MEXICO CITY: The Many Blessings of the Olive Garden

Today I decided to do my favorite thing in the world and wander through a big, beautiful cemetery. Truly, there is nothing quite so wondrous as perusing a good graveyard. The places where people are interred have taught me more about a nation’s culture and customs more than any guidebook, and I couldn’t wait to learn more about how the dead were treated in Mexico. I decided to visit the Panteón de Dolores because it was the most lavish one I could find, and some people online gave comparisons to Père Lachaise. So I was sold.

But I was up late as ever, that’s my normal, so I wasn’t even surprised. The cemetery was open until six that evening, so I decided to do some chores first. I went off to grab money at the ATM, which turned out to be a bit of a misadventure. One would assume that I would know where to find the ATM easily long before now, but I had always just stopped at random banks whenever I was short of pesos. Now I wasn’t sure where to find one, which was idiotic, but after mindlessly roaming though the streets, I found what I was looking for. The line was endless, but the woman beside me had the most adorable Pomeranians in a basket, so I didn’t mind the slowly paced line one bit. Not really much of a dog person myself, but I have a great weakness for Pomeranians and chihuahuas.

When I got back to the apartment, I intended to do some laundry quickly before heading out so that it could dry while I was away, but when I started to run the water, I found myself physically incapable of washing the clothing. You ever get into those moods where a simple chore seems like the most horrifying thing in the world? I decided to seek out a laundromat. The guide that my host left behind listed a place that was in the Calle Regina just across the street, so I went over there. The lady running the shop told me that they were only a dry cleaner, and she somehow managed to tell me the directions to a laundry. I’m still not entirely sure how I was able to fully understand her, but it wasn’t too hard to get to the laundry.

I was delighted by everything. It’s a bit absurd, more than absurd really, but I take great pleasures in doing common city things. (For example, I’ve been staying in town this past weekend, and I have found nothing more surprisingly exciting than ordering food and having it delivered. It’s wild. I’ve lived in the country for nearly all of my life, so these conveniences are deliriously fun for me.) The laundry would have been impossible to find without the woman’s assistance. It was inside a building that was like a mall, but not a mall, just a bunch of shops surrounding a winding staircase. I followed the scent of soap and for fifty pesos, my clothes would be washed for the next day, I was so happy!

Happily ensconced in my apartment, I finished my preparations before heading out. I’m referring to my notes that I wrote that day and I scribbled for reasons I have no idea, “Check out my tits!” I have no recollection of why this should be. They must have looked good. Wonder what I was wearing?

On the way to the train, I stopped by this wonderful little coffee shop that is right outside my apartment. It’s just a hole in the wall, and I don’t mean that euphemistically, I mean that literally. It was literally a hole. Just a window where you placed your order and waited for your beverage. I had the loveliest latte and made my way to the Metro for the long journey out to the cemetery.

It was ages away, but I didn’t mind at all because the Metro stop was something I’ve been looking forward to for ages. You see, in Mexico City, many of the stops have stuff that was found during the building of the subway. Beneath the streets of the city are tremendous amounts of artifacts and many more that will surely never be found. The historian in me longs to tunnel deep beneath the shops and homes and find wonderful Aztec remains. Oh well, the living must live.

Anyway this stop has an Olmec head, and even though it was a modern recreation, I loved that it was there. Because I have lived in the countryside all of my life, there is something magical about culture being all over the place in common spaces. I can’t imagine what my life would have been if I had grown up in a place like New York City with its boulevards, parks, shops, and shows. I was lucky that I had something like a cosmopolitan upbringing. I saw Broadway shows and went to museums and all that, but it was always an exceptional experience, it was never something spontaneously encountered in public transportation. To me, that is the great benefit of urban living, life is just so much more advanced than it is for us in rural America. If for some reason I ever get a child, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t raise them in a big city. People deserve everything in the world, after all. But enough rambling about a big old rock.

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The cemetery was closed. I was annoyed. The Internet had told me that the gates closed at six, but the security guide apologized profusely and said that it closed at four. I thanked him and moped away. My plans for the day were totally shot, but I decided that I wouldn’t let this put a damper on my spirits, even if the ever present rain might.

Thronging the entrance to the Metro were innumerable vendors crowding the sidewalk next to shops that specialized in funerary objects. I delighted in looking at some truly gaudy headstones before treating myself to a bag of churros and scanning my to do list. There were a million options, but after significant scrolling, the option that intrigued me most was a stroll through Condesa.

Condesa, if I’m right in my understanding, is like the Brooklyn of Mexico City where all the hipsters congregate to sip artesian tequila out of mason jars under the dim glow of Edison bulbs. I can’t stand hipsters. If I wanted to eat off a shovel, I would get my own damn shovel. And if I want a salad, I certainly don’t need it deconstructed. It’s just endlessly irksome. Don’t get me wrong, I think they have fabulous style, but if I see one more scraggly beard or beanie, I will launch myself into the sun.

