austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Today you're going to find their descendants in places all around you

So I finally found the entrance to the Cuicuilco archeological site. It was gated, like a slightly reserved city park might be. There was a police officer sitting in a booth out front and a book to check in although, apparently, not out. I watched the woman (with children) ahead of me signing in so I could fill in spaces without looking too foolish. I mean, I could work out from context things like 'name' and 'country of origin', but the columns that I supposed were for adults and children and some other group were a mystery. There wasn't any admission fee, so I suppose this is just kept to track how popular the place is? Or something?

I knew nothing of Cuicuilco when I set foot in the park. But there was a map and a fair bit of academic-grade explanation in a panel beside it. This revealed that I'm competent enough at the way museums and such label stuff that I could get the rough gist of an explanation written like that. Also there was an English translation one panel over. The place was inhabited from about 1000 BCE to the first century, and was abandoned when the Xitle volcano erupted. There were eight buildings still visible. Another map traced out the nature walks and the direct paths to the pyramid. Also to the bathroom.

On the way I passed a sign warning it was un Área Natural, showing pictures of flora and fauna that might be spotted nearby. This included opossums , ``cacomixtle'' and I was instantly delighted by that spelling, and a couple of other creatures. And I wondered: could there be coatis here? For all my interest I've never seen one outside a zoo enclosure. But this was also the first time I was somewhere a coati might naturally live. I had to figure that there weren't any known coatis in the area though. If there were, there would surely have been enormously many signs warning to not feed the coatis, because those encounters always start out charming and then it turns out there's like a hundred thousand coatis you didn't know were coming for you. Just as well. Can get a little Night of the Living Dead. If I were to have my first wild encounter with a coati and without bunny_hugger I don't know how I'd explain it to her.

I got a look at the Gran Basamento, from afar, but went walking around one of the deeper nature trails through a lot of plantlife. Much of it looked, to me, like what I remembered from Singapore, skinnier trees and tinier leaves. A more experienced eye would see how these plants were huddling up for winter, the leaves getting dryer and being shed easily despite it all. And cactuses, filling out space as if a nervously applied default. In the far distance, up the hill, I could see Six Flags Mexico, and the great tower of the Superman roller coaster. And other rides too, the taller ones like the drop tower. I saw the drop tower running; Superman, no.

Deep along the path I found Estructura E-1, uncovered only in 1967 and built of volcanic rocks. It's some kind of burial structure, with a skeleton, ceramic objects, necklaces, figurines and such. It just looks like the base of a pyramid, complete with steps, all done in broad flat dark rock.

And that brought me back around the path to the Gran Basamento, the Great Base that is the pyramid. It's a three-tiered stack of conical frustums, the sloping outsides lined with volcanic rocks and the tops grass. There's a sloping ramp up from the west side and, if the archaeological information is right, also to the east. That one's harder to make out on the actual pyramid and you can't get from the approach paths to it anymore. There's a moat around much of the pyramid, with a couple of small rooms including one called La Kiva on the south side. (La Kiva was named by the archeologist who found it in 1923, and who saw resemblances between it and the Kiva chambers in the southwestern United States.)

There's a tiny museum to its side with, it turns out, nowhere to sit down. But it had an exhibit of human remain and artifacts, explained exclusively in Spanish. I thought I was doing pretty well understanding the text, although the translator app on my iPod didn't know what to make of ``asta'', as in ``Materia prima: asta de cérvido''. The museum also had displays of tools and weapons and household nicknacks, as well as charts explaining the progression of cultures in the area and identifying which pots, for example, were examples of which eras. Also a map of the area alongside the now-gone Lago de Texcoco, giving me a surprisingly good idea of what my position in Mexico City actually was like. And a chart explaining the wildlife in the area gave me a little cheer as I worked out and recognized things: venado cola blanca (white-tailed deer); berrendo (OK, that I was lost on; it's pronghorns); armadillo (armadillo); conejo (yeah!); mapache (raccoon); tejon (coati). That last bunny_hugger called me on, because tejon is badgers. But don't try to shake a fanboy on this: for whatever reason Mexican Spanish has adopted ``tejon'' as a name for coatis. My idle fantasies weren't completely crazy.

There wasn't any guard or anything by the ramp up the pyramid. Nor any clearly marked entry path or some reassuring sign that we were allowed to just go up there as we wanted. I watched a couple women walking up and figured, well, I could follow them not too close and if I got in trouble make my usual mewling little apologies and point out I had reason to think it was all right. And walked around each of the three levels of the place, taking in the dry grass and the forest around it and, past that, the signs of city encroaching on this ancient city. I could look down at people walking the nature trail I had and exploring the Kiva and the E-1 structure. Also some people who'd set up picnics and others who'd set up bow and arrow practice. At the center of the top is this inset area with what look like an altar and some other chambers, partly covered by a corrugated tin roof.

