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The Pope, Brittany and I…

6 May 2002

The Pope and Brittany Spears have come and gone. Both gave abbreviated performances, and promptly left the country. The Pope got better reviews.

Ms. Spears (tickets going for 300 pesos and up) split for the airport after performing for under an hour. My favorite newspaper, La Jornada (more like “The Nation” than a daily paper — no want-ads or supermarket specials, but a few days worth of lengthy, in-depth articles) normally wouldn’t cover a pop concert, reviewed the concert under the headline “Gringa Exhibits Contempt.” They probably would have covered the Papal visit as “Cult Leader Disrupts Traffic” if they could have. The dozen plus newspapers have different audiences, and different political biases. I usually don’t need to buy a newspaper — just look at the headlines. The Pope pushed everything else off the front pages. La Jornada was the only one without a Pope picture every day for the last week: even the sports paper managed to somehow run a picture of His Holiness on the front page (cover story — “Pope Likes Futbal”).

The altitude is hard on any visitor, and it’s still raining a few hours a day — not really the ideal vacation spot for an arthritic with health problems. Maybe Ms. Spears isn’t as spry as she looks. But the Pope has added difficulties: he has trouble standing up and sitting down and trouble speaking. So, when not riding in the Papamovil (a comfy chair in the back of a pickup truck. The only difference between the Pope and Granny Clampett is the Pope’s truck has a glass camper), he’s guided around on a rather elegant skateboard. His Spanish is understandable, but he sounds like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather”. And, as La Jornada noted, His Holiness leans to the right.

The official reception turned into a national hoo-haa, when the President kissed the Pope’s ring. THAT got the Pope on La Jornada’s front page! That’s a major issue here — elected officials are banned from showing religious preferences in public. The last leader to go to Mass publicly was Maximilliano von Habsburg, and look what happened to him. Fun Maximilliano factoid: the embalmer used too much copper in the fluid, and Max turned bright green. The customs service claimed the Austrian royal family didn’t file the right shipping forms, which gave the embalmer time to do some rework, and at least make get Max to look brownish-gray.

You can tell the mayor wants to run for president — his party is a more in the anti-clerical tradition, so he was very publicly sitting OUTSIDE. Meanwhile, the talking heads are wagging on TV, the journalists are scribbling, the press secretaries are clarifying and the archbishop is saying “no big deal”. I didn’t receive an invitation to the services, and I’m not running for anything, so I did what I suspect everyone with a semi-plausible excuse to skip work that day did — slept late.

I DID watch the Papal plane fly over when he left. Fun Papal factoid: Aero Mexico not only installed a bedroom on the plane for the Pope, they also stocked the bar with Corona and tequila. Supposedly, it’s for that wild and crazy Vatican Press corps, but if the College of Cardinals starts singing “La Cucaracha” off-key … maybe there’s something to the rumor of the plot to get a Mexican Pope.

With only one student early Thursday morning, and another late in the afternoon, I had a lot of free time. I went to Tlatelolco, aka Tlateloco — mapmakers have as much trouble with Nahuatl as I do. No wonder the tour books all call it “Tres Cultures” — ruins (it was the Aztec Brooklyn to Tenotchitln, the Aztec Manhattan, in downtown Mexico City — just across the bridge); a “new” Franciscan church built in 1609 (including big chunks of the old church, which was taken from the temples) and what the tour books insist on calling “the ugly housing development”. They’re generic high-rise apartments, but aren’t exactly the “projects” — an 18th century park, running trails, an art center built into an pedestrian underpass, etc. The apartments are small, but most apartments are — it’s probably not a bad place to live — today.

This was where the surviving Aztecs finally surrendered to Cortez and where the students and workers (including the apartment tenants who joined the protests) were massacred in 1968. Army snipers and a helicopter gunship opened up on the workers, tenants and students (including high school students) getting ready for a protest march. It’s always been known about (there’s a 1993 memorial), but the details are just starting to come out now (one reason the ex-Presidents who are still alive are getting dragged into court).

A lot of the protesters were killed on the church steps — the priests locked the doors when (or before?) the shooting started and people had nowhere to go. I didn’t quite have the heart to tell that to the nice ladies from Louisiana. They were there because Juan Diego was baptized in the old church (of course — it was the only church open to Indians, something else I thought best not to tell the nice ladies). I just went into the church to look at the place, but there was a mass going on — in English — with 4 priests and a bishop. All part of a tour group shepherded by … and this is the weird part … a friend of mine from the school I worked at in Cuernavaca. Teaching art to those ninos malcriados (“ill-bred children,” i.e., rich, spoiled brats) wasn’t her idea of fun — riding herd on American church groups is a saner way to pay for graduate school.

Must be the Papal aura, but I seem to be going to a lot of masses this week. Trying to find the way into the San Fernando cemetery means going thru San Fernando Church. They don’t give you much time to just wander around on Sundays looking at all the baroque ornamentation that managed to survive here. I did get a good look at the amazing mural of martyred monks — they’re a bunch of non-plussed, unexcited monks — ignoring those slight inconveniences of the missionary position — little things like knives stuck in their backs, and axes through their heads… High Baroque meets The Road-runner.

The cemetery is closed for repairs (how does one repair a cemetery, anyway?). Isadora Duncan, of all people, is buried there. Or rather, isn’t.

“Lead us not into temptation” ends at the church door — the bootleg CD stalls are right outside (I once bought the Rolling Stones Greatest Hits at the cathedral — they always test the CDs for you, and there’s something twisted about blasting out “Sympathy for the Devil” at 10 on a Sunday morning). At least the piratas have … uh… catholic tastes. I really don’t need more than one or two cumbia or salsa collections — I’ve found everything from Los Beatles and El Doors (both still very popular here) to Billie Holiday to Danzon (Cuban waltz music) to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Wolfgang was from the Slovenian National Orchestra, but on what a pobre maestro makes, it’s what you buy.

The only problem with cheap CDs is storing them. There’s really not much room in my place, and every millimeter of space counts. I had to add a cache of textbooks this week, plus I’m working on a course for Mexican attorneys, so have had to pick up a few specialized dictionaries — I’m going to have to think about finding a larger place.

I’d hate to give up rooftop living though. The older buildings have maid’s shacks (live-in maids are a thing of the past, and new buildings don’t have them), but they’ve become hard to find — they’re fashionable. The relative privacy and views appeal to artists and eccentrics. If I’m on the roof at the right time of the morning, I catch the cat parade. Some of them jump two or three roofs (from 3 or 4 stories up) on their way to breakfast — the maid’s shack on the next building is home to a standard eccentric: the neighborhood crazy cat-lady. The roof Yorkie between here and the cat-lady isn’t nearly as amused as I am. The cats are bigger than he is, and it’s hard work trying to chase all those kitties. As soon as the parade is over, he takes a siesta.

I’m managing to get by, but it’s the catch-22 of having time and no money, or the money, and no time. I need the money, and I don’t exactly break a sweat when I’m paid to drink coffee and discuss the New York Times, or the Bushista follies. If only I was paid in Euros or Dollars, but still nice work if you can get it. And, I’m still charting out English verb forms — 3 meters long and the future tenses aren’t done yet.

Just call me the Diego Rivera of English Grammar!

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