concept to publication

Category: mesoamerica



When you attempt something ambitious you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way. I’m sure the book I’m working on will have its fair share (recently I realized I had confused the Mughal painters Bichitr and Bishandas). But sometimes a mistake is so stunning that it’s hard to recover from.

I was finding Charles H. Parker’s Global Interactions in the Early Modern Age, 1400-1800 generally interesting and credible. Then I came upon this sentence:

The lack of any indigenous pack animals, except for the llama, and the absence of a wheel meant that humans formed the primary source of portage in Mesoamerican trade.

Probably another reason Mesoamericans depended on humans for portage is that the nearest of their “indigenous” llamas was nearly 2000 miles away in the South American Andes.

This reminds me of a visit to the market in Chichicastenango in Guatemala a few decades ago. The blanket vendors all touted their blankets as pura lana, which means “pure wool.” At the market I met a foolish young Spanish-challenged gringo carrying a blanket he had bought. He’d paid a high price, but it was worth it, he assured me, proudly proclaiming it “pure llama!”


Image from felipe ascencio‘s photostream.

Borges and the Maya Pyramids

borges by tom christensen

When Borges (1899-1986) was eighty he visited Mexico for a week of talks, conferences, and tributes. He decided to visit the Maya site of Uxmal, although his hosts warned him that it would be an arduous trip involving taxis, airplanes, jeeps, and who knows what. But he insisted and arrived at the site as the sun was setting. Borges — who was completely blind in his last decades — sat quietly in front of the pyramids for an hour or so. Then he rose and thanked his hosts for an unforgettable experience.

More on Uxmal at Buried Mirror
Based on a post at El Libro de Geno

Evolving web style

I don’t know if I’m getting better at making websites, but certainly my philosophy has evolved. For buried mirror I’ve gone with a very spare look. I’m no longer putting in social bookmark and rss links like most of the seos use, for example. The only social bookmarking sites that seem to get used much (for my pages) are delicious and stumbleupon, and I figure most people know how to tag a page to those sites without being prompted.

I’m using an image map for navigation. Is that a good idea? I’m trying to keep the navigation to eight items (counting “home” and “contact”), and the nav words are too general to be of any use for search engines anyway. Since the image repeats on all (most? I made a sidebar style page in case the nav image is incompatible with body images) pages, it doesn’t slow the pages down once it’s cached (it’s about 35K, which doesn’t seem too bad).

On my computer the buried mirror pages are loading really fast, and I’m pleased with how this is progressing. Still some page moving to do (some pages are still referring to right reading), and I will need to strengthen the content …

“The Hand of Time” seems a good way to start.

Maybe what I’ll do is every fortnight or so make a link roundup of the main new additions to the satellite sites. That is, if I have the energy to keep juggling these sites without dropping a ball.


burried mirror

I’ve spun off the Maya portion of this site to a new domain, The name alludes to the ancient Mesoamerican practice of including mirrors in burial sites. There’s still a lot of moving of files to do, but eventually this will enable me to collect all my Mesoamerican material on one dedicated site.

Previously I had splintered off my San Francisciana to my site That site does not receive as much traffic as this one (but I haven’t really worked at getting links yet). But I like the way it is accumulating a comparatively coherent body of material.

It raises the question of dedicated sites versus those where anything goes (like this one). When I ran my publishing company, Mercury House, I tried to be a traditional generalist house. Of course, while no book publishing is easy, niche publishing is easier than generalist publishing because it’s easier to establish an identity and it’s easier to define and reach a specific market segment.

Some bloggers invoke the 80/20 rule (for example, Google Blogoscoped, whose tagline is “80% Google”). The idea is that if 80 percent of your posts are on one topic the other 20 percent can be on whatever. There’s probably something to it. But — although this site tends to feature book- and print-related topics such as writing, translation, publishing, printing, art and photography, graphic design, and typography — I intend to keep it free-wheeling, not worrying about sticking to a particular topic.

