MEXICO CITY: On the Trail We Blaze

For as long as I can remember, Jessica and I have been completely in love with two under-appreciated animated films from the 90s. First, I will never forgive Disney for not pimping the hell out of The Emperor’s New Groove at their theme parks. That is the greatest Disney movie that has ever and will ever be made. Don’t try to argue with me about this. I cannot fathom why they do not have a roller coaster based on Yzma’s lab, why they do not have gorgeous drag queens dressed up as Yzma sauntering through the parks and insulting people, why spinach puffs are not for sale in their restaurants, and why they don’t sell gorgeous stuffed crocodiles like the one that Yzma has affixed to her during the iconic “WRONG LEVER” moment. Look, I’m obsessed and I know it. But I really feel Disney lost a huge marketing opportunity. My god, reader, you know who voiced Yzma right? EARTHA KITT. Yes! Eartha Kitt!

I vividly recall the moment I fell head over heels in love with that wonderful woman. It was 2009 and I had just arrived in Paris at my new apartment near the Bastille. It was a few short weeks until classes began at Le Cordon Bleu, and I was happily settling into that dreamy suite of rooms that I still think about each day. Paris changed me as person. When a person is allowed to live in Paris in an apartment with dentil moulding, with chandeliers, with gorgeous parquet floors, with a view overlooking a stupidly picturesque view, and with a perfectly derelict staircase, well, there’s simply no hope for them afterwards. You simply cannot live for nearly two decades in the countryside and then find yourself swept up in the splendor of Paris. Hate me for it if you will, but I refuse to stay true to my roots. I can’t. The rest of my life will be spent seeking that same Old World elegance. But I’m very off track. Are you surprised? I’m not.

Anyway, I rearranged the apartment — the settee looked so much better against the far wall than blocking the flow from the bedroom — and read online that Eartha Kitt had died, and that meant almost nothing to me. Of course the name was familiar, but I never knew she was the voice of my favorite animated character. From that moment, though, she was an absolute icon in my life and I have lived most days in regret that I never had an opportunity to hear her sing in a small, intimate venue in New York whilst I sipped a martini and sighed in contented pleasure. Eartha sings my very favorite song, and it’s one of the only things that is guaranteed to make me get a bit sniffly, “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”

Truly too beautiful. But Eartha Kitt has literally nothing to do with this day in Mexico City. As I was starting to say before I started rambling, the two animated movies that Jessica and I were passionately in love with were both set in pre-contact South America. The Emperor’s New Groove was set in Peru, and the other film that we loved was The Road to El Dorado. Watching it years later, it is probably the most beautiful gay romance ever put on the big screen, but we weren’t aware of that until years later, though that goes a long way explaining why we worshipped it and who we ended up being. (Gurrrrl that there is a story for the autobiography I’m going to start working on, Wake Me When the Crocus Blooms, the story of my first thirty years on this planet. You literally and figuratively and simply could not ever believe it. I still can’t.)

Anyway, an iconic line from that second film shares the same name as the Elton John song recorded for it, “The Trail We Blaze.” It’s all about adventure and fun, and it’s just a fun thing to say about saying which way you’re going. “The trail that we blaze! No, THAT trail that we blaze!” Trust me on this.

For reasons that should now be clear and obvious, Jessica wanted to see ancient ruins so that we could shout in unison, “THAT TRAIL THAT WE BLAZE” and then chortle like infants and run (read: walk slowly) through crumbling Mesoamerican pyramids. She wasn’t too desirous of heading all the way out to Teotihuacan, so instead we went down the street to the Templo Mayor, which is conveniently located a few minutes from our charming apartment in the Centro Histórico.

As we made our way to the entrance, I was delighted to see that there was still an advertisement for El Miedo, a truly deliciosuly bad exhibition about paranormal creatures. I went last year and wrote about it, and I was sure that Jessica would find it a pleasant romp, so we put that on the to-do list for later in her stay here.

The Templo Mayor has been updated in the past year since I was last walking through the ancient ruins. I had no idea that this was under construction, but there is now a really gorgeous sunken museum that you go into before the ruins and then the main museum. A truly fabulous way to get the visitor acquainted with what they are about to see, and it’s much more elegant to buy tickets in a nice room rather than a makeshift rickety stand with no clear instructions or prices. A major improvement!

“Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous” by RuPaul plays in the background.

