Monthly Archives: January 2008

Alphabets

So I worked out why I have found it hard to get enthusiastic about Mexico.

My previous travels have almost all been in Europe, America, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. What these areas have in common is their cultures and civilisations have left a mark. They created alphabets, discovered knowledge and propagated themselves in books. They are all profoundly written cultures and as such, their impact can be observed and felt in our contemporary society. I find them interesting because to understand them, is to understand myself and the world about me that little bit better.

Conspicuous by their absence from my travels have been Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa (with the exception of South Africa). Whilst pre-Colombian cultures did discover knowledge, writing and were relatively advanced for their time, I cannot see or feel their effect in my own, Western, Judeo-Christian cultural life at all. Wandering around a museum of artifacts spanning two thousand years, not one aspect of Latin American history had any resonance with me other than to impress upon me the fact that it no longer exists in any recognisable form. It pretty much failed absolutely.

I can understand why Latin American, and perhaps even Africa, appeal to people who enjoy carnival, partying and a multi-coloured good life. But, I need intellectual stimulation from my travels. I need to feel a connection with the location and these two continents have yet to make one for me.

The one exception to this is in regards to poverty. We passed by some slum areas on the bus yesterday, and I am appalled, fascinated and impressed by the ability of human beings to survive in extreme, basic conditions. Seeing the corrugated steel roofs over tiny boxes reminded me of how lucky I am to live in the West. I have felt the same thing when travelling in North Africa and wish I could have spent more time looking around the poorer areas of town here in Mexico City, but I have been wary of the crime rate. I am not a poverty tourist, but wish I could meet the people who live in these areas and learn more about their lives. To only experience the history of a city without seeing its present makes a trip incomplete.

DF

I think I had expected Mexico City to be more like Cairo however this potential was quickly dispelled when I saw people spraying the pavements down and sweeping up the litter. With barely a car horn to speak of and the pavements easily navigable, this could instead very easily be a large Spanish or Mediterranean city and the dominant European architecture assists the illusion.

Perhaps my initial impression of the town is coloured by the fact that today is a Saturday. Weekends are never very indicative of a city and the crowds queuing for mass, playing in the large parks and riding the rollercoasters in the city fairground are probably skewing my perception of the city. It all seems very civic orientated and amiable. But dull. I am always suspicious of capital cities which don’t anchor themselves by the coast or by a large river.

The Zocala, not to be confused with the Babylon 5 location, is the natural centre but, but… it is not a Piccadilly Circus, Times Square, Midan Tahrir or Champs Elysee. It all feels very anonymous, no sights which one immediately recognises or is drawn to. The city does sprawl but not in a way which tempts you to one part over after another. I think I need to get out of the central locations of the Zona Rosa, the Condessa and the Paseo de la Reforma and investigate the less salubrious areas which I passed on the way from the airport, but unlike Cairo, crime is an issue here so we shall see.

I think my attitude towards this city is being affected by the fact that I cannot find a copy of the Economist anywhere. There are news stands everywhere but they seem to specialise in car and lad mags and pornography. This seems to reflect a general lack of Anglophony on the street signs and even in the Museums. Not surprising when you have such a dominant Northern neighbour perhaps but it does seem rather petulant and self-defeating.

This is not a cosmopolitan city. I forget how much satisfaction I get from face watching in London and New York but other than the entropic European features of some, the dominant ethnicity seems fairly uniform. It was notable that amongst the trendy (and more expensive) cafes in Condessa, that the European features were more common among the clientele.

The weather, in contrast to New York and Miami, is wonderful. Tomorrow I shall investigate the subway I think.