Category Archives: Journal

I don’t wear my ipod in the street cos i’m trying to make friends

Leaving your home in Mexico City automatically puts you in serious danger of getting hit by a rapidly moving vehicle, or simply a ‘soccer mum’ style, city dwelling 4WD reversing out of the car park of a 7/11. Which is precisely what I witnessed yesterday, when a slight framed, elderly woman got violently knocked to the ground. The man driving emerged with his mobile phone earpiece in place and hair slicked to perfection. Despite having reversed with a lead foot, I was surprised at the impact the large car had on the tiny lady. She fell like a histrionic soccer player angling to get the ref to award his opponent a yellow card, but this was no act. The shaken woman rubbed fiercely at the spot on her head where she’d passionately kissed the very well trodden slice of Mexico City pavement. The man was twice her size, nearly half her age and was mumbling like a defamed adolescent; “lo siento mucho señora, la cosa es que no le vi, I’m so sorry maam, the thing is I didn’t see you”. BULLSHIT! The thing is, he just wasn’t looking! The value of your life, as a pedestrian in Mexico City, is worth little to nothing, you’re invisible or you’re simply a moving target.

Just down the road from my apartment is a huge intersection. Eight lanes of traffic travelling one direction on one side, and eight lanes which intercept this section perpendicularly, plus an additional two lanes dedicated exclusively to the Metro Bus, an elongated bendy bus which traverses the city via two separate routes, north to south and east to west. It has an exclusive lane and runs just as efficiently as the incredible Mexico City underground metro system. At my intersection there are three separate sets of lights and three corresponding signals which alert those on foot when they have been allocated time to cross the street, officially, legally. It gives the pedestrian a time indication, counting down from a number, in this case forty-nine seconds. These signals inform the walker that they have precisely that amount of time until their right to cross the street “safely” has ceased and the right of way is returned to those with motorised vehicles.

This intersection is reliably busy. In a city of 28 million you’re hard pressed to find an intersection that isn’t crawling with people; on foot, in cars, on buses of varying sizes, motorcycles and even the odd pushbike. Every single time I am presented with the scene that unfolds at the changing of the lights I involuntarily mutter a colourful tirade of abuse, which ranges from utter disbelief to the most pure anger. The scene goes a little something like this…

After an extremely generous period of time, the lights change from green to flashing green where they pulse for around five seconds, sending a clear warning to the driver that an orange light will soon follow. The traffic continues to stream through at high speed. The lights eventually switch from flashing green to orange and yet the tide carries on without showing any signs of slowing down. Orange becomes red, yet somehow no one seems to notice. The green man has sprung to life! The pedestrian countdown has commenced! The river of metal flows forth and does not cease for around 10 seconds; you can time it on the pedestrian countdown clock.

49, 48, 47…

Horns from the opposing team of traffic begin to sound, they edge forward, slowly, persistently, with stifled urgency, no one wanting to be out there in front, in the firing line, alone, for there is strength in numbers.

46, 45, 44…

They’re centimetres from colliding now but the red light runners just keep cruising through. I observe this scene with a mixture of astonishment and glee, frustration and nervous excitement. My eyeballs bulge, my chin drops. It’s as if I want them to crash, it would teach them a lesson, but in reality witnessing the scene both aurally and visually completely horrifies me.

43, 42, 41…

The thing that baffles me throughout this scene of absolute un-choreographed chaos is the ability of these humans to act so selfishly. It’s as if 50 different people, in 50 different vehicles, think to themselves, “just me, just little old insignificant me, I’ll sneak through this intersection, even though the light has been red for seconds now. No one will notice if I just quickly duck through.” But each “little insignificant one” of them is having the same thought, at the same moment, and they cruise through, eating into the opposing traffics time of green light, forward motion and taking a hearty chunk out of the pedestrians allocated 49 second cross slot. How can they be so selfish? So inconsiderate? So willing to risk their own lives, the lives of those in their vehicles AND the lives of those they don’t even know who solely desire to reach the other side of the street or their destination, which happens to lie in a different direction? It’s unbelievable, and yet, you can be sure that time and time again, each side continues to inflict it upon the other…

As I stand there anxiously on the rim of the footpath, eager to burst forth and express my right as a pedestrian I contemplate another question; is it possible that the people of Mexico City just value their lives, and the lives of others that they may or may not know, differently? After all, the Mexican perception of death is definitely “different”. I say this for many reasons, one being that among the biggest selling “newspapers” in Mexico City is “El Grafico” and to purchase it will cost you only 3 pesos, which is around 25 cents. Each day this paper, and many others just like it, boldly exhibits on its front cover, and throughout the pages that follow, graphic (albeit occasionally incredibly artistic) photographs of mutilated, bloodied, lifeless human bodies. People who prior to the photograph being captured had mothers and fathers, sons or daughters, pets, a job, whatever! They were living, breathing, walking, talking human beings and then…

CRASH! POP! SLASH! BANG!

