Saturday, August 29, 2009

turning thirty

Monday was my 30th birthday.

I was afraid I would feel lonely, here in San Cristobal, with no close friends and no one I'd spent more than a few hours with. But I told a couple wrestling buddies, they told the rest, and after practice a group of us went out to a bar near where we practice. We practice in the Palenque de Gallos -- the cockfighting stadium though there hasn't been any (legal) cockfighting in San Cristobal for years. The bar, a botanero (which means they give you an appetizer with each round of caguamas -- that is, oversized bottles of beer), was carefully decorated with scores of full color posters featuring (1) busty women in bikinis and/or lingerie, and (2) proud roosters, that is, fighting cocks.

Yes, i know, i could hardly believe it. A psychoanalytical anthropologist's wet dream. Clifford Geertz would have had a heyday -- or perhaps this bar would have obviated his whole brilliant essay on cockfighting. And of course, this bar was also apparently the wet dream of a lot of men here in town. The only women in the bar were "working." Officially this means that they are there to dance with if you're nice and buy them drinks. But everyone knows that their services go well beyond 2-stepping to rancheros.

And no, I didn't partake in the rancheros, didn't dance at all. But I had a wonderful time, and forged a bond with my fellow wrestlers that has gotten stronger every day.

Tomorrow night after the luchas we will go out again, and I'm going to steer us back toward this bar, so I can get some pictures amidst the discriminating décor.

Friday, August 28, 2009

don't say the M word

well, of course, i am aware that my position as a filmmaker is rather macho, and that every lucha is laden with gendered discourses. and yes, i've long been fascinated by gender and especially by masculinity -- in practice way before in theory.

all that said, i've become convinced that if one starts talking about masculinity in academic terms -- perhaps even the second one says the M word when trying to describe it -- everything goes flat. limp. the subject transforms from a complex human being into some kind of symbol, useful for anthropologists (especially hetero- white males) who have a guilty conscience for having all the upper hands, categorically speaking.

phew. okay, so there's a little rant after having been one of those creatures* for the past several years.

(by the way, i write this five years after taking a class at Stanford called Masculinities: Technologies of Gender, a class where we read a monograph criticizing a particular Masculinity each week. this class affected me profoundly. it stewed in me until i realized, very recently, that there is nothing inherently bad about masculinity, indeed there are many positive traits and social values that emerge from certain forms of masculinity, and i no longer have to disclaim my own.)

so from here on i'm going to avoid using the word Masculinity in trying to describe what i'm learning from my immersion in the world of Lucha Libre. this is not at all an abnegation of interest in the subject, or of its importance. i would say that the tangle of behaviors, jokes, gestures, and ways of being that in some way form masculinities are absolutely central to my fascination with Lucha Libre. rather, this is a statement about process: by avoiding analytical description of the "Masculinities" i encounter in and around the wrestling ring, i have to fall back on observation and description. i must withhold judgement, especially the kind I've previously been so likely to lapse into -- which i'll now glibly call American academic liberalism.

this is crucial -- absolutely necessary -- because as soon as i begin to judge, categorize, deem good or bad any of the characteristics of my dear luchador collaborators, my approach to this project swerves away from its clarity of vision. it threatens to become steered by concepts -- and worse, by concepts which carry all kinds of judgements, which automatically become political rhetoric. and for me, political rhetoric is the worst thing my work might become: it traffics in stereotypes, in sound bites, in pre-judged, categorized simplification. it does the thinking for the viewers, rather than creating a world with complex characters and situations, with full emotions, that viewers can feel, wonder at, and question for themselves.

so instead of analytic descriptions of "Masculinities," i will offer impressions and stories.

and all this reminds me of a story...

* the creature referred to here is an anthropologically-informed hetero- white male who isn't quite sure what to do with his own masculinity since gender is constructed and since masculinity is associated with violence, domination, power and privilege, all of which he disclaims in his own person.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

more from Bull's

2 stills from my camera enmascarada:

another image from practice at Bull's:

and a self-portrait with luchadores:

Ecatepec lucha (after Hopper)

Another site where I've been training, this one in Ecatepec:

The ring is on the abandoned second-floor of a local shopping mall. The energy of the wrestlers, and of the practices, is terrific. Every Thursday we start with an hour and a half of olympic style wrestling, which I teach if I'm around. It's a kick -- among other things I love the fact that the group ranges from an 8-year-old (and extremely talented) girl named Karla, to a 60+ year old man wearing pink. Each (3-hour) training session costs 10 pesos.

and still

Irma Gonzalez lifting weights before morning lucha practice.

