Thursday, January 22, 2009

Zapatos para Bush

Back in Cairo, I finally have a moment to report on the week that was—for me mostly spent in Mexico City.

It was a great trip with lots of art (especially murals like this one by Diego Rivera),
good eating, and some pyramids.

(Those familiar with the Giza pyramids may find the following sign illuminating.)

There is a lot more to say about all of this—and something to say about our recent return to Cairo—but for now I will describe how I spent January 20, 2009. It began with me incredibly jealous of Jenna, who was in Washington for the inauguration, and ended...well, read on.

In the morning, I made my way to the Anahuacalli, a cultural center dreamt up and built by Rivera. Its centerpiece is an Aztec-style building he designed to displays his enormous collection of pre-Hispanic art. He began the project but passed away before it was complete. Juan O’Gorman and others finished it. It is a great space and a fascinating vision. The design is largely pre-Hispanic American, but there is some other iconography included as well (and seen on this ceiling mosaic).

Next stop was a performance by my friend and host Gabrielle. She produced "In and Out of Place (MLK y Obama)," an art action to commemorate the inauguration of Obama and the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. An eight-piece mariachi band performed four songs, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (the African American national anthem written by James Weldon Johnson and his brother Rosamond Johnson), Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” James Brown’s “Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud),” and Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” It was, I thought, a great tribute, which took place in a public square in Mexico City, not far from the US Embassy. There was decent turnout from media, expatriates, and curious passers-by. I don’t have photos of my own because I was using Gabrielle’s video camera, but here are some videos (not taken by me) posted to You Tube that tell the story a bit better than I can. Bravo, Gabrielle!

The square where this performance took place was one block from the US Embassy, which is blocked from Paseo de la Reforma by a huge metal barricade and Mexican military installation. In front of the metal blockade was an installation that a Mexican had produced, “Zapatos para Bush.” A lovely farewell kiss to the former US President. The display has shoes on the sidewalk and pictures hanging in front of the fence. Passers-by were encouraged to draw their own shoes as farewell displays. Another really thoughtful public art action in Mexico City.

I was able to watch part of the inauguration during the day—the Speech, Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, Joseph Lowery’s benediction.

In the evening, we celebrated with a Lucha Libre professional wrestling match at the Arena Mexico. This is wrestling where most of the athletes wear lycra masks that are indicative of his or her character. The matches I saw were incredible—great displays of athletic acrobatics and physical comedy. The stadium was full of families and other sorts of fans who most typically show their allegiance to a fighter by wearing his or her mask during their match. Since there were five matches on the card, true fans brought backpacks with several masks so that they could change costume before the start of each match. These masks are not only popular among the kids in attendance, but with the adults as well, who would wear these masks, except when they needed to eat the fish sticks or ramen noodles that vendors in the arena are selling. You can check out the CMLL (Mexican WWF) site which currently has photos and results from the 20 enero 2009 event I saw (not sure if those will stay up).

(Cameras were not allowed so I don’t have any pictures of my own.)

On my way out of the arena, I stopped in the men’s room. As I entered, I noticed that all of the fifteen urinals were occupied, about half of them by men still wearing their luchero masks. Quite a sight that seems to be deserving of a New Yorker cartoon. The entire day was wonderful, joyful, and surreal and, for me, seemed to end in appropriate fashion.

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