Mexico City, 8:30 am. There's brilliant sun reflecting off a large white wall down the block, and it's shining into our room this morning. The loudspeaker "good mornings" have already been completed, and the kids have gone inside for the beginning of their school day. We've eaten a tangerine and are getting going slowly, taking advantage of the internet access that seems much more reliable in the morning than at night.
I don't know what I had expected, actually, but Mexico City is already shattering any preconceptions I had. There are so many layers -- the obvious historical ones, the social and economic ones, the very old, beautiful, often crumbling buildings teeming with new uses: fabric stores, paper stores, toy stores, shoe stores, gold, cameras, books.
Rising above all of this is the "new" Mexico -- shiny, proud, and affluent -- symbolized by some astounding architecture and modern design, which builds on motifs and styles that go all the way back to the land and the visual language of its first inhabitants. The traffic is relentless and chaotic; the city almost incomprehensibly vast; people crowded, extremely warm, somehow managing to keep things going in a place where there are few rules and difficulty applying those that do exist. Cairo comes to mind -- another dry hot city teeming with people and marked by pyramids -- and I wonder about parallels, but I haven't been there in person.
And in contrast to the teeming streets, there are pockets everywhere of calmness, oases of green in the shade of trees, small gardens and courtyards where people sit quietly, talking, or just resting from the sun, from life.
We're going back to the Centro Historico today, to look at churches and murals, and the ruins of the Aztec city that Cortés destroyed. In the center of Zocalo this week is a military exhibition - tents and tanks and planes and Mexican soldiers - and there are demonstrators shouting outside the presidential palace, police vans parked on the side streets and phalanxes of riot police near the palace, wearing helmets and carrying thick plastic shields; even more ominous are the police trucks with mounted machine guns and black-garbed troops that drive through the streets as a show of force and authority.
Meanwhile the hurdy-gurdy players simply turn their cranks, the tortilla-makers slap wet tortillas on their street-ovens, children munch fried cactus leaves, the blind man in his fuschia shirt miraculously taps his way through the traffic, vendors hawk their small assortments of colored hair elastics, hats, bandanas, cards and cigarettes, and men and women step off the street into a shrine smelling of hot paraffin, where they kneel and cross themselves in front of a shiny black Christ hanging on a cross.