hen do the dead die? When they are forgotten. When does a city disappear? When it no longer exists in the memory of those who lived there. And when does love cease? When one begins to love anew. Of this there is no doubt.|
That is why Hernán Cortés decided to construct a new city upon the ruins of the ancient Tenochtitlán. The time it took him to size up the situation was the same that it takes a firmly gripped sword to pierce the skin of the chest and reach the center of the heart: one second. But in time of battle, a split second can mean escaping the sword or being run through by it.
During the conquest of Mexico, only those who could react in an instant survived, those who so feared death that they placed all their instincts, all their reflexes, all their senses, at the service of that fear. Terror became the command center for all their actions. Located just behind the navel, it received before the brain all the sensations perceived by smell, sight, touch, hearing, and taste. These were processed in milliseconds and forwarded to the brain, along with a precise course of action. All this lasted no more than the one second essential for survival.
As rapidly as the Conquistadors' bodies were acquiring the ability to react, new senses were also evolving. They learned to anticipate an attack from the rear, smell blood before it was spilled, sense a betrayal before the first word was uttered, and, above all, to see into the future as well as the keenest oracle. This was why, on the very day Cortés saw an Indian sounding a conch in front of the remains of an ancient pyramid, he knew he could not leave the city in ruins. It would have been like leaving a monument to the grandeur of the Aztecs. Sooner or later, nostalgia would have prompted the Indians to regroup in an attempt to regain their city. There was no time to lose. He had to obliterate all trace of the great Tenochtitlán from Aztec memory. He had to construct a new city before it was too late.
What Cortés did not take into account was that stones contain a truth beyond what the eye manages to see. They possess a force of their own that is not seen but felt, a force that cannot be constrained by a house or church. None of Cortés's newly acquired senses was fine-tuned enough to perceive this force. It was too subtle. Invisibility granted it absolute mobility, allowing it to swirl silently about the heights of the pyramids without being noticed. Some were aware of its effects, but didn't know what to attribute them to. The most severe case was that of Rodrigo Díaz, one of Cortés's valiant captains. As he and his companions proceeded to demolish the pyramids, he could never have imagined the consequences of his fateful contact with the stones. Even if someone had warned Rodrigo that those stones were powerful enough to change his life, he would not have believed it, for his beliefs never went beyond what he could grasp with his hands. When he was told there was one pyramid where the Indians used to conduct pagan ceremonies honoring some sort of goddess of love, he laughed. Not for a moment did he allow that any such goddess could exist, let alone that the pyramid could have a sacred function. Everyone agreed with him; they decided it was not even worth bothering to erect a church there. Without further thought, Cortés offered Rodrigo the site where the pyramid stood, so that he could build his house upon it.
Rodrigo was a happy man. He had earned the right to this parcel of land by his achievements on the battlefield and by his fierceness in hacking off arms, noses, ears, and heads. By his own hand he had dispatched approximately two hundred Indians, so he did not have to wait long for his reward: a generous tract of land bordering one of the four canals running through the city, the one that in time would become the road to Tacuba. Rodrigo's ambition made him dream of erecting his house in a grander spot -even on the ruins of the Great Temple- but he was forced to content himself with this more modest site since there were already plans to build a cathedral where that temple once stood. However, as compensation for his plot not being located within the select circle of houses the captains were building in the center of the city as witness to the birth of New Spain, he was granted an encomienda; that is, along with the land, ownership of fifty Indians, among whom was Citlali.
Citlali was descended from a noble family of Tenochtitlán. From childhood she had received a privileged upbringing, so her bearing reflected no trace of submission but, rather, great pride verging on defiance. The graceful swaying of her broad hips charged the atmosphere with sensuality, spreading ripples of air in widening circles. This energy displacement was much like the waves generated when a stone is dropped suddenly into a calm lake.
Rodrigo sensed Citlali's approach at a hundred yards. He had survived the Conquest for good reason: he possessed an acute ability to detect movements outside the ordinary. Interrupting his activity, he tried to pinpoint the danger. From the heights of the pyramid he commanded a view of everything in its vicinity. Immediately he focused on the line of Indians approaching his property. In the lead came Citlali. Rodrigo instantly realized that the movement that had so disturbed him emanated from Citlali's hips. He was completely disarmed. This was a challenge he did not know how to confront, and so he fell captive to the spell of her hips. All this happened as his hands were engaged in the effort of moving the stone that had formed the apex of the Pyramid of Love. But before he could do so there was a moment for the powerful energy generated by the pyramid to circulate through his veins. It was a lightning current, a blinding flash that made him see Citlali not as the simple Indian servant that she appeared to be, but rather, as the Goddess of Love herself.