While other cultures also had the concept and a symbol for zero, the Maya in Mexico independently invented the number in the 3rd century AD for their complex and extraordinarily accurate calendar.
I went to Mexico with the group Judith organized, including staffers from New York’s Museum of Natural History, to photograph the Maya storytellers they were recording.
Jaime, wonderful, simpatico, working for what was then known as INI (Instituto Nacional Indigenista), was the crucial member of our team, driving with us down roads that would barely merit a mention on a map. And not far (in miles) from the ruins of Tulum and Chichén Itzá, cities of their great, ancient civilization, we met Maya living in small, often isolated villages in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The nearest town, where we stayed (and joined the celebration for Día de la Raza), was Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
The stories that were recorded, centuries-old, were told first in Yucatec (one of languages of the Maya) and then in Spanish and featured nature, animals and parts of the creation myth–but no one spoke about what has become frequent fodder for late night cable TV shows: December 21, 2012, the supposed end of times.
But the pop culture’s interpretation of the Maya calendar–unlike that of scholars, who only identify the end of a cycle, just as December 31, 1999 marked the end of the last millennium–is in sync with the zeitgeist.
Three films at last fall’s New York Film Festival ushered in the apocalypse: Lars von Trier’s great “Melancholia,” Béla Tarr’s equally impressive, “The Turin Horse,” and Abel Ferrara’s less interesting, for me (but very smart friends, film critics and scholars, Ronnie and Greg, disagree), “4:44 Last Day on Earth.”
The extreme weather of 2011 is seen by the fringe as foretold–which actually it was but by sources it disregards–scientists, hair on fire, screaming about climate change.
But without a year of vigilance and activism, the true cataclysm of 2012 will be the realization of the radical agenda of the Republican right. In the crosshairs is all that makes this country this country, as they advocate destruction, including (but far from limited to), the shredding of the safety net, hacking away at voting rights and the separation of church and state, endless tax cuts for the richest and eliminating the regulation of business.