City Sensing

As April winds up, I’m putting in an effort to get down my once-every-other-month musings. The wisteria and dogwood are back in bloom. This time last year, I happened across a gorgeous photo of jacarandas in Mexico City. Last month, I had a chance to see them in person. On reflection, I don’t know what to make of André Breton’s observation that DF is the most surreal place on earth. There is definitely an intense sense of mélange to its design, aesthetics, socioeconomic realities, appeals… But with just a cursory amble through some comfortable middle-class neighborhoods for a few days, I didn’t yet have the time to draw out its idiosyncracies. And, most regrettably, I didn’t get a chance to take in most of its artistic offerings. Diego and Frida and all the rest will just have to wait. I did get a nice tour of Leon Trotsky’s home-in-exile. I wondered whether a connection could be found in the materials collected at the museum and the Trotskyists of 1930s Viet Nam, but the tour guide hadn’t heard of a link to VN at all. In any case the trip was a good appetite-whetter; it’s a fascinating and absorbing city. I tried to record some footage and to reflect on some of my experiences for a class project but to no avail. But through the research, I was all-the-more pulled in with Rubén Gallo‘s Mexico City Reader (2004), a literary anthology of DF commentary, including selections from Jorge Ibargüengoitia. A good read, pre-trip, post-trip, or just for illumination.

The DF appeal is just one instantiation of a research interest in cities that is more and more crystallizing as my dissertation project, about sensory experiences. Relatedly, for a few weeks this month, my video on Huế, shot last summer and called Shadow of Echoes, played on loop as part of a student-curated show on campus called “Invisible Cities,” after Italo Calvino’s book. It was an interesting exhibit to be part of, to see the various ways people connect themselves to urban imaginaries. I’m returning to VN this summer with camera in tow but this time to Saigon. Hopefully I’ll find some time apart from language drills to shoot around that crazy, hectic place that I might call home in a year.

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