There are few remote corners of Mexico City in which the sounds of congestion and movement do not reach. El Metro is no exception; the noise of the trains zooming through the tunnels with the thundering power of an enraged Tláloc and the – increasingly persecuted – sing song chilango jingles of the underground urban economy vagonero hustlers that sell you just about everything at 10 pesos a piece, from earphones, CDs, Sharpie pens, and miracle creams for many ailments: “Hoy le traigo a la ventaa….”.
It is the noise of the steady rumble of life that extends laterally beneath a city that weighs down with the weight of 20 million people and immeasurable tons of concrete and volcanic stone.
Meanwhile its mark on popular rock culture of the early eighties is immortalized in the statue of the rock great Rodrigo González situated in Metro Balderas, who dedicated a tune of lost love to one of the busiest metro stations in the heart of the city, the underground world of fast paced trains and peddlers, remains very much like the metro of 30 years ago. It’s an atemporal space where the rituals and urban performances unfold in intricate choreographies that fluctuate unwaningly throughout the lapse of days, weeks, and years.
To me, the subway is yet another example of the intimacy experimented within the enormity and anonymity of Mexico City. It is both an intimate and alienating space that beckons the slumber and exhaustion of bodies that find comfort in the seats and aisles of the traveling wagon and where the impressive number of urban company reassures an unrelenting precariousness to keep guard over body and belongings.
El Metro is a space of repose and waiting; under the clocks along platforms there are lovers and friends awaiting predetermined special or customary reunions. And at a certain time of the day, when all are on their way to or from daily responsibilities, the metro becomes so unbelievably full of humanity that on your first trips you relinquish all authority and patrimony over private space and learn to rub elbows, hips, shoulders, and faces with your neighbor. Although this understanding is never spoken, once you become integrated into the underground world you learn that only in this complaisance can you get from El Zócalo to Coyoácan in one piece, participating in the choreographies of El Metro.
And within all of these rituals, all transients and participants are witness to the performances that seek to awaken slumbering souls, burdened by the city and its imposed anonymity as street poets and students of Shakespeare and Brecht invite us to explore their words of urgency and beauty; in gratitude for their performances some passengers exchange momentary glances and smiles, and on occasion a few pesos.
In El Metro personal solitude confronts the solitude of thousands of other people in such a way that they congeal into a mass of solidarity and pulsating urban life that awakens us with fleeting moments of lucidity, with the hum of trains and the heaving of humanity in movement as an incredible sonorous backdrop. In this way, it is sort of a moment of intimacy with everything and (mostly) everyone who inhabits Mexico City. It’s a moment of imposed repose before climbing back to the world of sound and distance, where these rituals of existing in individuality and community are repeated over again and in different forms.