Photo by Robert Otter
Today the Op Ed page of The New York Times published a vignette of mine about what it is like on the streets of Mexico City in the time of swine flu. Click here to read it.
For information about the brilliant photographer responsible for the photo above, click here.
Photo by Anthony Wright
The CDC says that surgical masks are absolutely useless in preventing swine flu, unless you are working in a health-care environment. The drug stores that have any left are selling them at seven pesos a pop. Many have run out, and I saw a guy outside of the Farmacia Paris (which had posted a sign that said “Ya no hay cubrebocas”) selling them for ten pesos each.
Yet everyone and his brother has one in Mexico City. The Minister of Health, José Angel Córdova, has all but made them obligatory. Some people move them to the side while they puff on cigarettes, while others pull them down while they eat street tacos. Everyone and his brother talks through them on their cell phones. At a cantina last Monday, the customers were wearing them around their necks jauntily as if they were scarves.
I imagine that someone in a very high place here has a cousin in the surgical mask business.
In one of the first posts I wrote for this blog, I expressed the opinion that much of public space in Mexico City has been raped. Enormous billboards are not only in your face on the inner-city highways, but they also hover over the main boulevards. In residential neighborhoods they sometimes are painted on the sides of buildings or hang like banners over balconies and terraces.
A friend – let’s just say he is a gringo well into his sixties – saw that post and said he thought I had been harsh in my assessment. “Don’t forget,” he said. “There are all those ads of women in their underwear.”
On the metro during rush hour the two front cars of each train are segregated by gender. Only women are allowed in them, due to the unfortunate propensity that men in Mexico City have for unsolicited fondling in crowded transportation. Boys will be boys.
Even, apparently, when they are dressed as girls. Last Monday it was reported that David Mondragón Vargas, a 46-year-old systems engineer, wearing a wig and a dress, was arrested on the metro. He had been in the women-only cars, molesting members of the fairer sex. His apprehension was, in part, the result of a complaint from a woman who claimed she had been accosted by him on three separate occasions. Click here to read El Universal’s version of the story, and to see a video of the engineer, who looks a little bit like my late Aunt Toby.
Readers of the sex chapter of my book First Stop in the New World will find out that sexuality in Mexico City is baroque, misleading and confusing, a conclusion perhaps evidenced by this case. In another chapter I mention how few local novelists use Mexico City as a backdrop for their books. Ing. Mondragón Vargas illustrates why: Reality will inevitably trump whatever you could make up about this town.
About eight years ago my friend Sergio González Rodríguez “discovered” a tiny, hole-in-the-wall dive called El Bull Pen on Calle Medellín near Calle Yucatán in the Colonia Roma. At the time, it had a certain clandestine charm (that remained elusive to many) – one got the sense that anything was obtainable at the Bull Pen, if you lived long enough to obtain it. (This is not precisely a joke. At least a couple of friends were mugged while leaving the Bull Pen late at night, one of them by a policeman.)
In any case, Sergio published an article about the place in the newspaper Reforma, and the Bull Pen became incredibly (you might say insufferably) popular, particularly among the hippy-ish young. The place expanded to the property next door, live rock bands played at earsplitting volume … it struck me as way too much of a good thing.
Then it closed down. For what at least seemed like years. This happens often to such places in Mexico City, and it is usually assumed that the owners haven’t paid the requisite bribes, or the person who was accepting the bribes can no longer protect them, or they have made so much money that it no longer matters … variations on a theme. The Bull Pen recently reopened its doors, now back to being a tiny hole-in-the-wall. We’ll see how long it lasts in its present incarnation.