Saturday, December 14, 2013

putting the sore into sorry!

Each player has four to six pieces.  The object is to get the player's pieces in the center of the game ahead of his opponents.  The number of each move is determined by tossing an object.

Sound familiar?  If I had nothing but that description and the photograph at the right, I would conclude I had just been invited to play a round of Sorry! -- one of my family's favorite holiday board games.  Sorry! still evokes the smell of oranges.

Or, perhaps, Parcheesi.  But Parcheesi was a bit too snooty for my family.  We liked our games steeped in Americana -- even though Sorry! was invented in England, and Parcheesi was the Americanized version of the Indian game Pachisi.

On Wednesday, I joined Dan and ten tourists on another Mex-Eco bus tour.  This time to the coffee plantation at Cuzalapa.  When I was there in October with Wynn and Lou (ticking me off), the coffee beans were just forming.  This week, they were reddening up for harvest.

But the coffee turned out to be secondary on that day.  The coffee co-op had arranged for a local historian to talk with us about a series of very unusual petroglyphs around Cuzalapa.

The village is a sleepy little place these days.  But it was an Indian administrative center when the Spanish arrived.

There are no monumental buildings that have survived from pre-Columbian times.  But the rocks have.

The drawing behind the historian appears on multiple rocks in the area.  It also appears in several codices about the Aztec culture, and in one codex that predates the Aztecs.  It is an ancient symbol.

The symbol is also well-known throughout almost all Mesoamerican cultures.  It is a symbol for the existential quest of the soul for eternal piece.  A stairway to heaven.

It is also a game -- patolli.  With 4 sides to represent the four seasons and 13 segments on each side to represent the number of full moons in the year, the total of  52 squares equals the weeks in a year.

Apparently, this game had two versions.  A common version played by Joe the Plumber and his gang using beans for playing pieces.  If the anthropologists can be believed (and we historians often believe they just make stuff up), the game was also the center of major gambling.  Where houses and fortunes were at stake.

But there was also a spiritual version played by aristocrats with stone pieces.  Where the elite would play to beat their foes to heaven while dooming their foes to damnation.  Can there be a better illustration of Schadenfreude?

Even though the game was played throughout Mesoamerica, Cuzalapa is the only place where so many game layouts can be found on the rocks.  The speculation is that Cuzalapa may have had a ceremonial purpose long lost to history.

Or maybe it was the equivalent of Las Vegas in the mountains.  We will probably never know because Elvis left the building with the advent of the Spanish Conquest after Moctezuma II put everything on red in a very unlucky spin of the Wheel of Fortuna.

Even though I will never know exactly what happened around each of these rocks, I could almost imagine the thrill of betting everything on my team.

And, if I had been a very lucky Aztec, my mother would have been the team leader.  She can knock the socks off of anyone at this game.

She says: "Sorry!"  But, to quote Inigo Montoya: "
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

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