Aztec Icon #16 – TECCIZTECATL and METZTLI, Deities of the Moon

It’s been about nine months since the last addition to my coloring book YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities, #15, Quiahuitl, God of Rain. After completing it back last April, I had to focus on setting up the two-month Ye Gods! exhibition in Santa Fe, as well as prepare and deliver several lectures.  Then everything else, including work on my second memoir, had to be put on hold while I concentrated for three months on re-translating an opera from Russian (which will be produced by the New Orleans Opera in February, 2020).  Meanwhile I also set up the exhibition for another month in nearby Española.  Busy boy, no?

Finally by late November, I got back to drawing, and now I’m thrilled to announce that #16 is finished at last: Tecciztecatl and Metztli, Deities of the Moon.

TECCIZTECATL & METZTLI

Tecciztecatl {tek-seez-te-katł}, the son of Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue, is a god of hunters and appears as things shining in the night. In the Nahua cosmology, when Quetzalcoatl and Ehecatl created the current Fifth Sun, Tecciztecatl wanted to become the new sun, but he hesitated to jump into the sacred fire, whereupon the young god Nanahuatzin leapt into the flames to become Tonatiuh.  When Tecciztecatl followed, he took second place as the moon.

Metztli {mets-tłee} is the ancestral moon goddess probably inherited from ancient Teotihuacan and/or the Maya’s lunar goddess Ix Chel.  Long after the Nahuas demoted Metztli to merely being the consort of Tecciztecatl, the later Aztecs tried to replace her with (the head of) Coyolxauhqui, the sister dismembered by their supreme god Huitzilopochtli.

Tecciztecatl joined Metztli in the sacred calendar (tonalpohualli) as patrons of the thirteen-day week One Death, which is shown in the encircling day-signs.  It should be noted that there are thirteen days between the full and dark of the moon.  The Mesoamerican cultures saw a rabbit in the full moon (top), and the serpent of the night devouring the rabbit (bottom) represents the dark of the moon.  Incidentally, the nocturnal jaguar was closely connected with the moon, and the conch shell was the standard symbol of the moon.

I fired the drawing off to my dear friend Sagar in Bangladesh for him to work his vectorizing magic on it, and he did the trick.  I’m currently (in January) posting the jpeg version with caption and sources on the coloring book page and have now (in April) have added the vectorized versions to the list of various sizes available for free download.

In my strict alphabetical sequence, the next deity to tackle is Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain, who has several dramatic aspects.  You can check out my earlier image of this god among the Aztec images from the old book on the calendar.  If the creek don’t rise, I’d like to get his icon done by April.  Once again meanwhile, in my multi-tasking fashion, I’ll be arranging more venues for the expanded exhibition and lectures—and forging onward in my memoir. Call me driven, but I’d love to finish that by next year.

A Roar of Jaguars

In the past few years, I’ve realized that, in the Native American tradition, I seem to have an animal totem, the jaguar. This past year when I started my second memoir, I understood my deep connection to this apex predator of the Americas and included an illustration:

My Totem Jaguar

I also realized that this magnificent feline has been lurking in my background for at least 35 years. At a yard sale I’d bought a carved-wood figurine and stashed it away as a curiosity.  Later I gave it as a birthday gift to a friend, who returned it explaining that there was some spirit in it which didn’t “resonate” with him.  Stashed away again, it sat on a shelf for decades—following me around to various domiciles.  Then about a year ago I recognized it for a jaguar-priest or shaman from some South or Meso-American tradition.

My Jaguar Priest Figurine

It suddenly made sense that this jaguar figurine was probably why some 30 years ago I’d gotten so involved in the Aztec milieu. I soon learned that this New World King of Beasts had originally roamed throughout most of the South and Meso-American jungles and even ranged north into the American Southwest (apparently now making a comeback in southern Arizona!).

I also learned that the noble jaguar was central to the mythologies of basically all the ancient civilizations of the New World (just as the lion was to those of the Old). First off, I found it in the Aztec calendar, as the 14th day of their agricultural month and in the second week of their ceremonial count of days (tonalpohualli).  Starting with the day Ce Ocelotl – One Jaguar (those with this birth day-name coincidentally being destined for sacrifice), that second week was under the patronage of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.

