I am always homesick for Paris. Even when I’m completely content and living my best life, I long for Paris. I always will. There are nearly no places on this planet that I find more completely satisfying. It fulfills me in a way I will forever fail to explain. I try not to romanticize Paris. I don’t have burlap pillows on my couch saying Paris or Marché or Boulangerie. I don’t have random pictures of Audrey Hepburn’s quote, “Paris is always a good idea,” hanging on my stairwell. I don’t dream of corner bistros and all that. No my Paris is more of a feeling. Things exist there that don’t exist elsewhere, and the way I feel in my beautiful city is tremendously specific. And every once in a while, I have an all consuming need to feel like I’m in Paris again. And so that’s what I endeavored to do today.
I began the day with espresso from the coffee shop next door. The only regret that I had about my perfect apartment was the lack of an espresso machine. When I go back this summer, I will have to find a cheap espresso machine somewhere. I should really start researching this. Time does fly and I’m famous for procrastinating. Has anybody used one of those handheld espresso pumps people use for camping? I don’t really want to own anything that is meant for camping, but I would like to get my espresso fix. Or maybe I’ll take one of my Italian Moka pots. Or maybe I’ll just frequent the coffee hole. They really should call it that. I’m on a rant. Sorry.
With my coffee finished, I decided that I had to recreate my favorite Parisian breakfast. I got myself gussied up and hit the streets. I don’t believe I shared this with you earlier, but there are quite a few locations of Maison Kayser in Mexico City. This was an unexpected delight. And I’m sure you heard my literal screech of joy when I found one of the locations so near to my apartment. So that’s where I hurried to.
Maison Kayser was packed, and the frenzy behind the counter took me back to Miss Manon on the Rue Saint-Antoine. I grabbed a baguette and a tart and some macarons and I felt exceedingly nostalgic as I made my way back to the apartment.
Little Chiffon, Patron, and I felt very chic as we lunched together. Bitch Cat watched disapprovingly from the other side of the courtyard. I slathered the baguette with some remarkable butter I bought at Walmart that was approved by Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I don’t know why we don’t sell this here in America. Maybe we do? I only shop at ALDI, you know. It was delicious. The cats had a pile of treats, I had a gorgeous spread of calorie dense nibbles, and we were all basking in the afternoon sun living the definition of our best lives.
Stuffed to bursting, it was time to set out for the day to try to visit the Panteon de Dolores again. I chortled merrily as I went down to the Metro. It seems that the first time I try to visit any cemetery, it’s closed. Père Lachaise was shuttered for ice when I went there the first time after moving to Paris. The one in Turin was closed on Mondays, which was obnoxious, but it did teach me a lesson on Italian culture. I had my fingers crossed that this would be a repeat occurrence and that the cemetery would be open.
The trains were basically sardine cans today, but that didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it made me think again of the Métro in Paris. Line 14, as I’ve mentioned before in a hilariously tasteless joke, is basically a human centipede. You’re lucky if you can find a spot to stand on one leg let alone get inside. So there I was, squashed, swaying as one mass with the other people in the train. I was one of the tallest, as I always was in Mexico, and I got a good view of everything. It is always interesting to make a study of fashion when abroad. Lots of graphic tees and acid wash jeans here. I found that peculiar, like America in the 2000s.
As I came out of the train, I peered toward the gates of the cemetery and breathed a sign of relief since the gates were open and people were coming and going. I stopped and grabbed some churros to nibble as I perused the graveyard. Warm, sugary treats in hand, I gleefully made my way into the land of the dead.
I don’t know how to properly tell you how fabulous it was. I didn’t even see all of it because the Pantheon de Dolores is MASSIVE. I bet there are people that have gotten lost in there and died and were never found. It’s truly monstrously huge, wide alleys lined with the most gorgeous mausoleums and then smaller pathways with more simple burials. All were wonderful. Is there anything more marvelous than a graveyard, reader, on a bright sunny day, wandering aimlessly and slowly munching churros? I really don’t think so.
I was taken back to Paris at once, and if I suspended my disbelief, I could almost imagine that I would stumble onto the memorials of Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Colette, or Héloïse and Abelard. I never did, of course, and I don’t know enough about Mexican culture to know if I saw anybody famous or well-known. All I know is that I saw some perfectly wonderful tombs.
