Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November 5, 2014
Today was Teotihuacan, one of the most iconic tourist destinations in Mexico. It’s about a 45 minute bus ride from one of the metro stops and since it was Wednesday the crowds weren’t too bad. The place was amazing. A ruin that was old before the Aztecs came there were, nonetheless, plenty of vendors hawking Aztec chachkies. But even their presence couldn’t detract from the sheer scope of the place. It’s huge in every way possible, size, vision, age. We’ve seen some of the oldest construction built by Europeans in the Americas. But this place leaves them all in the dust. The name Teotihucan means “the place where the gods were created,” and you can believe it, looking at all of the buildings, the very first planned metropolitan center in the Americas and the 6th largest city in the world at its time, covering, at its peak, over 30 square kilometers.

The place is packed with temples,
 plazas, carved animals,
and a few lingering murals.

The buildings are strung out along a two mile avenue called the “Avenenue of the Dead,”
so named by the Aztecs, who seemed to be keen on death.

On one side of the Avenue of the Dead is the Pyramid of the Sun,
the third largest pyramid in the world, and at the end the smaller, but certainly no less impressive, Pyramid of the Moon.

There’s some thought that the Pyramid of the Sun was actually a temple for the worship of the water god. But so much about the people who created this place is unknown, it’s hard not to refrain from sheer speculation.

The place is still being excavated and repaired, and evidence of that was everywhere.

Including a tomato plant, which seemed to be part of the excavation, doubtless more than a thousand years old.

After the decline of the original builders's culture new construction was added. In places you can see the one immediately over the other.

The stairways to the tops of the temples were steep. Particularly those to the Pyramid of the Moon.
Everywhere you could see a unique stone d├ęcor, using smaller stones set between larger ones to create an iconic design.

Water drainage systems are still visible.

And there are stairways everywhere. In this high mountain air, climbing the steps is a workout. The sun is intense. The air is very dry. The vendors selling water and pop do the briskest business.
Crossing the Avenue of the Dead is a river that the designers redirected from its banks to flow perpendicularly through the town.

But it is the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon that draws the most visitors. Everyone wants to climb them. And it’s a good workout. But well worth it. The view is spectacular.

We toured the museum which had a handy layout of the city to walk over.

And we took a look at a garden featuring some of the native plants to the area.
Then it was a bus ride and metro ride back after one of the most spectacular days of our visit.

Monday, November 10, 2014

November 4, 2014
Tuesday I did a school in the morning and a faculty workshop in the afternoon. No sightseeing for me. My performances have been received pretty positively and it’s been a lovely boost to hear the appreciation. The kids are engaged and excited in a different way than in the U.S., though I’m not sure I could say how. Pablo got some good shots of me throughout the tour that he has generously shared. I'll have to update my website!

The faculty workshop went well too. Lots of interested questions from the teachers which was pretty impressive considering that, for them, I was doing the workshop in a foreign language.

But the news that dominated the day (and all of the days thereafter) was the capture of the Mayor and his wife who had been suspects in the disappearance of the 43 students. The level of cynicism about the government here is several orders of magnitude greater than anything I’ve encountered in the United States. And much more widespread. I certainly hope that our goal of government by the people doesn’t fall by the way. Living in a society where the people and their government are enemies of each other is a tragedy I hope never to see. I am resolved, this election day, to remember that no matter the  opinions, backgrounds or values, we are one people.

November 3, 2014

I started off the day at an American Immersion school that had a librarian from New Zealand. There seems to be a community of English speaking expatriates that travel around the world teaching at international schools. This particular one gave us a heads up that there might be a large protest downtown. The 43 disappeared students continue to dominate the thoughts of Mexican citizens. No surprise. I remember the national turmoil in this country when 4 college students were killed at Kent State in Ohio. Having been surprised by protests in Chile on my last tour I was anxious to avoid getting caught in another one. Our plans to go to Teotihuacan on Wednesday seem like good ones. Today we are headed for Xochimilco.

Xochimilco like Coyoacan, was formerly an independent city, but has since been absorbed into Mexico City. With over 250 kilometers of canals it is a popular tourist destination and we went to some pretty extreme lengths to get there so that we could ride the local boats piloted by a kind of Mexican Gondalier. There was a particular island that appealed to our sense of the macabre: La isla de las Munecas. (Seriously, check it out. You couldn’t make this stuff up.)

