Thursday, January 12, 2017

XCII. Nuestro Viaje a México, Cuarto Día

Our Trip to Mexico City, Fourth Day

Day 4 - After a rough night there is no doubt that the exhaustion and malaise my companion has been feeling is not the result of altitude, pollution or common cold. It has all the markers of the infamous la gripa—the flu—and it’s hitting her hard.

Although we drag out of bed late, when we look out the window not a soul is visible down on the street. There was a lot of partying last night—Christmas Eve—and it shows. After breakfast at our new go-to place—Starbucks in the lobby—we hail a taxi. It’s another warming and sunny day, and we have to backtrack off usually busy Avenida Juarez where the only traffic is a smattering of bicycles. Every Sunday—and not just on holidays—we learn that cars, trucks and buses are all forbidden on some of the city’s main streets.

About where we’re going: Every single person we’ve asked—and all the online advice—say the one thing you should definitely not miss when visiting Mexico City is the National Anthropological Museum. You can see other famous artists, embark on other fascinating boat rides, view other incredible architecture, but—by popular acclaim—no where else can you see the history of a people so clearly and imaginatively depicted and explained. We agree. And the setting is spectacular.

Voladores descending with a rope attached to a
belt at their waist. When they are about to
reach the ground, they put their feet down.
As we approach the museum we are pleased and surprised to see Danza de los Voladores being performed. Four "dancers" are attached by rope to a spool at the top of a hundred foot pole; as they twirl around, the rope plays out and they descend head first. Meanwhile, a fifth participant plays the flute while standing on the revolving capstan. This ceremony—which possibly began as a way to implore the gods for rain—originated about 500 years ago in central Mexico, and is now a UNESCO recognized "intangible cultural heritage". For most of us, just the thought of what the voladores—meaning "flyers"—endure, raises all sorts of personal red flags, and I guess that's a big part of the attraction.

The museum itself has a long central courtyard enclosed on three sides by two stories of exhibit halls, or salas. Salas on the bottom level are each devoted to a particular pre-Hispanic culture; those above show how each of these cultures has carried their traditions into today's world. The salas are organized roughly chronologically so that it's best to visit them in counter-clockwise direction.

The relief sculpture on the column represents the merging of
indigenous and Spanish cultures to create a new nation.
Photo from U.S. Dept. of Treasury website.
When you enter the courtyard from a spacious admissions area, the first thing that catches your eye is a vast roof seemingly supported only by a single sculpted column from around which a curtain of water falls. This is a popular place for kids to play at seeing how near they can approach without getting too wet.

Many of the signs here are in English as well as Spanish. With the high ceilings, generous and varied spacing, frequent access to garden exhibits, and variety of styles of displaymurals, different kinds of maps, artifacts, fantastic reconstructions—make it easy to spend four hours here, although we only make it through a quarter of the salas

Looking back at the entry from the far end.
The sala devoted to the Teotihuacana shows here a reconstruction of one of their pyramids (which you can visit about 40 km northeast of here) plus a relief map of that site, c.500AD at which time the city had about 125,000 inhabitants, making it then the sixth largest city in the world. Note the high ceiling here that gives way to a small room holding original artifacts, past which you can see some more, larger sculptures in the garden outside.
A continuation of the previous picture. After exiting the small room with original artifacts, and coming out of the garden, you walk past the far left side of the reconstruction, under a mural, through the far doorway and into another small room with a few more artifacts and a summation of what you have seen.
A large (3'X3'X5') rattlesnake carved from volcanic rock c.1400AD. This and similar sculptures guarded the temples of the deities on the pyramids of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire. At the time the Spanish arrived in 1521, the Valley of Mexico had about a million inhabitants--the largest population concentration in the world. 
The head in the foreground is of the Aztec goddess, Coyolxauhqui. Her death and dismemberment by her brother set in motion the eternal cosmic conflict between opposites. In the background is the most famous artifact in the museum--the Aztec Sun Stone. It is not strictly a calendar but rather shows the four ages of Aztec cosmology that had passed at the time of the stone's creation about 1500. Originally possibly used as an altar or stage for gladiator contests, it was buried at the time of Spanish conquest and not rediscovered until almost 300 years later when Mexico City's main cathedral was being remodeled. The stone is huge--about twelve feet around and three feet thick--and weighs 24 tons. As with many of these artifacts it was originally painted bright red, yellow.
Back at the hotel we order room service dinner and go to bed early. My spouse is suffering. While I read a book, she sleeps fitfully. I find a TV channel that just plays sounds of nature, and that seems to sooth her. Tomorrow we have left free—almost all museums and public buildings are closed on Monday.

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