The sea shell of the end and the beginning

October 23, 1996

TO: International and National Civil society
FROM: Sup Marcos


Yeah, it's us again. But please don't be perturbed. Not yet. Now we write to thank you for the perturbing joy which took Comandante Ramona, and with her all of us to the center of Power in Mexico. We've seen some of the images of those days during which all the Mexican political system trembled as our most powerful weapon passed. And we also learned about the National Indigenous Congress. And also about its slogan calling to the struggle under the subversive banner of "Never again a Mexico without us". Yes, that "us" is a difficult invitation to resist. And well, I think what's next is "Never again a world without us" Don't you think? Of course, everything turned out fine. And you are right, it was like a party. Of course it ruined more than one person's breakfast, but those things are inevitable.

Know what? Something very strange is happening in this country. When you give no signs of life and wrap yourself up in problems you believe are individual ones, the Power smiles and leaves everything for later, but the moment you get determined to speak and go out to the street to dance, it gives the supreme government this strong urge to dialogue and to show it is serious about resolving the problems. I don't know why this happens, but it's so good that you go out and dance that little tune that Yeah, that's it!

Well then, I also write to you to tell you that we continue in the dialogue and today (I write these lines at dawn) we finished the first encounter they call "tripartite" because one is supposed to split up into three in order not to forget the local, national and galactic perspective. Speaking of galaxies, I'm going back to the ceiba. No, it's not that I'm afraid that Heriberto has eaten all the candy in my absence, or that Eva has organized feminist seminars with that movie with Pedro Infante called WHAT HAS THAT WOMAN DONE TO YOU?. No ma'am, she's done nothing to me, that's just the name of the movie. And I'm not returning to the ceiba because I want to avoid Olivio's soccerball in my face or Yeniperr's questions, and believe me, they're both just as terrible. No, know...Have you heard that song about the moons of October? Yes, well it seems the other dawn I escaped my security escort and...No...really, the only thing I caught was a cold so bad that everytime I sneeze...well, the tremors caused by January 1st are nothing in comparison. Anyway, the thing is I escaped because when I am here they keep me inside four white walls where my friends DON'T come to see me one by one, two by two, or six to seven. I got out, and before I was captured by my security escorts I managed to catch sight of a moon, which reminded me of a moon two years ago...

And on that dawn, like this one, the moon was a solitary breast wasting away on the night's hand of desire. But on this dawn I re-read Durito's last letter, and I should warn you Durito has a marked tendency for philosophical treatises so along with the letter, comes what follows and can only be explained by it's title called...

(Neoliberalism and Architecture or
The ethics of the Search versus the Ethics of Destruction)

In the Lacandon jungle, in the southeast Mexican state of Chiapas, there is a deserted village surrounded by well-armed military posts. The name of this abandoned village was Guadalupe Tepeyac. Its inhabitants, indigenous Tojolabales, were expelled by the Mexican government's army in February of 1995, as the federal troops attempted to assassinate the leadership of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

But it isn't the painful exile of these indigenous people who pay for their rebellion by living in the mountains, that I want to talk to you about. I want to talk to you about an architectural masterpiece which was born, on the skirts of the then-living Guadalupe Tepeyac, in July and August of 1994. Illiterate for the most party, or with a third grade education among the most "educated" of them, the Tojolabal architects raised in 28 days, a masterpiece capable of holding 10,000 members of what the Zapatistas called "The National Democratic Convention". In honor of Mexican history, the Zapatistas called the meeting place AGUASCALIENTES. The giant meeting place would hold 10,000 seated participants, a stage which would hold 100, a library, a computer room, kitchens, hostels, parking lots. It included as well, they say "a staging area for assaults".

Anyway, all this is now anecdotal and you can see it through other means (books, reports, photos, videos and movies from that time). Now what matters is a detail which went unseen by most of those who were present at the AGUASCALIENTES of Guadalupe Tepeyac that 1994 (AGUASCALIENTES was destroyed in February of 1995). The detail I refer to was so large, that it was hard to see at first glance. This writing is about that gigantic and unseen detail.

It seems that the auditorium and the stage were in the middle of a giant sea shell going and coming, without end or beginning. Don't get frustrated, let me explain. The indigenous Zapatistas had raised a more or less conventional auditorium; the kind of construction which appeared to be the keel of a boat, a flat part in front, with chairs, and a gallery with wooden benches (using the side of a knoll). Anyway, nothing extraordinary. If anything was interesting it was the benches mounted on split wood and tied with vines. There was no metal in that gallery.

When they began to construct the hostels, the library and other facilities, the indigenous tojolobales of the Zapatista rebellion, now spontaneous architects, sprinkled the facilities in what appeared to be great disorder, anyway, so thought the Sup, who limited himself to sprinkling the immediate surroundings of the gigantic auditorium. It wasn't until, while counting the housing capacity of each building, that the Sup noticed that one of the houses was "crooked", it had an inexplicable break in one of its extremities. The Sup didn't pay much attention. Until the Tojolabal Comandante Tacho asked him:

--What do you think of the sea shell?

--What sea shell? - the Sup answered, following the Zapatista tradition of answers which are questions, the eternal game of the question to the mirror.

--The one that surrounds the auditorium--answered Comandante Tacho in a voice which said "the day has light".

