understand their language, which is Mexican. Then they brought pottery braziers with live coals, and fumigated us with a sort of resin.
|From Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517 – 1521, ed. Genaro Garcia and trans. A. P. Maudslay Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Copyright © 1956.|
Let us cease speaking of this and return to the way things were served to him at meal times. It was in this way: if it was cold they made up a large fire of live coals of a firewood made from the bark of trees which did not give off any smoke, and the scent of the bark from which the fire was made was very fragrant, and so that it should not give off more heat than he required, they placed in front of it a sort of screen adorned with figures of idols worked in gold. He was seated on a low stool, soft and richly worked, and the table, which was also low, was made in the same style as the seats, and on it they placed the table cloths of white cloth and some rather long napkins of the same material. Four very beautiful cleanly women brought water for his hands in a sort of deep basin which they call xicales [gourds], and they held others like plates below to catch the water, and they brought him towels. And two other women brought him tortilla bread, and as soon as he began to eat they placed before him a sort of wooden screen painted over with gold, so that no one should watch him eating. Then the four women stood aside, and four great chieftains who were old men came and stood beside them, and with these Montezuma now and then conversed, and asked them questions, and as a great favor he would give to each of these elders a dish of what to him tasted best. . . .
They brought him fruit of all the different kinds that the land produced, but he ate very little of it. From time to time they brought him,
in cup-shaped vessels of pure gold, a certain drink made from cacao, and the women served this drink to him with great reverence.
Sometimes at meal-times there were present some very ugly humpbacks, very small of stature and their bodies almost broken in half, who are their jesters, and other Indians, who must have been buffoons, who told him witty sayings, and others who sang and danced, for him.
When we arrived at the great market place, called Tlaltelolco, we were astounded at the number of people and the quantity of merchandise that it contained, and at the good order and control that was maintained, for we had never seen such a thing before. The chieftains who accompanied us acted as guides. Each kind of merchandise was kept by itself and had its fixed place marked out. Let us begin with the dealers in gold, silver, and precious stones, feathers, mantles, and embroidered goods. Then there were other wares consisting of Indian slaves loth men and women; and I say that they bring as many of them to that great market for sale as
me Portuguese bring negroes from Guinea; and they brought them along tied to long poles, with collars round their necks so that they could not
escape, and others they left free. Next there were other traders who sold great pieces of cloth and cotton, and articles of twisted thread, and
mere were cacahuateros who sold cacao. In this way one could see every sort of merchandise that is to be found in the whole of New Spain.
There were those who sold cloths of henequen and ropes and the sandals with which they are shod, which are made from the same plant, and
sweet cooked roots, and other tubers which they get from this plant, all were kept in one part of the market in the place assigned to them. In
another part there were skins of tigers and lions, of otters and jackals, deer and other animals and badgers and mountain cats, some stunned and others untanned, and other classes of merchandise.
Let us go on and speak of those who sold lems and sage and other vegetables and herbs in another part, and to those who sold fowls, cocks with wattles, rabbits, hares, deer, mallards, young dogs and other things of that sort In their part of the market, and let us also mention the fruiterers, and the women who sold cooked food, dough and tripe in their own part of the market; then every sort of pottery made
in a thousand different forms from great water jars to little jugs, these also had a place to themselves; then those who sold honey and honey paste and other dainties like nut paste, and those who sold lumber, boards, cradles, beams, blocks and benches, each article by itself, and the vendors of ocote 1 firewood, and other things of a similar nature. But why do I waste so many words in recounting what they sell in that great market? – for I shall never finish if I tell it all in detail. Paper, which inthis country is called amal, and reeds scented with liquidambar, and full of tobacco, and yellow ointments and things of that sort are sold by themselves, and much cochineal is sold under the arcades which are in that great market place, and there are many vendors of herbs and other sorts of trades. There are also buildings where three magistrates sit in judgment, and there are executive officers like Alguacils who
inspect the merchandise. I am forgetting those who sell salt, and those who make the stone knives, and how they split them off the stone itself; and the fisherwomen and others who sell some small cakes made from a sort of ooze which they get out of the great lake, which curdles, and from this they make a bread having a flavor something like cheese. There are for sale axes of brass and copper and tin, and gourds and gaily painted jars made of wood. I could wish that I had finished telling of all the things which are sold there, but they are so numerous and of such different quality and the great market place with its surrounding arcades was so crowded with people, that one would not have been able to see and inquire about it all in two days.
When they brought food to Montezuma they also provided for all those chiefs to each according to his rank; and their servants and followers were also given to eat. The pantry and the wine stores were left opeAn each day for those who wished to eat and drink. Three or four hundred boys came bringing the dishes, which were without number, for each time he lunched or dined, he was brought every kind of food: meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
For each meal, over thirtv-different dishes were prepared by his cooks according to their ways and usage, and they placed small pottery braziers beneath the dishes so that they should not get cold. They prepared more than three hundred plates of the food that Montezuma was going to eat, and more than a thousand for the guard. When he was going to eat, Montezuma would sometimes go out with his chiefs and stewards, and they would point out to him which dish was best, and of what birds and other things it was composed, and as they advised him, so he would eat, but it was not often that he would go out to see the food, and then merely as a pastime.
I have heard it said that they were wont to cook for him the flesh of young boys, but as he had such a variety of dishes, made of so many things, we could not succeed in seeing if they were of human flesh or of other things, for they daily cooked fowls, turkeys, pheasants, native partridges, quail, tame and wild ducks, venison, wild boar, reed birds, pigeons, hares and rabbits, and many sorts of birds and other things which are bred in this country, and they are so numerous that I cannot finish naming them in a hurry; so we had no insight into it, but I know for certain that after our Captain censured the sacrifice.
Montezuma was fond of pleasure and song, and to these he ordered to be given what was left the food and the jugs of cacao. . . .
As soon as the Great Montezuma had dined all the men of the Guard had their meal and as many more of the other house servants, and it seems to me that they brought out over a thousand dishes of the food of which I have spoken, and then over two thousand jugs of cacao all frothed up, as they make it in Mexico, and a limitless quantity of fruit, so that with his women and female servants and break makers and cacao makers his expenses must have been very great. ..
[W]hile Montezuma was at table eating, as I have described, there were waiting on him two other graceful women to bring him tortillas, kneaded with eggs and other sustaining ingredients, and these tortillas were very white, and they were brought on plates covered with clean napkins, and they also brought him another kinds of bread, like long balls kneaded with other kinds of sustaining food, and pan pachol, for so they call it in this country, which is a sort of wafer. There were also placed on the table three tubes much painted and gilded, which held liquidambar mixed
with certain herbs which they call tabaco, and when he had finished eating, after they had danced before him and sung and the table was finally moved, he inhaled the smoke from one of those tubes, but he took very little of it and with that I fell asleep.
From Bernal Diaz del Castillo. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico,
7577-7527, ed. Genaro Garcia and trans. A. P. Maudslay Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, Copyright © 1956.
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