Monthly Archives: November 2017

Tall pyramids, narrow steps

It’s hard to call Chichen Itza and Uxmal “ruins”. They’re hardly ruined at all, still possessing the spirit that I imagine filled the air more than 1,000 years ago. Chichen Itza and Uxmal, both around Merida, were built by the Mayans. Today, Chichen Itza is a buzzing marketplace with local craft makers drawing nearly as much attention as the magnificent towers around them whereas Uxmal is a less well-traveled, but larger ruin. At Uxmal we took the opportunity to climb the steps of a pyramid, eager to get the complete view of an ancient town that seemed to extend back and back. The view was stunning and the climb down the steps, terrifying. The mystery that remains is why the pyramids were built for such narrow feet.

 

Frida and Diego

As we tour Mexico City, the day weaves through Frida and Diego’s lives, their homes, their communist beliefs, and their tumultuous, unfaithful marriages.  Marriages is plural because they were in fact married twice.  In the morning, we visit their dual houses in San Angel – Kahlo’s blue and Rivera’s pink connecting houses.  The houses look functional not comfortable, connected only by a high, narrow bridge.  There might be some analogy to their marriages.

Later in the day, after strolling through a couple more city neighborhoods, we visit Casa Azul, the Blue House in Coyoacan, which has been made into the Frida Kahlo Museum.  It is both her birthplace and now the home of her ashes in an urn.  There’s undoubtedly some circle-of-life reference to draw here.  Parts of Frida’s life seemed to repeat constantly, so this just feels fitting.

Part of the fascination with today is that their lives are like a great telenovela including their relationship together, their internal conflicts with themselves, and their battles with the outside world.  Rivera painted the injustices to the indigenous people and the commoner.  Kahlo painted more personal problems like her constant pain, miscarriages, and infidelity.  Together, they were very much in the public eye, including a fun jaunt to NYC for a time.  Had “Us Weekly” been around, they would’ve had lots of juicy material.

Teotihuacans, Mayans and Aztecs

The Mayans and the Aztecs were little more than a seventh grade history lesson before visiting the National Archeology Museum in Mexico City. Here, the civilizations came alive through the remains of long dead rock, carved into stories both intentional and functional.

We arrived at the Museum after dark, greeted by the sounds of the wind and pounding rain from the fountain in the outdoor plaza. The fountain introduced us to the story of Mexico, using images to give homage to an Aztec legend that is now represented on the Mexican flag. In this legend, a god in a dream visited the leader of a nomadic tribe. The god told the leader that when the tribe saw an eagle, perched on a cactus, eating a snake, they were to settle there. This, of course, happened in Mexico City, then known as Tenochtitlan.

Inside, we were captivated by the richness of the beliefs that led their lives. The gods drove almost all of their actions, as they believed they had the power to control everything, including the rising and falling of the sun. In fact, they played a game to represent the battle between day and night to keep the gods happy, often ending in sacrifice of a player or even the whole team, though it is unclear whether the winning or losing team would be killed as sacrifice was an honor.

From drawings on walls and in scrolls we see that they believed heaven to be underground, and didn’t have a concept of good and bad. No action on earth would be punished, per say, you just died one way or another, and that would determine your experience in the afterlife. For example, warriors who died in battle would have a pleasant afterlife, while people who died of natural causes may have a less pleasant afterlife.

We travel often, and rarely see things that are truly foreign. Everyone we meet is driven by love. Everyone we meet has a desire to protect his or her family. Everyone we meet wants to be happy. But this, this was foreign. It seemed irrational at best, stupid at worst, and it took some time for us to remove judgment and listen. Perhaps the thing we have most in common is that we’re all looking for meaning, and long ago that meaning was found in the building of incredible pyramids, one stone at a time.

The taste of a grasshopper

Grasshoppers, or chapulines in Spanish, are more of a texture than a taste.  Crispy like a corn nut balanced by a bit of chewiness with pieces that stick between teeth like Milk Duds.  For the rest of the day, I’m picking out imaginary or not so imaginary grasshopper legs from between my teeth.  The taste of this insect is up to the chef’s discretion.  We try one cooked with salt and citrus, and another with garlic and spice.

Along with my parents, we try these little treats in Mexico City at the Mercado de San Juan as part of a historical/food tour.  I’m not sure I’ll be buying a bag of these creatures anytime soon, but maybe I’ll try the salt made from their remains.

Cousin wedding

It is a beautiful weekend celebrating cousin Ben & Emily in Puerto Vallarta.  Aside from all the activities – snorkeling, boating, dancing, singing, pool lounging, zip lining, and a bit of clubbing – the best part of the weekend is simply being together.  It reminds me of how lucky I am to be surrounded by such a loving family with so many role models starting with the oldest generations.  Within eyeshot of my seat during the wedding reception is a black and white photograph of Grandma Trudy and Poppy Gerry when they were younger.  Their legacy rings loudly at this wedding.  Their four children, so many of their grandchildren, and even a handful of their great grandchildren dance around the hora.  And although they aren’t physically at this wedding, their presence is as strong as ever.

The beautiful color of the ocean, the salty smell of the beach, the overflowing guacamole and totopos, and the oversized margaritas make this occasion both a true wedding celebration and a tropical vacation.  Then, listening to the bride and groom share their vows next to a setting sun with the soft interruption of waves feels like something out of a movie.  How lucky I am to be transported to another world while still surrounded by the people I love.

Mazel tov, Ben and Emily #vivabemily!