Purple flowers cascaded from trees and clung to the yellow stones that composed the mausoleums, and they were so lovely, reader. It felt like I was walking through Villefranche. And I must simply stop comparing everything to Europe and Africa. Mexico is vibrant and wonderful all on its own.
I was in a state of rapture looking at the peaceful scenes all around me. There were very few people in the cemetery, and I felt like I was the only man on the Earth even though I was surrounded by dead bodies in one of the world’s largest cities. Mexico City is strangely relaxing. It can be wild and hectic and discombobulating, but it’s also tremendously calm. I loved that I could escape to a quiet corner of the city and sit for ages, sighing contentedly at the flowers that seemed to drip from above. When the wind picked up, the loose blooms would fall down on the breeze and, reader, it was almost like living in a Disney movie. Too stunning.
One of the reasons that cemeteries are so intriguing to me is because they are such fascinating ways to learn more about culture and history. You can tell a lot about a nation by how they treat their dead. I was endlessly fascinated by some of the tombs here because, unlike in Paris, these ones often have great big windows to look inside. On altars you can find images of the Blessed Lady of Guadalupe or Jesus with a flaming heart or a bunch of skulls, or macabrely in the tomb of a child, the interior was stuffed to bursting with stuffed animals. I found that one a bit unsettling.
I was having a glorious time, but a sudden worry overwhelmed me. Was I wasting my time? I had so little available to me, my trip to Mexico City was quickly winding down. I could count the days I had left on two fingers, but then I saw a cat, and everything was all right again. How could I even speculate that I was wasting my time when I was feeling so wonderfully alive?
That cat was an inspiration. He was fat and orange and completely uninterested in me, but he didn’t know that I had a trick up my sleeves. Well in my pants. Lol, get your mind out of the gutter, reader, I had cat treats in my pocket.
I named the cat, quite originally, Churro. He didn’t respond to his new name, but he did seem intrigued by the treats that I scattered on the flat surface of the tomb he was guarding. He looked at them, then at me, then back at the treats, then he glared at me a little, seemed to visibly shrug, and slowly approached the pile of nibbles I had provided. I cooed lovingly at Churro as he gulped down his treats, my heart overflowing with love for the feline. Churro finished his meal and flopped back down on the tomb. I had the idea for a lovely and tragically beautiful short story about a cat who slumbers on the grave of its owner. Every day, the feline would return to the spot, spend his day sleeping on the tomb, and become a member of a community of homeless people who live in the cemetery away from the prying eyes of civilization and the employees of the place. I spent a lot of time there waiting for Churro to love me, but he never accepted anything but treats.
I wondered as I wandered, and I thought about all the dead people and their families and the traditions that had led them to their eternal resting spots. Graveyards are full of untold stories. I think a fabulous book would be a collection of short stories about dead people telling their life stories. Is this a thing already? I have a memory of something like this, but maybe it’s just such an obvious idea. Something about spoons. Yes, I just looked it up, it’s called the Spoon River Anthology, but instead of short stories, this book is a collection of poems. I’m not a big fan of poems, so I never finished the book. But I would love to read a book of the stories of the dead of the Panteon de Dolores. It could be so beautiful and intoxicating and I think maybe I’ll work on that this summer when I’m there again.
Bells began to toll announcing the closing of the cemetery, so I languidly made my way back to the gates. There were hundreds of paths I hadn’t yet taken, thousands of tombs that I hadn’t yet seen, but I wasn’t all that concerned by what I had missed. I knew that I’d return again to explore the many byways of the cemetery.
There were still many hours of sunlight left to enjoy, so I made my way back to the Zocalo for a tlacoyo. I slowly made my way through the raucous street market that is just outside the huge public square and grabbed some guava juice that tasted like heaven. My tlacoyo guy wasn’t there, but a nice lady who runs the pet shop beside the spot told me that he’d be back, so I lingered, enjoying myself tremendously, watching the people passing by.
And then there was a whistle and a shout and suddenly a stampede of people flooded the street, most of them carrying a bag over their back. They flooded into the gallery beside the pet shop and I could hardly believe that so many people could fit in there, it was rather like a clown car. This amused me after I realized that they were just hiding out from a raid that was happening in the market. I guess you have to have a permit to sell things on the street, but so many of them don’t have them, and so they scurry to a safe place. I thought it was charmingly criminal.
