The night before, I made grand and glorious plans to scurry away to the pyramids of Teotihuacan, and I even woke up early enough to make this come true. Sadly, but not actually all that sad as I was on holiday in one of the most wonderful places, I decided not to go. I was luxuriating in freedom and the glory of having nothing to do. For me, this was a rare treat. I know that the hectic schedule of my everyday life is a monster of my own creation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, reader, there is wonderment in times when you have nothing pressing on you, no deadlines, no assignments, nowhere to be, nothing to do, nothing but living, nothing but time. And so, I decided to revel in my time. It’s one of the only luxuries you really can’t buy.
My morning is surely not that interesting to read, so I will speed ahead, but I want to leave you with a picture. Picture this: me. Me in a comfortable ensemble of skintight black jeans and an oversized white shirt that showed off the tan I gathered in California. My hair was loose and wavy and ever so slightly out of control. My skin was clear. My boots were camel colored suede. I was sat on the stoop of a beautiful apartment in the center of Mexico City, sipping coffee and reading Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry whilst scratching Little Chiffon under her chin. The sun shone, birds sang, Blanca was washing something in the courtyard as she always was. I had mariachi music gently playing on the sound system. Everything was wonderful. Life was decadence defined.
As I finished my pot of coffee and the chapter I was reading, I looked over a lengthy list of ideas for my time in Mexico City. When I prepare for a trip, I very rarely do anything planned. Instead, I give myself more opportunities than I will ever reasonably have the chance to manifest. I mean, my list for Paris goes back to my very first visit in 2007 and I still haven’t crossed everything off. There are dozens of bakeries, museums, and obscure sites I still need to experience. I’ll get around to that someday, I’m sure. My list for Mexico City wasn’t quite so extensive, but it was lengthy enough for a trip of three months.
My eye latched on the Mercado de Sonora because I had put “witchcraft market!” beside it, so that sold me immediately. But I was in no real hurry. I leisurely styled my hair, sang “Solamente Una Vez” to Little Chiffon, who seemed to appreciate my crooning, and then something happened.
Look. We’re not going to get deep into this because if I’m anything, I’m an elegant lady. But Montezuma’s Revenge is very real. I was lucky because I didn’t experience it traditionally. It all come out of me, mind you, but blissfully from my mouth. All of a sudden, reader, there was no end to the amount of things I was vomiting. And I must admit something to you, my dear followers, I was ecstatic. Just think of all the weight I was losing! All my life I have been on a yo-yo diet, like our dear Janet Jackson. I’m either skinny or hella fat or stuck in the middle. So, at this stage in my life, still puffy for some reason from steroid injections from Multiple Sclerosis the year before (seriously), I was equally disgusted and delighted to be losing everything I had eaten in the past day. I was going to be so thin!
But it didn’t stop. Like…I’d go for a few minutes before more exploded out of me. And I really wasn’t sure where the contents of my stomach were coming from, so I went to the kindly pharmacist down the street that had sold me ibuprofen a couple days before. They’re great. I love Mexican pharmacies. You can get all kinds of pills! You just tell them what ails you and you get a box of drugs.
I used my best terrible Spanish and did a few gestures and I soon had some kind of pill I was supposed to take every morning for the rest of my trip. It would allow me to consume street food and the water without worrying about it all fleeing my body before being digested. I was thrilled. And that’s really why I didn’t go to the pyramids. I was dying! The medication took effect shortly later and I no longer was losing the contents of my innards and I deemed it safe to carry on with my day.
The Mercado Sonora was not very far from my apartment, so I decided to go walking out onto a new street and see new sights. With each step, I could feel my stomach become more and more settled. I was deliriously excited about this because all of the street food smelled divine and I saw a tlacoyo vender that I wanted to stop at later for dinner. I didn’t grab one then, when I should have, because I was still, I feel reasonably, wary of eating anything that I didn’t prepare myself. The events of the afternoon had scarred me.
And I was scarred by something even more horrifying than vomit when I made my way down the Calle Regina. I was confronted with a sight more alarming than any bodily fluid. The streets were lined with vendors selling things I absolutely did not want to see: school supplies.
