Monday, July 12, 2010

Mexico - Day 4. La ciudad de los palacios

Today Maya and I are on our own. Raul dropped us off at the metro station, and 20 minutes later we were in the zocalo (Central Square). Unfortunately there was a picket of some type or another, with many tents, so we couldn’t truly appreciate the vastness of the space, nor the mosaic it makes with the Cathedral on one side, and the Palace of Federal Government on another. We walked to the corner of the plaza where the remains of the Templo Mayor of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was located. Unfortunately the museum was closed.

We then went into the Cathedral, built between 1570 and 1750. It is an enormous building, but to my taste it is too cold and gloomy. We did have a bit of fun taking the bell tower tour, because they take you tothe roof of the main nave, and from there the bell man jabbers away about the age and weight of every one of the bells. One of them, a counterweight bell that is played by making it turn on its axis, hit one of the bellmen sometime in the 1950’s, so the church punished it by taking off its pendulum. However, 2000 was a year of indulgence, when all sins are forgiven, so the bell was pardoned and now flies with all its buddies in major celebrations, such as Christmas and the Day of Independence.

From there we walked down Tacuba, admiring the different colonial palaces. They are now known by their current use, but in the past they were the houses of Spanish noblemen. We saw the Palace of the School of Mines, the Department of Communications, the Central Post, and thePalacio de los Azulejos (so named because of the blue tile that gracefully adorns both interior and exterior). Buildings like these gave Mexico its name of the City of Palaces (la Ciudad de los Palacios).

Then we walked past the Palace of Fine Arts, built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, and cut across Central Park (La Alameda) before heading back to the metro.

The close quarters of the metro freaked Mayita out, and she started to feel not so well. Actually, I suspect that she had had a bit of an upset stomach since the morning, and the heat and the crush just brought it to a head. She was a trooper, though, and did her best to enjoy the ride in trajinera through the canals of Xochimilco.

Let me backtrack a little. When Cortez arrived in Mexico Tenochtitlan, he found a magnificent city on an isle at the edge of a large lake. The city was connected to the mainland through causeways, and a myriad of flat-bottom boats (piraguas) plied the water of the lake moving people and goods back and forth between the city and the main land. Much of the food supply of the city was grown in floating rafts covered with dirt. Well, Xochimilco is what is left of those rafts of floating agriculture (chinampas), and over the years has become a favorite weekend treat to go board a decorated flat-bottom boat (a trajinera), meander through the canals, buy food from floating kitchens mounted on piraguas, and listen to the music of bands of mariachis or marimbas also afloat. It is a veritable Venice of the New World.

They were filming an episode of the soap opera “La Loba”, so we got to see actors all dressed up for a wedding, camera crews, and a few extra bands and “tourists”, all afloat their respective trajineras. Fun.

From Xochimilco we went straight to the house, and Maya made a beeline for her room, and fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I hope a mild fast, lots of sleep, and her youthful resilience will conquer by tomorrow.

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