Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Escape from Mexico: Joseph Pearson went to Mexico City to see what makes Mexico different from the U.S. We have the Protestants’ vision of progress, in the U.S., which says that we have simply progressed past the point of Mexico; but in a lot of ways, Pearson finds, it is more a vision of what we could become than of what we once were. It’s a travelogue, but implicit in it is the suggestion that the more we pursue our current path, the more we risk dragging ourselves down rather than elevating them. In Boston University’s AGNI:

Isn’t [Rivera’s triptych of murals at the Palacio Nacional] a similar idyll to that romanced in demonstrations by the disenfranchised indigenous just outside in the Zócalo? They propagandize the agenda of the Chiapas Zapatistas led by the former “subcommandante” turned “delegate” Marcos in his black ski-mask and rifle. The mass of demonstrators cannot easily enter the building, built by Cortéz and now a seat of government, that houses the murals of Marx positioned as God the Father in a great last judgment of capitalism.

On the square, I pass an upscale hotel bar where, untouchable through the glass, middle-aged gentlemen in three-piece suits watch American football and smoke. I saw flâneurs in the same anachronistic dress window-shopping at stationers that sell leather desk pads and fancy fountain pens — the tools of the gentleman to place conspicuously in a study to gain the esteem of the rank and file of the establishment. Around the doors of the Hotel Gran Ciudad de México, with its wondrous Art-Nouveau dome, are younger men in the casual uniform of Lacoste gold shirts tucked into khaki pants. They sport expensive watches in a city where wearing a plastic one is the only sure method to prevent being mugged. They pile into a taxi, and a tickle of fear rises up my neck. Disparities of wealth exist everywhere, but they are rarely so visible as in a city without a real middle class. I am afraid not because Mexico is unique in its share of misery. It’s not. I am afraid because Mexico is the future.

From the Zócalo with its enormous flag (never trust big flags) and its great square (which dubiously claims to be the second biggest in the world), and the nearby Latin American tower (again, called the tallest in the Latin world, when there are higher ones right in Mexico City, and certainly dozens in São Paolo), I walk from mighty claims through streets of vendors—shabby shops of taffeta dresses and yet more ubiquitous pen shops—to the metro which carries the people of the city. A boy in bare feet stands next to a gendarme with white gloves. I see an entire family squatting on a platform, together and destitute, all showing great hunger. I pass by their unified squalor and in my unease I neither stop nor give them a cent. They are like a fading constellation, the two adults behind, at different heights, then children before them — still — as if posed for a daguerreotype.

I get off at Insurgentes where on one corner are men windswept in stained clothes waiting for the bus, and on another is an elegant restaurant with a fortified entrance. I walk through the Zona Rosa, with its gay shops and cafes like a throwback from an era still wrapped in rainbow flags and bumper-stickers—another form of resistance or of conformity? A merry bubble of conversation, music and good living emerges from the open thresholds, and for a moment, the question does not really matter.


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