"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


posting from within the tranquil ground-floor of the Copan, SP. here is where the building´s genius truly lies, the street´s topography coaxed into this small-town arcade of laundromats, coffee-shops, and video stores. the ground falls away in a graceful curve, like the building´s facade.

forty-eight. tidbits: M.C.´s generosity.
* the flag in the Zocolo. a monumentally-sized favorite meeting spot, especially in the mid-afternoon sun, when the billowy fabric above throws a wafting shadow on the stones + people below.

* a tiny amphitheatre + reading space within the .5 mile underground corridor between the Zocolo + the Pino Suarez metro stations. this entire subterranean route has a reading theme, and is lined with small, glaze-fronted bookstores and the occasional corridor cafe.

* 9.21, an attempt at color in a low-income housing project, Ixtapaluca. the accretion and the sameness look neurotic, but at least cheerfully so. this city-outskirt settlement brings with it an entire typology of suburban accoutrement: down the street is a Wal-mart / Suburbia complex + Burger King. however, mixed heterogeneously into the big-box virus remains the fabric of small-scale storefront retail, which remains dominant. an outdoor market a few miles down the road was, in effect, an outdoor Wal-Mart in scope and variety of affordable junk available: electrical plugs, colorful underwear, cheap tools, fried food, artificially-flavored sweets, health + beautycare, etc.

* between Ixtapaluca and the city, along high-speed rte. 190, the wall between the roadside towns and the highway is punctured every few miles to allow for a pasero stop + bright-yellow pedestrian overpass. as the road approaches the city, more formal housing blocks are separated from the highway via a wide tree-planted median, upon which i saw a few joggers.

* Sunday in Alameda Park. the place overflows with public enjoyment. couples laze on the patches of grass, hawkers sell food, jewelry, and music, the city’s Secretary of Culture sponsors staged events (ex. hyper-slick DJ’s from Germany). a handful got their serious groove-on while the rest gawk-bobbed in curiosity. the beats were hard and seductive for a lazy afternoon.

* always, the easily-accessible publication of events, which makes free gallery openings and $1 concerts a near-daily event. Claudia Nierman’s show was strange but sporadically smart, juxtaposing soft images of the body with the metallic or stone overlays of buildings, statues, stairs, doorframes, dilapidated corners of rooms: “it is hard to tell what is soft and what is hard, what is foreground and what is back. does the building or the body come first, and who is clothing whom? are buildings openings to the body, or the body openings to buildings? do we inhabit space, or does it inhabit our cavities?” i also went to Stephan Demming´s video exhibit, ‘The Edge of the City,’ re. his documentary by the same name. traveler, cartographer, video-wandered, director, and collage artist, he seeks to understand the urban boundary as being comprised of ‘spaces and daily activities’ rather than of lines, walls, and rules.

Mexico City’s graphic communication cannot be underestimated. its historical legacy of non-verbal public communication in the way of murals extends to the functional everyday (ex. transit), and makes it one of the more freely-navigable metropolises i have been in. moreover, the graffiti, while generally mediocre, is occasionally brilliant: a blank double-panel sidewalk-level billboard space of light blue paper over layers of older paper + rust had been carved into and read, via the removal of layers, the thick letters: PARANOIA PARADISE... on a main avenue, for all to celebrate.

9.24 Nezahualcoyoti, garbagetown dusk.
a highly-gridded area squeezed on the edge of the FD boundary, just beyond the reach of the Pantitlan Metrostation, Neza is home to a handful of famous athletes and criminals whose past-times include Olympic bike-racing, boxing, and the collection of human ears. the streets are as straight as a razor, and on clear days, lead southward to a stunning view of snow-covered Popo. the main drag is graced with another center median, thickly grown and narrow, upon which a woman was picking some herbs, and at one point in the middle of which a basketball court was barely squeezed. the vitality of the downtown area petered out at a place called ‘garbagetown,’ where my acquaintance once played as a child, and now avoids like the plague, understandably – although there was no stench. still, the melancholy sight of isolated shacks amidst heaps of plastic flyaway scraps and the silhouettes in the distance – human figures, backhoes, and a torn Mexican flag, blowing in the wind – could not be soothed by the mountains and the hugeness of the sky on that elevated plain. desolate, deep purple. the ride home this last night in the City was long and silent.