Frisco Vista

Buried Mirror

Tutorial: Restoring a Dark Image in Photoshop

west group, kabah

I’ve written about restoring dark images before, but the other day I was working on a less radical image than the ones I was writing about then, and I thought a more detailed step-by step tutorial might be in order. In the image above — a picture of the western group of ruins at the Maya site of Kabah in the Yucatan — the original is on the left and the corrected version on the right. Follow me through the process here.

The Observatory at Chichen Itza

el caracol, the observatory at chichen itza

I’m having some trouble getting my Maya materials online because there are so many of them, and there’s just so little time. So, we’ll do this one building at a time. This is “El Caracol” (“the snail,” so called in Spanish for its winding internal staircase), which is called “The Observatory” in English.

It’s not hard to see how it gets that name, because it looks a lot like a modern observatory. It’s quite unusual for a Maya building, with its round dome placed on a square base. Slits in the dome allowed viewing the sky at the cardinal and subcardinal directions. Certainly the movements of celestial objects were important to the Maya, and their astronomical reckoning was quite advanced (witness their highly accurate calendar). But I’m not sure that we can say definitively how this building was used in its particulars. As with all Maya sites, a great deal of fancy has come to surround the ruins, making it difficult to separate fancy from fact.

The earliest parts of the Observatory were probably constructed in the ninth century. The building underwent several modifications over the succeeding centuries.

Click the small image in the post to see several more images of the Observatory.

Mayas Perform Critical Purification Ritual

juan tineyI returned recently from el mundo maya, where I visited several sacred sites. As far as I am aware, no purification ritual was required after my visits.

The same is not true of President Bush, who is visiting the ancient site of Iximche near my old home town of Mixco. Following Bush’s visit, Maya priests will perform rites (involving chanting and burning incense, herbs, and candles) to eliminate “bad spirits.”

“That a person like him, with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture,” said Juan Tiney, director of a Maya NGO.

Juan Tiney photo by Antonio Jiménez, from Prensa Libre


related post: The Indonesian Curse Is Working


read more at Salon
this item via Exploding Aardvark

Puerto Morelos

puerto morelosMuch of the Maya Riviera, stretching from Cancun south beyond Playa del Carmen, is a bit of a horror show, full of giant resorts and traffic jams, and crawling with loud, lobster-red gringos. Puerto Morelos (“la joya del Caribe” — the jewel of the Caribbean), however, though just 25 kilometers or so south of Cancun, still retains — for the moment — much of its flavor as a sleepy fishing village. I’ve posted a few lazy photos on my flickr site.

The Cult of the Talking Cross

the spring of the talking crossI’m starting to put up some images from my recent trip to the Yucatan. As part of the project I’m revamping the Maya World section of my site (making it a little more autonomous, on the theory that people who are interested in the Maya aren’t necessarily equally interested in typography or publishing or gardening in the Bay Area or others of my hobby horses). Anyway, the image at left is a picture of the little spring that sustained the rebel community of the Talking Cross, the Maya band that nearly drove the non-Maya from the peninsula during the Caste War in the second half of the 19th century. (The spring is located in present-day Felipe Carrillo Puerto.) The image is part of a page I’ve put up on the Cult of the Talking Cross (the Talking Cross revolt figures in the novel that I’m currently completing).

Cenote X’Keken near Valladolid

cenote x'keken I’m just back from a trip to el mundo Maya.

This photo (click the photo — or here — for a larger view, via Flickr) was taken in very dark conditions at Cenote X’Keken near Valladolid in the Yucatan. Travelers to the Yucatan know that cenotes are sinkholes formed by water erosion through acidification of the limestone of which the peninsula is composed. Historically, cenotes were the main water source for the Yucatan Maya. Some cenotes are open like ponds, others are covered caves, like this one. This cave is entered through a tunnel. Above the water is an opening through which a small amount of light enters.

On the left is the original photo, which approaches being completely black. On the right is a fix that at least gives some sense of the cave atmosphere and the turquoise color of the water (which is cool and is used as a swimming hole; in the fix I removed some ropes that were installed as aids to swimmers).

For an explanation of this photo technique, see this post on restoring dark images.

Some rights reserved 2022 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via