There is no traffic today while our car drives with ease toward the outskirts of one of the largest metropolis of the world to take me to the Pyramids of Teotihuacán, the first metropolis of the Americas. Its name was given to it by the nobles and meant “there where men become gods”.
“I must thank you Sir, for taking you around Mexico City. You just spared me washing dishes for the Sunday. Let’s roll!” Please welcome Arturo, my Mexican driver for the day, nearing retirement. “Distant? No, we do not go distant. You Italians are always asking that, why is it?”. Yes, it was distant for me. But I will learn quickly. Distant in Mexico means else.
At the end of our day around Mexico City Arturo will take me to look at the colossal head of an Olmec, the first major civilization in Mexico, at the entrance of one of the aisles of the remarkable Museum of Anthropology (see picture). Just to proudly ask me if I notice how much resemblance his gentle face has with the one of the warrior. “I fight like him, in the traffic, everyday,” he tells me.
Teotihuacán and its Pyramids. 2000 years ago the population lived below in the valley, while we tourists are allowed today to climb slowly the 360 stairs to the top of the amazing Pyramid of the Sun (the third largest in the world), like the priests would do then.
The distance to honor the Gods did not get lost with the arrival of Christianity and the Spanish domination. Arturo points at a Monastery near the road, built centuries ago: “See that beautiful Church, there? We call it an open chapel. You know the priest at the beginning tried to get the Indigenous inside the chapel for Mass, but we (yes, Arturo said “we”) did not want to go in. We believed we needed to respect God by not getting too close. So the priest, smart guy, decided to use the terrace, where he would give Mass from the top and the Indigenous would listen to him, outside of the church”. Distant, but close.
I am tempted to think that this is still true today when I enter the huge new Basilica of Guadalupe accommodating (according to Arturo) 10.000 people (the beautiful and unstable old one attached to it, dating back to the XIV century, does not accommodate more than 500). The number of people listening to the homily is astonishing, possibly 5000. And the priest is there, far away, at the top of the stairs that remind me of the 360 ones that I had to climb to reach the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. The right amount of distance to be fully near to them, I think.
But Mexico City talks to me of another pyramid and another distance, different and similar to the ones I just told you about.
The gentle hills that surround the capital, that made settling here over the centuries easier for migrant civilizations, do not exist anymore. They are quickly disappearing under the infinity of small, poor-looking houses that have incessantly been built with no authorization by the millions that decided to rush toward the city to find a job in these past decades. The density of these modern pyramids is so astounding that I ask Arturo if there are streets for cars that pass through them.
“Oh yes, he answers. They are large enough to have the trucks with water pass every day.” Which trucks, which water. “Oh, there is no water and no sewage system. So everyday trucks carrying 8000 liters of water stop and provide water for all families, how much depending on the number of inhabitants. 8000 liters for water heavily subsidized by the Government. When the water is finishing you go down to the police station and you book it. In 4-5 days it arrives”.
They are called paracaidistas, parachutists.
In Mexico, we use the term “paracaidistas” to refer to people who build their houses/shelters/huts in land that’s not theirs. “Paracaidistas”, who are mostly very poor people, most times arrive in groups so as to make evacuation procedures more difficult to authorities.
Paracaidistas. A great philosopher, John Rawls, once spoke of the veil of ignorance where ”…no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength”. Not the Paracaidistas, parachuted from the Gods below, but destined to poverty, knowing everything about their fate ahead of time.
They are at the top of the pyramid, yes (the poorer you are, the closer to the top of the hill is your house, more and more distant from basic public services), closest to the Gods, maybe, but, unlike the priests of the pyramids or churches, absolutely powerless.
The distance is so amazing that it becomes infinite, i.e. irrelevant. “These 82 thousand, the richest ones, they are not Mexican like the remaining 120 million” Arturo tells me smiling. “Rich people – Mafia leaders, politicians entrepreneurs – are afraid and need to buy security for themselves to be protected. We do not, we are happy”. Distance so big one does need to feel the urge to bridge the gap.
Inequality. Of a strange kind. Of a dignified kind, that does not beg or betrays humiliation. But inequality all the same. “57 pesos per day (5 dollars) at the factory makes it hard for a living, better to wash car windows in the city”, says Arturo. Not much seems to have changed from the days before la Revolución when workers were forced to spend their wages in the local Tendas de Raya to buy what sold by the owner of the firm, corn and alcohol.” Raya means “line” for the line that illiterate workers would trace as a signature in receiving the goods.
The car passes the Avenidas where the purple of jacarandas gently caresses the beautiful villas of the richer ones. Yes, we also pass Avenida de Insurgentes. The Insurgentes. I love this word. The insurgents. Those that fight against oppression. Better: those that do not stop fighting against oppression. Always. Relentlessly rebelling.
Where are the Insurgents? I do not see one in the gentle eyes of Arturo. But I see the warrior in him, the pride.
What does it take for a Warrior to become Insurgent again? What? When will the Warriors be parachuted by the Gods in the rich downtown and cancel distances once again? When? When will all men, and not only the noble ones, become gods? When?