Rambling on: Tlaloc

Here’s to the bloody gods, the demanding gods, the gods that were forgotten only to be resurrected.

One of these: Tlaloc.

Reading Juan Villoro’s book Horizontal Vertigo, his ode to his hometown of Mexico City, he recounts the tale of the statue of the Aztec deity called Tlaloc. The statue, which sits in the city’s Chapultepec Park, was not commissioned but was unearthed in the late 1800s in a nearby state by engineers digging an irrigation canal. Experts of some sort deemed this half completed statue to be a representation of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain and fertility.

I will take their word for it (although Villoro disputes that this is indeed Tlaloc).

In 1963 the hulking statue (23 feet high) was brought to Mexico City and planted in the middle of a man-made lake in the park. Arriving during the dry season, Tlaloc brought with him rain, the heaviest rain the city had seen in some time. but Tlaloc didn’t demand his usual price for rain: blood. The ancient Aztecs didn’t just offer their prayers to Tlaloc, they offered the blood of their children–human sacrifice in exchange for the waters of life.

Knowing this grisly history adds to what I see when I look at Tlaloc. And what do I see with my untrained eye? I see a god stunted. He is broken. No eyes to see. No arms to embrace with. No legs to run with. His mouth, two rows of holes, are passive and useless.

On one hand I see a monster, a brutal thing that could crush the earth and any who would dare defy him. I picture the blood of children pouring down his face and dripping down the holes into his hungry mouth.

But I also see a thing lost to time. A broken god. A useless deity. Maybe his subjects tired of feeding him their children. They slaughtered his priests. They scaled his heights and hacked his eyes out to blind him and smashed his limbs to hobble him. Then they toppled him from his altar and buried him deep within the earth.

This recovered god is just a fraction of what he once was. He won’t get the blood he craves. Instead he sits in a park for tourists to gawk at.

He’s a once mighty god, humbled.

(image credit: JAONTIVERIS/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rambling on: Malgre Tout

I’ve never been to Mexico City. A night in Juarez over the border from El Paso (I remember a scorpion climbing the wall of the bedroom) was the closest I got. I want to go. Someday. Soon, maybe. A friend of mine who’s been to Mexico City loaned me a book, Horizontal Vertigo, a translation of the writer Juan Villoro’s life in that city. I’m inching through it. I think I’ll get a short story out of one of his memories. Stories are loaned from one person to the other.

But that story is not what this is about. This post is an experiment. I don’t consider myself a visual person when it comes to art. I got kicked out of an art history lecture in college; that killed any chance at formal training. So I’ll play the innocent (or imbecile): what do I see when I look at a piece of art?

First up, a sculpture mentioned in Villoro’s book: Malgre Tout by the Mexican artist Jesus F. Contreras.

I don’t care about the history of the sculpture. I don’t care about technique. Contreras seems like he’d be interesting to learn more about (he only had one arm when he sculpted it??) but I don’t care about that right now.

What do I care about?

Only what I see with my untrained eyes.

I see this: She crash landed onto the ground from somewhere. Not heaven or a spaceship but something made her fall down to earth. She hit the ground hard. Naked (exposed) and bound (constrained) but she struggles to move ahead. How many times have you felt exposed? Do you let yourself be exposed? Maybe you’ve learned from a lifetime of hits and slams to cover yourself. Don’t let a single inch of your self be exposed to the world, ever. So you don’t, you can’t, you won’t. But she is.

What about constrained? Her hands are shackled behind her back. Are yours? No, not literally, of course not, but maybe you’re shackled in other ways, only you can’t admit that to yourself, because if you acknowledged your own shackles, if you looked at them, then you would see your own nakedness. Even worse, the world might see. Who wants that?

This naked, shackled woman is crawling forward. She’s propelling herself forward, despite her shackles, despite her nakedness, her face is fixed on something ahead. Fear? No. Desperation? Maybe. Desire? Yeah. She wants something real bad, so bad she’ll chase after it. She doesn’t care that she’s exposed. She doesn’t care that she’s bound. All she knows is she wants that thing, and she’ll chase after it.

Or maybe I’m reading it all wrong. She didn’t crash down to the ground. She’s a prisoner, crawling along the dirt, about to give up. She knows she’s naked and bound and there’s no escape and this is a stubborn woman’s last moment of stupid hope that she really can break free but she can’t.

According to Wikipedia, Malgre Tout is French for In Spite of Everything. I like the hope in the name. I really do. But what I’m left with is her futility. Trapped. Alone. Stuck like that, forever.

((Image credit: By AlejandroLinaresGarcia – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7762678))