Mexico City : last November, I was walking through the Zócalo : hold up, now – imagine a village square, like in a little town somewhere, and now imagine the square if it’s sized for a city of 20 million — okay, yeah, right? Massive, thousands of people walking around, selling stuff, trying to get work. There’s always some giant exhibition or festival going on there, and it’s amazing, and you should see it. But also there’s the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the main church of all of Mexico, which is a country with like 96 million Catholics in it, so that’ll be a gigantic and imposing ( and ancient, and sinking into the swampy ground ) church. Also, the entire thing is built directly over the ruins of Aztec temples and the palace of Montezuma. There are often Aztec dance troupes performing, and people in full headdresses and feathers and sandals and the whole bit, performing purification rituals, and this is an amazing thing : they are Mexican Catholics who speak Spanish, but they are also Aztecs, who are preserving their culture. Can you imagine any other place where people would be allowed to perform pagan rituals in front of a grand Catholic cathedral? That’s the dual-nature magic of Mexico : the priests are descended from Aztecs too.
I was walking across this giant square, and the bells were ringing, and, who knows how old the bells are, but they sounded old. So many frequencies in the air, atoms colliding with atoms, humming – I recorded some of it on my phone, which, very low bit-rate, doesn’t do that day a lot of justice, but you can hear what I’m talking about.
Wow, what a place. What I can tell you is that it feels like the set of a 1970s science fiction movie ( like really really, like you wouldn’t be surprised if Doctor Zaius came walking along ), and the giant sculptures have kids hiding inside making out and listening to metal on their phones.
Some things from the internets :
” Want to escape the Distrito Federal without getting on a bus? No, it’s not a trick question. The campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México ( UNAM ) is technically a separate city with its own transportation system, police force, and government, and has therefore escaped much of the sprawl and overdevelopment that plagues the city surrounding it. The grounds are carpeted with lush plants and shaded by tall trees. The best place to get a feel for the university is the sculpture garden located in front of the Torre de Rectoría, which is adorned with a three-dimensional mural by socialist painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. The huge green lawn strewn with sculptures by modern Mexican artists among giant lava rock beds is a great place for lounging and people-watching in a university atmosphere; during the week, expect to see everything from lovers holding hands to student violinists rehearsing before class or auditions. “
” Espacio Escultórico ( Spanish for Sculptural Space) is a huge area in the middle of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México‘s Cultural Center. Here, huge sculptures were built on the 1970′s. The work of ‘ Espacio Escultorico ’ that stands out most is formed by a series of white sculptures around a volcanic crater in the area. “
This, the new 14th edition. First published 41 years ago, continuously updated. Seriously, fuck Lonely Planet — this is the most entertaining, fun, fact-filled travel book I can think of.
Page 211, on small-town hotels : ” In the smallest towns, selecting a hotel is usually just a choice of just one or two. Take it or leave it. This might sound grim, but I’ve found that these places almost inevitably provide rich material for entertaining stories and memories. The gigantic rooster tethered outside our window, loudly protesting its captivity every 30 seconds; the insane elderly aunt locked in a spare room who demanded Coca-Cola 24 hours a day; the landlord’s barking dog, stunned into temporary silence by an occasional firecracker lobbed from the front desk; a boardinghouse television tuned to incomprehensible quiz shows until midnight; being rousted at 5 a.m. by a desk clerk who invited me to visit his avocado orchard and watch him blow up a boulder with dynamite; blocking the door against a drunk who insisted on kissing me goodnight; opening the wrong door and finding a sheer four-story drop, and so on – an adventure or an anecdote awaiting every night. “
Page 435, on brothels : ” A typical small-town brothel is usually a rather hilarious place. ( Those that cater to tourists along the border or near resorts are designed for foreign tastes and can’t be considered typical. ) Although the women in a border town bordello might be slightly overdone, they can’t begin to approach the degree of high camp achieved by their sisters farther south.
Unless you’re really horny, a visit to a brothel that caters to campesinos and local businessmen is funny and surrealistic rather than erotic.
Regardless of the season, Christmas decorations are often used lavishly to create that special mood designed to turn a nervous campesino into a snorting stud. The sensual glow of the red, blue, and green bulbs gives just enough light to make the women clustered in a shadowy corner of the room appear tantalizing, muted, and desirable.
Like colorful jungle birds, they signal their potential mates with splashy purple, red, violet, and crimson plumage. The real knockout women almost overwhelm the senses with hair piled high in massive beehives and bleached a shocking white.