They’re dead.

CLICK!

And just like that, their red stained, limp bodies, faces and full names are splattered all over this 25 cent “newspaper”, displayed at every street stand, just below the porno mags, at a height which is visible to tall people and short people alike…and just so as we’re all on the same page here, by ‘short people’ I am referring to children!

What effect must this daily sighting of death have on the mentalities of a population? I know that although I find their presence extremely confronting I am consistently drawn to sneaking a glimpse at them. How do the families of these freshly deceased humans cope with seeing their loved one captured in high definition colour print, beneath the words of some tacky headline? What might the desire to purchase these “newspapers” say about the beliefs, the culture, the religion, the brutal past and the future of the inhabitants of this extraordinary city? Is it an indication of the value they place on living and dying? And what, for that matter, might it suggest about their attitude toward driving and their utter lack of consideration for other drivers and commuters alike?!!

For some time, I have found that traditional westernized death ceremonies and the ways in which death is approached, treated and mourned to be impersonal, highly sanitised and largely unsatisfying. For those left behind it does not provide a solid platform to come to terms with their loss or to grieve properly.  Some funerals may be better than others, yet a massive, physical separation remains between the living and the dead. A person is not given a great deal of time nor space in order to process the severity of the situation. Or is the “severity of the situation” one of the defining factors here? Is the concept of death and dying less “severe” among some cultures? If dying doesn’t signify ‘the end’ then it’s not like that person has been removed from your life altogether…

In my experience it is unusual, once the funeral and the wake have ended, that events are held, over the days, months or years that follow, as a means of remembering the dead or celebrating the life they led. Although this may sound like a huge generalisation it is a reflection of my personal, and thankfully quite limited, experiences with death. However events of this flavour occur in Mexico every year during the Day of the Dead celebrations, when families and friends of deceased loved ones gather to remember and commemorate the lives they lived. Obviously other forms of religious ceremony and death rituals exist within Australia also. Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu cultures, Indigenous Australians etc, have intricate rituals and ceremonies that they practice when the necessity to deal with a death arises. Is it possible that ceremonies such as these help the family and friends of the dead to make a more realistic evaluation of the situation? To mourn and to properly come to terms with their loss? Perhaps the idea of having lost the person becomes less surreal…

Through our channels of communication in Australia we are rarely, if ever, presented with graphic images of death. What a person looks like or feels like once they have ceased to live remains a mystery. Our ideas are constructed from a distance via the scenes we observe in film, read in books, or hear via retold stories, as well as our vivid imaginations. None of which, in my opinion, would prepare one for the reality of losing someone. But what could possibly prepare you for that?

Reading the daily newspaper in Australia, you might come across a story about the death of a human but generally that’s only if the circumstances under which they lost their life are shocking, unusual, mysterious or a combination of all three. Certainly the actual numbers of people that die in a day are not reported, therefore we’re not really aware of the amount of people who are affected by death daily. And even if we were, would it feel more real? Would it touch us personally in some way? Would it cause us to reflect on how we value our own lives and the lives of those around us? Would it change the way we lived each day or our behaviour toward one another?

During the holiday season there are news reports about ‘road toll’ statistics, numerical comparisons between states, on how many people have been killed on the roads. These figures just don’t seem to have the same impact on me that the brutal, raw, photographic evidence exhibited in the Mexican ‘death papers’ have. I don’t pretend to believe that by being inundated with images of countless dead strangers on a daily basis helps people to come to terms with losing loved ones but I do find the fascination for consuming and reviewing these papers intriguing and I do believe it could be a reflection of some aspect of Mexican life and culture.

The traffic finally begins to slow.

40, 39…

My eyeballs are fixed on our clock counting down the seconds and as the first brave walker steps off the curb, the human behind the wheel in the first lane of traffic appears to be surprised by their presence. I silently give a victorious cheer and massive respect to the courageous pedestrian front line. “YES!! Go you legends, take the power back! Whose streets?! OUR STREETS! Yeh that’s right, you car driving pendejos, it’s OUR turn to cross! See that little green flashing man up there?!? He’s ours! He says! IT’S OUR TURN!!”  I imagine myself running across the street, to and fro, taunting the traffic. My very own victory lap. Us pedestrians huddle together as we cross the wide stretch of road. We are a rapidly moving mound of clothed flesh and bones. We take refuge on the other side and I suppress a burning desire to hi five my fellow pedestrian warrior. We survived! You won’t be seeing any of our faces on any front pages, not today pal.

That’s one section tackled, now to battle the next…and then the next.

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he’s a cat person.

The rubbish that Italian Coffee Company pedals resembles the agua which remains in my sink after washing a weeks worth of México City off my clothes.

