Thursday, August 25, 2011
Reflections of a Conquistador, Afterward...
So, you may or may not know that during grad school in anthropology, I had an unusual research assistantship... I deciphered 500-year-old letters and journal entries written by Spanish conquistadores and missionaries about their misadventures in what is now the American Southwest. After I transcribed their scrawl on the computer, I translated it to English.
My main impression of these guys was, I must say, pretty bad. They behaved like drunken, horny, constipated frat boys much of the time (um, sorry to any devoted frat boy readers of mine out there). And in these guys' more "mature" moments, they elicited a shout of "You gotta be kidding me!" from me. I'm too lazy to find an exact quote at the moment, but they wrote stuff along the lines of, "We don't understand why these Savages don't want to embrace God's love..." and a few lines later, "We request permission to increase the Savages' punishment from 50 to 100 lashes for their disobedience." (Their disobedience included such diabolical atrocities as spiritual healing rituals and dances.) "Duh!" I'd shout at the ancient texts. "And you wonder why they don't want to be your best friend?!"
My overall opinion of most of these guys is low, although there were a few I liked, who showed evidence of deep thought, empathy, intellectual curiosity, and a bigger-picture understanding of what was happening. Here's something that Casteneda wrote in 1565, many years after his participation in an expedition in the Southwest. The quote's always struck me as so poignant that I have it taped in my writing area. The "they" that he refers to are the other guys who'd also come back from the expedition years earlier:
"Now, when they understand the situation they were in-- and see that they cannot enjoy it or re-live it-- now, when it is too late, they enjoy telling about what they saw, telling even about what they have lost.... especially those who are now as poor as when they went there.... I say this because I know several who have returned, who amuse themselves now by talking about what it would be like to go back and try to recover what has been lost..... while others try to find the reason why it was discovered at all. -- Casteneda, 1565, Spain
That feels so profound and multi-layered to me, especially that last part. I mean, we're talking about the conquest of the Americas... and it's just so human that those who participated would wistfully wonder, in their relatively old age, about the significance of the monumental event in their own lives and in the history of the world. There's this sadness and sense of regret that permeates all those layers, personal and historical...
Anyway, I thought I'd share that with you, since it's a quote I look at almost daily. And I've been noticing it even more lately since the new book I'm writing has some scenes in pre-Hispanic Mayan times... lately I've been taking out these dusty books I have on ancient Mayan cultures for research.
I won't tell you any more about the book for now... sorry to be mysterious, but it's at such an early stage, still taking form. I have about a hundred very rough pages written, and I'm LOVING this process. I'm at the blissful in-love stage, where the story feels exquisitely magical and I'm not ready to share it yet....
Thanks for reading!
*And Fort Collins friends, hope to see you at the party with Maria Virginia, coming up soon... Sept 8! See my events page for details.*
Laura (P.S. You might get the idea that this new book is historical fiction, but actually, that's just a tiny piece of it. It's mostly contemporary, and there's more magical/paranormal/supernatural/fantastical/speculative-fiction (whatever you want to call it) in this book that any of my other books. Okay, that's all for now! Bye!)
*photo credits: wikipedia