Jessica, I could tell at once, was not quite so enthused as I had anticipated she might be. She is really quite good about my archaeological passions and has repeatedly expressed the strangest desire to visit Egypt with me sometime. Can you imagine? She has air conditioning running in the middle of winter. How is she going to survive a day out in the desert where the mercury regularly rises to 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher??? It would make such a good story, though, so I’ll have to be sure to get her to Africa eventually.

We wandered the pathways that led through the old temple, and I admit that these ruins are hardly the most spectacular. I have been blessed to see some pretty fabulous things in my life, and the Templo Mayor is hardly high on the list. It’s interesting from an academic perspective, but it hardly gives you that thrill of antiquity like the temples in Egypt or even Teotihuacan’s monstrous pyramids do.

My darling cat, Edwina Monsoon, is just slightly larger and more ferocious than this stone icon.

She was doing all right, though, until we made it into the final museum.

Now, reader, let me tell you, this museum is absolutely wonderful. It houses a fantastic collection of antiquities that have been found on the site during the various archaeological expeditions that have taken place over the years. There are skulls and statues and ceramics and Spanish coins and monolithic engravings of various deities. You could easily lose yourself there for hours reading about the beliefs of the people who happily occupied the place before those asshole conquistadors came and messed everything up with their greed for gold, penchant for putting people into servitude, and delight in destroying native culture and religion. Mexico has been resilient and the culture here is a wonderful blend of ancient and European, but even though it’s a delight now, there is a pervasive sadness in the city that comes from the conquest and subsequent genocide of the native people. Maybe that’s just me reading too much into things, but I don’t think so.

She finally convinced me that we should leave the museum before she lost her mind, so I consented and we headed out into the streets for something to eat. We were, and I’m sure this will come as no shock to any loyal reader, STARVING.

I couldn’t find the guy who made tlacoyos anywhere, and nearly two months later, I still haven’t come across him. I wonder where he flips those wonderful ovals of blue masa now? I miss him. He was so gruff.

We wandered around looking for something to take a bite of before we died. When I look back in the little Moleskine journal I carry about with me, I only mentioned that I bought guava juice. Whatever it is we finally consumed will remain a mystery because in the state of being so deathly starving, clearly I blacked out and forgot all about the snack. Or I died and now I’m a ghost typing this out. And let me tell you, if I am a ghost, then I am certainly annoyed about not being thinner.

We found the strength to pop into the Cathedral Metropolitan and ogled the gorgeous altars for a spell. This is one of those places in Mexico City that might as well be Paris. It was places like this that made me fall totally in love with the city. I wasn’t in the city that I believed was my hometown, which I still weirdly think Paris is, but I was so close.

When you’re excited for your plans but then it’s time to go and you’d rather literally do anything else and just sit in bed.

As we wandered through the streets off the Zócalo, Jessica had her first experience with the street vendors. Nothing bad happened, she got to see the unlicensed ones grab up their blankets covered in goods, toss them over their back, and then run like hell inside of a little stretch of shops, hiding until the coast was clear to do business again. This thrilled her completely. And it was quite a scene.

We decided we ought to visit Walmart again to pick up some items we had forgotten on our last sleep-deprived visit, so off we went. I remembered that there was a particularly lovely Metro station on the route to Mecca that is Walmart, so I took Jessica round back of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It was exactly as I remembered.

Jessica took one look at the wrought iron Metro sign and immediately had to sit down as she burst into tears. I understood how she felt. In my family, for whatever reason, Paris is more our home than home is. Seeing something that looked so much like Paris was a bit too much for her. And I have to admit that seeing the structure next to the gorgeous gardens of the Alameda Central and the stunning architecture of the museum, well, we could easily have been in Paris.

It’s moments and places like this that make me feel so very lucky to have found Mexico City. I can afford it here, which is so different from France. Paris is unreasonably expensive. Still, I will return again and again until the day I die — and then when I die, a scoop of my ashes will be there until the end of time in Père LaChaise with the ashes of my beloved cat, Tiger, who I illegally interred behind a particularly lovely sepulcher a few years ago. It’s a place of pilgrimage, and I quite like the idea of some of my ashes being in my favorite place. For full details on my death, click here!

Anyway, off topic as usual. Sorry.

We descended into the Metro and went to buy some tickets. I had been seeing people use cards to get into the trains instead of paper tickets, and I was curious. I’m going to talk about Paris again. Just stick with me.

