An aerial view of Mexico City is like peering into the insides of a hallowed-out pumpkin. The numerous highways and neighborhoods tangle together like a pumpkin’s matted intestines. There is no wind in Mexico City. The sweat, humidity and smog stick to your clothes, your windshield and your pets.
The Aztecs knew Mexico City as Tenochtitlan, the city that sat atop Lake Texcoco. The lake is long gone, and the city is slowly sinking into the void. A tour to the Zocalo (historical center of town), will reveal a bewildering finding. The window lines of the buildings start to sink towards the middle, like an accordion full of water.
Mexico City has so many people, it has run out of phone numbers to give to the residents of the city. Unlike the United States, which uses various area codes for one metropolitan area, Mexico City uses the same prefix for the entire city (55). TelMex (Mexican AT&T) had to expand to an eight-digit telephone numbering system to satisfy the demand. Mexico City’s population is larger than Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego County, combined.
Adding another strain on the city’s bursting seams, Mexico City’s municipal government cannot expand the subway system. Each time construction begins to break ground, the tractors expose sunken pyramids that nobody knew existed. Even construction that only involves removing a few feet of soil is tedious. Construction workers all over complain about how many days are lost clearing all the Aztec artifacts that saturate the soil strata well beyond the borders of the city. Most artefacts retrieved from construction sites are mixed in with the construction waste and deposited into the city’s dumps.
Even the Headdress of Moctezuma, the crown of the Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlan, has a story behind it. The headdress dates from 1502 and contains more than 500 quetzal feathers, a native bird species from the Southern part of Mexico and Central America. The headdress can be visited at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The only problem is that the Headdress is a fake. Hernan Cortes stole the original from Mexico over five centuries ago. After being stolen from Mexico, nobody quite knows what happened after that. All that is known is that the headdress was purchased by Austria in 1880 and has stayed in their country ever since. One theory of how the headdress ended up there was that while the headdress was being sent to Spain by boat, the boat was attacked by French pirates and brought to France where it stayed for over three centuries. It was later auctioned off to Vienna.
Now that the headdress is known to be on display in Austria, the Mexican government is demanding its return. Austrian President Heinz Fischer has warned that the return of the headdress would only lead to a flood of similar claims from countries all over the Americas to recover valuable Pre-Hispanic artefacts illegally taken from their land. The logic of such a statement isn’t lost on Mexico, only temporarily misplaced.