May 31, 1997.


Yes, it's been nearly a month and, after all the horror stories, I had my doubts. Yet, so far none of the horrors have materialised, although everyday I thank my lucky stars and hope!

So, what of this, arguably, largest fastest growing city in the world?
Cilindreros: Uniformed street musicians.
One man plays, the other passes the hat around.
Well, it's noisy, polluted and, believe me, dangerous.

Then, isn't every massive global city? Still, I take no risks: no wandering around alone at night; no flaunting of my lap-top or other valuables (Me! Valuables?). One of the attributes of this hotel (it has seen better days ) is a caja fuerte in every room.

By accident I landed up talking to an Auz. who claimed to have warded off a threat with a "stern" expression. "Stern" expression? Does he expect me to believe a desperate hungry character, probably knife wielding with starving kids, will be intimidated by a "stern" expression! If he does, he should stay in bed until he goes home!

First off arriving in town I noticed, what I thought to be, campesinos under plastic around the zocalo. Simultaneously, lean very well equipped young soldiers were close at hand. Mexico would be smart to spend less on flashy toys and more on growing-up!

The campers are teachers, from all over, demonstrating for a living wage. After four years of normal school they get US$2,100 / year. Government offers 6%+. They want double! (Aw, give it to them: it's cheaper than killing. Money is only hieroglyphics in a ledger! ).

Nevertheless, streets are blocked, skirmishes have broken out. When I arrived with President Clinton, on different flights of course, the army and police were in the middle of a shoot-out: two dead, though the international press reported 30!

Being a political ingenue I keep my distance from all that. You don't have to be a brain surgeon to realise, however, that all this struggling is aimed not so much at democracy ( i.e. taking responsibility for their own lives ) but getting their faces into the consumer trough, making all the mistakes we've made: wondering why designer jeans and flashy gadgets don't bring happiness.

You can blame CBC International, Radio America, the BBC et. al. for pumping them up with liberal consumer democracy bull-shit for that! We don't want third world democracy we just want to flog 'em more trinkets!

While still on consumerism: the price of cheese here is outrageous! I bought a slivers of the stuff, admittedly very good, in the market for M$28 (C$4.76 ). I cudda got it at Safeway for two bucks! Oaxaca cheese is less expensive but not as good. It's a sort of white soft cheese, stringy and mild: Very salty.

The one, very visible, growth industry in this town is "private security."
Bersain Medina Cruz: Hotel Izabel's security.
Uniformed, armed guards even patrol the art store where I buy my gear! My hotel has one. Mary Basic calls him the mountie: with his yellow shirt and boy scout hat! He wields a billy club and opens the door for me, with a salute, at least ten times a day. Each time with more enthusiasm. I want to scream, for Christ's sake man I am capable of opening the door myself: but, of course, he is feeding his kids!

My worry is that the protesting teachers, and I suppose the Zapatistas ( in reality a few Mexico city intellectuals and who, by the way, we don't hear much of here ) too, will achieve a modicum of success and immediately build shopping malls and golf courses: just like our Indians are frantically building casinos. “Entre mas cambian las cosas, mas se quedan como estan.”

Still, a month is nothing. I am here for a year but who knows what may happen. A year ahead is hard to see, even at home. And besides it will take longer than that to get to know the place: I'll be lucky to scratch the surface!

I want to learn a little Spanish. This is going to be difficult. Everyone speaks such good English: they use me to improve theirs. For instance, at the Pastelleria Madrid, where I sometimes go for lunch and order en Espanole, counter clerks reply en Inglise! Yeah, I'll be ashamed if I don't come home with a basic understanding.

Cuernevaca language school, is out: moving is too much hassle. Anyway it's become a gringo ghetto: too expensive! Universitario Nacional Autonomous de Mexico seems more like my cuppa tea but I cannot get through on the phone. Eventually I'll make contact; I have a hunch that's the best place! Besides, I revel in the architecture.

I have made a few friends. Julie (Cdn), through Lucio (Itly), introduced me to Aurora (Mx) and Alaine (Fr): a couple who invite me for dinner (twice) and I am at a loss to know how to return their hospitality. They live in peaceful Colonia Granada, just north of Polanco. In their home are many original paintings: pretty neat, eh!

Alaine, being a wine connoisseur, understands the effect Mexico City's altitude has on wine consumption. I don't - yet!

Their daughter, Ana Lorraine, at five already speaks Spanish and French fluently. If they are wise (they are) they will caution her not to emulate Roger's ridiculously inept attempts to speak en Francaise: "ou en Anglaise aussi," for that matter! I sometimes wonder what I speak? Anglaise avec beaucoup expletifs, je pense!

Raymundo Mendez (Mx) and Hugo Gonzales (Mx), introduced to me by Tom McGauley (Cdn), have already spent too much of their time with me. First night they took me for a beer under a bullet hole left, in December of 1913, by Pancho Villa. Then on to this bizarre art show, replete with 7 foot transvestite. I was able to reciprocate with dinner under the same bullet hole, in the ceiling of La Opera. Hugo's passion is Mexican history and we have an appointment to spend the day at the Museo Antropologia soon.

Mary Basic, a Canadian ex-pat, introduced to me by Kathleen Ross (Cdn) living and working here, and I have done Diego Rivera both in the zocalo and the Palacio de la Bellas Artes. I have done Diego, and others, on my own ( don't get the impression I am on a social whirl here. 95%, I'm solo ) at the Museo de Arte Moderne and the Tamayo Museo de Arte. We will be adventuring other places no doubt: Chapultepec Palace and, perhaps, Cuenevaca.

