Poor Mexico: so far from God, so close to the United States.
I’ve been wanting to go to the Yucatan since 1999, when people from around the world gathered there (for the fabulous fireworks at Tulum? One of the many predicted Raptures? I didn’t much care then, and no longer remember now).
And finally we’re en route!
What am I looking for? First,traces of the nineteenth century British historians and travelers who, like the Scottish Enlightenment historian William Robertson in 1777 or the Scottish traveler Frances Erskine Inglis in 1843, came to Mexico to experience a supposedly primitive New World past–which, paradoxically, they contrasted against a supposedly civilized Old World present. I am also interested in travellers who came to Mexico with a very different ideological agenda: as North Americans, they hoped to increase international awareness of ancient civilizations they could claim as their own, with the goal of establishing a cultural legacy that would enable the New World to lay claim to a civilization as advanced as that of the Old.
On a more personal and contemporary level, to, I hope to understand more clearly what it is about Mayan culture specifically, and Mexican culture more generally, that continues to fascinate inhabitants of their neighbors to the North. What do we in the USA feel that we–as inhabitants of a fast food, strip mall culture whose towns often seem indistinguishable–have lost? Why do we think that Mexico can restore our ideal of specificity or identity?
The American explorer John Lloyd Stephenshad his answer: the Mayan monuments would provide ocular proof for a global audience that “all the aboriginal Americans of all known epochs belong to the same great and distinctive race. . . .These crumbling bones declare, as with a voice from the grave, that we cannot go back to any ancient nation of the Old World for the builders of these cities; they are not the works of people who have passed away, and whose history has been lost, but of the same great race. . .which still clings around their ruins.”
I’m looking forward to discovering our own answers.