I’m wild about public transportation. There are few things about travel that honestly delight me more than figuring out the way to navigate a new town. I don’t much care for buses or bikes or ride sharing. I want to be underground. Oftentimes, my favorite memories are of the subterranean train tunnels I hop into. New York’s doesn’t fill me with any delight. Chicago is too damn confusing. Los Angeles has one for reasons I will never understand. There’s never anybody on the LA Metro and when there is, well, let’s just say that you usually don’t want to get to know them. The Tube in London is too crowded. The Berlin system is orderly and clean like the city itself. Turin has a gorgeous single line that makes it ridiculously easy to cross my favorite Italian city. And Paris…oh Paris. The Paris Métro is absolutely perfect. Unlike other systems around the world that I’ve tried out, this one makes organic sense. The stops have names that are memorable, not some random number or street name. The trains are comfortable, the stations can be decadent, there is a sense of natural order rather than city-planning. And, honestly, I could (and have) spent entire days just exploring the lengths and breadths of particular lines. The 5 in Paris is a personal favorite, though I’m partial to the overcrowded 1 as well. I don’t recommend the 14 ever unless you want to take part in a slightly less graphic remake of The Human Centipede.

Even more exciting and intoxicating than the train itself is the Navigo card that lets you on. This is a card you pay a monthly fee for and it lets you chug along to anywhere in the system within certain zones. This is not all that important to my Mexican narrative, but it’s so important to me. When I was a Parisian student in 2009 and 2010, you had to pay an extraordinarily large fee and know in advance what zones you needed to visit. Nowadays — good god I sound ancient — you just pay a flat fee and can go absolutely anywhere in town. It’s genius. And the exciting, intoxicating thing I mentioned above is this glorious feeling of tapping your card on the gates and walking in just like a local. Never does it ever fail to thrill me.

Seeing as I was going to be in Mexico City for some months still, I wanted to have that feeling of belonging that came from possessing a Metro card. It might not make a whole lot of sense to you, dearest reader, but it meant the world to me. When I made it to the counter, I managed to inquire about the cards and then I bought one. It was only ten pesos for the card and then you put on a certain sum of money. Each journey is five pesos, which is literally next to nothing.

Cards in hands, Jessica and I were both elated. We share the same love for the subway of Paris and now that she had seen the metallic masterpiece above, I think she started to share the same passion for Mexico City.

I lost the card immediately. Still haven’t the foggiest notion how. But I bought a replacement a few days later and it hasn’t left my side since.

Leaving Walmart, we had far too much to carry into the train, so we grabbed an Uber and slowly made our way back to the apartment. Traffic was abysmal and it took us ages, but at least we were in a comfortable car with adequate air conditioning and had gorgeous scenery to watch pass by as we made our way.

As you may have assumed, after all this labor, we were actually dying again, so we decided to try out a restaurant called VIPs, which I only now realize what the name stands for and feel quite foolish. Oh well. The name of the place rhymes with Phip’s, which is the name of a clothing shop in I Love Lucy. For the past…however many years Jessica is old, I don’t know how old I am. I’m not 30 yet, but that’s all I know — Jessica has been obsessed with that classic sitcom. One of her talents that would be useful if she ever went out anywhere would be her uncanny ability to quote lengthy scenes from the show or to have an obscure reference to something that is somehow tangentially related to one of the episodes. Anyway, there’s a song about Phip’s and since it sounds like VIPs, I think it’s pretty clear that this was a necessary place to visit.

Fun fact, VIPs was, we later agreed, one of the worst meals we have ever had absolutely anywhere on this planet, and I am including Pizza Safari at Disneyland Paris. I ordered a fish dish, but they were out of fish, so I had some guacamole and a cheese dip. The guacamole was flavorless yet edible, but the cheese dip was a coagulated mass of oily cheese, and the chips to dip in the two were stale. Jessica ordered some kind of burger that was so dry that it could have replaced a hockey puck without anybody realizing it. The orange drink I had, thankfully, was fine, but I believe it was later responsible for what went wrong. The ice might have been made with tap water and, if you don’t know, you don’t consume this…ever. I never will get into too many sordid details, but just know that a few days later I made a very important trip to my local pharmacy to visit a woman Jessica still insists is a witch.

Not really all that stuffed, we made our way back to the apartment for a second dinner of all the foods we had grabbed at Walmart. This was extraordinarily more satisfying. We weren’t yet dying, that’s a tale for another day, so we relaxed with the kittens and had a relaxing night in the solitude of out little apartment with its little courtyard and all those wonderful, darling cats. And then we got hungry again and got churros.

And we were still hungry, obviously, but we decided we didn’t want to lose too much weight by going out for more food. We’re ALARMINGLY THIN as is lol…

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