Sunday, May 18, 2014

Feeling Fine in Oaxaca

A fat, little bird stares up at me with disapproving look on its face from the cage on the floor at my feet. Six small canaries flitter and twitter behind me while a parrot silently observes them from its own cage atop theirs. Seated in the shaded corner of the patio of this beautiful restaurant, I can boast of having the best seat in the house. I have a view of the tropical plants that bedeck one side of the patio, as well as the parade of four ornate bird cages and their captives. I can watch the kitchen staff frying and chopping, the waiters picking up plates and the dishwasher cleaning off trays. I can glimpse  the traffic outside and can observe almost all of the patrons inside as they order and eat.

Although I am the only gringa in the place, this restaurant is no stranger to foreign clientele. The menu carries bad English translations and the waiter brings butter with the bread and tortilla chips. Obviously, my fellow United Statians have passed this way before.

I order the menu of the day and receive the first course post haste. A lovely cream of carrot soup complements its bright yellow bowl and goes down easily. A ceviche of cubes of mango, red peppers, and cucumber spills over a bed of green and purple lettuce. My golden chile relleno arrives in a pool of blood-red tomato sauce, nestled alongside a mound of snowy rice.

I bite into a mouthful and taste the spicy pepper and its cheesey filling. But wait, there´s something else! A rose bud, perhaps? Some rather large, oblong-shaped spice? I flip the stuffing over and see a squadron of grasshoppers partially submerged in the white cheese. Continuing  to eat my lunch, I think I understand the source of  my avian neighbor´s sour expression: I refuse to share.

Dessert is a fried plantain with a swizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Having downed all the food and a pitcher of flower-flavored water (agua de jamaica), I feel full, content and  maybe because of all the coffee I drank this morning, just a little bit jumpy.....

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Adventures in Arabic

If you know me at all, you are aware that I am fascinated by languages.  I speak English, Spanish, French, and Italian, in rapidly descending order of fluency. Although I once could manage to communicate about everyday matters and punctuation marks in Russian (thanks to 10 years spent teaching English to immigrants from the Former Soviet Union), I am now reduced to asking questions that even I don't understand. I used to speak Guambiano, an indigenous language only found in a particular region of Colombia; after years without practice, I remember how to ask if anyone is home. Nobody answers.

Bells go off, however, when I am offered the opportunity to learn a new language at my place of employment. Once a week, at lunchtime, I will study conversational Arabic. For years I've been wanting to do precisely this! Arabic tops the list of languages (the other is Mandarin)  that I have promised myself I will learn to speak before I die. And as I'm not exactly certain just how long I'll be around, I am anxious to begin.

Knowing that I have several weeks to get a head start, I pull out the kit the father of one of my Arabic-speaking interns gave me about 11 years ago. Numerous books on calligraphy, tapes, and grammar study guides spill out.  As my course-to-come won't even touch upon reading or writing, I return the contents to their carton.

No problem! There are 1001 ways to learn Arabic via the Internet. Over the next several days, I download the first program I find. Unfortunately, it isn't exactly what I'd had in mind. As much as I would love to understand the Qur'an in its original tongue, I want to speak -- not to pray -- in  Arabic.

My next stop is the public library. I find three attractively produced, suitcase-sized boxes of books and CDs that might help me. But what I ultimately check out is the drab, little brown case containing two CDs that promise to teach me Iraqi Arabic. A fortunate coincidence! As I teach six Iraqi adults, one of whom used to be an Arabic instructor, I am certain that this set will give me the vocabulary I'll need to practice during class breaks at night school.

I stick CD number one into my car's player. I quickly pick up some of the some basics: how to ask males and females how they are and how members of each gender can answer, "Fine, thank you!"

"Perfect," I think. "Boy, am I going to surprise my students tonight!"

I arrive early and set about readying my classroom and myself for the evening's lesson. What luck! The first person to enter the room is Ibrahim*, an Iraqi musician. I smile and say, "How are you?", using the proper word endings for his gender.

He stares at me as if I were a deer his car is about to run into.

"How are you, Ibrahim*?" I ask again, a little less sure of myself.

He looks back at me, unblinking and, apparently, in shock.

"Don't you understand me?" I ask him.

"Iraqi Arabic," he says.

