Fiction · 11/22/2017

Ancient Cities

My support for the previous mayor caused indignation among my friends. Even Carola, who never voiced an opinion and never ever lost her shit, called me a fascist snob after I defended said mayor’s policies of cleaning the streets of vendors. Then, as often happens in politics, the pendulum swung — a populist mayor was elected and my friends were thrilled.

It only took a few days for things to change. In fact, on the Sunday of the populist mayor’s first week in office, I was woken up by the horrid sounds of the pre-Columbian flute. Furious, I threw off my sheets and stepped outside my building in soccer shorts, a brown polo, and flip-flops. A flabby man in Aztec garb and ankle rattles jumped around the curb blowing on his instrument while a group of people watched with an awe deserving of an actual time-traveling Aztec.

(A note on Aztec music, and please don’t take this the wrong way — lord knows my friends would. There is no such thing. There was, of course, Aztec music five hundred years ago, but it’s not like they wrote down sheet music or recorded anything, so anyone who pretends to play Aztec music is just making up a tune based on a hunch of what music an Aztec would play.)

My whole street had been turned into a bazaar: coconut vendors, smoking taco stands, tall pots filled with tamales, bootleg DVDs on blankets, cheap jewelry also on blankets, marijuana paraphernalia. Popsicle carts, Chinese toys, sports jerseys, cowboy hats, and orthopedic products. Most of these vendors wore at least one item of clothing stamped with the new mayor’s party logo.

Oh, how I wanted to approach the micheladas woman to tell her it’s illegal to sell alcohol on the street. She would’ve responded, I imagine, by cursing me out and asking who the hell I thought I was. I wanted also to approach the man selling puppies out of a box and give him a mini-lecture on civility. I’m working, he would’ve said. Leave me the fuck alone. Or the oldie but goodie, What’s it to you?

When I got to the Nazi memorabilia I felt more confused than angry. Swastika flags, soldier hats, replica rings, and medals. Even a bust of none other than A. Hitler. The confusion not only came from the situation, but from wondering if there was a way that I could go about explaining my feelings to this vendor. Were I to have told him I was the grandson of Holocaust survivors, that having these objects a few meters from my home was terribly upsetting to me, I would’ve succeeded in nothing but creating awkwardness. Or maybe he would have responded by saying that he’s the descendant of people who, hundreds of years ago, sold everything from tiger skins to miracle ointments in the great Tlatelolco market, not far from where we stood. That this street was once a river one could use to bathe or travel. That one can still smell the violence of those times right before a thunderstorm or just after an earthquake. The man could have said to me that no matter how much we bury ancient cities in layer after layer of pavement the spirit of these places finds a way to bubble up to the surface. Upon that we could both agree.


Pablo Piñero Stillmann’s work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Normal School, Washington Square Review, and other journals. His novel, Temblador, was published in Mexico by Tierra Adentro.