NOVEMBER, 2005 e.v.
Blair MacKenzie Blake
For Camella Grace, Day of the Dead Group Leader
It was on the long plane ride back from Japan that Camella first suggested that we should go down to Mexico City and Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Although I was a little withered from her grueling itinerary and was in the first stage of decompressing from all the tame deer, cherry blossoms, Kirin, green cheerios and purple waffles, I nodded that I was up for another adventure, even if it meant sampling the Oaxacan culinary delicacy of fried grasshoppers spread on warm tortillas (which she said were f***ing delicious!). After all, it was now mid-April, and the Muertos celebration wasn't until the end of October. But, just like that jet from Tokyo's Narita, time flies. Back home in Los Angeles, I still hadn't given my sushi candles gifts to several close friends when the dreaded Mexico itinerary arrived in my email in-box (on October 24th at 8:52 AM - an indicator of Type-A Behavior if ever there was one)...
Recent hurricanes had forced us to cancel the Yucatan part of the trip, but still, over the course of ONE WEEK, we were to fly to Mexico City, first visiting several art museums of the muralist movement (Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco) before going to the archaeological site and museum of the Templo Mayor (the very spot where in 1487 some 20,000 humans where said to have been sacrificed with their still-beating hearts ripped out by bloodthirsty Aztec priests). The next day we were to hire a guide and travel to the great pyramids of Teotihuacan, climbing both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon (a real bitch!) before taking a walk down the 'never-ending' Street of the Dead (braving the never-ending Parade of Hawkers who were probably there with their 'obsidian' knives long before the Teotihuacanoes!) to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Then there was something called "The Blue House" (which turned out to be Frieda Kahlo's Caza Azul - now a museum featuring the artist's works and dingy corsets). After that, we were to catch a flight to Oaxaca for the Muertos festivities (Oct 28-Nov 2). This included hiring more guides for nightly visits to several local cemeteries and shrines, followed by porches of marigold aches and candle-lit altars, followed in turn by a macabre parade and satirical mystery play (Elvis was one of the main characters in the parody) in the nearby village of Etla. The next day there was the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban... ruins, ruins and more mysterious ruins, (why, one has to ask while climbing stone staircases did the ancient Mesoamericans construct so many mysterious ruins?). The monolithic sculptures of Monte Alban were to be followed by more artisan galleries with Muertos themes, shady alamedas, palaces, cathedrals, winces of flavored mescal, spicy fried grasshoppers and the ubiquitous candied skeletons. And then it was back to Mexico City for more museums (a little more Museo Mural Diego Rivera). I know I'm forgetting something... but Camella sure as hell won't...
FOX & HOUNDS PUB, OCTOBER 26
Once the group had been carefully assembled, there were several meetings at the local pub to discuss the trip, although this was mainly just an excuse to get together for rounds of Stellas. It wasn't until the final meeting, attended by Kevin Willis and Camella's Great Dane, Diablo, that anything really important was discussed: "You don't NOT drink a blended margarita because you're worried about the ice. If Moctazuma's going to get his revenge, it will be after you've returned to America" he (Willis) informs us. Needless to say, that was very comforting. "Another round of Stellas, please."
LAX, OCT 27 (and OCT 28!)
Our United Airlines flight to Mexico City, scheduled to depart at 11:55 PM, has been delayed due to mechanical problems. The agent at the United counter will give us another update in an hour as to whether or not certain repairs will allow the airbus to depart. "I hope the problem's not with the blender", I whisper to Kat, not wanting to alarm the other passengers waiting sleepily at the gate. "I'm not all that worried, though" I tell her, "There's a lot of redundancy on these jets... I'm pretty sure there's more than blender on board." But that still leaves us with the more immediate dilemma that it's now after midnight and all the shitty over-priced eateries in terminal 7 with their just right-priced drinks have shut down. Camella thinks we should start walking down the carpeted hallways in search of life, but this doesn't seem too promising (I can hear vacuum cleaners in the distance), especially after several security personnel inform us that there is nothing open except for a few places in the international terminal. Noticing that Joe (soon to be Jose - that is if the United mechanics can repair the broken margarita blender) looks rather hungry... in fact, looks hungry enough to eat cheeseless pizza, I pull out several slices of heathen near-vegan pizza from my backpack (double-wrapped in zip-lock Baggies). Fiendishly pleased, I generously offer him a piece. "It's cheeseless, but has crushed red peppers. Sprinkle some glitter on it, and it will be just like we're back in Japan."
Heather's eyes light up when I next pull out a Snicker's brownie that I got from Solly's bakery. "You're my favorite person in the world right now" she squeals as I present her with one (I've three more in the pack to use as bargaining chips if the need should arise), and I still have my chili peanuts, but I'm not pulling those babies out until push becomes shove (or we find a chilled Corona). About this time, Kat decides that she doesn't like her carry-on luggage. She tells me that she wants to buy a new one, (she has her eyes on a purple one in a store that doesn't sell alcohol) empty the contents from the old one, placing them into the new one, leaving the empty old one at the airport. "Even if the purple one is much nicer than the bulkier, uglier green Samsonite piece your parents gave you, you can't just leave an empty piece of luggage in an airport" I tell her (telepathically, of course). "That would be... a SUSPCIOUS bag."