I already knew that the Aztec ceremonial calendar had been more or less inherited from the much earlier Maya and then discovered that it, just like its patron deity, was also revered by the even earlier Olmec. Then about three years ago in considering that maybe the sacred calendar’s count of days had originated in the still earlier Chavín civilization in Peru, I learned that the jaguar was for them also a major deity, often seen as an ornate man-jaguar.  Do note this Chavín were-jaguar’s startling snake-locks!

Chavin Were-Jaguar

If my suggestion that the count of days originated at Chavín de Huantar is correct, that ritual (more like a religion), was carried north by trader-missionaries to populations along the Pacific coast. Ultimately they crossed the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and proselytized the Olmec with the sacred way of telling time.  While many surviving Olmec sculptures are of infant were-jaguars, I’ll show you their dramatic animal.

Olmec Jaguar

Coincidentally, earliest calendar lore has it being brought by a god, namely the Plumed Serpent, who was also the bringer of maize (and culture). Between the calendar, the jaguar, and this legendary civilizer deity, they had a rather well-rounded theosophy, even if some rituals might have involved sacrifices frowned on nowadays.

It’s now become reasonable to think that the early Maya were “civilizing” in Yucatan at much the same time as the Olmec were hard at it in Veracruz. More mercenary missionary work was probably what took the calendar to the Maya.  They hugely elaborated and ornamented the new “faith” with their own deities and even started writing about it in glyphs.

Along with calendar, the jaguar deity (B’alam) came to the Maya, but their representations of it were generally not anthropomorphized.  I found a spectacular relief at Chichen Itza on Google Images, apparently a repro in gold (!), that’s both naturalistic and stylized.  Not to gross you out, but I bet that’s a heart it’s holding in its paw and licking.

Mayan Jaguar from Chichen Itza

Of course, the third part of the religion was the Plumed Serpent, the civilizer deity whom they called Kukulcan (or Gugumatz).  This Triad then moved west and north to early Teotihuacan, where the Serpent likely became known as Quetzalcoatl, or maybe that was amongst the later Toltecs.  That calendar religion reigned across the centuries and other areas of Mexico, as shown by this jaguar totem from the Zapotecs, possibly a funerary urn.

Zapotec Jaguar

Eventually, the barbarian Aztecs came out of the north and adopted the local religion, and it came to be known and misunderstood as the “Aztec Calendar.” In their historical or genealogical picture-books, many of which were from other cultures like the Mixtec, the were-jaguar shows up as jaguar warriors.  These “jaguar-weres” were simply humans wearing jaguar pelts.

In their religious documents, the jaguar is generally depicted as a divine animal such as these two from Codex Borgia, (adjusted and adapted to prepare for drawings in my next icon).  By the way, those wavy figures represent the jaguar’s roar.

Jaguars from Codex Borgia

Modelling mine on the image on the left, several years ago as my first attempt at drawing on computer, I drew a jaguar with a realistically patterned pelt (and more aggressive demeanor). Intended to be the apotheosis of the Lord of the Animals, the drawing had to wait some three years to be enthroned in YE GODS! Icon #11 – OCELOTL.

My Jaguar–Lord of the Animals

But I’m not done with this roar of jaguars! Recalling that the historical range of the jaguar reached up into North America, there is the possibility that the creature may have been known, or at least recalled, by populations outside of the desert Southwest.  I’m talking about my other favorite topic, the Mississippian “civilization.”

I found a trace of the calendar and image of a heavily stylized man-jaguar in the Southeast and drew this fanciful animal below from a shell gorget (from Fairfield MO across the river from Cahokia) for a book on the Indian mounds.  (See my Gallery of Pre-Columbian Artifacts.)

Jaguar Gorget – Fairfield MO

In the magazine “Ancient American,” Vol. 21, No. 116, I wrote about the cult of the Plumed Serpent in North America, which shows that the trinity of Calendar-Jaguar-Serpent was a Pan-American “religion.”  Small wonder I feel the jaguar my totem—it’s the totem for all Americans.

