Pan-American Trails part 6

By Jose Porta, Photography by Jose Porta/ Art By Joe Wirling

Mexico city is more European than American. Its low buildings, wide avenues and shady parks bespeak a Latin civilization, although it was first founded by the Aztecs, a nomad tribe of prehistoric men who came from the North.

The legend says that they wandered for centuries all over Mexico looking for a suitable place to build their empire. Such a place, the wise men of the Aztecs said, would be showed to them by an eagle poised on a nopal, with a snake in its claws. And so for centuries the Aztecs wandered, looking for such an eagle, and finally at about the year 1200 of our own era, as they reached the valley of Anahuac, in Central Mexico, they stopped in wonder on the shores of Lake Texcoco. There on a small island was a nopal and on that nopal there stood an eagle with a serpent on its bill. Their journey had come to an end and the Aztecs knelt down and thanked their gods for their good fortune, and they built a city on that island, which they called Tenochtitian, the embryo of the Mexico City of today.

Why they should build their city on an island when there were so many suitable spots on terra firma remains a mystery, yet either they showed good judgment or they were in luck, because today Mexico City stands on dry land, the lake on which it was built having gradually evaporated, giving way to a dry plateau.

While in Mexico City I drove twenty-five miles north to Teotihuacan, the center of the Toltec civilization which preceded the Aztec’s. Here again one finds many historic monuments, the most interesting of which are the pyramids of the sun and of the moon, the former being probably the largest structure every built in America by prehistoric man.

I left the motorcycle below and I climbed hundreds of steps until I reached the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. I wanted to know how it felt to be on the same spot where hundreds of years before the Toltecs stood. And I wondered why they built those pyramids. Was it to get nearer to the sun and the stars or was the structure used as a sacrificial temple where young maidens were slaughtered as an offering to their brutal and thirsty gods? Or was it just meant to be an architectural stunt? But after all why should I worry about that? The Toltecs meant no more to me than the King of Siam did and so I drove back to Mexico City and to a show.

Speaking of shows one certainly gets his money’s worth in Mexico. There are bargain days where for thirty centavos one can stay in a show from two o’clock in the afternoon to ten o’clock at night seeing a continuous different program. The pictures are usually from Hollywood and they are spoken in English with Spanish titles. A few of them are spoken in Spanish, having also been produced in Hollywood with a Spanish cast.

But what noisy places these moving picture houses are! Most people take their lunches with them and will eat their raw onions sitting next to you, and during the intermission vendors go up and down the aisles selling sandwiches and drinks.

After the show I usually went out for a walk along the beautiful Paseo del Prado, or I would just ramble thru the crowded streets of Mexico City. Here one doesn’t see the hustle and bustle of the North American cities. People walk slower and take their sweet time. As for me I was still used to rushing and I couldn’t slow down, and I would get sore at the numberless Mexican newsboys or other peddlers who would step right in front of me trying to sell me their goods. Although I didn’t want to buy anything they would walk backwards and stay in my way for half a block until I’d get sore and push them aside only to meet the next boy who would play the same trick on me.

By Jose Porta
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