Originally published Saturday, May 20, 2006

Part II: Agitations on the Mexican Autobahn

Quite often, our day’s activities included heading into or around the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City.  Our fortuitous timing for this trip included arriving just before the celebrations for the Aztec New Year and so we were invited to join other Kalpullis who were meeting in Xochilmilco for sacred ceremonies and general festivities.

Mott trip to Kalpulli, Mexica Culture, San Martin de las Piramides 3/06Travel by vehicle was part of the cultural experience. There were two, sometimes three vehicles that were enlisted to carry our group of 11 Mott participants and two or more guides. An old Astro minivan served as the main vehicle, and often as many as 10 of us would cram into its aging frame, requiring one person to sit on the floor between the frontseat passenger and driver, and another person half-sitting, half-standing off the edge of the middle bench seat, leaning against the sliding door. More often, that person would also end up sitting on the floor, if they could squeeze themselves down onto the limited flat surface between the bench seat and the side door. The minivan had served a hard life already. And our group, with our long list of activities, would not let this tired old vehicle rest. At the end of our visit, we would experience a rather heart-thumping ride around Mexico City as we returned to San Martin after dark. But more on that later.

Mott trip to Kalpulli, Mexica Culture, San Martin de las Piramides 3/06The second vehicle we used was even more decrepit than the first. But it valiantly gave its all in an attempt to serve us. A jeep, by historical lineage only, it was made up of parts from other, less distinguishable vehicles. It was the proverbial junker, still kicking and clunking and held together by bailing wire and twine. Handles on the insides of the doors were long gone and since replaced by bent steel made of rebar welded in place. Windows, once down, would not go back up again. Yet, in order to exit the vehicle, a passenger in the front seat would have to reach through the window to the outside to open the door, and then assist the rear passengers by opening the back door from the outside. Inevitably, it would also be necessary for one or two passengers to sit in the far back stowage area, probably one of the more comfortable places in the old dear.

Mott trip to Kalpulli, Mexica Culture, San Martin de las Piramides 3/06There was one new vehicle, a cute little Pontiac Sunfire in silver, and the pride and joy of Marcos who worked in an administrative position for the Mexican government. His pride in the little vehicle was evident, especially when a gasoline fill-up included an impromptu car wash completed under his watchful and most critical eye. This vehicle, however, was only used on the occasions when we traveled far distances, and only driven by Marcos himself.

A Mexico City Shortcut

One morning, after the group participated in our ritual sunrise ceremony, and the making of breakfast, and clean-up, we crammed into the minivan and Sunfire for a trip to the Museum of Anthropology in downtown Mexico City with the promise of a picnic on the museum grounds. Using walkie-talkies, our guides attempted to find ways around the main city in order to avoid the usual traffic jams that make Mexico City famous. Two hours later, we had seen small towns, villages, and auto factories but had still not made it to our destination.

Mott trip to Kalpulli, Mexica Culture, San Martin de las Piramides 3/06After much contentious dialogue across the walkie-talkies that invisibly connected our drivers, we finally begged to stop for a bathroom break. Hot, tired, and cramped from the tight squeeze, we poured out onto the pavement of a local public toilet, 4 pesos and toilet paper in hand, and enjoyed the temporary relief of stretching our legs before climbing back into the unairconditioned vehicle to set out, again, towards our goal. We arrived much past midday, probably around 2 pm, at the museum with not much time to spend before we would need to turn around again. We had a 5 pm engagement with Saritas, a local food market vendor back “home” at San Martin, for a four-course dinner.

The Traffic Jam

Mott trip to Kalpulli, Mexica Culture, San Martin de las Piramides 3/06Candy, water, pop, tortillas anyone? A ride on the Mexico City highways would also include window service from vendors selling anything from nuts to newspapers, ice cream to bottled water, in a hapless attempt to capture the potential market of travelers caught in the gridlock of the perpetual traffic jam.

Mott trip to Kalpulli, Mexica Culture, San Martin de las Piramides 3/06

Graffiti Nation

The scenery was diverse, to say the least. It included the industrial auto dissectors, urban junkyards with every usable part of a former vehicle taken apart and organized on the city rooftops above the auto repair shops. Retailers included the mega giants Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and all the usual western fare. But also the small business person, an entrepreneur who would set up an impromptu restaurant on the side of the road under a shade tree hawking their family’s secret recipes.

Mott trip to Kalpulli, Mexica Culture, San Martin de las Piramides 3/06There was the beauty of the dawn light through the haze of smog in valley, and the all-pervasive hand-painted signage, efficiently posted and more efficiently changed to promote this or that, a political campaign (we’d arrived the day before election day) and a “thank you” for voters’ support. And competing for any kind of surface was the wholly endemic graffiti which competed for your attention in both color and design with any other offerings from this visual overload. Graffiti is of special interest to me, because of some earlier research I had done on the subject. And here, it was so pervasive as to be considered part of the local visual culture, though probably not appreciated by all. At times it appeared destructive, but almost integrated with the signage. At other times, it was more gang tags, competing threats to chase off the offenders. Yet there were times where notices were posted that no graffiti was allowed. DSCN0030_3And oddly enough, this seemed to work. So my only conclusion could be that a certain amount of graffiti was considered inevitable and, therefore tolerated. Still, as overwhelming as it may be for us to dismiss it as a nuisance, I found myself fascinated by some of the talent displayed through the use of color and design, wondering “what if they were given an artist’s canvas? Or could design fabrics? Or fashions? Or…” But graffiti, at least in the USA, is counter-culture. To give in to the commercial world is considered selling out. But I wonder if it’s the same way here, in Mexico?

But enough on that for now.

Next time… more lessons from a Mexica journey…

2006 © mara jevera fulmer


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