In a daring move, Camella makes the decision that we should either take a shuttle bus or, if need be, walk to the international terminal in search of food and drink. One of us (Adele) will wait at the gate (sleep) in case there's any updates about our delayed flight. After making the twenty-minute trek on foot (we couldn't understand the obviously disgruntled female bus driver's instructions about which shuttle to take, and [without sub-titles] neither could any of you) to the Tom Bradley Terminal, we find a Sushi bar and order a round of Kirins three seconds before they close. Kat pulls out some Salad Sticks she got in Japan and we're now sitting pretty. A few minutes later (remember, time-impatience is a sure indicator of the type-A personality), it's time to hurry back to Terminal 7 to wake up Adele and see if our airbus is going to get us to the Day of the Dead alive. For whatever reason, we have to go through the security checkpoints again! We are motioned through, even though, this time, one of us has a completely different piece of carry-on luggage, something that the sharp-as-a-tack security personnel working the late shift at Terminal 7 are quick to notice (yeah, right).
As our group boards the smirking airbus I glance over at the United agent behind the counter - the guy who earlier tried to placate the weary and concerned passengers with copies of yesterday's Mexican newspaper: "Was it one of the blenders?" I ask, but he just looks at me as if he doesn't understand the question. Perhaps he's out of the loop as to the exact nature of the mechanical problem, or one of the pilots, themselves, are going to fill us in, probably making up some cover story about engine trouble. Hey, I wouldn't put it past these guys - they are pilots, after all.
The plane ride, itself, is uneventful. I watch the film version of "Bewitched" without bothering to have the sound turned on as the girls suck on Airborne gummis and debate whether to order Gin & Tonics (mainly for the quinine) or to attempt to get a few hours of sleep. Sure as God made little green lime wedges, Gin & Tonics (mainly for the quinine) win out.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Among our group, I'm the only one at Mexican Customs whose carry-on bag is searched. "Cake?" the female inspector asks with a friendly smile while pulling out the carefully wrapped brownies. "No, they're Snickers brownies from Solly's bakery. Girls like 'em" I tell her, pointing to the sweethog, herself... "But, in fact, Solly's also does make a Snickers cake. Only thing is - she abruptly waves me through, confident, I suppose, that I'm not smuggling anything INTO Mexico.
Once we clear Customs, Camella arranges for an official (sitio) taxi to take us to our hotel in the Zocalo. At Disneyland's California Adventure they try. Same with Six Flags Magic Mountain, the Stratosphere Tower on the Las Vegas Strip, and every amusement park in America with their latest in extreme rides. Yes, they all try (including reality television's Fear Factor), but NONE come close to the thrills and sheer terror that is a cab ride in Mexico City.
"Jesus Christ (actually, Jesus Is Coming Soon) on a faded bumper sticker! If you'd mark some lanes, slow down to 85, and quite swerving in front of buses and donkeys, you wouldn't need a goddamn Catholic altar on the dashboard!.. AND a plastic Pope suspended from the rearview mirror just to make it from X to Y to Z in one primer-colored piece... It's like riding with Danny Carey, only without a Meshuggah CD blasting.
Within minutes we're in the dizzying kaleidoscope of Coatlicue's handiwork. Bouncing around in our authorized sitio cab, it seems as if we are in a race to the Zocalo with hundreds of roving taxis, mainly emerald-green VW beetles on their way to a robbery or something worse (so we've been warned). Turning down crowded narrow streets into even more horrific traffic we pass block upon block of street vendors - peddlers of fried tacos, multicolored snow cones, blankets, flowers, plastic fly-killers shaped like a human hand (albeit, some missing a digit or two), exotic fruit, and children's metallic balloons (undoubtedly responsible for most of the UFO sightings caught on video cameras in this prismatic cloaconimbus). Rolling down the window to inhale the urban potpourri, I glimpse on the same corner fire-eaters and green grocers, fortune-tellers and shoe-shiners. Ah, the meztizo! "Good, there's oxygen" I exclaim, pointing to all the Corona umbrellas shading outdoor cafes. On Av Cinco De Mayo, the cabbie turns up VanHalen on the tinny radio to drown out the discordant symphony of horns and general pandemonium that we've come here to experience. Finally, the taxi stops in front of a colonial building located in the main square of the historic district. We've arrived at our hotel, having survived both the unnerving ride and the VanHalen tune.
HOLIDAY INN ZOCALO
Evidently the courteous staff at reservations over-booked, so now they've no choice but to become captives in a modern-day "Battle of Flowers"... just kidding, no choice but to give me a suite for the price of a standard. The room is spacious and clean, although a small plaque near the bathroom sink warns against drinking the tap water. "That's scary... just like L.A." Unpacking, I tell Jose that, because I'm so excited about the ceiling fan, we're going to host a cocktail party tonight. Now, where's that ABBA CD? We've only been in the room for about five minutes when the phone rings. It's Camella, telling us to meet her and the others on the rooftop terrace for breakfast in twenty minutes. Type-A Behavior, but that's okay... a Corona sounds pretty damn good.
