Sunday, February 2nd, 1997
On the cusp of February, in a town nearly surrounded by volcanoes. Well, this is different. ‘This’ is Cholula, a small town next to Puebla, one of the largest cities in Mexico. They’re both located in the state of Puebla, one to the north of Oaxaca (and about 70 miles from Mexico City, across the mountains) and we’re here for a week or so to give Sammy a chance to learn about the archaeology of this area, which is quite different from the state to the south.
We drove the 200 miles or so up here from Oaxaca to continue our series of day-trips and so that Sam could sit down with archaeo people who work up this way, some of them at the Universidad de Las Americas, a big school located here in Cholula. Walking though campus (a place where you could actually use the phrase ‘¿Donde es la biblioteca?’ you learned in high school), we saw hundreds of kids who–I guess we shouldn’t be surprised–were dressed identically to college students you’d see in the States, Canada, anywhere. Actually, more than a few of them were from that large country to the immediate north, the product of what appeared to be extensive exchange programs. The campus is sizeable, a mix of the modern and the old, and altogether diffferent from its surroundings.
Outside the fence, Cholula is an old town with one very large archaeological attraction–a pyramid, I’m told. I say ‘I’m told’ because what you actually see is one really large mound of dirt, ten stories tall, with a large cathedral plopped atop it. And yes, off to one side, you’ll find a by-now-familiar collection of excavated plazas and archaeo-doohickeys. And right on the tippy-top of this large mound of dirt is a cathedral, plopped there by the Catholic church, all too willing to make a big, brutal impression on the indigenous people. Inside (you enter from a steel door right off the street) is a labyrinth of passages through the pyramid that, when lit with simple bare bulbs, look like the sets from any episode of The Wild Wild West or The Man from UNCLE you’d care to remember.
Other than its too-large-to-miss attraction, the town of Cholula is simple, dusty, and lacking the Oaxacan cuisine we’ve become accustomed to. Not that we’ve been eating that badly, though. We found a ‘vegetarian’ restaurant in Puebla called La Zanahoria Esmeralda–the emerald carrot–that makes a fine breakfast with fresh-sqeezed juice and yummy pan integral–whole wheat bread. We also stumbled on a little place down a dusty road between our hotel and the UDLA campus called Ta’Carbon (there’s a spanish-language pun in there, somewhere) that serves burros estilo Sonora and much more from a family who lived up there–near the Arizona-Mexico border, but who have a kid in school down here so they’ve kind of left one son minding the ranch and packed up everyone else and moved to Cholula.
One of the um…benefits of staying in this cheap motel is that I’m watching a little Mexican TV, from dubbed episodes of the X-Files to the evening’s news, either the stodgy version on Televisa or the slightly tabloidy version on TV Azteca (called ‘Hechos’), which, by the way, has some very clean graphics. Great animation, too, on ‘La Canal de las Estrellas’, which mostly shows novelas, and Canal Cinco has a very hip logo and a lot of After-Effectsy animation based on an old registration chart (I’ve always liked old test patterns.) One of the novelas I’ve watched chunks of for three nights running clearly alternates directors from day to day. On the good day, the quality is incredible…every shot moves, the lighting is subtle, there’s a lot of very hard to get right stuff being done right…and on alternate days, some plebian guy just goes through the motions. There’s a lot of hip stuff on the stations I’ve watched…and some television straight out of the 70s. But I’ve seen that in Cut Bank, Montana, too.
Probably the best part about this portion (I’m tempted to say this ‘chapter’) of our lengthy trip are the daytrips we’ve been taking to various zonas arqueologicas around here. Sammy and I followed some obscure signs up into the highlands to Cantona, a huge–gigantic–site excavated first in 1992 that is an entire city of rock walls, plazas, causeways, ballcourts, and mounds. Incredible. After a while, I begin to see some of the subtleties Sam is looking at. I even occasionally spot a potsherd on the path we’re walking. (Most often, though, it’s probably just a rock.) We take photos, We take video. Sammy takes copious notes in her little red notebook. She looks, thinks, puts ideas together.
And that, of course, is why we’re here.