Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Out of Mexico's Chaos, Community

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Out of Mexico's Chaos, Community

Article excerpt

When you live with 20 million people in one airtight valley, it's often hard to see them as people. That's how I feel moving about the chaos of Mexico City, where crossing a street is like picking your way through a medieval cavalry charge. The center is the worst. There, street vendors take up huge swaths of pavement with their rickety stalls, and sidewalk flow is reduced to a shuffling and jostling, not of passersby, but of a mass of competing wants.

I needed a day planner. I had a specific style in mind: leather and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. But with two meetings to get to across town and public transport to get me there, there was no time to look for one. So it was chance that I passed a pile exactly of this kind laid out on a trestle. I slowed, then stopped, then looked for the seller.

"She'll be back in a minute," said a woman, leaning out from her taco stand.

"I really only have a minute," I said, not unfriendly but firm. A minute could stretch into anything when passed through the mangle of Mexico City.

"She's just gone to the bathroom." As if to reassure me, the women gave a hard look up the street. Waves of fixed-eyed commuters passed, seemingly wanting to drag me along in their undertow. I looked longingly at the metro entrance I'd been headed for.

A butcher stood on his doorstep, a rag in his hand. "She won't be long," he said, giving me a friendly wink.

Silly, my idea of trying to impose ruled lines and carefully numbered squares on a city like this. Despite the brown pall of pollution in the sky, the smattering of refuse in the gutters, it's not an unhappy city. There's convivial banter at the intersections among businessmen, traffic cops, and street kids competing with the grind of traffic. Anyone will gladly stop and give you directions. But the directions are always wrong, and it's grueling to try to go from point A to B in a straight line. …

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