forty-seven. city edges.
9.19, Vitali + Cuautepec
heavy rain made the evening commute more brutal than usual. usually walkable distances were rendered intolerable (street and sidewalk flooding due to poor drainage is a serious issue). moreover, the frequency of trains can be erratic, so flow volume accumulated quickly and the 5 minute waits yielded already-full compartments. after waiting two rounds without successful embarkation, i ran home in the rain – by far the quickest way to cover a mile in such conditions, rail, taxi or bus included. for all the traffic, however, the paseros here are so easy to use, as most routes end or begin at Metro stations, so even if you’re not sure exactly where you’re going there are navigable benchmarks that allow you to plug back into the mapped Metro system. more importantly, the buses are well-signed, in contrast to Jo’burg, where mini-bus know-how was entirely by word of mouth and experience. however, some residents swear against them – their horrid road rules (or lack thereof), the corruption and perceived disorganization of the system (cronies leasing buses at impossible rates, licenses which are sold first and foremost for profit), the sheer shoddiness of some vehicles.

the day was incredible though, and was spent traveling to the city fringe by Metrobus, pasero, and then foot (Mexico city is the first city i’ve been in that supports the textbook zoom derive). it pertinently ended at a gallery opening of Massimo Vitali’s “A portfolio of landscapes with figures.” (http://www.massimovitali.com/) his large-format, washed out photos feature hordes of people vacation-playing against a backdrop of sea, snow, and industry. the human figures loom plasticine and super-saturated while the mountains, smokestacks, or granite-cliffs fade into abstract washes in the background. the density and clarity of his figures render his canvases into ‘Where’s Waldo’ exercises; invariably he captures a handful of figures either looking straight at, or deliberately hiding from, the camera. more innocently, he also captures couples in various states of (dis)affection, people frozen in physical play, or in self-conscious self-scrutiny (a women primping in a compact mirror, another women adjusting her bikini-clad breasts, etc.). the tone of his work is complex – at first the harsh, surreal color schemes read like frigid satire, but the subjects are too detailed to become symbolic; in spite of their sheer number each remains a subject clearly demarcated in space, suspended in water, sliding over snow, sunning on rock, pursuing health, beauty, and fun, but imperfectly so – bodies are squishy, faces are caught in distorted expression, azure waters support oil tankers in the distance. his panoramas are especially poignant, as he leaves the edge of each frame ambiguous and slightly overlapping, such that the movement of figures can be followed from one frame to the next. i can’t say whether the work is politically laden, but it does offer a succinct representation of the human compulsion to embrace nature, industry, and play in equal measure. the fact that this juxtaposition is rarely idyllic simply highlights the ultimate inevitability of human fallacy.

today’s earlier exploration out to Cuautepec was marked by topography, density, and an essential interplay of the official and informal that is distinctly Mexico City (or what I have observed of it). Indios Verdes is the northern terminus of both the Metrobus and line 3 of the Metro; from there it is a stop-start 45 minute ride further north into the Cuautepec district, which is pressed against a mountainous ecological conservation zone and is within the northernmost protrusion of the Federal District’s boundary. as the road gently slopes up to meet the hills, dense commercial activity and stoplights give way to smaller-scale shops, diminished traffic, and densely packed CMU housing that clings and climbs up the hill. however, the sense of a main road (or two) is maintained, from which near-vertical stairs or secondary roads off-shoot perpendicularly, maintaining a surprising loyalty to the grid which rules so much of the downtown layout (and which is a legacy of cosmically-driven Aztec city planning). from a distance it was unclear whether the neighborhoods were serviced by infrastructure, but powerlines, streetlights, paved roads, and sewage pipes that follow the road layout attest to the positive, as did an FD garbage truck and squeaky clean streets. visually, it is difficult to not feel enamored at the sight of this extremely topographical, high-density residential area where most grey single family homes reveal vivid splashes of color on doors or window frames (although some older, lower, larger houses were entirely painted, and not necessarily for the better).