With a heavy heart, a few hours to kill and a craving for a decent coffee, I set off to find a little place I’d visited once before with a very special person. I was on a mission, partly to satisfy my caffeine addiction, partly to relive that beautiful moment which had well and truly passed a year and a half before.

Upon my nostalgic arrival, un chavo, selling cd’s caught my eye and we exchanged a smile. I found a table and sat down. He wandered slowly over, his manitos clutching a stack of CD’s in plastic sleeves, analysing me with each step closer. He must have noticed the heart on my sleeve because he seemed to recognise that I had some time to give him. He inquired as to whether or not I might like to purchase un disco, I shook my head and smiled, “no gracias amigo”. He persisted, planting a knee on the chair opposite me in a gesture that whispered, “I’m not leaving just yet”. As he shuffled through his selection my attention was eventually snagged by a sexy, scantily dressed Latina on the front cover of pirate a reggaton CD. I asked him what his stance on that particular genre was. He was more of a hiphop slash romantic slash norteña kind of a kid. We joked about the male pop singer’s fashion and overly made up appearance and finally I decided to purchase a Café Ta Cuba disc…more like a CD of every Café Ta Cuba song every recorded, and probably even some that have never been released, there are 136 tracks on this disc! I handed him his asking price of 10 pesos and he quietly asked if I wanted to buy him a coffee, “me regalas un café?”

“I’d be happy to, sit down, what do you feel like?”

“A hot chocolate, sin espuma…”

“You don’t like froth?!” I guess this kid wasn’t brought up on babychinos. “I love froth, sometimes I ask for extra”

The waiter found his way over to our table, he took my order but didn’t acknowledge that my small friend might also have had thirst, so I pointed out that his craving was for a hot chocolate, hold the froth.

“On the same bill?” he inquired?

“Yep sure, that’s fine.”

“Para llavar?”

“You want it to take away?” I asked my friend.

“Yeh…because I like those cups better.”

This kid surely knew what he wanted.

So we sat, waiting for our hot drinks and began to talk.

He doesn’t like froth because you get less drink. He lives in a small town an hour and a half out of Puebla. He’s ten and works everyday from 5am until he returns home at 10pm. He works alone and on a good day might make 100 pesos, minus the 5 each way on public transport. Everything he earns goes straight to his padre. He hates eating breakfast, it makes him feel sick and he pretty much exists on one meal a day, dinner, if he feels like it when he gets home. I tell him, “you’ve got to eat, si no, no crecerás!” He sigs and tells me, if he’s hungry, he’ll eat! He doesn’t go to school and is the middle child of five. He doesn’t get along with the kids in his pueblo, they play too rough. His dad’s a welder, he makes bridles for horses and his mum…she does everything else.

It wasn’t one of my regular interviews mind you, he had plenty of questions for me too and his ability to grasp the pronunciation of Australian phrases was astounding. “Gimmie anutha warda”, “Que cool”, “See ya layda may-TE”.

And so we sat for about an hour, chatting, exchanging, learning, jigging work, absorbing the caffeine and the sweet, hot milk.

My new digital camera lay on the table between us.

Once our cups were emptied and the traces of milk were beginning to harden and dry, creating a memory of time sequences down the interior, he asked how I was going to spend the rest of my day.

“I’ve got a couple of hours, I suppose I might wander around, take some photos while the sunlight is creating such beautiful colours…then maybe I’ll go check out un museo.”

He was curious about my photos so I begun to show him some glimpses of Australia, my dog, mi familia. He was glued to the small LCD screen like a kid that doesn’t have a telly becomes paralysed by whatever’s on when they’re over at a friends place.

“How much did that camera cost?”

I didn’t hesitate to answer, but I knocked a couple of hundred bucks of the price I actually paid and winced slightly as I waited for his reaction.

“cinco mil pesos..?!” His eyes widened, “about the same price you paid to get here?”

“Noooo…” I shook my head slowly “to arrive here, costs at least double…más!”

What kind of world must he imagine I come from? How is it possible that two humans, sharing coffee y palabras, can be dealt such wildly different cards? What was I expecting? A flood of resentment from him? But, with the blink of an eye, the beat of a heart, his face lit up, and he moved on,

“I’d like to take a photo!”

“Orale, vamos! I’ll pay and we can go take some.”  I paid the four bucks and went to the toilet, when I returned he remained at the table, veiled in an expression of tentative hope.

“Come on, let’s go”

“Did you pay?”

“Sí, vamos”

“For me?”

“Sí”

“En serio?!”

“Ahuevo!”

The disbelief was substituted for relief as he skipped toward the door. We wandered up the street and he confirmed for the last time that I had actually paid for his hot chocolate as well as my coffee. Every now and then as we walked and talked I was forced to bend forward in order to hear what he had to say.

“Anytime you see something you find beautiful or interesting, that you’d like to take a photo of, me dices, va?!”

