Check out flOw, a beautiful intuitive game set in "an abstract aquatic world inviting the player to dive in, to learn, to explore, to survive..." There is little instruction before you start, you just figure it out as you go in a well-designed learning curve.
The game is based on the theory of flow by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which describes the state of focused and rewarding, almost Zen-like immersion in an activity. Achieving a state of flow depends on a balance between the challenge posed by the task (e.g. working, learning, gaming) and the performer's skill.
See also this old Wired interview with Csikszentmihalyi on the flow of websites.
Some eight hours further north from Guanajuato (see previous post), in the middle of nowhere, the small mountain town of Real de Catorce is an oasis of quiet surrounded by desolate highlands and cactus-strewn desert. A former mining town, it was almost entirely abandoned in the early 20th century and became a 'ghost town'. Recently activity has started up again and parts of the center have been renovated, though much of the town in still in ruins, creating a rather surreal atmosphere.
A couple of hours north of Mexico City, the beautiful old city of Guanajuato is tucked away in the mountains. With one of the richest silver mines in the world (20% of the world's silver was found here), it's historic center is an open-air museum of colonial architecture. One of the reasons the town has such a picturesque and tranquil atmosphere is that most traffic is led through a network of tunnels underneath the city.
Mexico City, formerly known as Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs, was built on an island in Lake Texcoco and one of the world's largest cities by the time it was discovered by Hernán Cortés in 1519. Eyewitness Bernal Díaz del Castillo described the awe of the Spanish upon their discovery:
And when we saw all those towns and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico, we were astounded. These great towns... and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision... Indeed some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream... It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen, or dreamed of before.
According to legend, the Aztec ruler of the time, Moctezuma II, believed Cortés to be the prophesized incarnatation of Quetzalcoatl, causing the Aztecs to be easily defeated. However, in reality it took a months-long siege before Tenochtitlan was finally conquered in 1521. The city was destroyed and rebuilt as Mexico City - now again one of the largest cities in the world...
In rebuilding the city, the Spanish kept the street grid created by the Aztecs, and they established a church at the site of the former Great Pyramid or Templo Major. Though some remains of this structure have been excavated, they are not very spectacular and have mainly symbolical value. The location itself is highly significant, since it was here that the wandering Aztecs found the destined site for their capital when they saw an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak. This vision now adorns the Mexican flag (seen below at the daily ceremony on the Zócalo).
The Templo Major, dedicated to Huitzilopochtli (the god of war) and Tlaloc (the god of rain and fertility), was also one of the places where the Aztecs practiced their infamous human sacrifices. After the final enlargement of the temple in 1487, some 80,000 people were sacrificed over 4 days, according to Aztec records (modern estimates are somewhat lower). In order to acquire enough victims for these ceremonies, the Aztecs waged ritual wars known as the Flower Wars.
Update: As a counterbalance to the Aztec sacrificial practices, a good article introducing their poetry is 'The Aztec Way of Poetry'. In Aztec thought, the Nahuatl phrase "in xochitl in cuicatl" ("the flower, the song") summed up poetry, or art in general. As the article recounts, poet-king Tecayehuatzin once summoned poets and wise men to discuss the meaning of poetry. He said: "Flowers and songs, or, it may be, art and poetry; is this perhaps the only truth here on earth? Or perhaps flower and song are the only means of expressing true words."
Here's a sample from a poem (from this Nahuatl Poetry page), showing also the close connection between flowers and war:
Like a wind lilly the shield turns,
like smoke, the dust lifted,
the whistle with the hands repercutes,
in Tenochtitlan México;
where the place of the Tigers is,
the ones who have the charge of war
whistle with the hands for the battle.
Ah, the flowers of the Smoking Shield,
it is not true, it is not true,
they will never cease, they will never finish!
Though I may cry, though I may worry,
as much as my heart does not want it,
will I not have to go to the Mystery Region?
So, to finally delve into Mexico, with the awe-inspiring archeological site of Teotihuacán, just north-east of Mexico City. Built by unknown predecessors of the Aztecs (who held it was founded by the Toltecs) in the first centuries of the first millennium, Teotihuacán was the largest city in the Americas and the capital of a vast empire.
The city is dominated by the huge Pyramid of the Sun (third largest in the world) and the Pyramid of the Moon, both located on the main road, the Avenue of the Dead. Since the actual temples on top of the pyramids have been destroyed, it is unclear to which deities they were dedicated. There is a separate temple dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, who later became the principal god of the Aztecs.
Teotihuacán was abandoned and partly destroyed sometime in the seventh or eight century, and became a place of pilgrimage for the Aztecs, who also gave the city its name, which translates as City of the Gods (the original name is unknown). Today much of the site has been restored, though the southern part of the Avenue of the Dead is still unexplored.
To get a feel for the overwhelming size of the place, check Wikimapia's satellite view.
Slightly bizarre going to Mexico to discover music from Iceland... But Emiliana Torrini's 'Love in the Time of Science' (from '99) proved to be the perfect soundtrack for dozing on dusty plazas, watching the slow-paced life of Guanajuato pass by, and reading (entirely coincidentally) Márquez' 'Love in the Time of Cholera'.
To keep things chronological, some more Berlin before moving on to Mexico. Compare the propaganda in West Berlin (on the Kaufhaus des Westens) and East Berlin...