10 April 2006

NEVERNEVERLANDIA--In the Central Park of Antigua, Guatemala the blossoms fall from trees like a soft purple rain. You sit on a bench and watch water spurt from the perfect stone breasts of the fountain statues, watch the Mayan women in their fantasically colored native dress, watch the shoeshine boys chase customers and chase each other with white-toothed smiles and black-stained hands. You hear the music from the bars and restaraunts, the clatter of horse´s hooves on cobblestones and the tinkling bells of ice-cream carts.
You watch the beautiful travelers from all corners of the globe wandering around with happy, dazed, drugged smiles and while those smiles may, in fact, be chemically enhanced it is, more accurately, a condition caused by the eating of the lotus. Lured to this mountain spot the gringos come and fall under a spell like Oddysys´ men of legend. When the living is cheap and the party endless why move onward? Why subject oneself to further adventures when the days slide sideways from morning ´till night under the volcano peaks; when the light slants through golden hours while the clouds shift silently over the mountains.
You can see the answer in those who did stay, those who never stuffed cotton in their ears to mute the siren song, those who always stayed another day to taste again the lotus. You see them shuffling almost invisibly through the park with Rip Van Winkle beards and dazed expression unenlivened by smiles, somehow, suddenly, aged and infirm, wondering how paradise could have ever become so dull and tortuous.

This city always seems curiously displaced from the flow of normal time. It is stunning in its beauty, its color and exoticism. It has been tamed. Shined up for the gringos, streets patrolled to keep them safe and mainly separated from the locals. At times it feels distinctly false, as if it had been carefully constructed in, say, Southern California and if one walks too far in one direction one might enter The Land of Tommorrow, that that nearbye mountain isn´t Pacaya but a scale Matterhorn and that amongst the actors and acctresses playing Guatemalans one might suddenly be accosted by a famous mouse or duck. On every block there are counters selling tickets. There is the Rio Dulce/Livingston Ride and the Utila/Roatan rides which might alternately be called "Hippies of the Carribean." There are the Copan and Tikal rides which might be called, "Mayaland."

As the light slants deeper and the evening hours turn to dark, the travelers come out to play, to dance, to mate. Every corner has a bar from which forth issues a babel of languages melded together until the chatter resembles nothing so much as the shrieking of parrots that some fool has irresponsibly given rum. And the whirl always has a slight hint of madness and desparation, knowing that it exists at the pleasure of the volconos and unstable earth that has flattened this place before and surely will again, when rock and ash fall across the park like black rain.


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