Swine flu doesn’t deter art fans in Mexico City
If you’ve been paying attention to any news out of Mexico over the last 36 hours, you can’t have failed to notice that we are in the grip of an outbreak of swine flu. As the mediareported yesterday, as many as 60 people have been killed by the outbreak and schools, public offices, cinemas and museums have all been closed by the government as a precaution.
Waking up this morning, I noticed that the death toll attributed to the outbreak had risen since Friday and that the virus – which has also been detected in the United States – is being called a possible pandemic by the WHO. The streets were very quiet for a Saturday morning and the odd person we passed on the way through town in a taxi was wearing the government-issued blue surgical masks to cover their faces to avoid contagion. But there was no panic, no wrestling in the streets for the last face mask, just a sort of eerie quiet – eerie for Mexico City, which is always a seething mass of traffic and people on a Saturday.
So I was surprised to find that a gallery opening in the posh neighbourhood of San Miguel de Chapultepec, part of the city-wide Zona Maco contemporary art festival, was swarming with people. I at least expected to see fashionable versions of the blue face masks being combined with the latest clothes labels, but it wasn’t so. Of the 500 or so attendees at the event (download the details here), perhaps 10 of them were covering their mouths, and some of those had their masks pulled down around their necks.
Risking their lives for art? Well, the new Gabriel Orozco work unveiled at the recently-opened contemporary gallery Kurimanzutto was rather smashing. No one I spoke to felt that the risk of contracting a possibly deadly form of flu was as high as the repercussions of missing out on one of the most trendy dates in the Mexico City art diary.
Annabell Villareal, a 45-year-old business woman at the launch, had rather smartly woven her face mask into her outfit of tight black pants and fitted white jacket, covering her lower face with a white scarf in the style of a bandit rather than a doctor.
"There is a lot of risk – we’re on alert, she said.
"But by taking precautions such as covering the mouth…we can go on existing with other people.
Then it was on to Del Valle, the middle class neighbourhood where I live, after passing through the trendier Condesa on the way. The streets in Condesa were unusually quiet and the restaurants had a lot of empty tables. We went to two major emergency rooms in Del Valle – the IMSS on Gabriel Mancera, and the ISSTE hospital called 20 de Noviembre. Both of them had people their awaiting attention, but nothing like the lines AP was reporting yesterday.
We got a number of taxis during the day, none of the drivers of which reported seeing anything out of the ordinary other than the eerie quiet I mentioned earlier. The theory of one of our drivers was that Mexico’s working classes pay such little attention to health scares and government-issued orders that it is only the dramatic kind of measures being taken by the Government now that spur them into action and taking precautions.
Not only have schools been closed and soccer matches been cancelled, but President Felipe Calderon signed this directive which gives the Government the freedom to implement any measure it sees necessary to prevent, control and combat the virus, and that includes entering private houses and businesses.
The government reaction has definitely caught people’s attention. Let’s just hope that such severe measures prove themselves necessary over the coming days.
Image: Annabell Villareal, a 45-year-old business woman at the launch, had rather smartly woven her face mask into her outfit of tight black pants and fitted white jacket, covering her lower face with a white scarf in the style of a bandit rather than a doctor. There is a lot of risk – we’re on alert," she said. But by taking precautions such as covering the mouth…we can go on existing with other people. Deborah Bonello for the Los Angeles Times and MexicoReporter.com.