Friday, July 31, 2009

la buena onda

i have about four different posts/essays i'm in the middle of... so much has happened i don't know where to begin or how to tie it all together.

soooo... oooooorale!!!

last week i started practicing with another professor of Lucha Libre at Bull's Gym: the legendary Irma Gonzalez.

now 72, she's been retired for 7 years after a tremendous career that began at age 13. at practice she watches from ringside, always perfectly coiffed, with a bright flowered blouse: an archetypal grandmother to rival my own. it's hard to connect this sweet abuelita with the raw force and energy channeled in her younger days --

-- but then you start to notice that her sweet grandmotherly smile is the brightest when one of her acolytes is thrashing another.

practice there has been great. whereas i've learned all kinds of complex techniques with Negro Navarro and Los Traumas, Irma's classes always emphasize the basics (which i never really got) and stringing them all together -- action, reaction, and show.

it's a push for me to make it to her 8:30am practices given my 1.5hr commute and the fact that i always practice the night before, same place, until 9pm. pero vale la pena! Saturday morning i showed up at 8:45 and 25 men were crammed into and around the ring. i pulled on my boots and threw myself into the mix... it was fantastic! so alive, so full! everyone was welcoming, and helped me through the series that were above my head -- though help often came in a cacophony of voices, all Spanish of course, making it yet harder to latch onto a single one. nevertheless, i held my own in lucha libre, and whipped a couple challengers in lucha olímpica, which was very much appreciated by everyone there (especially Irma and another grandmother who's a regular at ringside). way beyond this, however, was the sense that everyone there was having a riot, making a riot, wrestling hard, helping the rookies, pushing each other to do better -- and assailing each other verbally, physically, and always hilariously. this collective sense of humor suffused the entire gymnasium -- looking out on the smog-covered city i was sure that we had the best air, or ether, or at least a muy buena onda (good vibrations).

in the past weeks i've been to the Arena México twice, and spent two exhausting days at "Lucha Libre la Experiencia" -- a lucha libre convention, of sorts, with all the biggest players in the business. and it is a business. the biggest rivalry in Mexico is not between (hijo del) Santo and Blue Demon (Jr.), or between any other two luchadores, but between AAA and CMLL -- the two biggest wrestling federations which battle, week after week, for market share. the home arena of the CMLL, Arena México, hosts spectacular events every Friday night: the league's star wrestlers are embellished by enormous television screens, a booming sound system, and a bevy of bikini girls designed to allure attending fans, home viewers, and advertising dollars. the AAA was founded by Mexico's largest station, Televisa, so is even less beholden to tradition or anything else that might keep it from being the most crass, commercial, spectacularly entertaining vehicle for advertising.

i could go on. maybe i will in another post. but my point is that finally, in Mexico City, i have found a space where lucha libre exists as an art: where men practice sport/theatre because they love it, for what it is socially -- between these men and in their communities.

Bull's Gym is a long way from Arena México, but many of its (other) classes, teachers and students of lucha libre are dominated by its shadow. that is, while they love lucha libre as a sport, or as an art, they measure themselves according to its spectacularly commercialized, televisual archetypes. they want to be better wrestlers, to make connections, to then wrestle for the biggest companies, and to make money and a career out of this art. who can blame them? i too would love to make a living with my art alone, and i didn't grow up in anything like the poverty of parachute cities of Neza and Ecatepec, where all my D.F. lucha friends live.

but still, there's something really different about the group setting on Saturday morning -- something looser, funnier, spontaneous and improvised. this is the heart of what has kept me interested in lucha libre, why i want to understand it, feel it, live it myself -- and somehow communicate the core of my interest, this feeling, through sounds and images so that others, outsiders, might appreciate the same.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Palenque de Gallos // San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas // 14 July 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

un guapangito muy bonito

i have so many ideas and sensations i want to share... so much to catch you up on. for now i'm just posting a few highlights.

here are a couple of Mexican folk songs as interpreted by Ezekiel, a musician from Michoacan who I met on the streets of Tulum. he roams the town selling paletas by day, and songs at night. i first hired him to serenade Bariza (turned out less romantic than it might sound, as it scared her out of much-needed sleep). we met up later and i recorded eight songs as we sat in the park. the next day i cut him an album -- my first as a roving producer.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

two left feet

After feeling so high in the last weeks -- having mastered the Tijeras Voladas, and then successfully wrestling with a camera -- this week was kind of a letdown.

