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In the north of Mexico City, near Tepito, is La Plaza de las Tres Culturas. This is the only remnant of Tenochtitlan besides El Templo Major and a few random carvings around central Mexico City. It's name comes because it has a pyramid, representing the Aztec culture, a Catholic church built from the ruins of the pyramid, representing the Spanish culture, and an office building, representing Mexican culture. It was also where the Aztecs made their final stand against the Spanish. It didn't go so well for them. There is a famous plaque there which describes the battle as “neither a victory nor a defeat, but the painful moment of birth of the Mexico of today, of a race of Mestizos”, a nice balanced view sometimes not seen in Mexico.

I had thus far avoided a visit, as the literature fails to really sell the place (like “Hey! Visit Frankston: fewer stabbings at the 21st and no bogan mayor anymore!” - well, not that bad). However, I put aside a Sunday and wandered over. It was very pleasant, except that I brought a nameless temporary housemate, who brought his opinions.

“This is stupid alter”

“This is bullshit of restoration.”

“This is totally wrong.” (So hard not to-a write in-a an accent-a, but this is a sensitive, modern journal)

“This is totally stupid. This part should look like that part”, where 'this' is a refaced layer corresponding to an early layer, and 'that' is the inside of the next layer, random stones that would never see the light of day. It's like saying “This is bullshit of food”, pointing to a wedding cake, and then later in the night pointing to the the same vomited in the gutter and saying “That's how it should be”.

What the site shows is the concentric layers over many years, and other, smaller temples that the main pyramid consumed over the centuries. It is very evocative, and it takes little imagination to mentally reconstruct. That is, of course, unless you already know what is and is not completely stoopid.

The church was built only a few years after the conquest, and itself has a great history; after the Revolution, when the church was not very popular, it was converted into a black powder magazine for the railroads. It has some nice features, including a rough stone apse. But, of course, it was bullshit of church compared to in a those from a certain country. I remember a joke about the storage capacity of a boot versus a shoe.

The office building, formerly the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and now the memorial to student protesters murdered by soldiers in 1968, is not particularly visually interesting, but the other two justify a trip.

Moving on, I have recently been a spectator at two thesis defenses. For those not in the know, in most of the world, someone completing a higher degree must 'defend' it to a panel of experts, first giving a talk and then being subject to questions both related and not related to the material of the thesis (in both I went to the student was compelled to do a derivation from fundamental theory on the blackboard). In Australia this tradition does not exist, as, so the story goes, the main universities were set up in the colonial era and it was deemed that anyone completing a higher degree had no-one of sufficient authority present worthy of assessing the thesis (and before you get all jingoistic, how many homestead-building, gold-mining, mud-digging colonists do you think were qualified to assess an order for their own hanging, let alone a thesis?) and it was impractical to send candidates back to London, so we still don't have to do it. It is assumed the thesis can be sent to impartial and anonymous assessors and it will speak for itself.

Another interesting aspect, which explains why UNAM got so impatient with my failure to provide a degree certificate after qualifying for the PhD, is that they don't have graduation ceremonies here. The assessing panel hands over the degree straight after the defense. No fancy robes, no chancellor, no academic procession, no key-note speech, no waiting half a year.

So, in summary, defenses are nasty mean things but probably make sure your knowledge is more polished, but lack of a fancy graduation is a bit sad. Maybe even bullshit of system.


This lunar cycle

April 2015
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