Thursday, June 4, 2009

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.


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