Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Fresh Air

Spending too much time in Mexico City during the current dry season can be a killer for the nose. Mexico City is in a valley surrounded by mountains, so clouds of air pollution remain stagnant and hover over the city when there is no rain to clear the air. Last month, Chilangos (as Mexico City residents are called) started feeling the effects.

When the concept of an oxygen bar was first introduced in the States years ago, I thought that was the dumbest idea. Now, I'll never take breathing for granted. My nose thanked me when I was breathing the Kenyan air. But upon my return, poor Jeremy had had it. A daytrip out of the city was in order. We took a bus about two hours away from the megalopolis to the town of Tlaxcala. Aside from having cleaner air, Tlaxcala is an amazing small town full of history and life.

It is said that the Tlaxcalans fought fiercely against the Spanish when Cortes and his crew came to conquer the area, but later Tlaxcalans became Cortes' allies against the Aztecs. I couldn't help but think how history could have been different if Tlaxcalans had not submitted to beliefs of a white man coming to the Americas to save the indigenous peoples. The Spaniards built many small chapels in Tlaxcala before the conquest, and then built major churches and a basilica once the land had been conquered.

We toured through some of these amazing churches full of gold-plated wall-to-wall religious statues. I walked into the church where Spaniards recorded the first baptism of an indigenous person, as well as where the first pulpit was built in what they called New Spain.

After all this talk about the conquest, it was so relieving to meet some indigenous elders who continue to live life according to the ways of their ancestors. At the Museo Vivo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares, I met 83-year-old Gabriela "Gaby" Angel. She worked at the museum explaining how a kitchen was run in the past and how a traditional steam bath called temazcal could purify your body.

Though the kitchen at the museum was a display, Gabriela said her kitchen in San Juan Bautista, Ixtenco, (about two hours from Tlaxcala) was very similar.

"My daughters get mad when I replace a barro (mud/clay) pot with another. But I like them better," Gabriela said. She also went on to say that her mother had lived to be 115 years old! It must be the powers of the temazcal baths. Gabriela agreed. She said she still takes a temazcal steam bath on Wednesdays and Satudays.

"I take normal baths too, but I don't feel the same."

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