The moves we’ve been recently working on feel foreign to my body, antithetical to everything I know as wrestling. It’s hard for me to stay concentrated in practice on moves which are: 1) difficult for me to execute 2) relatively unspectacular to see or perform, and 3) preposterous from the point of view of a competitive (that is, intercollegiate, olympic-style, or bjj-type) wrestler. I would never be able to execute these moves in a wrestling match (that is, against someone who would put up any resistance), and it’s hard for me to suspend my (wrestling experience-based) disbelief completely enough to absorb wholeheartedly the proffered moves.

In the midst of my failure to grasp basic moves (even after seeing them 3, 5, 10 times), I started flashing back to my awkward attempts at salsa dancing. For the missteps and awkwardness, yes, but also for the physical language, the give and take, the little signals transmitted via hands, eyes, and gestures... which I always missed. Even when I understood a signal, I didn’t really know what to do. And when I (very) occasionally signalled something to my partner successfully, then I only knew one or two ways of carrying out the next steps... doing the same turns over, and over, and over, made a monotonous, dull salsa. My former dance partners (my now ex-girlfriends) quickly tired of this limited repertoire, which, despite its mediocrity, occupied all my attention. They would get frustrated, sigh in exasperation, their eyes glazing over, impatience now guiding their posture while we sort of danced -- all of which made it even harder for me to recognize and follow -- let alone lead -- what we were doing. All dance-related signals became clouded by exasperation. Now imagine this same scenario, replacing the señorita bonita with my bald, hulking wrestling partner Adolfo.

Monday, June 15, 2009

sharing my practice

here are some snippets from lucha practice last friday night. enjoy!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

purging words and flesh

Ohhhh my. What a week. For most of it, this is what I felt like:

To begin with, I left practice on Monday sore in ways I’ve never been before, in places I didn’t know I had. My back muscles suddenly found themselves in foreign situations, where they didn’t know the language or customs. They flailed around, did their best, but were ultimately, utterly exhausted.

Then, just starting to recover, I found myself Wednesday noon at a carnitas stand run by a fellow luchador. Glad to see me, he served me two tacos -- or rather, two hills of tender pork piled as high and wide on their respective tortillas as physically possible. Helping myself to pico de gallo and guacamole turned the situation on my plate -- in terms of sheer mass, and of practically transporting this mass towards my stomach -- into an absolute farce. But delicious.

But ohhhhh how I felt like a hill of pork, or a slab of beef, as I stumbled around on my weary legs -- through the city, in practice, home on the metro. By Thursday morning, the thought of any more meat made my head spin -- or maybe it was the room that was spinning. Either way, nothing sounded good. By noon I was carefully spooning plain yogurt and bites of fresh mango. For the next 24 hours -- 48 total -- I didn’t, couldn’t attempt anything more complex than fresh fruit and plain yogurt. I recovered. Thankfully, it wasn’t Moctezuma’s Revenge but something stranger, more mysterious, more obvious -- my body had taken in so much meat in three weeks that it started to emulate it, to become meat. Sloppy, heavy, flushed red in the sun. The process of becoming what I eat doesn’t feel nearly as good as it tastes.

And then also, I was silent, inert. I haven’t really gone out -- partly because of night practices, but also because my few friends here are extremely busy. Each night, as I walk home, I see hordes of beautiful Mexicans crowding the Condesa’s trendy night life. And each night I feel more and more lonely as the cacophony of music and voices lulls me to sleep.

Errol Morris (documentary filmmaker, master of the interview) says that:

“I think that there is a real need that people have to talk. I used to think that if I ever had a tattoo, my tattoo would say Born to Babble. People have a need to talk. And if they've already told you a story, they have dissipated that need.”

