Divine Justice

ANDREI CODRESCU

June 15, 1992|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans. There is a little display case in the village of Volcano in Hawaii, full of stones that tourists took away with them and then mailed back with notes that said, ''I lost my job and my cat died. Please give the goddess back her stone.''

It appears that Goddess Pele, who rules the volcanoes of Hawaii, doesn't want her stones removed. Bad things happen it you do. Bad things also happen to people who steal pieces of pottery from pre-Columbian sites in Mexico. Someone I know found a little ceramic foot belonging to some kind of Mayan demon and took it to Baton Rouge. On the way home from the airport there was a toxic spill and he nearly died. He mailed the foot back pronto. Everybody knows about the archaeologists at King Tut's tomb who dropped dead one by one without any apparent reason.

One would be hard put to figure out how ancient stones and artifacts take revenge on people who disturb them. There was a recent incident, however, that is perfectly understandable. After people abandoned their houses around Chernobyl, thieves walked in and stole contaminated icons from the walls. These icons are now turning up all over the world in the houses of art collectors.

It is clear, in this case, how modern evil gods operate. Maybe the ancient gods operated the same way. Filled with power and bloated with worship, they held sway until they collapsed or were conquered one day. Nothing remained of their former glory except the afterglow of their radiance. The unwitting tourist picks it up and brings it home.

Which brings me to my real subject, tourists. These dislocated creatures wander the planet now, more and more numerous, a quick-reproducing tribe that leaves no stone unturned, no sight unphotographed, no native undisturbed. I see them pass by my house every day, intent on stealing whatever their inattention lands upon. I'm tempted to spray something on their cameras. I can see how one can become an ancient evil god. The power of the old icons may have been only a defense against tourism.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of ''Exquisite Corpse.''

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