Some of the work produced out of our office in Mexico City shows up on this compilation of highlights from VICE News' year.
Some of the work produced out of our office in Mexico City shows up on this compilation of highlights from VICE News' year.
I once said this song is an "artifact, a witness, an indictment, a prayer." Ten years later, "Dry Drunk Emperor" by the 2000s New York band TV on the Radio remains the most stirring offering in any language of mourning to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
And more potently, ten years after the avoidable disaster, the song is a clear call for revolution. It's references to then-President George W. Bush as a "dry drunk emperor" of "gold cross jock skull and bones" and a "mocking smile" are reminders of the darkest moments of the Bush-era decadence.
In the remembrances this week, where is the acknowledgement of those days' feelings of anger, desperation, disgust? Where is the howling from the bottom of our gut?
I encourage you to listen today to this track and to ponder the power of its lyrics:
dying under hot desert sun,
watch your colors run.
Did you believe the lie they told you,
that Christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?
Did you buy the bull they sold you,
that the bullets and the bombs
and all the strong arms
would bring home security?
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
standing naked for a while!
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.
End their promise
end their dream
watch it turn to steam
rising to the nose of some cross-legged god
Gog of Magog
end-times sort of thing.
Oh, unmentionable disgrace
shield the children's faces
as all the monied apes
display unimaginably poor taste
in a scramble for mastery.
Atta' boy get em with your gun
till Mr. Mega-Ton
tells us when we've won
what we're gonna leave undone.
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
naked for a while.
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!
and bring all his thieves to trial.
What if all the fathers and the sons
went marching with their guns
drawn on Washington.
That would seal the deal,
show if it was real,
this supposed freedom.
What if all the bleeding hearts
took it on themselves
to make a brand new start.
Organs pumpin' on their sleeves,
paint murals on the White House
feed the leaders L.S.D.
Grab your fife and drum,
grab your gold baton
and let's meet on the lawn,
shut down this hypocrisy.
* With my homie Franco, an hincha for club Newell's Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, May 2014. Photo by producer Raymundo Perez-Arellano.
There is no use apologizing. Intersections, like a lot of blogs that started in this long-forgotten blog big bang of 2005-2006, went into posting decline after the realization that it was impossible for me to keep up. Not while at the same time taking on a reporting and writing job with extremely demanding responsibilities and expectations.
When I was in the DF bureau of the LA Times, at least I managed to re-post my stories, most of the time. Since 2013, this has also become functionally impossible. Work just went from crazy to crazier.
After a year as editor of VICE México, in June of 2014, my boss asked me to step in and become Mexico bureau chief of VICE News. It was the kind of job I had never really thought about doing but at the same time knew I was capable of doing, so I said yes. With this, my year, and my life, changed.
By then, early summer, our office's Munchies Guide to Oaxaca (which we actually recorded in November 2013, produced by Santiago Fábregas and shot by Guillermo Alvarez), was finally live and cookin'. Munchies had also just posted my profile on food queen Diana Kennedy.
I was on my way to being a food host for VICE, and was still editing the Mexican edition of the print magazine at the time.
But after seeing and hearing good responses to my first hosting gig for VICE with the Oaxaca guía, the chiefs wanted to try me out on a serious news assignment. Right away, they sent me and a crew to Rosario, to investigate the drug war happening on the streets of an important port city in Argentina.
From there, other assignments in the field followed. I said "Yes" to whatever was asked of me — including yes to a trip that was decided on and carried out within hours of arriving to the office for a normal work day — dealing with the challenges as best I could, recognizing and representing, in a corner of my mind and in my own little way, for my beloved brown America.
During all this, I've had to keep up my main, most important duties, with a teensy staff: editing, translating, fact-checking, and publishing original news stories and features from across Latin America. The bureau staff and I have spent long hours working with reporters filing from Santiago to Tijuana, often under breaking-news pressure, just everyday hustling, getting stories up onto the VICE News site.
The stresses in 2014 were the steepest I've confronted since the start of my career. Then, in late September, Ayotzinapa happened. And the work got even more intense.
But I'm not gonna complain. I'm only looking forward. This year I plan on hosting more for VICE News in my role in the bureau, and I also hope to squeeze in some fresh field assignments with Munchies. There's more in store, and I want to thank all my readers and my community for staying strong with me and hanging on through all the madness and bullshit out there.
So, below, some highlights from my first seven months at VICE News. For all the stories I've written or co-written for News, click here. I'll have a post later — I hope! — all about our Ayotzinapa coverage.
The Rosario documentary I mentioned. Beautiful city, fucked-up story. This documentary, fixed locally by Gaston Cavanagh, made some waves among locals in Rosario and was cited in numerous subsequent news reports in the Argentine press.
Stopping over in Buenos Aires, we decided to check out the issue of paco, the BA streets version of crack, and a symptom of the economic malaise that has plagued the country since 2001.
A quick Munchies interlude in here, a tour of three classic Mexico City fondas. Mmmmmmm, ¿A que hora es la comida?
On September 11, we landed in Chile, to cover the demonstrations and street protests tied to the anniversary of the 1973 coup that brought down socialist president Salvador Allende and initiated the military dictatorship. Three days earlier, a bomb went off in a Santiago subway station.
At the Tolemaida military base, in Melgar, Colombia, our crew covered the 2014 Fuerzas Comando competition, a meet-and-greet for elite special ops teams from across Latin America. This documentary was produced as part of the VICE News "War Games" series.
This is the full-length version of our documentary on the horrible case of the missing students in Guerrero, Mexico. All the credit in the world for this work is to be shared with the committed and talented producers, fixers, photographers, editors, and administrators at the VICE México headquarters in Mexico City, and in particular, Rafael Castillo, Hans-Máximo Musielik, and Melissa del Pozo.
We really put in as a team the toughest hours and biggest risks many of us had ever seen in Mexico.
Me and the VICE News crew were also in Peru in late 2014, for a documentary that is coming up early this year. But that's another story ... 2K15 has begun. Stay tuned, and as always ... More soon.
** Originally published Nov. 1, 2013, at VICE México:
En Los Ángeles -- la segunda ciudad de mexicanos más grande del mundo -- el Día de Muertos se lo toman en serio. El año pasado estuve en el Sur de California por estas fechas, donde, en el centro cultural Self-Help Graphics & Art, una joya histórica de la raza del Este de Los Ángeles, vi el mejor altar de muertos que jamás he visto.