I believed him before, but never, ever, have I felt this need as deeply as I did this week. I felt so lonely -- from being in a foreign place, actively seeing, hearing, sensing, and wrestling: taking so much in, processing, and trying to make sense, but having no friendly ears to let me talk out this energy. Friday afternoon, checking my email in a café looking out on Parque México, I noticed the t-shirt of a guy nearby, and proceeded to ask him about it, about his food, about his job (he’s a teacher and artist), and then to tell him about my thoughts on education and creativity, about my projects, my stomach, my life. I tried to rein in my loquacity, but failed. Fortunately, this didn’t scare him off -- though I surely saw a hint of fear in his eye. Later that night, after practice, still compulsively searching for complacent ears, I went out to the bars, by myself. The bartenders weren’t so inviting, but one cook smiled at me which seemed to operate, subconsciously, as a trigger: the dam broke, and soon the poor woman was looking helplessly in my eyes, begging with her own for a pause long enough to take leave to deliver french fries or take a smoke break or anything to get away from the tide of questions, stories, and observations which she couldn’t have anticipated when she half-smiled at this pathetic gringo, alone at the bar.

Dame West and Mr. Paz

As I move about the city, captivated by the people all around me, I realize the significance of Rebecca West’s observation (noted in my previous post) that “All these brown people in the Mexican streets are there because throughout the centuries Indians were physically and mentally delectable.” In a way she’s echoing Mexican writer Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950), where he suggests that Mexicans identify, individually and nationally, as “hijos de la chingada” -- children of rape -- symbolically manifested in La Malinche, the mistress of Hernán Cortés, and actually manifested everywhere, as around 80% of Mexicans are a mixture of Spanish and Indian descent. Paz even says that at the “Grito de Dolores” -- the September 16th ritual where the president repeats Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s 1810 cry for Mexican independence -- Mexican citizens respond with yells of “¡Viva México, hijos de la chingada!”

Anyway, I’m struck by the words of Dame West because they are, as a generalization, at least as cogent as Paz’s -- and I’d even dare say more so. They’re as true now -- in the metros, bars and cafés of Mexico City, and all over the country -- as they have been for the last three hundred years. And where Paz roots for the origins of Mexican identity in an act of masculine violence, perpetrated by Europeans on helpless native women, West assumes much more feminine power and native choice. And I have to agree: as in all forms of cultural production, the making of a culture, of a people, and of a national identity is never simply a top-down affair. A national identity -- especially one with such a beautiful people and history, with such a warm heart and passionate culture -- cannot be built on violence alone. And besides, seduction and intrigue always make for better stories than tear-‘em-up violence -- especially in the stories we tell ourselves to understand who we are: that is, stories that become myths, that become us.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

words, ideas, Survivors

I'm presently rereading Rebecca West's Survivors in Mexico. Right now it is my favorite book ever. Here are three model sentences (though it's hard to choose, hard not to cite paragraphs, chapters, the whole book):

Economists are like Aeolian harps, and the sounds that issue from them are determined by the winds that blow.

All these brown people in the Mexican streets are there because throughout the centuries Indians were physically and mentally delectable.

[The anthropological museum's] proportions handle space as if it were a delicious drink and the architect was pouring it out for a world of guests.

psychogeographies and Tijeras Voladas

A thin man with dark eyes enters the metro when I do, barefoot, then kneels like a monk unfolding a black cloth that opens to a bed of broken glass to step on, and he walks, back and forth until the next stop when he carries his parcel a few meters down the aisle -- always sure to pick up the one or two stray shards -- unfolding and walking again, and again, rhythmically, to the beat of metro doors opening, buzzing, closing, marking time with his vulnerability -- and with our viscera -- as we traverse the city.

Mexico City is so large that the Sunday bike path -- formed of many roads that connect to the inner 8 lanes of La Reforma, eventually forming a circle around a fraction of the city’s heart -- has a circumference of 25 km.

Estimates are now at 27 million people. At this size Mexico City swallows everything, everyone, but like Jonah, everyone is alive in the belly of this beast, perhaps more than ever: here even the dead are alive.

