"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


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

1 comment:

pd said...

yellow and blue umbrellas like christo and jean-claude