April 06, 2011 | Ronda Jambe

Easily overwhelmed

Travelling may expand the mind, but it can also shrink time. In less than two weeks the sound of the ocean in the distance, and Skippy’s mates thumping around at night has been replaced by the much more varied noises of a city with as many residents as in all of Australia.

The bigger the city, the more complex all actions become. By the time we found our way via public transport to the correct Soumaya Museum in Mexico City (the smaller one was also good), we were somewhat exhausted from a combination of traffic noise, altitude and pollution.

What a joy then to behold a jewel of a building, and I had to add this picture to my growing photographic study of ladies’ loos around the world:

The Soumaya is world class in every way, a gift not just to the Mexican people but to the world. My spouse declared it will become an iconic symbol for Mexico City, like Sydney’s Opera House. The delights included a top floor with some Dali sculptures of perfection:

The floors wind down, like the NY Guggenheim, but not as circular, and the displays are in the centre, not along the outside. From the street, it is unmistakably distinctive, far more impressive than this photo indicares. Perhaps the anvil shape has something to do with Mexico’s history of workers struggling against oppression:

After visiting the Museum of the Interventions, dedicated to the four invasions of the 19th century, I realised another reason why I am so drawn to Latinoamerican countries and people. There is no separation between their art, their politics, and their culture. Their struggles have been endless, and it must grate that the US is trying to limit their access, after having taken so much of their territory. Why not become a truly United States of North America, and be done with it?

It is also not clear why Mexico isn’t included in the BRIC countries, as it seems in the capital, at least, to be more developed than India. Considering the size of the place, it is kept pretty clean, and the public spaces are well used and well respected. Despite all the warnings, we have felt no sense of threat or danger.

In recent years we have become part of a global musical chairs of academic’s dwellings, and when the music stopped this time we found ourselves in a very pleasant 3rd flood flat, close by the public plaza. It ticks the key boxes for me of light, air and space (although no floor coverings soft enough for yoga). In the morning band music led us to an official program in the square celebrating women in the police force, and at night the sound of drums took us out to investigate. At first I thought it was some sort of aerobic dance, or Mexican line dancing. Instead it was a reenactment of a pre-hispanic ritual to the four corners of the world. Mostly young adults, many kitted out in scarves and percussive¬† shell anklets, performed around the drums, with less adapt performers at the perimeter. One we dubbed ‘Nijinsky’, for his bare torso and delicate agility. With the church walls and steeple lit up behind it, this group was in a different zone from their Sunday prayers. Apparently it happens twice a week, and isn’t done for money, or for tourists, or even, it seems, for historical preservation. It just is what it is, with energy and ritual for those who want it. At its peak, about 100 people were fully involved, with varying degrees of skill.

The blowing on conch shells, the smoke and incense, the occasional hoots all added to the mood. Although it all seemed good natured, I recalled that the ancestors of these people weren’t sitting around inventing cross-word puzzles and naming roses. They had a ball game in which the loser lost his life.

With such thoughts I thought it might be wise to slip away before the finale, just in case it involved a human sacrifice, with the conch shell pointed at a wide-eyed tourist. What is civilisation after all? Certainly not torturing a swan to death, as has just been reported in Melbourne.

With so much stimulation, no wonder the people get tired. Workers are the same everywhere, and the Mexico City Metro lines are no exception. In fact, it compares favourably with those in other great cities I’ve been to. These fellow travellers could become figures in some of the Diego Rivera murals which we hope to see very soon:

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 11:28 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. Dr K,

    Thanks for writing such insightful travel diaries.

    Love the Soumaya. Gives me an idea for my next house although it might have to be scaled down a bit.

    Hope you are well.


    Comment by Adam Burke — May 19, 2011 @ 4:54 am

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