As the girls sip café con leche on the terraza, I notice Heather eyeing rather warily the glass of fruit juice she ordered. It's the ice that has her concerned. Finally, she takes a drink, reminding me that Willis said it was okay to do so. "Willis said that you don't not drink a blended margarita because of the stuff of Tlaloc's Paradise. Need I point out that's not a blended margarita?" With this, she frantically searches through her purse for some (futile) preventative measures. As Jose pours milk on a bowl of Frosted Flakes and gobbles down some iridescent ham, my Corona and toast arrives (and by toast, I mean "Here's to the Aztecs and their bloody pageant!"). Seriously, despite the pall of smog, it's a beautiful sunny day on the spot that was once the heart (pun intended) of the mighty Aztec empire.
Now, I know the Aztecs have been much maligned for their bloodthirsty excesses such as feeding the sun with the still beating hearts ripped from some 20,000 sacrificed humans (in a single day), and, hey, discount them as barbarians if you want, but obviously it worked (something you people in Eugene, Oregon should take note of).
From our perch overlooking the near-barren massive concrete square, we've a splendid view of the Catedral Metropolitana, a behemoth of a cathedral with its pollution-besmirched baroque facade that was constructed from the stones of temples destroyed by the Spaniards and which, despite lots of scaffolding and even more prayers, continues to ever so slowly sink into the soft clay subsoil (or, more technically speaking, into the maws of Mictlan [the Mayan Xibalba]. Hey, Huitzilopoctli rules! Even so, all is not well. Where are the chips and salsa, I wonder? Well, I see the salsa on the table, but nothing else except for a basket of rolls. "They don't eat chips in Mexico City", Adele informs me, rather coldly. "Instead, they dip bread into the salsa." "That's funny, Adele." But her knowledge of the place has me a bit concerned. "Kat, are you concerned that there's no chips?" "I am" she says in her soft Aussie accent, and then exhales a Parliament Light into the cerulean. After slurping the remainder of his cereal, Jose drops a bombshell. He tells his aunt Camella that he's going to skip the art museums so that he can catch a few winks... "okay... BUT THAT'S THE CRAZIEST THING I'VE EVER HEARD!" Shaking her fingers with her hands raised above her head, I just know that her nephew is going to see those murals. It might not be today, but he has to wake up at some point, and then it's straight to the murals.
PALACIO DE BELLAS ARTES
Lots of marble and stairways. Frescos of Orozco, Siqueiros, Rivera and others. A picture's worth a thousand words... and we've thousands of pictures.
As the girls purchase sterling silver charms for their necklaces with "monopoly" money, the gringo has little choice but to have his boots shined by a rather persistent fellow (Whoa!, the fortune-teller told me this would happen).
MUSEO MURAL DIEGO RIVERA
Looking at the artist's famous "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park", Camella points out some familiar faces such as Cuba's Jose Martin. Other than Alfred E. Neuman (I think that's who it is), I don't recognize anyone, although I'm duly impressed by the undertaking, and reminded to watch out for pick-pocketers on the walk back to the hotel. That's scary... just like L.A.
STREETS OF MEXICO CITY
Walking back to the zocalo, we take in the sights and sounds, the pulse of the city as they say. A plague of green VW beetles dodge snorting pastel buses making their own lanes as police on horseback look on. The noisy, crowded sidewalks (the perfect place for Heather to have her ass grabbed by passers-by) are teeming with hawkers of jewelry and gold-toothed women ladling sopas. There are taco carts and wedding dresses, sliced fruit and electronics, sequined sombreros and variegated popcicles. And lots of drippings! Passing by chafing dishes of chicken parts and caramelized bananas blessed by a plastic Virgin of Guadeloupe, I wonder what it is that's so freakin' cacophonous? There it is! On every street corner organ-grinders in tan uniforms crank out 'music' while holding their hats out for tips. I sing along with the melody being churned out: "Aye-yii-yii-yiii, I am the Frito bandito. I love Frirto's corn chips, I love dem I do. I love Frito's corn chips, I take dem from you..." (I know Cielito Lindo is really a mariachi favorite, so don't bother sending nasty email or calling the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee). As I squeeze past one without dropping a few pesos in the tip-cap, there is a speeded up bagpipe-like skirl that pierces my skull. It's excruciatingly shrill and excruciatingly unmelodious. Simultaneously, Kat and I burst into laughter. We wonder if this particular brand of torture is inflicted on tourists who neglect to tip, or if, as I suspect, he's just not that that good - that is, he hasn't mastered the smooth grind of his European counterparts? The real answer is that he just doesn't give a shit. Not for a few miserable pesos, he doesn't.