On Monday in the metro many people were carrying a single white rose, often accompanied by a small figurine, like a religious icon, like all the little Guadelupes you see in niches along the street, in markets, or in places like Bull’s Gym. But it wasn’t Guadelupe they were carrying, nor any vatican-sanctioned Santíssima Santa or Santo, but the grim reaper all in white. White robe, white scythe, white bones, and white rose: beautiful and unnerving. Young women and men carried these figures as they would their own children.

The sights don’t cease to amaze. There are so many people and things, desires and ideas floating through this beast’s belly that the extraordinary here is completely ordinary. Or the ordinary extraordinary.

Biking the loop last Sunday with Alfredo and Isabel, we passed through many parts of the city that I would hesitate to walk through on the 6 days when they aren’t brimming with bicyclists and traffic cops. And in the middle of the roughest part, where grand and colorful graffiti covers the first six feet of nearly every building, and where enormous power-line towers run through the grass- and tree-lined park that serves as the road’s median -- in the sunny gap between towers was a concrete court, cracked and broken from shifts in the city’s marshy ground, and on it a dozen people of all shapes and colors, and a line of dogs of even greater variety, a total pastiche of genes and breeds none “pure” but all proud, parading through a Sunday afternoon dog show.

This surrealism of the ordinary is not constrained to the visible. Last night I was walking home through posh Colonia Condesa when a man in black appeared from a dark sidestreet, blowing a whistle as loud as he could. In about ten seconds he had summoned a chorus of canines (here, in la condesa, mostly purebreds), to whom he responded more musically, whistling with his fingers instead of the instrument, making calls like some tropical bird; the dogs seemed to appreciate this subtlety, varying their own pitch and rhythm. As he made his way through the night it occurred to me that I was the fortunate audience for a piece of contemporary art -- a Futurist composition, scored by Guy Debord, improvised by a neo-Luddite in a social geographer’s paradise.

Just the day before, while practicing yoga in my room I heard an enormous racket -- as if a parade, or a protest, or something impromptu was taking over the street, and a marching band was surely part of it. So there I was, standing in my briefs (my yoga outfit), peeking through the curtains, but nothing was there. Nothing at all. But the noise grew louder, and louder, and LOUDER, and then, not in the middle of the street, but on the sidewalk, came a guy playing a snare drum with one hand and a trumpet with the other. Nothing more. But man, he could play. A bit too late I realized that I want him to be in my film. If I see him again I will cast him.

As with any project, my clarity and inspiration ebbs and flows. Last week I was fortunate to see Místico, today’s darling of Lucha Libre, a fighter small in stature but with enormous talent. He’s fast and elegant, his moves smooth like butter: but butter that jumps like a circus acrobat, that can toss hulking adversaries through the air. But despite the great show, I left the arena sure that my relationship to the sport has changed. I am not so interested in going to lots of luchas, in documenting the arenas, wrestlers, and fans, in all the variations I can find. I’m glad I did that in my photography, but that experience is not calling me now.

Furthermore, after an exhilarating first practice I hit a plateau. Practices felt awkward, like I was just learning bits and pieces that didn’t fit together; like I’d never really be a luchador -- the flying fearlessness, the repertoire, seemed so far away. But at least I was meeting interesting people, getting closer to guys at the gym. And then last night, things started clicking again. I started to perfect a move called “La Corbata” -- the Necktie -- which was the quintessential move I remembered from my favorite matches of the past: its acrobatic elegance is what distinguishes lucha libre from American pro wrestling. And then, for me, a new move: “Las Tijeras Voladas” -- The Flying Scissors -- where one wrestler leaps onto the other’s shoulders, then flips back while spinning around, using his scissored legs to send the adversary, head first, rolling across the mat. No way, I thought, but what the heck. And somehow, in my fourth try, I hit it perfectly: Adolfo, a friendly giant, my workout partner, went sailing and I felt a strange mix of satisfactions. Somewhere in my body there is a network of muscles and neurons that gets immense pleasure from a physical habit, turned corporeal memory, I’ve had since I was 12: that of performing a double leg takedown. Even deeper in these networks there are shadows of movements executed at age four, in gymnastics, tumbling over mats in my neighbor’s basement. This strange and beautiful combination of performative acrobatics and combative efficiency is satisfying, not just socially, but to the core of my being. It makes me feel like lucha libre is my calling, from the inside.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

