The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Scotland's legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

Scotland’s legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

The original meaning of ‘military tattoo’ was a military drum performance. The term dates back to the 16th century in Holland. The Dutch Army was staffed mostly by mercenaries from England, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland with a Dutch commanding officer. Drummers were sent out each evening at 9:30 p.m. to inform soldiers it was time to return to their barracks. The process was known as a ‘Tap Toe’, a signal to innkeepers to shut off their taps and stop serving beer to the soldiers.

The boys' precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

The boys’ precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

Nowadays, a tattoo is a performance by military bands for entertainment, and one of the  world’s most prestigious tattoos is held outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle every August as part of the festival known simply as Fringe, which we attended. The show featured groups from Korea, Mongolia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, England and of course, Scotland.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The show opened with the massed pipe bands marching out from the castle onto the escalade while playing the bagpipes in unison. The collective musical force of fifty drummers and a hundred pipers is thrilling. It got the crowd fired up more than a Super Bowl halftime show! Following the pipers were the drum and bugle corps massed bands. There is nothing like marching bands in their dress uniforms to get the spectators energized.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

The Mexican group opened with an Aztec-style fire dance followed by a musical fiesta featuring dancers in traditional bright colored dresses. The Mongolian band had the most impressive uniforms and their dancers performed a tribute to the great Genghis Khan, complete with period costumes and replica spears and arrows.

The performers from South Korea contrasted with the power of the brass and pipe bands with a delicate dance with silk scarves and ballet-like choreography. Their presentation built to a crescendo of synchronized drumming that brought roars of appreciation from the capacity crowd of 8,600.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The New Zealanders stole the show with their energy. They started their presentation with the classic Maori haka or war chant. After a classic march they performed a drinking song where they staggered while playing, which drew laughs and cheers from the audience. They followed with the final movement of the classic Sousa march, Stars and Stripes Forever with six piccolo soloists. However, they completely won the hearts of the crowd when the trombone players set down their horns and danced Gangnam Style complete with sunglasses.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

As if that were not enough, the women’s drill team joined the band. Their precision movements culminated in a double file crisscross performed marching backwards. I have seen some amazing dance and drill routines, but I had never seen that before! It was one thing keeping their lines perfect, but they did so while blind to the movements of their teammates while marching in reverse. No wonder the Kiwis won over the crowd so completely on this night.

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks launched from Edinburgh Castle.

As exciting as the tattoo was, my words are inadequate to describe how stirring the performances were to see in person. If you ever learn of a military tattoo in your area, I urge you to experience it firsthand. You will not be disappointed.

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A Brief History of Mexico – Rise and Fall of the Aztec Nation

The Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan on an island. Mexico City is now centered on this site.

The Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan on an island. Mexico City is now centered on this site.

History portrays Hernán Cortes as a brutal conquistador responsible for wiping out a once proud and highly-evolved indigenous society in Mexico. It turns out he had a lot of help.

The Aztecs worship gods of sun and rain and built great temples, some of which remain today.

The Aztecs worshipped gods of sun and rain and built great temples, some of which remain today.

The Aztecs did not start out as a powerful tribe. In fact, they did not have a homeland for many generations. They subsisted in what is now Central Mexico as mercenary soldiers. They were fierce warriors, and they were seldom defeated. On the other hand, they had no loyalty. Their warriors always fought for those who paid the most. They would even turn against their hosts if their enemies outbid them for their services.

Over a period of centuries the Aztecs had alienated every tribe in the region. The tribes of the central valley banished the Aztecs to a marshy island in the middle of the lake that once covered much of the valley where Mexico City now sits. Over time, the Aztecs built their strength and influence to the point that they threatened to attack any neighboring tribe that did not pay tribute to them. And indeed, those who resisted were wiped out. Over time the Aztecs dominated all of what is now Central Mexico.

An artist's portrayal of Tenochititlan depicts what Cortes encountered as he entered the Aztec city.

An artist’s portrayal of Tenochtitlan depicts what Cortes encountered as he entered the Aztec city.

Then, in 1519, Cortes showed up on the Caribbean shore. When he learned of the great nation of the Aztecs, Cortes set out with 500 men, 15 horses, and a dozen cannons to meet the Aztecs for himself. Cortes discovered the Aztec Nation numbered about six million people and held dominion over another 12 million. The cultivation skills alone needed to produce food for this many people were unprecedented. Cortes was going to need help. It turns out he had no difficulty finding it. Every indigenous tribe readily joined forces with Cortes when they learned his objective was to conquer the Aztecs. It took only two years for Cortes’ army to conquer the entire Aztec Nation. It turned out smallpox was the biggest killer. Over 90% of the indigenous population died from diseases brought from Europe to the New World.

The Palace of Cortes is now a huge museum.

The Palace of Cortes is now a huge museum.

Cortes made his home in a village called Cuauhnáhuac, a native term meaning ‘near the forest.’ The closest word in Spanish was Cuernavaca, or cow horn, a term which bears no relevance to the place. Cortes had a palace built. It stands today as a huge museum bordering the central plaza in Cuernavaca. The Government Palace and the main cathedral are also located near the plaza.

Cuernavaca is now a metropolitan city of nearly one million people with numerous gardens, parks, museums and commercial areas. At an elevation of about 4,500 feet, the climate remains pleasant throughout the year. All of which goes to explain why we made this our home, for now.

Note: This article touches lightly on the history and events spanning the centuries leading up to the Spanish Conquest. I have detailed nothing of the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies which evolved simultaneously with post-Christian European societies. Any slight to the sophistication of these cultures is unintentional.
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