Of Sisal and Maize

On Monday morning, we strolled the broad boulevard, Paseo de Montejo. It is lined with mansions built on wealth accumulated from the production of sisal from an agave native to the Yucatan peninsula. The fibers from the sisal agave are used to make rope. Who knew there was so much money to be made from something as ordinary as rope.

Many of the buildings could easily pass as French chateaus.I saw someone entering this building, so I went in to check it out. It’s a bank.This home is still privately occupied by an 87 year old woman who lives primarily in Mexico City. She has her home open to visitors to help cover her maintenance costs.The dining room featured Tiffany glass doors and windows. I particularly liked the ornately carved buffet.

When we reached a Walmart on the street, we decided we had reached the end of the wealthy section so we headed for our next destination, the Gran Museo de Mundo Maya Merida.The Mayan museum is a very modern structure well outside the historic Centro area of town. Maize, or corn, was the most important part of the Mayan diet. They even believed that they were descended from the pulp of corn. The museum had a section on the milpa system of agriculture developed by the Mayans. After a section of land is cleared for agriculture, a crop of corn, beans, and squash were planted together for two years; and the field was left fallow for the next 8 years before the cycle was repeated. The system requires no pesticides and no fertilizers. From Wikipedia: “The concept of milpa is a sociocultural construct rather than simply a system of agriculture. It involves complex interactions and relationships between farmers, as well as distinct personal relationships with both the crops and land. For example, it has been noted that “the making of milpa is the central, most sacred act, one which binds together the family, the community, the universe…[it] forms the core institution of Indian society in Mesoamerica and its religious and social importance often appear to exceed its nutritional and economic importance“. I have the feeling that the lecturer we heard in San Miguel that was talking about agriculture without fertilizer, pesticides, or plowing would have liked milpa.

Much of the museum was about the integration of the Mayans into modern society. Today, 30% of the people in the Yucatan speak Mayan. The signs were written in Spanish, Mayan, and English.The museum also had many artifacts from the Classic Mayan period.This is a ring from one of the Mayan ball courts. While putting the ball through the ring is clearly the object of the modern game, there is much debate about whether it was the objective of the classic Mayan ball game. I know when I was a docent in the preColumbian collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, the curator of the collection firmly believed that it was not the object. The museum visit was preparation for our visit to a Mayan archeological site on Wednesday.

After a day of walking around town and visiting museums, we like to return to our pool in the heat (95 F this week) of the day. The pool is surprisingly cool considering how hot the air is.

In the evening we saw a folkloric ballet with a live orchestra on the street by Plaza Principal. It was a more professional version of what we saw Sunday afternoon.

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