We’re writing this under the influence of chiliquiles, eggs, and Indios beer, in the Mexico City Airport. Like every public structure in Mexico, the airport is more than willing to sacrifice convenience to vastness. Of course, shuffling city-loads of people from one point to another requires vastness, yet I can’t help but think that the visitas at the Atlanta, D.C., or JFK airport are narrower – there’s a puritanic concentration on getting people through these spaces, filling them with junkfood they wouldn’t otherwise eat at prices they wouldn’t otherwise pay, putting t-shirts, fat paperbacks, or magazines in their hands and trundling them, in numeric order, into the belly of various money-losing jet-liners – which mechanism, translated into Mexican terms, blurs at the edges with the memory of monuments. Yes, there is still something monumental here, from the point of view of which all rituals are variations of one ritual…
However, reader beware: I might be under the influence of the Museum of the ViceRoyal Period in Tepotzotlan, a former Jesuit seminary which I visited with my friend (and colonial expert) M., yesterday. M. has a personal relationship to the pale, satiric or placidly pious faces of the worthies that peer out of all those seventeenth and eighteenth century portraits – or, rather, allow themselves to be peered upon, since the painted features, even in the simulacrum of religious fervor, belong to the queen side of the phrase, “a cat may gaze upon a queen.” Queens, however, reserve the privilege of gazing vulgarly upon cats in times of their own choosing. So do saints, bishops, and Jesuits.
Still, M. peered with fierce disapprobation at Bishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, who spent his time in the New World combatting the power of the aforesaid Jesuits, who, for M., are an adventuring, erudite order – at least in Palofox’s time – composing theories of the pyramids in one part of the world, teaching the Chinese the rules of Renaissance perspective in another part, and in still a third dying, in extra pictorial agony, nailed to crosses by the shores of the Japanese inland sea. But the heroic is, perhaps, understood differently by M. and Bishop Palofox – the latter might have thought heroes are always, in the end, pagan Greeks at heart.
I mention this museum in relation to the airport because the central glory of it – the museum, that is – is a chapel of a richness (in faces, effigies, attitudes, cherubim, allegories) and a supererogation (of golden gilding) that the traveler’s description must necessarily be an abasement, the stuttered, banal recounting of a glorious dream. One walks down the central aisle from the door to the altar, and a strange thing happens – for there are more eyes on the walls, more eyes on the mounting levels, more faces, more activity, as one niche yields to the other, as one wall falls away to reveal another equally resplendent, until, at a certain point the message is felt, rather than intellectualized – one’s floorbound-ness itself, one’s extra-pictorial body, is a sort of subtraction of glory in this ever ramifying crowd. The obvious cure for this is to surrender completely.
Which is one of the crushing effects of a certain kind of power. Myself, I am only trying to give you the background to my impression that the Mexico City Airport knows, in its spaces, that the world is not made for your convenience.
Now it is time to board. I’ll transcribe this later.
So much for over-generalization. The Houston Airport taught me all about surrender, as well as inconvenience. The lesson was brought home by the contingent of the Customs Department there, who run an operation on lines that would shame the variously intoxicated teens running the night shift at a country Dairy Queen. I’m talking about a custom official typing my numbers into a computer with one finger, and numerous aiding glances at the piece of paper before him, and then letting me proceed – making sure that he held me just long enough to miss my connecting flight – after a search of my bags so perfunctory I could have easily smuggled Osama Bin himself by the guy. I’m talking about one of them telling the black guy from Miami, who sensibly asked what was the point of delaying us for no apparent reason, with a drawling threat to really make him miss his flight to Miami, working himself up to such a redneck frenzy that another Customs officer had to intervene. Oh well. I got some chicken, I got a beer, I opened the Times and noticed Tom Friedman describing the insurgents in Iraq as ‘desperate’ – an adjective he has employed for insurgents since August 2003 – and, settling back in my chair, heard the nattering, behind my back, of the tv. This is the George Bush Airport, and the tv was set, appropriately enough, to some swinish cable news station feeding the masses sour rightwing pap. I’d almost forgotten, during the last two weeks, that we live in the age of Bush. The cable newspeople were worried about the U.N. taking over relief efforts for the tsunami victims, since the U.S. was throwing in its 300 million. The U.S., apparently, should use this as a big opportunity to win friends among the orphaned beneficiaries of our charity and impress people with being against natural disasters and all. Presumably, once the tsunami survivors take our K rations we have the right to tattoo the stars and stripes on their foreheads of something. A regular win/win situation, looked at rightly.
I wasn’t quite ready, yet, for the mindmeld of cretins. But what the hell. I’m back, back, back in the U.S.A.