"Yes, and shouldn't you be replying 'I am fine, thank you?'" I show off my correct adjective ending, but he just repeats, "Iraqi Arabic."

Fatima*, the former Arabic teacher, saunters into the room. "Good evening," I say in English, following up with "How are you?" in what I am sure is a perfectly pronounced and grammatically correct way.

She stops in her tracks, giving me the same wide-eyed look that I'd received from her fellow country fellow.

I hear laughter coming from a Sudanese woman who has already found her seat in the middle of the room. "What is it, Huda*?" I ask.

"You speak Arabic like a baby," she says.

I take this as a compliment. 

On the drive home I start my CD. "I nailed what I learned," I'm thinking to myself, as the CD plays. I know I can't learn everything in one night, so I just listen, certain that with constant review, I'll improve.

The CD voice moves along from basic greetings to family members. Now I'm at the lesson dealing with directions. "North," the man's voice says, first in English, then in Arabic. "South." "East." "West." These words are quickly followed by those for "right" and for "left."

It's late and it's dark and I'm starting to tire, but I figure that I'll stick it out until the end of this unit. My mind is drifting, when I'm called to attention by the CD man's voice shouting, "Drop to the ground! Hold your hands up over your head!"

I practically careen my car into a tree. I pull over, and pull out the little brown box from my glove compartment. I study it carefully, realizing that I have been learning Arabic targeted to U.S. soldiers who were being deployed for combat in Iraq.

I decide to postpone my private studies and to wait to learn Arabic in class. The day before I am scheduled to begin my course, I learn that it has been cancelled.

Disappointed, I enroll in Italian 102. At some point during the first session, it dawns on me that I have no command, whatsoever, of this language -- beyond an ability to order pasta; apparently, nobody has informed me that I've been speaking Spanish all along.

* Names have been changed, sometimes more than once, to protect the innocent.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Learn to Speak German -- like an American!

Germans are a friendly people. Everywhere you go, they greet you with a smile and a big "Hello!" Only it sounds like "hallo," because of their accents. So, everything starts out very nice and you're just about to launch into a conversation about the weather or punctuality or neatness or whatever, when they begin talking to you in a whole different language!

I am proud to say that during my recent stay in Germany, and with the help of my extensive knowledge of linguistics and  an uncanny ability to quickly mistress foreign languages, I was able to understand almost everything that German people said to me, when they were speaking English. Furthermore, having spent nearly 12 days  in that delightful country, I feel singularly confident about and absolutely capable of offering you an introductory lesson in how to speak German like an American. But not just like any random American -- like me!  And not exactly German.

I wouldn't be so bold as to pretend to teach you High, Low, or Medium German,  or any of the numerous and sundry dialects spoken within and without this beautiful country; however, I will pretend to teach you the fastest and easiest way to speak a frothy hybrid of English and German that I call "Germish."

This is not the sort of language training you would find in a school, such as the Goethe Institute; in a Berlitz, on-line, CD, or video course; or in a Rosetta Stone program. That is because this lesson combines my very own personal and impersonal experience, plus real and unreal attempts by yours truly to use German  in public and in private.  Why pay thousands of dollars for an immersion program (or even ten cents for a yard-sale CD?) to end up speaking not very good German, when you can use my techniques for speaking not very good German -- for free?

But before we begin, I would like to recommend that you keep on hand at all times, and especially when you go outside, a bilingual (German-English) person, preferably a teacher of German as a second language, such as my good friend Ingrid, who is not available because she is too busy actually teaching "real" German to foreigners. Also, you will need to read or, better yet, just sign the attached disclaimer,  which absolves me from any liability, culpability, or responsibility arising from the use or misuse of what you are about to learn.

So, without further ado, let's get started, shall we?

We start by finding similarities and differences between English and German.

First of all, you'll be glad to know that German is just like English! But with a bunch of extra k's, p's, z's, g's, f's, h's, and d's thrown in. Up to 10 or 12 in every word. Examples, and I am not  lying, include such humminzedingerz as: pfepfernussen, plotz,  kerpunkte, Kongressabgeordnete (Congressman), and, of course, the always useful, but rather intimidating  Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsauf-gabenübertragungsgesetz (meaning: beef labeling regulation & delegation of supervision law).

Don't let a Congressman or beef labeling scare you! Despite a plethora of consonants, German doesn't need all those pesky vowels in syllables. So, you can find words such as "markt," which your German teacher would translate to mean "market." And there's probably another example I might be able to come up with later.

Talking about vowels leads me to the u with two dots over it, the umlaut. Neither the vowel nor the sound made by this letter exists in English and it is probably illegal in the continental United States. However, they do things differently over there in the European Common Markt, so I advise you to use it while in Germany. (But don't even think about smuggling it home in your suitcase!)

You are probably wondering how to make this vowel sound, and that's exactly what I'm about to teach you: Purse your lips and imagine that you are looking at what I am certain is your very attractive reflection in a mirror. Then imagine that someone suddenly sneaks up behind you and smashes you, lips first, into the mirror. The sound you would emit is the closest you'll come to producing a bonafide umlauted u! Now, Ü try it!

Practice makes perfect, so keep trying.

Trying brings us to the next part of our lesson, in which you will really get a feel for your soon-to-be-new language: cognates. Cognates are words that look somewhat alike, sound more or less the same, and have the same meaning in two languages. Some examples in English and German include:

           House = Haus
           Kabob = Kabop

See if you can translate the following cognates into English words: Delicatessen, Donut, Starbucks, McDonalds, Staples, Burger King.

Great job! Whoever said that German was difficult?

Now, let's have a bit more fun with pronunciation.....

A challenging sound for most Americans is the "ch." I'm going to make it easy for you, however. Just pretend that you've got a frog in your throat. A live one, medium sized. Now, forcefully try to expectorate it. (Translation: hack it up!) The sound you and the frog make is what we're looking for here. Piece of cake --- or as they say in German: "Ein shtuk der kochen!" Now, say that five times for practice.

The "r" sound is not trilled as they pronounce it in Spanish; it's more like a French roll (a.k.a. croissant). You can replicate this sound by growling, while attempting to eject the frog slime out of the middle of your upper palate. Simple, yet effective:  RRRRGH! RRRRGH!

Just for fun, why not combine these two new sounds? You can do it, I know you can! You make the sounds; I'll give you the clues and encouragement. Ready, set, go! Frog in throat -- out! Slime in palate -- off! Repeat!

If by any chance you feel that you are no closer to speaking German than you were when you began this session, I'd like to make you feel better by sharing a dirty little secret with you. Go ahead and ask  Germans what language they speak, and they'll tell you "Deutch," which you  would expect to be the native tongue of the people from the Netherlands, nee Holland. So, don't feel bad! Even Germans don't speak German!


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Memories of Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico)

I've been back at home for a couple of months, but I keep thinking about Mexico. This is what I remember -- with a little help from my notes -- from this past summer:

Spending time with my daughter. Seeing her fall in love with the colors, the sounds, the people of this beautiful, vibrant country.

Hundreds of shawls and scarves  (I stop counting at 400)  draped around the altar, over huge candlesticks, and what looks to me to be a giant gyroscope. Traditional serapes snuggling up to belly-dance be-dangled hip wear, all hanging from the branches of candelabras and the arms of the larger-than-life Jesus, who is dressed in a full-length, purple and gold-cross embossed gown with white lace collars and cuffs. A neon-pink, fringed shawl is folded over one of his arms, while a white, wool and polyester blend is slung jauntily over a shoulder. I don't know the background, but the sight of El Senor de los rebozos at the Church of Santo. Domingo is quite impressive.

I only eat two  of my  four churros with the hot, dark chocolate at El Moro. Of course, I want more, but it wasn't I who belly danced for several hours; I am with family and friends of Miriam, who had invited me to witness her baile arabe performance.

Not many United Statians stay at the Hotel I., but I am delighted to meet Stephen, a professor of English as a Second Language who carries out his project of recording street musicians, so that they can sell and profit from the CDs he then gifts them.

Lots of Mexicans think that I am French, but I am especially flattered when a bunch of Parisians think that I am one of them -- after I've spoken to them in their langue.

Ingrid and I debate the advantages of sex vs. chewing gum to achieve weight loss. We practically shoot wine out of our nostrils, an action which might serve (if done regularly) to help lose pounds, too.

