Thursday, July 5, 2012

Page 20, Codex Nuttal

Mexican Treasures

   So Don and I had some extra time in LA after our fabulous Oaxacan lunch. I said the only thing I knew of was the La Brea tar pits, but they seemed to be on the other side of town. Don wanted to go to a great bookstore that he’d heard about, and we decided on that. On the way we passed the tar pits, and then we passed a museum with an exhibit of ancient Mexican treasures. Ooooh, I hoped we’d have time to go there.
   Alas, the book store had closed! Another tragedy of literacy! We debated briefly whether to go to La Brea or the exhibit, and since the tar pits will always be there, we went to the Mexican exhibit. And am I ever glad we did!
   The exhibit had lots of cool stuff, most of it really similar to things I’d seen before. But two items in particular had me in goose bumps from excitement at seeing them. It is always way cooler to see a real artifact instead of a photo or reproduction. Always. And there I looked upon two ancient codices, the Selden and the Nuttal,
   Codices are the ancient Mesoamerican screen folds. Once they had hundreds, if not thousands, but in the throes of religious zeal the earliest missionaries burnt them all, losing a vast treasure of ancient knowledge. Fewer than a dozen or so, depending on how it is defined, now exist. Slightly more lienzos exist, of a document made after the conquest to document land owned by indigenous people. Those provided the initial keys to translate the codices, which document the history of royal houses.
I love those things! They excite my imagination and sense of wonder and I’ve spent a lot of time studying books about them, reproductions of them with explanations. I was so excited I started translating the pictures to Don—it was the story of Lady 6-monkey. At one point a high school kid yelled out, “Hey, come here, this guy can read these things!” So I began again, explaining each panel to the students. When I looked up I was surrounded by twenty or so, plus a couple of instructors, all of them wide-eyed Latinos.
   “How do you know this stuff?” one asked.
   “I study!” I am imagining that I will have interested one or two of them to do the same!
With just a few minutes more we whisked through other parts of the museum, some permanent exhibits, but I don’t actually recall them as I was still swimming in the fact that I’d been inches of two literary treasures that excite me incredibly.
   As a closure to the adventure, we actually got misguided by the GPS while trying to return to the car rental place, and nearly ended up driving on the airport runway! What fun! We eventually found our correct way, and got home OK.

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