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Take an X

Mark Twain said “I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way”, or words to that effect. In Mexico, they are true believers, and they not only spell words multiple ways, but also pronounce them multiple ways.

This is often tied to the X. When the Spanish fronted, any sound they didn't have a sound for was given an X. Thus, X can have the value 'k', 'sh', throaty 'h', non-throaty 'h', 's', 'z', and probably others I'm yet to encounter. Thus, I have heard Xico pronounced 'Zee-co', 'She-co' and 'Hee-co'.

This is also why Xalapa is also Jalapa, but there is only even one pronunciation. Bus companies seem to spell with a J, and maps with an X.

The next place we visited also has this Twainian enlightenment: Zemploala or Cempoala, pronounced 'Sem-pwa-la'. This is another vital stop on the search for Cortés, as this was the first major city the conquistadores encountered in Mesoamerica. Advance scouts said the city was made of silver, because they were kind of stupid and greedy and saw silver where there was white paint. The Totonacas of Zempoala attacked them, and it has been mooted that they would have killed them all, until the king, known as “El Jefe Gordo, Xicomecoatl" (the Fat King) told the war chief, his son, that it would be better to ally with the Spanish to fight their imperial masters, the Aztecas. The son probably regretted this, because Cortés had him hanged for desertion a couple of years later during the Siege of Tenochtitlan.

The site of Zempoala is nice in several ways. The pyramids are made of river stones instead of blocks, and some pyramids are round. There is a perfectly circular arena used for gladiatorial sacrifices (one combatant tied to a large object and given a feather sword), which makes a nice echo chamber (ah geometry, how I love thee), and there is an alter for the lighting of the new fire every 57 years. The town wall has crenelated battlements, not hugely unlike those of medieval Europe. Most interesting, perhaps, is what is not on the site itself.

Where most sites have only the ceremonial centre preserved, and farmers tear down all that surrounds, pyramids outside of the centre in Zempoala are preserved in the midst of the decidely tropical modern settlement, under the care of INAH. A sugar plantation next door has a temple in the middle, and an intersection in the residential section has another two.

The site had what appeared to be the best gift shop I've seen in Mexico. I can't tell as it was closed. This is, after all, the tropics.

I leave you now with a Mexican saying, pauses necessary: “Fire... is the television... for poor people”. Nice.

This lunar cycle

April 2015
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