"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-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.