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Ancient America-Asia Coincidences

Recently I came across two historical coincidences worthy of comment. Both may be archaeologically, or at least anthropologically, significant.

  1. The Rabbit in the Moon.

Readers should be advised that I’ve “studied” (more like “obsessed with”) things Mesoamerican for about 30 years now, and have become fairly conversant about their mythology and art, mainly of the Aztecs. More about that in a moment.

Some decades ago I learned that the Mesoamerican peoples saw a rabbit in the moon. This “moon rabbit” was famous amongst the early Maya, shown here with the moon goddess Ix Chel:

The image of a rabbit in the moon occurs in two of the surviving pre-Conquest Aztec codices (picture-books) and in one of the post-Conquest documents.

Aztec Rabbits in the Moon

Learning about this lunar bunny, I checked out the full moon and immediately saw it clearly. Before, I’d never really been able to see a face in the moon (the European tradition), and now I can see nothing but the rabbit.  In my Aztec obsession, I’ve spent the past several years drawing icons of their deities and am now working on the god of the moon, Tecciztecatl.  As a detail for that icon, I’ve concocted my own Moon Rabbit in an Aztec style and in the orientation I’ve scientifically observed.

Imagine my surprise when I read a book about Chinese myths and legends and discovered that the ancient Chinese also saw a rabbit in the moon. Under “Moon Rabbit” on Wikipedia, I learned that in their inscrutable oriental way, the image the Chinese saw was a rabbit facing to the right—and anthropomorphically using a mortar and pestle to pound herbs or medicines (that equipment occupying the area of my bunny’s bottom).

The entry advised that this traditional image also spread to Japan and Korea and added, “Legends of moon rabbits exist among some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.” Then the entry states categorically:  “These legends were not influenced by Asian cultures.”  This gratuitous pronouncement smacks of a polemical personal opinion designed to forestall any further discussion of the subject.  Typical…

Now, I’m not arguing that this coincidence necessarily shows any America-Asia connection. It’s quite reasonable that the two widely separated peoples could see the same familiar creature (in differing perspectives) in the Rorschach blur on the moon’s orb.  The bunny could well be a pure coincidence (though some say there are no coincidences).

  1. The Ten Suns

In the same book of Chinese myths and legends, one struck me as surpassingly surreal. The god of the eastern sky, Di Jun was the father of ten suns [sic!] which took turns crossing the sky on each of the ten days of the week.  But they got bored with the routine and one day decided to ride in their chariots all together across the sky, which heat caused great damage to the earth and its creatures.  Unable to make his suns behave properly, Di Jun summoned the Divine Archer Yi and gave him a magic bow and arrows to make the suns resume their rotating duties.  Yi shot down nine of them, leaving only one to cross the sky every day.  That solution greatly distressed Di Jun, who condemned Yi to live a mortal life.  Curious tale…

A few months later I read a book called “Native American Myths and Legends,” which was published by Arcturus Publishing Ltd. in London (2017). The stories were recorded by a range of different writers/ethnographers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The story that stopped me in my tracks was attributed to a tribe called “Shastika” and taken from a book by Katharine Berry Judson, “Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest (1912). That tribe from northern California/southern Oregon is now called simply Shasta or Shastan and logically relates to the magical Mount Shasta. Per Wikipedia, by the early years of the 20th century perhaps only 100 Shasta individuals existed, and some few Shasta descendants apparently still reside in various reservations with other tribes.

The story is called “Old Mole’s Creation.” (Forgive my disrespectful levity, but the title calls to mind a character from that ancient comic strip “Pogo”—Ol’ Mole was blind as a mole and an avid bird-watcher!) Anyway, first “Old Mole burrowed underneath Somewhere and threw up the earth which forms the world.” Then, “in the beginning, Sun had nine brothers, all flaming hot like himself. But Coyote killed the nine brothers and so saved the world from burning up.” Those two simplified sentences are an obvious restatement of the Chinese legend of the ten suns.