Lo hizo un artista conocido como Vyal Reyes, en memoria de grafiteros y taggers que han muerto de L.A. durante sus búsquedas por conquistar las calles con sus rayas.
Viniendo de una familia que incluye grafiteros, me impactó mucho este altar.
Primero, el artista uso un ataúd negro como pieza principal, donde metió fotos de graffiti-heads que han caído junto con latas de aerosol negras. Por fuera, Vyal pinto escenas urbanas con ojos "para estar trucha." Colocó latas de aerosol blancas en vez de velas, y pañuelos en vez de mantelitos.
"También incluí una cinta de seguridad, para indicar que la mayoría de estos artistas tuvieron muertes violentas" me dijo Vyal ayer vía correo, desde Los Ángeles.
"No conocí a todos los artistas personalmente", agregó, "pero tengo un gran respecto hacia ellos y hacia las contribuciones artísticas que dieron a la escena. Quiero homenajearlos para que sus esfuerzos no sean olvidados".
Los detalles obviamente tienen un sentido bien pensado. Hay una máscara para pintadores, junto con la salvia blanca que se quema tradicionalmente en California.
"Son las herramientas que usamos para protegernos físicamente y espiritualmente", añadió Vyal.
Afuera en el patio de Self Help, chicos del barrio del Centro de Los Ángeles estaban practicando su "spray art". Adentro, había muchos altares de la comunidad chicana de L.A., pero ninguno tenía la relevancia bruta con las calles como el de Vyal One. Tuve que regresar a tomarle más fotos, y a pararme a contemplar un poco la ofrenda.
El trabajo de Vyal se puede ver aquí. Este año, me dijo, está armando un altar en downtown Los Ángeles.
* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 188.8.131.52.14]
Finalmente conseguimos aquí una información clave. En el pueblo llamado Ticul, al sur de Mérida, un poco antes de llegar a Oxkutzcab, vivía un experto en garabatas, como se le llaman a los huaraches en Yucatán. Uno de los curanderos que conocimos en Kambul, Jorge Coronada, nos dijo que el maestro José Ortiz hacía los mejores zapatos de la península. Nos lanzamos para allá.
Un lugar se revela por el carácter de sus caminos: a lo largo del periférico de la ciudad de Mérida —una vía moderna repleta de fábricas y oficinas de gobierno— era común la presencia de la policía, fuerte aunque nunca amenazante. Pasamos por uno de los varios retenes que se instalaron para seguir manteniendo el orgullo de Yucatán: el estado más seguro del país. Al llegar a Umán tomé una calle que nos llevaría al centro, pero se convirtió en un camino cuyo sentido era opuesto al que veníamos. Del otro lado venía un joven en un taxi-motocicleta y cuando nos pasó me miró con desdén y me dijo: "¡Vete a la verga, vato!". Pensé que nunca se puede decir de un lugar que "la gente es tan amable y tan acogedora", porque siempre hay excepciones.
Cuando llegamos a Ticul ya era de noche. El cielo estaba despejado y un mar de estrellas brillaba arriba con intensidad. La luna estaba majestuosa y los caminos entre la selva oscura eran largos y rectos. Este pueblo era como los demás en Yucatán: tenía un mercado, una estación de camiones, zapaterías, tiendas de ropa y de teléfonos celulares, además de casas de piedra de un piso que parecen haberse construido hace veinte o doscientos años. Todos los pueblos de la llanura de la península son iguales; están edificados alrededor de una plaza con una iglesia que parece un fuerte. De hecho, muchas funcionaron como tales: las iglesias de pueblos como Tizimín, Muna y Ticul son altas, con pocas ventanas y están construidas con muros de ladrillo de grandes dimensiones; un recuerdo del pasado, cuando los mayas se resistieron a la conquista española por generaciones —mucho más tiempo que los aztecas.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 1."]
Un viajero del siglo XIX, John L. Stephens, describió a este pueblo como "el perfecto retrato de quietud y descanso". Íbamos en el coche por el centro polvoriento, cuando giré a mi derecha y enseguida me detuve junto a un hombre de mediana edad, que estaba sentado afuera de una zapatería. Buscamos al señor José Ortiz, el zapatero, dije. Aquel hombre tendría unos sesenta años, el cabello blanco y unos extraños ojos verdes y cristalinos. "Él es mi padre", contestó y explicó cómo llegar a su casa.
Unas cuantas cuadras atrás, sobre la misma calle, nos topamos con el taller del señor Ortiz. Había un pequeño letrero pintado a mano junto a un poste de madera que marcaba la fachada de la casa. La puerta estaba abierta, y dentro se veía todo iluminado por un foco fluorescente pegado a una mesa de trabajo, que bañaba la habitación con una luz azul pálida. No había nadie adentro. Tocamos y llamamos a la puerta, tocamos y llamamos. En la ventana de la calle se veía una serie de luces navideñas que formaban un altar a la Virgen de Guadalupe, de esas que vienen con música de villancicos con un solo tono. Poco a poco nos fuimos metiendo y esperamos dentro. Viejas fotografías y mapas colgaban de las paredes, como si no hubieran sido tocados por décadas. Estaba claro que el taller del señor Ortiz era un lugar especial. Me sentí satisfecho por estar ahí.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 2."]
Una mujer pasó por la calle y al vernos preguntó qué estábamos buscando. Un minuto después, José Ortiz Escobedo llegó y se acercó a mí y mis compañeros.
Era un hombre viejo y muy delgado que vestía pantalones y una playera de trabajo. Tenía un rostro bien parecido, moreno, y una nariz triangular puntiaguda. Nos saludó con amabilidad, y pudimos entonces presentarnos. Queríamos ver, le dijimos, las garabatas que vendía. Al principio fue un tanto difícil comprender lo que decía. Tenía noventa años de edad. Su acento maya era fuerte —el turbulento y entrecortado castellano, que hierve en la punta de la boca para luego estallar en sus cus y kas.
