Fellow Fulbrighter and adventure buddy Chris and I have resolved to carpe weekend this semester in DF, even if the frenetic pace of school, work, and look-up-words-you-don't-know-and-streets-you-don't-recognize makes transforming the weekend into a straight-48 snooze session both rational and attractive. On Saturday, we got an early start (by Mexican standards, anyway-we met at 11:30) to the Castillo de Chapultepec, the crown jewel of the eponymous Bosque. The Bosque de Chapultepec is the Central Park of Mexico City, except with fewer dogs on leashes, more children on leashes, and no rollerblading. Having already trekked through at least part of the park's paddleboat lakes and public art installations and narrow lanes with street vendors urging you to buy tiny cacti and luchador masks, we made our way up the winding circuit to the castle that has housed Mexican presidents, emperors, foreign dignitaries, a military academy, an observatory and finally the National History Museum. While this history lent an understandably profound stateliness to the structure, it was the fact that Mexican soldiers, most younger than I, had shed blood defending the castle from American occupation in the Mexican-American War of 1847 that shaded the Saturday afternoon with somber reflection. I had always felt a mix of gratitude and wonder when visiting the Alamo, nestled in San Antonio’s urban sprawl, but didn’t know what to make of a place consecrated with my homeland as its aggressor. In time, I think it will form a missing part of the narrative, crosshatching my concept of patriotism with the scourge of war, humbling me in the knowledge that we all fight and die for what we love. As for passing through the stately halls and fierce portraits of the Castillo's inhabitants, I felt like a stray remnant treading lightly on tiled floors held up by martyrs.
Having had our fill of ground-level escapades, we zoomed underground to the Palacio de Bellas Artes and weaved our way next door to enjoy a 47-story panorama of the city before twilight at the Torre Latino. Constructed in the 50s, the tower was once the tallest in Latin America and has since withstood countless geographical and political seismic shifts. At best, extreme heights and I have formed an uneasy acquaintance based on half-truths that we continue to believe about each other despite substantial evidence to the contrary. After letting go of the central support beam and venturing to the cages where children were climbing like spider monkeys unaware of certain and sudden death only a steel coil's snap away, I stopped and marveled. I couldn't find a city center or a place of reference; the District offered me no internal logic. Skyscrapers appeared wherever it suited them, streets cut through stucco roofs and the Crayola box neighborhoods without deference, billboards displaying tortillas, cell phone plans or people in winter jackets (why?) advertised not only goods but a city's consciousness and desire, its arrival to a world above. Density fanned out at the edges, only to explode in a fit of residential developments on the outskirts of the city, the middle class forming a hedge around centuries of growing from the ground up. After the outermost concentric circle, it was mountains and light.
Dizziness managed to clarify. I was knocked off my magnetic track-line from work, school, gym, home and descended the tower elevator happier for the digression. There's so much I haven't seen, places my shadow hasn't even dreamed to darken. For some regions of the city, continued absence is for the best; for others, an immediate adventure action plan is needed. We caught the metro back just as the rains came and washed out three weeks' worth of contamination from the sky, and the past two days have seen everyone breathing easier, myself included. Was it just the rain, or has the promise of the unknown relaxed tension and restored hope to my chest as this century hits its adolescence? Either way, here's to six months of clear air, new sights, and a path marked by wonder, sound faith and clarity. Even in the city of eternal spring, new seasons find their own way of passing through--sometimes from 47 stories up.