Monday, June 20, 2005

El DF, part one

number thirty-four

This is the first installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican vacation. This is also the first post in a numbered duo about the history of México City. Be sure to read the subsequent post, too. 1,009 words.

[NL; composed in DF] México City enjoys a long and sordid history too interesting and complex to condense to the space constraints here. But briefly: about thirty-two hundred years ago, the Olmecs founded a vast cultural base of arts and religion in southwestern México, creating an empire that is presumed to have taken part in a trade network uniting tribal units from as far away as northern Honduras. A thousand years later, an unknown civilization, centered in a town posthumously dubbed Teotihuacán by its eventual Aztec conquerors, flourished about fifty kilometers north of present-day México City. The Teotihuacán people worshiped Olmec gods, and built a spectacular metropolis of level streets and towering pyramids. To their south, over the next nine hundred years or so (overlapping, but outliving the empire at Teotihuacán), the Mayan people were doing very much the same in the Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras: inroads followed after the collapse of the Olmecs. Other peoples came and went, some mostly unknown to us: a large post-Olmec classic-era Veracruz empire, the Toltecs, the Zapotecs, the Mixtecs, the Totonacs, and others. Many Mexican civilizations created themselves by conquering the civilization previous. At times it was enough for a new people to merely take up residence in the civilization left behind for them. All over México, people from different settlements were often at war or in treaty with each other. The Mayans alone were split into at least two distinct factions at war with one another. In this way, smaller, newer tribes were able to grow and flourish because of strategic diplomatic ties to shifting protective trade states. Eventually, these would vie for control in the next era of Mexican history. Then the process would repeat. New civilizations came and went.

In among all of these shifting long-term empires, satellite communities had lived and traded in the Valley of México, a large mountain-ringed plateau mostly filled with the receding lake Texcoco. This high-altitude valley had supported hunting and fishing settlements beginning about 10,000 BC, which had given way to agrarian communities in the fertile banks of the lake as it began to shrink some three thousand years later. Much later, about 1300 AD, the brutal Aztecs, a nomadic tribe from the north of México, arrived on the banks of the lake offering their services to established settlements as war-makers. They were allowed to populate inhospitable land to the north of the lake. Soon their Aztec ways of human sacrifice caused rifts in the relations between local communities. Instead of being kicked out right then, the Aztecs were employed as mercenaries to stave off aggression between larger tribes vying for dominance. Eventually, the Aztecs were captured, and then employed as mercenaries, yet again, by their captors. Finally, they were run out of town by the tribe which had employed them, the Culhuacán. The story goes that the ruler of Culhuacán, Cocoxtli, happily the new master of the south and western shores, offered his daughter in a marriage alliance to the Aztecs. Upon receiving the gift, the Aztecs offered her in marriage to Huizilopochtli, their hummingbird god. By the time Cocoxtli arrived at the ceremony, she had already been skinned and hummingbird priests were dancing sacred rites while wearing her.

Fleeing the enraged forces of Culhuacán, the Aztecs fled to the weedy and uninhabited marshlands where Texcoco had receded, and there spied an eagle sitting on a cactus with a snake in its beak. This was interpreted, and by all evidence interpreted correctly, as a sign to stop running and found an Aztec empire. Tenochtitlán, the city begun that very day, eventually spanned an entire series of islands, natural and Aztec-made, across the lake, its shores, and finally across the whole valley of México (with its sister city Tlatelolco). Aztecs took the remains of Teotihuacán in the north and revitalized it, returning it to its status as a breathtaking marvel of human engineering. Over the next two centuries they repeated this process many times, bulldozing old civilizations and recreating a Mexican city-state stretching to Veracruz in the east and to Guatemala and the Yucatán in the south. Much of their empire they found ready made for them by the departed Mayans and Toltecs, but this in no way undermines their achievement. By the time Spanish conquerors happened upon Mexico in 1517, the Aztec empire was one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles in the world: an animistic civilization of brightly painted architectural wonders, with a floating metropolitan garden of Eden at its heart. Based on the evidence of such riches, the Old World had reason to covet the Aztec’s empire, and within a few years had snatched it away with the aid of numerous indigenous allies used to playing power-hungry superpowers against one another. Thousands of years of Mexican civilization defeated in a war that saw the buildings of Tenochtitlán systematically razed.

It is possible to speculate, hopefully without condoning anything, that the Aztecs blossomed, and then wilted, in the expected way. An end mirrored by their very own beginning; repeated regularly throughout the history of Mesoamerica before them. An unbelievably brutal race, the Aztecs indulged in an almost unimaginable cult of human sacrifice, traded their women as commodities, enslaved whole city-states, and employed corrupt martial politics to wrest their country-wide control. The end of their local colonialism by the international colonialism of Spain’s King Carlos I, their resulting near-genocide, and the relegation of indigenous locals to the bottom classes was not an especially new story in the history of Ancient Mexican civilization. The fact that these egregious acts were perpetrated from afar by rich whites from the modern world is one of many evils in the Spanish past, but from the perspective of their Aztec victims, surely, what comes around goes around.

And from this clash of warlike and colonial cultures, the intermixing of Spanish and Indigenous blood, came the seeds of modern Mexico, and modern Mexicans everywhere.

Start here for a better understanding of Mexican history.

A good overview of Mesoamerican civilization.

Stay tuned for part two.

Painting, National Museum of Anthropology.1930 by Dr. Atl

Quiet Reading Room

This is a quiet reading room. Often, I find it is uncomfortable to digest long tubes of columned text directly off a computer screen. This journal is dedicated to the collection, percolation, and ultimate integration of my personal experiences. Subjects that I want to examine and then talk about--sometimes talk a lot about--€”are presented here. This central content can tend to thousands of words, maybe millions. I was afraid that readers were leaving the presentation boggled, spinning, googly-eyed. Or perhaps when confronted with twenty-four inches, or yards, of monitor sprawl they were just giving up. I am not even certain that I have necessarily solved this inevitable content problem of modern information enjoyment, but here is what I have done.

After long and highly scientific routines manipulating double-blind control- and test-subjects, peer reviewed journal publications, and hours and hours of hands-on experimentation, I have crafted this quiet reading room. There is no scientific way to control the length of the articles I write, but careful handling can somewhat soothe the contextual presentation. In other words: I have dropped the traditional speculation about lexicon, and attacked the question of the matrix itself instead. Brilliant. After years of diligence what I eventually crafted is this reading room.

The walls are contoured to relax instead of constrain; the paper is made to soften instead of reflect. The light is dimmed--just so--€”to prevent strain, angled to prevent umbra, and color-coded to soften harsh red lights and deepen wimpy light reds. There is nothing I can do to control aural environment, but my recommendation is that it should be kept quiet. About ambient sound: these entries are probably best read as far as possible from emergency vehicles, preferably from beneath the muffler of a vintage fire fighter pilot's scarf, puffy old duvet, or snow that is still falling.

My theory is that the wide web world is filled with potent and material opportunities that are just too difficult to digest for many people to take part. Enjoyment of this stuff is regulated to the routines of crawlers and robots at the peril of humankind's peaceful future survival. In an attempt to delay this likely outcome: welcome to this quiet reading room. It is for people like you to relax, kick back, and hate my content for better reasons than the dizzying vertiginous specter of its lousy dpi presentation.

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