la llegada -- first few days in Mexico City

Since my last visit to Mexico City, when at the end of a month’s stay I escaped to rural Chiapas with bruises on my arms, neck, calf, buttocks, and soul after being mugged in the few sketchy blocks between Arena Coliseo and my hotel, I have insisted that México D.F. is a city of contradictions which remains my favorite and most despised city in the world. Though even when I say this, and whenever I thought about the city, I remembered waves of anxiety and fear much more than the city’s golden light and eternal spring. But in just a few days I have fallen in love again, with no qualms or qualifications, though certainly, like any real love, there is still and always a little fear -- maybe even a speck of hate -- which you just have to get used to in order to experience the depths and rewards of intimacy.

I stepped off the plane Friday afternoon, my mind slopping through rusty Spanish, my stomach trying to mediate between two clashing feelings: that I was on the verge of reunion with a true love; and that the perpetrators of the horror stories that pass for news (and somehow are the only news about Mexico printed in America and Europe) could be lurking behind any corner -- be they microbial or human in stature.
Popocatepetl, 'Popo'
As we alternately flew and crawled to the hotel, I hazarded a few sentences and struck up a conversation with a taxista who took my American-trying-to-speak-French-in-Mexican-Spanish accent in stride. Little by little, day after day, as I order tacos al pastor, guisados, tortas, helados de mamey, horchata, cerveza, and even pulpo (octopus “from the mountains” -- “pulpo de Popo” -- as I joked with my friend Alfredo) -- as I talk to waitresses and street vendors over jugo de zanahoria or elotes -- and especially as my mouth and stomach burn from the chile heaped onto even fresh mango, my Spanish is changing form: melting from rusty word chunks into a rhythmic musical flow that approximates, if not the Mexican accent, then at least my Mexican accent. It is as if re-feeling the tastes and other sensations of Mexico -- the golden sunshine, the cacophony of Norteño music, pop, rock, and jazz played by competing music vendors, walking in the beautiful parks and on the broken but remarkably clean sidewalks (oh how I prefer textural to fecal obstacles!!! I’m thinking of you Brussels and Paris!) -- is opening up not just linguistic memory, but also rhythms of thinking, of expression, of living and forming sound.

This time in the city I’ve been staying in the quieter, historically affluent (that is, 19th-century, not 12th, as far as I know), tree-lined districts of Roma and Condesa. Here you can still get tacos on the street for a few pesos, but you also have treasures like the Maison Fraincaise de thé, the most beautiful -- and hip -- teahouse I’ve had the pleasure to sit and sip in anywhere. I was a little skeptical of the trendy “Cupcakes” shop across the street from my apartment, but the carrot-cupcake I had was the best cup- AND carrot- cake I’ve ever tasted. Today I’ll have lunch at a taco stand that The New York Times and Saveur magazine rave about. The list goes on...

On Sunday I did wander back to my old haunt of El Centro Historico. Along the way I walked along the tremendous La Reforma, the main avenue in the city, which is usually a pedestrian nightmare due to its twelve lanes of bumper-to-bumper, honking, revving, CO2-spewing, macho drivers. But now, and every Sunday, La Reforma is transformed into what must be the biggest bike lane in the world.

At Laboratorio Arte Alameda I saw a sound sculpture exhibition that included David Tudor’s Rainforest, which I’ve always wanted to see and was just as delightful as I’d imagined. Another great piece was Mexican artist Manuel Rocha’s Toco la bateria con frequencia.
David Tudor's Rainforest

Later that day, my dear friend Alfredo and I returned to Salon Corona -- the place where we first met, just over five years ago -- for mugs of cerveza negra de la casa, tacos de pulpo, and tortas de adobado. His polling company -- which he started after working as a journalist for several years -- is doing remarkably well. It was great to hear his thoughts about the last presidential election. I’m glad to hear Alfredo say he believes that the country’s vast political divisions -- a congress that exercises power according to party-line rhetoric and political theatre rather than for productive policy-making (as in my own dear country, only somehow even more exaggeratedly); a presidential election where the runner-up candidate (who lost by just a few-thousand votes) insists he lost because of electoral fraud; and hundreds of thousands of people swarming the streets in protest -- are actually signs of a healthy democracy. And it really is incredible -- despite all the problems in the government, and in each party -- to think that less than a decade has passed since Mexico broke the (~80-year-old) shackles of oligarchical, single-party rule.