Ana Carder (Brazil) and I attended the Folklorica and explored the city. We like Rivera's stuff and scoff at Rockerfeller the elder who banished his mural from the Rockerfeller centre. Rivera then replicated it at La Palacio de la Bellas Artes. After, she buzzed off to Oaxaca for a couple of days coming back reporting that protesting teachers are even more militant there. She brought me back a beautiful piece of black Oaxaca pottery which now regales my desk.

Then we visited the pyramids at Teotihuacan. And yes, we got to the top of the highest! Later, we dined at La Opera with Elbe (Mx), Ana's friend. Actually, the food there isn't that good. Next day Ana flew off to Rio. Pity! She was a charming companion: I'll miss her.

You know many people, from all parts of the world, bump into one another in situations like this. Yet, like Monarch butterflies headed south, then gone: I'll bet we'll never forget! Anyway, Elbe and I will be here a while. She said she'd help me find Spanish lessons.

Talking of The News (local English language newspaper). It reported the seizure of four Yank fish-boat trespassers in BC waters and the ensuing eruptions. Also, evidently, Jean Charest is eclipsing the other Jean in the east but getting nowhere in the west - Surprise! Surprise! Hey, the TSE is roaring ahead. The News even reports the VSE, which looks like it's doing okay. No prob. at the DOW either! Canada is known here more than in the US.

And eruptions. Popocatapetl is at it. The local sharman, who plays with the volcano in his dreams, says it has told him not to worry - YET! Gases and dust are blown away from DF, fortunately! We had an seismic reminder the other night. I felt it at 2.00 am, and I'm usually heavily asleep then. It was at Richter 5.9, epicentred in a remote, unpopulated area 150 kms to the south-west. There have been other minor tremors.

Don't mention pollution. It isn't effecting me yet, I hope! School activity has been suspended for two day because ozone levels reached 218 points Imeca. Figures for Centro are: ozone, high 209 - low 12; sulphur dioxide, 13; nitrogen dioxide 48; carbon monoxide 49. Please, someone tell me what that means?

Despite it living here is pleasant. Fourteen years at Granville and 16th has acclimatised me to noise and stink! The climate is mild: not unlike Vancouver. Now is the rainy season. Today's temperature: high C27 - low C14, partly cloudy with rain.

Traffic! Oh boy, that's the real danger. It is fast, undisciplined and dense. Watch out pedestrians moving on green, for left turners: peligro muerte!

Who cares? I'm having a ball. At first I pussy-catted this neighbourhood, Centro Historico. There is still lots for me to learn here. I have recently ventured farther afield, though! Coyoacan and the Universatorio.

The Frida Kahlo and Trotsky Museo are in Coyoacan.
The Frida Kahlo guide here is very tidy.
The former is where Frida and Diego lived in the 40's and 50's. Mostly it shows her work which I find interesting but not compelling. The house is a pastoral atrium haven, secure from the surrounding city which even back them must have been pervasive.

The Trotsky Museo is a fortress. Bullet holes left by David Sequirios's 1936 machine-gun attempt on Trotsky are still there. Why a respected (his mural are even at the University) artist would want to get involved in such nonsense beats me. Three months later Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent, Del Rio. He seduced Natalie's (Trotsky's wife) close friend in Paris, won the trust of the family, then Kaput!

Del Rio got 20 years, later lived in Cuba, and returned to the USSR.
The Trotsky guide is a composite of biker
Marxist revolutionary.
He was awarded a medal by Khruschev in the early '60's. Incredible! What the phucc did murdering Trotsky do for Russia, the world? Napoleon said, as he created Le Legion d' honour, "It is with such baubles men are led!" Amen!

UNAM is my favourite hang-out. It's architectural space is stunning. Art, architecture and urban space are integral: a woven fabric, all enhancing.

I visited the school of architecture. Students where finishing final models and presentations. I looked on, they smiled. But no farther. I wish! Perhaps they could sense my love, my envy and, I suppose, my fear for their future in such a dysfunctional profession. I hope they try to emulate the space they are learning in. Still, gone are the days of architects Juan O'Gorman and Felix Candella and the muralists Rivera and Sequirios!

Yup, Hotel Isabel is a bit run-down.
Hotel Isabel
Isabel la catolica 63.
Though well managed, very clean, safe and reliable. Senorita Marina (Mx) cleans my place out every day, changes the sheets and does my laundry. At C$450.59 / month (laundry extra) it sure as hell beats the Ritz! I'll be staying a while. It is also in the very heart of the city: close to food, the zocalo, Metro, Palacio de la Bellas Artes, the Alameda. All on the door step! Remember, too, Centro Historco is a historical international monument!

Food! Wow, you should see Mexico City's Pastellerias. They are huge repositories of pastries, out to entice. Unfortunately, looks are more enticing than taste: it's the lard!

Still, I buy their croissants for breakfast. My regular eats-haunt is the restaurante Rincon Mexica. You wont find a gringo within blocks. Typical comida is, puchara de res (beef soup) sopicita ( small torta, queso and frijoles ), tortillas ( of course ), arroz ( rice ) o spaghetti, empenada de atun ( tuna pastie ) con ensalada ( salad ) y cerveza ( beer ). Plus tip, C$3.74. Move over White Spot!

That's it. Hey, why alligator report, you're wondering? If you got this far. Well, I was watching, on telly, an alligator giving a conservation officer a rough time as it was being extricated from a sewer, somewhere in Florida. It reminded me of W. P. Kinsella's very funny short-story of the same name. I empathise with the alligator!

I'll report regularly, if you like. I have to confess, I'm doing this for professional reasons. All these alligator reports, all the exploring and pussy-catting around too for that matter, are grist for when time comes to format my experiences into some marketable package.

If you want off my e-mail list, though, I'll understand!

Roger Kemble
Hotel Isabel
Centro Historico
La Ciudad de Mexico DF.