400 Rabbits

National Museum
of Anthropology
January 18, 2012

Has it really been six weeks already? My journey across Central America and Mexico is about to end. The final three days were spent here in Mexico City. It's been the perfect end to this jaunt.

The last time I was in Mexico City was so long ago I had forgotten many of the most-defining elements of the city's atmosphere: The organ grinders standing around the city center cranking antique-looking wooden boxes. The wealth of colonial architecture concentrated around the central plaza, the Zócalo. Was the large, openly gay presence here the last time I visited? I don't remember seeing so many same-sex couples casually walking around hand-in-hand when I was last here--or perhaps anywhere else, San Francisco included.

Before taking the subway to where I'm now typing this (the Mexico Norte bus terminal) I picked up provisions for the long ride ahead of me: several buns from a bakery just off the Salto del Agua subway station. Bananas and oranges came from a marketplace across the street. To get rid of my few remaining pesos before heading out of the country I ordered an ice cream cone from a stall at the market selling the ubiquitous brand Michoacana. The vendor was especially chatty and interested in talking. When trying to communicate with him I realized that my Spanish is adequate only for basic transactional interactions of a travel-related nature. I may have spent the past six weeks in Spanish-speaking areas, but having a traveling companion over most of that time meant that I was speaking in English far more often than I was attempting to engage with locals.

Despite my basic level of fluency, the ice-cream man was curious, asking me about where I was from and happy to listen to the details of my trip. (That is, in-as-far as I could articulate which places I'd visited.) I sampled a flavor that tasted like Black Forest Cake but settled on another that seemed to be lemon with Graham Cracker crumbs. He encouraged me to taste more, not locking myself into a decision right away.

After ordering, I mis-heard the price. I thought he said the cost for one cone was treinta (30) pesos. He had actually said, trece (13). It must have been obvious what mistake I was making when I had handed over three 10-peso coins; he gave me the correct amount of change with a large smile.

I wondered how somebody would be received if the situation were reversed, if a Mexican with little fluency in English were traveling in the U.S.. How often would locals make attempts to engage further: asking friendly questions, finding out where they're from, where they've been, where they're going, and why they're making the trip. I do imagine most Americans as being polite and welcoming--but I don't know if there would be quite the same level of curiosity or conversation I had simply buying ice cream.

Ice Cream Logo
Yesterday was park and museum day. I took the subway to the station nearest the National Museum of Anthropology, Chapultepec Park. As I strolled toward the museum along paths through the park, I again saw a pair of homemade clacatacas for sale on one of the pushcarts lining the paths. They were of a slightly different make than the ones I bought back along the Mosquito Coast. These were bound together by soft rope rather than plastic cord. The weights were glittery solid knockers rather than plastic flotation devices. I paid for a sparkling red pair, then after turning to leave thought to ask the boy minding the cart just what they were called here. The way he said it sounded clearly like cracataca rather than clacataca. I may never find out just what this toy is called.

Even with half a day to view the collection, visiting the museum was wonderfully punishing. In-part, it was because I was feeling weak and slow from some bug. In-part it was because Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology is an enormous museum with a wholly unique collection. I never appreciated the significance of cities such as Teotihuacan or the huge range of cultural diversity across different periods in what is now Mexico. I did manage to work my way through most of the halls but was exhausted after four hours. Guess I'll just have to come back again on a future trip.

National Museum
of Anthropology
My favorite among the museum's artifacts had to be an object that was not actually on display: pulque. I'd never heard of pulque before, but text in both Spanish and English described the ancient beverage:

Pulque ... has a strong odor and high alcoholic content. Its patron was the god Ome Tochtli, "Two Rabbit". In view of its calorific value, adults were only allowed one drink, and drunkeness was prohibited because the excess of pulque would make people fall under the influence of Cenzon Totochtin or Four Hundred Rabbits, which meant losing control and becoming agressive and violent.
I like that expresssion. Perhaps I'll start using "going 400 rabbits" as another euphemism for getting drunk.

Next stop: Austin, Texas