i was used to the idea. and i took it for granted: water cities were where the world converged. it took a port, or at least a beach's proximity, to render real diversity possible. with a few small, landlocked and lucky cities raising their flags of exception, it was the urban docks that could become the continents' doormats. ah, me: yet another preconceived idea that's recently been, so to speak, blown out of the water.
mexico city sits high up in the middle of the country, a house built on the sand of a long-dry lake bed and submerged rivers, 250 miles from either sea. a water city it isn't--at least not since the spanish decided a center-of-a-lake city wasn't quite what they had in mind for their "new world" capital.
but a place of convergence it is.
perhaps not the melting pot of nations one might imagine, it is still one of latin america's greatest cultural crucibles. and what sets it apart from the greatest of water cities is this: not only does it connect people and ideas from the earth's four corners, it seems to connect people and ideas along the city's tumultuous time-line. it boasts the unusual history of being a central space where one highly developed civilization built their empire directly on top of the conquered one, and where both still exert a strong influence over the way life plays itself out right now. many pyramids became cathedrals, but a strong parallel lies in that building technique. the same temple stones now form catholic walls, just as ancient beliefs now mingle with more contemporary ones.
this pluralism seems most fully represented in the very heart of the city, the zócalo. this expansive plaza, surrounded by architectural manifestations of church, state and business--or what keeps the country ticking--is a public space at its best. political protests are a permanent fixture in front of the presidential palace. homages to communist leaders sit opposite the church towers. drums are beaten and auras are cleansed; approximations to aztec dancers perform both daily. día de los muertos is celebrated with marigolds and skulls while clay crucifixes are sold on the edge of the square. tourists and residents mingle in equal proportions as they pass each other by. the enormous mexican flag, eagle of tenochtitlán at its center, presides over it all.
patricio and i were part of the convergence on friday night, two of thousands in a concert crowd, there for free music from a few beloved mexican bands. picture it: in american terms, it was like dancing to green day, nickelback and system of a down playing live in front of the white house, st. patrick's cathedral rising up behind the stage. the whole concert was honoring the lyrical legacy of johnny cash. a little marijuana wafted on the breeze. vendors navigated the crowds, selling cigarettes, peanut brittle and trident gum. a good percentage of the crowd, young and old, had a lot of native american running through their blood. a best western hotel, housed in a building a couple centuries old, has dozens of windows directly facing the concert space and the white house beyond. music blasts into the guests' rooms on into the midnight hour. no one complains about the noise.
and the only water in sight is in the bottles for sale in a vendor's little box.