Wednesday, April 14, 2010

¡Qué viva México!

Off to Mexico for five days... out into the thin polluted air of Mexico City... the Periférico, usually loaded with the evening commute, is flowing steadily on a Wednesday afternoon. Out at Insurgentes, South and West, past the mountain rim, and down the green slopes towards the city Alexander von Humboldt called "of the eternal spring". Luxury tropical vegetation and swimming pools, Diego Rivera's mosaics, tropical birds, and the sweet smell of the night. The Institute on the hill, seminar room in an outdoor bungalow, just missing a round of cocktails served to the merry crowd. Old friends who surprisingly still remember me. Lectures, long, intense. One gets quickly into a semi-hallucinatory dream, conjured up by the heat, the intensity of the spices, the altitude air, the abundant flow of cervezas and tequilas.

And all of a sudden everything begins to make sense: the thin layer of volcanic ashes deposited on my laptop keyboard, flying away into the clash of new hopes and old despairs that mixes in with the lectures, two new and one old. Finally sawing together again the gaping hole torn in the texture of my existence. Finally whole, like the Earth trembling beneath us. And now for the first time I understand why Mexico is the final refuge and exile of all tired revolutionaries, a place for troubled beat poets on the run to lose themselves into a nameless crowd, and at the same time a rumbling echo of a power enormous and suppressed, like that towering volcano overlooking the city, like the old pyramids of Tenochtitlan, smeared with human blood. Heat and immobile agave stems: am I dreaming the thoughts that form inside my mind? Curfew in the evening, the army rolls into the city on tanks and armored convoys. Life returns the next morning in the street markets of Tepoztlan, under dark mountains shaped like human hands. One can understand how Eisenstein couldn't stop filming, until he lost himself inside the gigantic movie he never made. Here I am, eating fried grasshoppers in market stalls. Here I am, giving a lecture series that finally, for the first time, is really about what I am.

Off to the City again, a short bus ride away. Ciudad de México is a gigantic living organism that stretches from mountain range to mountain range, filling in entirely the land between. The 22 million megalopolis, counted by some as the most liberal and left-wing city in the world, is a treasure trove linked by a network of subway systems. I pay a respectful visit to Trotsky's house, comme il faut, and to the nearby Frida Kahlo museum. I never felt any particular affinity to her paintings before, but now for the first time I fully understand what it was all about, and I see the impressive beauty with which she was able to give form to the same kind of suffering I have now become so familiar with.

Two paintings in particular caught my attention at this time: in her "Love embrace of the universe", the much loved much hated Diego Rivera appears very significantly characterized as the child wanting to be at the center of the universe, while the artist, in her co-dependent role, accepts to act as the mediator between this repulsive solipsistic ego and the double embrace of Earth and a distant, more impersonal, Cosmos. In another equally powerful painting "Without hope", Kahlo, lying sick in bed is force fed a cocktail of nightmarish monsters. Not only I now finally understand perfectly the meaning of these paintings, but I can also see why Kahlo refused the label of Surrealist: what she was painting was merely an excruciatingly realistic account of life.