All 18 entries tagged Mexico
September 23, 2005
Follow-up to Poem from Ancient City of Huexotzinco (in Keen, 42) from The Midnight HeartNow let the Eagle knights and Jaguar knights embrace oh princes!
The shields make a great din,
ready is the company that must make prisoners!
Through our efforts alone are the flowers of war stained and moved to and fro!
It is time to give pleasure to the god.
would be the city of Huexotzinco,
if it were surrounded by cactus,
if it were ringed with thorny arrows.
The kettledrum, the conch shell,
are heard in thy house,
they remain in Huexotzinco.
There is Tecayehuatzin
there is Lord Quecehuatl
plays the flute and sings
in his house at Huexotzinco.
Hither descends our father the god.
Here is his house,
where in is the jaguar drum,
where the songs have endured
to the sound of kettle drums.
nothing like flowery death
so precious to the Giver of Life:
far off I see it: my heart yearns for it.
I was able to use the library at Na Bolom again yesterday. Among other books, the most interesting were Is the Mexican Revolution Dead? edited by Stanley R. Ross and The Aztec Image by Benjamin Keen.
In Ross' anthology, I was particularly fascinated by Ross' essay, 'The Peace of Porfirio' referring of course to the dictator who precipitated the revolution. This essay clarified a few things for me such as how the government actually went about encouraging capitalism, ignoring the general public's need and suppressing dissent. I liked Keen's book because he uses a great deal of poetry to show Western responses to the Aztec image.
Another festival today in Oaxaca. This one was for Juarez and it is a little like the Mexican Day of the Dead in that the people make huge papier–mache sculptures which are paraded through the streets. The trade union were carrying banners celebrating their heroes and a brass band was playing.
As much as I like San Cristobal, it is a relief to be back in Oaxaca where the atmosphere is so much more full of hope and opportunity. This is as you would expect for the birthplace of Juarez, one of Mexico's greatest politicians and reformers.
I have always been somewhat sceptical about ghosts. It all began while I was working at the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) over the summer. I was helping in creative writing workshops with Peter Blegvad and the poet, Julie Boden. One day a ghost hunter came to talk to the teenagers and later we went to visit Guy's Cliffe House near Leamington, which is an old abandoned house now owned by the masons. Julie Boden went down into the caves under the house and later she told us that she was convinced that the place is haunted. At first, I admit that I was shocked that people like Julie, Simon the ghost hunter and others from the paranormal society who work at the house believed in ghosts. I have always been very rational and sceptical about such things, but perhaps it was this experience which planted a seed of doubt in my mind and contributed to my experiences here in San Cristobal.
The first hotel that we stayed in was called Casa Magarita. We had a room up in the eaves of a large colonial building set on a courtyard. The room had an imposing wooden door that faced onto the bed. I was woken up in the night by terrible nightmares and I felt convinced that there was something uneasy about the room. We moved the next day.
I have been having Spanish classes here in San Cristobal and my teacher Eduardo told me that it is thought that there are many ghosts in San Cristobal. Eduardo said that in that very school there was thought to be the ghost of a small boy who had been murdered there years before.
For one night, we stayed at the museum, Na Bolom , which was once the house of Gertrude Duby Blom, the journalist and photographer. That night we went up to our room, locked the door and sat by the fire. All of a sudden the locked door swung open. We shut it and sat again by the fire which had begun to blaze brightly with incredible heat. The next morning we told the staff at Na Bolom of the night's happenings. Pepe told us that the room where we were staying had used to be Trudy's office and that another woman who had stayed there had also had a strange experience. The guest had been sitting at the window looking down at the beautiful gardens of Na Bolom when she saw an elderly lady looking up at her drinking a cup of tea.
All this is probably heresay and perhaps it is superstition or fear or hope that produces such desires. The men from the paranormal society told me that the walls of old houses contain the same chemicals as those in a video tape and some people believe that the rooms record events from the past. It is more likely that it is us who summon the past, but in San Cristobal, this can be dangerous.
September 22, 2005
Na Bolom was set up by Gertrude Trudy Duby Blom and her husband Franz Blom. The centre was devoted to the indigenous peoples and the centre was able to put us in touch with an ethically responsible guide to take us to the Mayan towns in the mountains. Our guide Maria was Mayan and knew most of the inhabitants of the towns that we visited.
It was a strange experience. We arrived in the midst of the fiesta fror San Lorenzo. The town unfolded along a long street leading up to the church from which loud bangs coudl be heard and puffs of smoke appeared. Stalls of every kind were alongside the road: woven blankets, corn dough cakes, salted fish, fruit, meats… A square opened out in front of the church filled with more stalls and coploured umbrellas.
Our guide explained the dress of the inhabitants. The men in black woollen robes were the rich men of the town while those in white were farmers. In front of the church was another enclosed square in which a group of men made a procession carrying flags of different colours. Their path lapping the square was strewn with pine and a drum beat out the time.
The church was unlike any other that I have encountered. Most churches in Mexico are the lavish Roman Catholic type, but this was a Mayan–Roman Catholic type. The inside of the church was filled with smoke and the smell of pine resin burning as incense. Inside groups of musicians were clumped near the door with strange instruments – one was a cross between a double bass and a harp; another was a kind of small guitar. Every now and again, the musicians would pick up their instruments and make an impromptu lap around the square outside.
The floor of the church was strewn with pine and a thousand candles were burning. Small groups gathered around painted wooden figures of the saints labelled in glass cabinets. At the door of the church, dancers began to stamp. A tiny elderly woman pressed up against me almost hugging me where I stood on the sidelines and looked up smiling. We made small talk in Spanish and eventually she went on her way.
