La Arquidiócesis

La Antigua, Guatemala, C.A.

Querido Adán,

I had to stop in for an americano after the experiencia that I've just had, and for that same experience it occurs to me that I should write you. It's true that there is a lot of tourism here in La Antigua, Guatemala, so much that a friend calls it "disneylandía." But the overall effect of wandering, sunburned foreigners, hostels and internet cafés is but a veneer––similar to the veneer of gringo culture that I've described as covering the southwest U.S. There are murmurings here in the still-rough streets. There is blood in the adobe of the collapsed churches. These are things that globalization can't touch. Sure, they gutted a colonial building and installed a puto McDonald's inside, leaving only the historic façade. In the end, it will matter little. Globalization's supposed danger is also its weakness––it is quick to spread, but stays shallow. Even as free trade agreements seek to change the course of Guatemala's history, they can do little against a volcano.

I'm thinking of the ephemeral nature of human civilization today, Adán. The experience that I mentioned at the opening of this letter has given me a good shake-up. Centroamérica is land of earthquakes and volcanoes, hence the shake-up. This city in particular has been hit so many times by earthquakes that the government decided to call it quits in the 18th century: they up and moved the capital to more stable ground, to what is now la Ciudad de Guatemala. Hence, this city became the "Antigua" Guatemala." Until the time of independence, it was nearly completely forgotten and abandoned.

Which, again, is a long intro (I'm one for long intros, no?) to the experience at hand: wandering the ruins of La Arquidiócesis de Guatemala, a giant cathedral ravaged by earthquakes. Soaring cupolas with their middles fallen out: standing below them and staring straight up, they form a decaying picture frame around the shifting clouds rolling off the volcano. The centers of arches have fallen to the ground, laying giant where pews once were, where exotic weeds now are. This is the leftovers of human civilization, immediately making it clear that nothing we do is permanent in the sense that we hope it will be.

The whole scene gets more complex when I start to think about what we were talking about in front of El Palacio de Cortéz that day in Cuernavaca: that nearly all churches in Hispanic America are built on indigenous holy sites and are constructed of the rocks of dismantled temples. Ritual remix in conquest, I think we called it. In the case of the Arquidiócesis, there are steps near the front of the main chamber which lead down into a smoke-filled crypt. Nine steps, somehow relating to the Mayan view of the underworld and its relation to the world of men. Candles are still kept burning here, hence the thick smoke that scarcely allows one to make out the dimensions of the chamber.

And who, querido Adán, has been buried here? Noneother than Pedro de Alverado, el conquistador de Centroamérica. Also his wife, killed a few years after him by torrential flooding. Still more impressive to my artsy-fartsy sensibilities is that Bernal Díaz del Castillo is also buried here. He was an early 17th century author that gave us what is the first approximately "peoples' history" of the Americas. He broke with the official line with "La Verdadera Historia de la Conquista de las Américas," which is a first person account written in response to the other histories which primarily concern themselves with glorifying Cortéz. Sometime-professors like me still use "La Verdadera Historia" in trying to teach the history of this continent. Fucking epic to be standing over his bones, carnal.

I then stood in another chamber of the crypt and––taking advantage of a burned-out lightbulb––I studied echoes and reverb for a time. Those rooms go beyond echo and let linger a solid tone, man. I've never heard anything like it.

Then I left and got a Happy Meal, which I ordered by shouting English at the Mayan descendant working the register.

Te mando un abrazo,