El señor Ortiz explicó que no podía vendernos ninguno de los huaraches de piel que colgaban en la pared. Parecían objetos delicados, pero resistentes. "Te pueden lastimar los pies", dijo. Ortiz sólo hace sandalias a la medida. Dijo que podría tomarnos la talla y tendríamos que regresar mañana o el día siguiente, si así lo deseábamos. Me probé un calzado y me quedó perfecto, pero el señor Ortiz insistió en que no nos vendería ni un solo par que no estuviera hecho a la medida. Ni un cinturón, además, aunque también intenté llevarme uno. Por un momento me resultó imposible entender que, a diferencia de la ciudad de México, aquí el dinero no podía comprarlo todo.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 3."]
Le pregunté si había escuchado algo acerca de la supuesta predicción de los mayas sobre el fin del mundo. "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy para Mérida", concluyó.
El señor Ortiz, que no había ido a Mérida en muchos años, nació en esa casa donde estábamos parados, lo mismo que su padre. Ha trabajado como zapatero por más de setenta y cinco años. Se casó a los veintidós, y su esposa aún está viva y tiene la misma edad, noventa. Tienen ocho hijos, aunque sólo sobreviven cinco, y doce bisnietos, dijo. Se puso a traducirnos ciertas palabras mayas como che para madera, o eck para estrella. Los mayas de Yucatán siempre han dicho lo que piensan, dijo. Y como él es un hombre de edad, no fue nada tímido para enunciar lo que pensaba. "Los mayas lo que ven, lo dicen —dijo—. Lo que hablábamos ahora es mestizado, no es la verdadera lengua maya. La verdadera es ofensiva, ofende a la mujer".
"El apellido que tengo no es maya… Es español… Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en tierra maya y nuestro estilo es maya, el apellido no lo es".
Le preguntamos qué comía para estar tan sano y despierto: chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, nada de carne. Se movía por la habitación libremente y usaba sus brazos para hacer énfasis en sus ideas. "Tengo que trabajar —dijo—. Si uno se acuesta, envejece más pronto".
Cuando le pregunté de nuevo sobre el significado del "fin del mundo", contestó que "el sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va a terminar. Y empieza lo de los mayas".
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 4."]
* English-language posting is forthcoming ...
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Did the rulers of the ancient city of Teotihuacan dedicate their largest pyramid to the god of fire, the so-called old god with a signature beard and fire atop his head?
Mexican archaeologists announced this week that a figure of the god, called Huehueteotl, was found in a covered pit at the apex of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, a popular archaeological site north of Mexico City.
Excavations are ongoing, but the discovery suggests that a long-disappeared temple at the top of the pyramid was used to perform ritual offerings to the fire god, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, said in a statement Monday.
Huehueteotl is known in the archaeology of various Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmecs and Aztecs, and the Aztecs' predecessors in the Valley of Mexico, the Teotihuacanos. He is commonly represented as a viejo, or old man, sitting in a cross-legged position, often with a beard and a beaked nose, and with a hearth-like source of fire balanced on his head. Huehueteotl is associated with wisdom and rulership.
Archaeologists found the Huehueteotl, along with two stone pillars, in a covered pit about 15 feet deep, at a height of about 214 feet from the ground. The pit is below the remnants of a platform at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun that probably served as the foundation for a temple.
The people of Teotihuacan finished building the pyramid around AD 100 and destroyed its apex temple themselves around the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century, INAH said.
Archaeologists did not know that a pit existed at the top of the stepped pyramid, renowned as one of the largest of its kind in the Americas. It is now thought that Leopoldo Batres, the pioneering archaeologist who restored the pyramid to the basic form seen today, covered the platform a century ago without properly excavating it.
"Once we didn't find the bottom of the platform, upon further digging we figured out it was pit," INAH archaeologist Nelly Nuñez said in a video.
In 2011, INAH archaeologists announced they had found a 400-foot-long tunnel at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun, which is still being studied. Mexico's government has been excavating the structure in earnest since 2005. Only a fraction of the Teotihuacan site has been studied in about 100 years of government archaeological work there.
The Huehueteotl was uncovered between June and December. It weighs 418 pounds and is made of a gray volcanic stone. An INAH spokeswoman said Wednesday that the fire-god figure and other objects found with it were still being examined. It was unclear when they might be exhibited to the public.
** Photo by INAH via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Workers at Mexico's state-run oil company have begun returning to the job -- some apprehensively -- amid official declarations of back-to-normal conditions at the headquarters that suffered a deadly work-hours blast last week.
Some workers expressed concern and doubt over the government's initial explanation that the blast was caused by an accumulation of gas ignited possibly by an electrical spark, while others declined to discuss the topic or said evidence pointing to an accidental gas explosion seemed strong.
The workers were interviewed Wednesday, the first full day of operations at the Mexico City headquarters of Petroleros Mexicanos, or Pemex, since the explosion Jan. 31 that killed 37 people and injured more than 120.
Nonetheless, the jitters were visible on the faces of workers who were filtering out of the complex after the 4 p.m. finish to the day's shift.
People in khaki-colored uniforms or office clothing crossed themselves while passing a makeshift memorial to the victims in the shadow of the main executive skyscraper. Signs posted near entrances offered employees psychological services to help cope with any trauma since the blast.
Maria Gallardo, a secretary who has worked for Pemex for 25 years, stood at the memorial and gestured to faces she recognized in a printed photo of the human-resources department that was in the basement.
The government’s explanation of what happened has been met with some skepticism.Pemex has a history of shoddy maintenance, rampant corruption and lax security. Speculation about the cause of the blast has ranged from tragic industrial accident to deliberate sabotage aimed at destroying sensitive documents or derailing efforts of the new government to open the long-protected state monopoly to private and foreign investment.
Luis Alvarez, a 26-year-old plant worker who's been on the job for less than a year, said he participated in rescue efforts in the blast zone. He said he didn't have a reason to believe the explosion was not caused by an accumulation of gas.
"They're saying so many things, you don't even know what to think," Alvarez said. "I wasn't there when it hit. Some said it did smell weird. According to what my coworkers said, those who were there, you could think that what [the government said] is the truth."
Adriana Gutierrez, an office worker of 29 years, stood near a photo she placed in memory of a victim and friend, secretary Laura Gonzalez Sanchez, who worked in a top floor in the main skyscraper and died as she walked past the administrative building when the blast hit.
Gutierrez said the blast might have been intended to destroy records. She said was unafraid to return to work.
