Friday, April 06, 2007

Viva Mexico, I guess

You know, on my good days I think of the Conquest of Mexico as one of those periods that don't bother me too much. It's the same reason I like the First Crusade, the eastern front in WWII, and the Russian Civil War. Which of these packs of cunts am I supposed to feel sorry for?

Take the First Crusade for example. Subsequent crusades really involve the Crusaders either spending a lot of time roughing up people who don't deserve it (well, so does the end of the First, but as a Bohemond fanboy I seldom think past Antioch) or foolhardily taking on people they should never in a million years fuck with, like Saladin. But the first is pretty evenly matched, and pits a bunch of venal military adventurers and dopey religious fanatics against a barbarian invader, a meddling empire, and a popular general who basically staged a coup. Every faction involved are a bunch of goddamn swine, and there's no reason to feel bad if (as is inevitable) something shitty and awful happens to one of them.

Same, in principle, goes for the conquest of Mexico. Cortés and the Aztecs seem to be in some kind of race to see whether the Conquistadors can possibly be a more bloodthirsty bunch of theocratic bullies than the Aztecs.

All of this came into my mind recently when reading Bernal Díaz del Castillo's Conquest of New Spain, which I seriously recommend everyone here should read, although the first part is actually pretty boring. You're well into the thing before they even get to Mexico, or maybe Guatemala. I don't remember. Point is, it's an account of the savage bastards of history written by one of the savage bastards himself, now a broken-down old man trying to earn a little cash for his old age by telling about his part in one of the great fucked-upednesses of history.

Problem is, I've found I can't really not care about the Conquest of Mexico anymore. Plus, although it isn't really anything to do with the Conquest, that piece of fucking filth Apocalypto (which has some brilliant action scenes, and which to be honest I really enjoyed, but is still a bunch of fucking garbage from the perspective of an angry historian, which is of course the perspective of this blog) has added to the "actually getting a little annoyed by motherfuckers trivializing the bits of the past they don't belong to" pile.

None of which is to the normal purpose of this blog, which is to present first-person accounts of the big fear or whatever. So allow me to recommend some reading whose every word will harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, and so on, right up to the part about thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. With me so far? Good! To begin:

* Ho! Check that shit out! It turns out Bernal Diaz's book is available on the intertron! You speak Spanish, right? I know I don't. The rest of your lazy asses are just going to have to buy a cheap Penguin paperback like I did.

* Chipping away at my cruel objectivity about World War II was an accessible collection of the works of Vasily Grossman, who kept all kinds of notebooks and diaries about his experiences as a war correspondent on the Eastern Front in WWII. As you can maybe guess by the name, he was Russian and Jewish, so these experiences include fun stuff like the Germans killing his mom. If the Germans killed my mom, I'd probably write a book with a title like The Ruthless Murder of Jews by German-Fascist Invaders Throughout the Temporarily-Occupied Regions of the Soviet Union and in the Death Camps of Poland as well. I've always wondered if that kind of goony Stalinist bullshit sounds better in Russian.

Of course, everything sounds better in Russian to me; such a beautiful language. TO make yourself feel better after all that Russian doom and gloom, why not enjoy this hip recasting of one of the world's best national anthems in a groovy, feathered-mullet 1990s version?

Sorry, guys. Next time an actual historical thing and less of my ranting.