You are in an office filled with contour maps of the globe. In front of you a man in a pale worsted suit is smiling sympathetically, he seems to understand, he is waiting for you. His desk is filled with brochures of places you can’t pronounce and overhead inflatable models of transport carriers litter the ceiling. You wonder why they call airport buildings terminals. You’ve been there most of the afternoon and with a gesture of resignation you point vaguely towards the heap of brochures on the desk. You’ve stopped caring exactly so it’s better that he decides. It’s time for you to leave.
Image: (title) MEXICO
B/W tracking shot hi con landscape-Mexico sound: airplane interior
You are in a Great War museum, built out of the rock of the Sierra Madres, Mexico’s tallest mountains. They call it the Museo Nacional de Las intervenciones, the museum of invasions, whose exhibitions detail the more than one hundred invasions of the country. In the daytime, tour guides point out the artifacts of past wars, barely visible beneath the debris of the present. Thousands struggle up the rock to hear them speak. But their climbing is so loud, no one can hear a word they say. Why have they come exactly? What are they seeing?
Image: people climb up the great pyramids. First shot shows colour pyramid in long shot, zooms in, whites out. Then black and white montage follows. Ends with smoke stack.
Sound: canon fire
Image: colour – dinosaurs being assembled.
You walk into the Sonora desert and head towards the invisible museum of Guaymas. Constructed entirely from materials found in its desert vicinity, it is indistinguishable from its surround until the visitor is face to face with the entranceway. There you are led through rooms filled with bones where the museum staff are busy constructing an imaginary past. These are the surgeons who practice their trade only in the dead world,
hinging together limbs which have lain apart for centuries. With no books to guide them they begin to work on each new collection of bones as a painter before a blank canvas. They labour according to intuition, according to the dictates of a personal need and circumstance. You wonder why their collective imagination is so terrible. Each new monstrosity rises from the floor as if in challenge to the rest, each more hideous than the last, each calling upon some new variation of the grotesque to empower a world in which lizards are king. Some say it is a
bitter protest against their wages which are amongst the lowest in the country. Others feel that it is the conditions of the work – that having to live in the gravesites of those long buried has corrupted their minds. Still others feel that each of them suffers from a nightmare which begins only when they are awake and their task, indeed their rehabilitation, depends upon the exercise of this nightmare amongst the bones of the dead. You think: this is how the present understands the past – as a terrible and devouring monster, looming hideously over the population of the present, casting its lengthening shadows over the conscience of the everyday. What they are making then is not an image of the past as it used to be, but an image of the past as it is, not a faithful rendering of times long forgotten, but an image of memory itself.
Image: Toronto skyline
You drive to Chapala, the city of bones, where you examine some old postcards that show the city as it used to be: with a hen in place of the bus station, a bandstand in place of the overpass, two young ladies with white umbrellas in place of the munitions factory. If the traveler doesn’t want to disappoint the residents, you must praise the postcard city and prefer it to the present, admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of today’s metropolis cannot compensate for a certain lost grace. But as you look past the postcard, you understand that cities may follow without knowing one another. At times even the people remain the same, but the gods who live beneath names and above places have left without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new city is better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them – because the old postcards do not depict Chapala as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Chapala, like this one.
Image: Toronto stock market
Sound: hens cackling
In the province of Campeche you make a special trip to visit the waters of San Obispo, the great aquarium where they have gathered a fantastic variety of tropical sea dwellers. You stare for hours into the amniotic fluid of old Mexico, watching as an underwater alphabet slowly takes shape. Some of these sea creatures have adapted so perfectly to their surroundings that they are indistinguishable from their watery support, while others browse happily between the pebbles of a universe that has shrunk to the size of their imagination. They move together in schools,
collected according to genre and subject heading, gathering their gene pools beneath the practiced eye of the marine biologist. You try to picture them swimming in the other place, in the salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and find that you can’t. They are only real for you here, in the numbered tanks of the floating encyclopedia, in the great aquarium of San Obispo.
Image: tracking shot of village.
You think: the world is falling as you drive into the light, the white light of the present.
