July 6, 2011
I lunch at the Pausa...Cafe, which is situated right next to my subway stop. It's almost always packed, so I'm assuming that the food is good rather than that yesterday's patrons have all died of food poisoning and that those of us who are here today are all here for the first -- and last -- time.
First, a delicious cream of red pepper soup. I remove the stray, floating herb or eyelash and add almost too much hot sauce, which ramps up the flavor, will probably kill anything that's not already dead, and leaves my lips stinging. Next course: steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, bland but tasting like themselves. Finally, chicken with fine herbs and four petite, pink potatoes. Musicians plink their guitars and sing as the tastes play out quite pleasantly in my mouth.
Sated, I walk to the Banamex Palace of Culture (Madera #7, near Bolivar). I spend a tranquil hour or so viewing the temporary exhibit of religious paintings -- saints, the Virgin, the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection, etc. -- by Zurburan, Rubens, Coello, and other noted and unknown artists from both sides of the Atlantic. These are not my favorite subjects, but they are well executed. Especially the saints.
On my way back to the hotel, I run into Irene, who promises to meet me at the Centro de Convenciones within an hour or so. Of course, it starts to rain cats and dogs, plus a few mules and a soggy goat, as soon as I am dressed for dancing and step outside again.
I step inside the huge Convention Center, and a woman asks me if I have already bought a ticket. When I say no and rummage in my bag for the 10-peso entry fee, she hands me an extra pass. An auspicious beginning...
The place is huge. There are tons of people. I walk up and down one side of the hall, trying to find Irene at a table or on the dance floor. "This is not going to be easy," I tell myself, but I'm not really listening. That's because he band is cranking out salsa, my toes are already tapping, my hips, hopping.
Before wading into the sea of bobbing heads and swirling bodies, I decide to put on my dancing shoes and put down the bag holding my "supplies": toilet paper, soap leaves, a fan, tissues, rain poncho, some business cards. I park myself and my stuff in an empty seat at an empty table.
Before I can buckle my shoes, I am asked to dance by a man twice as big and twice as old as I am. In the middle of the song, he asks, "Do you like chocolate?"
Now, those of you who know me know that I don't just like chocolate, I love chocolate -- to the extent that I consider it a basic food group. Dark, bitter-sweet chocolate, that is. None of that namby-pamby milk chocolate for me. None of that phony-baloney white-chocolate chocolate-wannabe substance for me. Not that there's anything wrong with them. (We can talk about your problems at another time.)
So I say, "Yes....?"
"I'm going to give you some later."
I thank him for the dance and no-thank him for the promised chocolate.
When I return to my seat, a thin, graying man is sitting across from me. I greet him, then set out again to look for Irene. Before I've taken two steps, a park acquaintance pulls me onto the floor. As I leave to re-search, another man I've danced with at the Ciudadela, grabs me for a cumbia.
There are two dance floors, one of which is sunken, adjacent to each other. I make may way around both, ever on the look-out and now, on my way to the ladies room.
Suddenly, a thin woman with long red hair runs up to me. "Excuse me, amiga. I'm sitting at a table for four, but we are only three. Would you like to join us?"
"Thank you," I say, "but I'm meeting a friend."
"If you don't find her, please come sit with us -- over there." She points to table at which two men are swivel-necking to see us. They smile at me, wave, and nod. I thank but no-thank her and continue on.
It's only by chance that I spot Irene, momentarily seated between dances at a table not far from my own. I return for my things, excuse myself from my table mate, and switch to a seat with Irene's entourage.
I notice the redhead and her male friends beckoning to me from halfway across the hall. "I FOUND MY FRIEND!" I mouth, pointing to Irene with boundless enthusiasm.
One of the redhead's companions, green eyed and hair gel slicked, comes over to request a dance. He's a good dancer but he carries with him a cloud of cigarette smoke that fogs the air around us as we salsa.
"My name is Memo," he says.
"Oh, short for Guillermo, huh?"
"Memo para ti."
"So, your last name is To You...," I joke.
"No," he says. "I'm Memo to you."
Just my kind of partner: smells bad and has no sense of humor.
Later, when I dance with him again, he pushes a crumpled napkin into my hand. "Call me," it says, followed by his number and his name. I have no intention of calling him, however, I don't intentionally blow my nose in the napkin. I realize that I've done so only when I look in a mirror and notice the blue ink on my schnoz.
I dance several times with the man who was seated across from me before my move. Both he and another of my younger dance partners are attorneys. The two offer me their professional services, which I hope that I will never need. They offer me their phone numbers, which I do not accept. The younger one proposes taking me to breakfast. I don't need that, either.
After dancing with three or four other guys, my first partner of the evening puts out his hand. Instead of leading me to the dance floor, he stops at his table and thrusts a small, black garbage bag into my hands. "I sell dresses," he says, "and I want you to have this."
"I can't accept a gift from you," I tell him. I wasn't about to take chocolate from him, much less a dress, although I haven't had chocolate since I left the States....
"No, really. I insist. There's no commitment. I just know that this dress will look great on you. It's a dress made for dancing. Please, take it."
I don't know why, but I do.
Later, in my room, I try it on.
Let me explain by using an analogy: shmatta: dress = me: Gweneth Paltrow (Translation: This thing is to a dress as I am to a movie star.)
It's heavy, black polyester, lined with black, heavy polyester. Three sequined horizontal bands run across the front, like sparkly bandages of death, hitting me at my chest, my waist, and my hips. The sleeves hang down, five inches longer than my arms. The hem hits just slightly below my hips. The neckline scoops so low and so wide, that if I lean forward an inch, you can see clear down to my belly button. The gaping front slit runs from the hem clear up to my belly button. In short -- in very, very short -- it's a cross between something that the Addams Family's Morticia would wear and a drum majorette's uniform.
I laugh so hard that I split a seam.