The office-worker said she found it "strange" that President Enrique Peña Nieto visited the blast zone hours after the explosion hit, when it was still unclear what had caused the blast or whether any kind of threat persisted.
"It hadn't been clarified what had happened, so why did the president of the republic come? When you look at everything, you say, 'Yes, it's political.' The dumbest person would see it," Gutierrez said.
Authorities have said none of the dead were dismembered or had severe eardrum damage -- typical results of a bomb. The only victims with burns were three workers whose bodies were found in the basement where the explosion occurred, they said.
That is leading investigators to theorize that the workers may have ignited an unseen and apparently odorless gas, possibly with faulty wiring in a lightbulb they connected to illuminate a concrete chamber below the basement.
* Photo: A woman passes the makeshift memorial to victims of the Pemex headquarters explosion, Feb. 6, 2013.
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY — For nearly 50 years, the mummified remains of a dog believed to have lived 1,000 years ago sat forgotten in a school museum in north-central Mexico.
That meant, among other things, that no one got to admire the ancient dog's irresistible facial expression.
The canine, which has no name, appears in recently released photographs lying on its side as if relaxing. Its expression is serene and somehow friendly.
Archaeologists say the mummified male dog is about 1,000 years old, but other than that, little is known about it, including whether it is a xoloitzcuintle, the indigenous Mexican hairless dog, because of its curious shape.
The specimen was pulled from the Cave of the Candelaria, a 30-foot-deep ancient burial site in the semidesert region known as La Laguna, by government researchers in 1953. Along with the dog, archaeologists found textiles, ceramics, arrowheads and mummified figures such as a 3-year-old child wrapped in a rope.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History says it was eventually stored at the museum of the Escuela de Bachilleres Venustiano Carranza, a state school in the city of Torreon.
It lay there, in effect forgotten, until August, when the institute's archaeologists at the Regional Museum of La Laguna examined the school's holdings, found the dog and determined that it hadn't been properly studied. Authorities said the dog will soon undergo DNA tests and carbon-dating.
Jaime Alejandro Bautista, the institute's subdirector of public records, said the mummified remains would prove telling if they turned out to be those of a xoloitzcuintle — pronounced "cho-los-kuint-leh." It would push the border of the breed's native region significantly farther north than the Mesoamerican region of central and southern Mexico. It could also suggest that nomadic northern peoples such as Chichimecas had earlier contact than previously thought with urbanizing pre-Hispanic societies such as the Aztecs.
"We know that dogs are associated with funeral rites in pre-Hispanic societies, so it is likely that it was deposited there intentionally," Bautista said. "The dog mummified naturally, due to the conditions of the microclimate in the cave."
Its skin, or what's left of it, is coated in a varnish, a preservation-minded mistake years ago by an unknown custodian, Bautista said.
"We just lost track of it. At the time, an adequate museum did not exist to receive it," he said.
Indeed, the northern region of Mexico is sorely understudied by anthropologists and archaeologists in comparison with the deeply studied Mesoamerican region. There are even fewer U.S. specialists — "five or six," by one count — who concentrate on the north and who might be able to independently comment on the rare mummified dog.
The dog could be put on display at the Regional Museum of La Laguna as early as mid-2013.
In the meantime, its friendly expression will remain out of public view.
** All photos courtesy of INAH.
** Originally published at World Now:
TULUM, Mexico – Hold on to your doomsday fever, folks, the Maya calendar date celebrated Friday as the “end of the world” might actually be off by two days – or a full year.
The end of the 13th baktun cycle of the so-called Long Count of the ancient Maya’s intricate, interlocking calendar system might correspond to Sunday, not Friday, said Carmen Rojas, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Rojas stressed that the Maya not only calculated baktun cycles of 144,000 days, but also had systems that measured the marches of Venus and the moon. Other scholars note some Maya glyphs mark dates thousands of years further into the future.
In addition, calendar dates that Maya leaders recorded on pillars that survive to this day might have been modified over time to suit certain cultural or political interests of the day, Rojas said during a walk-through Thursday of the ruins of Tulum, a pre-Hispanic port city situated on a spectacular bluff overlooking coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea.
One such inconsistency leads some Maya scholars to believe the 13th baktun cycle ends on Sunday, while others say it might be off by a full year or more.
Dec. 21 "is not a relevant date for us. It is an accident that someone would take and pull it out,” said Rojas, a specialist in the archaeology of cenotes, a type of sinkhole. “If you look at a book of Maya epigraphy, there are so many dates that could be commemorated. The glyphs are also not so easily interpreted. It depends on the correlation that you use.”
Nonetheless, in recent days, tourists from around the world have flocked to the so-called Maya Riviera on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, leading to higher-than-normal occupancy at hotels and on flights arriving at Cancun’s international airport, local reports said. Many visitors say they are using the supposed end of the 13th baktun as an opportunity for spiritual reflection and cleansing.
In Guatemala, people are gathering at the Maya site of Tikal for ceremonies marking the end of the baktun cycle and the winter solstice, which does correspond to sunset on Friday. Separately, highland Maya tied to the indigenous rebel army known as EZLN in Mexico’s state of Chiapas have mobilized and occupied at least five towns, reports said.
As tourists arriving on packed buses swarmed the Tulum site on Thursday, one visitor said she came to the region to get married at a nearby resort -- just in case.
"The end of a cycle is the end of a cycle, there are obviously translation issues," said Rhonda Church, a visitor to Tulum from San Marcos, Texas. "I find it interesting."
* Photo: People pray at Chichen Itza, on Dec. 21, 2012. Credit: Jacinto Kanek / EPA
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MERIDA, Mexico -- Contrary to any Hollywood doomsday scenarios or a variety of less-than-optimistic New Age theories, the world will not end Friday, Mexican tourism authorities and Merida residents assure anyone who asks.
Yes, the end of the 13th baktun cycle in the so-called Long Count of the Maya calendar corresponds more or less with Dec. 21, this year's winter solstice.
But the event merely signals the "end of an era" and the start of a new one, locals and scientists say. Or, as some academic Mayanists have explained, the end of the 13th baktun — a date deciphered from totem glyphs and written numerically as 184.108.40.206.0. — is a sort of "resetting of the odometer" of time.