But the Shasta tale does the Chinese one better by adding a parallel plot: “But Moon also had nine brothers, all made of ice like himself, and the Night People almost froze to death.” So as the Moons arose, Coyote killed nine of them with his flint-stone knife saved the Night People. Native American story-telling loves coyotes and symmetry.

These two tales of the ten suns are simply too counter-intuitive (and weird) to have developed independently. So I’ll boldly claim that they prove an ancient cultural connection between Asia and America. (They clearly support Gavin Menzies’ book “1421: The Year China Discovered America” and Laurie Bonner-Nickless’ interminably titled book about Chinese exploration of North America in 1433-34, which was just reviewed in “Ancient American,” Issue 121.)

Cue the academic inquisitors!

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Aztec Deities At It Again!

Announcement:

YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities

October 22 – November 16, 2018

NICK SALAZAR CENTER FOR THE ARTS

Northern New Mexico College

The Nick Salazar Center for the Arts in Española, New Mexico, presents an exhibition by local artist Richard Balthazar, who was formerly the Used Plant Man (or Iris Man) at the Santa Fe Farmers Market and once upon a time sold plants at the Española Farmers Market. Presented in large-scale format on vinyl banners, his 15 black and white drawings are designed for a coloring book, and prints for coloring and/or framing are available for free download from his website:

www.richardbalthazar.com.

Ehecatl, Aztec God of the Wind

The icons were drawn digitally (using a computer graphics program), allowing the artist to achieve a rare level of fine detail. The deities are so striking and startling that everyone will surely exclaim, “YE GODS!

Essentially a crash course in Aztec myth, history, and culture, the deities are portrayed in their full contexts, in authentic Aztec iconography.

Each deity is accompanied by a description and images from the surviving Aztec codices (picture-books) that served as models or themes and show the authentic colors used by Aztec scribes.

Cultural and educational groups are cordially invited to contact Mr. Balthazar to arrange for tours of the exhibit and gallery talks on the mythology and history of the images.

For more information or tour arrangements, contact Richard Balthazar at rbalthazar@msn.com.

 

Souvenirs of Logan Circle

On reading my most recent blog about gay life in Washington DC in the Neolithic (the 1970’s) in our faerie castle the Four Belles (1320 Rhode Island Ave NW), a friend suggested that I write more about the Centennial chandelier. I’m happy to do so, but actually I want to write more in general about memories of Logan Circle and my salvage activities.

(At that time, DC was in the throes of urban renewal and tearing down entire blocks of abandoned Victorian houses. Our most urgent battle around Logan Circle was to keep that from happening to the mansions and apartment buildings there.)

Four Belles carving and 1 & 2 Logan Circle

The photo on the left is a close-up of the carving of four hands with bells from which we took the name of our house. In fact, I found out several years ago from the current owner that the original builder had indeed named it the Four Belles—for his wife and three daughters.  The Second Empire wedding cake house on the right was owned by Lewis Kleiman, the guy who took my publicity shot mentioned before.  I occasionally helped him work on restoring the place, like stripping woodwork and such—but it was like spitting in the sea.

Copper Peak, 1320 RI Ave NW

Lewis also helped me in my salvaging. Early one morning we went in my old blue van (Lavenia Van Dodge) to a ruinous house on Sixth Street and rescued its copper peak to put on the Four Belles.  To get to it, we had to climb the bannister of the collapsed staircase and scramble through a rotten hole in the roof!  The peak is 4 or 5 ft. tall and maybe 6 ft. across the base.

 

 

 

But to return to that Centennial chandelier: As remarked before, it was a gift from France along with the Statue of Liberty.  My housemate Charles, being a historic preservation bigwig, got inside on the renovation of an area in Independence Hall where the Centennial chandelier had been hung and nabbed it for our castle.

Victorian Elegance at the Four Belles

In the photo, the huge Eastlake mirror behind the chandelier was rescued from a doomed house on M Street, along with two fabulous mantles and another mirror in black lacquer. When found, it and its beveled glass had been painted white! It now lives in the Library at Santa Fe’s posh inn and spa at La Posada. So I can occasionally visit my old friend.

