Saturday
19th June

I can see the world from my rooftop

In the journal I’m reading at the moment I describe sitting on the rooftop of our apartment building in Mexico City, writing. The flat rooftop was enclosed by parapet walls so that the open-air patio became a hidden but lively place. Maids did laundry in the sinks and counters of that courtyard. Most of them also lived on the rooftop, cramped in the ten square meter storage spaces of the tenants, often with their children and other family members. There were pots with geraniums and cacti, dogs and cats moving about and linen hanging out in the sun to dry. Half the rooftop was covered by sheets, bright shirts, pants. The women would scrub the laundry while singing along to ranchero music, a trace of the life in the countryside most of them came from. 

 

I would sit with my journal, watching.

 

From that position, five floors above the street, I could see people walking Avenida Mazatlan strolling towards the Roxy ice-cream parlor in front of our building. I spotted romances budding. Every afternoon, just before two o’clock, a neighbor’s maid in her blue uniform with white apron would bring a small straw basket with tortillas to the municipal gardener who’d be sitting under a tree eating his lunch. In the beginning she stood at a distance while he put the beans he’d brought in the warm tortillas. But as the weeks moved on, she got closer until eventually they sat down together. I even thought I saw their hands touching lightly.

 

On rare occasions I could see the Iztaccihuatl and Popocatépetl twin volcanoes about seventy kilometres from the city, but most of the time they were shrouded in a blanket of brown-grey smog.  

 

I felt part of it all, but at the same time there was a sense of distance. It was the same feeling of not quite belonging that I had when growing up in the Netherlands; at the time it was painful but abroad it felt appropriate, comfortable even. 

 

Watching the videos of candidates for our different awards—from all around the world—is a bit like sitting on that rooftop. 

 

A beach near Karachi where ships are being dismantled, images of a university campus in Taipei, an unfinished apartment building in Tbilisi, disparate places far removed from where I am now form part of my neighbourhood. Thanks to those artists I feel something I’ve longed for all my life, a deep connection with the world.