It has become reason enough for people of this flat, tropical region of Mexico to celebrate their Maya culture and history and make mystically minded calls for renewal and rebirth. Officials and residents have also expressed high hopes that foreign tourists will be inspired to visit the Yucatan Peninsula through Friday and beyond. (Assuming the world is still here.)
A handful of residents and officials from Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state, gathered Saturday at a small cenote, or freshwater sinkhole, for a "Blessing of the Water" ceremony. A man dressed in white and described as a shaman stood before an offering marking the four points of the compass, saying prayers in the Mayan language for Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth.
"We must reflect on how humanity has conducted itself, what we've done to the Madre Tierra during this cycle," said Valerio Canche, president of a local association of Maya spiritual healers.
Canche walked among the people, singing in Mayan in a low voice. He took a handful of herbs and dipped them in water drawn from the cenote, then splashed droplets on the heads of those gathered — a cleansing ceremony.
"Let us conduct ourselves, as brothers all, for the common good," Canche said. "Not only for the Maya people, but for the entire universe."
This cenote, in a community called Noc Ac about 14 miles outside the historic center of Merida, sits inside a dilapidated, unguarded government lot, little more than an opening in the ground shaded by a large tree.
It's amazing how deeply communities in the United States have embraced the Días de Muertos of Mexico. There are now hundreds if not thousands of Day of the Dead-related events in cities across the U.S. "Average American citizens" know about the holiday and understand its meaning. In a way, it's probably the most successful cross-over act in recent U.S./Mexico binational relations.
I'd say the phenomenon really took off in about 2000. At the time, the Day of the Dead festival at Hollywood Forever cemetery began popularizing, drawing non-Mexican, non-Latino folks' curiosity. (Check out an archival story I did for the L.A. Times in 2002 on the Hollywood event, which started in 1999.)
From there, the gospel of Muertos spread, helped likely by factors such as increased Mexican migration northward and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which undoubtedly had the effect of reminding Americans' about the fragility of life.
This year, I went to the Day of the Dead festival in Old Town San Diego with my family. The setting is great. Old Town is the city's original Mexican core, settled after the 1769 founding of a Spanish imperial fort on a nearby hillside. On Friday night, Nov. 2, the crowds were only dotted with mexicanos. The rest of the skeletons were everyday coastal Californians.
Here are some photos.
* From Latino USA:
Singer Chavela Vargas was beloved throughout the continent for her rough yet tender voice singing songs of love gained and lost. She died August 5. Reporter Daniel Hernandez attended her very public wake in her adopted home, Mexico City.
Listen to the piece here. Previously, "On voting for the first time for president in Mexico."
** Photo: Fans at Garibaldi.
** Originally published at World Now:
It is almost pointless to be sad about the passing of Chavela Vargas. Her entire life, through song, was about transcending and challenging death.
The singer, who passed away Sunday in Cuernavaca, lived to be 93, surviving many contemporaries from decades ago when Vargas wore men’s clothes, smoked, and carried a pistol in macho-bound Mexico.
Then she disappeared. For a few foggy years in the last century, when Vargas stayed away from the capital's cabarets and fell under the spell of alcohol in a forgotten town in the state of Morelos, she had become a ghostly myth. Many people actually thought she had died.
After the reflourishing of her career -- starting in 1991 at the Coyoacan district cabaret El Habito, but marked for U.S. audiences by her performance of "La Llorona" in the 2002 film "Frida" -- Vargas through her performances seemed to be gamely singing her way around death.
It was always a fair match, always a matter of courtly struggle against a respected rival.
In her songs, in that uniquely Latin American way of romancing melancholy, Vargas would channel the long echoes of sorrow and pain that accompany any life as long as hers, armor against its end. Few details are known about her famous affairs, but we didn't really need them. Her songs about love and loss evoked countless shivers and heavy hearts, countless borracheras -- enthusiastically sorrowful drinking sessions.
For that, audiences and listeners across Mexico, the Americas and Spain would sometimes find themselves under a surprising state of rapture in the presence of her voice. It was pleading and raspy, yet always remarkably controlled.
On Monday night, throngs of Vargas devotees filled Plaza Garibaldi near downtown Mexico City to be near her casket for a few hours and participate in a customary Mexican ritual that's become familiar after the passings of Carlos Fuentes and Carlos Monsivais: a public mourning session.
Howls of farewell from fans were heard across the plaza. When prominent folk singer Eugenia Leon led the crowds in the universally revered ranchera ballad “Volver,” which Vargas always delivered with fire and ruination, hundreds of voices joined in what felt like a spontaneous group therapy session. There was a lot of tequila flowing by then.
This sort of event in any context can become a platform for insincere or awkward reactions to the death of a beloved figure, and this was particularly apparent. The memorial was organized by the culture ministry of the Mexico City municipal government and included the participation of a mariachi band associated with the media conglomerate Televisa.
Against such a powerfully distinct voice as that of "Chavela," the tributes sung by Leon, Tania Libertad and Lila Downs as "offerings" before her reboso-covered casket served only as reminders of what has been lost. All are accomplished singers, but none could capture what Vargas could.
When she sang, she'd sometimes lift her chin in a slow physical gesture, as if exposing both her dignity and wounds. At a microphone, she'd take her arms and raise them past her head, palms open, as though conjuring a ghost. Vargas might have laughed out loud if she was observing the memorial Monday night from the comforts of the Aztecs' underworld.
At Plaza Garibaldi, the troubled meeting-point for Mexico City’s roving mariachi musicians, several mariachis said gruffly that they were respectful but indifferent to her passing because Vargas usually did not perform with mariachis but with the solitary guitar.
She did, however, drink at the Tenampa cantina on the plaza. On Monday night, a group of longtime lesbian activists who knew Vargas gathered at a table at the Tenampa, with a bottle of tequila in her honor.
Patria Jimenez Flores, 55, described herself as a "spiritual daughter" to Vargas, who was also seriously regarded by many as a shaman.
"She was the first to break with all the stereotypes and paradigms in a country like Mexico, that is somachista. She took the criticisms, and then had the public at her feet," Jimenez said.
A comment heard since Vargas's death is that, as a chamana, she not merely died but "transcended" to another plane.
In one of her final interviews, Vargas told the El Universal newspaper's Sunday magazine in April that she was enjoying her final years in her home in Tepoztlan. She told the magazine that she would "cease living without dying."