the pasero climbed up into this well-ordered melee for a surprising distance, almost to the visible edge of allowable building zone. this is marked distinctly by a wall which snakes horizontally over the ridges of the hills, and resembles a less-glamorous Great Wall. (this settlement boundary is visible on other hillsides around the city fringe and is not limited to Cuautepec). the walls are built once the informal settlements begin to grow, and the infrastructural services are the result of community mobilization and petitioning of the government. curious as to what happens at this literal edge i climbed further until the wall revealed itself as a simple concrete boundary, no higher than my 5’2”, mostly grafittied, and usually topped with a second layer of chain-link. however, the wall had a gate, which was open, and which led into the conservation zone and along a path of extremely green, pristine grass, lush wildflowers, and copious eucalyptus trees. it was stunning, the contrast to the hill houses made more startling by the proximity of the highly built to the left-untouched, and the apparent respect for the wall’s function as boundary seemingly total. in other words, the hardness of the boundary and its efficaciousness allowed for the proximity and extreme contrast, and i was left wondering how/why the wall’s legitimacy is so-well maintained. perhaps the presence of infrastructural service (and its obvious absence of the other side) might partly account.

also noteworthy was the fact that in areas where the foothills were steepest and closest to the main street, social and commercial activity were more vibrant, perhaps due to a greater population flow down into flat open space, but also, i surmise, because of a spatial-visual effect that renders the main street + hill into something of an abstract, intuitive plaza or coliseum-like space. as i mentioned before, i have seen churches and public spaces here that are demarcated by descent, and wonder if public space in these hills isn’t created as a hollow collects water by gravity. relatedly, the steepest streets were the most colorful -- the most well-planted, the most occupied, the best-cared for.

Ecatepec, 9.17.
back-tracking here... Ecatepec municipality is beyond the boundary of the FD but is still within the Mexico City Metropolitan Zone, and is the conurbation’s largest municipality (after the FD). many of its residents commute into the city, thus justifying Metro line B’s extension far beyond the FD boundary in order to service the area (while most Metro lines stay within the FD). out here the line resembles the Pittsburgh-Bay Point BART -- aboveground, sandwiched between opposing lanes of Av. Hank Gonzalez -- the station serving not so much as an urban node as a pit-stop along a highway from which subsidiary transit carries passengers into the towns that have their own centers, far from the highway. immediately adjacent to the highway and the overpass-station there is a hectic tangle of paseros, a smattering of street-stalls, and another Wal-mart/Suburbia shopping center. everything feels transitory in this zone, ready to escape.

the VW-style mini-van pasero is more prevalent out here than the army-tanker style pasero that runs roughshod in Mexico City center. since the highway + metro split the area into two distinct halves, i headed west, towards the distant hills which were draped in what looked to be informal housing. true to the grid, a highly developed thoroughfare ran due west perpendicular to the highway, and i walked for a couple miles along this road, passing through several distinct zones – a predominately noisy and congested commercial area close to the highway, followed by a smaller-scale, predominately auto-repair area with perpendicular mews-like shared yards between rows of facing homes (see photo above; they were amazingly tranquil and well-planted spaces for such proximity to the main drag), then over a canal which was a distinct border into a slightly less well-kept area of similar use, across the busy Via Morelos and suddenly into an industrial zone of semi-trucks, warehouses, dusty roads and mostly men. food processing seemed to be the dominant industry; i saw a truckload of beans, and smelled sweet caramel as i continued towards the hills, trying to look as non-chalant as possible with my Chaco’d toes and double X chromosomes. i never got there, however, as the industrial zone dead-ended into the Autopista Pachuca, with no visible way across, so i hung a sharp south and headed instead for a renegade hill with a smaller neighborhood clinging to its slopes.

