I have a favorite new spot in the heart of Mexico City. It's a little cafeteria attached to book store a block from the Zocalo. It's cheap. It's tasty. It has a vegetarian dish or two, a full bar and good coffee. And best of all, it's on a roof top terrace overlooking El Templo Mayor. It's a good spot to finish off a day in the city.
Reflecting over the last few days, something remarkable stands out. I seriously don't believe we see the world. At least I am sure that I don't. What we see is ourselves reflected in the surfaces and artifacts of the world around us. It is a kind of internal society of the spectacle. It isn't so much that the world doesn't exist, that everything is a simulation that mediates all human relations, but rather that our ability to see anything is tied to the internalized structures of that spectacle and the particulars of the places where it breaks down within us... or some such non-sense.
What I am really talking about here is much simpler than that. I doubt my ability to live here. I am too far adrift. I can't help but see the world from a fracturing and shifting internal experience. In moments my perception of everything changes.
Last night I visited a sick family member in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Mexico City. He lives in one of the small Colonial towns swallowed by the megalopolis. It has one entrance off of a busy thoroughfare. It's made up of a labyrinth of tiny dark alleys that turn back on themselves. It has it's own small church and plaza and shops. I lived there for a summer as a kid. And as I walked into the maze of streets early last night, I was in love with the place. My memories painted the darkness, the murals, the crumbling homes, the little shops and video arcade with a warmth that they may or may not have. It was a quiet, peaceful eddy in the midst of one of the densest places on earth.
My visit with my family was lovely enough. My uncle was recovering nicely from a near fatal illness. Our brief encounter was filled with love and kindness. But as I was leaving, running late for the last train, something changed. In an instant the world was a threatening and terrifying place. I am accustomed to these switches in consciousness/ perception. Things go bad in my life very suddenly. Sometimes dreadfully. And occasionally they are existentially dangerous. Usually, all it means is that I am suddenly terrified of the grocery store. In Mexico City, a more or less actually dangerous place, this shift was quite nearly debilitating. Under the best of circumstances threat looms over the city. Last night every face concealed violence. Every stare sized me up. Every footstep, every voice, every car that slowed, every dark doorway compelled me to fight or run. It was everything I could do not to start running. The only problem with that dreadful compulsion was that I was lost, in a rougher part of town. And to make matters worse, I no longer recognized anything. I was totally disorientated.
I did the only thing I could do. I acted as if I were the most calm, confident person in the world who new exactly where I was going. I made it home on unfamiliar and sinister streets. Streets I am about to walk again. I wonder how they will appear now, in the rain.