MEXICO CITY: Glorious Escape

Ever since I became an adult and realized that I could do absolutely anything and go absolutely anywhere, my need and desire to travel has become almost overwhelming. Seeing the world is like a drug for me. I would leap at any opportunity to go anywhere. I would freeze my ass off in Antarctica. I would gladly wander through Karachi, Pakistan. I dream of seeing the Sudan. And all of that is for the future. I’ve seen many of the glories of Europe, and they’ve started to bore me. Of course I will keep going back until they scrape my remains out of the crematory incinerator and put me in my crypt at Père Lachaise, but I crave things that are more out of my comfort zone, something a bit wilder. For whatever reason, that satisfies me more. I’ll always enjoy wandering through Paris, for I’ll always consider it my hometown even though it certainly isn’t, but if I were forced to choose between Europe and a space that was less Western, well I’d always pick that.

If you have read my blog for any length of time you’ll know that I’m never happier than when I’m in Luxor, strolling through darkened, dirty streets after midnight, getting lost in the desert, befriending the locals, seeing the ancient sights, and speaking Arabic worse than an infant. Being somewhere completely unfamiliar suits me right down to the ground. Last year, when I went off to Mexico City on a whim, I really had no preconceived notion of what it would be or what I’d think of it. From the minute I landed, though, I was madly in love. I was enraptured by the bedlam of the city. Mexico City was the most absurd and perfect lovechild of Old World Europe and the decadent chaos that I fell in love with in Egypt. It was everything I had been craving for all my life, though I never knew it, and as I said back then, I was a complete fool to ignore my southern neighbor all my life.

Since I left the airport last year, my soul has been aching to return. And finally I’m back and I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it is. Nothing has changed, if anything, Mexico is better. But I’m jumping ahead. I need to start at the very beginning. Hopefully — and I just learned in one of my university courses that that’s not an acceptable word but I don’t give a hoot — you’ve missed my lengthy reminisces of travel. As one of my long-dead heroines, Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon, an Englishwomen who gave herself completely to Egypt and died in Luxor, once said, “I long to bore you with traveler’s tales.” Let’s get started.

***

I had every intention to be in Paris right now.

For a number of reasons that I’m not going to get into, I’m not. Jessica and I decided that we still had to get away, and Mexico City sounded just right. It was affordable, relatively nearby, and Jessica was convinced that it would be something wonderful. I gushed enough about it. She’d been to Mexico before. We went in 1999 for a couple hours and took an iconic picture on a donkey:

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I was missing Mexico with more of my heart than I ever anticipated, so I immediately decided to go for the entire summer. Two decadent months in one of my new favorite places. Life couldn’t get any better, and then reader, it did.

The apartment that I had stayed at the last time had a last minute cancellation and when I searched on AirBNB and saw it pop up, well I about passed out. I sent a request and a few hours later, the place was confirmed: all of June and all of July and a smidge of August! I’d be back in that perfect spot with all its maddening imperfections — crap shower, no drinking water, and a television that didn’t do anything. They didn’t matter, though, because the courtyard was full of cats, the neighbors were lovely, and there was a churro shop just two blocks away. And everything was stupidly cheap. I need to look into what squatting rights are in Mexico, because I never want to leave. Before I go away this summer, I’m going to tell the owner to contact me if he ever thinks of selling it. I’ll sell a kidney or donate plasma. I’d love nothing more than to have this as an escape or a main home. I could easily see myself settling down here.

And that brings me to another thing. When I started mentioning that I’d be gone for two months in the same city, you would not believe the looks I got. People don’t act tremendously shocked when I do these kinds of things anymore, but they still ask the same idiotic questions. I’ll give you a sampler. “So you have a boyfriend there?” “Won’t you get lonely?” “Um, cartel, Ben!?” “What will you even do?” “Do you even speak Spanish?” And it goes on and on. And when does a person ever have to justify enjoying themselves? No I don’t have cartel connections or a boyfriend, I just need to escape. Escape has become a central theme in my life.

Nothing in my life is all that bad. I get that. I am middle class, have a job, working on an education, have my hair, look reasonable, and have a good handle on most things. I don’t need to escape life, but that’s what makes it all the more necessary to me. I don’t like the boredom that weighs upon me back at home. I work my hardest to stay constantly busy. But I have to get a change of scenery or I will lose my mind. You might remember that I have these latent, recurring desires to run away and live as a monk or a Romanian hay farmer or start a whole new life as a grocery store clerk in the south of France. Life is far too long to stick with one existence. We have reason to believe we’re going to all be centenarians. Why the hell would you want to do that stuck in one life? Surrounded by the same things? Besides, the world is far too big and wonderful and truly lovely to miss out on. I would much rather be miserably lost in Bucharest in the rain looking for a train to a little hay farming village than stick around Des Moines. Nothing wrong with Des Moines, mind you, but I can’t do it forever.

And so two months in Mexico City sounded just fine and dandy and I couldn’t wait for the moment to come when I’d deplane in a new country. This spring was especially trying on my mental health. I upped my antidepressants, but there’s a certain something about suddenly going half deaf that no amount of wine or Prozac can fix. Going deaf has been an affront to my psyche in a way nothing else ever has. Multiple Sclerosis didn’t bother me this much. The combined stress of night classes, online classes, going to work, and having to leave work constantly to get hypodermic needles shoved through my eardrum has had me on edge.