this settlement hovered directly above the small industrial area in what was a poster-child candidate for environmental injustice. fortunately, the factories weren’t spewing smoke but emitting sugar-smells, and the only immediate pollution was that of a low rumble of machine noise. the several hundred houses up here were serviced only by uneven dirt roads that could barely support auto-traffic but that were a healthy playground for 4-legged furries (dogs, cats, horses) and that provided the best views in the area. it is still strange to see this socio-economic inversion in relation to topography; i am accustomed to hills, as in the U.S., being areas of prime real-estate for the views they afford. here in Mexico, the plain is prime, the hills are inconvenient, and create an edge against which the undesired is pushed, along with the highways and the industry. in a city that developed long before the engine and was once surrounded by lake, this penchant for the flat and center makes sense, while i surmise that SF or LA’s initial spatial divisions are less divorceable from a carriage, tram, or car’s ability to navigate the distance and curves.

after a quiet hour exploring the hillside, i descended dusty-footed down an informal footpath that overlooked a grocery store and landed in the backyard of a gas station where i waited for my maniacal bus-ride home. along the (terrifying) way we followed a decommissioned railway track that ran down the middle of a grassy median dividing the 6 lane road. although my driver believed otherwise, the road wasn’t a highway but was lined with shops, neighborhoods, pedestrians, and the railbed-median was tree-lined, suggesting great potential for a linear park. in other areas the tracks had been sheared to make room for a built intervention, leaving behind a ruin of of thick, cleaved iron ties.

once back downtown and re-plugged into the Metro system, i witnessed a chaotic outbound rush hour scene in which arm-waving cops were stationed at flimsy portable barricades in order to ensure that no men lined up for the first two train compartments. a recent campaign to reserve these cars for women-only is the result of an alleged increase in harassment, and while many stations yield signs demarcating as much, these are rarely heeded. in a crowded city where 2 out of 6 seem to travel as a couple, the system has yet to prove its pragmatism or pragmatism, and as such, it is not yet defened by the city's public.


forty-six. collection: recollections.
my days have been less cohesive of late due to some logistical nightmares, so here are a few small pockets from along the way...

Independence celebration at the Zocolo, p.m. 9.15.
the Zocolo celebration began with an appetizer on the 42nd floor of the Torre Latino, a 1950’s sky-scraper of still-graceful proportions and seismic stability (photos from the 1985 quake show surrounding low-stories in a heap of concrete and rebar rubble, while the tower remained unscathed...) i wanted to see what a crowd of 80,000 might look like from above, crammed into the streets that lead towards one of the world’s biggest public squares. seeing the city spread out in twilight was illuminating, the 9 to 5 business center strangely dark, and lights densifying towards the periphery and up into the hills and mountains that circle the city in organic pattern. the noise below was audible, as party horns were blown, and pedestrian hawkers shouted their wares into the crowds. the most popular were the aerosol cans of pseudo shave-cream, and ‘cream’-proof face masks that looked like riot guards. the shaving cream fights are one of the night’s most popular activity, perhaps acting as a stand-in for more vehement oppositional activity? it was easy to surmise from the 42nd floor that patriotism infuses infrastructure here, as every intersection glowed red, green, and white from the stoplights and headlights. it was also evident that, while the Zocolo draws the biggest crowd, more local celebrations were being held at smaller plazas, such as the Republica.

the entry to the square was armed with metal detectors and a line of riot-ready police, leaning solemnly in a row against a stone building. it was an alcohol-free event, although this does not explain the eager cops running out of 7-11 with a six-pack of beer in tow...still, this is probably a good decision given the sheer size of the crowd, the largest i have ever been in, and, uncannily, the calmest. after watching on megascreens the beautiful singer shake her red, white, & green booty on stage, the cameras focused on the small balcony of the Palacio Nacional, where Calderon was due to emerge at 11pm to deliver the annual grito (cry for Independence). this was preceded by twenty minutes of patriotic music delivered through speakers which hung, corpse-like, from cranes positioned throughout the square. lighted renditions of the flag and famous faces were aglow everywhere, hanging from the buildings, although as the evening wore on certain panels blacked out leaving behind patchwork visages. it was divinely windy enough for the massive centre-square Mexican flag to be catching some wind. (the only other flags i have seen that rival this one in size can be found along American autorows).

