Thursday, September 15, 2022

City of Dogs

We lost David's campaign.

I'd been knocking doors for him on Tuesdays and Sundays, more frequently and more regularly than I think I've ever come out for one of our candidates. Per usual, I took some time off before election day to canvass even more; and then on election day itself, I woke up at 4:30am and took a car service from Sunset Park out to a house on Coleman St. in Marine Park, right on the edge Flatlands, to help a nice older Bernie supporter lady named Carol run one a volunteer dispatch site for the southeastern section of the district. My site co-captain Chris and Carol and I got everything set up in her back yard in the cool, pre-dawn twilight; our first volunteer arrived for his shift at 6:00am. By 9:00am the sun was creeping across the patio and it was clear that it was going to be a blazingly hot day. I spent the next eight hours turfing and dispatching canvassers and occasionally taking refuge in the A/C in Carol's furnished basement.

In the late afternoon I got fidgety and picked up a visibility shift at a nearby high school. I staked out a corner diagonally across from a mouthy Kevin Parker visibility guy who was flagging down cars in the intersection to hand them lit. (A weird and bad tactic, but a strategic step up from most machine incumbent visibility hires, who usually just sit under a tent with a boom box.) In the final hours of voting, the campaign sent me to a synagogue on Ralph Ave. At 9:00pm when voting closed, I asked one of the poll workers if turnout was any higher than in the June Assembly primaries (in which we'd gotten washed in races that should have been slam dunks for us, like Samy Nemir Olivares' in AD54). She said it was maybe a bit worse, which I felt immediately in the pit of my stomach. A few minutes later, Chris and his wife picked me up in their car on the way to the results party. We found out en route that we'd probably lost.

A year's effort! For a result that took minutes to compute. I felt gutted, and like a child I didn't try to hide how I felt at the party. I suppose part of it was that I'd been so deep in the work and seen so many other people deep in the work that I was sure we were gonna pull it out. I could just feel it, you know? In my fugue state I'd forgotten all of the reasons the campaign was a long shot: The Bad Unions supporting the incumbent, the self-righteous fake progressive spoiler who wouldn't drop out, the mid-campaign redistricting that ratcheted up the difficulty of the turf. It was sort of... existentially embarrassing to be brought back to reality so quickly. I drank a few seltzers-and-bitters and limped home on the subway. A rotten night. On the platform at Atlantic Ave. some time around 2:00am I saw a Kurt Fuller-looking dude wearing a "Biaggi for Congress" t-shirt over his button-down shirt. Well, I thought, at least that guy is having a worse night than me.

The following weekend Nina and I flew to Mexico City.

I hadn't left the country in three years, and Nina'd built up some vacation time that needed to be spent. CDMX was an enthusiastic compromise destination. This guy's requirement: Not a beach. It's not a beach! It's an almost unbelievable geographic premise, actually: A sprawling metropolis physically built around the sacred architecture of multiple ancient civilizations. A tropical London, but cleaner and prettier with better food. And not actually tropical—the temperature in the city never rose above 75 degrees for the duration of our stay, and often dipped into the 50s in the evenings. And yet it was greener than I expected, with towering rubber trees and palm trees and Jacarandas draped with lianas, and brightly colored flowers exploding on every side street and down the greenways built in the middle of almost every major thoroughfair.

CDMX is enormous, and its major geographic partitions are called delegaciones but I think you can think of them practically as big neighborhoods. We'd booked accommodation in Roma, a formerly fancy (?) part of the city downgraded to shabby chic after the earthquake in 1985. It's now full of coffee shops, and—strangely enough—book and vinyl record stores that actually receive foot traffic. The first full day of our trip we walked around the neighborhood, admiring the parks and plazas, and exploring a collection of artwork at Museo del Objeto del Objeto made by patients at a local "psychiatric rehabilitation facility" (prison, really). My favorite artist was a guy named Enrique who'd drawn an endless series of tableaus of anime muscle guys going down on anime girls with bat wings. On a recommendation from Chi who'd spent several years living in CDMX I ate an ethereally good avocado-and-mint cemita at Panadería Rosetta.

The second full day we were there we took a bus north to San Juan Teotihuacán to see the pyramids, leaving from the CDMX version of Penn Station, filled with fast food outlets and bakery stalls where the pan dulces were crawling with honeybees. We stopped outside the entrance to the site to examine some enormous nopales growing by the side of the path. We were part way through taking pictures of them before we realized we were standing on top of a nest of fire ants. The site itself is a sort stone avenue lined with built. The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, which are just staggeringly huge, are positioned at either end, and the Pyramid of Quetzlcoatl is sort of in between. There is scrub grass and wildflowers and what we realized were pink peppercorn trees growing everywhere. Despite the presence of hawkers selling and noisily demonstrating little mouth devices that simulate the roar of a leopard, the city of the gods was very quiet. A half dozen stray yellow dogs wandered around in the shade of the pyramids, politely begging for food and water from visitors. Some of the dogs had distended nipples from having recently given birth. They seemed like they knew things.

