As the noble Coffee Czar confided in our last installment at this site, the board of directors for Star Chamber Consolidated Heavy Industries went adventuring in Mexico last month (see our
helpful phrasebook on the subject if you plan on visiting). It was a delightful excursion, made all the more pleasant by the fact that one of our number, zaP, speaks the language and is intimately familiar with the sights.
I found the place names in Mexico almost as arresting as the visual splendor: Xochimilco, Ixtaccihuatl, Teotihuacan. Some of these names defy pronunciation by the typical gringo (such as myself), but if you keep at it and tame the sounds, you are rewarded with gemstones on the tip of your tongue. Once you’ve captured the volcano name Popocatepetl, once you can conjure it up at will, you can practically see the steam belching from its dark conic peak. Cuauhtemoc, Kwau-TE-mok, was a warrior, and if you see his likeness and hear his name properly pronounced, that stressed second syllable falling forcefully against the front teeth, Kwau-TE-mok, you can sense the repect he commanded (it’s no accident the current mayor of Mexico City has the given name Cuauhtemoc).
Whereas the Coffee Czar amused us in the van by carving tiny animals out of soapstone and scrap wood, I entertained my fellow travelers by reading all the place names aloud as often as possible. I’m told it can be annoying, but it had the curious effect of magnifying my there-ness. Even now I can cook up a little Mexican there-ness by pushing my finger across the atlas pages and reading aloud: Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Iztapalapa, and Iztacalco. To my mind, the conquering Spaniard’s names (San Miguel, San Luis, Santa Ana, repeat…) don’t have nearly the same staying power as the solid Indian names. Fortunately for Mexico, the old place names survived more often than they were lost. Good place names reek of earthy there-ness, and Mexico is blessed with an abundance of good place names. And I don’t know anybody who doesn’t need a good dose of there-ness every now and again.
Reversals of fortune in placenames and prose figure prominently in our contribution this week. It may seem a matter of no great importance, but zaP spelled backwards is Paz, which is the Spanish word for peace. In this season of darkness becoming lightness at long last, may peace, and an abiding sense of here-ness, be with you all.