Sauntering down the streets of downtown Mexico City on a Sunday afternoon, I’m suddenly struck with the tumultuous and quiet companionship found in a chaotic and multitudinous city.
Here you find company in multitude and in the paradox of solitude within urban conviviality because meanwhile its sheer size imposes intimacy and familiarity, the loneliness and solitude incubated within it also makes for great company. This is a city that I love and relish in enjoying in the company of my own solitude.
From traveling in the Metro, and catching a film at the Cineteca Nacional, to walking through my favorite colonias on any given afternoon and evening, I have always found company in people and urban space. I believe that such a city is made to provide company and warmth to even the most lonely of souls. Because as you rise and move throughout the city, you find yourself moving alongside millions of reposing, gazing, and moving people.
I love to walk down the streets of El Centro during Sundays when it seems almost to collapse under the weight of so much people. People walk down its streets enjoying more leisurely the pleasures of the city and its constant supply of entertainment, from street beggars and poets to massive broadcasting flat screen tvs, to accessible cultural and educational urban gastronomy. The sheer size of the city imposes urban communion.
As the urban days commence and unwind at a hurried pace, as people move and travel always to predetermined destinations and commitments, there are various points in the city where time slows down and welcomes repose. The public squares and shaded urban oasis of green spaces. The poetry of entangled lovers and young poets reciting to each other beneath the shade of trees at Las Islas at UNAM. The city is lived in different gears and traveling at different speeds allows me to multidimensionally connect with and discern the city.
Here I also walk through multiple soundscapes. The organ grinders, out-of-tune street organs and relics of a Mexico City of a hundred years ago, and the musings and soundtracks of the street performers lined up all along the colonial streets, fill the city with a sonorousness that permeates city dwellers’ daily lives, by musicalizing the various neighborhoods and people that inhabit it. It is both the lyricality and the silence, the people and the absences, its density and sparsity that compose the city and thus accompanies each and everyone of us that live and travel through it.
One of my favorite things to do is grab breakfast or coffee at old diners all over the city. On some mornings I walk into La Pagoda, one of various chinese-style cafes in El Centro, and grab a seat at the cafe’s bar. As I relish in the perfect combination of café con leche and pan dulce, I suddenly smile to myself and to my neighbors as I realize I share the same affinity for tranquility, solitude and good coffee with the older chilangos sitting all around me.
Yet it is the perfect example of urban solitude and solidarity: taking comfort and enjoyment in the company of your own self and realizing that however big the city may grow and however agitated and restless it may be, there are millions of people who perhaps also find a solidarity amongst each other and with the city. Existing in their singularity with the comfort and silence that seems to challenge an existence, or an expectation, that homogenizes and restricts these rituals to unfettered consumption and decay, the destiny of massive and global cities in what has been misnamed the “third world”. It is then a sort of mutually inspiring and protecting ritual, between denizen and city, foreigner and primordial.
Mexico City, after all, is a beautifully complex being in and of itself. Some may call it a monster, either loving or disparagingly, but for me it has amassed the qualities of lover, teacher, and companion. Even when its denizens have and continue to mistreat each other, even when its intensity becomes overbearing, the city unveils opportunities and moments of repose and reassurance amidst all of its chaos. In that way it also becomes our best companion.