the president over-waited his enthusiastic welcome by trying to build too much anticipation. with the end of each song the crowd cheered and bleared, only to be greeted with another song (or, at one point, a dignitary coming onto the balcony and yelling, “uno!....dos!....tres!....” he then went back inside and the music continued). the one protest banner, earlier hanging from an upper balcony of a fancy rooftop restaurant, was removed; the banner had called from the ‘legitimate president’ (Obrador) to take office, following a too-close-to-call result scandal during the 2006 election (familiar?). by the time Calderon emerged, speck-sized, to give his 45 second hoorah, babies were crying, a few adults were yawning, and the event was anti-climactic. if nothing else, however, this ritual marked the beginning of a lengthy and dramatic firework display right over the crowd. a man not too far from us got pummeled in the face with a chunk of firework debris, and the rest of us did our best to simultaneously gape upwards while avoiding the ash-missiles which seemed attracted to the moist tissue of the eyes. it was a total blast (literally), and i felt a strange commiseration with the 4 year old girl who was bawling against her daddy’s shoulder while also pointing at the fireworks in amazement.

for all of the pomp, the evening’s most interesting events were subsidiary: the first was the experience of mass exodus once the fireworks ended. every crowd has its own behavior, and this one was akin to one big organism that, if it had a form, would be a large, squishy, slow, quiet being that was covered in confetti. it was similar to being on a ship -- rocked, rolled, and lulled by the sea, once in awhile being jolted but mostly being gently coerced into some forward motion that was neither flow nor a lurch but flurch. the second, more minor discovery was that of the best roast chicken-stand in the city, on the corner next to a 7-11 one block from Insurgentes Circle. at 2am, it was the evening’s biggest cause for celebration.

staccato Sunday, 9.16
the day was a musical score of highs and lows, each in quick succession. the 18th century Museo San Carlos building is situated around the corner from the Casa, and similarly to other uniquely sectioned entrances i have seen in Mexico, its foyer was approx 8’ below sidewalk level via stone stairs (recalling Tepotzlan’s churchyard, which is also entered through descent, and from more dusty memory, recalling Hong Kong shopping centers and hotels, which sometimes provide access to their sub-ground floors directly from the street). after leveling out for a pause the building’s roof disappears and opens into a slightly elliptical courtyard of horizontally diminutive but vertically expansive effect. the staircase which leads to the upper-storey exhibition space was also noteworthy, its underside supported by a quarter-arch, in turn supported by a column.

less than a half-dozen blocks away sleeps the recently (in)completed and thereafter closed hulk of Alberto Kalach’s Biblioteca Jose Vasconelos. prematurely opened in May 2006, allegedly in too-quick time for the election, the library has already closed its doors for repair due to leaks and water damage. when i visited, a pair of bored guards sat in the foyer while the echoes of music played somewhere from within the concrete and glass bowels. unable to gain access inside i craned my neck at the quarter-mile long louvered facade and lamented the shoddy detailing (glazing that meets concrete floor via bead of silicone, for ex.) and the already fatigued look of disuse and neglect. the library’s adjacent bookstore is a single-storey glass box whose entrance is (again) sunken into a small courtyard, but the stone of the courtyard floor has already broken from sub-ground swelling and two of the large glass panels are broken (perhaps in protest, for many feel that this ill-managed mega-project was politically driven and a poor use of funds). there were no sounds of construction, and i am hoping that this was simply due to Sunday, rather than to prolonged inertia, which will likely turn the monolith into an even bigger moneypit.

