Thursday, July 21, 2011

Street Walker (Mexico City, Mexico)

July 17, 2011

After dancing for over five hours yesterday in the Ciudadela, I feel a bit tired today. The muscle I pulled before I left the States no longer hurts, but that could be because my big toe, my calves, my arms, and and my torso are aching so much that all previous pain is overshadowed. Be that as it may, I resolve to spend the day taking it easy.

On Sundays, Reforma -- a major thoroughfare -- is closed to vehicular traffic. People stroll, skateboard, roller skate, and bike for miles, often bringing their dogs along for the ride. Bicycles and wheelchairs are available at no charge, if you are willing to leave your I.D. at a kiosk. I prefer to walk along the street.

Street vendors are out in force, selling everything you never knew you wanted or needed. A line of children and their parents patiently await their turns on the merry-go-round in Alameda Park. Toddlers tote balloons. Japanese tourists pose for photos with people dressed as Sponge Bob, Cat Woman, and Star Wars characters. A turbaned man will write my name in Arabic, for a small fee. (He looks like the same guy -- minus the turban, plus Hassidic garb -- who wrote peoples' names in Hebrew, last year. Will 2012 be the year of my name in Chinese?) Four thousand people cross the street, all coming towards me at once; I've got my own posse of at least 4,017 strangers, streaming along beside me.

The enticing aromas of cooking and the sight of just about everyone eating something -- bags of chips, tacos, giant lollypops, sandwiches stuffed with meats and cheeses, ice cream, corn swathed in mayonnaise, coated in grated cheese, sprinkled with hot chili peppers -- make me want to join in. I purchase a cup of esquites, large chewy corn kernels, hold the mayo, but drenched in lime juice and sprinkled with cheese.

Fatigued from hours of strolling, people watching, and chewing (of corn, not people), I escape the crowds by stopping at a Starbucks and lingering over a small coffee. (There are hordes of police milling around outside the entrance; I learn later that that they were present, for crowd control, at the wonderful parade that I am either missing, had missed, or was about to miss.) The sloping glass skyscraper which houses the cafe is undergoing re-construction, and I notice that there are no ceilings or floors above me, just randomly placed beams, boards, and sheets of plastic. It sounds, however, as if ungainly mastodons (were there any gainly ones?) are playing tag overhead, so I begin to fear that I am experiencing an earthquake. My feeling is that I should get the hell out before being turned into sashimi.

There is no earthquake; however, I do feel a bit shaken. So, I purchase a ticket for the final chapter in the movie chronicles of Harry Potter; I need a bit of unreality to settle me down. I attend the subtitled, non-3-D version, which probably explains why there are only seven other people watching with me, as opposed to the roughly 7,086 seated in each of the ten other theaters of the multiplex. Still, the film is fun and doesn't require any thought or activity on my part.

I wander through other closed-to-car streets, stopping to listen to a group of young musicians playing their brass instruments. I join the crowd surrounding them and observe two elderly couples dancing gracefully. One pair waves frantically to someone behind me, I think, but it turns out that they are greeting me. After the number ends, the man comes over and says, "We know you from the Ciudadela. Will you dance with me?" I say no, but only because it's danzon.

My friend, Ingrid, is due to arrive at our hotel at around 7:00 p.m., so I head back. She hasn't come in yet, so I go out again to find something to eat.

Roast chicken sounds tempting, but the rotissomat is closed. The stand around the block that sells quesadillas looks just a little too iffy. The spot I've been wanting to try for a turkey sandwich is being cleaned up for the night. What shall I do?

There's a place on the corner, only two streets away, that's still open. I peer in and notice some women. What I don't notice is that they are with men and that the place is not really a restaurant, but a bar. Oh, well. They're advertising turkey tacos, 3 for 25 pesos, just the thing -- all that serotonin -- to help me get a good night's sleep.

Unfortunately, they're out of turkey. There's no chicken. No fish. No seafood. Steak, yes. And other man-food to accompany the alcohol that all of the men are downing.

The bar is full of men. Three at a neighboring table are already toasting me, one across from me is giving me the eye, and another man is either winking at me or suffering from tics.

I request an order of cheese quesadillas. "With beans?" my waiter asks, hopefully, as if they wouldn't, otherwise, be substantial enough to serve.

"Yes, please," I reply, because I've developed a man-sized appetite.

I pull out a magazine and try to read over the blare of the TV and music. One of the men from the table for three plops down across from me, tries to engage me in conversation, invites me to go out to dinner with him, and leaves in a huff when I turn him down.

That's the cue for another fellow to pull up a chair and offer to buy me a drink. I've already polished off my quesadillas, the lemonade I ordered, and half of another one the waiter said was on the house, so I sweetly say, "No, thanks. I'm leaving." I manage to do so, just as another man -- either intent on being "the chosen one" or interested in apprenticing as a waiter -- approaches my table.

(Note to self and warning to solitary female travelers: Next time you're hungry on a Sunday, stop at the 7-11 or OXXO, and buy some crappy sandwich to eat in your room, alone and in peace!)

By the time I reach the hotel, Ingrid has checked in. We catch up on each other's lives over the last year and agree to meet on Tuesday, to visit a new museum that I passed earlier in the day.

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