Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mexico City - The Grit I Know, the Ghosts I don't

I have been so delayed in posting about my first experiences in Mexico City that I have now bumbled into my second experience. It was an expected trip, but the dates were uncertain. April became July and was turned back into April again. The last minute changes were a headache.


What was Mexico city like? Can I even put that in a few words? Outside of the Zona Maco climate control, it was… amazing. This city is where Mexicans go to get things going, get things done. The flow of the place pushes you in clear directions, unlike this norther realm where entropy is the word of the day.

For the first trip, we stayed in a very mod house in Escandon- a fantastic little neighborhood, by the way. The house had curious features: like a servant’s quarters where the laundry room is, and a telephone in each room- to call the servant. You think class is a non-issue that you only get to see on Downton Abbey? Think again. Traces of it are everywhere. And when you frequent the well-off sections of Mexico City it hits you in the face constantly. It is even still in the language. For the second visit we were provided with an efficiency hotel room right on La Alameda. What a great location! And there was only one night of obscenely loud neighbors sharing too much of their… lust? The free breakfasts made up for any (dirty pun warning!) shortcomings. Ugh. Sorry. That was too good to not let happen.


We did visit a few museums while we had free time outside of the art fair. Many of them were closed when we got to them on the first trip, but that left more to explore later!

San Ildefonso still stands out in my mind. Not only because the FEMSA exhibition (Hugo’s art) went on display there, but also because of the permanent mural works (omg, omg) and, at the time, Saints Alive was on exhibition. That whole thing pleased me more than dropping Jordan almonds down the stairwell in the New Museum at some ridiculous hour of the morning (it was well after midnight). I don’t often feel a sense of play when viewing art in galleries. Here you were invited to stone the artwork or push buttons to see what would happen. It just tickled me on so many levels…

There were a couple of really great etching / print museums. The work.. ugh.. so gooood.. I want to try printmaking! I actually did make a simple, little etching and print of my own in a workshop at the Museo del Estanquillo. It’s no master piece but it’s much better than what I did in, uh, 7th grade- the last time I made an etching!

At the National Museum of Anthropology, I stood in the presence of Cuatlicue. It wasn’t until I got into the Templo Mayor Museum that I saw the dismembered Coyolxauhqui. They don’t keep all their artifacts in one place. Alas. Or maybe for the best. These stones are super charged.

Speaking of – I am glad I didn’t go into El Templo Mayor site on my first trip; so very glad. It turned out to be more of a psychic workout than I imagined. I was struck by the feeling of the dead when I first stepped out of the metro at the Zocalo and almost everywhere in the Historic Center. I got a chance to kind of (only kind of!) ‘get used to it’ in the first visit. The feeling turned out to be vague in comparison to El Templo- It’s, by far, it’s the heaviest place I have ever been to in my life! I do not even think of my self as a person sensitive to this stuff, but I recognized the sensation. It’s something I have felt when in the UK and in Manhattan (The Armory building and the WTC site to be exacting). I was just there being gringa tourista looking at arranged stones and carvings and flaking, faded paint. You think a pile of rocks is just a pile of rocks – that’s what it was like at, say, the Edinburgh Castle. That felt like a pretend fort where boys play at war. It was nothing really unique for me. El Templo, these ruins that should have been built over by a cathedral, on the other hand, felt like the worst goddamn place on earth. My gut was wrenching so hard I was sniffing back tears while walking through the layered wreckage. If 80,000 people were murdered on this spot then yeah, this was the worst goddamn place on earth. To be honest, I was not at all perturbed that the pyramid was destroyed. And, if you know me, that is most unusual.


Even to compare it to visiting the ruins outside of the city- the feeling was totally, totally different at Teotihucan- but that is a more complicated place.


Readers, please let me know if you have heard of anyone else who has experienced/es this kind of thing in the the same or similar places. I want to compare notes and be assured that I my imagination is not getting the better of me.


Beyond the ghost ridden historic district, there’s the familiar graffiti and grime, construction and deconstruction, the metro and taxis that brought Brooklyn to mind. Though nothing is quite New York-ish here. The smells alone can send your soul flitting to heaven next to a taco stand or screaming in the other direction where ever sewer odors get through- which can be anywhere. Another interesting thing I noted while in a hurry to catch a train was that the metro has an optional segregation of the sexes during rush hour. Due to the still prevalent machismo and encouraged behavior of jealousy, women traveling alone may choose to ride in cars ‘for women only.’

This ‘courtesy’ aside, I found the metro to be much the same experience as New York with a massive increase in people selling you things you didn’t know you needed. Every sort of thing. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see someone pushing wasp honey (It’s a real thing! Look it up!) down there- we did see it on he streets! So, I found that if you follow general urban public transportation etiquette, the metro is no problem. Of course, I was not traveling the city at 4 am or alone. Things could be more exotic then.


Exotic enough were the four statue shrines – two of Jesus and two of The Bone Lady-  paired together and set up at different ends of a neighborhood; the mezcal flavored with chicken and the peanut or celery flavored pulque; the buildings designed to be the most glorious wastes of space ever erected; the amount of rubbish that accumulated by day’s end in the Tepito tianguis; the musical calls of the street vendors; the original Sanborns… Oh, I could go on. There is so much to recommend! If you have city experience and enjoy urban contrasts, it is worth a visit or revisit!


(More images forthcoming!)



Mexico City - The Grit I Know, the Ghosts I don't