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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mexico City Fragments

Mexico City, Thursday February 25, 1993

It is no wonder that the myth of the Northerner should be so structured around technology, and that of the Southern inhabitant around agriculture. Metals, atoms, molecules, subatomic particles, fuel and energy, these are the Gods of the North. The human being of the South worships corn, the sun, the moon, tides, the soil, and rain. The Northerner with his weapons, and computers, becomes warlike, and uses technology to dominate, but in domination, ends up dissipating his warlike force. The masculine energy of technological cultures is expended, and absorbed by the earth. The former is weakened, and retreats, absorbed into the womb of more fertile zones. It feels as if the earth itself divides energy, like a charge between two poles, a magnetic field to distribute behavior amongst its children.

-:-

[a circular on a bulletin board at the School of Agriculture, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México]

Amaranth - Spanish amarato used in soups, cereals, crepes, tostadas, tortillas. Pueblos in the U.S. used amaranth as a dye. Red pigments used in ritual ceremonies by the Zuni, and the Hopi, Rio Bravo indigenas. Relative biological value of the protein of different foodstuffs:

Maize/Corn 44
Trigo 60
Soya/Soybean 68
Cows Milk 72
Amaranth 75

Amaranth contains between 14.5 and 16.0 percent protein.

-:-


Mexico City, Saturday February 27, 1993

An artist lives in Hell, but must have known Heaven, and is thus attempting to work his way back again. He seeks to re-achieve what he has lost, through artistry and inspiration. Heaven slams him down, again and again, each time he is furnished with a taste of love-lost, and so renewed goes back to work to regain it.

I met three young girls dressed in red uniforms yesterday in the zócalo. They were busy handing out leaflets promoting the sale of some leather goods, that was going on at one of the nearby hotels. One of the girls spoke English fairly well, so I offered to buy them all a coffee after work.

When four o'clock rolled around, and I had finished with all my touring and exploring of the ancient pyramids just off the corner of the cathedral, I met them as we had arranged. We walked to a lunchtime spot that had turned its tables to an end of the day trade, tea (for foreigners), coffee, and donuts.

Marisol, the one who spoke English, brought a friend, a vivacious girl with red hair, and a third woman, who was herself the beauty of the threesome, pale thin and quiet, and confused by all this foreign language. Her name was Erica.

Jennifer, the one that spoke the best English, needed to go to the market to exchange some shoes that she had bought the previous day. We stood around in a street crowded with stalls, and people buying everything, dish wares, tacos, and clothes, while Jennifer fitted and tugged at different styles for her pudgy little feet.

Erika, turned suddenly, and blurted out that she’d gotten a phone-call from her grandmother. Her father had died. I didn’t know how to properly say I was sorry in Spanish, for something big like this. I looked on, as the girls exchanged hugs. Marisol looked sad and perplexed.

They all agreed to accompany me to Coyoacán, a ways south of the city center.

There we sat at a cafe table. Each of the girls politely ordered two tacos and a soda and we exchanged all sorts of banal Spanish and English with simplistic bits of "how do you say . . . " mixed in with a lot of giggles. Erika went to the ladies room and was gone a very long time. She returned pale and shaking, and began to cry. The others told me she lived alone with her grandmother.

When we reached the Metro, Jennifer and Marisol said good-night, and we made the usual silly exchange of telephone numbers. I stayed with Erika to walk around Coyoacán a little bit.

The friend that was supposed to take her home never showed up. We talked for about three hours, sitting on an embankment, overlooking the busy avenues. She helped me translate some of the tougher bits of an old Aztec poem that I had gathered at the museum, and she told me a bit of her life story:

Her name is Erika Lancaster, her mother is American, and her father Mexican. She has taken her mother's English name, but both parents deserted her when she was young, first her mother, then her father, but not after he had molested her a great deal. She showed me scars, knife wounds, where he had cut her arms in different places. I was horrified, but was also caught in a suspicious state of disbelief, as if she were lying about something. Perhaps she had done this to herself.

I noticed she was thin, and extremely fragile in build. I sensed anger, fear, dependence and a very complicated love-hatred feeling about men. Her cute actress’s face froze into a grimace as she told me all this. It made her cold and she started to shake. She had lightweight sweater which she pulled out of her purse and put on.

She told me her abuela, her grandmother, had become her mother, and how this woman was everything to her. She would not leave Mexico, even though she had a U.S. passport, as long as her grandmother lived. By the end of the evening, because she had shared so much about her life, she was much attached, and hung off my arm like we were like father and daughter, or husband and wife, or lovers, but really we were just strangers.

We walked past Frida Kahlo’s house. The streets were dark, the purple-blue walls where Frida made so many great works of art, were a black mass of vines. In another life, at another time, Erika might have even been a friend of Frida's. All I have now are vague recollections of things she said, her Spanish was very hard for me to understand. All else was perfectly clear, as clear as one of Frida's paintings.

The heat from her arm, I understood. We were warm-blooded creatures, walking through a dark city at night.

We really didn’t look at each other much. At  another time I might have tried to give her a kiss.

I wondered what her father's death was doing to her. Did it make her feel guilty? She’s now alone, dealing with what he did, responsible for it in some way. Maybe she cut herself, not him, because of things at home, though he may have driven her to it, and maybe now she lies about her scars to hide that. I felt guilty myself for thinking this way. Everywhere there was pain, over everything like the sky. Yet strength was there. I felt a load of it, hanging like a warm precious parcel from my arm.

We scrambled over the hill and down the bank, leaving the cool of Coyoacán for the glare of highways and subway overpasses, that reverberated a dull city roar from vehicles we couldn't see.

She made me promise to call her. Grasping my hand, she led me like a child to the proper train. I wondered what she would do after this. She seemed desperate to place me on the right line, headed for the center of the city.

There was this closing moment. Something electric happened. We embraced but it could have been done at a distance of a mile. All that was needed was some signal, some synchronous pulse to time it. A surge of electricity passed. It was not erotic, but something else, much deeper, much more powerful. I felt like it picked me up and set me down. Right after, she was twenty feet away and moving through the platform crowd and I was sitting in the train and the doors were closing.

I did call, and got her once. In faltering Spanish we arranged to meet at a museum. She never showed. I thought I perhaps had got the day wrong.

Some weeks later while I was off exploring the mountains around Oaxaca, she deposited a note at my hotel in Mexico city, entreating me to get in touch, and apologized for not meeting me at the museum.

I called, spoke briefly with her grandmother, but with one day left in Mexico, was unable to phone again.


. . .

I’m listening to a man who runs a small vegetarian restaurant at the edge of the zócalo where I've just eaten lunch.

Vegetables are plentiful here, but vegetarian food, cooked away from the presence of meat, isn't common in Mexico. One would imagine a greater demand, yet the place is quite empty. The owner is good-natured enough. He has a big mustache, just like the waiters in the places that serve big steaks.

I'm drinking a cup of coffee, and writing down what he says. It sounds like a poem:

I worked for a family down by San Angel,
Cared for their gardens I watered their trees.
Every so often I chipped down some of the iron,
Put on red lead and then a coat of black paint
I made good work.
Pointed up some of the stones.
Kept the bougainvillea under control,
Tightened the wires on the TV aerial.
And fixed whatever it was that broke.

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