From there I looked around at the city and the mountains and I could see at once these volcanic-rock channels, which might have been old when Socrates was young, on the remains of a city dead a dozen centuries when the Aztecs formed, and then far off in the distance the roller coasters and drop towers of Six Flags Mexico. An amusement park seems inherently modern to me, even an old amusement park (and Six Flags Mexico isn't that old). Something about standing in the one spot and seeing the other felt strange and unearthly and alien.

It's hard to decide when you've had enough time in a place that you figure you'll never see again. It always makes me think of the moment on Apollo moonwalks when mission control said it was time to return to the Lunar Module. There'd still be things to see and stops to make but they were in service of returning. My own return went along other nature paths. On the way I did spot some actual wildlife, several cats, a squirrel moving too fast to photograph. I'd hoped for something more exotic but I saw anything at all, which is worthwhile.

On walking back I felt hungry and figured obviously there'll be something to eat at the mall. And maybe some interesting shops too. There I wasn't so lucky. The store had an iShop, the Apple-licensed store. A Radio Shack, to my surprise. A tiny but packed bookstore with a cafe inside that seemed impossibly tiny a place to have so much stuff. I thought hard about buying a book but there weren't any in English. Finally I found the food court, off behind the ticket stations for the movie theaters (still showing Coco several times a day, too). Also a restaurant that was just off the food court, and packed, and that had a clown tying balloon animals off on the corner. I thought hard about a nice safe McDonald's visit but decided I should have something local instead. This was also why I turned down the pizza places. I went instead to this place offering wraps and sandwiches and got almost through ordering the vegetable sandwich before they brought out a printed menu for me to point at stuff instead.

I went back to the hotel room and took a little, light shower so I'd be more presentable for dinner. bunny_hugger loved to hear what I got up to while she was at the conference, but also envied that I had seen a real actual pyramid that she had missed.

Dinner was something we didn't have to plan. The conference had its big, formal dinner for all attendees and a handful of hangers-on like me, in the room the hotel had used for the reception the first night. We were there on time, and so were relatively early. We sat at one of the large tables near but not immediately at the entrance, confident this meant someone else would sit with us. This almost completely failed; it was only the intervention of the one person who did sit near us, who finally got up and started roping people in, that kept us from having a sad and empty table. Instead it was maybe half-full, and I could enjoy the buffet dinner in that happy state of listening to people talk about bunny_hugger's specialty with her. Not all philosophy of how humans use animals, mind you. The field is multidisciplinary and, for example, our good savior was a religion person, specializing in how faith-based organizations reflect and affect people's treatment of animals. But still, the important thing was getting to watch bunny_hugger in her element, being the scholar that work doesn't let her be enough.

In the evening, we finally had enough and gave up on the free hotel Internet. I went downstairs and bought, at something like US$5, a night's access code for bunny_hugger's computer. She needed a better connection for work and somehow her computer always gets worse Internet than mine even on the same wireless service. (And I was checking my comics, my most Internet-heavy thing, in the morning when the hotel was more nearly empty and the routers apparently handling the load better.) The code didn't work. I went downstairs and got a replacement code which also didn't work. Finally I took her computer downstairs and made them type it in, and that one finally took. She would have 24 hours at least of tolerable Internet.

Trivia: In 1700 alone the French royal mirror works took in nearly a million livres in business, more than the whole cost of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors. Source: The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour, Joan DeJean.

Currently Reading: The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, Brian Dear. Loving that an attempted rival to the PLATO system by someone who figured they were doing it all wrong was named SOCRATES.


PS: Here's some of what happened opposite the dance, Anthrohio 2017's Saturday night.

SAM_3462.jpg

One of the signs that didn't offer any opinion about photographing. Sad to say, our pinball machine would have fit great for the ``Retro Futurism'' theme of the convention, but we didn't have a good way to transport it to and from the convention, so it couldn't be video and pinball gaming.


SAM_3463.jpg

And one more room label. Here we just missed by minutes the chance to get in a big group of Betrayal at the House on the Hill. But we were able to get into a game of Choking Hazard that we were definitely winning insofar as the score meant anything.


SAM_3468.jpg

Sometimes I take a picture at exactly the right angle at exactly the right moment.

Tags: anthrohio, mexico city
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