I could have screamed!
This was a horrifying reminder of my reality. My life, for ten months of the year, revolves around academia. I work in a public school every day, I am taking classes when I’m not working and those classes are about schools and teaching. I am constantly surrounded by education — which I really do like — but it was a shock to my very core to see notebooks and pencils and backpacks and book covers.
And fidget spinners. I hate those damned things with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Nothing is more distracting or infuriating than students spinning those idiotic devices as fast as they humanly can whilst comparing their spinning skills and trading spinners with their peers. I lose my cool when I see them. You want to know something even more traumatizing? I was talking to my father one day, and you never will guess what he pulled out of his pocket. I guess you probably could judging by the contents of this paragraph. Yes, my own father, himself nearly sixty, had a fidget spinner. I could have cried.
The shops were endless and full of eager parents and children, and also full of reluctant children who surely didn’t want to go back to school but wanted to pick out their own set of pens. I was reminded of French schoolchildren when I looked at the supplies. When I was one of them I was not a child, but I was equally captivated by the planners and sheet protectors. My time as a student in France really developed my character more than anything else in my life up to that point. I think back of it so often. One day, I’m sure I’ll go back and take another class there just for the sake of nostalgia. Anyway, one stand was selling an agenda that intrigued me, so I bought that. I haven’t used it once but it was only thirty pesos, so oh well.
Carrying on with my walk, the school supplies finally dwindled to be replaced by the more customary goods and foods for sale. This did my heart good. Nothing like a good supply of black market DVDs, haircuts in a tent, tacos, belts, and shoes. Oh how marvelous this all was!
And now was the Mercado!
A huge yellow building was surrounded by tents and there was a constant bustle of people going in and out of one of the many doors. I couldn’t wait and hurried into the first entrance I found. Unexpectedly, I found myself surrounded by supplies for birthday parties. It was oddly specific. Balloons and confetti and cake toppers were everywhere and a huge variety of other things that I never knew you would need to have a successful birthday party.
I let my feet take me through the market, no planned destination, very little I needed to see. And there was everything you could ever imagine. Ceramic bowls were stacked to the rafters, stuffed animals of every variety were for sale, endless household goods, shirts, shoes, and then my nose told me that I had located the section that specialized in animals.
I lost my mind.
There were kittens and puppies all over the place in pens and cages and gallivanting around. I couldn’t stand how precious and adorable they were. Were I a citizen of Mexico City, I would have a huge problem, reader. I would adopt so many and I would become one of those weirdos who had like fifty cats in their home and spends all of their income on cat food. I don’t think I’d be sad at all subsisting on a little as long as my angels were all fed and well groomed. In the meantime, though, I satisfied my great love for kittens by looking at them all at great length. It was wonderful and the shopkeepers were quite often very kind and didn’t mind my presence. I just lied and said that I was browsing for a pet.
After the cats, there was a cacophony of tweeting. I had found the birds. The selection was every bit as extensive as it had been for the other animals. There were exotic and colorful parrots, snow white doves, and then an endless diversity of chickens. There were so many chickens. I was a bit triggered. I hate chickens.
Growing up, my family raised a never ending procession of chickens for eggs and for butchering. I loathed their clucking and their odor and their cowardice and their propensity to peck at exposed skin. I hated feeding them and watering them and the way their excrement covered every surface and inevitably attached itself to some article of your clothing. When we finally stopped raising them, I was rarely happier. These chickens here in the market were a hideous reminder of my past.
I fled them and stepped outside to get some fresh air. Birds reek.
