MEXICO CITY: Decadent Darkness

One life is hardly enough. I have no fear of death, but I really am irked that I only have a century here. And that is if I’m lucky. For a lot of people, more than I ever expected, a hundred years is plenty. People are tired and worn down and disinterested in life. I think there’s nothing more thrilling than being alive, seeing what’s around and learning about what has happened in the recent and distant past, so I will never understand this attitude. If I could live forever, I would pay whatever price. I’d make a deal with the Devil if that were a real thing

The other night, I attended a performance of Dracula, and as the story always has and always will, it made me daydream about how lucky these fictional creatures are. Being a vampire would quite suit me. You get to stay up all night, you wear a cape, your teeth are brilliantly white, you rid the world of lowlifes, and you get the opportunity to live forever. I mean, there are drawbacks. You don’t get to eat garlic anymore, and I love garlic. And you don’t get to see the sun, and I love a good tan. But I suppose there is nothing stopping a vampire from having an in-castle spray tan. (I wonder if vampires could use tanning beds?) I’d enjoy being alive forever tremendously. I would have every night for the rest of eternity to savor the world. I could research to my heart’s content. I could read and read and read. I could write. I could explore the world’s great metropolises in the dark when they are at their most beautiful. And most importantly, I would never run out of time. I think that’s what I want most out of life, more time.

The older I become, the more apparent it is that I know nothing. Don’t get me wrong, reader, I have a great depth of knowledge about a great number of things, but the more you learn, the more you learn about what you don’t know. My study of ancient Egypt, for example, has been life changing, but now a wealth of topics exist that I might never get to explore. When will I find the time to research Old Kingdom obelisks or Ptolemaic crocodile cults? It just might be never, and is that not the most tragic thing in all the world? I need to know!

I apply this misfortune of unknowing to Mesoamerica, like we discussed in the last post. I know so little about this part of the world. At this point in my life, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to study this topic in depth, but I’m going to try and get a somewhat better understanding of the lives of the peoples of North and South America before the pestilence of European invasion.

Today’s goal was to explore the ruins and museum of the Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple in the center of Mexico City. Most of it is long gone, razed by the Spaniards in their ethnocentric idiocy, but there is some left to study.

To get there, I took an unnecessarily lengthy route. I followed my fancy through the Centro Histórico and was delighted by a shop that offered ancient Egyptian trinkets and incense. It was odd, and there was a full resin reconstruction of Tutankhamen’s golden coffin leaning up against the wall. Loved it utterly.

Once I was in the Zocalo, I knew I was in the right part of town, but the remains of the Templo Mayor were not immediately evident. So I wandered as is my wont. Round back of the Cathedral Metropolitan was an assembly of statues that had been seriously eroded. I thought they were the height of macabre delight and took several pictures.

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Instead of clearly defined faces, they had what appeared to be dots for eyes. I studied them for a long time, wondering about the history of these religious sculptures and where they used to proudly stand.

I followed my nose and my ears to the Calle Guatemala, a chaotic street stuffed with people selling seemingly anything your heart desired.

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You could get knockoff Minnie Mouse backpacks, leather belts, an absurd variety of socks, fidget spinners, tacos, and the sweet Buddha only knows what else you could procure. I didn’t need anything, so I didn’t buy anything, I just soaked up the atmosphere. The streets were overflowing with shoppers, people haggling over those myriad socks, and, for some reason, a tambourine. I loved it all. I was glared at by somebody when I tried to take a Snapchat video of the scene around me, so I decided I had better just live the moment and not share it.

Time was ticking away, though, so I had to leave and find the entrance to the Templo Mayor. This made sense once I saw it, but before then, it seemed to be tucked away in a challengingly silly spot. I waited in a short line, bought my ticket, and after a brief and lackadaisical pat down, I was free to explore the ruins.

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The remains of the Templo Mayor are no longer imposing, but for the amateur archaeologist that I am, I thought they were the definition of thrilling. Foundations of the former altars and temple complexes and whatnot spread out before me. I wanted to go through every inch of this site, but I was being pulled into the museum that stood next door. Museums never fail to beckon me.

This was an absolutely wonderful place that housed the discoveries archaeologists have pulled from the earth at the Templo Mayor. The area is still an active archaeological site, so there are always new things being restored and put on display. Just before my arrival, archaeologists found a wall full of human skulls that had been part of the religious complex. This was still being catalogued and studied while I was there, so I didn’t get to see it. I believe it’s part of the museum now, so I will have to get back very soon.

