Someone told me that at Anahuacalli, the museum Diego Rivera conceived to house his personal collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts, there was a room with puffy felt objects, including an enormous mushroom, and a life-sized ball of yarn. Since I was suffering from a forty-eight hour bout of existential angst and since I was mourning, among other things, my wallet – I set off on a pilgrimage in search of the giant ball of yarn.
I took the Blue Line, which is not what the subway line is called but which is how I knew it, all the way south to the last stop, where I switched to the light rail. As I was exiting the light rail at Xotepingo station, which was in the center lane of a divided highway I encountered a young man on the overpass. He said, “Hello.” “Hello,” I said. He said, “Excuse me, do you know where there’s a bookstore nearby?” I had been the only passenger to get off at that station. He was the only person entering it. Below us the cars droned on. He was tall, with the stubbled beginning of a dark beard and a pale face. He slouched a little and held a small flat brown paper bag in his hand. He seemed like an artist, an intellectual, or a good-for-nothing. I understood his question. It was a real question but it had another question stuck to its side. Occasionally when I was walking down a street a man would say to me, “te acompaño?” Can I walk with you?
I thought for a moment about wandering in search of books with the man on the overpass. But I had set out to find a ball of yarn. So I told him that I didn’t know about bookstores and walked on. If I had been able to say “ball of yarn” in Spanish I might have invited him along.
When I arrived at the Museum, a stone Meso-American pyramid, I was told that I could only enter on a guided tour that began in a half hour. So I sat on the ledge of the sunken plaza out front and watched the clouds float by on the dark windowpanes of the pyramid. I then followed along for more than an hour with a group of Mexican families and the tour guide, a pretty young woman with a heavily made up face. When the guide asked questions of the group she spoke more slowly and more animatedly than when she described the artifacts or recounted the history of the museum. “And what does Anahuacalli refer to?” she asked. Several adults muttered what to them was obvious: Anahuacalli was the Pre-Columbian name for the valley of Mexico. In a room full of pottery the guide asked a girl in the group, “Little one, what are the four elements of life?” The girl responded, “Water, earth, air and … sky.” “Good!” said the guide, patting the girl’s head.
Later, facing a mosaic, the guide asked me a question, and it became clear that I was the only one in the group who did not know that Tlaloc is the god who brings the rains. Until then I had passed as part of the group – now I had spoken and was revealed as the non-Mexican in their midst. “Ah, you’re Hindú!” they said, meaning not Hindu, but Indian.
And then the tour guide thanked us for visiting the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli and welcomed us to come again. “Where are the ‘soft things?’” I asked. “The ‘cloth things?” the “big round things?” the “textile spheres?” The tour guide looked at me, confused. “Ah,” she said finally, and pointed me to the merchandise tent across the plaza where vendors were selling paper cut-outs and t-shirts. “That’s not it,” I said. But we were at the end of the tour. There was no room with giant balls of yarn as far as I could tell. If only my Spanish were better, I thought, maybe I could sort this out. But in the meantime it was late in the afternoon and the storm clouds had amassed in their daily summer ritual. As I left the gates of Anahuacalli and walked down the hill headed towards the light rail station, Tlaloc, whom I had not recognized found me out. No umbrella. The rain.