Leaning against the building, I watched the bustling market as people dashed and darted between different stalls. It was great fun to wonder about the shoppers and daydream about what they were doing, what they were shopping for, what lives they led. I oftentimes lose myself abroad in thoughts like these. I am fascinated with other people’s lives. Everybody’s normal is different, after all, and I’m sure the everyday doldrums of my life would be imaginative fodder for others. I just have an insatiable curiosity about normalcy. It’s why I always have this daydream of being a detective. It’s not the most glamorous career, and one I surely won’t pursue until retirement, but it would be great to wander around looking for clues. I’d be damn good at it, too. I’d have a magnifying glass and a leopard shirt and every day would basically be a re-enactment of La Toya Jackson looking for clues about Michael’s ghost at Hayvenhurst. I think about La Toya a lot. I think it’s time we revisit some moments from the absurd and wondrous television series that I can’t believe exists: Life With LaToya:
And so I watched the people for a long time, concocting lives for them, imagining their passions, wondering if they were as happy as I was now? As I surveyed the crowds, I noticed that a great number of visitors were making their way into one particular door, so I had to follow suit.
It’s everything I wanted.
In tiny, packed hallways, shoppers crowded around small vendors. Each vendor sold a variation on a similar theme: witchcraft. Santa Muerte glowered down from every surface, that wonderfully evocative patroness of the lost and downtrodden. Since I booked my flight to Mexico, I have been deeply intrigued by this heretical icon. She is revered by many people in Mexico, but the Catholic Church has condemned her worship. She’s skeletal and terrifying and considerably menacing to some. Legend says she will appear in your dreams, answer your prayers with the right gifts, and bring death to your enemies. She’s charming. Santa Muerte is not a truly Catholic image, obviously, instead she is the perpetuation of ancient Aztec religious belief.
This continuation of history, more than anything else, is the reason I find her existence so delightful. I love how beliefs remain the same through the ages, just the imagery changes. Look at the story of Jesus and Mary — it’s almost identical to the ancient Egyptian legends of Osiris and Isis. And stories of a great flood are in countless ancient folktales. There are similarities in theme in many cultures around the world. Humanity, for whatever reason, and this is not the time for deep speculation, surrounds itself constantly with the same stories. Times and places change, but the themes do not. Santa Muerte is Mictēcacihuātl, the Aztec goddess of the afterlife. So I had to have an icon of my own. I’m a historian, after all.
I searched many stalls for the icon that resonated the most with me, and I finally found her. She wasn’t terribly expensive, made of white resin, had a fearsome face, and delighted me to my core. The shopkeeper reverently wrapped her up and I was on my way. I found miniature pocket versions of the goddess in another stall, so I picked up a few of these as souvenirs.
Once the Santa Muerte scene thinned out, there were more and more places offering fortune telling, but since my Spanish is not perfect, I decided I had better not attempt this for fear of not understanding. There were many shops selling ingredients for potions, and then I found my favorite place in the market, a witch selling potions! I mean, it was basically tea, but the word used was potion and that delighted me endlessly, so of course I had to find one to take home! What a memory that would be!
The witch — and I mean that literally, she claimed to be an actual witch — conversed with me in limited English and I did the same in limited Spanish. I conveyed to her that I wanted something anti-inflammatory for my autoimmune disorder, and something to give me energy when I am otherwise sapped of it. She surveyed the barrels around her full of dried leaves and twigs and spices and quickly began shoveling scoops of ingredients into a bowl. She carefully added different spices to the blend and then poured this off into a plastic bag. It was only twenty pesos. The experience of watching her prepare the stuff was enough to thrill me and now I had a huge amount of witch tea!
I didn’t try my blend while I was down in Mexico City. I must admit that I was somewhat wary of what was in there. I still don’t know. A few months later, I got my courage up and brewed a pot of it. The water turned bright pink, which I appreciated; I felt so hip and millennial looking at my pink tea. I was still a bit scared of it, but the flavor was mild and inoffensive. A few hours later, I did feel quite good and I had more energy than normal. Who knows if it was the tea? Could just be a placebo effect, but who knows…maybe that witch was onto something?
The market was coming to a close, so I scurried through as much as I could. I was delighted by some charmed incense that I picked up that was supposed to bring good luck and possibly kill my enemies and then I found a little hand carved icon of Santa Muerte made from coyote bone. This was the most expensive purchase of the fun, but it’s so evocative that I couldn’t let it go.
