First Impression

It has to be the sense of conglomeration. Mexico City has so many things in it. It is as if once they get something they keep it and just add on. For example: in transportation they have a subway. They also have regular buses, and the smaller buses at one time called peseros and maybe still, which are privately operated public transportation, or were and are still around. Besides this, they still have buses that run on overhead electric wires along certain routes like trams of old, and now they’ve added the jointed buses on special lanes, with stations and high doors that only allow access from a platform, like the TransMilenio in Bogota, only here called Metrobus. And taxis in profusion, and to top it all this bicycle rental fad–which they have taken to decidedly.

You expect that sort of thing in architecture–that’s one of the great things about an old city, the buildings answer to all its ages. Mexico City’s buildings can date back to the sixteenth century. Here you have those: buildings on which repairs have been periodically carried on for centuries, buildings of rock, of concrete, of glass; hotels of all descriptions; towers being built, buildings abandoned on the higher stories, just facades behind the windows of which one descries gardens; old small buildings being assimilated into the face of an overwhelming tower; kiosks, awnings, sculpted columns and plate glass. You also get that in monuments: is there any city in the world more adorned with statuary and sculpture at so many intervals? Probably, but I don’t think Mexico City is far outdone by any. The monuments range from periodic statues along an avenue for blocks and blocks, to a bust set in a quiet street, to huge piled up things in a roundabout with pillars and fountains and archers. Equestrian statues, angelic, and abstract: all. Close to where we stayed is a more modern abstract one softened and familiarized by having its name in the diminutive: El Caballito. A few street down instead of a monument in the roundabout they have an old tall palm. We stayed in the central and historic part of the city, so there are more things, but they are simply big on decorating. Even the defeat and conquest of Mexico City is commemorated, with an enormous series of pillars dedicated to the boy heroes who stood to the last against the forces of Winfield Scott.

Stores, restaurants, stands, the pervasive smell of the tortilla under everything being cooked, fried, seethed, roasted, the white of bunches of onions, the sauces, the sizzle, the smoke ascending, the vendor picking the last brains out of a pig’s boiled scull, the glass counters covered with hand written menus or displaying varieties of food, the vinyl records, the claptrap wares, chips and fruit, enormous crowded bakeries, cloth goods and leather, the typewriter repair store, the shoe shiner, jewelry, whole buildings and continuous makeshift stands that narrow the sidewalks to a trickle.

What is it like to go down one of these narrow sidewalks? There is always a steady stream of pedestrian traffic. I appreciate that Mexicans are polite about passing other people, when they are conscious of the other person. If your way of walking is aggressive you’ll find you can make steady progress. If you are the kind to defer to readily, you’ll be waiting. The tacit rules for defering are otherwise in Latin America, but more polite in Mexico than in Colombia. You progress in single file, waiting to pass amblers, being overtaken by people in a rush darting about shrewdly. The stalls are full of food, and you see mounds of gleaming diced onions, diced cilantro, bowls of the various sauces and pickled chilies, the stacks of tortillas, huaraches, sopes, the cheese, the meat cooking or keeping warm in heaps at the endge of the cooking surface. You smell it all, of course, and under the smell of all the food the warm smell of the corn tortilla which is I think the only one they really do in Mexico City. People are hunched over eating, looking around as they chew, ordering, phone twiddling. There’s the beggars, somebody wheedling money out of the passersby with music, and the stalls of cheap goods. Walking along the street is kaleidoscopic, really, and the whole time you should be alert for uneven pavements. I always like going fast, filling myself with sights and sounds by glance and impression rather than poking around, stopping and observing. It is wrong to think there are objects of contemplation, only those suited to fleeting, observant impression. You can go slow if you want, but if you go quickly you will never run out of city here.

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