It was a great city, which "sustained a population of more than two hundred thousand people," whereas "Seville, the largest city in Spain, and the last European town most of the Spaniards had seen, numbered about sixty to seventy thousand people in 1500, and by 1588 only one hundred and fifty thousand." (p. 18) Yet it functioned in ways so different from cities in Europe that some urbanologists are reluctant to call it a "city." It was not a fortress, and didn't even contain a citadel, nor was it primarily a place for exchange of goods -- although it did have very active markets. It was a newer thing than Seville, having been constructed only over the previous century, as a celebration of Mexica power over the varied peoples of the Valley of Mexico. (Seville, which had been in the hands of the Moors and then "reconquered" by Christian Spaniards, had been settling into place for centuries, its mansions and mosques-converted-to-churches imbued with the deepest memories). Tenochtitlan was Mexica power, in somewhat the way that in a much earlier epoch Roma, the city, was the font and symbol of Roman Power, or Constantinople (which had grown on top of a village once called Byzantion) was the font and symbol of the entire Eastern Roman Empire, what later historians (in deference to the centrality of its city) now call "Byzantine."
The relation of a great city and its subcities and hinterlands can vary widely, though. I don't think Englishmen from Cornwall or the North Country ever all thought of themselves as belonging to London, the way a Roman citizen who had never left North Africa might think of himself as belonging to Rome. And this despite the fact that London at one time ruled the world, or seemed to. Here in the US, most Americans seem to regard our greatest city as something alien. New York is where cosmopolitanism rules, where people or all sorts mix, where new ideas (some of them loopy, some of them brilliant) burst into flower and gather enthusiasts to make them grow. For much of America, it is exciting, dangerous, and suspiciously not quite American. And when it is in trouble, as it is right now, the instinct in our state legislature in Albany (especially the Governor's mansion) and in the towns that depend on us to make their citizens rich is not to give us anything, but to extract. They haven't yet managed to cripple the great energy of New York, but it is a wounded city, and if they do kill its energy, there may be glee in Mudtown for a night or two, but they will have killed a great source of energy for America. And beyond.
This just in!Status: U
Date: Sat, 3 May 2003 20:33:33 EDT
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The Copperfield Review
Galeano writes of his enormous sadness that such a little country, which has so valiantly resisted the foreign boot and has achieved so much for its people, still lacks essential freedoms -- but this does not mean that he turns away from all that it has won. My friend Mark Fried is Galeano's preferred translator to English, and has done wonderful renditions of some of his recent books, but Mark probably has not got to this yet, so if you don't read Spanish, you'll just have to do with my version of Galeano's closing and crucial paragraph:
"It has to be the Cubans, and only the Cubans, who with no interference from anybody outside, open new democratic spaces and conquer the freedoms that are lacking, within the revolution that they made and from the deepest spirit of their land, which is the most solidary that I know of."A second addendum to my earlier note: I said Cuba was defending "the most fundamental human rights of all: health, housing and education." I've done a little Google research just to make sure. On health, Cuba is doing spectacularly well. Infant mortality is lower and life expectancy (both male and female) indices are not only far, far better than those of any other Latin American country, they are better than any country in the hemisphere except Canada. Just plug in "health" and "Cuba" in Google and see for yourself. Here's a stunning example from World Health Organization. Education in that little country (check on "literacy statistics," for example) is also just fine compared to almost any country on the planet. But on housing -- well, I overstated the case. They haven't solved that problem yet. (Nobody else has, either, especially not in my hometown of New York, but that's no excuse; we expect revolutionaries to be better, but sometimes, as Galeano sadly notes, they are just more bureaucratic.) But Susana and I will have much more to say about that. It's part of what our next book will be about.