Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Its The End Of The World As We Know It

Every couple weeks I head over to David Byrne's website to see what the former Talking Heads frontman has been up to. I'm a big fan of Byrne and he is probably the only musician whose political commentaries I will take seriously. I like Byrne because he sometimes produces dandies like this post:

I’m wondering what’s with the pepper grinding ritual that invaded U.S. restaurants a decade or 2 ago? I agree that freshly-ground pepper is a nice addition to many foods — like salt, it seems to bring out the flavor, to stimulate the palate. But that’s obviously not the point of this ritual — the point is social, economic, and psychological. How and why did it become a little ritual to have the food arrive and then be quickly followed by a man (usually a man) who asks, “Do you want some pepper ground over that?” He wafts the phallic object over your food like a wand and waits for you, the master, to tell him “when”. Then he is gone and may never return.

Wouldn’t it be easier to have a little pepper grinder on every table? It wouldn’t be harder than keeping all those refilled saltshakers out there, would it?

But that’s not the point, I suspect. What’s important is the ritual and the relationship. The servant and the implication of service… the feeling of being pandered to and pampered in a customized manner. One hopes that this little ritual assuages any impulses by the client to imperiously order the staff around, and sometimes it does seem to absorb these impulses, though not always.

I don't give a shit about pepper grinding but I think its great that Byrne wrote three paragraphs considering the relationship created by it and the social meaning of pepper grinding.

In the past week Byrne has been posting about his trip to Mexico, specifically the Yucatan Peninsula. Each of his three posts are extremely interesting.

From the first:

Here’s a postcard-style view of the Uxmal ruins. At times one can sense how they must have appeared to Stephens and the other Westerners who first came upon them — massive mysterious things looming out of the thorny tropical forest.

Of course I adhere to the “tradition” of not showing the various tour group members who were lurking around the site. At certain times of day the busses pull up and Italians, Germans, Mexicans and Yanks scramble over the stones. But then, after a while, they all go away. There are times, and there are parts of the sites, where one is left alone with one’s romantic thoughts of ruins and the rise and fall of civilizations (more on that later.)

From the second:

In the Borges story “The Circular Ruins” a man sleeps in a secluded Mesoamerican structure and has strange dreams. He awakens to find his wounds have healed…his obligation was to dream….he attempts to dream a man…to model the stuff upon which dreams are made…like trying to weave a rope out of sand…or mint coins from the wind. He succeeds — first he dreams a heart, then a whole man…and eventually he, like the magicians millennia before him, succumbs to death, realizing that someone dreamt him, too.

Also from that post:

The Maya count years in what is currently called the Long Count. They believe time doesn’t exclusively run forward, as we do. They sense that it is circular, that it runs in a series of cycles — as do the Hindu. There are short cycles and there are very very long ones. The current Long Count began in 3114 B.C. (that’s early Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian times for handy reference — civilization in the middle east was taking shape) and the Long Count will end…get this…on Dec 23, 2012! Save the date.

At that time the “universe” (our world) will be annihilated by a flood (always with the floods!) and then the sky will fall upon the earth (an asteroid?) and darkness will cover the earth (dust from the impact?)

From the third:

My reading material tells me that the Maya took hallucinogenic enemas. Amongst the materials found at digs and matched to images on walls or codexes were leather and/or rubber tubing and narrow bone funnels for inserting up the bum. Through these would flow pulque (a fermented agave brew) or chih (dunno what this drink is)…or hallucinogenic teas. The Huichol (central Mexico) still do this with infusions made from Peyote buttons. No pictures available.


The Maya were possibly the last large “civilized” group of indigenous people in the new world to capitulate to the European invaders. Yes, there are still small scattered groups in the Amazon, and the Lacondon (a Mayan subsidy) in Chiapas have preserved some of their way of life, but the Maya were still fairly organized in large cites when the Spanish arrived — though their massive empire had dwindled a lot. (It's estimated there were millions in the larger empire, which may have been part of the problem.) They were still worshipping at the pyramids in 1930 when the Mexican government took control of some of the sites and instituted tourism and conservation programs. That makes 5,000 years (at least) of continuous culture — some kind of record.

I find all of the history of the Mayans that Byrne mentions to be very intriguing. I hadn't realized that some of their culture has survived for such a long time. There are certain parts of their culture like the enema (no thanks) and their beliefs regarding dreams are pretty fascinating. Most interesting is their Long Count and prediction that the current "era" will end in about six years. Probably Bush's fault.

Anyway I think Byrne's posts are intriguing and he talks a lot about things that would never occur to me or interesting facts and trivialities about different places (a couple weeks ago he wrote a bunch on New Zealand and Australia) and their culture as well as American society. Very interesting stuff.


Anonymous nico said...

I love the Talking Heads. Haven't heard much of his solo material. I need to check out his site though. Thanks for the link.

9:11 AM  
Blogger RC said...

i like following what bush and company are up to because they all look really funny in their more casual attire.

--RC of

6:19 PM  

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