Condesa, thankfully, was much more tolerable than Brooklyn. Brooklyn literally gave me hives. Well, not literally, but you get the idea. It didn’t sit well with me for another reason that is surely equally pretentious, though. It didn’t feel like the Mexico City I fell in love with anymore. Everything was, I don’t know, more standardized. It felt wealthier, but not in the fun way that Beverly Hills does. This was just a bunch of white people. And this taught me something that I didn’t understand.

Back on the plane, I became quite friendly with my seat mates who told me that I would fit in just fine in Mexico City. My outfit was subdued enough, and I was tan after a few weeks of sun worship to look like a Mexican of Spanish descent. I ignored this because I always fit in wherever I go — except the South side of Chicago. I did not fit in there. God this sounds so self aggrandizing, but whatever, let me finish. I discovered that Mexico City has this weird racial undertone that I had not expected.

There is a cultural divide between people of Native descent and those of European descent. Europeans are, for lack of better words, the elite. But in all my life, I have had very limited exposure to these kinds of Hispanic people, which is something that I never knew I didn’t have. In Perry where I grew up and where I currently work, there is a slight majority of people from Hispanic origins. This was my normal, so I suppose this is why I felt so at ease in Mexico. I live in a town where we have constant access to Hispanic culture. We have Spanish churches and foods from all over Latin America. There are grocery stores from Mexico and at Christmas people follow the path of Las Posadas. Over the decades, Perry has developed this weird and wonderful blending of American and Hispanic cultures. I feel all the richer for it, and I am so proud of the diversity where I work. I honestly never experience examples of racism that are anything more than a tasteless joke, and for me and because of my sensitivities, I can’t overstate how tremendous this is. Condesa was just a bunch of people who were living like people do in the States.

So, I say this all to say…Condesa was boring as shit. I had absolutely no interest in what I was walking through. I rolled my eyes a few times, if I recall correctly. But all this vanilla nonsense inspired me to go on the ultimate white girl outing…OLIVE GARDEN!

Y’all, I don’t care how harshly you judge me, but just know this. I’m a food snob. I’m a snob in general. I disdain nearly everything. But I love the Olive Garden. When you’re there, you’re family, you know? Also, that salad is damn delicious, it does not make a lick of sense how good that is.

So I put that in my maps app and was off. And for reasons that I failed to understand at the time and still fail to understand as I type this, I set off in completely the wrong direction. Normally this wouldn’t bother me, for what was wrong with being lost in a place that I was absolutely enamored of? I mean, it gave me the opportunity to walk by a gentleman’s club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen. This touched my old gay heart, but it wasn’t the Olive Garden and it had started to pour.

I had my umbrella, so I wasn’t drenched or anything, but I was wearing my beautiful light brown suede Chelsea boots, and if you don’t know anything about suede, let me teach you something: water and suede DO NOT mix. They get water marks that theoretically can be removed, but let me teach your something else, reader: they CAN’T. Those water marks stay forever.

Once I figured out that I was going the wrong way, I was WAY out of my way, but the siren call of the Olive Garden was strong in my mind. As I splashed from puddle to puddle, I thought of that magnificent salad and the fried lasagna and the wine and the wine and I was really focused on the wine. Wine in Mexico City sucked. I never found a good bottle, so the thought of a sip of Merlot powered me and inspired me and propelled me through the wet streets.

I rounded the corner and there she was before me, the green light of the Olive Garden sign washed over me and I felt as if I were a pilgrim arriving in the holiest spot in all the world. I was giddy with excitement reader, and I veritably rushed for the escalator that would lead up to the doors of the blessed restaurant.

I was ushered in by the kindly staff and a woman named Angie guided me through the menu…as if I had never seen an Olive Garden before. This service and attention to detail absolutely thrilled me. It reminded me of the Walmart that I had tumbled head over heels for. Mexico had transformed that uniquely pedestrian shopping experience into something that was elegant. Where else do kindly senior citizens bag your groceries, kindly ladies compliment your bread choices, cheesemongers assist you with selecting the perfect manchego, or unreasonably friendly people make fresh tortillas and sell them to you with a smile? Nowhere. This attention to detail was present at the Olive Garden, too, and I relished in it.

Angie took my order after I perused the menu — no different, literally the exact same — and made my usual order. The red wine arrived in a flash and she did that whole ridiculous exercise that they do in nice restaurants where they have you take a sip and you think seriously about the tannins and the bouquet and then nod appreciatively and accept a glassful. It’s absurdity. I was in heaven, and that was exactly what I needed after a day out in the chilly gloom and doldrums of Condesa.

My time at the Olive Garden was a dream and an excellent conclusion to the day. But it was kind of a ho hum day, so I’m going to allow you all to delight in this surprisingly short post. De nada.

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Little Chiffon and Patrón were thrilled when I got back.

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