HOLIDAY INN ZOCALO, LA TERRAZA
"Mas cerveza por favor... Modelo Especial." Damn, only one day in Mexico City and already I'm fluent! The girls also order beers with their dinner and, heeding Willis' advice, sample the blended margaritas with extra shots of silver tequila for good measure. We've been up for about 36 hours now, but with the Goddess of the Starry Petticoat above, and more rounds of golden Modelo on the way, we're doing just fine, thank you. In that this was once a much-revered religious site, there's lots of Aztec drumming in the lighted square. Ceaseless drumming would be a better way of describing it, with costumed native dancers shaking their ankle-rattles to the pounding rhythm. Yep, Tonochtitlan is rockin' again, although I didn't see any obsidian knives come out. So much for licensed homicide (and cosmic order in general). As the girls blow cigarette smoke over the railing, a fussy eater picks at his tacos con pollo (sin quesa! Sin crema!), and, not knowing what to make of the bread and salsa, decides to join the senoritas with their dainty margaritas (chug-a-lug, Donna)... The last thing the empath remembers is dancing under the ceiling fan to ABBA's "Fernando." Only, the empath's dancing partner looked a bit like Jose. No, it must have been Camella, or Heather, or Kat, or Adele, or the courteous Mexican woman from hotel reservation desk... or housekeeping... HOUSEKEEPING! Damn it to Mictlan. Those knocks aren't Aztec drums, which means... The phone rings. It's Camella, telling us to meet her and the others at La Terraza for breakfast in fifteen minutes.
It's damn early, but the sun is already beating down on us. Huitzilopochtli blows! (I'm sorry, but with this hangover...). Jose pours some effervescent raspberry Emer-gen-C into a bottle of water, shakes it and, as it fizzes, asks me if I need some? "No, I couldn't stand the noise." According to Camella's itinerary, today we're to eat and breathe Aztec, which, I suppose, explains why Jose is opening a box of Coco-Puffs. The girls are also hurting, hoping the café con leche will revive them. Even Heather throws caution to the wind, washing down a handful of Airborne lozenges with a glass of jugo natural de naranja. I order a Corona, but notice that my stash of spicy chili peanuts has mysteriously disappeared. "Kat, are you concerned that I can't find my chili peanuts?" "I am", she says in her soft Aussie accent, and then exhales a Parliament Light into the cerulean.
Minutes later, we're right back in the general chaos - the inharmonious traffic, resilient peddlers, and the organ-grinder's fantasia, although, fortunately, our first destination is only a couple of blocks from the Holiday Inn, meaning we don't need to worry about any trouser chili taxi ride today.
ZONA ARQUEOLOGICA DEL TEMPLO MAYOR (TENOCHITITLAN)
"Alright, what's the big fuss about? An eagle with a snake in its mouth is seen perched on a cactus growing from a stone and somebody decides that this is definitely the spot to construct a primary religious structure, whereupon they are to sustain the sun by flicking the blood of the hearts of thousands upon thousands of sacrificial victims at it?" "Si, senior, says the uniformed person who takes my $38.00 pesos. (NOTE: in at least one ancient Aztec codex that survived Archbishop of Yucatan Diego de Landa's auto-da-fe the eagle is depicted getting ready to consume of the fruit of the cactus).
With our ticket stubs we gain entrance to what at first looks like a bombed out building or construction site with a series of ditches and catwalks. Did our group leader make a mistake? Not according to the guidebook. This is the Templo Mayor (main temple), an archeological marvel that remained submerged beneath the colorful bustling streets of downtown Mexico City (zocalo) for hundreds of years (that's one hell of a siesta!) until it was "accidentally" discovered in 1978!!!, allegedly by either an employee of the Electric Light Company or someone working on the Metro Subway system. Although it's hard to believe that the country of Mexico lost a gigantic pyramid (as one might lose their car keys), that's the official story. It seems far more likely, however, that the ruins of the destroyed main temple (and the Aztec metropolis, itself) were quite deliberately buried by those sympathetic with the Roman Catholic Church (hell, they still don't let you take photos of the place with flash bulbs). Does this explain the enormous sewer pipe running though the middle of the once sacred precinct?
From the twin stepped-pyramid temple whose astronomically skewed foundation we are walking on, some 500 years ago, radiated the urban complexity of the powerful Aztec empire. This is where Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors, those "troubled with a disease of the heart for which gold is the only remedy" defeated Moctezuma, laying waste to a very sophisticated culture, the likes of which the European invaders could scarcely have imagined. Never mind that rack of fossilized human skulls we've just passed by. Although there are some vibrantly-colored friezes among the ruins, it's inside the plush on-site museum that one gets a much better feel of what the Templo Mayor looked like in it's days of glory. On display here there are hundreds of artifacts unearthed during the excavations, including a giant stone disc of an Aztec goddess that was used to stop the tumbling bodies of those thrown down the stairs of the pyramid after being ritually murdered in order to nourish the sun. With our video cameras rolling, we pass fanged serpents, eagles, jaguars, and grotesque frogs. And then there is the altar composed of a rack of human skulls (tzompantli). Cool, I hope they have a refrigerator magnet of this in the gift shop.
