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12 Septiembre, 2006

Anne Dalke's picture

I certainly need to revise the story I wrote early yesterday (a spin off from Huxley's perceptions, as they intersected with my first-day's impressions) of Antigua as a place preserved in time. Our walk later yesterday afternoon took us through a lively portion of the city, filled w/ chicken buses coming and going (to Guatemala City, Xela and other locations), stopping frequently for people to hop out of the back or into the front, grabbing suitcases and packages from the roof. We saw/heard/smelled all the evidence of throbbing city life: streets and sidewalks filled w/ people of all ages and many ethic groups, going in an out of small corner stores, huge open-air markets, overwhelming supermarkets, parks and churches (so many churches!), medical centers, car repair shops, bars, cafes, and multiple banks (all with armed guards; many of the stores are similarly guarded).

I also find myself questioning Huxley's explanation for the wierdly homogenous and strangely anachronistic architecture of this city. He said that

Antigua is a place of earthquakes. Every few years...facades got cracked and called for extensive repairs; there must have been frequent excuses for bringing old-fashioned details up to date...In their attempts to build something that would withstand the constant tremors, the local architects evolved an almost Saxon style...of queer anti-seismic architecture....At Antigua...architects retreated...towards the massive artificial caverns of their barbarian predecessors. From Huxley's perspective, in which progress is the opposite of stagnation, these massive structures may indeed have seemed "barbarous." They strike me rather as calm, stable, certain, comforting, secure. Not unlike, and very appropriately an expression of, what strikes me now as the centeredness, friendliness and open-heartedness of the people I encounter....

What I've been musing about further today is my means of communication, both with people here and with those of you I am talking to-and-with on the 'net. As I begin experimenting w/ this pretty-new-to-me format of blogging, I also find myself wondering how and what changes it rings on the traditional format of journal writing. There was a marvelous selection of passages from Susan Sontag's journals in last week's New York Times Magazine; among many other things, she describes the effect, on one's self-development, of keeping a journal. It is "superficial," she claims,

to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one's private, secret thoughts. like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather--in many cases--offers an alternative to it. What changes might be rung on that process, when one begins keeping a journal in the open, as in the form of a blog that the whole world could read? I am attempting to record here portions of my experience that may have general application and interest--not only to those who know me, and so may have a particular interest in my reflections; not only to those who may also have some experience of the places I am traveling, and want to compare their own reflections; but also to anyone who may happen upon these thoughts-in-the open, about the comparativist thinking that traveling may engender.

For instance: I spoke (albeit haltingly!) with my tutor this morning, about the impact and meaning of September 11, for her, her family, neighbors and countrypeople. What I heard in response was a a profound sense of sadness, of the tragedy of the loss of life of people (from Guatemala, from Latin America, from all countries of the world)--but no sense of political ramifications of the bombing of the Trade Center, no sense of a challenge to a certain way of life, or a call to re-thinking any particular way of being in the world (or listening to the stories of others in it). Her response gave me a sense of how parochial my own distraught reaction to the collapse of the towers was, and continues to be. There are many people in the world--including, I am learning, those of the central highlands of Guatemala---for whom September 11 seems to have little direct application, little direct or indirect to teach.

Or maybe that's an index to the parochial nature of life in more secluded spaces? What space is secluded, in today's world, from the common concerns of us all? What place can be--and @ what cost?

Here's a possible analogy. Jeff and I are attacking this learning of a new language in quite disparate ways: he's breaking it down into the smallest possible units: the sounds of letters and words. I'm impatient w/ that approach, and w/ the next step up the ladder of abstraction as well: the memorization of lists of words. What seems to work best (to stick most quickly and for longer time periods) for me is learning @ the sentence level: if a word has a context that gives it meaning ("Nosotras estudiamos espaƱol juntas") I can catch it sooner and retain it better. Mightn't we all attempt something of the same gesture, with regard to our actions in the world? Thinking of them in larger contexts than our own local neighborhoods....?


Ann Dixon's picture

Instead of calling it "an index to the parochial nature of life in more secluded places," why not just call it "an index to the parochial nature of life." Why is it so important to care about what happens in every part of the world? More than generally, I mean. Are we to steep ourselves in the issues, cultures, languages, religions and politics of every country in the world? Do we have time and interest? And if not, how do we select what we give attention to, except for what is deeply personal to us? Love, Ann