Sunday, August 9, 2009

Templo Mayor

I was almost eaten by Aztec serpents today. On a Sunday afternoon I found myself in Mexico City´s Zocalo (main square), walking through the ruins of the main Aztec temple of Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec city that the Spaniards destroyed in 1521.

There was a general hubbub in the Zocalo today that was more intense than normal. The Aztec drummers reached a united volume that I hadn´t before witnessed, thundering on the stones of the ancient city. The Zocalo seemed to sway slightly, swelling with people and street vendors, and for a few moments I thought that the underbelly of the plaza might double in on itself, and the bodies of smouldering Aztec warriers might burst out from beneath our feet.

It was as if a magician had passed a magic sheet over the plaza and it could at any moment become airborne, lifting itself up like a hot air balloon and floating above the ground, freeing the nine underworlds and Mictlantecuhtli, the Lord of the Underworld below. That at any second there would be blue-painted frogs raining on us to celebrate the goddess Tozozlontli, or someone might make a dash for my beating heart and place it on an altar as divine food to the sun.

As the Spanish conquistador Bernal Díaz wrote in his journals, the sight of Tenochtitlan was beyond words and awe. Men who had beheld cities such as Constantinople, great sites in France and Italy, had never seen a city such as this, and the Zocalo inspired many words from Díaz. Great temples rising as pyramids out of a city built on a lake island.
A Mexican girl standing next to me in the temple ruins exclaimed "Sons of whores. Fucking foreigners", referring to the Spanish who had destroyed Tenochtitlan and used the stones of relics and pyramids to build their city.

My head was filling up with incense from the drummers and dancers in the square. The drumming got louder, louder, and I was walking in the old temple, feeling slightly giddy from the insence and the cleaning products I´d inhaled during my morning spring clean in my house. But I had been transported so far away from anything domestic or familiar; I felt drunk. A plaza that I knew so well, loved so dearly, was almost about to caterpault itself from within the temple, the entrails of history trampling on mere mortals like me.

The sky became overcast and the drumming dimmed, overtaken by the chiming of bells from the Cathedral, the Spanish grey monolith overlooking the square. The magic and the underworlds began to retreat under the sound of the bells. A light rain began to fall on the square. The street vendors covered their goods and scurried to shelter, calling our for the last sales of the day. The incense dispersed. The crowds scattered under the raindrops. The Zocalo stopped swaying and the magician laid his sheet on the table again.
Just as well, as we were all on the point of being swallowed by giant serpents.

I walked through the rain, out of the Zocalo, and warmed myself with a hot chocolate and churros in the Churrería el Moro on Eje Central. I came back into the afternoon.

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