A Week in Mexico City (part 6)

The Diego Rivera Museum

The Diego Rivera Museum is not a museum of his work but one he designed to house his collection of  50,000 or so pre-hispanic artifacts. Incredible. The building alone is a work of art made of volcanic stone in the shape of a pyramid. Even the floors, ceilings, and entryways to the many rooms are etched with images of the gods of Teotihuacan, the Mayas, and the Aztecs.

These are the artifacts of a culture that helped shape the Mexican heart, the Mexican passion for life. The culture that produced a Diego Rivera, a Frida Kahlo. One that lives with death as if it were synonymous with life. Not merely life’s darker cousin but part of its body. Life is not life when separated from death the way a finger stops being a finger when severed from the body.

Wow! Melodramatic much? The lack of oxygen must be getting to me.

One of the few negatives about CDMX is the poor air quality. That combined with limited air conditioning can make some museums and events uncomfortable. So despite my growing interest in all things pre-hispanic, the museum with its close, cave-like rooms, that get tighter and tighter as you ascend the pyramid, is claustrophobic and at times it’s hard to breathe. Time to head back outside, catch my breath, and get some lunch.

La Hacienda de Cortes

We’re on the hoof, it’s hot, and the air is dirty. There are no storefronts along the sidewalk just high walls and, on the street-side, the press of traffic. I guess it’s my day to be claustrophobic. A friend of a friend recommended La Hacienda de Cortes for lunch so we’re looking for it. Feeling kinda lost we come to a doorway in the unrelenting walls. Is this it? We go in to see.

And here it comes, the reoccurring theme, the dichotomy that is Mexico. The restaurant is a freakin’ garden. And I don’t just mean it has a garden. It is a garden. You walk down a park-like path lined with trees, flowering plants, ferns, and other wild ground cover. It’s cool; the air is fresh. You walk up a small stone staircase, through an archway, and into a large forest-like clearing. Tables are laid beneath the combined canopies of many large trees. The Pollo con Mole is excellent and we are visited by squirrels.

This city is full of oases. Whether it’s La Iglesia del Convento del San Francisco, a peaceful church courtyard of shade trees and chirping birds across the street from Sanborns in Cuauhtémoc, the garden in La Palacio Nacional, or Chapultepec park. No matter how overwhelming the city may get or how overpowering the car exhaust there is always an oasis somewhere. Just duck into the nearest doorway and I’ll bet you’ll find one.

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A Week in Mexico City (part 4)

Day 4

Templo Mayor (Main Temple)

Many things about Mexican culture are difficult for Americans to wrap our heads around. There are deep cultural differences in the way we think about time, the way we think about love, family, and honor. You see it in the holidays, the language, art, music, and food.

One difference I puzzle over is our views toward death. Americans are light-hearted children, unaware that death is lurking around the corner and shocked when it comes. “How could this happen?” He or she was so strong, so vital.

Mexicans are dark and calm, they live with death; they “sit” with it. To them it’s a given. Not just inevitable but necessary. They know death is there, always has been, always will be. There’s actually a term for it – Mexican Fatalism.

While United States culture has developed out of the beliefs and philosophies of European immigrants, “forgetful” of its deeper roots, and so uniquely modern, Mexican culture is permeated with remnants of its pre-hispanic past.

Mexico City itself is located where the Aztec capitol city once stood. The ruins of Templo Mayor, one of the main temples of the Aztecs, is smack dab in the middle of Centro, a 20 minute walk from the hotel. While walking through the ruins and the Museum a piece of the cultural puzzle falls into place.

The Aztecs were big on human sacrifice. Horrific by modern standards, yes, but to the Aztecs, necessary for human survival. It all starts with the God of War and Sun, and the God of Rain (I’ll spare you the unpronounceable names). Again, by modern standards, belief in a pantheon of gods that control the natural world is anachronistic, silly. But for the Aztecs this was a literal thing. They had to make human sacrifices to the gods to protect man from infinite night. The success of their crops and the ability to defend themselves from invaders depended on it.

They weren’t killing people as part of a genocidal pogrom or because they lacked respect for human life but because it was essential to preserving it. There were many gods and if the Aztecs wanted to eat, drink, have children, and protect themselves they had to be appeased.

While we don’t like to acknowledge the existence of human sacrifice, it’s clear the ancient ancestors of the Mexicans believed that without it there would be no life. And for me, the ruins and artifacts show very clearly where Mexican culture came by its acceptance of death as part everyday life.