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February 28th, 2010

Gimme all your lovin'

"Payment Complete
Thank you for your purchase!
Hundreds of trained monkeys are currently running about flipping bits on your account."

I like a company with a sense of humour. Given that I've stopped being a tightwad, photos will now be brought up to date.

With only days left before Naomi had to return home, we indulged both of our... whoa, déjà vu... anyway, both of our obsessions with pyramids, yet again, by heading to Veracruz state, north-east of El D.F. We stayed in the hill-side town (no, no trams) of Papantla. Being near the coast in the tropics, Veracruz state is unlike the dry, dusty D.F. and its archaeological sites. Rather, it and its sites can be well described as verdant, with abundant jungle. Being that it is so wet, Naomi, having only flimsy sneakers since her other shoes, dress boots, were fragged climbing to the Teposteca months previous, spent the days with plastic bags over her socks. Only on one of the days did she make an audible swishing sound.

The main draw of the area, a short minibus ride from the town, is El Tajín, dating from the Classic Era of Mesoamerican history (after Teotihuacan but before the Aztecs) and built buy those called, creatively, “The Classic Veracruz Civilisation”. It, like Teotihuacan, became prosperous by sitting on bulk obsidian.

This gives me pause for a very interesting aside: in Mesoamerican cultures, the materials of greatest value were jade and obsidian. Gold and silver were seen to have no value, and when the Spaniards arrived, they found peasants bedecked in these metals and assumed this was a very rich land indeed. To them, yes, it was, but to the natives gold was the excrement of the sun, and silver the excrement of the moon, and peasants, as has been the lot of peasants everywhere, had to wallow in the dung.

Tajín is a breathtaking complete pyramid city, with the southern end being the market district, with squares bordered by four pyramids; a ceremonial quarter, with amongst many others the famous pyramid of the niches, which contained 360 niches on the surface to act as a calendar, and the ball courts; and north-west of this, the Toorak section for the nobility, mostly still buried and out of bounds for visitors. To the north-east of the ceremonial centre is the vast plumed serpent building, built built in a huge coil, and also still partially unexcavated. This is sadly a site with no climbing allowed, not even on the restored buildings and certainly no driving sweet 1970s yanky cars onto, as the postcards display. Some of the pyramids have hay thatches as a roof, as apparently they did back in the day. The overall awe of the site eclipses Teotihuacan, despite being smaller. This is partially as it is more alive, with green everywhere and the gurgling of the two rivers that make the east and west borders in your ears. It left a feeling on me akin to that from Paestum, though maybe slightly less so; the ability to walk through ancient alleyways and across ancient squares. No swimming pool though.

One common aspect to the pre-Columbine cultures in Mexico is the ball game, of which modified versions are still practiced in some forms in pockets of the country. Basically, a rectangular court with ramps bordering the longer sides had stone rings on it, and the two opposing teams would use hips and shoulders to get a rubber ball through these rings. The winning team was then honoured by being sacrificed to the gods. The main feature of Tajín I would like, nay need to relay, is on the more ornate of the courts; a relief on the middle of the south side shows a scene I can never unsee. As indicated by the official explanatory text, a squatting man stabs himself in the penis at the point of ejaculation, his stuff spraying into the face of a man wearing a fish as a hat, his neck coming out the fish's belly and his face showing through the fish's mouth, while a flying rabbit throws lightning at them and Quetzalcoatl, in his regional form, watches on with a wide grin. The fish guy is even squinting like he got some in the eye. Why? WHY?!

This lunar cycle

April 2015
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