Monday, June 20, 2005

El DF, part two

number thirty-five

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican vacation. This is also the second post in a numbered duo about the history of México City. Be sure to read the previous post, too. 1,018 words.

[NL; composed in DF]-México City enjoys a long and sordid history too interesting and complex to condense to the space constraints here. But briefly: after the summary, near total destruction of Tenochtitlán, its site was rechristened México, and rebuilding began right on top of the ruined Aztec city. This new city was to be the capital of Spain’s new colony. Over the next fifteen years, Spain extended its control past the boundaries of the deposed Aztec civilization all the way to Panama in the south, and to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the west. Prolific silver mines located in Zacatecas, Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí helped finance Spain’s seizure of northern territories as far as modern-day Texas, California, and Colorado by the 1590s, though these far-flung occupations proved impossible to control. Medical pandemics brought to the New World by Spanish soldiers killed indigenous people by the millions. As the new generations of mixed Spanish and Indian populace were introduced into colonial society, they were regulated by a class system based on skin color and degrees of nationality. The darker Indian a person was, the more menial his or her place in a society run by white Spanish purebloods. Notably, missionary presence geared to engineer the local Catholicization began to champion the health care of the local population, leading to the abolishment of indigenous slavery in the 1550s (much of which was replaced by African slaves). These champions of the people succeeded in turning most of the New World into Catholics, along the way protecting the lowest classes and helping usher Mexicans to independence in the nineteenth century.

Modern México City is the federal capital of the country, an awe-inspiring megalopolis over-spilling its ancient lakebed plateau, the surrounding mountains, and its federal district. It is the most populous city in the Western Hemisphere, and the greater metropolitan area (located in the Distrito Federal, plus the sates of México and Morelos) is one of the most populous in the world (research varies: some sources report México as number one, some report it as low as third, possibly depending on quantification criteria). There are somewhere between 18 and 23 million people living in the metropolitan area, according to census projections based on the latest data. México City’s giant two-volume phonebook, including telephones contained only within the Distrito Federal (there are three more volumes for areas in México State), attest to this. This population is roughly equivalent to one-fifth of the population of the whole country. Population density is an interesting thing. In New York City, much of the five boroughs stands upwards of ten stories high, an average that means people live and work in less square acreage of city space. México City, referred to as DF (for Distrito Federal) by many in México, tops out at an average of about three floors, significantly increasing the amount of acreage taken up by the same number citizens in New York. This is part of the reason the city seems so much larger and more intimidating. In an effort of keep track of the sprawl, México is split into some 350 different neighborhoods, called colonias, stretching far past the horizon and out of sight around the surrounding mountains.

The DF has grown ten times its size since 1940, and it is estimated that six hundred new people move there every day. Social strife, health, and other over-population issues are never far from the surface, and in times of unusual stress (for example, unrest came to a head during the great depression, during the Mexican hosting of the Olympics when student demonstrations turned into a massacre in 1968, after an extremely deadly earthquake measuring over eight on the Richter scale killed thousands in 1985, and during the recession of the late nineties), México can find itself damn near anarchy. Over the last eighty years, street crime has fluctuated back and forth between unacceptable and epidemic. In an effort to curtail México’s constantly swelling criminal element, the city has been outfitted with its own newly autonomous government (previous to 1997, the DF was governed directly by the federal government. Next year, the third-ever elected mayor of México City will run for the presidency). Also, in 2002, president Vicente Fox hired recently replaced New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani to assess the crimewave and suggest some methods for México City’s government to fix the problem. Here’s the problem: México City says it is still waiting for the funding to implement Giuliani’s initiatives.

Traffic had already reached such staggering proportion that in 1969, the DF installed the country’s first Metro, which, almost forty years later, is not making much of a dent. In the nineties the Mexican government passed laws restricting certain cars from driving on certain days (the last digit on your Mexican license plates, 0-9, indicates which day it is unlawful to drive on the Distrito’s roads, Monday through Friday) in an effort to cut down on emissions. Many cars, though, legally or otherwise, sport exemption stickers. In the late nineties, many roads were changed into one-way streets, while others were widened to create a system of “axis” versus “access” roads throughout the city. Still, traffic is a snarling entanglement and pollution levels are dizzyingly high. This is due, in part, to the México’s high altitude (2,340 meters above sea level), and the fact that México’s relatively flat lakebed is ringed by mountains (some adding to the atmosphere through their own volcanic activity), keeping industrial output and traffic emissions trapped above the city.

And for those who tire of worrying about the streets or the sky, below the city is a sprawling Aztec wonder, centered beneath the very heart of the DF: its Zócalo—the Plaza de la Constitution, its Palacio—the seat of the federal government, and its national cathedral. As the loose earth and archeological structures settle due to time, geology, and early water extraction, the new city is sinking into the older one.

Click here for more information on modern México City.

End of part II. Coming next is the story of our vacation there.

Modern Mexico from the hotel window © the Author

Quiet Reading Room

This is a quiet reading room. Often, I find it is uncomfortable to digest long tubes of columned text directly off a computer screen. This journal is dedicated to the collection, percolation, and ultimate integration of my personal experiences. Subjects that I want to examine and then talk about--sometimes talk a lot about--€”are presented here. This central content can tend to thousands of words, maybe millions. I was afraid that readers were leaving the presentation boggled, spinning, googly-eyed. Or perhaps when confronted with twenty-four inches, or yards, of monitor sprawl they were just giving up. I am not even certain that I have necessarily solved this inevitable content problem of modern information enjoyment, but here is what I have done.

After long and highly scientific routines manipulating double-blind control- and test-subjects, peer reviewed journal publications, and hours and hours of hands-on experimentation, I have crafted this quiet reading room. There is no scientific way to control the length of the articles I write, but careful handling can somewhat soothe the contextual presentation. In other words: I have dropped the traditional speculation about lexicon, and attacked the question of the matrix itself instead. Brilliant. After years of diligence what I eventually crafted is this reading room.

The walls are contoured to relax instead of constrain; the paper is made to soften instead of reflect. The light is dimmed--just so--€”to prevent strain, angled to prevent umbra, and color-coded to soften harsh red lights and deepen wimpy light reds. There is nothing I can do to control aural environment, but my recommendation is that it should be kept quiet. About ambient sound: these entries are probably best read as far as possible from emergency vehicles, preferably from beneath the muffler of a vintage fire fighter pilot's scarf, puffy old duvet, or snow that is still falling.

My theory is that the wide web world is filled with potent and material opportunities that are just too difficult to digest for many people to take part. Enjoyment of this stuff is regulated to the routines of crawlers and robots at the peril of humankind's peaceful future survival. In an attempt to delay this likely outcome: welcome to this quiet reading room. It is for people like you to relax, kick back, and hate my content for better reasons than the dizzying vertiginous specter of its lousy dpi presentation.

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