Friday, November 20, 2009

Aztec Dancing

I love Aztec dancing.

Let me start with that, then continue with the story from the previous blog.

I was at a Day of the Dead festival with some people that was turning out to be an awful night... two hours in traffic and then we arrived too late for the main attraction. After scoping out the festivities, we started walking back to the car.

Then we heard some drums beating in a different section and a large crowd of people gathering around something. I was curious, but sort of just wanted to go home. I am so glad we stopped to see what it was.

There were over a hundred people, many dressed in full-out Aztec gear, dancing in a large circle around six or seven drums, which were being pounded on so hard I could feel it in my chest. Around all of their ankles they had some rattling beads. When they started dancing the whole area erupted into rhythmic percussive noise. It was awesome.

We watched for probably about twenty minutes. Then my friends wanted to eat, so I left them and returned. I had completely lost myself. Of course I memorized the footwork and I really wanted to jump in there with them, but obviously that might not have been appropriate.

I captured a bit on video. But just know... without feeling the drums and seeing the grand scheme of things, it doesn't at all compare to how neat it really was.

Needless to say. I am obsessed. After the show the dancers posed for pictures... I'm not sure if it was family, friends, or strangers that were asking to take pictures with them. It was one of the few times in my life I've actually wanted to have my picture taken with someone in costume. I really wish I had.

Since then I've been looking for other Aztec dancing, with no luck. I heard they dance in the city center a few times every week. If anyone has information as to when they do that, let me know. It was really cool. Did I say that, yet? It was really cool.

Día de los Muertos

Twenty days ago I went to a "Day of the Dead" festival in a little village about an hour away. The holiday is interesting. It's actually two days, following Halloween, making a three-day creepy death fest. Of course, one has to remember that it is not intended to be a scary holiday, but because of America's influence with Halloween it is common to see children walking the streets with costumes all three nights, at least here in Mexico City. (I had two children come up to me on the street, as if I would just be carrying around candy all day... a walking candy dispenser. I gave the children nothing)

Anyway, decorations for the Day of the Dead are really interesting. We've actually seen a lot of the style in America, in other forms. It's called "Calaca," basically skeletons, but dressed up and... stylized. I don't know, and I'm sure there are people reading this who know a lot more about this than me.

Creepy, huh? But it's a really interesting look... very distinct.
(Thank you Wikipedia for the picture)

We ended up getting to the festival too late and the cemetery (with all the decorated graves) was closed. We spent about two hours in traffic and it should have taken a little over forty-five minutes to get there. Fortunately there were still lots of people there and .... well, read on to the next blog entry. It made the whole trip worthwhile.

How many times in life have you been in a small mob, clamoring to get into a graveyard? I doubt I will find myself doing that again.

Monday, November 2, 2009


What do we think of when we think of the "Aztecs?"

Before I came here, I honestly didn't think much of them. Even in Guatemala, I imagined them as the more gruesome tribe somewhere in Central America that was didn't stand up to the Spaniards when they came and took over. Well... here's a brief and simplified history lesson for those who share my old indifference.

Central America was divided into lots of tribes before the Europeans came over. One small tribe was looking for their homeland they would recognize from a vision: an eagle sitting on a cactus. The vision supposedly manifested itself at an island in the middle of a large lake. Though that doesn't seem ideal, they settled "Tenochtitlan" on the island and flourished, forming the Aztec empire.

*Please don't get angry if you know this history and I'm over-simplifying it.

When the Spaniards came over, the Aztecs were at the peak of their empire, doing very well for themselves. They had the organization and power to fight back and could effectively kick the Spaniards back to Europe. However, smallpox has a funny way of destroying civilizations that aren't prepared for it. The Spaniards were able to take over Tenochtitlan, thereby destroying the heart of the Aztec empire.

A representation of Tenochtitlan in lake Texcoco. It looks a little different today.

Yes, we've all heard this story before, be it the Native Americans, Hawaiians, Maya, Aborigines, etc. It's not pleasant, but it happened all over the world. The difference is what happened after the European empires fell.

Take a look at the coat of arms. Does it ring any bells?

Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire is now known as Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. The eagle on the cactus, the vision that supposedly spawned the Aztec empire is now the center piece of the Mexican flag. Even the word "Mexica" is roughly another word for "Aztec." I imagined the Aztec Empire had shared a similar fate as the Native Americans in the states and the Aborigines in Australia, and the dominance of the Spanish language instead of the native language really threw me off, but the people are still very much alive. Mexicans are Aztecs, one of the few native tribal empires to keep their land and traditions as their own. Isn't that cool?

Yo Soy Chiapas

San Christóbal, the first city I visited, is in the state of Chiapas. There was a festival that weekend coincidentally, and I watched the festivities held on a stage in front of about 1000 people in the city center.

It was the worst bit of performance I have seen in my life. I'm not exaggerating. I was actually mad. They had a budget, a massive audience (waiting in the rain for 30 minutes for the show to start) and they could have left a crying baby on stage for an hour and that would have been more entertaining. I feel like the person producing it just had a child scribble on a piece of paper and then a bored middle school student try to decipher the chicken-scratch to come up with a product to put on stage.

This is me venting, by the way. A lot of people put time and effort into the festival and the entertainment, the focal point of the whole thing was junk. Perhaps the whole thing hit a buried nerve.

Anyway, before the performance, they blasted this song, "Yo Soy Chiapas," or "I Am Chiapas" on huge speakers and I was tricked into thinking it was being sung live from backstage. Little did I know that it was their state anthem. I really enjoy the song, though. Listen to it. If you get bored, skip to 1:15, where the beat kicks in.

(Wow... that is hideously oversized for this blog column. Oh well.)

Does anyone know where I can download this song? I'd like to download it legally, if possible, but it's not on amazon, so I'm not sure where to turn.

No watch. No cell. No worries.

So... I realized today that I haven't had a watch for about a month. Occasionally I've had a cellphone for a day or so, but usually I have no idea what time it is. This is what I've learned:

-The sun never really sets East to West. Even this far South (beneath the tropic of cancer) the sun sets South-East to South-West for most of the year. Especially in winter, this is very, very noticeable. When telling the time by the sun, there is always a shadow aimed towards the North, even at noon.

- I wake up naturally here between 9:30-11:30, although in Guatemala it was 8:30-9:30. Even when I go to sleep very late, it's something about the noises in the environment, my motivation to wake up, and the sunlight that triggers this naturally every day.

- I still jump when a cell-phone rings, wondering if it's mine that's ringing.

- Wasting time on a subway or bus isn't quite as irritating, but that could be because I don't have a life.

One would think I would have had a more... enlightening observation, but not really. It's just sort of liberating not being able to be contacted all the time. I hope I take note and remember this back in the states.