“Oh…so many things” he sighed. Eventually he decided one of the thousands of Poblano church spires was worth capturing…that or the time had come for him to go back to work. We stopped, I gave him a brief lesson and SNAP! We got it. He was pleased, nailed it first go.

“Well then…I guess I’ll go check out that museo..” I suggested “you?”

His expression kindly mocked me, “I’ll go back to work, pero mañana? What will you do? More photos?”

“I’ll probably go to the antique markets, wander around, and yeh, i’ll probably take some more photos.”

He told me he might see me in the morning, pulled out his mobile and suggested we exchange numbers. I was feeling self conscious, the conservative eyes of Puebla were upon me, “What the hell do you think you’re doing guera?!”

“Ok, well, suerte amigo, cuidate mucho, you take care of yourself, maybe we’ll see each other tomorrow.” I affectionately roughled his head with my hand, messing up his thick dark hair, “Adios”. I turned and walked away, instantly chastising myself for concluding our interaction with such a patronizing gesture. This was no regular 10 year old kid, I was not dealing with a child here. A hand shake or a high five at the very least would have been a far more appropriate way of saying goodbye, respect and good luck!

I shook my head, embarrassed by my ignorance…when was I going to wise up?!


INXS plays over the sound system at a cafe in La Condessa…and the coffee is overpriced.

In an attempt to come up with a topic for my first research project (a 2000 word ‘cultural report – a reflective piece of writing in which i must discuss and evaluate an aspect of local culture’) I began a stream of consciousness style piece based on a variety of themes of life in Mexico City which I have found interesting since my arrival. I consequently decided that one idea was fit for my first blog deposit.

The topic is Language – It’s uses, and abuses, here in Districto Federal.

The language used here in the streets of el DF is insanely creative, fluid and turbulent. It is forever changing, words and phrases are toyed with, recycled and reinvented. If one was to grow up in el DF and at some point during their young adulthood, leave and spend a solid period of time afuera, upon their return to the motherland the language they grew up with and departed with would be…not obsolete but drastically different to how los jovenes are currently communicating with one another. The language of the street changes rapidly…to say the least.

When I began living with Estelita, I was utterly confused as to why it was that I could go out for an evening of beers and dancing, suffercating in ultra loud music, and could still manage to follow the varying conversations, even contribute to them quite comfortably  AND crack a funny every now and then YET in the comfort of my own home, abundant light to read lips and hand gestures, sin ruido, I could understand very little of what Estela was saying.

At first, of course, I blamed my poor Spanish skills, then, following a few more nights out and satisfying, full bodied conversations, I came to blame the booze, filling me full of confidence and enhancing my abilities. Eventually I arrived at the possible conclusion that perhaps, due to her status as a professor of anthropology, she spoke in a very proper, highly academic manera in which I was not effectively armed with the skills required to decipher her intellectual speak. That MUST be it, I supposed.

One evening, out with some friends, I received a text message from her and as per usual, I had great difficulty interpreting what she was expressing. Being lucky enough to have some pure bred Chilangos at my very table I had the opportunity to get to the bottom of this language issue I had been quietly suffering. I showed mis amigos the message and the expressions which painted their faces illustrated and reflected exactly that which I had been experiencing during my conversations con ella. “Dime..What is with it?” I pleaded, “She speaks weird right?!” My friend began to give me his explanation. “She speaks very literally, using lots of metaphors and flowery figures of speech, for example, instead of saying “I was worried about you last night.” She might choose to say, “Last night my heart beat rapidly inside my chest as I was unsure of your whereabouts.”   Hijole!!! Finally I had some insight, some answers to my growing insecurity about my sub-standard language skills, the doorway to improvement had been nudged open and the beautiful, bright, glowing light of reassurance and knowledge was beginning to pour through.

Not too many days later, mientras sitting at the dining table, sharing a coffee and a broken conversation, Estelita told me of her history, su vida and her experiences. I discovered that in the 1970’s she had lived at Zipolite, a small beach side town on the Oaxacan coast. During the 1970’s the place was crawling with hippies, gente who were searching for a different way of existing in the world and experimenting with living their lives. The language used in a coastal Mexican hippy community during the 70’s would be wildly different to that which is used by the kids on the streets of Mexico City in 2010, would it not?!

Slowly I was beginning to understand…the beautiful, worldly, wizardy woman, with whom I share my life at this point, uses the language of a free loving hippy of the late 1970’s! No wonder I was having such a hard time, I am a modern living, fast paced, filthy city rat afterall…I may wear patchouli, but I sure as hell ain’t no hippy!


Welcome to my research project

sacred mountains of wax

I have created this blog in order to give myself a space to explore and build upon a very freshly hatched idea for a research project/documentary which I will be developing over the next 18 months while living and studying in México City.