June 4th was a blessed day. Jessica and I left Iowa in the small hours of the morning and were soon on a plane to Chicago. We both needed away as much as the other did, I think. Jessica even behaved herself better than usual, which made me deeply suspicious. I think the delirium of escape and the Lorazepam I gave her were a good combination. But that didn’t stop her from gasping constantly over Anne Frank. That’s become her latest obsession, and I admit that I don’t understand it. She read the diary and now she’s reading a bunch of fictional accounts about other people up in the attic. She’s also convinced that the spirit of Anne Frank is following her and giving her clues. For what, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think she totally believes this, but there is a part of her psyche that now thinks the immortal spirit of Anne Frank is watching after her. It’s odd. But that’s Jessica for you. I mean…one time she was in Germany flying home from Paris and had to board a bus to move terminals. My ever-wise sister decided this was suspicious and they were probably neo-Nazis taking her to a new concentration camp. She’s not even Jewish. That’s Jessica. ¯\_()_/¯

Waiting in line to board the plane, we watched as a girl literally beat her face with a dozen brushes and just as many powders. Entranced we got closer to study what she was doing. The effect of all her makeup was absolutely nothing. We couldn’t understand. She was aggressive with her face. Several times she almost poked her eye out. Plus, we didn’t know why she was bothering when she was wearing such a tragic outfit. It’s one of the mysteries that will stick with me until the end of days.

The flight was a misery for Jessica. I don’t know why. We both wanted aisle seats so we weren’t sitting by each other. Personally, I was thriving. I ordered a tapas box and wine and spent the flight watching episodes of the latest telenovela I’m gorging on starring the female love of my life, Kate del Castillo. Like I’m gay, but if I was going to have children, I’d want her to carry them. This one’s called Dueños del Paraíso and it’s all about Kate’s character, Anastasia, who becomes a major cocaine dealer in Miami in the 70s. Here’s a clip.

It’s no Reina del Sur, but whatever could be? NOTHING. Speaking of my queen, TERESA MENDOZA, we have some things to discuss in a couple posts. Jessica claims that nobody cares about this show but me, but she has to be wrong. WHY ELSE WOULD SEASON 2 BE FILMING RIGHT NOW? I rest my case. But I’ll stop talking about telenovelas for a moment.

The plane finally landed, and I was switching our SIM cards, and I could not wait to be out of that plane and onto the glorious streets that I had learned to love only ten months earlier. We were in immigration for absolute ages, and it was warm there and crowded with other Americans. Now, I’m proud to be an American (circa 2008-2016, mind you) but there is nothing worse than being in an airport with other Americans. They are loud and crude and they dress so poorly. They’re a mystery to me. I was glad to be rid of them.

Once through immigration, the airport gets a little wild, and once you are outside waiting for your Uber, you get your first real taste of the unorganized city. Jessica was not at all prepared for this, and I tried to warn her, but there’s nothing that can really prepare you for a place like this. I still vividly recall my first day in Cairo. I was so ecstatic to be there in that city that I had dreamed of my entire life, but the reality was so shockingly different from my expectations that I just laid in bed and stared at the ceiling too scared to move. It takes some time to acclimate. Now that I’ve been to Egypt a couple times and Mexico already, I’m accustomed to this. She is not. And it was hard for her to adopt to this new climate at first. I’m proud to say at the end of her trip she was out on the streets alone without a care in the world. She didn’t even look bald.

The Uber arrived promptly and it wasn’t long until I was back in my old stomping grounds. It was just as I had left it. As we walked to the entrance to the courtyard, the door opened, and one of the neighbors gave us a jovial “buenas tardes” as we slipped into the oddly peaceful inner sanctum of the Colonial apartment complex.

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The owner was just finishing up, so Jessica and I waited in the courtyard and the most magical thing happened. Little Chiffon came out. You remember her, right? She was my sweetest angel kitten friend when I was here last year. She is a bit more skittish this year, but she’s coming around. Then Patrón showed up. And then Bitch Cat! And I was in heaven, reader.

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I missed those cats more than the entire city of Mexico. Here, most people keep their doors open and the animals just roam into other people’s places. They all came to me because I was loaded with treats. I could have cried.

Jessica met the neighbor’s dog and immediately fell in love. We aren’t even dog people.

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Soon we were getting settled in and I had to reorganize everything because that’s what I do. Once that was finished up, I was still hella amped up from like a gallon of strong coffee, so we went out on the town. I took Jessica to the oasis that is the 7/11 corner store and we bought EVERYTHING. And then we wandered down to the Zocalo to see the Cathedral Metropolitan and stop at Maison Kayser for French pastries.

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And then we went to Olive Garden and veritably gorged on dinner. Here in Mexico, the OG has this fabulous spinach ravioli that is filled with cheese and chili peppers and it is better than it has absolutely any reason being.

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BUT WE WEREN’T DONE. We still had to go to Walmart for supplies!

By this point we were both absolutely exhausted but determined to get everything bought that needed bought. Walmart was bedlam. I have never seen it that way. The power kept going out, and every time the power went out it took at least twenty minutes for the computers to fire up again. Of course the lines were ridiculous. We were waiting somewhere near the bras in our line whilst we waited to make it to the checkout.

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By this point Jessica was close to having her first true mental breakdown, which was worryingly late in the day, so I agreed to get an Uber and soon we were zooming back to our apartment. The total bill for that ride was $2.49 lol. Everything is so cheap.

Eventually I fell asleep. I didn’t know Jessica snored that much or that loud. Seriously, I’m surprised there weren’t complaints from people on the other side of the city. I’m shocked that nobody thought it was another earthquake.

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