In Mex­ico City’s magic gar­den, there is only one rule: No talk­ing

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Living - BY KATE LINTHICUM Los An­ge­les Times


Hec­tor Samp­son, Mex­ico City res­i­dent

Six years ago, Hec­tor Samp­son was tak­ing his daily walk in Mex­ico City’s Cha­pul­te­pec park when he heard a trace of clas­si­cal mu­sic drift­ing from the trees.

He fol­lowed the sound, down a dense cor­ri­dor of shrubs and bushes, un­til he found him­self in a ver­dant, sonic par­adise.

Lush fo­liage sur­rounded brightly colored benches – blue, red, or­ange, yel­low – on which peo­ple peace­fully re­clined while lis­ten­ing to mu­sic that played from a ring of speak­ers.

Samp­son had dis­cov­ered one of the city’s best-kept se­crets: the Au­dio­rama.

Far re­moved from the crowds and chaos that dom­i­nate the rest of Mex­ico’s ex­pan­sive cap­i­tal city, the Au­dio­rama offers a rare refuge for re­flec­tion.

For decades, peo­ple have been com­ing to the free, city-run space to de­tach for a mo­ment from the rest of the world – to med­i­tate, pray, read, sit qui­etly with lovers, even grieve. There’s just one rule, spelled out on sever- al small signs: “No talk­ing.”

An­other small, han­dlet­tered sign reads “Be happy.”

“It’s an oa­sis,” said Samp­son, a writer and ra­dio per­son­al­ity whose es­o­teric in­ter­ests in­clude quan­tum physics and re­search into alien life. Since com­ing across the Au­dio­rama, he has vis­ited daily and has helped or­ga­nize a ro­tat­ing li­brary of books – mostly po­etry, plays and historical tomes – from which vis­i­tors can bor­row.

Dur­ing the last sev­eral years, he has wit­nessed mul­ti­ple whis­pered mar­riage pro­pos­als in the Au­dio­rama. He has also watched peo­ple cry.

Twice, he said, peo­ple who were con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide told him that the beauty of the place had per­suaded them to re­think their plans. One man, mourn­ing the death of his son, told Samp­son that his med­i­ta­tions there had helped him find peace.

Samp­son said his writ­ing has im­proved greatly since he be­gan spend­ing time in the gar­den.

“It just has a cer­tain magic,” he said on a re­cent chilly morn­ing as he ar­ranged li­brary books on a fold­ing ta­ble.

City of­fi­cials in­au­gu­rated the Au­dio­rama in 1972 on a site fa­mous for its mys­tic prop­er­ties.

On one side of the gar­den, carved into a hill­side, lies a cave known as Cin­calco.

Pre-His­panic groups con­sid­ered the cave the en­trance to the un­der­world. Huemac, the last ruler of the Toltec cul­ture, is said to have taken his life there around 1100, dis­traught over his fad­ing em­pire.

Care­taker Juan Car­los Her­nan­dez y Cer­vantes, who spends his days in the gar­den, wa­ter­ing bursts of pink, white and red flow­ers, leafy trees and rows of bam­boo, keeps a can­dle lit in­side the cave at all times.

“It’s so our spir­its have light,” he said.

Her­nan­dez has been work­ing in Cha­pul­te­pec park for more than 30 years and has been tak­ing care of the Au­dio­rama for 10.

Stooped from his 78

years, with a bushy white mus­tache, Her­nan­dez gets asked by some peo­ple when he will re­tire.

Hope­fully no time soon, he tells them.

“I love this place,” he says. “I’m still work­ing be­cause I like my job.”

Beyond tend­ing to the im­pres­sive gar­den, he helps care for the fam­ily of cats that roam the prop­erty and is in charge of chang­ing the CDs that play while the space is open, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. He main­tains a col­lec­tion of thou­sands of discs, nearly all of it do­nated. He fol­lows a sched­ule, which is posted on a sign.

Tues­day: New Age. Wed­nes­day: Tra­di­tional Mex­i­can. Thurs­day: World Mu­sic. Fri­day: Jazz. Satur­day: Chill Out. Sun- day: Clas­si­cal.

On Mon­days, the park is closed.

Cha­pul­te­pec, which sprawls over nearly 1,700 acres in the mid­dle of the city, is one of the largest and most vis­ited ur­ban parks in the West­ern Hemi­sphere. Known as “the lungs of the city” for the oxy­gen pro­duced by its densely planted se­quoia, cedar and cy­press trees, it boasts a zoo, a man-made lake filled with blue pad­dle boats and tow­er­ing Cha­pul­te­pec Cas­tle, whose elab­o­rately ap­pointed rooms were once in­hab­ited by Em­peror Max­i­m­il­ian I and his con­sort, Em­press Car­lota.

While Cha­pul­te­pec gets roughly 40,000 vis­i­tors a day, the Au­dio­rama typ­i­cally sees only a few hun­dred.

That is partly be­cause of its lo­ca­tion, tucked in a cor­ner of the park near a World War II me­mo­rial and a usu­ally dry foun­tain that fea­tures a white mar­ble sculp­ture of Go­liath on one side, and on the oth- er, a sculp­ture of David with his sling.

On a re­cent morn­ing, seven peo­ple vis­ited the Au­dio­rama in the first hour it was open, ac­cord­ing to a tally counter Samp­son uses.

One of them was Geral­d­ina Rome, a 29-yearold at­tor­ney, who for three years has been com­ing once a week to med­i­tate.

“I call it my magic gar­den,” she said. “It’s im­por­tant to dis­con­nect for a minute, and to let your mind go to an­other place.”

She sat down cross­legged on a sky blue bench, be­gan to breathe deeply and closed her eyes. All traces of the city – the honk­ing, the thick clouds of car ex­haust – were gone.

It was just her, the fra­grant air and a rous­ing pi­ano com­po­si­tion by Franz Schu­bert: Im­promptu No. 3 in G-flat ma­jor.

MAR­CUS YAM Los An­ge­les Times

Geral­d­ina Rome, 29, med­i­tates at the Au­dio­rama in Cha­pul­te­pec For­est in Mex­ico City. The Au­dio­rama is a lush re­treat with a ring of speak­ers play­ing mu­sic six days a week.

MAR­CUS YAM Los An­ge­les Times

Juan Car­los Her­nan­dez y Cer­vantes, 78, has been in charge of main­tain­ing the grounds of the Au­dio­rama for the last decade.

MAR­CUS YAM Los An­ge­les Times

Geral­d­ina Rome med­i­tates at the Au­dio­rama, which was opened in 1982 on a site fa­mous for its mys­tic prop­er­ties.

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