15 May 2007

Final Weekend in Mexico

Life flashes by -- although I still feel as if I just arrived here in Mexico, soon it will be time to pack up the metaphorical camels and wander off into the proverbial desert on the figurative saddle. This past weekend was my last weekend here, and although a part of me was tempted to spend it lounging poolside and drinking Pacifica Lager, I decided to make the most of it, hence my sore feet, aching legs and sunburned face. Saturday I headed up the Avenida de la Reforma to the Bosque de Chapultepec. Every decent city has such a park -- London has its Hyde Park, New York has its Central Park, Warsaw has Łażienki, and Berlin the Tiergarten -- and any city that doesn't isn't livable as far as I am concerned. That's one of the things I hated about my 3 1/2 years in Amman -- not a single decent park there.

Trying to compare parks is an apples and oranges thing, so I won't venture to rate Chapultepec against its peers, but I found it to be one of the best large urban parks anywhere, with a good mix of formally landscaped areas and more natural zones, monumental monuments and intimate corners. The other thing this particular park has is a large number of world-class museums. I only attempted to "do" two of them - the Museo Nacional Historia and the Museo Nacional Antropologia. The Museo Historia is housed in the Castillo Chapultepec, which is a former grand residence perched on bluff in the centre of the park, with a view straight down the Avenida de la Reforma. Formerly it has been the residence of the Presidents and Emperors of Mexico, as well as a military academy. It is a beautiful building, inside and out, and the exhibits describing Mexico's history from the Empire of the Mexica to the Spanish Conquest, the fight for independence, the wars with France and the United States, and the revolution of Villa and Zapata were really well done. I must admit that the swelling of outrage you cannot help but experience on reading the exhibits on the Texan and American aggression against Mexico, and the fabricated charges that were used to start the war (echoes of which were heard in subsequent conflicts initiated by the U.S.A. - the trumped up nonsense used to justify the coup d'etat carried out by the U.S. Marines that deposed Queen Lilioukalani of Hawaii, the cries of "Remember the Maine!" -- the falsified terror attack used to justify the Spanish-American War -- the war with Colombia started in order to sieze the Panama Canal Zone, the Tonkin Gulf incident, the "rescue" of medical students in Grenada, and most recently, Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction) is in part responsible for the recent strain of anti-Americanism on Nomadicity. More than the exhibits, though, I enjoyed simply wandering around the public and private rooms of the residence, and particularly the gardens and terraces. At one point I found myself on a huge terrace, surrounded by gardens and with a spectacular view of all of Mexico City in front of me, and despite the fact that it was mid-morning on a Saturday in city with more inhabitants than Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland combined, I had the entire place to myself, except for a few song-birds.

A corridor in the Castillo

A view of the gardens

After four hours of this, an ordinary correspondent would have called it a day, but I still had yet to see the Museo de Antropologia, which had been highly recommended to me as an don't-miss destination by several sources. As it turns out, they did not exaggerate. If you like Pre-Columbian New World history like I do, this museum is more fun than a drunken, under-aged congressional page and tube of K-Y is for a Republican Senator. I spent another four hours here, wandering through the Olmec, Toltec, Maya, Mexica, and other exhibits, and still managed to see only around 40% of the place. But one of my favourite things about the place was not an exhibit at all, but rather the unique fountain in the courtyard, which features water cascading from a ring shaped aperature in the roof around a central bronze column covered in Aztec reliefs.

Yesterday, Sunday, didn't begin auspiciously. My colleagues and I had agreed to meet early and to make the trek together by metro and bus to Teotihuacan, the site of Mexico's famous Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. The day started a bit bizarrely, as I headed to the small church down the street from our hotel for mass. I had been there the week before, but didn't notice the plaque on the wall -- written in Spanish and Hungarian -- noting the Hungarian embassy's assistance in restoring the stained glass windows with the images of Hungarian saints. It was really bizarre -- there was St. Stephen and a host of other Hungarian saints, along with the Hungarian shield with its double cross.

After mass, as I was getting a bit sick of our second rate hotel breakfast, I decided to head for a nearby restaurant. Hurrying back to meet my colleagues after breakfast, I stepped on an iron access plate in the pavement and had it give way under my foot. I was hurled forward, my fall broken by my hands, knees, and my head striking a metal pole. It took a few minutes to regain my feet and my dignity, and on inspecting the damage found I had lost skin on both knees and both hands, and had a lump on my head. Only later did it start to sink how much worse it could have been -- a multiple fracture or knocked out teeth would not have been difficult to manage, but aside from the sensation that I've recently been beaten up, I'm mostly OK.

Certainly OK enough to get myself out to the pyramids and climb several of them, including the Pyramid of the Sun.

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan

Another view of the Pyramid

The Pyramid of the Sun as seen from the Pyramid of the Moon

Stairway to Heaven?

As you can imagine, the place was brimming with the usual assortment of annoying tourists and obnoxious souvenir vendors. It's this part of the experience of such places that makes me hesitate to visit them, but I find it difficult to avoid feeling compelled to see certain places. You delude yourself by convincing yourself that by going you rid yourself of the compulsion, but if you have (as I have) visited Copán and Petra and Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall and the Kremlin and Mahabalipuram and Samarkand and the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, you still have the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids and the Acropolis and Ankgor Wat and Mt. Rushmore nagging at your conscience. I have no answers, no solutions, no insights; only sympathy for those who share my affliction -- so I raise my tequila glass to the weary, the shorts-clad, the camera-toting, souvenir-buying masses, and pray to the gods of Kyoto, Kandy, Cairo, and Canterbury; of the Blue Mosque, Borobdopur, and Beijing; and of Palmyra, Persepolis and Isfashan, to bring soothing relief to their blistered feet, to spare them the tedium of indifferent tour guides, the humiliation of abusive taxi drivers and the frustration of garbled translations, filthy toilets and over-priced snack bars, and the sincerest wishes that their treks bring them some small measure of the transcendental experience they imagined and aspired to during the guide-book inspired travel planning reveries that proceeded their visit. Cheers and Amen.

Mexico City
17 May 2007

1 comment:

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