Concerning the Temple of Huitzilopochtli at Tenochititlan, there is a curious bit of esoterica that most writers associate with the use of vision-inducing drugs that enabled the Aztecs to communicate with their pantheon of gods. To some degree, these researchers are correct, although, in this writer's opinion, they were evidently unaware as to the identity of the actual substance involved. An occult interpretation leads me to believe that this is of a post-mortem endogenous nature, and involved the treasured 'raindrops' of Thaloc. In short, the tale involves a poor rag-picker (swathings of a mummified corpse?) who found a painted book that told of a MAGIC CASKET lying beneath the 93rd step of the pyramid. After enlisting the aid of a priest, the rag-picker removes the casket and finds the spoils secreted within it. In a strange twist, the rag-picker then kills the priest by striking him on the head with a magic wand that was inside the casket. When the rag-picker later attempts to fathom the mysteries of the treasure, he is haunted day and night by unwelcome "spirits." Filled with fear, the rag-picker throws the magic casket and its contents into a lake, whereupon the dead priest emerges and kills him. In the end, the priest becomes the guardian of the treasure of the magic casket, which, so the story suggests, is deemed too dangerous for the uninitiated.
The tale shares certain features with others that hint at the sacred cannibalism of ancient Egypt (Khem), and one wonders if it wasn't transmitted by the pochtecas. Ostensibly, the pochtecas were itinerant vendors who traveled all over ancient Mesoamerica selling or trading their goods, although, more importantly to all involved, at the same time they were spreading ideas and secret knowledge. As "merchants who lead", they comprised a guild of craftsmen whose function was similar to the masons of Europe, and who, with their mysterious activities, also draw many parallels with the medieval Order of the Knights Templar. Working behind the scenes, the true mission of these highly esteemed traveling merchants was to search for the "Land of the Sun." However, rather than the exoteric sun, this may have been the esoteric sun of Polarian/Atlanteanology - that presided over in Mesoamerican mythology by Black Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl'smysterious twin. Seen in this light, a verse written about the pochtecas is particularly revealing:
You are to wander,
These last few lines bring to mind the Great Work of the alchemists, and it does seem likely that the pochtecas, as the followers of the hidden cult of Quetzalcoatl, were, at the same time, the seekers, possessors and guardians of a rare and precious thing. What this may have been remains a mystery to most, but, perhaps, even more telling than the verses above is the account of one writer who claimed that if the pochtecas "accumulated too much wealth, they organized religious banquets and quickly got rid of it." As I strolled through the museum of the Templo Mayor, I continued to wonder if the secret of sacred cannibalism (that involving the 'Glitter of the Sleepers') in the ancient world was one of the major reasons why the main temple remained buried under the heart of Mexico City for so long. It also made me consider an alternate explanation as to why the still beating hearts of those privileged sacrificial victims were so quickly removed (and later roasted on smoking braziers). The altar composed of a rack of fossilized skulls was also interesting.
It was now noon and time to leave these Aztec ruins. A driver with a van that Camella had arranged to take us to the pyramids was probably waiting for us back at the hotel.
HIGHWAY 85 TO THE PIRAMIDES
On the way to the pyramids of Teotihuacan, located some 50 kilometers north-east of Mexico City, Adele asks me about the mystery surrounding the discoveries of extensive layers of sheet mica that the builders had placed within the Pyramid of the Sun and under the paved flooring of another structure now known as the "Mica Temple." Since the mica was placed between layers behind the exterior and underneath the floor, its function couldn't have been of a purely decorative nature. Also, the type of mica (as determined by trace elements found in the Mica Temple) found at 'Teo' in all likelihood came from a mine in Brazil over 2,000 miles away. So, the question is: why'd they go to all the trouble and cost, especially if it couldn't even be seen? "Mica is used in electrical insulators and has other high-tech applications", Adele tells me, reading from an article she found on the internet. "These are the kind of things you're supposed to know" she mock-chides me. "I have no idea" is my reply, although the notion of some kind of ancient/futuristic pyramid stargate might have made things more exciting.
ZONA ARQUEOLOGICA DE TEOTIHUACAN
After stopping for lunch in some tourist restaurant without chips, but with plenty of rolls to dip into the bowls of salsa, we arrive at the pyramids that I've read so much about and am quite anxious to finally see in real life. But, not so fast... As we pile out of our guide's van, we are accosted by a friendly Mexican fellow named Jesus who most certainly has our best interests at heart, and who wants to make sure that we know the difference between the expensive authentic obsidian figurines and the cheaper machine-made variety that the parade of hawkers who await us at the ruins will be selling. "Don't you worry my friend, we won't buy any stuff from those pesky hawkers, especially when we can pay five times as much right here..."
The pyramids are tantalizingly close, but we've still got to get past Jesus' demonstration of the many wonders of the maguey plant. These include a translucent 'skin' that can peeled off and used as writing paper, a sewing needle complete with thread already attached, thatch, and so on and so on... "Yes, that's nice, but if the damn thing is really so miraculous, its sap would be able to give you a good buzz." After another brief detour, this time into the hand-crafted obsidian figurine factory where we are given samples of an alcoholic drink of some sort (pulque, I think it was called, although I have no idea what it was distilled from), at last we head towards the pyramids of 'Teo.'
Once the largest city and most important ceremonial precinct in ancient Mesoamerica, the sprawling ruins of Teotihuacan continues to mystify scholars as to who its original builders were, the date of its initial construction, and the purpose for the entire city to be laid out with such geometrical precision. The one thing that all can agree on, though, is that who ever the 'Teotihuacanos were, they most certainly had a specific reason for their commitment in precisely orienting the various structures, so much so, that they altered features in the local topography (including diverting the course of a river) in order to make the land itself 'conform' to the architects' rectilinear grid-plan. As for a date of the original site-plan, several are given: anywhere from the time of Christ to thousands of years earlier, the latter due to a subterranean passage and multi-chambered cave system discovered directly beneath the Pyramid of the Sun in the 1971.
The immense ruins are dominated by two colossal structures, probably named at a much later date by the Toltecs or Aztecs as the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. Although barren and austere today, both are impressive in size, with the Piramide del Sol being the third largest pyramid in the world (only the ruined ziggurat of Cholula [also in Mexico] and Great Pyramid of Egypt trumping it). It has recently been shown that the positions of both of these monumental structures was determined by a main axis in the form of an immense avenue (actually a series of plazas) known as Calle de los Muertos - The Street of the Dead.
However, this major axis, itself, as well as the entire plan of the once urban metropolis, holds another riddle. According to mainstream archaeologists and those scholars of a more archaeoastronomy bent, a number of pecked-cross markers (petroglyphs) discovered among the ruins were most likely employed in remote antiquity by the master builders to establish an astronomical baseline that defined the main-axis. The general consensus as for the astronomical motivation in the skewed orientation (i.e. the principle axis being intentionally inclined clockwise from the cardinal points on the horizon) of the Teotihuacan site was an alignment with either the rising of Sirius or the setting of the Pleiades star-group.
PIRAMIDE DE LA LUNA
Having successfully negotiated the initial onslaught of persistent hawkers in the spacious square courtyard called Plaza de la Luna, we spray our faces with SEAPLASMA and decide to climb the Pyramid of the Moon first. The steep climb up a series of flights of stone stairs is a bit tough, especially near the top in places where there aren't any steps, but still we manage to do it with little difficulty. As a reward, the view of the city's layout looking straight down the so-called Street of the Dead is nothing short of spectacular (not to mention that we are now well above the hawkers with their tourist tat). "Senior, you like to buy..." D'oh! "No gracias." Along the 4KM stretch of the Calle de los Muertos we can see the ruins of other structures including La Ciudadela (The Citadel) and the famous Templo de Quetzalcoatl. While observing these from the top level, Jose taps my shoulder and points out a pitiful huddle of corrugated tin-roofed shanties set amid the dusty greenish scrub behind us. Seeing just how far we've come over the centuries, we are even more impressed with the unknown builders of 'Teo.'
PIRAMIDE DEL SOL
Next, it's The Pyramid of the Sun. 242 steep stone steps to the top where the Aztecs performed so many bloody human sacrifices. While climbing next to Heather, as I stop to have a blast of SEAPLASMA, I notice that she's drinking something. IS THAT A BEER? By God, it is! Back in L.A., someone once told her that she probably wouldn't be able to make it to the top of this pyramid, but here she is doing it rather effortlessly, all the while drinking a can of Modelo Especial. Upon reaching the top level, I realize that my heart is beating a bit fast (perhaps I've fallen in love with Heather), but fortunately there are no Aztec priests to tear it out. There is, however, no shortage of obsidian knives for sale by the aggressive hawkers on the Calle de los Muertos below.
Once down from the world's 3rd largest pyramid, we take a walk along the Street of the Dead (street, my ass! - not with all those partitioned sections). Here, there is much more to see, including Adele's "Mica Temple" and those mysterious pecked-cross markers in what's known as the 'Viking Group' complex. Conspicuous stars (the Sirius-Pleiades axis) might be one answer to the Teotihuacan plan, but there are plenty of alternative theories as well, one being that the mathematical city represents nothing less than a scale-model of the solar system (complete with correct orbital distances of the outer planets!).
Astronomical cults aside, thinking along different lines, an engineer who carefully examined 'Teo's' ground plan has suggested that the partitioned sections of the Street of the Dead were once filled with water, and that these linked reflecting pools, as he describes them, were used by the ancients to forecast seismic activity in the region. Although this is certainly possible, in reading about the divided sections containing water, along with a system of artificial canals at the site (not to mention the aquatic symbolism associated with the Temple of Quetzalcoatl), I began thinking about the Sirius mystery - namely Robert Temple's book of the same title in which the author theorizes that a race of aquatic beings from a planet in the Sirius system might have bequeathed civilization to us earthlings thousands of years ago (remember, the ruins here have not been definitively dated), and that while based in what is now modern Egypt, these extraterrestrial visitors subsisted in an artificial body of water that once surrounded the Sphinx.