After a while, they all started coming out, guffawing merrily and loudly talking, heading back to the street to set up their spots again. My tlacoyo guy and his wife emerged last, looking somewhat bedraggled, but were quick to whip me up a delicious early dinner with extra queso fresco. It was, as it was every single time, divine.
Sated, I took the most unnecessarily out of the way route home and found myself on a street that sold bolts of fabric. There were so many beautiful patterns and some truly sumptuous embroidery, and I wanted to drape myself in the beautiful cloth. I so wish that I knew how to sew a shirt. I’ve tried a dozen times, but it never works out the way that I want it to.
As I neared the apartment, I noticed a department store that I had somehow missed. Curiosity got the better of me, so I went inside and had an intensive learning experience. I have never shopped in a place quite like this. You wander through the various floors where you can find literally everything. You could buy individual rhinestones or life size resin sculptures of Aztec warriors. After perusing all of the shop, I decided on a carving of a jaguar with a human skull in its mouth. This was supposedly an ancient Aztec representation. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I thought it was lovely.
I didn’t know what to do with the skull, though. You see, there was no register or spot to check out. I wandered around befuddled until an employee took pity on my tragic Spanish. We failed to understand each other, so an exceptionally elegant elderly woman intervened. She spoke English with the most decadent accent and called me precious. We chatted a bit, turns out you take the items you want to kiosks throughout the department store and collect a receipt. The employees take the items to exit of your choice, and you pay all at once and receive another receipt. It was like shopping at those elegant Japanese shops in Paris where they wrap up everything before you even make it to the counter, except here you have a bit more responsibility.
With my receipt in hand, I made my way to the payment area and squealed with glee at the rapidity of the process. You wait in a quickly moving line and then approach one of three windows. The windows have a thin slit at the bottom where you pass the paper to an unseen employee. You can’t see in because the windows are a two-way mirror — I wonder now if this has something to do with preventing robbery? The person behind the mirror clicks their nails on the marble surface and you slide your pesos in. Then there’s a bunch of stamping and stapling and you get yet another receipt with your change. With this new receipt, you make your way to the exit you previously selected, present the receipt, and then an elegant man with a Salvador Dalí mustache presents you with your purchases, all well wrapped. It was delicious, reader. Why do we shop anywhere else?
Back in the apartment, I tidied up a bit, taking comfort in basic chores. I’m quite fastidious about tidiness, even if I sometimes allow myself to be a it lazy and let the chores wait for the weekend. But it’s so nice to have everything put in its proper place, with gentle music playing on the sound system, and a tequila sunrise to sip. I only had one full day left in Mexico, and I needed to plan for my return to America. I packed light, which was a blessing, but I didn’t have room enough in my bag to bring home my witch teas, Santa Muerte sculptures, and the books I’d acquired. So I decided I had one more important mission that night. I bet you can guess what it was.
Shall we say it together? Okay…one…two…three…WALMART!
As soon as the sun set, I was on my way to that wonderland on the Avenida Insurgentes. It was dreamier than ever, but I suppose my nearness to departure caused me to romanticize every step of the way. Walmart was a wonder, reader. I stared lovingly at the laundry mat inside and the fast food options and the little cart that sold elote as soon as you came in from the parking garage.
All I came for was a duffel bag, but this was not something that I could find. I looked everywhere. I was close to buying a backpack for children in the school supply aisle, but I could not bring myself to spend four hundred pesos on a Paw Patrol backpack. I looked in the luggage, but there were only rain ponchos for some reason. I looked everywhere. In the end, I completely gave up and bought a reusable shopping bag. It worked flawlessly.
While I was frustratingly searching for duffel bags, I came across an aisle that I had somehow missed. It was a veritable wall of sachets of powdered drink mixes. Could it be, I squawked, finally grabbing a fistful of powdered jamaica. I might have cried a bit as I shoveled them into my basket. I was going to have enough of my favorite Mexican drink to keep me hydrated for years. I couldn’t wait!
As I was checking out, the Spice Girls came onto the loudspeakers, and I couldn’t stop beaming. The people there probably thought I had lost my mind. And I suppose, in a way, I did. I had completely lost it for Mexico, I loved it with the entirety of my heart and soul. It satisfied me completely.
The night was warm, but I wanted to ride the Metro one more time, so I took that home. And it really was home to me. I would have lived in that beautiful apartment for the rest of my life. But then, I had to content myself with two more nights. Tomorrow was going to be one more fabulous day.