teotihuacán

In the bus station heading out to Teotihuacán, the City of the Sun, the great citadel of an unknown prehistoric people, alone, with my pack at my feet, crowds pushing by me, I loved the sensation of stillness in the middle of life, of being in a place that was foreign but not strange.

Teotihuacán is the greatest city of ancient Mexico, and nobody knows who built it, or what happened to them.  Archaeologists differ by thousands of years on its founding date.  Nor can they agree on what caused its destruction.  The stones are silent.

Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun (211 feet) I was surrounded by an upward-moving flood of uniformed school children who paused to ask me solicitous questions: “Where are you from?”  “Can you make it?” “Are you going all the way to the top?”  Yes, all the way to the top.  And we made it and took pictures of one another up there, and the kids, heedless of history, swarmed down again as if it were just a gym exercise (there are lots of other pyramids to climb) and I sat for a while longer till the sun started to go to my head, imagining the Mesoamerican priests two thousand years ago their fierce god-sun beating down seeing the crowds of ant-sized people reverently massing at the foot of the pyramid and gazing out over the broad avenues and rows of houses on the crowded (now empty) plain, thinking: we are the most powerful people in the whole world…

Shelley’s poem, which my father used to recite in mock-tragic tones, shaking his beard and lowering his voice to a doomful rumble, came into my mind:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

On the bus going back into Mexico City, two women got on and began to sing in sad, powerful, beautiful voices, Te Nombro Libertad (I Name You Freedom). It is a Chilean protest song about oppression and the yearning for its end.  Their faces stoic as stone carvings, the women asked for pesos from the passengers and then disappeared at the next stop.

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