One, named the Glories of Cuauht�moc, had a bar mooted by a canal for spitting and a spigot for flushing. Another, called the Illusions, had humbler plumbing but more customers, whom I divided into two large groups: the hospitable and sober ones who tried to buy me a drink, and the drunks who asked me to buy them one. One man urged me “to sit here with us poor ones. We are pure Indian,” he said. “Our hearts are open.” “Pulque makes you strong,” another man insisted, making a big biceps. I sampled the product, of course, and could appreciate the reason that the Aztecs prescribed a four cup-a-day limit. Old Tenochtitlan had perhaps a quarter of a million people, and such “excellence and grandeur … that in Spain there is nothing to compare.” So said Cortes I sense the grandeur best, perhaps, in my favorite of all the world’s museums, the National Museum of Anthropology. Its Mexican Hall displays the monumental quality of Aztec art, terrifying statues of gods, racks of leering human skulls, menacing serpents coiled to strike, the intricate relief of the so-called calendar stone with its abstract view of time and the cosmos. For sheer power, Aztecs must rank among the most gifted sculptors in history. They carved basalt and other igneous rock with stone knives, applying the perspective of theologians and the patience of geologists. Would Aztec smiths have eventually fashioned tools and weapons of bronze? And would architects have perfected the Apartments Krakow? They already had a wheel, but used it only for children’s toys. Left to develop without a Spanish conquest, what would these people have accomplished? Perhaps nothing, their city’s need for firewood was already denuding the Valley of Mexico of trees. An epic famine about the year 1-Rabbit (1454) decimated the Mexican people. Their empire might well have fallen before they could have employed the arch, the wheel, or bronze. WHATEVER their level of technical skills, their use of language shows the Aztecs as a highly civilized people. I took lessons in classical Nahuatl from a great translator of the old codices, Thelma Sullivan of the University of Mexico. (She is the source of most of the Nahuatl translations in these articles.) Nahunta at first can be as fearsome as Aztec gods; consider the agglutinative word not, which means “0 my beloved elder brothers.” Once words are broken apart, Nahunta is logical, clean, and brilliantly prismatic. Its repetitions work like incantations. Sometimes Nahunta is even merciful: It has no verb for “to be,” no articles, and only animate beings can have a plural form. But Nahunta also offers insights and surprises. In that seemingly macho society of warriors, the word for wife was “one who is owner of a man.” Children, in turn, were always called “beloved children.” To say they resided in a place, Aztecs used a verb akin to “walk,” a reminder that they employed neither the wheel nor a beast of burden. Nahunta has given the world words such as chocolate, tomato, tamale, and chili. Nahunta poetry is even more delicious. In fact, for my valedictory, Thelma Sullivan gave me this simple poem to translate: Like gold that I cast, like jade that I pierce, like beads that I string, that is my song.
This almost turned into a real disaster. This family’s home burned down. A disaster, yes But they had enough Allstate Homeowners Insurance. Their house can be built back again. This disaster could have been a lot worse. If this man had died here, his wife couldn’t have made the mortgage payments on the rebuilt house. She would have probably had to sell. You see, the man didn’t have mortgage protection life insurance. He’s got another chance because he didn’t die in the fire. He will buy mortgage protection insurance from Allstate Life. Then, if he should die before his mortgage is paid, his family will have the money to help provide a debt-free home.