In the middle is one of the Baccarat prisms (about 18 in. long) hanging on my porch.  On the right is a lamp (purchased in an antique shop), which is also here in my apartment.  By the French sculptor Auguste Moreau, it sat on the newel post of the tiger-eye oak staircase in our grand reception hall.  A few shadows of the Victorian elegance of the Four Belles.

And to return to my salvage activities: Another piece I still have is a trunk I found in 1974 on like the sixth floor of the wracked-out Iowa building also previously mentioned.  I had to remove its shredded canvas covering and live with the raw wood, but after all these decades, it still holds my blankets and linens.  Like that beautiful building, it has survived!

Trunk Found in the Iowa, 1974

There are naturally many stories to be told about salvaging, but I’ll only impose on you with a few. The first was an adventure of saving a plaster ceiling medallion like the one shown below, though I recalling it being a bit more ornate, if you can imagine that:

Victorian Ceiling Medallion

The derelict house was just a few doors down M Street from the one with the mirrors and mantles. I hauled my ladder into its crumbling dining room and proceeded to the cautious work of removing the ceiling medallion.  In the middle of the job, the entire ceiling of plaster and lathe let go of the joists.  There I was standing at the top of the ladder like Atlas holding up a very heavy sky!  With extreme trepidation and caution I tilted the slab to rest one edge on the floor, and with the other side propped on the ladder, I climbed down.  Then it was a fairly simple job to remove the prize and haul it away in trusty old Lavenia Van Dodge.

After untold hours of cleaning and restoration, I gave the medallion to one of the new urban pioneer neighbors around the Circle. Can’t recall who…  That’s what I did with the mantles, fancy woodwork, and such that I salvaged as welcome-wagon gifts.

A major salvage accomplishment was getting into a gorgeous Greek Revival building at, I believe, 12th and O (former home of DC’s black Masonic Lodge), the day before it came down.  They’d abandoned their library, and my friends and I loaded it out of the back window into Lavenia.  In the horde I found among other fascinating volumes a huge tome called “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley” by Squier and Davis, which led to my 1992 book “Remember Native America.”  (I’d just seen the old public library on Maryland Avenue get knocked down with all the books still in it!)

And one more anecdote: After salvaging some mantles and sets of fabulous glazed tiles from the fireplace surrounds from another house, I went to a dinner party with the family of a lady friend in Alexandria.  Her aged grandmother was our hostess and was fascinated to hear about all my salvaging activity.  When I mentioned the address of that day’s rescues, the grandmother almost had a cardiac:  It was the house where she’d been a little girl, and the room with the green tiles had been her bedroom.  I came back the next day and gave her one of them as a souvenir.

Victorian Glazed Tile from Fireplace Surround

Later, in 1982, I installed several of the tiles around the kitchen sink in my next Victorian, a little Queen Anne in Denver, with this one left over.

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Heretical History

During my recent exhibition (entitled YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities), I gave a series of 15 lectures on the Aztec codices and Aztec mythology, culture, and history, branching out in later sessions to New World history in general. From the beginning, I stressed to my listeners that as an independent researcher and theoretical historian (a “historician”), I like to consider probable answers for puzzling questions which the academic establishment refuses even to recognize. I warned them to get ready to hear some historical heresy.

For example, in lecture 10 (Continuity of Culture and Art in Mesoamerica), I discussed the continuity of the ceremonial calendar from the Olmec through the Maya and into the cultures of central Mexico (culminating in the “Aztec calendar”). Then I proposed that the calendar may well have been invented at Chavín de Huantar in Peru.  I published the convincing circumstantial evidence in the article “Source of the Mesoamerican Ceremonial Calendar” in the magazine Ancient American (Issue No. 115) and noted probable diffusion via sea-farers sailing north up the Pacific coast to reach the early Olmec.  That was Heresy No. 1.