Image: B&W buildings at night.
At night you stand on the balcony of the hotel and look out into Malinalco, at a thousand other buildings that look just the same as your own. All of the Canadian hotels are built here, in the centre of the city, each building illuminating the face of the next. You think: this architecture is a uniform for travelers, an image of home, but also a reassurance that the tongues of a thousand races can be laid to rest here, beneath the folded sheets of Canadian linen, its bodies scrubbed to a uniform shine beneath the shower heads of North American plumbing, the body’s machines of hearing and seeing raised to an understanding of excellence.
You turn out the lights thinking that this holiday is also a home.
Image: Bartender drying glasses
You are sitting in a Canadian hotel bar in the port city of Los Michos. This is where the business comes to drink, in the white light of the Holiday Inn. A small Sony Trinitron stands to the left of the bar, and while the men are seated drinking throughout the lounge, they have eyes only for the miracle of Japanese electronics. You follow their eyes to a point just beyond the swollen glass of the Sony and realize they’re not looking at the news at all. Instead, just behind the picture, a complex network of transistors produces an exact replica of Los Michos, with every shrub and public walkway painstakingly reproduced. Looking closely, one can begin to read the electronic signals that pass from one part of town to the next, as the tiny inhabitants of this model city carry out their lives. Each face in the bar finds their Japanese double here behind the multi-channel display of satellite television. You wonder if they are glimpsing the
possibilities of a future life there, or whether decades of insomnia has forced them to turn to the fortunetellers of Oriental electronics to remember their own history.
Image: Hotel room television
At night you are tired. You lie down on the couch of the hotel and stare at the only light in the room, at the Mexican television. The pictures aren’t from here, they come from the other place, from Toronto, where pictures are bought and sold like T-shirts and automobiles. They were made in the time of the Cold War – when Toronto feared the rising tide of communism would turn its sons and daughters into godless disciples of free love and universal health care. Every night the television showed great creatures roaming the streets of its cities, given shape by the fears that surrounded them. But the dreaded communists have dissolved into the long night of democratic ideals – and these films are never seen any longer. You watch with surprise as giant lizards walk the streets again, wondering that these discarded pictures should have found a new life here in Mexico. After all
these years, what were they seeing exactly? What secret horror lies waiting beneath the face of these monsters, slouching towards Mexico City to be born?
Image: high contrast lines
At night you leave the hotel and begin to drive, it doesn’t matter where. You have no patience for the landscapes of Mexico, the arid deserts of the Baja and the jungles of the Yucatan manage to pass without leaving a trace, as if Mexico was occupied with a ghost geography, or that its geological understanding has passed into the lines of the road. Your eyes are trained on these lines of flight which lead you from one village to the next. You study the lines like a palmist who discovers in the markings of a
hand, the secrets of the inner life. You think: you can always tell a book by its cover, as you look down into the Mexican asphalt, its long dark brow creased with the weight of travelers and forgotten alphabets. But these worried lines running the length of the Mexican highway – what are they saying exactly? Whose story is being told here? (pause)
Alone in Mexico, in the middle of the night, you retrace the marks of all those who have gone before you, as if committing to memory a history of flight. If these lines are illegible it is because they were made by people who never learned to read, who failed to understand that the automobile was less a method of travel than a way of life. That these lines were a chronicle of change, bonding the country with a life beyond its borders,
marrying its unfinished geography with the auto factories of the north.
You have come here to this place, this country, to erase everything that’s been left behind. In Toronto you think, there is no future, only history. Here, the sun wipes everything clean, it fills the eye with its spectacular glare, its light obliterates memory until there is nothing left but the present.
Image: b/w kids wash cars
Sound: location sound
Image: b/w factory in jungle
Voice over: You are driving in the middle of the jungle in the middle of the night, your eyes fixed on the black tar of the road. You look up in time to see a small thatched hut overlooking the bend of the highway. You pull over and walk inside, brushing past the mosquito nets. There is no one inside.
