I miss the city.
I miss Oaxaca City Mexico City.
I miss the heart of the cities.
I miss the woman in the market with a welcome scowl for your Anglo ignorance (or was it a smile) as she extends her excellent leaf and branch crumbling medicine in a paper bag. Your friend leads you here. The twice daily tea truncates your cold. Other ways of knowing work.
I miss the man with hair slicked back pausing to let your grey hair pass by. The dark haired women you meet who know everything that matters.
I miss the sun so high it shivers.
The heat of the afternoon. The sweat that drips along your ribs.
The dust in my eye as I look south towards the Avenue of the Dead. The horizon way.
The giant cacti posing along a desiccated patch of red road. The story of their parasites crushed. How they red dye. The woven carpet carmine. Your artists’ collective earrings fade to a lighter shade of red. Red. The red dots in the Palace of the Jaguar you would have missed had it not been for the kindness of a stranger who rushed with you towards the painted surfaces in an underground space. I miss the outline of the jaguars, the eagle, the crocodile. I miss the woman blowing into the jaguar whistle to find the haunt of growl. I miss laughter in the midst of this. I miss the large red dots glimpsed through the doorway. How in this shadowed place, they remind you of Scandinavia and what you lost. How your mind slips towards Europe when you know this red dot began here.
I miss the city where people like art. Where art happens in a closet filled with tiny exhibitions you might have missed had you not stopped to look. Where art happens in a revolution without end. The painter finishes a work and a printmaker repeats the refrain with a difference. An Indigenous woman stands with a rifle. An Indigenous woman stands at the entrance to the train car. An Indigenous woman exits the door. Or enters the frame. Once there was a photograph. Now it is a room full of paintings. One as telling as the next one. This woman with a rifle stands in a frame within a frame. The woman artist carves a wooden front piece that tells its own story. A fretwork of grain. And on each floor of this gallery, you look out onto a street where people walk and cook and eat and wave and hurry or stop. And history stands still to inhale the air in this room.
You feel light-headed at this altitude. Your bones no longer ache.
I miss a city where the streets aren’t named after white male land owners and proprietors. Where the insurgency or the revolution or the resistance are mapped from here to there for generations. The streets lead onto neighbourhoods of impoverished strangers or the bourgeoisie. Maps leap to life with hop on hop off buses and collectivos and small red cars that go somewhere.
I miss the market where so much beauty hangs in the air or along the walls of stalls above the heads of women who stitch antelope or rabbits or a hummingbird in pastel rainbow colours or orange. I miss the oranges and avocados, bananas and mellons. I miss the mezcal, smooth or rough. The tamarind juice, the pineapple. I miss the lemons and limes, the Bohemia Oscura, dark cerveza, malt and caramel, smoke, nut and coffee.
I miss looking at the hands with long fingers, the silver rings that loop shining over the beauty of brown skin.
I miss the feeling of being an interloper in a space where I don’t belong. Where the rich texture of colour and ideas fill my mouth with delight. And many questions. And now I must go for a walk.
Parque Mexique is new enough. According to my flight home seatmate named Martha, 31, whose father is from Chiapas. Smiling broadly, Martha says she likes Vancouver. She works to invent new fabrics for a sportswear company and she loves to hike in the parks and mountains nearby like my daughter. Last summer she kayaked for hours on the Sunshine Coast. She’s just flying back from a Mexico City wedding with her family when we meet. Seventeen hours of a great party, she says. Or maybe it was longer. Whatever. Wish I had been there. I say I want to live in Mexico City and we look at each and laugh. She loves Vancouver. I pine for Mexico City. And Oaxaca City. Maybe Chiapas if I ever visit.
I miss the Mexican people and the artistry. (I romance, you say.)
I miss looking for a place to eat in the Oaxaca City market. And finding the woman who thrusts out her menu providing a welcoming bench. You sit, you eat. And beside you a woman says, “Buenos dias.” And you say, “Mui bien” or an unpleasantly accented variation. And she tells you she is a chef so you order everything she does and it is delicious. Chicken in mole sauce and rice. You drink half a beer because it tastes so good. And then you walk with her towards her destination and on the way she tells you where the special gallery is and you go there and find a solution to our Jason Kenney in the work of the Mexican artists who don’t shy away from bedeviling political enemies in their work.
Cut Jason Kenney up. (As in art.) Collage him to death. (As in art.) Give him devil’s horns and twin penises the size of giant pottery shards, a snake, a crocodile, a spittoon. Surround him with a swirl of bacteria and pestilence. Rockefeller’s syphlitic microbes. Or coronavirus crowns. Give him sticks to beat the poor, guns to shoot down nurses, coral him into a vast canvas where teachers cower in dungeons filled with shit. Dress him up in a top hat and gloves, a waistcoat and dapper tapping cane. Fatten him like a stuck pig snorting his privilege. Red-faced and fanged. Dripping blood. Why restrain yourself. Imagine you are dreaming of a time to come when Indigenous people self govern and charge you tolls to drive across their land. It happens in Oaxaca.
I miss the city where music plays in your head. Where even tourists find themselves serenaded by duets voicing bliss. Where karaoke singers croon with the elegant sexy seduction of long ago matinee idols. You leave the café and their bodies turn towards a group of women standing on the street listening in admiration. The seduction continues.
I miss the tiers of artists in a cavernous room where the work explains the world. One after another. The artists. A chorus of streaks on a canvas. A huge slab of superb black marble suspended. Zimbabwe is the title. You see your reflection in the darkness.
I miss that bus that eats you up on entry. The woman who calls out to save you. The way the door opens on command.
I miss the careful way your coffee arrives con leche. The milk warm. In a small pitcher, silver or ceramic.
I miss the cigar box. The curl of neon smoke.
I miss the child who dresses up every day in a uniform that spells her name. The child with a flower in her hair. The love of her mother in her hand.
I miss the Roma Norte sidewalk with ripples of concrete to toss me up in the air. I miss examining the sidewalk in advance, a long look forward.
I write this while glancing out the window watching a car creep unsuccessfully to the top of an icy hill. I stop just as it slides down out of view.
(to be continued)