around the corner from the library i beheld my first Mexico City Wal-Mart, which i have since noticed is often co-sited with a pink-hued ‘Suburbia’ department store and a VIPS orange-hued restaurant chain. it was and wasn’t just like American Wal-Mart: the warehouse size was nearly as big, but the parking was urban – stacked indoor garage, cramped outdoor space; the interior was stuffed with cheap crap, but of a much more radical hue; there were baked goods for sale, but some through bake-sale style open tables and bare hands; the sidewalk outside sported the usual ambulantes for the non-VIPS patrons. despite these small tokens of indigenous adoption, however, the corporation’s presence here never fails to raise a problematic response from myself and other travelers; people at the Casa who would never step foot inside the mega-store now willingly do so in order to patronize the produce department, where dark-green leafy things are on sale (hard to get at the stalls and corner stores). moreover, it is not just the arguable homogenization that the corporation represents so much as it is its mission to provide low-cost cheap shit. (don’t get me wrong – there is plenty of low-cost cheap shit on the street and in the mom and pop shops, but something about the smaller scale makes it at least visually more palatable).

from Wal-Mart a Metrobus ride took me south to our old Condesa haunt to see a mapping exhibit, where a Sunday afternoon revealed swarms of the well-dressed meandering through Parque Mexico (once a race track) and sipping espresso on sidewalk cafes. Condesa is currently the happening gourmand’s neighborhood, and pretty food served on very large plates were in abundance at its multiple eateries. the exhibit already over, i opted for the long walk home through Insurgentes Circle up to Paseo de la Reforma. Insurgentes is worth mentioning for its amazing sectional quality in which a circular roundabout for bus and cars is elevated above a sunken plaza lined with retail shops, which are tucked beneath the road itself. in order to get into the plaza there are stairs which pass under the roadway. to the north, this tunnel-underpass shields a cluster of densely packed tarp-covered street stalls which produce a cacophony of music. these stalls give way to a more formalized tree-lined pedestrian mall (Genova Ave), which dead-ends into Paseo de la Reforma’s regal officialness, along with the freakish series of ‘art benches’ that line the avenue. these are, for the most part, unused, but some are humorous and bizarre (ex...the bench for two that looks like cemetery headstones), and a few make for cozy teenage make-out nooks. not surprisingly, most people choose to sit on the plain stone benches.

evening cowboys in the rain, 9.18
i saw something new this afternoon, which was a man on the metro doing somersaults over a pile of glass which he carried around in a pouch made from a tee-shirt. there was a momentary buzz of amazement inside the compartment, but after one or two rolls people went back to what they were doing.

i also thought of cowboys this afternoon, having taken the Metrobus north to its terminus at Indios Verdes, and again, praying for my life in the process. at Indios Verdes all spectrum of transit formality is present; in this part of town the Metro runs aboveground through the middle of Insurgentes, which here swells to become the Autopista Mexico Pachuca, rising into the hills. the Metrobus terminus lies to the west of the road, where on one side of a fence the clean red, white, and green Metrobuses line up, and on the other, a mass of private buses lie in semi-chaotic wait to embark on their routes due north and west. they range in size from the mini-van variety up to the behemoth tourbus-type. the back of the lot is relegated to vehicle maintenance and cleaning, where drivers with oily hands peer into hoods and under tail-pipes, sweep accumulated garbage from the bus onto the ground, and otherwise hang out until work calls. it felt not unlike a corral, and while the modern-day horse has always been the motorcycle, i wondered if these men weren’t of a similar cowboy genre, reckless and itinerant within the urban landscape, somewhat collectively organized but ultimately out to fight the city traffic, and each other, in solitude. more than half the buses i have been on boast a prominent religious icon front and center above the windshield, usually Jesus. i have yet to decide whether this is a soothing thing, or whether it means i am in the hands of a driver where only Hail-Mary’s will save me.


