Friday, December 2, 2011

Lost in Translation

You have probably heard of the little pictograms that appear on many (though not all) corners in the Centro Historico in Merida.  As the story goes, these were used to mark intersections in the past to help the citizens and visitors of old who could not read figure out where they were.  Rather than tell someone to "meet me at the corner of Calle 68 y Calle 51," for example, you might say, "meet me at the corner of the Lighning" ("el Rayo").  [Disclaimer: the sign of El Rayo is not at C. 68 y C. 51...this is for illustration only!]

Often, the subject of the pictogram is clear, and it does exactly what it was intended to do.  This one marks the corner of "the Cardinal."  The one below is "the Pearl."

A simple walk through the historic district can turn into not only a visual treasure hunt, but also a bit of a multi-cultural puzzle as you try to figure out what the signs mean.

For example, this one is "the Lark"...simple enough with a little electronic translation.

Google Translate didn't help too much with this one, though, as it kept insisting that "La Tucha" meant "the Tuch," whatever that is.  A little more searching turned up a reference noting that, in the Yucatan, "La Tucha" is also a female monkey.  So now that one makes sense too.
It was confusing to see that "La Langosta" meant "the Lobster," but one of the alternate definitions for "langosta" is "the Locust," so another one down!
Next came "the Nuns" (Las Monjas) and "the Sitting Bull" (El Toro Agachado").  Score two more!

But this last one has me stumped, so I'm looking for some help here..."El Otelo."  What is that?  The best that I can some up with is Othello strangling Desdemona, but Shakespeare seems a little far-fetched as a pictogram to simply identify a particular corner to sixteenth century Maya.  Any ideas?  Anyone??


  1. I think it can only be Othello & Desdemona. Interesting.

  2. Yes, I think it is too. The Spaniards were no strangers to the classics, they were educated by European standards. Merida in particular had closer ties to Europe than to the mainland of Mexico.