate this astounding place, find a way to come early in the morning- i.e. stay in a local town.   We arrived at around 9am and had the place to ourselves-  in the midday, just as the sun is becoming unbearable, (which is amazingly taxing on the brain, as we dizzily found out)  hoards upon hoards of day-trippers arrive on buses, and what is so tranquil in the morning becomes a cattle run.  We thankfully managed to stay a few steps ahead of the crowds.   Definitely bring a ton of water, and be prepared to bake like you’ve never baked before in the extreme sun.

Notable sights:

Templo de Kukulcan

Temple of Kukulcan

bottom of the staircase of the Temple of Kukulcan

This immense pyramid is rife with calendrical numerology.  There are 91 steps on each of the 4 sides.  These 364 steps, plus the final step at the top before the altar correspond to the solar year.  The pyramid is terraced into 9 sections divided by a staircase, commemorating the 18 20-day months of the Mayan calendar.  Each of the four facades includes 52 panels, which correspond to the 52 year cycle of the Mayan long-count calendar.  On the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, a serpent-shaped shadow appears to descend the steps in the form of Kukulcan, (something like the Mayan version of Quetzalcoatl)

The Great Ballcourt

The outer facade of the Great Ballcourt, featuring the Temple of the Jaguars and Shields

One of the two hoops that served as goals

The Great Ballcourt

There are 8 ballcourts at Chichen Itza, and this is the largest, and the largest in MesoAmerica.

It is spectacularly huge (about 300ft long) and the acoustic effects within, like at other places in the city, are extraordinary.

The rules and meaning of the game changed over history and according to region, but it was played in many cultures for centuries and sometimes included some degree of ritual bloodshed

Some of the deathly imagery surrounding the ballcourt:

disembowelment?

Group of a Thousand Columns

This vast complex was once enclosed and perhaps was a focal point of governmental administration.  Nearby, there are ruins of a bathhouse which housed both steam and cold baths.

El Caracol

The Spanish gave El Caracol its name because of the spiral staircase within.  It is an immense observatory, built in a  Classic style common further south-  There are chac mool’s (a seated figure) dedicated to the rain god at each cardinal point and the windows in the tower are aligned with Venus and other stars at certain times of year.

The movement of the stars, and the calendar was integral to Mayan spirituality and worldview.  The Mayans were perhaps the most astronomically sophisticated people in the world before the Renaissance and were able to predict eclipses centuries in advance, and to track the path of planets with great accuracy.

Cenote Sagrado

In the riverless Yucatán, settlements were often built near the numerous sinkholes, or cenotes, which dot the limestone region.   Following a sacbe (a Mayan road with white pavement) from the city center, one finds this life-water of the city. In the early 20th century, archeologists found evidence of human sacrifice at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote.  This is also the place which gives the city its name – Chichén (“near the well” of the Itzá (an ethic group that existed in this area))

a simple home

Most of the residences in the city were probably wooden structures much like some present-day  Mayan homes. They  have rotted away ages ago.  But this stone structure has lasted somewhat.   It was once someone’s home in the middle of the great city, possibly that of someone who tended one of the nearby temples.  So many men, women, and children came and went through that door, living their day-to-day lives…

etc.

burial platform

The "Nunnery" - so-called by the Spanish because of the labyrinth of rooms within

A ballcourt older and smaller than the Great Ballcourt