Image: b/w factory in jungle c.u. smoke stack
Exhausted, you curl into a ball on the floor and dream of factories and auto plants and 24-hour grocery marts. When you get up in the morning you look out the window and see it there, a factory in the middle of the jungle. You realize that others have stood here before you, that everyone who falls asleep here beneath the mosquito netting has the same dream.
At noon you’re still at the window, still looking on at the great smoking mouth of the factory. With a start you realize that the factory produces nothing, only smoke. Fed by its jungle surround, the factory crafts an alphabet of vapour, which travels around the world on currents of air. You look on, trying to find some way to read these hieroglyphs, this writing in the sky. You decide to sit and wait at the window until it comes to you, these clouds are saying yes to Canada, to the merchants of Toronto.
Image: colour tracking shot past white picket fence and gardens
One day you take a drive into the suburbs of Vera Cruz. You pass the telephone exchange, the waterworks and the white picket fences that surround the houses in the district, but there are no people anywhere. You drive from habit, not looking at anything in particular before realizing you’re back in Toronto, that your driving always takes you to the same place, that everything is familiar here, that it’s impossible to leave. Behind the wheel you are like King Midas, everything you touch
turns into Toronto.
Image: b/w trumpet player
Sound: drum roll, horns from Mexico bullfight
Image: col. tracking shot walls in Vera Cruz (3 shots spaced with
You are sitting on a bench overlooking the Gulf at Tampico. You used to sit in the other place, in Toronto, while men blew trumpets into the surf. You take comfort in the fact that 300,000 cells die in the body every day, that in seven or eight years there will be nothing left, no evidence of the one who used to sit on park benches, waiting for the trumpets to declare war, for the body to die.
Sound: Judo screams, audience, dancer breathing
At night you go with the others to see the famous Judo team in Monterrey. Admission is free but a large sombrero is passed amongst the crowd to take donations. Here in Monterrey, they are preparing to fight a war that has begun somewhere else, preparing to face an enemy they have already welcomed. Distracted, you think of the long fall mornings of home, where young girls are dressed in the uniforms of school, marching towards the education that will prepare them for all that’s to come.
Image: colour bullfight: horses walk right to left
Sound: drum roll
Image: colour men walk from right to left
Sound: drum roll
Image: colour tracking shot over Mexico walls. Man walks from left to right, camera passes him and a ‘No’ sign and some Mexican graffiti.
Sound: drum roll
Image: colour bullfight
Sound: crowd sounds, “Ole”, screams
Voice over: It’s Sunday afternoon in Mexico City. All day long you follow the lines of tourists to the Museo Tamayo, the Garibaldi Plaza, the bullfights on the Hidalgo. The memory of home is fading but you remember it was something like this, your face and hands were bloody, and people were screaming all around you. You don’t remember exactly but already the present is taking the place of your history. Something is dying. You don’t feel anything, but you know you are never going back to that place again, Toronto on the lake, because everything is already here. You have always been here. Beside you an old man offers you a cerveza. You take a long pull and look back into the arena. You think there. It’s all there.
Image: black leader
You drive into Mexico City hoping to take an apartment there. You think: it’s time to stop this traveling.
You search through the Zona Rosa, the Tacuba, and even the dreaded Pino Suarez. But everywhere you look the city is full, it’s the same story, someone has come before you. Others wait their turn on the bleached asphalt of the Hidalgo, they sit in formation, guiding the annual migration of hawks that nest in their city. You drive on towards the arched towers of the necropolis where the bones of the revolution lay wrapped in flags and crushed flowers. While some argue that the finest housing of the city belongs to the dead, others join the cue to mourn their passing. They walk slowly past the great domed tomb while the business slouches alongside, exchanging grammars of interest and bonds as their step inscribes new lines of development. That’s when you see them together – the liar from Bay Como and the other one, the one who always smiles, the Canadian Prime Minister and the President of Mexico united beneath the banner of free trade. You drive past them into the outskirts of the city and see the sign you’ve been waiting for. You drive into it knowing that you’ve finally found a home here. You think: it’s as if you’ve been here all along, as you turn into the long road home.