Just to rub it in, they will occasionally wobble to the bar on elevating high heels, then bend over to whisper confidentially in the bartender’s ear. This contortion raises the ballet-type miniskirt, flashing an enormously broad and bare ass into the room. “
Page 435, on bullfights : ” What is bullfighting? To the Spanish, who invented it, it’s the Fiesta Brava ( the Brave Celebration ); to the Mexicans it’s Seda, Sangre y Sol ( Silk, Blood, and Sun ); and to most gringos, it’s a cruel, ritualized slaughter of innocent cattle.
Bullfighting, also known as the corrida de toros ( running of the bulls ), lidia de toros ( fighting of bulls ), and sombra y sol ( shade and sun ), is definitely not a sport. Some call it a spectacle, while other see it as theater, filled with symbolism and hidden meaning. Siquieros, one of Mexico’s most popular muralists, contemptuously referred to bullfighting as ” the dance of the butchers. ”
Whatever you call it, one thing is certain: until you’ve seen a bullfight, you can’t begin to appreciate it. This, anyway, was what I kept telling myself as I shifted uncomfortably on the hard concrete bench next to Nacho, shielding my eyes from the glare of the late afternoon sun. In the ring below, the young matador nervously maneuvered toward another attempt at a kill. The bull watched him warily, its dusty black shoulders quivering with exhaustion and scarlet rivulets of blood. This would be the sixth estocada ( sword thrust ); less than two minutes remained for the matador to make his kill or be ordered from the ring.
‘ Use it on yourself, you pinche…! ‘ a voice raged from behind us.
‘ We’ll give the bull your ear! ‘ another frustrated aficionado ( fan ) cried, attempting to add injury to insult by hurling an expensive cowboy boot at the flustered matador.
‘ Put it up your…! ‘
The matador suddenly tensed, raising the bloody curved blade with his right arm, sighting along its length for la cruz, the crucial entry spot above and between the beast’s heaving shoulders. The bull tossed its head stubbornly, whipping long streamers of red-flecked saliva through the air. Then, with a final agonized bellow, the bull’s knees buckled, the huge body collapsing into the dust. The bull was dead, killed by a steady loss of blood rather than a sword thrust. The final moment of truth would have required a quick transfusion.
‘ ¡Cuidado compadre! ‘ Nacho said, ducking his head as a barrage of seat cushions, hats, shoes, and scathing insults were hurled upon the hapless bullfighter.
The bullfighter walked quickly toward the exit, his colorful traje de luces ( suit of lights ) the only bright spot in his miserable existence.
A large paper cup struck the humiliated torero ( without making a kill, he wouldn’t be honored with the title matador, ‘ killer ‘ ) in the leg, soaking his immaculate white knee-high stocking.
‘ They’re throwing beer! ” I laughed, amazed at the crowd’s ferocious assault. A volley of cups arched through the air, causing the bullfighter to run for shelter.
‘ That is not beer, compadre, ‘ Nacho said, his face darkening with embarrassment. I looked high into the stands behind us; yes, I could see men fumbling with their pants, bending furtively over paper cups.
‘ A very poor fight, ” Nacho sighed, grimacing slightly as a half-filled bottle of José Cuervo sailed over our heads and shattered in the aisle. Fifty feet to our right, the air filled with hats.
‘ What are they doing? ‘ I asked, amazed to see a veritable tower of sombreros piled on top of another. The majority were cheap woven straw of the type worn by campesinos, but mixed in were others, obviously expensive.
‘ It is nothing! ‘ Nacho answered. ‘ The benches are cement and cannot burn. ‘ As if on signal, the huge mound of headgear erupted in a column of bright flame. The crowd renewed its attack with missiles and expletives.
” Guanajuato, Mexico : A number of bodies interred during a cholera outbreak in 1833 became naturally mummified due to unique conditions in the Santa Paula Municipal Cemetery. All of the mummies were disinterred between 1865 and 1958, when the law required relatives to pay a tax in order to keep the bodies buried. If the deceased’s family could not pay the tax, they lost the right to the burial place, and the body was removed. The mummified corpses were stored in a building, and in the early 1900s, cemetery workers began charging people a few pesos to view them. This place eventually became a museum called El Museo De Las Momias, the museum of the mummies. A law prohibiting the disinterring of more mummies was passed in 1958, but the museum still exhibits the original mummies. “
” The first mummy, the body of a French doctor, was put on display in 1865. The museum, containing at least 108 corpses, is located above the spot where the mummies were first discovered. Numerous mummies can be seen throughout the exhibition, of varying sizes. The museum is known to contain the smallest mummy in the world, a fetus from a pregnant woman who fell victim to cholera. Some of the mummies can be seen wearing parts of their clothing in which they were buried. The mummies of Guanajuato have been a notable part of Mexican popular culture, fitting nicely with the famous Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead. A well known 1970 B movie called Santo vs. The Mummies of Guanajuato pitted the well-known Mexican professional wrestler and several others in a battle to a predictable finish.”