Viva la Vida – Part 9

blog-images - viva la vida 9

Viva la Vida – Part 9

The Templo Mayor

If you tried to send a message via the Contact form recently, I did not receive it because it was broken and did not go through. It is now fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Facing the End

The trip was coming to an end, it was my last day in Mexico City. Parting from something joyful can be hard, too, no one wants the good times to stop but I needed to get home to be with my girls who I missed very much. I was looking forward to hearing about their adventures, too. Knowing that all things will end makes the experience of them all the sweeter, and this being my final entry about my trip to Mexico in April 2024 about living the life (Viva la Vida), I’m going to talk about the cheery subject of death.

You can’t live fully without recognizing that one day this existence will end. Having this ultimate deadline forces us to think about who we want to be in this world, how we want to use our time, how we feel about our experience and who we want to share our time with. What we do with this most precious commodity matters.

Die happily and look forward to taking up a new and better form. Like the sun, only when you set in the west can you rise in the east. Rumi

Click on the arrows to see more pictures

Skull and Skeletons

Death is a major theme in Mexican culture. Skulls and skeletons appear everywhere in arts and crafts. I can’t think of another culture that acknowledges so frequently the unknowable end we are all heading towards. They treat death not as a deeply feared ominous stranger, but as a family member you invite to a picnic. This quality is admirable to me coming from a place where death is hardly faced at all and at worst completely denied. The tendency is to extend life at all costs, maximizing quantity over consideration of quality.

Annually in Mexico they celebrate The Day of the Dead, where people make alters in their homes to their dead loved ones, they gather next to the graves bringing with them sugar skulls (calaveras), favorite foods of the deceased and other refreshments. People even write mock epitaphs for the living in a joking way. This acceptance of death and continuing to hold their deceased loved ones close really resonates.

There’s a lot of debate about whether this tradition originated with indigenous culture or came from Europe. To me it doesn’t really matter where it came from, the cultures merged in explosive fashion with the arrival of the conquistadors and disentangling them is meaningless. They are one now.

blog-images - rock skull wall outdoors templo

Excavation site at the Templo Mayor

Going to the Templo

For my last day, I was going to the Templo Mayor Museum. One of my Uber drivers, Alejandro, told me about it, after I mentioned how moved I was by the Santiago Arau exhibit. He told me about the archaeological site that holds the remains of the temple and was dismantled to build the cathedral. He said that I should go there. Not wanting to fail him, I made it my mission to go before I left.

Death is major theme at the museum, probably THE major theme. The Templo Mayor was the spiritual center of Tenochtitlan. It was used for ceremonies by the Aztecs. Offerings of animals, objects and remains of human sacrifices found during excavation are on display. Hundreds of skulls have been found during the excavation. The temple was built up over time and there are layer after layers all containing clues about the history.

blog-images - templo model

Model of the Templo Mayor with cross-section

Two in One

The Templo Mayor was actually two temples in one. Each side honored a different god. One was Huitzilopochtli, the solar god of war and patron of the Mexica people, he was represented by an eagle. The other was Tlaloc, god of rain, often symbolized by a frog. Two main features at the museum are sculptures representing goddesses, the first is Tlaltecuhtli, the goddess of the Earth, the other is Coyolxauhqui, the lunar goddess. It was the accidental discovery of the disc sculpture of Coyolxauhqui that led to the creation of the museum and continued archaeological exploration at the Templo.

When the Mexica arrived in the valley it is said that they saw an eagle perching on a cactus holding a snake. The spot that the Templo Mayor resides on is thought to be that sacred place. The ancient city radiated out from here.

Click on the arrows to see more pictures

What Would You Sacrifice?

Much has been made about the practice of human sacrifice in Aztec and Mayan cultures, and there’s a lot of conjecture about how it was practiced, what it signified and how many sacrifices took place. It was often used by European colonizers as a way of dismissing the culture as primitive. Never mind the barbaric things European cultures were known to have done and kept records of.

To sacrifice was an elevated ritual. Giving up something of value for the greater good in honor of the Gods and to ensure the health of the life sustaining elements was a sacrement. It could be animal, object and even human life. Many of the people sacrificed were prisoners of war, but some were from within the community. They had a belief of indebtedness to society and to the gods, who had sacrificed themselves for all life.

There is something noble in the idea of sacrificing something of value to you in order to benefit the community that I think we would do well to learn from. It doesn’t have to go as far as human or animal life, but taking into consideration the health of the whole and giving something back is a good and necessary thing.

Reminders of Mortality

Walking around the museum you see many actual skulls and also sculptures of skulls carved from rocks. It’s a very contemplative place and it’s hard not to think about death when everything you see around you is a reminder of it.

This past year death has been on my mind a lot what with the passing of my father. Death is so inconvenient to how our culture operates. We push it away and distance ourselves from it. It’s mysterious and happens in its own time on its own schedule. Taking time to attend to loved ones nearing their end is hard because the grinding wheels of capitalism push on and if you jump off the cart even for a minute, you might get run over yourself. We don’t allow for the space needed to honor this passage.

Exploring Zocolo

Fully steeped in thoughts about mortality, I left the museum and headed to the cathedral for a place to sit and collect myself for a while. It felt strange being in there, what with it being made of parts recycled from the Templo Mayor, so I continued on to Zocolo Square. Three large tents were set up and filled with aisle after aisle of artisans from different parts of Mexico. I walked up and down every aisle seeing the variety of things on display. It was a perfect place to do a little souvenir shopping for some friends and family before I left the next morning.

A couple of Oaxacan ladies were making fresh blue corn tortillas, so I ordered a few tacos with squash blossoms and mushrooms, no cheese! They were tasty. Walking back to the studio, I passed by a street rave and a really good live band. It was Friday night and people were out of the street. The energy was alive.

Resting Before My Journey Home

I was encouraged to return to the wonderful vegan restaurant, el Mundo, but after walking almost 10 miles, my legs were tired, plus I needed to pack up and prepare for my early flight. It was my last day and I knew as soon as I got back to SF, I would have to hit the ground running with my daughters and head over to volunteer prepping udon at the Cherry Blossom Festival. So I stayed in, took care of myself and rested.

There is so much that I didn’t get to do on my trip. I already want to go back. Something really got to me about the place, the culture, the history and the people. Hopefully, another opportunity will present itself and I will return. There’s so much to learn. Also, I’d like to see more of Mexico, particularly Oaxaca and anywhere there’s a beach! Until next time… now off on the next adventure, family vacation with the girls.

Written by jennalex

Artist and designer who explores the relationship between the natural world and the digital world and aims to create art and design that expands people's consciousness and creates meaningful experiences.

June 14, 2024