Thursday, October 1, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 35.2 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

The Devils
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dostoevsky, Fyodor
The Devils

You'll have to pardon the strange angle of today's photo. I normally holster my laptop in a docking station and type on external keyboard, but the other day, while trying to keep the cat from pulling books off my shelves, I knocked over my coffee and spilled it on the keyboard. Now I can no longer use 'v' or 'f' or 'delete' keys. I can't at the moment afford a new keyboard, so I have to remove the laptop from the holster and set it on the desk in order to type properly. I hope no one become unhinged by this sudden change.

I bought The Devils for a summer course in college on Politics and the Novel. We never got to it in class. I never got to it in life, either. Sigh. I think I have more unread books written by Dostoevsky than perhaps by any other author.

So maybe I'll tell some more about our Guatemala trip, on which Lori bought our copy of Crime and Punishment. We took a few day trips across Lake Atitlan while we stayed in Panajachel, where we bought the book. One of the more interesting was a trip a little town called Santiago Atitlán, on the opposite shore of the lake from Panajachel. There's a small market there, but the main reason to go is to visit the shrine of Maximón, a folk saint among the Maya.

They apparently move him from house to house each month, so the shrine is never in the same place. The only way to get there is to pay a little boy to show you the way. When you arrive on shore, several of them appear shouting "Maximón-e, Maximón-e" (it sounds like MA-shee-MO-nay). We bargained with one little boy, who agreed to take us there. He led us away away from the tourist market, through the town market where the locals deal with each other, and then up a narrow flight of urine-smelling steps to a quiet, largely hidden street.

We wandered around a few corners before coming upon a small, nondescript house with a couple of serapes covering a wide doorway. We wondered, after our near bus-jacking experience, if we weren't about to be beaten and robbed, but we entered nonetheless. The room was completely dark, but for a few slivers of sunlight poking through the doorway and a host of devotional candles on the floor at the foot of Maximón.

Maximón is a wooden statue swathed in traditional guatemalan clothes and a cowboy hat. He likes to smoke, apparently, and he has two attendants who collect donations, cigarettes and cash, but whose main job seems to be to keep the deity's cigarette lit at all times. In the room there was also a glass casket with a Christ figure lying in it and an altar behind the statue.

I asked one of the attendants if he could make change from my donation, as I only had a large bill. I also needed to pay the kid who led us there and who sat patiently waiting as we observed the rites. The attendant took my money, then reached inside the deity to retrieve my change. He then lit a fresh cigarette for Maximón, who actually seemed to be smoking.

In front of the saint, a holy man knelt in prayer, chanting rhythmically. Other than that, there was no sound in the room. Hundreds of little balloons were tied to the ceiling. One of them popped and just about scared the hell out of everyone in the room. After a while, our little guide became impatient with us and motioned to leave, so we left. He led us back out to the tourist market it, where we drank from a fresh coconut with a straw before heading back across the lake.

I suddenly feel like I have written about this before. O well.

from The Devils

Before describing the extraordinary events which took place so recently in our town, hitherto no remarkable for anything in particular, I find it necessary, since I am not a skilled writer, to go back a little and begin with certain biographical details concerning our talented and greatly esteemed Stepan Trafimovich Verkhovensky. I hope these details will serve as an introduction to the social and political chronicle of our town, while the story I have in mind to relate will come later.

1 comment:

Lori Desormeaux said...

That experience was so amazing. I remember sitting there in reverential silence, observing the smoking god when a balloon drifted into a candle and popped. I almost jumped out of my skin!