In that there are so many similarities with the "as above, so below" non-symmetrical sacred geometry of the enduring monuments of ancient Egypt and the pyramidal structures of ancient Mesoamerica, which also contain scientific data encoded in the architecture, it is tempting to link the elusive Priest-King Quetzalcoatl (whose name means water-bird-serpent*) with those mysterious "gods" (apply either 'A'-word) who appeared in our remote past as civilizers - those like Robert Temple's Sirians that bestowed advanced knowledge upon humankind before quickly disappearing altogether, save for in the margins of history that most historians would prefer to call mythology.
· The name Quetzalcoatl has a secondary meaning: Precious Twin, a hint, perhaps, of the dark companion of Sirius A, the 'occult' home of the Sirians
With regards to the sacred geometry, even if the archaeoastronomy associated with 'Teo's' grid-plan and corresponding structures prove to be valid, I have a different idea as to why the name Teotihuacan means "The place where men become gods" or, even, and more reminiscent of ancient Egyptian thinking, "The place of those who had the road of the gods." Remember that cave system that was recently discovered beneath the Pyramid of the Sun? Well, I like what archaeologist, Doris Heyden, had to say: "The orientation of the cave and the ceremonies associated with it set the direction of Teotihuacan's grid." But what exactly was the nature of the rituals? If we understand that caves symbolized gateways to the spiritual world by the ancient inhabitants of the region, then maybe we are closer to the answer.
In what many see as purely aquatic symbolism in the gorgeously-colored murals and friezes of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan, I see Nightside symbolism having to do with an endogenous substance (including the more efficacious post-mortem variety) that enables one to penetrate other realms or dimensions of consciousness populated by trans-mundane entities (which might explain why 'dwarfs' were venerated by the ancient Mesoamericans).
It is the esoteric nature of the Priest-King Quetzalcoatl's departure and return (death and rebirth) from the underworld Mictlan/Xibalba that lies at the heart of the mystery, and explains the god's paradoxical nature. There, he assumes the identity of his precious twin, Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking (or dark) Mirror, which represents a parallel world composed of dark matter (polished mirrors were among the various artifacts found in the labyrinth of caves beneath the Pyramid of the Sun). Tezcatlipoca was considered the Lord of the noumenal world, which is the shadow-side of the Qabalistic Tree of Life - the clouded, distorted realms of existence that I described in my book, Ijynx, as those "Blurred paradises unfolding before the navigator's intense gaze, Focused on eternity while at the glorious machinery of death." (NOTE: the word tezcat = obsidian, which is linked with the soul).
Perhaps a closer examination of the sacred alignments of the 'Teo' complex will reveal human proportions (along with the celestial metaphor) and offer further clues as to the location of a treasure like that found in certain necropolises in ancient Egypt. This calcified residue of a little understood biochemical reaction, or the Philosopher's Stone as it was referred to by the medieval alchemists, becomes "the jeweled engine of transport swallowed by reptilian jaws" (taken from Ijynx, although for that particular verse in "Xibalba" I was describing the depiction of Pakal seated at the mysterious machinery on the sarcophagus lid unearthed at Palenque). Is this why legends claim "The City of Gods was so known because the Lords therein buried, after their deaths did not perish, but turned into gods?" The real clue as to the correct interpretation of this sacred cannibalism is given in the 'mythology' when Quetzalcoatl is fatally vanquished by his twin, Tezcatlipoca, who, in turn, is vanquished by Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl thus becomes (again, quoting from Ijynx) the "Obsidian butterfly jetted from a kaleidoscopic garden', especially, dare I say, if his heart is ripped out. And it is for this reason that Tezcatlipoca is often depicted as a necromancer seated before an altar of PAINTED skulls and bones.
The sun is now setting, and our driver is waiting with the van to take us back to our hotel. Teotihuacan is closing for the night. There is just enough time for one final hawker to give us a deal on an obsidian figurine of the composite Quetzalcoatl-Tezcatlipoca. (or someone from the Nahuatl pantheon) "Almost free!" he shouts. Even so...
HOLIDAY INN ZOCALO, LA TERRAZA
"Most people just come here to eat", one of our Mexican waiters teases us as the girls order yet another round of Modelos with shots of tequila to help speed things along. Hummingbird Looking Left (Huitzilopochtli) is now sleeping, but a pink coyolxauhqui is hanging out over the 16th-century colonial palaces in the zocalo, looking on as the mammoth cathedral continues to slouch under the weight of all those golden altars looted from Moctezuma's temples. It's nice to take a break from the plumed serpent and his 'antithesis', mica stargates and the Aztecs' complex cosmology (Wait a minute, is that the Templo de Quetzalcoatl on that twenty peso note?) and just kick back on the rooftop terrace, listening to the now familiar sound of brightly-feathered natives beating tribal drums. Damn if I didn't speak too soon!
The girls want to go check out the swirl of color (pausing only to drink Coca-cola) in the massive square below, so after a final "salute!" of a shot of Patron, we had for the glass elevator.
