Transposing emblem by Gabriela Lozano

The internet goes off one more time – it becomes unavailable when it rains. You never know how long it will be gone, just as you can’t predict when the pouring rain will stop. I live in the state of Yucatan, in a small town, only a few hours away from the world-famous tourist gem, the Riviera Maya, in the north of the neighboring state of Quintana Roo. Unlike there, life is quiet and simple here, without excitement and artifice, unpretentious. No glamor. As much as I love these prodigal showers, especially the sound of constant pouring rain and the visual textures the drops create, when you depend on being online for a living, the rainy season in small towns like mine can be a sure source of frustration.

I went back to the empty house one more time, looking for that big stray dog, one among the many “malixes[1] in my neighborhood, but the one that looks like a hyena due to the severe mange that’s eating her up. It’s hard to know when the strays are really strays because many people who own dogs in this town never take their pets out for a walk on a leash; instead, they leave them to wander the streets on their own, no collar or ID, to face adventure or misfortune, to mate, fight, and rummage, unsupervised. Like cats, birds, iguanas, and other local fauna, canines use these unfinished homes – there are several of them scattered randomly among the inhabited ones – to take shelter from the piercing sun, unrelenting rain, and even to deliver and nurse their offspring. So it was odd today to find a polished white, fancy, brand-new door suddenly guarding the entrance of this hollow little house, an unimaginative block of concrete with holes for windows and doors, with no panes yet, and no back door. I saw no one around, but they were finally starting to finish the details, painting the facade, etc., very slowly, after months and months of inaction. Some people might say these grey structures produce a sad impression, as rubble and debris collect inside and around them; unused materials, glass, empty bags of cement, scrap metal, twisted wires, all lying around. Like swallows flying in and out at will through the big window openings, light, water, and dust travel freely through the house. Humidity promotes an uncontrolled growth of plants, a little jungle of weeds and grass surrounding the place, and puddles for the zika and chikungunya-carrying mosquitoes to lay their eggs and reproduce. Now, is this sad as some people say? Let’s just say it’s full of life. And full of possibilities. It is not rare to see children playing and daydreaming in full HD in and around these houses. These kids seem to know the value of a work in progress; anything and everything can nest and hatch out of a raw, incomplete, open structure. Use your imagination. There are many possible scenarios for these scattered elements.

Materials lying around, broken glass, scrap metal, twisted wires. The buildings in Mexico City torn apart by the earthquake. They look unfinished: their guts exposed to the casual passerby as their external walls have partially come down. Rubble and debris spread around; their structures shaken to the core by two destabilizing forces: the movement of the Earth’s plates and corruption down to the core. Architects, builders, bricklayers, the government? Who is to be held accountable for the poor quality of the construction? Who is going to pay for the lives lost to the unstable concrete blocks and cheap foundation rods? The building next door, despite the earthquake, is still standing. Oh, but this one looked so pretty, it was new. This family had just bought their first apartment, things were going really well for them, and “this looks so nice, a little fancy, but we deserve it.” They were really impressed by the new technologies flaunted over and over by the real estate company praising this self-sustaining home[2]: solar panels, solar water-heater, natural ventilation, truly state-of-the-art. What’s most striking about the photos from the September 19, 2017 earthquake are not the buildings that were completely demolished by the quake, but those that are still standing precariously, vulnerable, unstable to the core, their flaws exposed, but not quite destroyed.

“Deconstruction is not demolition, or dissimulation. While it diagnoses certain structural problems within apparently stable structures, these flaws do not lead to the structures’ collapse.”[3] The frenzy in deconstructivist architecture has finally reached Mexico. A favorite spot – Cancun. The genius of the late Zaha Hadid and her firm envisioned a state-of-the-art ecological residential project[4]for Punta Nizuc, to be open and habitable by 2018. One can already find presale[5]offers online, starting at $306,000 for the smaller apartments. Tourists and foreign investments keep coming in by the thousands. Other examples are the ambitious Nickelodeon and DreamWorks theme parks,[6] recently approved to be built in the area. Also, since 2014, the internationally acclaimed Canadian Cirque de Soleil has had a permanent 30-million-dollar theatre[7]on the Mayan Riviera in Quintana Roo.