* Photo: Chavela Vargas performs in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 12, 2002. Credit: Jaime Razuri / AFP/Getty Images
From Frank Ocean's first mixtape, a video and track that captures with uncanny accuracy a certain late-2000s decade Los Angeles lifestyle that led to many transcended boundaries for many kids in the city at the time -- right when no one was really paying attention.
* "Excavations" is not a category on this blog, it's a theme.
** Originally published at World Now:
The remains of Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes will be buried in the famed Montparnasse cemetery in Paris alongside those of two children who died before him, his widow, Silvia Lemus, told reporters in Mexico.
Fuentes, who died Tuesday in Mexico City at 83, served as Mexico's ambassador to France in the 1970s. He was given the country's highest award for a non-Frenchman, the Legion of Honor medal, in 1992.
He told a reporter as early as 1995 that he was considering Paris for his burial, saying that Montparnasse "would be a great place to spend eternity."
The cemetery is the resting place for a litany of artists and other famous names, including Fuentes' friend and fellow Latin American man of letters Julio Cortazar of Argentina and the former Mexican dictator Gen. Porfirio Diaz.
The Fuentes family plot at the Montparnasse cemetery already holds the remains of his son Carlos, who died in 1999, and his daughter Natasha, who died in 2005. The plot also reserves a space for Lemus, reports said.
The author of "The Death of Artemio Cruz" and "Aura" consistently declined to discuss his children's deaths, although some news outlets have noted this week that Natasha Fuentes died in tragic circumstances in a tough Mexico City neighborhood. Among conflicting accounts of her death was that she suffered a drug overdose.
Fuentes was honored by President Felipe Calderon during a wake Wednesday at the Palace of Fine Arts in the heart of Mexico City.
* Photo: People touch the flag-draped casket of Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes during his wake at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City on Wednesday. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press
A friend sent over this image of a hand-cut stencil representing Coatlicue, posted in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago around December 12. The artist says:
I spray painted through the stencil on paper, then pasted it up late at night, its still there, haven't talked to people about it, have noticed guys checking it out though, my roommate took a photo of it while waiting for the bus and talked to a local who said he liked it, and it would make a nice tattoo.
The Coatlicue statue, now on view at the National Museum of Anthropology, is one of the most terrifying and mysterious Aztec structures unearthed in Mexico City during the Colonial period. From a piece for Nero Magazine, by the artist Tania Perez Cordova:
After some research, the university scholars realized that the sculpture was the Coatlicue goddess. The viceroy of the time, Viceroy Revillagigedo, had the sculpture placed at the Catholic University as a monument to ancient times. After a short while, the scholars realized that some locals where secretly worshiping the sculpture and thus decided that having it in public view could revive old Aztec beliefs among indigenous people. In order to protect the catholic Spanish colony, they chose to bury the monolith once again, this time under the university’s patio. However, before it was dug in, the scholar Antonio de Leon y Gama had time to make a detailed description of it.
Read more here.
* See also, "The anthropology museum, reconsidered."
** Originally published at World Now:
President Felipe Calderon and First Lady Margarita Zavala on Sunday appeared with their children at Mexico's most revered site for Roman Catholics, the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and prayed for peace in a public display of devotion.
Calderon, a year from the end of his term, attended Mass at the church less than a week after the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the deeply charged national symbol dating to the conquest of the Aztec empire and a unifying cultural icon today.
On Sunday, the first lady offered the third prayer of the Mass, saying, according to one report, "In our family we have prepared this petition. We pray, Lord, for our dear Mexico. Give the Mexican nation the peace, hope and justice that it so needs."
Zavala also asked in prayer, "Touch with your love the hearts of the violent ones," a reference to the ongoing conflict embroiling the government, organized crime and paramilitary groups. News outlets later published photographs of the family crossing themselves in prayer.
The two are lifelong members of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, which was founded partly as a haven for devout Catholics during the long and aggressively secular rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
Calderon has not shied away from referring to his religious ideology in public. Last year, he told U.S. journalist Charlie Rose in an interview that he expects to reunite with his father in heaven, in response to a question about whether the president thought his deceased father would approve of his government.
Calderon is the second PAN president to occasionally cross into religious territory while in office. His predecessor, Vicente Fox, sparked criticism in 2002 when he bowed and kissed the hand of Pope John Paul II during the pontiff's final trip to Mexico.
Sunday also marked the launch of campaigns of the three major parties in next year's presidential election and, in a way, the beginning of the end of Calderon's six years in office.
Since assuming the presidency in December 2006, amid chaos over disputed election results, the Calderon administration launched a military-led campaign against organized crime that has left at least 43,000 dead. Some peace activists here place the figure as high as 60,000.
Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City, speaking on Sunday, said there was a healthy separation of church and state in Mexico, and asked Mexicans to not give in to fear in face of threats from crime groups.
"Imagine if our president fell into fear," the bishop said.
The sharp division that once existed between Mexico's PRI-led governments and the Catholic Church has blurred in recent years, said George W. Grayson, a Mexico specialist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
Grayson noted that the church has had known ties to the country's drug cartels, most notably in the practice of some drug lords of funding construction or renovations of local churches. "So the church has contact, and maybe they can reach out and touch a capo's heart," he said.
* Photo via La Primera Plana.
** Originally published at World Now:
It was billed as "the first act of collective psycho-magic in Mexico."
The call made by the cult mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky said the event would seek to "heal" the country of the cosmic weight of so many dead in the drug war, by gathering for something he called the March of the Skulls.
On Sunday, on a wet and frigid morning in this mountain capital, hundreds of Jodorowsky fans answered the open convocation (video link in Spanish).
They donned black top hats and black shawls, and carried canes and Mexican flags colored in black. They wore calavera face paint or masks to give themselves the look of stylish skeletons gathered in this often-surreal city in the name of Mexico's tens of thousands of sometimes nameless drug war dead.
"Long live the dead!" they shouted.
Truthfully, the Marcha de las Calaveras was a minor weekend event compared to the city's heavily publicized "zombie walk" the day before, in which almost 10,000 people playing zombies marched through the city's core. That event marked yet another one of Mexico City's recent obsessive hobbies:breaking Guinness world records.