After watching the Neo-Nahuatl dancers, who, instead of being garbed in their captives' flayed skin, boogie these days in more tourist guidebook attire, Jose and I head for a club where earlier we saw a local Mexican rock band doing some Doors and Ozzy covers (mano cornutas all around). Camella and the others soon join us, but not before stopping to feed street vendor tamales to a couple of mangy dogs. Through the prism of tequila, things aren't always clear, but what most people don't know is that there is a re-set button (cataclysmic rumbles included). As the band does some Floyd, "Comfortably Numb" from "The Wall" (aptly so), I think how nice it is to be here (where even archetypal figures mysteriously disappear in fantastic silver shells) with some of my closest friends. Honestly, I can't think of better traveling companions this side of the Mauve Zone. If only I had had Tezcatlipoca's black mirror, then I'd know what happened to my spicy chili peanuts (I suppose you think they're as "numerous as glittering gems of morning dew" here in Mexico). Before heading back to the hotel for a late night card game, Heather and I brave another Calzada de los Muertos (for dogs, at least) to pick up a couple of six-packs of Modelo Especial. In this place of so many obsidian blades (Almost free!), knowing that my "red cactus fruit", as those whacky dudes from Aztlan referred to pulsing hearts in their painted comics (i.e. codices), was in the right place, I'm ready for the next adventure. And tomorrow, we're going to see a blue house.
Having taken the subway instead of subjecting ourselves to a taxi ride in the merciless traffic, we emerge in a suburb of Mexico City known as the Coyoacan area. Standing there in the afternoon sunlight, the first thing I want to do is get some hand sanitizer. When Heather squeezes out a dab of the clear gel into my palm, thinking about all those handrails I held in the subway, I tell her that she'd better make it "a Claudia Schiffer load." "I know what you mean" she tells me, but then says, "Isn't she getting a little old, though? Maybe you should make it a Maria Sharapova load instead."
With our hands thoroughly sanitized, the remainder of Airborne gummis in our systems, and our faces moistened with SEAPLASMA, we walk several blocks (dozens actually) down shady crooked streets past "charming' colonial-style houses until we see a line of people standing in front of a cobalt-blue facade. This just has to be...
MUSEO FRIDA KAHLO
"Hey, this isn't Salma Hayek's house!" I tell Camella. "What?.. Oh, Salma played the part of Frieda in a movie." A bit disappointed, I nevertheless buy a ticket that allows me entrance into the Casa Azul where Frida Kahlo limped around for a good part of her life, and where she lived with her muralist husband, Diego Rivera, in the 1940s. With floors painted bright yellow, the rooms are filled with Frieda and Rivera's artwork and possessions. Both were avid collectors of pottery ("plates and shit" as Jose called them when her aunt wasn't listening), and glass display cases are filled with masks, toys, dolls, and assorted curios. Jose snickers at the "strikingly handsome" woman's famous monobrow while examining one of the few Kahlo paintings that Madonna hasn't yet bought. After checking out a courtyard of tropical plants where Frieda's pet spider monkey used to climb, we decide to go get some lunch.
SOME HACIENDA/RESTAURANT WITH ROLLS AND SALSA
Eating my tacos-con-pollo (what real Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles call tequitos!) in the quaint eatery, I am bewildered, not only by the absence of chips, but that no matter what this gringo requests, none of the fare I've sampled thus far in Mexico (Coyoacan now included) is remotely spicy (by my standards). How is this possible? When Crowley visited this place in 1900, according to a paragraph in his 'Confessions', upon encountering the body of a recently dead Mexican whose flesh was "mummified" in the relentless sun, he writes "neither the coyotes nor the turkey-buzzards will touch a dead Mexican because his flesh has been too thoroughly impregnated with chilies and other pungent condiments. Right!, that's what I'm looking for... chilies and other pungent condiments. That and some chips.
Maybe it was her extraordinary cheese plate (as the menu called it) or, more likely, the beers and shots, but Kat, who was supposed to fly back to Los Angeles tonight, decides to stay and meet us in Oaxaca. Actually, all of the girls are loving Mexico, calling it their new favorite place. Perhaps we'll all come back with the band (Tool) who have expressed interest in playing both Central and South America dates on their next tour. Until then, let's have another round, and order a piece of cheesecake as dessert for Kat.
MUSEO MURAL DIEGO RIVERA (REVISITED)
On the way back to the hotel, Camella suggests that we stop at the museum with Rivera's famous mural that Jose missed the first time around. It's free on Sundays, she tells the rest of us, but I'm perfectly content to wait on a bench and dream of a Sunday in Alameda Park.
Back at the zocalo, with an hour or so to kill before we have to take a cab to the airport for our flight to Oaxaca, even though a light sprinkle is coming down, Heather and I decide to go look for a flask to fill with our favorite distillation. We're going to need one for the all-night vigils in cemeteries as part of Dia de los Muertos, I tell her. "We're going to need it for the plane ride tonight!" she corrects me in a squeaky tone that nevertheless conveys her conviction. "Heather, what you just said... that's really beautiful." I pause in the warm drizzle near the Aztecs' square and take her hands. "If I didn't love you before, I sure as hell do now." Unfortunately, though, we couldn't find a flask anywhere. I only hope those Aviacsa folks have something for the forty-five minute flight.
Photos by Camella & Heather