Ironically, these figures are only comparable to the plundering by the former Quintana Roo governor, Roberto Borge. He is said to have left this state swamped by millions in debt.[8] He is only one of several Mexican ex-governors in recent history that fled the country after being accused of corruption.[9] Investigations and audits, according to national and international news sources, reveal that Borge and a network of people in his administration embezzled this money from the Mexican public treasury, diverting resources to external bank accounts for personal use and illegally selling property that belonged to the state.[10]

But, wait, still more figures are going up in Quintana Roo: the number of individuals shot at gunpoint by the drug cartels in broad daylight at a shopping mall, a bar, in a taxi, at the BPM Electronic Music Festival in Playa del Carmen,[11] the decapitated or dismembered bodies found tossed at random along the scenic Ruta de los Cenotes in Puerto Morelos and other areas of this “paradise” have also been on the rise since 2016. On October 11, 2017 alone, five individuals were executed,[12] adding to the number of murders in Cancun, which now amount to 146, so far, only in 2017.[13]

“Deconstruction gains all its force by challenging the very values of harmony, unity, and stability, and proposing instead a different view of structure: the view that the flaws are intrinsic to the structure. They cannot be removed without destroying it; they are, indeed, structural. […] What is finally so unsettling […] is precisely that the form not only survives its torture, but appears all the stronger for it. […] This produces a feeling of unease, of disquiet, because it challenges the sense of stable, coherent identity that we associate with pure form.”[14] These words are taken from the 1988 exhibition catalogue for Constructivist Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), New York, which Zaha Hadid was a part of. This very exhibition is said to have catapulted the constructivist style in architecture and design to the top of contemporary world trends. And Hadid’s project in the show was described as: “four beams…twisted relative to each other, bringing them into conflict with each other as well as with the artificial landscape.”[15]

One would have thought that a billionaire project connected with someone of the stature of Zaha Hadid here, in such an area of inestabilidad, would be completely out of place. But, who knows, after all, the apparent tensions and high ambitions of such elaborate aesthetics might perfectly mimic the volatility of this uneven, dynamic, seemingly-falling-apart-but-not-quite-collapsing place. Nevertheless, they will never surpass the imagination of people playing and daydreaming amid gray structures, rubble and a jungle of weeds teeming with life. Potential…

[1]Malix” (pronounced mah-lish) is the Mayan word for mixed breed dog or dog with no pedigree, and is often used by Spanish-speakers in the Yucatan. People in the region have adopted and integrated many Mayan words into their everyday Spanish.

[2] Animal Político, September 22, 2017, “Tenían nueve meses habitando su edificio nuevo, el sismo lo derrumbó este martes“.

[3] Johnson, Philip, and Wigley, Mark (1988) Deconstructivist architecture. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Exhibition Catalogue. p 11.

[4] Zaha Hadid Architects, May 17, 2017, “Alai, Mayan Riviera, Mexico.”

[5] Cancun Properties Real Estate listings

[6] Quintana Roo Hoy, September 16, 2017, “Llegan $3 billones de inversión a Quintana Roo“.

[7] La Jornada, November 23, 2014, page 7, “Cirque du Soleil llega con Joyá a la Riviera Maya”.

[8] Vanguardia, November 10, 2016, “Borge dejó deuda de más de 30 mil mdp en Quintana Roo“.

[9] BBC News, June 5, 2017, “Mexico fugitive ex-governor Roberto Borge arrested.”

[10] Expansión, August 15,2017, “Los piratas de Borge y el robo del tesoro: 16,000 millones de pesos“.

[11] The Guardian, January 16, 2017, “At least five dead in shooting at BPM festival in Mexico.”

[12] Diario de Yucatán, October 11, 2017, “Ejecuciones, negocios baleados y robo a supermercados en Cancún“.

[13] Quequi, October 11, 2017, “Cinco ejecutados en menos de 24 horas en Cancún“.

[14] Johnson, Philip, and Wigley, Mark (1988) Deconstructivist architecture. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Exhibition Catalogue. p 17.

[15] Johnson, Philip, and Wigley, Mark (1988) Deconstructivist architecture. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Exhibition Catalogue. p. 68.