Best of Silicon Valley 2001 - Readers' Picks

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[whitespace] Quetzalcoatl view
Squezze Me?: Meant to portray a powerful figure in Aztec myth, Quetzalcoatl bears an embarrassing resemblance to something else.

Readers' Choice:
Pile On

Best Local Monument

Cesar Chavez Park

SAN JOSE can't seem to get a break. The place mocked by the Los Angeles Times as "The Capital of Almost" just hasn't been lucky. It's one of the biggest cities in the country, poised to pass Detroit in population, but our über-hip neighbors to the north won't dignify us as anything more than an overgrown suburb.

And our public art, sadly, only conspires to confirm the status conferred upon us.

The city's statue of Quetzalcoatl, the majestic plumed serpent of Aztec and Toltec lore, is often derided because of its more than passing resemblance to, well, a turd.

So what were Metro readers saying when they proclaimed it Best Local Monument? Was it a protest vote? Or has the pile become, well, a kind of Freudian attachment thing? Whatever the case, Quetzy, perched at the southern tip of the Plaza de Cesar Chavez, has an image problem. This scenario should sound familiar to a few locals: the San Jose resident has out-of-town visitors who are not pre-Columbian scholars. Driving northbound on Market Street, car passes Quetzy statue. Visitor No. 1 blurts out: "What the hell is that?" Visitor No. 2: "It looks like a giant piece of shit!"

Worse, the scenario sometimes includes this exclamation, courtesy of Visitor No. 3: "Eeewww, look, those kids are playing on it!"

Tough but fair, and sad but true. It's not necessarily borne out of an intended dis of Mesoamerican deities, it's just that it's sometimes hard to tell what exactly that thing is.

This much is known: Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec god of gods. He was a symbol of power, and wasn't limited to the coiled position. Instead, Quetzalcoatl took many different manifestations, including but not limited to the wind. And like Jesus, he was expected to return from the sea. When pale, bearded Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez showed up in 1591, Aztecs thought he was Quetzalcoatl.

San Jose's Quetzalcoatl was commissioned by the city and designed by sculptor Robert Graham (who is also responsible for the two naked women poised in front of the Peckham Federal Building). Public art critic and Metro columnist Eric Carlson's website ( informs that the 8-foot-tall monument to misinterpretation cost the city $500,000. "Perhaps Graham conceived of Quetzy while he was reading the sports page?" Carlson sniffs.

This much is not known about San Jose's Quetzalcoatl: Didn't anyone think it might be, well, mistaken for something else?

But it could have been worse. San Jose's infamous statue of Thomas Fallon is still in a crate somewhere in an Oakland warehouse. Ex-mayor Tom McEnery's tribute to ex-mayor Fallon still hasn't seen the light of day, even though it cost the city $450,000 and continues to ring up storage fees. But that didn't stop it from coming in third in the Best Local Monument category, running close behind No. 2: The Winchester Mystery House--another example of What Were They Thinking. JK

Best of Silicon Valley 2001 Table of Contents

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From the October 18-24, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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