Place at the Edge of the Forest
3 Sept 2005
For some reason this trip feels different. I didn't stay up all night before my flight all jittery with anticipation. It was essentially like flying to LA, except for the fact that on Aero Mexico, they come around with a cart replete with free wine, beer, and tequila. What, you thought I was going to pass up a free shot of some fine reposado? It was so good I can still taste it in my mouth.
Mexico City mirrors Los Angeles in so many ways -- the dearth of water (it used to be surrounded by a huge lake that is now all but dried up), the sprawl (the city stretches horizontally rather than vertically), the density (30 million people, 80% of the entire population of Mexico), the smog (the mountains which surround it trap in the pollution, every breath of air in the City tastes like exhaust). The population begets the sprawl, which begets the dependence on cars, which begets the smog.
Heng Yi (Daniel Corona, a descendant of General Corona who was famous for capturing Maximilian II and for whom the beer is named) picked me up at the airport. Perhaps that is another reason I feel at ease, because even though I am travelling by myself, I am in the hands of a kung fu hermano. With wheels. Show me Mexico City, I said. Which is, of course, like saying "Show me Los Angeles." Well, for today at least, we went to two museums: Castillo de Chapultepec (which means "Hill of the Grasshoppers" -- insert dumb kung fu joke here), a military academy which was converted into a residence by Maximillian and later into a National Museum where we looked for a portrait of Daniel's cerveca-inspiring ancestor to no avail,
and the Instituto Nacional de Anthropolgia e Historia, which was supremely interesting. Any museum that starts out with models of our hirsute Neanderthal fore-mothers and -fathers gnawing on the bloody hindquarter of a freshly downed antelope, you know you're in for a treat.
Two things that struck me:
2. The Mexican preoccupation with skulls AKA death: well, the Aztecs did have this thing about human sacrifice. It's built into the architecture. You know, the circular altar with a dish in the center for the heart, freshly torn out of a maiden's breast or the winner--no, make that loser, of a game of pelota, with the blood drain running down the radius of the circle down the narrow steps of the pyramid. Walls of skulls with holes poked through them. The Day of the Dead. Daniel tried to explain it as playing out the thing we are most afraid of, to make it less scary, to celebrate it out in the open. He told me of this tradition on the Day of the Dead in which you inscribe your name on a skull made from sugar, and you bite into it, as if to say, "Death? I ain't afraid of no Death!" Chomp.
On the way driving back to Cuernavaca (which means "Place at the Edge of the Forest" which is similar to what "Shaolin" means as well), where Daniel lives and where he established the Mexico branch of the Temple, we stopped at a dirt-floored loncheria on the side of the road called "Mago" where we sat on white plastic chairs under a tarp had lamb consomme, lamb tacos...
and quesadillas with huitlacoche (which seems to be the hot new ingredient in nuevo latino cuisine these days, it's essentially a fungus that grows on corn, kind of like truffles) and queso (delish), one with pumpkin blossoms (scrumptous), and one with pork skin (sigh). I was a happy, happy man after that.
I learned a new word today: Orale! which means "Let's do it! Let's go!"