Yet for the estimated 3,000 people who showed up to the Jodorowsky march over the course of the day, it was significant as a rare public appearance in Mexico by the Chilean-born filmmaker and tarot guru (link in Spanish). Jodorowsky lived in Mexico for many years and produced his most well-known works in the country, the films "El Topo," "Santa Sangre," and "The Holy Mountain."
The event also demonstrated that Mexicans seem willing to try almost anything at this point -- even a counterculture-era act of public mysticism -- to seek an end to the awful violence brought by the fighting between the government and the cartels, a war that has cost more than 40,000 lives since December 2006.
"The young people's call is another form of saying, 'Enough.' Enough deaths," said Angelica Cuellar, a 63-year-old teacher. "Through the psycho-magic, we are saying, for this moment, we are them."
Her sister, Dulce, standing nearby, said: "I am here in the name of someone who didn't have a voice, someone who was suffocated, someone who went north searching for work. I say, 'I'm here for you.'"
"And if we do it collectively, I assure you, at another level of energy, those dead will come awake," added Dulce Cuellar, 60.
Walking skeletons milled about in the background on the steps of the downtown Palace of Fine Arts, as the crowds eagerly awaited Jodorowsky's arrival. Perhaps out of boredom, or inspiration, some mimicked the mournful howl of the native xoloitzcuintli dog, man's guide to the underworld in Aztec mythology.
(There were also a few deep incantations of "om.")
The "maestro" arrived at the palace steps about 1:30 p.m., causing brief havoc among the gatheredcalaveras as people jostled to get near him. The white-haired Jodorowsky, fit and agile at 82, wore a black sports coat, a bright purple scarf and a detailed skull mask.
Along with his family, Jodorowsky led the calaveras up the Eje Central avenue to Plaza Garibaldi in a mostly silent demonstration. In the late 1980s, he filmed some key scenes of "Santa Sangre" at this plaza, homebase for the city's for-hire mariachi bands. On Sunday, it was easy to imagine another "Santa Sangre" scene being filmed during the march, but this time from a dark and unfamiliar future.
Someone decided the group should sing a song. It became "La Llorona," the Weeping Woman.
Jodorowsky was displeased with the group's initial interpretation, so he asked for another go at it. A mariachi band joined in as accompaniment.
"There are 50,000 dead beings," Jodorowsky said through a bullhorn, before the sea of skulls. "They are sheep. They are not black sheep. We must have mercy for these souls that have disappeared. Let's sing this song with lament, as if we were the mother of one of these persons. Understand?"
Then he asked that all those present cross and link their arms with those of the strangers around them. The group did. They chanted "Peace, peace, peace!" until Jodorowsky asked that everyone let out a big laugh. Laughter and applause followed.
* UPDATE: My report from San Agustin Etla, "A lively street party for the dead in Oaxaca, Mexico."
This is a Day of the Dead altar in a home in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, just now. All the elements were gathered on Sunday at the city's bustling Central de Abastos, at the special tianguis de muertos.
The pulque and tepache stand was closed. Momentary sad-face.
Over here, we're looking at how they're passing noche de los difuntos in Ciudad Juarez; by beating up protesters and photographers outside a police station.
Honoring my dead and all of the dead of Mexico. Wherever you are, good evening.
* Previously, "In Mexico, more deaths than can we can image."
Paging Ruben Ortiz-Torres. What would he say about this?
Above, a nighttime shot of a pyramid in the tiny village of Ixcateopan, high in the sierra of Guerrero state, Mexico. As you can see from the people sitting on the steps, the pyramid is about 50 or 60 feet high. Atop is a dramatic statue of Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor.
This pyramid is not an archeological site. It is not more than 500 years old. It was built between 1985 or 1986, by a local artist, in honor of Cuauhtemoc. The last tlatonai's bones are said to rest on the "Altar de la Patria" inside the Ex-parroquia de Santa María de la Asunción, in town.
I visited Ixcateopan this week for the annual celebration of Cuauhtemoc's birthday, Feb. 23, c. 1495. More on that later.
For now, let me just say that this postmodern pyramid high in the Guerrero mountains messed with my head. It is hollow. Concheros visiting for the festival had set up sleeping tents inside, a sight I never thought I'd see: men and women in full neo-Aztec dress, in the bowels of a pyramid. Directly under the apex, a bandita of small boys approached; one wanted to sell me on a huge block of unrefined quartz for just 25 pesos -- a precious stone a good two kilos heavy and probably worth several hundred dollars in the U.S.
We climbed the pyramid's steps and sat on top and contemplated the cosmos. I was half-expecting a UFO to appear, or an earthquake to strike. I contemplated the pyramid. Why was it built? What are its uses? What meaning can we make of it in this future-context?
* More soon.
This is a photo a Twitter user in Cairo uploaded on Wednesday. Nevine Zaki writes: "A pic I took yesterday of Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers."
It makes my heart warm. All the implications, all the faith present, in God and in fellow man. Then, also this week, over in the Holy Land, this happened.
And it makes the heart stop.
Why they don't ever stay longer? Give us a clue? Ask us a couple questions? Join in prayers?
I got nothing but a big-ass county fair in my hood, which is all I could ever really ask for from Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar -- the guy in black-face. The fair ended Thursday night. I miss it already. That's where I'd been eating, according to my calculations, about ten different kinds of mega-healthy fair snacks on each of the, oh, five or six nights I went.
The funnest -- most fun? -- Tilt-a-Whirl rides play that kind of Mexican tribal. The dudes who run them, Tepito-style to the core, stand on the track the whole way, hopping on your carrito to make it swing more furiously. They even, swear-to-god, grabbed the top of the car sometimes, in a flash, hurling themselves into the air so their legs hit the ceiling of the ride itself, then pressing back down, twirling you till it hurts.
(One of the dudes -- sensing something? -- lifted his shirt a little at our mixed crew while a-whirling and did a little gigolo gyrating move in between, with a smirk. Thanks a lot, guy.)
At the feria, I had tlacoyos, blueberries dipped in chocolate and chocolate sprinkles, esquites, freshly fried french fries, cotton candy, fresh-made hotcakes with cajeta, lechera and (more) sprinkles, and something called a jarrito loco. (No idea, but as long as it had ice, chile, lime, and salt in it, it was fine by me.)
