Tuesday, January 1, 2008

One year in Mexico: welcoming 2008

I arrived in Mexico on 4 January 2007. I am still running along here, and wanted to write a little tribute to a very memorable year, with a humble collection of random observations of this country, and this city that I have called home for a year.

- The average speed of vehicles in Mexico City is 16 kph.

- Tucked away from what many of us have been taught is "history", I have a theory about Mexico's past. It was the first major Hispanic civilisation conquered by Europeans, an amazing clash of brutal invaders and inhabitants of what was Tenochitlan, an amazing former day mexico city, then rising out of a lake valley with Aztec pyramids and ranking as the largest city in the world in that era, along with Constantinople. But this didn't really get in our history lessons. Then the country became independent while Napoleon was rampaging Europe. So Napoleon got priority in collective memory. And then, Mexico had its revolution when the rest of the world was living through WWI. The first socialist constitution in the world was made here. But we all remember 1917 in Russia before 1910 in Mexico.
Of course there's reasons for these perceptions, but it's interesting for me nonetheless. Because I have to admit that Mexico has, for me, the most gripping historical development I have ever learnt about.

- At once both refreshing and potentially problematic:
"Morenos", "Güeros", "Chinos" "Negros" "Mulatos" ... whatever the label for different skin colours and racial groups, there is no shame or gasps in mexico for calling someone, "hey whitey", "hey brownie" etcetc. Up to the point that describing a person, in or not in their company as "gordo" (fat or chubby) can just be normal.

- Mexican men. Not all of them, but a reasonable amount that I travel with on public transport, or pass by - have never learnt not to stare! 5 metro stations later, and the same ogler can still be mouth-open fixated on me. Turning around and determinedly staring back at them for a sharp second can work. Some of my blonde friends have had to go to more extreme measures. I thought I would be okay, not being blonde, but it seems as my green eyes drive them wild. Depending on the mood and the day and the person, some guy walking past me and honestly saying "what beautiful eyes you have" can either make me reply with a half relaxed "thanks" or an inner shudder and frustration. It's all about the tone.
Then there's the guys who are walking towards you on the street, and just as they pass within a whisker of your ear manage to utter self convincedly: something which would be translated as "how hot", or "tasty" or "what a beauty" or something. These guys make me wanna laugh - what, like their 2 second intervention is going to make me stop in my tracks and run back to them saying, yes you're the one for me, take me with you"? - gosh!
And then there are the outright unashamed ones. One guy the other day announced loudly "wow, look at this little one" as I was walking past him in he street. What he didnt realise is that Julio was behind me who proceeded to grab him brisquely by the shoulder and say "just watch what you say, alright?!" It was funny.

- The average speed of vehicles in Mexico City is 16 kmph. Worth repeating.

- Tequila, not always drunken straight, often with softdrink mixers, something I wouldnt have thought of before coming here. In Oz we slam in down masochistically, here it's just a normal part of almost every gathering or party.

- The intense sense of group identity here- families are stronger, and generally "looking out for each other" I feel is stronger. I feel as though yes, we have australian mateship and all, but that here I have learnt the habit and inclination to really be more concerned in other people in my circles, to offer them help and follow how the group dynamic works here, more so than the more individualistic society of Australia, USA, etc. A long topic to explain.

- The average speed of vehicles in Mexico City is 16kph

- Dismounting the clanky unpredictable "microbuses", the most extensive system of transport in mexico city alongside the metro subway system. The short little buses are a menace to get off, as you stoop your head and hold on for your life as the bus comes to a screeching halt. Either that or you want to jump out the window for frustration of the cumbersome brakes, the slow pace of the things while on hills or in traffic and the blaring music.

- Eating in the street, and taking out your money from your wallet to pay, at the very very very last moment. You will have taken a plate from the guy, walked half a block away to sit down and eat it, come back and only then will you have showed any sign of paying. I like that level of trust. Weare too goofy with a juggled intention of paying in the instant of a food purchase. Chill. Eat. Then pay. nice.

- My Spanish: It's "fluent". But a LONG way to refine and go. I speak it all day every day, but I constantly need to improve. There is always more vocab, and always errors to weed out. I cant say whether I am dreaming in spanish yet, not sure whether I remember words from dreams. But I can say that when I want to say something in english it sometimes come out in spanish. So that must mean I think in it substantially.
Of course a lot of this goes to crap when I have to talk to my higher boss, or am lost in emotions, or just in a nervous state where I am not so controlled. Then you just wanna say, bloody hell, give me the ingles.
The good thing is that I have become much quicker in Spanish to English written translations. I have to do a lot of that in my work and I have really got the rhythm of changing the sentence structures almost subconciously, so that bashing out a few pages of translation doesn't take long at all. It's a good skill.

- Music and gigs! I have been lucky to see a lot of great concerts this year. The best, on no order have been:

Travis (really really good, much better than expected)
Silvio Rodriguez ( tear jerker)
Soda Stereo (Argentinian giants of the 80s and 90s with brilliant epic tracks, under a packed stadium setting)
Los Bunkers (great rock outfit from Chile, one of my faves)
Molotov (mexican rascals of rock/rap, excellent national themes)
Cafe Tacuba (THE band of Mexico in thelast two decades)
Zoe (another great modern mexican group, very synthy rock)

Other great new musical discoveries-affairs have been: Morrissey! Admitting that Coldplay has good stuff and getting to really like them again! Los Amantes de Lola! Eduardo Aute! Discovering Fado, the folk music of Portugal! Joaquin Sabina!

Well, there finishes my little head dump for capping off 2007. I feel hopeful and energetic for 2008, grateful for good opportunities and mindful of the hard work I'll have to put in.
Here are some selected nice shots from the year.


News flash: Centre Prodh, the Human Rights Centre where I have been interning for 6 months, has hired me for 2008 in a part time position in the international relations area! So grateful. Here is to learning a lot more about international law and campaiging.

Visit to Trotsky's house

A day out that I had been meaning to do for a long time, I finally got myself along to Leon Trotsky's house, site of this great socialist ideologue's death. Assassination by an icepick had always been one of the more intriuging details of my highschool history classes, and I was very pleased with the visit.

The most interesting part of it was seeing the life of this poor old comrade in exile, holed up in a house with high walls and reinforced windows for security. He tried to keep himself occupied with gardening, a rigourous routine of writing and chronicle keeping, and picnics with friends such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and amazingly Andres Breton (just goes to show the melting pót of intellectuals that was Mexico in the 40s.)

There were a couple of assassination attempts - the most famous involving Siqieros, a famous Mexican artist and muralist, who for his art is amazing but for his Stalinist views and murderous (allegedly) qualities seems too interesting and freaky.

The final and successful plot against Trotsky's life occurred in his study room pictured here. A hired Spanish dude came in to do the trick.

Besides countless cool photos of Lenin and Trotsky, and also seeing trotsky's books and things... the most impressive thing was seeing an outline of Trotsky's family tree - siblings from two wives, nieces, nephews... practically all wiped out by Stalinists. They came for them in far flung reaches of the globe. all gone. pow.