Patricio and I already had sentimental attachments to the Zócalo--the main plaza here in Mexico City, and once the very center of the Mexica world. It was often our nexus of special trips into the Centro, and became the glittering backdrop to our first New Year's Eve together, celebrated with good friends on the top floor of the Majestic, just a couple of days after our wedding. This past Sunday, though, with almost 20,000 other people in the pre-dawn chill, it became both the focus of Spencer Tunick's lens and a central part of our own new ties to the square. We literally left our footprints there, and down a stretch of 20 de Noviembre Street too. And then we left with the more intangible memory imprinted in ourselves, as well.
It wasn't the first time for me to sign up and strip down for a Tunick installation; I also know what the floor of New York's Grand Central Terminal feels like to the touch of bare skin. We were a mere few hundred women, including two fantastic friends, calmly followning instructions under the turquoise arch and golden constellations. I remember it as slightly dream-like, and not only because it happened in the sleep hours of the morning.
Mexico, as is almost always the case, was almost incomparably different.
They say we were 18,000. We had no idea at the time. What we did know was that we filed in en masse, packing continuously into the streets below Tunick's setup in the Majestic, a roiling mass full of expectant and boisterous participants at five o'clock in the morning. In spite of the assistants' pleas that the crowd calmly sit and wait and be patient, hundreds of benign but restless rabble-rousers maintained the crowd in high, noisy spirits. Some did the wave. Some shouted the UNAM's cheer. Some yelled "Slackers!" to the latecomers of the crowd. And some cried "Get naked! Get naked!"up to the press reporters and curious onlookers, hanging out the windows and balconies of the hotel. Chants of "Mexico! Mexico!" burst out too many times to count. The city was just about to turn the stereotype of conservative Mexico on its head.
The temperature dropped further before the sky began to turn light; it was the only thing that finally subdued the masses before Tunick got the show on the road. But then his translator told everyone to make sure that we "filled up the back part" of the plaza, a hilariously sexual insinuation that caused even the quietest of us to laugh hard. Less than ten minutes later, our clothes lay in piles and our bare feet lay claim to the gray Zócalo stone slabs. Indeed, we filled the whole thing up.
Most of us hugged ourselves against the typically cold Mexico City morning, and then the loud- speakered directions rolled over our heads and moved us into place. We faced the hotel, and in a race against the sun's appearance over the Presidential Palace behind us, we stood, we saluted, we then lay on our backs, and later curled up into "Aztec Stones." Rubbing our knees, sore from minutes of waiting in that fetal position while those in the back kneeled into position and a joke or two about stray farts made the rounds, we stood and began funelling our way down the south-bound street, slow and jovial and full of solidarity--not unlike many of the politically-minded marches that often dominate the center of Mexico City. Only this time, no one wore clothes.
One last photo of the women was then taken--thousands lying on their sides, wrapped around a subway entrance on the southeast corner of the square. And when it was over, Tunick remained perched atop his ladder, surrounded by outstretched hands thanking him for his work and for what would be, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I wondered what he thought of this chance to make his art here in Mexico. Of his enthusiastic subjects, sometimes so verbally rambunctious that they interfered with quick cooperation. But I don't wonder at all about what Patricio and I thought. For us, it was an unforgettably joyful experience, surrounded by thousands and thousands of of fellow humans, exposed in all our infinite differences, and yet for just over a naked hour, so very much the same.