I’m now living in the second-bedroom of a lovely flat rented by a Pilates instructor / psychology student who is a longtime friend of Alfredo. It is perfect. This morning I walked out my door and had a quesadilla de huitlacoche for breakfast (fyi -- this is a Mexican delicacy that we barbarically dub “corn blight” North of the border; it is also my favorite food).

And wrestling. Yes, I saved the best (and, perhaps, the hardest to describe) for last.

On Saturday while exploring I happened across a hip little tienda chock-full of Blue Demon masks, t-shirts, photos and memorabilia. Blue Demon was a legendary wrestler who hailed from a campesino family of 12 children in rural Nueva Léon, and became (except, perhaps, for El Santo) the most beloved hero in the history of Lucha Libre. The store is the brainchild of his son, Blue Demon Jr., a wrestler who is apparently keen to both the kitch / hip status of Lucha Libre, and to the contemporary music scene that samples Lucha culture. Anyway, I started chatting up the guy working there, eventually talking about the (amazing!) Lourdes Grobet book of photographs, the fact that I met her, that I myself photographed Lucha Libre, and that I wrestled as El Gato Tuerto (he appreciated the metaphor). So then he started showing me his mask, his matches at Arena Naucalpan (the first D.F. arena I went to), the guy who made his mask, and so on. We kept talking and showing, myself still in stilted Spanish, but functional nonetheless, when he saw my photos taken at Bull’s Gym in 2001. Oh Bull's, he says. You know it? Yeah, I train there. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with Negro Navarro and his two sons.

Bull's Gym, 2001

Of all the places I photographed, none affected me as profoundly as Bull’s Gym. I remember it as a sort of dream -- everything was too good to be true, though my photographs did not do the place justice. Colorful stairs lead you up to a fourth-floor ring, which looks out on grids of gray, red, orange and blue blocks, where people live all the way out to the foot of the mountains that ring the valley of Mexico City. When I went there on Monday, to start practice, the sun was setting (just as when I photographed there) which diffused every orange and pink imaginable through the smog, behind the mountains, and around the gym. As we rehearsed several series of moves, the light faded -- though not the orange -- as lightning flashed all around.

Bull's Gym, 2001
The crowd was small this first night, but this was good for me as the brothers Navarro Jr. gave me a lot of attention. We were a motley crew: a 5’4” former boxer, a guy 6’2” and thick, a husky 12-year old, fearless and skilled, and me. They were excited to have a former “campeon de la lucha olímpica” in me, and before we started to warm up one of the brothers Navarro took me aside to ask “what do you want to learn? locks? leaps?” The movements unique to Lucha Libre -- the acrobatic tosses, and so on, I said, more or less. “How long are you here?” One month in the Distrito. “Okay, I know what we’ll do...”

I should say that just the day before I had bought Lucha magazines, then turned on the TV to find lucha programming, and both made me wonder why I came down here for this project. TV luchas have turned into soap operas just like in the U.S., where the drama is stupid and the acting is terrible, but somehow, I guess, it keeps people watching for an extended broadcast time, through more commercials. The magazines aren’t too different. But in Bull’s Gym, in the ring, I remembered.

In an intense hour-and-a-half session I learned several moves and series of moves. Many of them have common roots with the wrestling languages I know better (American, Greco-Roman, and Freestyle wrestling, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Others do not. But I was startled at my ability to pick up these series so quickly: when we were starting out, the other wrestlers did a complex series of moves that I thought beautiful, spectacular, rhythmic -- a tender dance of machismo -- but which I had no idea how to execute. Our instructor said “just let me know if there’s something you are unfamiliar with.” Umm... yeah. Pretty much everything. “No problem.” We broke it down. I was bad. I was really bad. Then I got it.

And yes, it is very different than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, American folkstyle, or Greco-Roman wrestling. But there’s something the same. It’s something in being absolutely present in one’s body, in moving and reacting to another, both of us exerted to our limits. And it’s more than that, but that’s a start. That’s my start. I don’t know where it’ll lead, but it doesn’t matter so much. It’ll lead somewhere, and I’m just trying to be in the middle of it: to experience, to act, and to be taken; to be.