Hotel de Mexico from afar
I have the urge to stay indoors now that cases of Covid are soaring again here in Barcelona. I remember the same feeling of danger lurking outside in the 80s when I was living in Mexico City. Back then, the air quality often reached alarming levels. It was particularly bad during the winter months when warm air laid like a lid over the colder temperatures in the valley of the city, trapping gases from cars, buses and factories to cause a dense smog.
I could actually smell the pollution on those mornings when I'd pick up the newspaper from our balcony. A pungent odor, it made my throat and eyes burn.
Official information about the pollution was unreliable but I didn't need statistics; I had my own way of finding out how bad the air was. On clear days I could see the Hotel de Mexico, less than three kilometres from our flat. It was going to be the tallest hotel in the city but money had run out and for years the building remained an empty shell towering in the sky.
When air quality deteriorated, the contours of the hotel became increasingly less defined until they ended up looking like the faint strokes of a watercolor painting. On the worst days the building was completely shrouded in the brown-greyish smog.
When I wasn't able to see the Hotel de Mexico I'd stay indoors. The smog had me trapped, and I felt isolated.
The difference with those days more than thirty years ago is that when I now decide to stay indoors, I can reach out and be part of the world from behind my computer. I can continue working on our projects, talk via Zoom to my collaborators and friends and read the newspapers from all around the world, including the one that used to be thrown on our balcony by the delivery boy in Mexico.
In fact, from behind my computer in Barcelona, I can look at the building of what once was the Hotel de Mexico and see it much clearer than I ever did from our apartment nearby.