Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Aztec costume is, I'm told, about finished - I'll post a picture of it next time I write.
As I'm going on holiday for a couple of weeks, it'll have to wait until I get back (unless I get really bored and find myself in an Internet Cafe. Unlikely). We're off to Greece; a week touring and looking at antiquities, followed by a week on an island.
The French historian Jacques Soustelle once remarked that a crowd of Aztecs would have looked like a crowd of Athenians, and I suppose there were some similarities: like the Athenians, the Mexica lived in what was essentially a city-state surrounded by other notionally independent city-states, in a mountainous country, and in classical times at least continual warfare was pretty much the norm. And they both favoured cloaks as the main garment for men, although I think Greek costume was less strictly prescribed than Aztec garb.
But I'm always a bit wary of comparisons between unrelated peoples. I've seen the Aztecs compared to the Romans (because of the way their armies were organised), the Japanese (fierce warriors who believed in fate and loved flowers and poetry), the Egyptians (pyramids!) etc etc. I've thought myself that there are interesting resemblances between Aztec and Tibetan culture; Tibetan Buddhists may be peaceful folk now but their iconography hints at a blood-curdlingly violent history. Nearly always, however, these comparisons don't stand up to any sort of scrutiny. Aztecs and Egyptians both built pyramids, but they weren't the same thing at all. Greek though, which so often is about drawing sharp distinctions between categories, is nothing like Aztec thought, which tends to emphasise the oneness of things. So I'm not sure you can use one culture to give you much insight into another.
I'm not going to try. I just intend to enjoy my holiday. Though the idea of setting a book in ancient Greece did occur to me at one time...

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Aztec Costumes

We were delighted when my son announced that the Aztecs are his school history topic this term. At last! Some homework I can help him with! But our joy turned to gloom when he brought a piece of paper home with him. "School History Day": each class will dress up as people from their historical period for this term...
My wife fixed a baleful eye on me. "So what," she demanded, "did Aztecs wear?"
"Um... skirts and shifts for the girls, and the boys... a breechcloth and a short cloak, mostly."
"I am not sending him to school in a breechcloth!" I could see her point. It might have been worse, mind you: my son's nine, but if he'd been six, he'd get a scrap of cloth to wear over his shoulders and no underwear at all. I thought about it a bit further and suggested a warrior costume. This proved to be a mistake.
"He'd like to be an Eagle Warrior."
"Really?" I showed Sarah what an Eagle Warrior's costume looked like. Now, my wife is very resourceful: for a similar event last year she ran up a toga iraetexta - and if you think of Romans as sporting a sort of white cloak with a bit of purple edging, think again, it's much more complicated than that. But even she balked at trying to fabricate a helmet in the shape of a giant raptor's head. I showed her a picture of a jaguar warrior and she just blanched.
I suggested the two-captive warrior's field dress: a pair of red jim-jams and a conical cap would do for that at a pinch, but it didn't find favour. The best I could offer, it turned out, was the Aztec version of a stab vest, cotton armour with a skirt of feathers around it. (Or possibly strips of leather, according to Dr John Pohl).
"That'll do," my wife said. "I can make the skirt out of strips of card, and he's got an old tunic I can use."
"Er... well, it should be made of quilted cotton, really. Strictly speaking."
I was informed in no uncertain terms that the subject was now closed!