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.