After stopping to rest and buy Pinguinos from a vending machine (and accidentally catching some of the dogs having sex) we visited the on-site museum. A figure who appeared again and again in sculpture and mural work was Huehueteotl slash Xiuhtecuhtli, the "old god," the old man of the fire. I was really taken with his appearance and overall nasty vibe! The ancient Mesoamericans really tapped into a resonant vein of godhood with him. Witness him: Stooped, emaciated but indestructible; sneering toothlessly as he emerges from the darkness lit flickeringly by the heavy brazier he somehow carries on his head. The old man demands blood sacrifice at the mile markers of your life; he sees you become old in due course, standing by with leering fascination as you fill up with bitterness and regret. The snarling old man who outlives you.

We took the subway home from the bus station, passing through La Raza station where - instead of advertisements - the walls of the pedestrian tunnels were given over to a large educational display on the science of dark matter and the history of the universe. A long section of tunnel was kept dark except for glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Yr fave (the MTA) could never!

Everyone told us to set aside a full day to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología, so that's what we did. It's a great museum, really comprehensive; maybe similar in scope to AMNH, minus the animals. After uneasily clocking more than a few variations on Huehueteotl as he surfaced in the pantheons of all the major Mesoamerican societies, we took a walk through the Bosque de Chapultepec. We crossed a footbridge over Circuito Bicentenario into Condesa, pausing to watch a helicopter weave its way between the skyscrapers in Cuauhtémoc. We ate dinner at El Tizoncito, where they claim to have invented the taco al pastor. They were pretty good!

The next day we headed down to Coyoacán to visit the respective museum-houses of Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo, as well as Diego Rivera's personal indigenous art collection, Museo Anahuacalli. I had maybe the best hot chocolate of my life at Café El Jarocho. Trotsky's house does what it says on the tin: You can poke around in the actual building, preserved (in theory) in the state it was in when he was murdered. I saw The Prophet's toilet. We touched the oven knobs in the kitchen and looked at the hutches in the courtyard garden where the Bronsteins kept their rabbits. Naturally, there were roses growing around the hammer-and-sickle cenotaph. (I touched that, too.) Frida's house is hugely popular—you have to wait on line to get in, and they kind of herd you through it. There's not much to it, though; all of her really famous work is in museums and galleries. So the house is mainly worth seeing for its preserved studio workspaces and day beds and kitchen and such. I didn't really care for the Museo Anahuacalli, which seemed to me like not much more than a rich guy's hoard of artifacts, presented without much curation or attention. It's in a very cool building, though, and for climbing to the top floor, we were rewarded with a huge study for a mural featuring Stalin and Mao telling the rest of the world how things were going to be.

The place we ate at that night, a bar/restaurant in Condesa that fried heart-shaped tortillas and promised a really good michelada (though we couldn't figure out how to get them to bring us anything but the simplest kind) disagreed with both of our digestions. So we spent the next day largely confined to our hotel room, watching most of the ridiculous Netflix scammer drama Inventing Anna.

The next day we felt stable enough to head out to the Centro Historico and the Templo Mayor. The Centro Historico is appropriately historic and central; the subway station you get off at is Templo Mayor, which is a block from the Templo Mayor, the Aztec pyramid that the Spanish repurposed as the seat of colonial government. You can walk around in the exposed ruins of Tenochtitlan and touch the stonework. We touched it! By the time we finished exploring, it was too late to get into any of the other museums in the neighborhood, so we sat on a bench in Alameda Central and ate medianoches from Pastelería Ideal.

After checking out El Chopo, the "punk market" in Vasconcelos, we spent the last full day in Polanco, where went to the Museo Jumex, which had a fun, cheeky exhibition by Urs Fischer, featuring an artwork consisting of a motorized human tongue that would slurp out a manufactured crack in the wall every so often. There was still time when we got out, so we walked across the street to the Museo Soumaya, which Chi warned me was not great, and, you know, it's not great! It's a lot of European paintings of fucked up chinless Jesuses collected by a rich guy. The building is cool looking, I guess, and on the top floor they have a bunch of Rodins.

I'm still recovering from the trip and from the campaign. But I'm starting to feel... free. And Halloween approaches.

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