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Tlaloc.

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The god of death.

I was reminded of the Luxor Museum in a Egypt, my favorite museum in the world. It’s small, but every single piece is a masterpiece; there is not an artifact in there that is a waste of space. Like Luxor, everything in the Templo Mayor museum was fabulous. The artifacts were beautiful, and it was mesmerizing to see sculptures of the gods that were still covered in vibrant paint. I thought it was all just wonderful. One of the most intriguing pieces was in the center of the museum. An enormous relief had been unearthed from the archaeological site of a goddess. It was so big that they built the museum around it. The viewer climbs up and up and up past tremendous displays and no matter where you are in the museum, you can look down and admire the grimace of the goddess far below.

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I had such fun, and with about an hour remaining, I made my way out into the ruins themselves. At first, I admit, I was fairly disappointed. Everything seemed sterile, but it was just in a remarkable state of good preservation. Gobsmacked, I watched three archaeology students work on conservation amongst the ruins. I sighed and admired them. What fun it was that there were people out there living my dream. Truthfully, I have to admit that I was deeply jealous. Life pulls us all in different directions, and we end up where we belong when we should, but still…I was envious that they were able to follow their dreams. I hoped they all knew how lucky they were. I know that I, too, will someday have a degree in archaeology and Egyptian studies, but that could take me until the end of my life. And I’ll surely never pay all that schooling off, but I have long stopped caring about that. You have to spend money to do what you want.

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The students probably thought that I was creepy, staring at them, watching them work, but I was in awe of them. I have, I honestly admit, never once dreamed of working with Mayan or Aztec or Olmec or Incan ruins. No, it’s always been Egypt for me and I know that it will always be Egypt. I can’t get over it now. In my future classroom, though, I am going to do everything in my power to give my students passion for history all over the world. We need Mesoamerican archaeologists and talented scholars in Asia and in Africa, too. I’m selfishly always going to cling to my dreams of working in the Sahara, but that’s just who I am now. Those women, though, they were living out a dream that I haven’t been able to make come true. I was envious, but a new sensation overtook my jealousy. I was enormously proud of them.

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I let my legs carry me throughout the temple complex so that I could admire Spanish-era plumbing and the oldest bits of the razed pyramid. It was wondrous. There were not a lot of sculptures and statuary, but the few that were there were tremendously lovely. I particularly enjoyed the exterior bits with giant statues that grimaced at the populace. And then the hour struck and it was time to go back into modernity. I wasn’t quite ready, though.

I stood outside the fence for some time, surveying the complex. I could understand it better now that I had wandered through the pathways. I speculated on the extent of the remains that were beneath the major square of the Zocalo and underneath the behemoth that was the Cathedral Metropolitan. What wonders remained hiding just a few meters under the soil? I could spend days lost in thoughts like those.

As I walked out of the complex, I noticed a restaurant up on a roof that overlooked the Templo Mayor and the Cathedral Metropolitan and the Zocalo. I decided that I certainly needed to have something to eat to keep up my sustenance.

Before the temple had been excavated, this area had been covered in shops and houses and whatnot. One of these shops was a bookstore that had to move to preserve the cultural heritage of the area. Now it stood across the street and was home to a couple rooftop restaurants and bars. After walking through all the books, and drooling over the texts that I couldn’t read yet, I found the elevator and shot up to the roof.

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All of the tables were occupied, so the host found me a comfortable seat in the lounge. My view wasn’t perfect, not by any means, and it was quite obstructed, but after I took my seat and ordered guacamole and something with tequila in it, I was quite happy.

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It was more than happiness. It was complete and total contentment. I was serene. It was the bliss that I seek whenever I travel. This proves to be an elusive feeling that washes over me without any prompting. I feel it when I walk though West Hollywood at night, when I watch the sun set over the Nile in Luxor, when I’m walking to Miss Manon in Paris, and now when I’m sipping tequila in Mexico City.

I was completely at ease as I watched the world pass by. Everybody was in high spirits, and so too was I. I never wanted to leave, and a feeling of great good fortune took me over. I was so lucky to be in this spot at this moment. I could be anywhere in the world, but I was here. The voice of Joan Rivers, as it so often does, came into my head. “Things are fine, and life is fine. And life is so much fun. It’s one big movie.” And that, reader, is exactly how I felt just then. Life is wonderful.