forty-five.5: between logistics . . .
9.13, tonight the storm has come later than usual. after walking long and slowly from the westerly Polanco neighborhood ‘home’ to the Casa de los Amigos (a Quaker-run guesthouse once designed by Luis Barragan for Jose Clemente Orozco), i have recovered from a guilty global cup of coffee which deservedly produced some sort of instinctive revolt: once in awhile these well-heeled neighborhoods of boutique hotels and sidewalk cafes become too smoothly convenient to digest well. the sani-wrapped plastic fork, the over-sized small ‘tall’, the Journal and its takeovers and conglomerates, the subservient dog being abused by his extremely preppy owner – such minutiae can produce in a fatigued mind a surreal and unproductive time-space glitch. nonetheless, this encounter with bad coffee-culture does not epitomize all of the Polanco area, which otherwise boasts quiet avenues that avoid sterility by virtue of the lush greenery and the eclectic homes lining the streets. sometimes the case in transitional zones, as Polanco gives way to the ambiguous zone around the Circuito Interior highway, its charm succumbs to a little too much intentional flair. (ex. the avenue where i had my coffee probably boasts Mexico's highest concentration of bridal boutiques).

i discarded my half-finished acidic cup to the cheers of my stomach, which was still rumbling from the best moment of my day -- lunch: two stewed tacos pulled out of a trunk on a pristine street corner. Polanco’s gentile residential thoroughfares do not allow for the informal ambulantes that otherwise infuse the city. however, the demand for tasty street food still exists, so cars full of food simply drive into the neighborhood during lunch hours and park on the street. this practice seems accepted by everyone, including the guards and cops hovering around the very popular trunk where i enjoyed my tacos, along with the rest of the local white-collar crowd.

continuing centre-bound, i crossed the Circuito Interior on the lime-green pedestrian overpass, gazing down on the clog (northbound) and stream (southbound) of traffic. women selling knick-knacks take advantage of the stop-go traffic and walk between the highway lanes touting their goods. even at this slow and sporadic speed the pursuit was brave, but i imagine it’s a well-understood rhythm, not unlike that known by the stoplight street-performers and 10- second windshield washers. (the fire breathers have gotten under my skin more than most, as their soot-covered faces and rag-covered mouths belie a visible physical sacrifice). the Circuito serves as a hard and disruptive boundary between waning Polanco and the middle speed, middle class residential neighborhoods that dissipate out from the E-W Paseo de la Reforma and its CBD. long-angled 5pm light cast tree shadows against the sides of comfortably worn buildings, illuminating how well the vibrant color scheme of the city works in this phenomena of dark-skied, golden-hued summer afternoons. the sidewalk ambulantes prepped for the evening crowd in semi-silent concentration, and it was easy to notice how easily and readily people smile here, looking each other in the eye. this is the same social quality i’ve enjoyed while using the Metro; even during a peak-hour commute, crowds are flowing but unhurried, and people seem to move in a focused but slow-motion river of spacious bobbing. the rhythm is comforting, and the underground warmth soporific.

Mexico City’s got it – the thing i wasn’t sure existed – some workable balance of the formal and informal. there are just enough cracks in the official here, just enough need for common-sense opportunism, just enough colorful rebellion, to enliven the everyday with that element of spontaneous humanism. the social effect of the city's ubiquitous food ambulantes – that strangers in suits and teens in caps and workers in overalls all stand on a corner eagerly biting into delectable, affordable antijitos – cannot be underestimated. the act is leveling, and honest, and makes me wonder if the vitality of a city’s pulse doesn’t somehow reside in how openly her residents will imbibe together in public.


forty-five. still moving ground...
...in reference to both Mexico City’s continued groundsink (the center sits upon what was once a lake), and to the city’s notorious traffic.

to be in the delightful expansive kinetic swath that is Mexico City and feel as if i’m finally getting a ‘breather’ highlights just how relative everything becomes within this nomadic endeavor . . . i arrived here from St. Pete’s via a long & saturated detour that included 3 Archi-candy packed days in highly-designed Berlin (holy Hauptbahnhof, screams its glass-covered motherlode of a transit node), straight to Philly (flying lushly over Dublin, Ireland) for cheese-steaks and fly-by family-time, on to Mexico-city duet style with my favorite travel companion whose departure has left me wondering which of us is traveling? we spent a week lulling in the Condesa neighborhood’s idyllic urban arbors, strolling squishy-shoed on mossy sidewalks, past a plethora of modern concrete and glass cubes (they rise like mushrooms in Mexico’s well-to-do areas), through the daily late-afternoon thunderstorms that turn every hue in this megalopolis into exaggerated electric contrasts against the sky’s green-grey, pausing beside every street food vendor, above the ruins of Tenochtitlan and below those of Teotihuacan, and climbing the highway hills south to tiny Tepotzlan where some anticipated non-urban R&R was hilariously sabotaged by the town’s annual pulque/firework/marching band festa (2am crash, 3am bang, 4am boom...). nonetheless, the excursion was a relaxing riot of sorts, and clinging our way up the vertical trail to the Tepoztec pyramid that is perched above the town reminded me of open spaces and working lungs.

