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September 8th, 2010

Dogs are talking

Context context context. Now I have some. I live about 2 km south of Coyoacán, which is still called Coyoacán, and indeed most of that whole rectangular peninsula is the university. Tenochtitlan is now the historical centre of Mexico City, Mixquic is where Jimmy P and I went for Day of the Dead last year, Tenayuca is the pyramid I wrote about some months ago, Tacubaya is now a large metro station, and Teotihuacan is well marked. All that is now left of Lake Texcoco is some salt flats east of Tenochtitlan, and Xochimilco, the only native habitat of the axolotl, the awesome Mexican walking fish which I must now own as a pet.

Some weeks ago I visited the remains of Teotenango, another pyramid city. This one has a fine history of successive conquests. Going on the sources I have, the original folks lived in a peasant town at the bottom of a big hill, and were bought into the Mesoamerican fold by immigrants from Teotihuacan and their cultural influence, and it seems they started building a ceremonial centre on top of the hill 750-900 BCE. Then, one source says:

“Between the years of 900-1200 [CE] Teotenango had the most important moment for new buildings during the Teotenango stage, on this stage, many pyramidal buildings, and group houses were built along the city. From 1200, and until 1476 [CE], the Matlatzincas stay at Teotenango where they build a ball court, a wall enclosing the city and many pits to defend the city.”

With a [sic] taken as read, what a lovely story! What nice guys!

However, another source says:
“At some time between 900 and 1200 AD, the Chichimec-Matlatzinca (a people who took their name from the Náhuatl word … net) [an aside: chichis means boobs in Mexican Spanish] conquered the people of Teotenango and bought them under their rule. According to the historical sources, the main purpose of the war was to obtain honor, fame and riches, as well as slaves to be used as workers and as sacrificial victims. Nevertheless, it was at least as important to make vassals of the conquered peoples, in order to receive tribute and property”.

Here, you always have to read a little deeper when ever someone gives you a 'noble savage' story.

Anyways, the Aztecs then conquered them and drove them into poverty, and then a few years later the Spanish conquered them and did likewise, forcing them to live in the new town, at the base of the hill.

So, catching a coach to an intermediate town and then a collectivo (read stereotypically-Latin-American-over-packed-combi) to the colonial town, Tenango de Valle, we started asking directions to the site, and were uniformly given at each step a route that came to the hill side and then led up a goat track (or actually, sheep track, replete with herd of sheep), past a small Catholic shrine, and then to a bend a well paved road and the pyramid city. As it transpired, the locals had told us the secret way to bypass the ticket office.

The site is very large, encompassing both the ceremonial centre and some residential quarters, a ball court, a steam bath, and some paved squares. Much of it is private farm land, and you can see into the adjoining fields where donkeys are walking around amongst partially exposed pyramids, and where clown farmers have taken apart ancient structures to use the stones to make fencing walls. (As an aside, the use of 'clown' as an insulting adjective seems not to be universal; if, for instance, you say there was a clown out your window with a jack-hammer, some people assume there was a man dressed in circus attire doing construction.) The view of the valley and mountain range from the site is quite striking.

I remember being told as a kid that if you pat a stray dog it is likely to follow you home from school. I practice, this never was an issue as one does not encounter too many stray dogs in the suburbs of Melbourne. Something to do with respect for companion animals and an efficient pound system that collects strays and when needed puts them to death humanely.

Neither of these things is in place in Mexico.

Dogs are abandoned with such regularity that hundreds are seen in any town, even the D.F., and when caught they are electrocuted. Those in the mood for being disgusted can look here.

So, it was with horror that after patting this very sweet, very smart dog living at the site that I had to try to prevent it from following me home by yelling at it and being nasty. The very worst part was that it followed me from the safety of the site and down into the town, crossing several major roads before we lost it. Then, on the way back, the bus nearly hit another dog.

This lunar cycle

April 2015
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