Museo de la Chancilleria (The Museum of Historic and Artistic Patrimony of the Secretary of Foreign Relations):  Exhibit of contemporary artists' views of nature, including industrialization vs the environment, and questions of religion and philosophy that go beyond nature. The building itself is fascinating, especially the weird little baby angels with their bulging, vacuous eyes, that ring the cupola. (

The Design Museum's show, featuring photographs of Mexico as it is or as the photographers wish it to be. Lots of landscapes and faces, those of the elderly particularly tender, emotive, and provocative. (

: Built as a church in 1594, the Secretary of Public Education is housed in a Baroque-style building, reconstructed in the mid-17th century. The most notable features are the 200 or so Diego Rivera murals on the ground and third floors (or what would be called the 2nd floor, here in Mexico). Themes encompass various types of work (farming, baking, etc.), Mexican people and traditions (from dances to festivals), and critiques of capitalism. (Especially witty is the scene of the wealthy dining on plates of coins, a little boy crying as he eyes his serving). Rivera depicts some of the leaders of Mexican revolutionary struggles, such as Emiliano Zapata, as saints or religious figures. I make two visits here, the second to make sure I didn't miss any of the murals, as the first time I flew through too quickly.

Not only are hundreds of different breads, pastries, cookies, muffins, and more for sale at the main branch of the Ideal Bakery, but the second floor brims with fantastic cakes (in a variety of styles and colors, some  unknown in nature) for weddings, quinceaneras, births, graduations, and other occasions. (

In my on-going search for a place in which to take lessons in Mixtec, I am directed to the Club de Periodistas. Unfortunately, the only indigenous language taught was Nahuatl, but -- even worse news -- the instructor died recently. I visit the institute for indigenous languages that I'd found on line, but it's a mere shell of a building. Maybe next time....

An impressive exhibit of crafts at the Palacio de Cultura Banamex, produced by 450 artisans from throughout Latin America (22 countries), entitled Grand Masters of Popular Art. This is an extraordinary, breath-taking look at crafts made of wood, clay, metals, gourds, skins, stone, paper, and textiles, intended for daily or ceremonial\ritual use, or for mere (or not so mere) decoration.

I make numerous walk-bys and walk-throughs of  the Zocalo. Because of the recent elections, this is the first time in years that the plaza isn't obscured by white tents hosting exhibits. For the first time, I view the spectacle of platoons of soldiers marching to the center of this huge plaza, playing martial music, saluting, lowering, and folding the Mexican flag with great solemnity and ceremony.

Dancing in the Salon Hidalgo, the Salon de Convenciones, and Ciudadela Park. Salsa, cumbia, and son cubano with known and unknown partners. I learn a couple of new steps, flub a number of fancy moves, and almost land on my ass when a particularly jubilant guy thinks that I am more advanced than I am and simultaneously throws, spins, and drops me. I leave one of my partners open-mouthed and empty-armed when I flee his obnoxious attempts to manhandle me. I thwart the uninvited onslaughts of drenched-in-sweat, over-zealous guys, men who hold me as if they want to stuff me down their shirts,  and youngsters looking for a mommy or a cougar or just a ticket to the US. Also reject the come-ons of an elderly gent who confides that he's a politician from Guanajuato, out on the town in a place where he can "have fun" without being recognized. And then there are the majority of men with whom I dance: friendly, polite, and fun.

Food and drink: A tasty mushroom omelet at Cafe Dzeb; Chinese buffet (yay, vegetables!); a vegetarian multi-course lunch where the torta of nopales (sort of a thick, eggy pancake with cactus paddles)  in a light tomato sauce and the chewy, nutty whole grain roll are standouts; yogurt with fresh strawberries, honey, and a dusting of granola on days when I eat lunch; the huge breakfasts, now with cornflakes and milk (too, too much! I can't!), in addition to vegetable soup, fruit salad, eggs (rancheros or Mexican style), roll, chilaquiles, and cafe con leche at Cafe Rex; rotisserie chicken to go; addictive, salty, roasted pumpkin seeds and the spicy broad beans that I've turned Ingrid onto, also; tinga (shredded chicken in tomato sauce) as the main course in one of my greasy spoons; aguas (flavored fruit waters) of lemon and tamarind; chicken in peanut and almond sauces.