Then in lecture 12 (Mesoamerican Relations with Mississippi), I broke some startling news which was corroborated by the website www.peopleofonefire.com, issued by Richard Thornton, a researcher of Native American heritage.  He has discovered convincing linguistic, DNA, and archaeological evidence that populations from Meso- and South America migrated into the Southeast of North America hundreds of years before the European “discovery.”

Independently, I had previously identified a shell gorget from northwestern Alabama depicting the Mesoamerican Fifth Sun, Four Earthquake, and in my article “Mesoamerican Influences in Mississippi” in Ancient American (Issue 118), I presented ethnographic testimony that (probably under pressure from the aggressive imperialism of the Toltecs), a tribe of Totonacs from Vera Cruz had migrated into the Muscle Shoals area to become the Chikasa (Chickasaw).  Though well-documented, that was Heresy No. 2.

In lecture 14 (Mesoamerican Relations with the Anasazi), I expanded on a proposal by Frank Joseph in “Advanced Civilizations of Prehistoric America” that the Huari of Peru (likely an evolution/reincarnation of the more than three millennia-old culture of Tiwanaku from Lake Titicaca) had migrated up the Pacific coast, through the Sea of Cortez, and up the Colorado River to become the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon. So I was merely guilty of repeating Heresy No. 3.

However, in that context I uttered my own Heresy No. 4: that some populations from the west coast of Mexico may possibly have sailed up the coast and “colonized” the Pacific Northwest.  As I noted to my audience, I made this heretical proposal simply on the basis of a linguistic coincidence (something I generally don’t much appreciate in others’ arguments).

Namely, the city of Seattle was supposedly named for the “chief” of a Native American tribe on the Olympic Peninsula. Well, it just so happens that Ce Atl is the Nahuatl day-name (One Water) of the goddess of water, Chalchiuhtlicue, the Jade Skirt.  She was earlier the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, likely with the same calendrical name, which may have also held for the Maya goddess of water, but deity names in that even earlier culture are rather confused.

Mesoamerican goddesses of water

As a name for the Pacific Northwest area, a people, an important “town,” or even a chief, One Water seems a legendarily appropriate name for a Mesoamerican “colony” in that area. Such a colony might have happened due to social turmoil amongst the classic Maya, to later aggression by the Toltecs on populations in western Mexico, or even as more recent Aztec (Nahua) imperial “exploration.”  In any case, my heretical suggestion was basically a frivolous “teaser.”

For a couple weeks, that’s what it was for me too, simply an intriguing possibility—until I started reading “The Journals of Lewis and Clark” (edited by Bernard DeVoto). Their first mentions of the Salishan (“Flathead”) tribes in the western Rocky Mountains didn’t give me pause, but when that characteristic kept appearing amongst the tribes down the Columbia River, I had to stop and wonder.

While that exploratory expedition wintered at the mouth of the Columbia, they had much communication and commerce with the many coastal tribes. On March 19, 1805, Captain Lewis took the time (in his fairly “scientific” manner) to write:

“The Killamucks, Clatsops, Chinooks, Cathlahmahs, and Wâc-ki-a-cums resemble each other as well in their persons and dress as in their habits and manners. their complexion is not remarkable, being the usual copper brown of most of the tribes of North America.  they are low in statu[r]e, reather diminutive, and illy shapen; poss[ess]ing thick broad flat feet, thick ankles, crooked legs wide mouths thick lips, nose moderately large, fleshey, wide at the extremity with large nostrils, black eyes and black coarse hair.  their eyes are sometimes of a dark yellowish brown the puple black.  the most remarkable trait in their physiognomy is the peculiar flatness and width of forehead which they artificially obtain by compressing the head between two boards while in a state of infancy and from which it never afterwards perfectly recovers.  this is a custom among all the nations we have met with West of the Rocky mountains.  I have observed the heads of many infants, after this singular bandage has been dismissed, or about the age of 10 or eleven months, that were not more than two inches thick about the upper edge of the forehead and reather thiner still higher.  from the top of the head to the extremity of the nose is one straight line.  this is done in order to give a greater width to the forehead, which they much admire.  this process seems to be continued longer with their female than their mail children, and neither appear to suffer any pain from the operation.  it is from this peculiar form of the head that the nations East of the Rocky mountains, call all the nations on this side, except the Aliohtans or snake Indians, by the generic name of Flatheads.”

