In the last five years I have travelled a lot by plane, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for business reasons (my, but doesn't that business sound important ? let's just say that the job required getting there faster than by bus, so the office put me on a plane).
And I have arrived to Mexico City
, many times.
When the plane starts descent, all around it is blackness. It is easy to imagine that there is nobody at all on the dark invisible ground.
In fact, there are people down there, but their small kerosene
lamps and cooking ember are not visible from the plane. And the mountains are just plain black, and empty.
After a while, after a time punctuated by lurch
es (there are always lurches during a descent to Mexico City, probably it is because of the ring of mountains around it), one sees a tongue of lights. Usually orange street light
s, following the profile of a valley. At night I can't even try to recognize what place that could be - besides, it is very likely that I have never been there at all.
But it is the first sign of the city, a tendril of human occupation, into the complete blackness of the mountains.
And it is a tendril, a tentacle even : we follow its course, entering the Valle de México, and after a while one can see other tendrils of street lights, whiter house lights, even moving cars.
The tendrils become thicker, as we come closer to the main urban body.
As the plane gets lower and lower the tendrils merge, and turn into a sea of lights. From horizon to horizon, sharp and defined underneath us, blending into an indistinct orange fog in the distance; its infinitely distant borders marked by the blinking red lights of a radio antenna, we are now in the presence of Mexico City.
Huge, solid patches of blackness remains: they are the small mountains that the city has flown around.
Mexicans don't like building on heights; the higher you go, the poorer the houses and the people. The Cerro de La Estrella and the Ajusco are the places where nobody wanted to live.
And they remain uninhabited today.
The figure and the background have inverted: we shifted from an orange tendril on a black background to black stones on a dazzling orange extension of pinlights.
But now the plane turns over Coyoacan (I used to live there), true to the VOR installed on the World Trade Center (also known as the Hotel de México).
With some luck one may see the Ciudad Universitaria, but not the UNAM buildings - at night the Ciudad Universitaria is quite dark.
To the people on the ground, now, we are a very audible rumble in the sky, complete with landing beams.
At this point I coolly consider the possibility of disaster. I know some things about aviation, and I have listened to some tapes that I should have left at Marco's house - the ghoulish disaster tapes, with the recording of the conversation between control tower and pilots, before a crash.
Anyway, it is too late to wish for ignorance. I hope that the pilot will not have a heart attack on final, I hope that metal fatigue does not turn from a remote possibility to a violent, screeching, tearing reality.
But I am not afraid; mind you, I know that if anything should happen at this point I would scream like the others - I don't kid myself with illusions of tranquillity or invulnerability. I don't try to be detached. It just happens; a plane, especially a big one, for me is like a dose of Valium. Maybe it is the reduced oxygen content in the air.
Anyway, every time I board a plane a strange quiet possesses me. I don't fret, I am not afraid, I am not in a hurry. Time passes, and it is always with reluctance that I get off that place of peace, a crowded plane.
Now Coyoacan is well beyond us, we are over Viaducto, and we are low. I can see the implacable grid pattern of planned buildings, the buses, the cars ... no doubt, this is Boulevard Aeropuerto, and we are almost there.
We touch the ground after those strange seconds when the plane is almost floating close to the runway but not quite there. It is not a nice landing, there are some lateral forces. Lateral forces can be very bad for a clumsy ground vehicle still going well above two hundred miles per hour.
But they are not strong enough to flip us over into a screaming wreck of fire and metal.
Morbid, you may say, and you may be right. I call it being respectful of the possible imminence of disaster.
We come to a gentle halt, and people start receiving calls on their cellular phones.
It is always a bit saddening to me when the miracle flying machine turns into a large tubular bus with silly appendages sticking out. But that is what we are in now, standing on spidery landing gear. A last spurt of the turbines will bring us to the terminal.
This trip was to Hermosillo, in the state of Sonora, up North. Hermosillo is a town of one million inhabitants, whose greater problems appear to be traffic, water scarcity and extreme heat in summer. Peanuts, compared to Mexico City.
As we walk through the airport I say to my buddy mibarra "Estamos de regreso al desmadre y a la agresión" ("We are back to the confusion and aggression").
He, a Mexico City native that would live nowhere else, nods. The chilango agrees: indeed we are back.
And the whole problem is that I should hate this place. I am a smalltown boy from a small, intensely civilized country.
I should hate every minute here. And yet ... maybe it is the lolitas, maybe it is the perfect weather, maybe it is the knowledge that this is the biggest city in the world. Or it could be the two fairly happy years I have spent here, or the memories of Eugenia. Or the friends, that I now have here. Or the hermandad, the sense of being a brother, that I feel with Mexicans (and that I never felt in the US: they refused my love).
I find myself strangely attached. Even as I try in earnest to get away from Mexico City, a shameful voice, the voice of love, says "one month more ... you can leave in the summer ... the job is not bad".
And that is why it feels good to be back in Mexico City, speeding on the Periferico towards Tlalpan. I am sure that tomorrow the sky will be disturbingly blue - the city is always on its best behaviour when one has just arrived.