As soon as I was done with the school, Pablo and I hied ourselves home and we jumped on the metro
to catch the bus to Xochimilco (pronounced So-chee –milko), where we ended up taking another bus and then a cab to find the particular line of barcos that would take us on the precise tour that we were interested in. They were closed.

Not to worry said our cabby.
He knew of a barcodero that could give us exactly the tour we wanted.

For some reason we had to meet him in the courtyard of a church.

By the time we got to the wharf
dusk was setting in and our tour of the scenic canals of Xochimilco was marked by very little light in which to see. Still if you could enjoy the romance of it all,
it was a pleasant evening and even though we didn’t have time to go all the way to La Isla de las Munecas, there was a replica that we could kind of see at night.

It was a bizarre and somewhat unsatisfying day. But you have to have a few losers in there among the winners. We got home late. Ate dinner and hit the sack.

November 2, 2014
Coyoacan used to be an outlying area far away from Mexico city. But now it’s just a metro ride and a short walk. It’s basically a market area with lots of vendors and stalls and plenty of Dia de Los Muertos ofrendas and celebrations. But the first thing to greet us as we got off of the elevated train was… clowns. Lots of them.

They seemed to be just hanging around apparently getting ready to raise some money for (I think) the organization, Doctors without Borders.

After clowning around with them a bit (and making a donation!) we began walking toward the market area. Karen was fascinated (a little unhealthily in my opinion) with the advertisements put up by a local lawyer
as well as by a local monument to tequila, mad from the agave plant.

We walked past another highly decorated wall of skulls

and finally made it to the market where we encountered the world’s largest skull made entirely of sugar.

Catrinas were common, (even a restaurant bears her name with a waitress to match)

as were ofrendas, including one with a fidder! (And more skulls!)

Lots of people, old and young dress for the weekend

and this weekend the market sported a mime who gathered quite a crowd.

 We had lunch at a hole in the wall place with another waiter who also dressed for the occasion.
               Even the animals are included in the costumery.

This is a good time to mention that all of Mexico has been focusing attention on the 43 students who disappeared about a month ago. Known as the Normalistas for the University they attended, the public outrage over their disappearance has been strong. Their presence was palpable throughout Dia de Los Muertos  and we saw many ofrendas and signs referring to them.

Other posted signs referred to entertainment opportunities and we’d been keeping our eyes open particularly for theater. We noticed one poster advertising a Teatro Coyoacan production of Moliere’s Tartuffe. But regrettably the show dates weren’t ones that we could attend. Imagine our surprise, when a woman stepped out in front of us as we made our way down the narrow sidewalks and invited to come to the production of Tartuffe we thought we were going to be unable to see.

And it was free! Were we interested? Por supuesto! Off we went to the theater, a charming and rather worn auditorium with a proscenium stage. As we were sitting down I noticed on the program that it described the play as Moliere’s classic “al desnudo”. I’m not sure what they were referring to because all of the characters in the play were more than adequately clothed. It was a hilarious production and it seemed a fitting end to a day that began with clowns.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November 1, 2014
Dia de los Muertos was in full swing in DF as we took the metro downtown to look around the Zocalo (a large plaza), the Palacio Nacional, the main Cathedral of Mexico City and the Aztec ruins relatively recently discovered and still being excavated. Even the local bike taxis were decorated for the occasion.


The metros can be breathtakingly crowded, particularly on national holidays, but the trip was well worth it. There were ofrendas on the Zocalo as well as vendors, Aztec dancers and organ grinders.

The Palacio Nacional has breathtaking murals by Diego Rivera of a narrative scope that I’ve never seen before.

The cathedral is huge and decorated with the slightly unnerving combinations of Aztec and Christian iconography found everywhere we traveled.

After a quick lunch in a downtown diner, we also got our first taste of the antiquity of Mexico. Back in early 1978, during some construction on the city’s light system, workers discovered some old ruins. Closer investigation led to the discovery of one of the world’s great archaeological sites, right in the heart of Mexico city. Here we find the origins of such Dia de Los Muertos traditions such as the wall of skulls. There is a museum on the site as well with plenty of Aztec archaeological finds.

 We headed home tired and hungry. Bought some food to stock our departamento and hit the sack, determined to visit Coyahuacan the next day.