Outside, the young men were lighting rockets with their cigarettes until they shot out of their hands into the air. The bells started to ring and leaf gold rained down on the crowd outside.
September 20, 2005
I have been reading today at Na Bolom which contains a fantastic library of books about Mexico, its history and its indigenous peoples. Among others, I have been reading Sons of the Shaking Earth by Eric Wolf and The Mexican Codices and Their Extraordinary History by Maria Sten.
The former is an anthropological read about the cultural battles that ensued first between various indigenous tribes and later between the Europeans and the indigenous peoples. There is a great deal of detail here. I was fascinated by Wolf's careful mapping of the progress of different tribes – the Toltecs, the Chichimecs, the Mayans and also the Aztecs. The section about the Aztecs is particularly useful. I enjoyed reading Wolf's analysis of the Axtec rise to power and his description of the make-up of teh consequent Aztec empire.
However, there is something about this kind of writing that makes me feel uncomfortable. I skipped the part about the mongoloid and European features of the 'indians' because it sounded a little derogatory to me. Even Octavio Paz speaks in ambiguous tones again about 'indians'.
Interestingly, I watched an independent locally made film about the problems of indigenous peoples here in Chiapas and about the rise of the Zapatistas. In the 1990s the Zapatistas took over a number of villages and towns in Chiapas and declared them as independent municipalities. The Zapatistas wanted to draw attention to the situation of the indigenous peoples in Chiapas who were and in some places still are treated like dirt. The jails are full of indigenous people whose only crime is to be different according to the Zapatistas. The army's reply was to crush the uprising and many died. The Zapatista movement however did not die out and the Zapatistas continued to put pressure on the government. Unfortunately, the result was that the government began to fuel paramilitary groups who pressurised, infiltrated, intimidated, threatened, murdered the indigenous communities in the mountains. Yet here the government made its worst move, because the public have come out in huge numbers to support the Zapatistas and the violence in the mountains has only created new recruits for the Zapatista cause.
The grainy video footage of corpses, gun battles, indigenous people pushing soldiers out of their towns with their bare hands was very moving. Even though I am ambivalent about the intial violence of the Zapatista movement, I think that something is needed here to help the indigenous peoples and at the moment, the Zapatistas must fulfil this role.
The Mexican Codices was something I wanted to read because I have seen examples of the codices elsewhere and wanted to know more. The fact that a Frenchman stole some of the most important documents of Mexican history is shocking. They now languish in libraries throughout Europe: fifteen in Paris, four in Madrid, six in the Bodleyan Library, four in the Vatica Library, two in Florence and one apiece in Liverpool, Dresden, Bologna, New York, Berlin, New Orleans and Basel. My Spanish teacher here in San Cristobal, Eduardo, told me that the Louvre in Paris has a headpiece belonging to the Aztecs and the museum refuses to give the piece back, because it claims that Mexican museums do not have sufficient security to protect the piece from thieves. This is simply untrue – the museums in Mexico City are simply magnificent and besides what gives that museum the right to determine the fate of another country's heritage?
September 19, 2005
If you can measure the hardship of a place by the amount of beggars on its streets, San Cristobal must suffer a great deal. I have come here to use the library at Na Bolom, the best in the world for books about Mexico's indigenous peoples and cultures. I stopped here previously for a short while in 2004 and found the place enchanting. With the context of novels such as The Book of Lamentations , the place seems overshadowed somehow. The indigenous people were not allowed to walk on the pavements here in the old days and the place still seems cut off from the reforms that have changed the rest of Mexico.
San Cristobal is also the heartland of the Zapatistas, the guerillas who have been fighting for the independence of Chiapas and who have influenced serious change in attitudes to the indigenous peoples and peasants hereabouts.
September 17, 2005
Mexican Independence Night passed without anyone being pelted with eggs. Octavio Paz provides a clear description of the event in Labyrinth of Solitude .
Each year on the fifteenth of September, at eleven o’ clock at night, we celebrate the fiesta of the Grito in all the plazas in the Republic, and the excited crowds actually shout for a whole hour (47).
The Grito referred to is of course the Grito Dolores, an impassioned appeal made by the renegade priest Hidalgo on the eve of a revoltionary movement in Mexico.
Paz goes on to add that in spite of the noise and colour of the fiesta, the Mexicans will ‘remain silent for the rest of the year’ (47). Paz argues that the Mexican is trapped in his own labyrinth of solitude and such fiestas are explosive efforts to emerge from silence.
I have a few bones to pick with Paz’ account. I think that The Labyrinth of Solitude is fundamentally an account of men’s silence and difficulty in becoming reconciled with their own identities. Women are passive matter, as Paz points out. There may be some interesting parallels to be drawn here between the solitude and silence in The Labyrinth of Solitude and that of Welsh male poets. I have currently been formalising a theory concerning Welsh male poetry and its introspective nature and this may be useful here.
In any case, Paz’s theory concerning the Mexican fiesta is fascinating:
All of our anxious tensions express themselves in a phrase we use when anger, joy or enthusiasm cause us to exalt our constitution as Mexicans: ” _ ¡Viva Mexico, hijos de la chingada!_ ” This phrase is a battle cry, charged with a peculiar electricity; it is a challenge and an affirmation, a shot fired against an imaginary enemy, and an explosion in the air. Once again with a certain pathetic and plastic fatality, we are presented with the image of a sky rocket that climbs into the sky, bursts in a shower of sparks and then falls into darkness. Or with the image of that howl that ends all our songs and possesses the same ambiguous resonance: an angry joy, a destructive affirmation ripping open the breast and consuming itself. // When we shout this cry on the fifteenth of September, the anniversary of our independence, we affirm ourselves in front of, against and in spite of “others”.