I chatted in abysmal Spanish with a few other revelers who were worshipping the beautiful day with me. I was sat beside two elderly ladies who toasted me a few times. I’m not entirely sure why, but it was charming.

I ordered another drink, the tequila relaxing me and making me ever more in love with the nation  around me. With that done, I knew that I had to forge ahead and see more. I didn’t know where my feet would lead me, but I knew for sure that I was not ready to be done for the day. Time was going by much too quickly and there was too much left to see!

I passed by antique bookstores and drooled at some crumbling old tomes on display that were centuries old. They weren’t about anything that interesting, but they were so beautiful. I love how things in the past were gilded for no apparent reason. The information in the book would be no less important if it was simply bound, but the fact that the bookmaker went to such elaborate effort was wondrous.

As I passed delicately designed architecture and endless food vendors, I knew just where I needed to go to cap off this wonderful day: Walmart. I hear you sigh, reader, and I can almost see you rolling your eyes. But, like I have lectured you in the past, WALMART IS AMAZING.

I passed by the entrance in a state of rapture. What wonders awaited me this glorious night? I grabbed a basket and headed off to explore. I grabbed far too many pastries. I let an actual cheesemonger make a few selections for me — have you ever been given cheese assistance at a Walmart before? I have not and the absurdity of it was enough to make me cackle merrily for days. I bought some truly abysmal wine and then some more cat treats. I bought packets of powdered jamaica and orange juice and grapefruit juice and then some tremendously cheap (and oddly delicious) tequila. I love tequila, reader. I never knew how much.

My hands were laden with purchases, but I discovered that I was close enough to stop at a bakery that I had on my to-do list since the day I decided to go to Mexico City. It was supposedly the best in the city, and as a refined pastry ho, you know that I had to test the validity of this claim.

The walk took me forty-five minutes or so, and it was stupidly fun. The night was vibrant and it was such a treat to look at the shops, the restaurants, the random festivals, the parks, everything. Even the seemingly abandoned buildings left me with a sense of wonder. Le Havre, an area of Mexico City soon flourished around me. Once again, I was shaken by the European flair. I could, I could easily swear, have been walking through Paris. I’m going to surely be making that comparison in every single post.

The bakery was not quite what I had expected, the address took me to a gorgeous brick building that was bursting with gentle light from all levels. It was the right place, there was a sign and everything, but it was not immediately apparent where the bakery would be. I wandered aimlessly for a spell looking hapless before a kindly employee guided me to the baked goods.

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I got everything, obviously, as one should do at a new bakery. The greatest delight was a simple roll that was covered in a buttery rosemary glaze. It was perfection, reader. I dream about it to this day. I need to make some for myself soon so that I can pretend that I’m back in that glorious city where mystery lingers and the unknown is revealed with each twist of the road. There is nothing quite so divine as Mexico City.

I savored the decadent dark that overtook the city as time ticked by at a rapid pace. Soon there was nothing but gentle streetlights illuminating my surroundings and I sighed in complete and total contentment. At that moment I knew that I could never return to the normal world completely. I will always need an escape from life. The world is just too grand and glorious to live in one dull spot. I know that I will work in Iowa for many years to come, but I, like Miley Cyrus in that magnificent song she once sang, I can’t be tamed. And I don’t mean that I’m a wild child, because I never have been that person, but I can’t be totally civilized. I will always answer the call of my indefatigable wanderlust. I will not be surprised to find myself in a hut in the Kalahari Desert or wandering through the halls of the Hermitage or gaping at the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. Life is very short, and I realize that more every day.

Lost in a dreamy haze, I slowly made it back to my apartment. Outside a massive church that was across the street from my road was a veritable army of well-dressed people. They seemed happy, so I assume it was a wedding and not a funeral. They were all resplendent in gowns and perfectly pressed suits. The women glittered and so did the streets, puddles of rainwater from a brief deluge reflected every twinkling light.

I was so damn happy.

Comfortably settled back in the apartment, I let the cats gorge on all the various cat treats I had bought them and watched The Road to El Dorado on Netflix. I was truly living my very best life.

I miss Mexico so much.

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