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Monday, May 30, 2011

Old Mexico

Mexico City. I'll find space, rent a room if necessary, and begin work. I’ll bring paper, perhaps wax or plaster. In the afternoons I’ll sketch at the Museum of Anthropology.

Tenochtitlan, colonial Centro hunkering over a neoclassical industrial complex. Ancient Aztec Pyramids, furnish stone for building that massive cathedral and the European structures around the square.

That Cathedral of doom, Goya lady with frowning skirts, hiding beggar children.

Hotel Ontario is just off the main square, a dark cadaverous mass of rooms, without lights since the earthquake. A functioning elevator, but but no stairwells. They're all marked "Peligro, Area de Construccion". Above the third floor balcony, which frowns down to a near black courtyard, there remains a cracked metal and glass vault meant to let sun in, but so spattered with pigeon dung on the topside, that a young girl right below it practices ballet in near darkness, her only light the glimmer from an elevator button in the lobby, three floors below.

Spiders lower themselves perilously from pale wands of gossamer, into the dark void.

I talk to the young ballerina three floors below. It is like we are close by. There is no echo at all. The spiders, the grime, the moss, the piles of rubble on the stairwells, have made the acoustics wonderful.

She is from Chicago.

A melange of 19th Century styles and influences have drifted in from New York, Madrid, Paris, Colonial, hacienda styles, Spanish Gothic, Moorish, Mediterranean, some vaguely Islam. All the hotels in this quarter hash the patterns from hither and yon.

A dog-eared stylebook from a catalogue, without a home . . . digested by a Native American heart.

The blue sky, most of the time gives a serious tone to the city, as if it knew where it was going.

My giant room is furnished with absurd junk, things you wouldn’t pay two dollars for. Furniture, fake veneers peeling apart. The disintegration's a curse by those who loathe what they've had to build . . . brought in by the recent owners, or the bankrupted ones before them, but not the original builders.

When constructed Hotel Ontario was grand, hopping, had business from the North, and around the world. It was staffed, had cooks, maintenance, valets. Starlets and producers stayed here, and entourages from international companies.

The dancer's room is wonderful. At night as I walk across layers of carpet put down to disguise cracks in the limestone floor, I sense the sections of foundation falling into the ancient swamp. A tropical river of frozen debris, a Khunbu icefall of time that will swallow an unwary tavellor without hesitation.

Lacking light I move in and out of upward and downward dog, a yogi who has been buried.

Across the hall, a slim black couple from Mozambique Africa speak French. Smells of cooking slide down stairs, from rooms with no ventilation.

Dinner at Cafe Paris, cheap chicken with mole sauce, orange juice, coffee. A middle aged waitress, hair dyed livid blond, brings coffee and milk in two great aluminum pots.

The zocalo. I only glimpsed it, immense, an other world creation, fantastic, an impression.

The center feels strangely quiet, though it is Sunday, small provincial, a bit like the old parts of Montreal, or Soho in New York City. The flashy overpriced stores retain location as a sign of status, but business is gone, the rush is past, the city a city for no reason other than it is there.

Everywhere I see the effects of the last earthquake - my bones feel the shaking, the tumbling. Mother earth is swallowing this city. It's hurtling mid-air, a crusty appointment with the continent.

No God could ever build such a beast, or if a God did, it was done so that the Gods could be undone.

I had to see this first, before the mountains, before the jungle. This is the purposeless thing that draws strength from other reaches of the land. Even vehicles are timid here.

It's precisely the slow doom of this place that I like.

The national library is a hunkering giant, packed with lies and propaganda. So with all libraries.

The schedule for the future is written here, if only I could read it. Soot encrusted baroque carvings, gestures, symbols held up for all to see, for what?

The Cathedral interior has turned a honeycomb of scaffolds. Vanities of repair and maintenance. Steel pipes form a three-D lattice work beneath every arch and around every column. In some way the new support architecture is more interesting than that old baroque costume.

Was the pyramid the only structure that could have possibly survived on a moving plate of earth?

In other ways, it is all equally depressing.

Is the cathedral more repentant than the Gods that live here?

[Addresses of some art supply stores, . . the notebook ends]

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