Chinook woman and child

Surely I am not the first to note that Captain Lewis has described in exquisite detail the traditional Maya practice of skull deformation. (That same practice also occurred in other parts of the world and among certain tribes of the American Southeast who—per Heresy No. 2 above—migrated there from Mesoamerica.)  With this official testimony, it seems more than probable that this widespread cultural practice in the Pacific Northwest came from a coastal colony of the Maya. The also widespread practice of nose-piercing (as in the Nez Perce tribe and others) could just as easily have disseminated from such or later Mexican settlements.

Considering this distinct possibility, I believe it’s high time someone ran a DNA study of the surviving Northwest tribes to see if they actually do have markers of Mesoamerican populations. Likewise, it would make sense for someone with the expertise to compare the languages of those tribes with those of Mesoamerican peoples. There is a distinctly Nahuatl-ish sound to the names of the Tlingit and Kwakiutl tribes…

But even without such genetic or linguistic evidence, I will now make bold to propose that there was indeed a Mesoamerican colony (or colonies) on the Pacific Northwest coast. And having uttered that blasphemy, I’ll prepare for the academic inquisition to try and burn me at the stake.

Another Rather Large Whoop!

You’re probably not interested in hearing the involved backstory of this exciting post, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

Forty years ago, I was working for OPERA America, a service organization for opera companies. That was how I came by a commission from Lotfi Mansouri of the Canadian Opera Company to translate Tchaikovsky’s Russian libretto for his opera “Maid of Orleans.”  To be sung in English, their production (1978) in Toronto and Ottawa was called more simply “Joan of Arc.”  Attending its rehearsals, revelling in the performances, and lecturing about the work were the pinnacle of my academic career in Russian (which I’d abandoned some years before).

The next year (1979) David DiChiera of the Michigan Opera Theatre chose to mount another production, which I attended with greatest pleasure. And then the translation lay on my shelf for four decades. In January of this year, probably because forty years is a somehow hallowed cycle, I must have sensed that the iron was hot and decided to strike.

Out of the New Mexico blue I wrote a concise letter proposing that in view of the city’s great connection with La Pucelle de Orleans, the New Orleans Opera should do a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera. As encouragement, I added that the company would be welcome to use my English translation gratis.

Robert Lyall of NOO and I had phone conversations of great interest, and in May he called me to say that they had indeed decided to produce the opera in their 2019-2020 season—using my translation. I was totally delighted and offered to “polish” the translation up a bit—after forty years, I figured I might have matured a mite as a poet—especially the love duet…

So that’s my rather large whoop! JOAN OF ARC WILL RIDE AGAIN!  Exact dates TBA.

“Polishing” the translation has been a renewed joy. I can still hear the singers from forty years ago singing the lines and can easily make the words sound better!  Perversely, perhaps the most fulfilling part of re-translating is using my graphics program to set the printed language in the score.  In 1978, over white-out tape, I had hand-printed the translation on the pages, quite legible but still sloppy.  Now it looks for printed real!

I waited till July when my schedule with the YE GODS! show had normalized to start in on Joan again, and by the end of that month had completed Act I, which is one big honking act. This month I’ve been plugging along on the hefty Act II and hope to finish it in a couple weeks.  Acts III and IV are shorter, about the length of Act II, so I’ll be able to knock them off in September.  If the creek don’t rise…

For example, here is a page of the angels singing from Joan’s Aria with the Angels (the lines of which I included in my public library as an example of my translations). There were only minor language changes in this new version:

Page from Joan’s Aria with the Angels

But that’s not all! Apropos YE GODS!, I fully intend to finagle somehow doing an exhibition at New Orleans’ Delgado Museum of Art (in City Park) at the same time as the Joan production (in the Mahalia Jackson Theater).  Why not make it a double-barreled homecoming?  Prodigal New Orleans son (more or less) and Tulane grad brings a spectacular opera and an exceptional art show back home!

I insist on thinking positively!