Sunday, January 27, 2008

These Three Days

There is something disquieting about these last three days; these three days in Mexico City, these three days in a spot on earth whose human history began to be measured 7,000 BCE in the cultural zone known as Mesoamerica, millennia before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Is this spot really all that different than where I come from? Or, is it that I am numb to the incongruities in my earth spot and navigate blindly, tragically impoverished, sensorially unexposed at the level of nerve and spirit to the angst of all living things, be they flora or fauna subjected to the arrogant, unconscious, domination by God’s most precious creation, us humans? Nazi Germany, Israel and Palestine, Iran, and Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Senegal, Liberia, South Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, New Orleans, Haiti, the rain forests, the oceans, the rivers, the skies, and all those that call those firmaments home, and more, and more, and more.

I can’t remember fearing for my health-by-air as I did these last three days. Their prized architectural structures impregnated with smog-become-soot, so too my lungs. Was it my cold, the 7,000’ elevation, or the blackened air that made breathing a thing of perpetual thought?

Despite the mass of 50 mil, civility prevailed—speed of cars, pace of pedestrians, competition for shared space on sidewalks and subways, and tolerance for non-Spanish-speaking tourists infinitely more than in NY and far more than in my Chicago spot on earth. Yet, when the shroud of night would fall, so too would the heavy metal gates protecting their portals bolted to the cement earth with 10 padlocks the size of man fists. The finer establishments wore armored gates whose vertical poles were each an inch in circumference and 15 feet tall. Many second story windows wore barbed wire. Street lights, if any, bore the brightness of a bathroom nightlight. How do I reconcile these dichotomies?

We didn’t see the cultured aristocratic neighborhoods in these three days, but we did see 2,000 foot mountain after mountain forested by hovels called home to millions made of cement, adobe, and tin. Footpaths were the only routes from top to bottom for people, rats, and sewerage.

The 9:00 a.m. weekday ringing of the National Cathedral bells each redundantly chiming like that of a piano tuner tuning a single key is reported to be the Church’s effort to pique the Socialist government workers in the neighboring building regarding their social stance toward homosexuality and abortion. While the issues are worthy of social discourse, monotonous bell ringing seems passive-aggressive, and impotent.

Something is not right to be accosted by 6 year old boys shining shoes on a rush hour subway, or 5 year old girls selling 1 peso packets of chicklet gum in the subway station, or mamas with immobile, papoosed babies begging anywhere, or haggard, bandaged, amputeed, and psychotic lame loitering as Garibaldi fixtures each hoping for some needed elixir of salvation.

The Mariachis on Garibaldi Square had not quite cranked up for their nightly serenade battle so we took a little walk in search of cup of Starbucks. How unconscious I was!! Starbucks is no more available in Garibaldi Square than a Verdi Opera is available in Marlboro Country. But walk in search of the elusive Starbucks was an adventure. We wandered into a two-block long market of family operated taco cafes that would have ended this Gringo’s vacation instantly had I introduced such untamed, local flora to my pristine gut. A pack of friendly, family peros ran up and down the market in search of fallen scraps. I don’t think they found any. The market of cafes ended in an unlit alley on to which rotting landfill spewed from between the slats of splayed gates of timber disgorging their contents. The hour was not yet 10:00; we wondered when the rats would start their scurry; soon we imagined.

Returning to Garibaldi for some Mariachi night sounds we did find a coffee/tea offering. These vendors pushed lame grocery carts loaded with a huge 20 gallon urn with, presumably, hot water with which they would be happy to make me a cup of coffee—powdered Nescafe. No gracias.

Walking the mile and a half back to the hotel, the Friday Night Lights were both red and strobed on floors above the street pulsing with every form of music: biologique, electric, acoustic, exuberant, and mournful all in hope of the pleasure of momentary escape.

How do I respond? Not an easy answer. Maybe I’ll better know after cycling many meditative and prayerful miles which I’ll begin in February.

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