Our second day in Mexico City, my travel companion asks me if I have any idea where she can buy a miner´s headlamp. As we have not scheduled any spelunking, I ask her if she is out of her mind. She replies that she needs a light to read by while I am sleeping and that her neighbor in Richmond has one of them. I tell her she is out of her mind and that there is no way we are going to find such a thing in Mexico City.
Twenty minutes later, we are ambling towards the metro when A. spies a shop selling camping equipment. We approach the counter, where a variety of miner´s headlamps is arrayed.
The saleswoman (hair spiked, arms tattooed) pulls out a selection of lamps for A. to admire, then turns to me. ¨You must be really sad about Michael Jackson,¨ she says, a look of great concern on her face.
I have never been sad about Michael Jackson. Surprised, yes. Appalled, yes. But sad, no. "Why should I be sad about him?" I ask.
She tells me that he is dead and, from that moment on, A. and I realize that we have been hearing "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" ever since we left the hotel. What we don't realize is that we will be hearing those songs for days on end. "This is the soundtrack for our trip," A. later comments.
In the meantime, A. chooses her headlamp. She turns down the offer of a plastic bag and sticks her purchase into her tote.
Before leaving, we are informed that Farah Fawcett has died. This is the first and last we hear of her passing.
Our day of sightseeing begins in earnest. The Palacio de Bellas Artes is an impressive monument to Art Deco, inside and out. The work of some of Mexico's most famous muralists (Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, among them) bedeck its walls. An exhibit of works by a Polish ex-pat, Tamara (last name to come) who lived and painted in Paris, Cuernavaca, Mexico City, and Los Angeles, echoes the influence of Caravaggio, with dramatic plays of light and shadow.
We admire the exterior and lobby of the post office -- the staircase and elevator could serve as models for gold guilders everywhere. So many of the buildings we pass are impressive, imposing, studded with sculptures, angeled and gargoyled.
We stop for tea at the Casa de Azulejos. A former residence, the blue and white tiled building is now a Sanborn's Department Store, part of Carlos Slim's empire (which includes Mexico's largest telephone and oil companies). We are shown to a table in the beautiful courtyard, where we admire the tiles (imported from China), the high ceiling (several stories), and the plants that surround us.
It is about this time when A. opens her tote bag and discovers not one, but two miner's headlights resting comfortably in its interior. "We've got to go back to that store," she tells me.
I had absolutely no idea that I was traveling with a kleptomaniac. I, myself, have this problem with pens, but I try not to klept them from anyone in countries where there are more armed police per square foot than there are roaches in Manhattan.
I immediately imagine the conversation that will condemn me to a squalid Mexican prison for the rest of my life. Spike-haired woman to police: "Those two gringas might look like semi-respectable and innocent women of a certain age, but they are, in fact, cool, accomplished crooks. The short-haired one stole the headlight, but (she raises her tattooed arm and points to me) it was the other one, her accomplice -- yes, that's her, alright -- who distracted me with all that talk about Michael Jackson."
Praying that the clerk has not yet reported the theft and hoping that the APB has not gone out throughout Mexico, A. and I practically racewalk back to the scene of the crime.
We enter the store, smiles plastered on our faces to hide our fear. Michael Jackson moonwalks across a television screen as we attempt to explain the error and make amends. The clerk smiles and returns the headlamp to its place under the counter. Michael Jackson croons, "Thriller, thriller...."