back in this conurbation-turned-metropolis of 20+ million, i am reminded of a tangled necklace of idiosyncratic beads, where distinct neighborhoods connect by snarls of traffic and the efficient but overpacked (not by Tokyo standards) ribbon of metro below. it’s hard not to notice the vibrant playfulness of movement even during the rush-hour squeeze; a campaign to empower the illiterate has rendered the metro system color coded and highly pictorial, with every station having its own symbol of a local claim to fame, and every standardized ‘exit/entry/don’t smoke/transfer’ sign depicting a silhouetted man in white-collar garb explicating the words. while i have yet to witness uninhibited disregard for social decorum, the sobriety of the train compartment or the Metro Bus (which runs in a designated lane along the N-S Insurgentes Ave.) is usually punctuated by subtle displays of pda, the occasional CD-hawker or guitar player, or any number of cherubic, snacking children, sporting innovative hairdos. catching glimpses of other peoples’ smallest pleasures is a pleasure unto itself, and tonight after a frustrating day spent chasing pricey plane tickets and Brazilian visas in my barely conversant version of Spanish (actually a horrendous amalgamation of English-French-Italian), sign language, and drawing, i noticed how truly public-private the corridors of the Metro are. once i noticed them they were everywhere: the couples stealing a moment of anonymous privacy within the crowd of people, resting against a wall, crouched along the floor, kissing, talking, hugging, arguing quietly. some might nourish these stolen subterranean moments with an underground slice of Domino’s pizza or a fresh donut (both prepped in on-site ovens). i have yet to discern whether this phenomena-of-twos is due to numerous inter-office relationships which temporarily end with the evening commute, or to a taboo regarding at-home pre-marital dating, or to the oft-likely late-summer downpour that occurs sometimes between 5 and 7pm (at least, during hurricane season).

still, for the relative ease and pleasure of using the metro here there are major gaps; resident drivers cite that the system is over-crowded and maxed-out, often necessitating extended waits during peak hours while too-full Metro buses or train compartments open their doors to stares of unmoving rejection. a semi-formal system of mini-bus paseros, whose boxy bodies recall decommissioned army vehicles, have opportunistically filled in the gaps but are notoriously aggressive in their driving tactics. the government, in an effort to both raise money and increase regulation, sells licenses for both these paseros and the multiple taxi genres that cruise the city. most taxis now sport roof-top licenses, perhaps as a disturbing remnant or counter-tactic to what was once a significant taxi kidnapping problem. in some ways the way you choose to move across this city depends on your preferred version of madness: cram like a sardine in an underground tube of limited reach (this is sometimes regarded as the domain of the lower class), get an arm caught in the closing and soggy doors of a crowded Metro Bus (again a system of limited extents), or tolerate an hour of auto traffic to travel 5 miles in twilight frustration. having experienced all three, the latter is easily my last choice, but for some the privacy and (arguable) freedom of an car is worth it, and perhaps even provides a little time to decompress to some music between work and home.

occasional street performers, of the most literal kind, take advantage of the long waits at intersections in order to juggle or breathe fire for a few pesos. the other day i watched a man as i scurried across the avenue; he had painted his face into a melancholy rendition of a meant-to-be-laughing clown. he was old before his years and hunched, his pants unintentionally too large. he would juggle 4 or 5 rounds, stop, walk past rolled-up car windows for coins, stop, juggle a few more rounds, and proceed deeper into the pileup.
photos: from the air, behind the Zocolo, out of town, different neighborhoods, on the metro