At the Parque de la Ciudadela, I say adios to my dance partners and acquaintances while changing from my strappy dance shoes to my comfortable, but ugly, walking shoes. I am distracted by the people approaching to give me a hug and/or ask about when I'll be back. Finally, I head for the metro. Halfway there, I glance down at my feet and notice that I'm wearing a clodhopper on one foot and an inch-high heel on the other. I am laughing so hard that I attract the interest and mirth of people seated on nearby benches.
Ingrid and I go out for  ice cream on my last night. It pours as we go back to the hotel, so I use the paella pan I just purchased to protect myself and my cup of chocolate nut deliciousness from the rain. My back is soggy and the dessert is semi-melted by the time we reach the lobby, but I still enjoy the bittersweet treat.

I remember all this and more. Is it any surprise that I always want to return?

Monday, October 29, 2012


I don't think I told you about the first fire, the one that my poor friends-cum-emergency contacts were getting multiple calls about from the alarm company. The one that had them leaving frantic calls for me to get in touch with them and with the fire department. The one that had them suggesting that I find other emergency contacts.

Well, after picking up their 30 messages on my cell hone, I flew home to find a note from the fire fighters on my kitchen table. The note explained that they had answered the call, entered the house through a second-story window, thoroughly investigated, and found..... nothing.

I called the Chief to thank him and to get more details, because there was a definite smokey smell that greeted me when I wandered through the house. After explaining that, despite using the most up-to-date equipment (including thermal imaging and, no doubt, giant axes, helmets, and big boots) and despite the fact that there really had been a fire that his men could not locate, he admitted to being baffled.

"It smelled to us like burnt hair. Did you use a curling iron this morning?" he asked me.

"You've never seen me," I said, "or you would know the answer to that question.I don't own a curling iron because I come by my curls and frizz naturally." I didn't tell him that I don't even own a comb....

"Well, did you roast some meat?" he asked.

"I'm a pseudo-vegetarian," I said. "I sometimes cook poultry or fish, but usually not in the morning."

It was later that evening that I began to sniff whiffs of what started out smelling like a barbeque (hold the sauce) and, within a few days, swelled to the stench of a week-long garbage strike in Manhattan or a month-long power outage in a busy morgue. Quite quickly, M. and I came to the conclusion that a critter had bit the dust by biting a live wire in the wall.

The odor worsened  and  persisted for quite some time. It seemed to emanate from the stairwell. If you saw me during this time, you might have wondered why my nose looked so red, and now you know what happens to someone who has to pinch her proboscis over  a protracted period.

In time, the house returned to its normal homey odors and life went on, as unusual.

Then, last week, the fire alarms went off at 4:20 in the morning. I slipped on a particularly fetching pair of undies. (My mother always told me to make sure that my lingerie was clean and attractive, in case I should end up in a car crash or a house fire and the EMTs have to cut through my clothes). I pulled on the first pair of jeans I could grab, a tattered t-shirt -- what difference would it make if they might have to slash through it, anyway? -- and some ratty sneakers.

What else did I pick up as I tore out of the smoke-filling bedroom, down the staircase, and out the front door? No priceless and irreplaceable photos of my beloved son as a baby and toddler nor of my long-deceased and much loved parents or of the even longer-dead and un-labeled relatives. None of the semi-precious jewelry I've collected nor the treasures I've accrued in my travels. Not my favorite blouse. Not a single thing to wear to the office or to salsa in. I grabbed only one valuable (i.e., my passport) and a purse bulging, as I soon discovered, with cap-less pens, half-used lipsticks, wadded-up tissues, a dollar bill, and a couple of pennies.

Some of the same firefighters who'd previously visited stopped by again, along with some first-timers, in four shiny firetrucks. To make a second story short, this time there was, indeed, a fire. Luckily, it extinguished on its own, before the firefighters got there.

"Do you cut hair?" the biggest fireman asked me.

"Not even my own," I replied. "Why do you ask?"

"We found some long, singed hair up in the attic," he told me. This, just in time for Halloween!

M. kept the evidence: a reeking patch of blackened skin and, burnt-to-a-crisp, yet still-curly, hair. He showed it to the insurance adjuster, who, with a contractor, found some bones (critter number one?) in one of the dead ducts leading from the air handler.

