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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

August 3rd: Mexico City

On August 3rd 1975 I was in Mexico City.

It was a Sunday and I went to the Zocalo, a vast square which goes back to Aztec times.  I made some notes as I sat:
Sitting on a stone bench on the corner of the Zocalo, 11.30 on Sunday morning, sun coming through the haze for the first time.  Traffic and pedestrians are also just beginning to increase.  The day starts late in this city.  The Cathedral is on my right, a huge building in a curious mixture of styles, and the only thing of real interest in the Zocalo.  On the left side is a big government building, probably 120 metres long, three stories high, red canopied balconies on the second floor and guards at the three or so entrances.  Opposite are a couple of other colonial-style buildings, 5 or 6 stories with deep arcades all around and not very attractive.  On the far right a block of shops and offices and maybe hotels, nice on the ground floor but less interesting higher.  The Zocalo is physically a pretty barren place, eight lanes of traffic going one way round, though not overcrowded, and a big bare area in the middle where not many people go, no grass and most of the flowers are in the sidewalk where I sit.

Mexico City Zocalo, 2006:  Picture by Audrey H, CC
But the people here are quite interesting as just about anywhere in the city.  Very mixed, more so than in most areas to the west of here.  Many people dressed up for Sunday and for the city.  Not the very poor selling and begging, but plenty of Indian families in their best clothes mix with the middle-class families and young couples in their smartish, colourful clothes.  Plenty of foreign tourists as well as Mexican tourists, couples in their late thirties from America and Germany and France with cameras.  Some older and some younger.  Occasionally a turismo bus stops and a big group gets out, the last lot American high school kids, aged 16 or so.  A shoe-shine man sits on his stand on the corner, not much business and hardly any shoeshine kids around; he wears clothes a bit like the uniform of the traffic cop who is sometimes blowing his whistle on the corner.  Not many people sitting at this time of day:  an Indian group of families on the steps of the Cathedral before going in, a couple on the stone wall of the dry fountain, and in front of me a couple of girls on a stone bench; at right angles to me a man of 55 or so, standing at ease beside this bench and staring at something .
The night before I had been to the market in the poorer east end which was full of people, especially Indian women with their colourful clothes and braided hair selling their goods in the streets.  I returned through thick crowds to the Plaza Garibaldi and was enjoying the scenes.  That is the little square where Mariachis congregate to play music at the request of young men for their girlfriends.  It was a happy scene, the music maybe not as good as in Guadalajara but there were many players, there were fine buildings around, and people were selling all sorts of things, including serapes, the Mexican ponchos, in the Saturday evening atmosphere.

I made trips out to some of the archaeological sites.  First I went to Teotihuacan which goes back to the first millennium AD.  While I was walking around it started to rain and I made some notes:
Teotihuacan, 2007:  Picture by Hector Garcia, CC
It's raining.  First real rain in the middle of the day and I have to choose this day to come here.  I'm sheltering in the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, one of the few places on the site which has real shelter.  I'm thinking about the fact that I'm probably going to have to get wet before this excursion is over, and just a tenth of my mind wanders back to what I've seen before today, which is pretty impressive.  The big temple first and the good sculpture, sitting among the red ants on one of the pyramids and realising how different are all the flowers and the birds and the insects, especially the butterflies.  Then climbing the super-big pyramid, so austere and savage, yet wondering at the daily life which lurked behind that savagery, what philosophical state of mind was required.  The excited voices of the American kids and the Mexican kids, the bourgeois Europeans and American couples, even two Japanese guys.   Mexican youths selling idoles.  Finally the humidity and tension in the air leading to the rain and the thunder and I came into this place among the rain refugees, two American families and a French couple.  Outside a few Mexican street kids run through the rain. 
When I went to Tula another day, I was determined to make more of the countryside and the wildlife.  Tula was the Toltec capital, and follows the Teotihuacan civilisation.  From my notebook:
Statues at Tula, 2005:  Picture by Nick Leonard, CC
The ruins here are interesting, the statues on the big pyramid, the friezes on certain buildings and the ball courts.  The scale is small and not so grandiose as at Teotihuacan.  Lots of interesting nature also.  I had just found a nice spot to sit and survey it all and to describe directly what I could see when along came this group of Mexicans with a couple or more Canadians, all young, and also the kids selling antiques.  And immediately the atmosphere was blown and in the end I left, and had to write this later.  What I can remember?  Swallows in the sky, making a lot of noise, some doves with rufous markings, the pied shrike, cactus plants with thick yellow juice in the leaves and yellow flowers, a bush with red flowers, little yellow and black daisies everywhere; the black-fronted blue behind butterfly; swallow-tails, little black butterfly with big white spots, also the mainly red bird on a telephone wire.  I looked down across the bushes and the little trees with leaves which hang down as 20 or 30 sub-leaves: a shepherd and his flock were ahead of me, and there was one little house by the river at the bottom and another on the hill on the other side.
I spent a day at the impressive National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park.  Seeing the anthropological exhibits made me look forward to getting further south.  The huge Aztec exhibits sent a physical shiver up my spine.  This feeling only left me when I saw the more sympathetic, though still somewhat disturbing, Mayan sculpture.

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