I loved the excessive P.D.A., the little kids out all night with their faces painted like tigers or fairies, the liberating kitschiness and tackiness of it, the sense that this hood -- downtown -- belongs to the always-stylish and hyper-stimulated tepiteño kids who populate it and culturally "run" it. That's the way it is, pretty much today, tomorrow, and as long as Centro is Centro. The feria is our focal point.
We took a photo with the Reyes, yes. But didn't get on "The Inverter." Maybe next year?
What lies at the intersections of popular culture and the occult? Mysticism and technology? Led Zeppelin? "Tron: Legacy"? La Santa Muerte? and I'm only beginning to find out. From a conversation with author Erik Davis, by Antonio Lopez, at Reality Sandwich:
I am not sure who exactly coined that term; there’s a British scholar who gets recognized for it but it was also online back in the day. It’s a good one. For me it means the place where popular culture meets the underground and very real currents of magic, mysticism, and the esoteric -- a stream that has always been with us, but which was rediscovered and reaffirmed, in not always healthy ways, in the 60s. “Occulture” is also a way to claim the occult or the religious fringe as a kind of cultural identity or playground, rather than an overly serious and hidden realm. I try to look at the mysteries from both ends -- I think its important to look at, say, the contemporary ayahausca scene as a scene, with dress codes and slang and rock stars, not as a sacred separate realm. (Even though sacred things can and do go down there.) At the same time I think it is important (or at least more rewarding) to look at our often junky world of late capitalist culture as a place where the seeds of insight and vision might be found, if only you look at the landscape in just the right way.
The whole thing is here. I've not read Erik Davis, but his titles are on the list for the next trip to the States, and RS is a new obsession. No better dosage of futurisms for the second decade of the "new" millenium ...
* Image via RS.
It's a special day on our calendar, in time.
This early morning, beginning at about 1:30 a.m. in Mexico City, the Earth's shadow in the Sun overcame the Moon behind it, turning it orange-brown in our nighttime. The shadow of our planet moved across the Moon for a total lunar eclipse, representing an extraordinary and sacred point "between the past and the future."
Tonight, at 5:38 p.m. local time, the solstice hit. The last time a lunar eclipse occured on the winter solstice was either 1638 or 1544. The next time it will happen, unless the Singularity arrives, we'll probably all be dead: 2094.
We sat shivering on a rooftop last night, gazing up, speckles of nothing in the infinite wideness of the galaxy and universe. The stars danced. For a few moments I suddenly wished I was in space in a jetliner, closer.
In Náhuatl, the etymology of "México," the place we know of today as Mexico City, is "el ombligo de la luna," or "bellybutton of the moon." I keep a belief system that ties all this together for me. But right now, the spirit benevolently moves my tongue and typing fingers into silence.
What do you think about when you are taking off from Earth in an airplane? Gods, spirits, saints, rainbows? The official caption above, via the Big Picture and its 2010 series, is: "An airplane passes in front of a rainbow above the Mediterranean sea in Nice, southeastern France on Aug. 5, 2010."
I'm breaking a rule about posting too many photos with me in them, but who cares, I'm 30 today! They tell me 30 is when you get to say, 'I can do whatever I want,' and it finally becomes true.
This is me at the Monte de los Olivos cemetery in Tijuana this morning. Came with my mom and cousin Alan to visit our muertos on my arrival from Mexico City. That's the imposing Cerro Colorado in the background. The wind is strong, the hot sun. Many memories here, bitter and yet also sweet.
Tijuana is as clean, modern, and orderly as ever. We had breakfast at La Espadaña -- fast becoming a custom for us when I come home on early morning flights -- and then I crossed the border on foot. The heart always quickens as I stand in line; obese people, people whose skin has seen too much sun-and-meth cocktail, ancient tattoos, drawling English, AMERICA!!
The customs agent was kind of enough to say, "Happy birthday!" after scanning my passport. It was the only time, I thought, that the border-crossing experience has made me smile genuinely.
It's very warm up here/down here. I've slept all afternoon and I want more of it. Have no plans tonight except family and a certain date with any icy local beer. I appreciate all the kind wishes. Thank you.
This is the church of Santa María Tonantzintla, Puebla, a supreme example of barroco novohispano, or what they also call indigenous baroque. The style is basically a fusion of colonial architecture with pre-Hispanic design principles, and the site most often associated with indigenous baroque is Santo Domingo, in Oaxaca.
I'd argue Santa María Tonantzintla is on another level.
Friends had described it beforehand as the "Indian church" or the "church built by Indians," and indeed, on first sight, it feels indigenous, uniquely not a totem to Catholic power. The facade of the Tonantzintla church -- Nahautl for "the place of our little mother" or "lugar de nuestra madrecita" -- looks like how we imagine the exteriors of pyramids looked, not just ruins of stone but brightly colored and textured with dense ornamentation.
The saints and angels that adorn the exterior and interior niches are formed, vaguely, in the manner of the old Aztec sculptures.
Here's a closer view of the facade, and here's about as close a shot I was able to get inside the nave, as the church was packed with parishioners for a special Mass of some sort on the Sunday we visited. Photos are not allowed inside Santa María Tonantzintla, a rule I suppose is meant to preserve the maximal barroco novohispano decorative work that covers just about every inch of wall-space in the interior. But here's the Google Images scan, and here's an amateur video. Don't the walls look alive, unreal?
The Puebla state government says construction began on Santa María Tonantzintla in the 16th Century, by indigenous artisans. I was able to find very little information on the church's history otherwise. Apparently the local community is fiercely protective of the site, declaring that it is autonomous from the diocese of Puebla.
We happened to visit during the festival de queso in the pueblo. Mmmmm. Every outdoor space, packed with food and smells and vendors. We picked up some nopal and cheese ice cream, and then headed over to Chipilo.
When they told me there was an Olmec head in the middle of the town plaza, I didn't quite process it right. OK, check, an Olmec head. Then, as we're strolling around at night, I see it.
And I feel my knees bend on their own a little. Yes, there is an Olmec head in the middle of the town plaza.
Instantly, I felt I needed to start dancing. No idea.
This is tiny Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz (pop. 15,225), and they call my friend seen here in the rear the "Cobata head," the largest of 17 so far discovered or excavated in Mexico. These heads, whose purpose or use is still unknown, are precious remnants of the Olmec civilization, the first advanced culture in Mesoamerica, emerging as early as 1,500 years before Christ.