Delighted, I walked back to the apartment, lamenting the sad and empty space where the tlacoyo lady had been selling her intoxicating food earlier. I wondered if Santa Muerte was already protecting me and warning me that this meal could have made me ill. I cackled merrily at this absurd thought.
Rain started to spit, so I made my way back with a quicker step. Safely ensconced in the apartment, I looked over my purchases, gave the cats treats, and ate my body weight in manchego cheese. I was truly living.
Time flew and the heavens cleared and I decided that I might as well go out for another escapade.
The second I stepped onto the street, though, it began to rain again. Nothing serious, but I was determined not to let it spoil the evening. I took off in a new direction to see the Angel of Independence, one of the most recognizable features in Mexico City. It’s like their Eiffel Tower or Big Ben. It was a bit of a jaunt, so I determined I should look for an umbrella. This was no easy thing, for some reason. I found a shop that sold housewares, but they didn’t sell umbrellas. They sold every variety of rain poncho, though, but that wasn’t what I was after, so I decided against it.
Luckily, I bumped into a long line of vendors on my way. They had all their awnings pulled out so you could walk without the water getting all over your attire, and then I saw an umbrella. I beamed at it. The woman selling them was absolutely lovely and the umbrella was only forty pesos. She demonstrated it for me repeatedly. I was not entirely sure of the purpose of this. Most people know how to use this simple piece of technology, I assume. Maybe not, though. She opened and shut it a dozen times. I’m really not exaggerating, either. She was so proud to make that sale.
Safe from the inevitable rains of Mexico City, I continued along, my Apple Watch buzzing every time I needed to turn. I was obsessed by the convenience. Alongside me were shuttered tortilla shops that I wanted to return to earlier in the day, but I never managed that. Oh well, that will be something for the next time, I suppose. It was all great and lovely and then I finally found myself on the Paseo Reforma.
My friend from the plane had given this location a very high recommendation. The thought of it didn’t really thrill me, I admit. It was just a bunch of nice hotels, restaurants, and shops. It was the kind of place that you see in every big and cosmopolitan city. A place for the wealthy to shop for things they can get on the Champs-Élysées or Regent Street Or Michigan Avenue. The world is much the same all over, after all.
Like most things about Mexico City, though, I quickly learned that I was wrong and my perceptions could not have been more inaccurate. I mean, yes, it was exactly as I described it, but it was better somehow. The scale was huge, the variety was endless, the kinds of restaurants would satisfy every palate. Traffic hurtled through the wide streets surrounding a lengthy park that sat in the middle of the boulevard. Beautiful trees and benches lined the walkway, and it was perfect.
And then my life changed. And then I discovered something that settled me. And it was there that I knew Mexico City could someday be my home. I get misty eyed thinking back on the experience I’m about to recount.
Rising up beside me was a mall. Nothing at all was tremendously unusual about this, but as I made my way along the first level, I encountered a bakery. And it wasn’t just any bakery, reader, it was Maison Kayser. I legit squeaked in delight. Maison Kayser is a great bakery in Paris that has the most phenomenal breads studded with cheese. Their tarts are divine. And so to see it here was shocking. I felt like I was back in Paris again, and for one of the first times, I didn’t feel a pull of melancholy. I felt quite at home right here. I grabbed several pastries and was on my way, beaming wildly at everything.
The Angel was ahead as I followed the lengthy road. My eyes were attracted to a bright green light and I saw something that I could never have expected, something that I could never have dreamed of. Reader. It was the Olive Garden. I could have cried. The Olive Garden is hardly fine dining, but it is one of my favorite places in all the world. And here it was! I couldn’t wait to stop in for dinner soon.
I finally made it to the roundabout that surrounds the Angel of Independence. Lining the sidewalk, there are elegantly molded concrete benches so that you can sit and stare up at the iconic image ahead. It was sensational reader, and I was quite overcome by happiness. I was deliriously content and full of love for Mexico City. I connected so strangely to this wonderful city. I was so glad that I still had another week to be lost and utterly enraptured.