 Perhaps the racoons that had long frolicked in the attic, but from whom I hadn't heard a peep or a  squeak  in about half a year and whom I haven't ever seen hide nor hair of, have finally left my house --  along with their hides and their hairs. In the meantime, and as repairs are being made, I'm insisting that M. put up a trap and install new fire alarms. And I'm making a generous donation to my friends at the fire department.

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Class (Mexico City, Mexico)

I feel like I'm in a vacuum tube or something. Very little news of the world outside reaches me. I´ve heard that it's sweltering back home. No surprise: it's August! I heard about the shocking shootings at the midnight screening of the new Batman film. I saw a newspaper today that said that Obama maintains a lead in popularity polls in the swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. I read that there's severe drought in some of the farm states, so food prices are sure to rise. I catch the Olympics on TV from time to time, so I know that Mexico has scored medals in diving and that many athletes have done the US proud. I'm certain that more is being reported -- most of it bad -- and that I'll learn more than I want to know once I get back to the States.

Meanwhile, I spend my days in awe of the industriousness and creativity of Mexicans, who utilize every nook and cranny of buildings, alleys, sidewalks, and metro stations and cars,  to sell everything and anything to passersby. I wander about, stopping from time to time to gaze up at a magnificent building, to visit a museum, or to buy a bite or a meal from a street vendor or in a restaurant. In the evenings, I dance my daily calorie intake off, arrive at my hotel early, wash my clothes in the sink, and sink into bed. I turn the TV on and wake up, between two and four in the morning, to the same shows I was watching when I fell asleep.

These are my last couple of days in Mexico City, and I  already feel sad as I say farewell to friends and acquaintances I may not see again. This morning at one of my regular breakfast spots, an employee greeted me  with a giant smile, a bear hug, and a big, fat kiss on the cheek. As I told her goodbye, the waitress told me how she always looks forward to seeing me and put down her armload of plates to embrace me.  I left the banana that the obnoxious owner placed on my table as a "gift." I passed my friendly neighborhood tacos de canasta guy and waved hello, knowing that I probably won't have time for another taco before I go.

I've got most meals planned out for the rest of my time here:  Saturday's breakfast will be a hearty buffet -- fresh fruit and juice, eggs, breads and sweet rolls, chilaquiles, perhaps a guisado (a main dish -- but only if it's poultry or fish, no more other meats for me!), and cafe con leche bien cargado  (a super-charged latte). I'll need the sustenance, as I'll be skipping lunch before heading to my favorite park to dance most of the afternoon away. I might take some food to eat in my hotel room  (roasted chicken from the rotisserie; a thin, crisp, whole grain flatbread, and a gelatina with a prune, a chunk of canned peach, and a walnut from a nearby bakery) before I ready myself to attend a Middle Eastern dance presentation in which a friend will be performing. I'll get a freshly squeezed oj, a cheese and mushroom omelette, some black beans, tortillas, and the requisite cafe con leche from one of the small, humble restaurants that is open on Sundays. Eating out options are always more limited on this, most people's day of rest, so I don't know if or what I'll eat before heading out to a museum and to my last evening of dancing. My last full day will be Monday, so I might eat a tamal of rayas con queso (a tamale with cheese and green pepper strips), a chocolate atole (a corn-based drink with the consistency of a thin gruel) , and some papaya and mango chunks from sidewalk stands and catch up on my vegetable quotient at a Chinese buffet or a vegetarian restaurant. Perhaps a glass of red wine later in the evening in the company of my friend, I, along with a handful of salty, spicy peanuts with fried, whole garlic cloves and hot peppers. Maybe a little bag of addictive, toasted and salted pumpkin seeds. Before I leave town on Tuesday morning, I´ll grab a filling breakfast at another buffet to keep me satisfied until they feed me lunch (!) on my plane. 

