(June 29, 2011) Art! Dogs! Dancing in the park!
My breakfast restaurant won´t open until 9:00 a.m., according to one of the waitresses I meet on the street. I have an hour to while away, so I start walking and watching.
It's obviously time to take the animals out to people watch. A bevy of poodles and bichons frises, all white fluff, lead their walker on her leashes. A sweat-shirt-sporting sharpei, alert and energetic even down to his wrinkles, precedes his mistress down the street. A pair of the world´s ugliest dogs, hairless but for tufts atop their heads and tails -- that rare breed so beloved by Frida Kahlo, who included hers in many self portraits, and by the Aztecs, who no doubt thought they tasted like chicken -- pause to give me the once-over. They are probably thinking:"Oh, my God! Another one of those ugly humans! There are more of them now than in the good old days before the Spanish Conquest!"
A man pushes a cart laden with huge plastic jugs of purified water. "Ay, I´m so tired," he says aloud. Then he sing-songs his wares in a rich, resonant voice that reverberates through the concrete canyon that is Regina Street.
From 1560-1928, this was called The Street of the Heart of Jesus. That heart might break if it were to see what has sprung up among the churches, convent, and remaining buildings that date back to its founding. Now it is home to bars, to stores selling school supplies, to closet-sized food stands, chi chi restaurants, a rambling market,and raw-chicken mongers. Or, maybe not. Merchants probably hawked their produce and all sorts of merchandise in doorways and impromptu stands back then, as well.
I sit down on a stone bench, as I am mesmerized by the mural that covers the first story of an abandoned building. "Huellas de la basura" or "Traces (or Tracks) of Garbage," by Gorka Larrañaga (www.gorkalarranaga.com; www.iranixe.net) shows man-like creatures with broad, squared shoulders, barrel chests, and skinny, bird-like legs. Hands and feet are claws, although one of the creature's hands have bolted knuckles, reminiscent of a robot's. Another figure has a beak. All are bald. Several have openings, in the form of keyholes, doorways, or tunnels, in their chests. In one figure's abdomen, a window --no, a medicine cabinet -- reveals a man's face, partially shrouded by netting and, on the cabinet door, a mirror. Connected at the hip to one of the strange man-birds is an armless child-sized being. A blue cup, from which a black palm tree sprouts, balances on its head. A seated man wearing a hat opens the door of what appears to be the interior of a car -- inside another creature's head. The host holds an empty bird cage.
It is at times like these that I wish I had a camerea, to show you the perfect incongruity between this at once horrific and captivating contemporary mural and the crumbling old building it adorns.
The maroon-colored edifice has been shedding slivers of its facade. Shards of glass have cracked or fallen from the windows. Balconies are chipping paint and earning rust. A still-perfect tile, imbedded in the middle of the top story, depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe. Another, lower down, shows two birds, necks craning toward each other, surrounded by flowers that hover in white space. Trees nest on the roof, no garden, but a scraggle of spindly shoots that testifies to the power and persistence of nature. Life adapts. Life continues.
I continue on to my breakfast.
Later in the day, I am at la Ciudadela, my favorite park. I dance with Paco, Ismael (the cigarette-reeking cabbie, one hell of a dancer), the pompadoured salsa instructor -- all acquaintances from previous visits.
A man with whom I danced last night runs up to me as I head toward the rest room. "Remember me?"
I do. Two lead feet, stiff as a board, trying to execute steps far too advanced for him.
"You dance well," he says. "When are you going back to the dance place?"
I shrug and take my leave.
On my way back to the hotel, I stop for a paste, an empanada-like snack. I pick one filled with tuna and chipotle peppers.
I'm in bed, two minutes short of sleep, by 9:30 p.m.