Sunday, April 13, 2014

all the world's a stage

The three of us decided to play different roles today. 

We have tired of playing The Patient and the Support Team.  It appears that play will have a longer run that we expected.

But yesterday and today, we are going to play The Awe-struck Tourists.  Because that is what we are.

And if you are going to play those roles, the first place to visit is la plaza de la constitución -- or as it is popularly known, the zócalo.  Its large expanse of concreted space makes it the center of historic Mexico City.

Under most circumstances, it a great place to see the political and religious power centers of the capital.  With the cathedral on its north side, and the presidential office to the west.

But yesterday was not most circumstances.  What is normally is just space is now space filled with some sort of Telcel event.

So, there was no opportunity to stand under the giant Mexican flag and take in the grandeur of Mexico -- a grandeur often burdened by its own history.

Even though a strong vein of that history would say that we should first pay homage at some secular shrine, we decided to visit the cathedral or, to use its full name, the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City.

The Mexican constitution declares that Mexico is a secular country.  A majority of Mexicans would disagree.  And they often do.  Fervently showing their faith.

Today is Palm Sunday.  And the cathedral, of course, is in full swing preparing for Easter.  That restricted our ability to visit.  Access to the main part of the church was blocked off for services.

I am not accustomed to being thwarted.  By listening to the tough woman barring our access, I determined she would only let people pass who had preregistered for a mass and a blessing to enter the sanctuary.

That was an easy-enough bluff.  I put Lupe and Alex in front of me, and in my most lawyerly voice, I told her we were there for mass and thanked her for her efficiency. 

We were admitted.  It was not a subterfuge.  Not really.  And here's the proof.  I took Lupe to the rail to be splashed with water by a dwarf priest.  (I don't make this stuff up.)

I then made an amateur grifter mistake.  I forgot my new role of penitent believer and whipped out my camera.  And thus was I exposed as an arrant fraud.  And cast out of the First Circle.  By then, though, we had some photographs of the forbidden zone.

Anyone who has been to the cathedral knows that the place, as a whole, is sumptuous -- almost hedonistic.  The largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the New World.  But, even the parts we could view in detail were well worth the visit.

I had to share a very Mexican sight with Lupe and Alex --  the statue commemorating John Paul II's special relationship with Mexico. 

The statute is pure Mexico.  The rear of the statue is made of keys that tumble down to a cascade of roses.

The roses are the connection to the front of the statue.  On the pope's cloak is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- a play on Juan Diego's celebrated cloak.  Thus connecting the late pope's Mary cult promotion with Mexico's most sacred icon.

Having filled our spiritual tanks, we pushed our way through the Saturday crowds to visit the center of Mexican political power -- the National Palace, with its presidential office.

I have never been inside the palace's doors.  But I am glad we visited.  It was well worth the hour or two we spent inside.

Starting with a detailed review of Diego Rivera's mural of Mexican history.

His romanticized view of Mexico's Indians.  Such as this depiction of Indians in the Vera Cruz area.  Dwarf priests seem to be an unintended theme of the day.

And his interesting take on Cortés, his Indian mistress, and their child -- one of the first mestizos -- shown with his European blue eyes.  Even though Cortés had dark eyes.  But this is political painting where facts are an inconvenience.

We also had an opportunity to view the restored former Chamber of Deputies.

I continue to be amazed how the custodians of Mexican public buildings treat citizens as responsible adults.  We were allowed to meander through the chamber.  No one was continually watching.  Other than the usual warning from a bored guard of no flash photography, we were treated like responsible adults.  And we all acted that way.

A perfect example.  At the palace entrance, there was a long list of rules.  The one that caught my eye was "no photography on the premises."  I understood why.  For security.  After all, the president works there.

So, I dutifully bagged up my camera.  But, at the first sight of a photo opportunity, troops of tourists whipped out their cell phone cameras.  Right next to armed soldiers -- who said not a word.  Except to say -- "no flash."

Adults dealing with adults.

But back to our tour.  We took a walk through Benito Juarez's residence in the palace, where he lived until his death -- embittered that his Liberal dream for Mexico was fading.  (Ironically, it is a man, who comes from a party that has spent almost a century as an enemy of liberalism, who is enacting a good deal of Juarez's dream.)

Having filled our plates with scoops of colonial and post-independence Mexico, we decided to take a look at what Mexico City looked like before the Europeans arrived -- and what the Europeans did when they did strut on stage.

History is condensed in the area around the cathedral.  In fact, the cathedral itself is built atop, and partially out of, ruined Aztec temples.

One of Mexico's most outstanding archaeological discoveries was excavated only in the 1970s -- the templo mayor.  When Cortés arrived, it was the largest of the city's temples.  Dedicated to the worship of the rain god Tlaloc and the war god Huitzilopochtli.  The Spanish were shocked to discover that human sacrifice was a regular part of appeasing both gods -- especially Huitzilopochtli who had killed and dismembered his goddess sister.

Archaeologists have been as true as they can be in their reconstruction of this magnificent building.  It is possible to imagine what it once was while seeing it for what it is now.

The attached museum includes a treasure trove of artifacts excavated from the temple site and the surrounding area.  This part of Mexico City sits on a giant potential archaeological dig.

Such as the recurring theme of giant discs depicting the dismembered body of

Coyolxauhqui, Huitzilopochtli's sister.  But don't expect a story about Huitzilopochtli seeking revenge.  He is the guy who dismembered her.

The disc was usually placed at the bottom of the stairs of a temple.  After an honored warrior was sacrificed at the top of the stairs, the priests would throw the body down the stairs -- replicating what Huitzilopochtli had done to his sister.  And creating a reverberating cliché for every Hollywood hack writer.

I suppose if there had been unitarian Aztecs, they would have used a plain dish.  Or, perhaps, merely the thought of a dish.

The museum is filled with other artifacts found at the site.  This elaborate vase, for instance, depicting the goddess Chicomecoatl, the goddess of corn.  The piece pays homage to the relationship between corn and rain by depicting Tlaloc's image in three different places -- once on the lid, and above and below Chicomecoatl's face.  Proving that it is not always bad to be stuck between Tlaloc and a hard face.

There is also a very helpful cut-away of the various levels of worship accretion the temple acquired over the years, where it is easy to see the havoc the Spanish lavished on the place.

I had placed some additional stops on my tour list.  However, when we left the templo mayor, it was past five.  Time to call it a day.

Today?  We will still be playing tourists.  I am just not certain where.  But Joanne gave me a great suggestion yesterday.

Wherever we go, we will play our tourist roles with aplomb.  Because if the world is not a stage, Mexico City certainly is.

No comments: