Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mexico City

I approach the heart of the city down a narrow, winding road that weaves among thick settlements of low buildings and clusters of trees. (I have been to Mexico City, many years ago. The geography doesn't correspond, but it does correspond to the topography of the city as I may once have dreamed it, perhaps, before I went there.)

It's morning and I set out by foot to change a bit of money. I find myself in a small gift shop attached to a restaurant. There are some stacks of books about contemporary Mexican artists; I pick one up and leaf through it, admiring the work, then set it down and look around to see what else they have. But the shop is small, there's just the one corner of books. I get on line at the cash register to change some money. When I get to the front of the line the cashier and the cash register have disappeared somewhere behind me, and I wander off outside. I go into a bank. "Se puede cambiar dólares por pesos?," I ask the teller, but she says no and gives me directions, which I can't follow, to another bank. After a while I enter a small building that looks more like a car repair shop. While I'm waiting in line someone knocks me down and begins rifling through my pockets; I come to and give the man a beating. A third man, waiting in front of me, helps me up and thanks me profusely, but I think it best to beat it; I stuff my money awkwardly into my pockets and exit through a long arcade. Here I have a commanding view of much of the city. I look at my watch — it's ten A.M. — and at the sun to orient myself, then set off in the direction where I think the center of the city lies. Off to one side there's a little wrought-iron pedestrian gate that opens into an old neighborhood; there's a name and date on a sign next to the gate. But I don't go that way; instead, I climb a long series of steps past a vacant lot overgrown with tall trees. A man in a pale polo shirt, who doesn't appear to be Mexican, is descending the steps; he says "buenas" as we pass. I start to mumble "buenas tardes" but remember that it's still only morning. The man steps into a small office, where another man listens sympathetically as he pleads, "necesito un poquito más sustancia que me den, para poder vivir." The other man nods and agrees; he will take steps.

I've emerged at the edge of a small college campus. I pass through it; on the other side there is an abandoned fairground. A sign reads "NY World's Fair" and there's a date: 1961. I wonder, is this where fairs come to die? Is this a cemetery for fairs? Everything is white and there are life-size calaveras strewn over the ground.

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