Lest you think that I'm kidding, I have to report how sorry the airline was  to inform me that there were no seats in Coach or Business Class or Under the Fuselage, so they had to put me in First Class for every step of each of my flights to and from Mexico. Oh, well. If someone has to bear the indignities of having more leg room than I would need if my legs were twice as long as they are, of having more elbow room than I would need if my elbows were twice as what? sharp? bent? outstretched? as they can be, of being served a meal, snacks, and beverages that are twice as good (although they're not great...) as what are offered in the fast food airport locations -- and which are already included in the price of my flight  -- well, that someone might as well be me! I´ve already learned from my experience in getting here, that First Class is about a gazillion times better than other classes. Not only did I get on and off my flights sooner than everybody else, but the planes seemed to arrive at their destinations faster and smoother.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"The Sex Capital of the World" (Mexico City, Mexico)

I'm sitting in the front of a Chinese restaurant.Traffic streams by. The noise level is high. There's the sound of dishes clinking and the steady murmurs of the diners surrounding me. There's the constant thud, thud, thud of bass, waves of roiling techno music that never change or stop. Only later am I able to understand the incessant blare of a man's voice over a loudspeaker, touting  the cleanliness of the nearby public toilets.

The front of the restaurant is completely open to the street. As the wind picks up, it works  its way into the plastic Waldo`s bag I had placed on the table, making the handles sway seductively.

I look up from my heaping plate of garlicky string beans, grilled chicken, and broccoli, and realize that I have a direct, perfect view across the street and into "The Sex Capital of the World."

Perhaps your imagination is wilder than mine is -- or your experience broader -- but I am stumped by what I see: long-sleeved, plaid shirts, Michoacan ice cream, baseball caps, cell phone accouterments, and Betty Boop umbrellas. These everyday items don't fit with my concept of sex, but to each his/her own, right?

I am probably watching too many shows on the Travel and Living (TLC) Channel, because I decide to visit "The Sex Capital of the World"  after lunch.

In the meantime, a sudden dive in temperature presages a downpour. Of course, I've left my raincoat in the hotel room, so as the clouds let go, I am forced to dawdle over the remains of my seafood soup, Chop Suey, octopus, jello, mango, and papaya.

The young woman  who has been sashaying back and forth in front of the restaurant to entice passersby inside, shelters in the doorway. She's still showing off  the enormous, photo-heavy menu, but as she shivers in her ditsy-bitsy, backless mini-dress, she seems less suited to promoting the world's largest Chinese buffet than "The Sex Capital of the World,"  which I will herein refer to as "The Big C."

As the rain dies down, I pay my bill, then sprint between cars. I note, but do not heed, the message printed on the side of a little Coke delivery truck: "As hard as it might be, maintain your distance." I am committed to seeing "The Big C" with my very own eyes, and nothing will dissuade me.

As is the case with many multistory buildings in Mexico City, this edifice houses the equivalent of a mini mall. There are hundreds of shops, booths, and stalls occupying almost every inch of space, save for the narrow corridors that allow you to visit each one. I pass the displays that I had already glimpsed from across the street, making my way inside with a certain wariness.

Look! Here's a display of Pampers wipes and another of socks embroidered with Minnie Mouse, Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster. Huh?

Then I come across a huge "exhibit" of boxer shorts, frankly, the most unsexy I've every beheld. The colors are neon -- orange, green, and red -- and words, such as "strangled," adorn them. Huh??

Next, I see the toys: Transformers, Captain America, and Batman action figures.  I'm already well into the bowels of "The Big C," and completely baffled.

Okay, hold your horses!  Now we're talkin'! Next to the shop selling "Instant Lunch" ramen noodles, Boing fruity sodas, and beautiful, hand-sewn Barbie prom gowns is XAVIERA'S SEXY LINGERIE SHOP.  A male mannequin, listing at the entry, is dressed in what I believe must be a (plastic) gladiator costume: a studded collar and a skirt. Hanging above his head are little, plastic French maids' outfits,  teeny, plastic nurses' uniforms, and a plastic leopard-skin bustier with garter straps. Hot!!! I mean, wouldn't the plastic be hot? Everything looks like a super-cheap Halloween costume.

I move along to LOVER'S SEX SHOP. Here, I see packages of "Beer Garden Babe," "Santa's Favorite Elf," and "Bad Apple Snow White" costumes. They also sell computer parts.

The acrylic nail shop next door is draped with thongs, padded jock straps, and fancy hair pins. No nails, acrylic or otherwise.

I decide not to ascend the staircase to tour the rest of "The Big C." I didn't know what to expect when I entered, but it was rather a disappointment. Although the mango with chili ice cream pop I bought from the Michoacan franchise was really, really hot.