The Sup only looked at Tacho and Tacho understood that the Sup did not understand what he did, so he took him to the crooked house and pointed out how the roof made a capricious break.

--That's where the shell curves--he told him.

The Sup then put on a "So?" face (similar to the one you have now), so Comandante Tacho hurried to make a drawing in the mud with a stick. Tacho's drawing gave the location of all the buildings and yes, thanks to the break in that crooked house, the totality looked like a sea shell. The Sup agreed in silence after looking at the drawing. Then Comandante Tacho went to see about the tarp to cover the auditorium in case it rained.

The Sup was left standing there, in front of the crooked house, thinking that the crooked house was not really "crooked". It was only the curve which the sea shell needed in order to be complete. He was thinking on that when a journalist approached him and asked, looking for an answer with deep political meaning, what Aguascalientes meant to the Zapatistas.

--A sea shell--was the laconic answer of the Sup.

--A sea shell?--he asked wondering if he'd understood the question.

--Yes--he told him. And the Sup pointed out the curve of the house as he was leaving.

Yes, I agree with you. The sea shell of AGUASCALIENTES could only be seen from a certain height. What's more, only from a certain altitude.

You have to fly high to discover the Zapatista sea shell which sketches itself on these poor rebel lands. In one of its extremities there was a library and in another the old "safe house". The history of that "safe house" is similiar to the story of the EZLN in the Mayan indigenous communities. That little house was built far from anyone, so no one would see those first clandestine tojolabales who joined the EZLN. There they held meetings, they studied, and they gathered the tortillas and the beans they would send to the mountains where the insurgents were.

So there you have the Mayan sea shell. A spiral with no beginning or end. Where does sea shell begin and end? In its most inner part or in its outer part? Does a sea shell go in or out?

The sea shell of the Mayan rebel leaders began and ended in the "safe house", but it also began and ended in the library. The place of the encounter, of the dialogue, of the transition, of the search, that is what the Aguascalientes sea shell is.

From what "architectural" tradition did the indigenous Zapatistas borrow? I don't know, but surely that sea shell, that spiral, invites entry as well as exit, and really, I would not dare to say what part ends or begins a sea shell.

Months later, in October of 1994 a small group from civil society arrived at Aguascalientes to complete the installation of lighting in the library. They left after a few days of work. That morning, especially cold and foggy, the moon was a promise upon which to rest the cheek and desire, and a cello bled a few notes at midnight and in the mist. It was like a movie. The Sup watched from a corner, protected by the shadows and the skimask. A movie. The beginning or the end of a movie? After that group left, no one else returned to Aguascalientes until the party at year's end. Then they disappeared again. On February 10th of 1995, troops moved in by air and took Guadalupe Tepeyac. The first thing they did when they entered AGUASCALIENTES was to destroy the library and the safe house, the beginning and end of the sea shell. Then they destroyed the rest.

For some strange reason, the breaking point of the crooked house remained standing for several months afterward. It is said that it fell in December of 1995, when other AGUASCALIENTES were born in the mountains of the Mexican southeast.

All the past shows that the ethics of Power is the same as that of destruction, and the ethics of the sea shell is the same as the search. And that is very important for architecture and understanding neoliberalism. No?

Here Durito's thesis ends, which, as you can tell, is only for specialists...

So what is all this about beetles, sea shells and rouge moons? Well, the truth is that ten years ago on a morning in October, Old Man Antonio explained that a sea shell served to see inside and for jumping up, but I'll tell you about that later. Now I share Durito's thesis because he's very exacting and says that "humanity should benefit from my great wisdom".

Yes, you're right. I also think that, for a beetle, he's very pedantic, but he argues that errant knights are not pedantic, only knowledgeable about their own strength and great talent, especially when it comes to beating up scoundrels and picking on rogues.

And so madam, I say goodbye. I hope you don't forget that we're still here. Hope you don't forget often, anyway.

Vale. Health to you and the pending question is: If one is inside the sea shell, towards what direction should one walk? Towards the inside or outside?

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, October 1996

P.S. THE ONE WHICH FULFILLS ITS EDITORIAL DUTY- Oh, I forgot, in Durito's letter there is a story which I guess I should add to his book STORIES FOR A SLEEPLESS SOLITUDE, in the section called "STORIES FOR DECIDING". Here goes then, the story is called:


Once there was a live person and a dead person.
And the dead person said to the live person:
My, I envy you, you and your restlessness.
And then the live person said to the dead person:
My, I envy you, you and your tranquility.

And there they were, envying one another, when suddenly, at full gallop a bay horse at bay went by. End of story and moral: I repeat that all final options are a trap. It's imperative to find the bay horse at bay.

Don Durito of the Lacandon

(For love letters, interview requests, carnations, and signatures of support for the "Anti-Big-Boots Beetle Society" please write to "Huapac Leaf #69, Mountains of the Mexican Southeast (to the side of where the Sup lives)". Please note for phone calls: do not worry if the answering machine is not on. I don't have one.)

Vale once again. Health and, since we're talking about the trap of final options everyone will agree with me that when it comes to choosing whether to come or's always better to come...

The Sup with a bad cold, and obviously a little bit of fever.

Translated by: Cecilia Rodriguez, National Center for Democracy, Liberty and Justice

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