Magical Urbanism: Mexico City, May 2014

[Reflections on a trip to Mexico City in early May, 2014]

1.  Years ago, when I used to travel here on a more regular basis (before Spain, then Turkey, took me), there used to be one taxi company at the airport. It was easy, walk out of customs, head to a kiosk, buy a ticket for the zone you’re traveling to, pay. Now there are a few taxi companies, and as you approach one, the others keep shouting out. This is neoliberalism in the airport terminal: I will shout you down until you acquiesce to buying from me. We go to the kiosk where the guy is just sitting, waiting.

2.  After a long time living in a place where I can get almost anywhere in 15 minutes, or less, I’m slightly shocked by the time it takes to get from the airport to the colonia Roma. The taxi driver swerves through traffic —as does everyone else—, I lose count of the near misses. Once at the Roma, we run into a friend who is out for a walk and he comments on how it is fantastic to be in Mexico City these days, traffic is light.

3.  Since we are both hungry, we grab a table at the restaurant across the street from the Casa Lamm. While there, eating tacos and drinking micheladas, I watch the people passing by. A hipster guy rides by on a fixie, on his back bike rack a wooden crate is attached. Soon two more hipster guys pass, one is wearing suspenders. They all have the disaffected look of the hipster, the smugness —an air of ironic detachment— of their belief that they are arbiters of cool, when in reality their look is copied everywhere. I realize, as I sit there eating tacos and drinking micheladas that I am in the new Chilpster (Chilango Hipster) paradise, la colonia Roma. 

4. A man walks by selling horse whips. We comment on the sheer oddity of that, as if we had our horses stabled next door. We ask the guy what they are for and he says, You know, for horses, for the mother-in-laws… A couple at the table next to ours buys one of the horsewhips.

5.  It is about this time that I start commenting on the weird magical realism of Mexico City, a magical urbanism perhaps. This is a city where odd, almost too weird to be true, things can happen —we comment on Juan Villoro’s crónicas of life in Mexico City— and no one is surprised. Just then a woman comes up to me carrying a box of jars of multi-colored candy and she tells us: Listen, I have here jars of magic pills. And I’m here to tell you that they truly work. Then she proceeds to pull out the jars and show us what each one is for: for happiness, to recover from fights, to find peace. Pills, magic pills, for urban citizens who who have lost their senses of connection.

6. Standing on a corner in la Condesa (Chilpster land) in front of a restaurant that makes Yucatecan food, waiting for friends to arrive, while a mariachi plays at a bar down the street. Friday night en the big city.

7. Following an excellent meal of sopa de lima and tacos de cochinita pibil, accompanied by many beers, we walked down the street towards a taxi stand and discussed how some cities —this city in particular— are generators of stories. The man on the corner drunkenly repeating his partner’s name, Moni Moni Moni; the old woman who tries to sell me cigarettes and when I tell her I don’t smoke she tells me Cómprame felicidad (buy me happiness), felicidad being, in this case, some candies she’s also selling along with the cigarettes; a girl doing cartwheels in the hallway of the 12th floor of the luxury hotel where I’m staying. Stories.

8. The wedding concludes and the bride and groom are greeted outside the church by a brilliant day and a full mariachi who then proceeds to lead the wedding party and guests down the street towards the hacienda (around the block) where the reception is being held.

9. Star Wars Day! Though this is a city with a large Star Wars fan base, and while flying into Mexico City at night is like arriving to Coruscant, Mexico City to me isn’t very Star Wars. For me, standing outside Metro Insurgentes or driving across the city at night, this city offers up more a paleofuturistic —a future that never was as envisioned by the past— vision of a city: less Star Wars and more Total Recall (the 80’s version) or Blade Runner.

10.  Magical Urbanism, day 3. A guy in shorts wearing a GIANT afro wig, holding a pole with more GIANT afro wigs in different colors, and waiting for the bus. At dinner with Wilbert and Diego, two heavy metal looking guys in black leather jackets, and long rocker hair come up to our table strumming a soft acoustic song on their guitars, and ask if we would like them to play us a song. A pregnant woman comes up to me at dinner, selling lottery tickets, telling me that she needs help for her child at home and to pay for her c-section for her child on the way. She then lifts her shirt to show me her belly.

11. Magical Urbanism, Day 4. I get into a taxi for the airport, and one of the first things the driver tells me is how a few days ago, a speeding car flipped over at the airport, right in front of the terminal. The driver then leaped out of the car, firing a gun at cops on his tail, and then he carjacked another. The cops were able to block the airport exit and get the guy. All of this was told in the first five minutes of our journey as we drove through streets with little traffic. Later, he talked about the history of taxis in Mexico City, and some of the laws governing the various cabs. He asked me what I did and after I told him, he said, You know, now that you mention it, looking at you I can tell you’re a professor. Then he continued to tell me more stories of life in Mexico City.

12: Magical Urbanism.  Mexico City airport edition. Walking to my gate I see a crowd of women all wearing long white dresses, with white scarves wrapped around their heads. There are a few men dressed all in white, wearing white hats. They’re boarding a flight to Havana. Santería conventioneers? At my gate, an older man sitting on one of the benches casually talks to a young guy, the older man is wearing two cowboy hats, a gray one beneath a tan one. I hope to make it back soon MEX CTY.

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