** The following is an excerpt of an English/Spanish-written draft of a piece published in the February 2013 issue of Gatopardo magazine, 'El fin de un ciclo.'
* See original post here.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 220.127.116.11.14]
El punto clave de información that we aquired on this stop was that in the town of Ticul, south of Mérida pero antes de Oxcutzcab, vivía un maestro de los garabatas, como se llaman los guaraches en Yucatán. Jorge Coronada, one of the healers we met at Kambul, told us el maestro Jose Ortiz made the best shoes on the peninsula. We drove off.
A place often reveals itself to you by the character of its roads, and in Mérida, there was a prominent but never menacing police presence all along the city’s periférico, a modern highway lined with factories and government compounds. We passed our first of many state police checkpoints, there to help maintain Yucatán’s proudly held rank of safest state in the country. In the town of Uman, the street I took to reach the center suddenly turned one-way against me in the opposite direction. A kid on a motor-bike taxi coming in the correct direction took one look at me as he drove past my dash and sneered, "Vete a la verga, vato." I laughed it off as the capricho of a local angry teen with a mean streak. One can never truly say about a people, "They are so kind, they are so welcoming," because there's always at least one or two exceptions.
It was early evening by the time we arrived in Ticul. The sky was clear and a sea of stars shone brightly above. The moon was regal, the roads one long line of darkened forest from point A to B. This town was like most others we’d come to see in Yucatán. It contained a market, a bus station, cell-phone and clothing and shoe stores, and low stone houses that looked as though they could have been built twenty or two hundred years ago. The towns that dot the plain of the peninsula are all centered around a plaza with a church that often looks built to repel a siege. In fact, many of them were. The churches in towns like Tizimin, Muna, and here in Ticul were built tall, with few windows, and with massively thick walls. They are reminders that the Maya of Yucatán resisted the Conquest forcefully and for generations more than the Aztecs.
In Ticul, which 19th Century traveler John L. Stephens described as "the perfect picture of stillness and repose," I drove into the dusty center of town, made a right, and pulled up alongside a middle-aged man sitting outside of a shoe store. I told him we were looking for Mr. Jose Ortiz, the shoemaker. The man was about sixty years old. He had white hair and unusually clear green eyes. "He is my father," he replied, and offered directions.
A few blocks back, on the same street, we came across Mr. Ortiz's taller. There was a small hand-painted sign attached to a wooden post, marking the front of a house. The door was open and the only illumination inside was a single flourescent bulb attached under the shelf of a work table, bathing the room in a humming pale blue light. No one was inside. We knocked and called, knocked and called. In the window to the street, Christmas lights were draped over an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The lights were the kind that come with a device that plays carols in a single tone in a loop. We inched inside and waited. Old photographs, signs, maps hung from walls appeared as though they hadn't been touched in decades. It was clear that Mr. Ortiz's taller was a special place. I felt good just standing there. A woman passed on the street and asked us who we were looking for, and a minute later Jose Ortiz Escobedo came strolling our way.
He was a very slim old man in trousers and a work shirt. Mr. Ortiz had a handsome brown face and a sharp triangular nose. He greeted us kindly and we introduced ourselves. We expressed interest in taking a look at his offerings of garabatos, but at first it was a little difficult to comprehend what Mr. Ortiz was saying. He said he was 90 years old. His words blended together and his sentences came in mixed clauses. His Mayan accent was strong – the swirling yet chopped castellano that simmers at the front of the mouth and pops with K's and Q's.
Mr. Ortiz explained that he would be unable to sell us any pair of the leather sandals that hung on his wall. They looked like delicate but sturdy objects. He said any he had "would hurt your feet." He only makes garabatos to fit a foot right, he said. I tried on a shoe and it fit perfectly, but Mr. Ortiz absolutely insisted he would not sell us anything not made to fit – not even a belt, although I tried. For a minute, it was impossible for us to comprehend the possibility, that unlike in Mexico City, money couldn't buy everything, and everything wasn't for sale.
We asked Mr. Ortiz if he heard anything about the supposed prediction of the end of the world, and he said it was nothing, and although he hadn't been to Mérida in more years that he could remember, he concluded in between other thoughts: "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy a Mérida."
Mr. Ortiz was born in the house where we stood and his father was born there too. He has worked as a shoemaker for 75 years. He married at 22. His wife is still alive, and they have the same age, 90. He had eight children, but only five survive today. He told us he had 12 great-great-grandchildren.
He explained to us the Maya translations of certain words – che for madera, eck for estrella. He said the Maya of Yucatán always say what they mean, no matter how blunt. He said he belonged to a stubborn people. And, being a man of his age, Mr. Ortiz didn't demure while elaborating.
"Porque los mayas, lo que ven, eso dicen," Mr. Ortiz said. "Lo que hablamos ahora es amestizado, no es la verdadera maya. La verdadera maya es ofensivo, ofende a la mujer."
"El apedillo que tengo yo no es maya … me llamo Victor Jose Ortiz Escobedo. Es español … Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en la tierra maya, nuestro estilo es maya, solamente el apellido no es."
We talked about life in Ticul, and asked what he ate to stay so healthy and alert. He eats chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, no mention of meat. He moved about the room freely, using his arms to emphasize thoughts. "Tengo que trabajar," he said. "Si se acuesta, envejece mas pronto."
I asked again if he saw any meaning in the "end of the world" as supposedly predicted by the Maya. Mr. Ortiz explained: "El sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va terminar, y empieza lo de los mayas."
* Printed with permission of Gatopardo magazine, c/o editor Guillermo Osorno.