photo by lumpyman
The theme from the Munsters seemed like a goof. A few rabblerousers in wrestling masks whooping and ska-ing furiously in appreciation of the unappreciated as a small crowd egged them on. Then Miserlou; more kitsch, and more of us helped play out the energetic joke. Dancefloor bumping, pushing in a room too small for anyone to be left out. Then when Dick Dale ended, but before anyone could catch their breath, the rapid-fire stuttering of the Ramones”™ Surfin”™ Bird first froze and then unleashed the tightly packed mob into furious whirling and shoving, fists and elbows flying, the club DJ above it all, swaying and swinging his arms like a demonic puppet-master. Midnight in Mexico City.
Hudsonblick readers may recall the last time that events at home led me to inflict a multi-day drinking binge on some of my close friends. This time it wasHP who called for a weekend of mayhem, to commemorate his own final days before becoming a father. There were other candidate destinations: Austin, Texas is known for a good music scene. Montreal is a well-recommended boozing destination. Berlin has been an escape for all sorts of freaks. Mexico City is known for smog and kidnapping. Nike factories where barefoot children work for pennies an hour. Tap water too polluted to drink, if you can even get it. Mexico City it is.
Shortly after checking into our spartan but spacious accomodations, we found ourselves at the ZÃ³calo, a flagstone parade ground which, like most of the neighborhood, was a sort of open market: vendors selling candy and cigarettes, assorted toe-nail clippers, punk-rock patches and swastikas. Truckloads of soldiers arrived and cleared room to perform the daily ceremony of lowering the streaming, oversized national colors above the square. On one side iron bells clanged in the cathedral, beside the truncated ruins of an Aztec ziggurat. On the other, the shaded terrace of a Spanish palace, quietly swimming in cool tile.
For food, the streets of MC are like the Garden of Eden. Everything is the best thing you”™ve ever eaten. Every taco the best taco, every tamale, the best tamale. Pork sandwiches, churros, Argentinean empanadas, you grab whatever comes next; the cost is almost nothing. You probably forget that you”™re supposed to not eat any vegetables that may have been washed in tap water, but don”™t worry: that”™s only the first of many tourist rules that you will break.
There is no sense of menace here, no gringo nightmare of tiny brown hands slipping into your pockets or crooked policia extortion. The people are patient, and generally unfluttered by American displays of generosity or impatience. But there are policia, many policia: in body armor, in boots and bandoliers, wearing pistols or clutching shotguns. They”™re not hassling gringos, though. Mostly, they just seem to be waiting. And watching.
Ater the street vendors packed up their buckets and grills and families, our roving food-orgy moved to a cantina for jamon sandwiches and huge mugs of Negra Modelo. We shouted and moaned with the rest of the customers at each swing and slip of the boxing match on the wide-screen television, accidently cheering the wrong pugilist. The fun in MC is uninhibited and loud and the beer is virtually free, both in contrast to NYC where they are, respectively, a reserved demonstration of entitlement and bought by the round only in parsimonious alternation.
Eventually, eating turned into bar-hopping, and bar-hopping brought us to the site of the aforementioned surf music riot. After HP iced down a huge lump on his shin, we broke another tourist rule and accepted an invitation to follow some people to an after-hours club. Our new friends guided us in a caravan of taxis across town. A dark street, an abandoned hospital, and then an outpost of light and music. Inside, the dense humid air had me gasping like a guppy. Neon décor and giggling party girls packed in close, sipping water. I really wasn”™t on the right drugs for this party.
For an hour I swigged beer, watched vintage hippie cartoons, and listened as the music looped through unmelodic variations of top-forty beats. Finally, despite the great scenery, I accepted that the vibe (and lack of air) wasn”™t for me. I grabbed a couple of the guys and set out in search of another venue.
A block. Five blocks. Dead quiet. A pack of dogs lying in the street eyed us curiously. A left, two blocks. Stop. A faint thumping from a side street. Turn, advance, listen. Louder, and good. Advance. Some guys in t-shirts in front of heavy, closed doors. The source. With a combination of pointing, passive language skills, and appreciative nods, the lead t-shirt guy knocked and shoved at the door until someone inside opened. Metal techno, hard riffs over thumping beats. More pantomime, and they waved us in.
Inside, a high courtyard with a few clusters of stragglers and a DJ pounding out the music, oblivious to the lack of audience. I made my way up the wide staircase to the second landing of the courtyard. An abandoned apartment building turned squatter club? Another source of sound came from a room off the stairs. As I crossed the threshold, I was engulfed. Indecently loud, hard music: abrasive, drilling, stuttering, amazing. It moved unpredictably, it danced spontaneously, each stroke defined and brilliant. The only decorations were a few gauzy white sheets hanging from the ceiling. No light show. Nothing to distract. At the front of the room, behind the bobbing DJs, a projector ran blurry black and white slides: broken streets, triumphal monoliths. This fantastic city, watching itself. Aware.
“In an instant all the city of Gregoria could hear the good times going on at the Sala de Baile. In the hall itself the din of the music — for this is the real way to play a jukebox and what it was originally for — was so tremendous that it shattered Dean and Stan and me for a moment in the realization that we had never dared to play music as loud as we wanted, and this was how loud we wanted.”
— Jack Kerouac, On The Road
“Â¡Pobre México! Â¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!”
(“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!”)
— Porfirio DÃaz, President of Mexico, 1876-1880 and 1884-1911