MEXICO CITY: Cemeteries & Hay Farming

I don’t think I could ever move to a city and live somewhere far from a church. One of my favorite things is hearing the bells toll out the hours. On one of my lengthy stays in Paris, I had an apartment in the Marais a block away from the Église Saint-Paul. It was absolutely wondrous to hear the old bells chiming every morning and on the hour. I loved to sit in the window, reading a book, watching the people walk by, and then pausing to listen to the ringing bells. 

In Mexico City, the apartment was just down the street from another beautiful church that sounded the bells on every hour. It was fantastic. I adored hearing the peels of the clanging bells flow into my room from outside, reverberating through the courtyard. I now truly don’t think that I will ever willingly rent an apartment without nearness to church bells. But this doesn’t really have anything to do with this current narrative. 

The church bells woke me up, and oddly I remained conscious after being roused. This never happens. I usually need a bed that forcibly ejects me to get up at a reasonable time in the morning. I would love to be one of those people who gracefully rise from slumber ready to tackle the day, but I truly don’t think that will ever be something I’m capable of. I groggily slap the snooze button a million times without realizing it. I frequently sleep for at least another hour past my first alarm, and I hate getting up before at least nine o’clock in the morning. Having to work at 7:30 is a hate crime! Luckily there are no such difficulties on vacation, but I didn’t want to sleep the day away even if I was exhausted. The prior day, I had walked an insane number of steps and I was feeling the delicious ache of exhaustion. 

I ate a tart from Maison Kayser for breakfast and sipped on coffee from Chiapas that was almost too good to be real. It’s not at all bitter; it is perhaps the greatest blend of coffee that I have ever tried. My obsession with it grew rapidly and rapidly took over my life. Fully caffeinated, I was finally ready for the day. 

Jessica and I decided to visit one of our favorite places, a cemetery. I’ve written extensively about cemeteries before, but I must admit something of an embarrassing mistake. Last year, I thought that I had repeatedly visit the Panteón de Dolores, but in fact, I was nowhere near that cemetery. I still don’t know where it was that I was visiting, which does admittedly make me feel something of a fool, but that’s no different from the usual. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to go to the wrong place, though, it’s not anywhere near where I thought it was. Still a lot of fun though and loaded with gorgeous kittens. 

Jessica and I scanned our Metro passes and hopped onto the train and rode it to the end of the line. From here we had a bit of an excursion actually getting to the cemetery, and Jessica almost did better than I ever expected her to. There was a considerable amount of climbing, and if you know anything about Jessica, she considers a perfectly flat surface to be akin to Mount Everest. Exiting the Metro terminal, we had to ascend a very tall set of stairs that were carved into the side of a hill, which proved to be almost too much for her. After each rampart, we had to stop to let her catch her breath, and really I didn’t mind at all because the view was absolutely spectacular and I’m not in as good of shape as I once was. I’ve really let myself go lately. After going deaf in one ear I got a bit dark and stopped caring so much for taking care of myself. I still find myself falling into that trap, but I know that I will start doing better soon. It feels so much better to feel better, you know? And besides, I’m probably going to have a hearing aid literally affixed to my SKULL by the end of the year.

I’m going to cover this subject more in-depth in my other blog posts, of course, but can I just mention how absurd this is? If you remember, I was quite sick in March. I produced my own body weight in mucus, I could barely swallow, I ached all over, and irksomely, I lost almost all hearing in my left ear. I assumed that this was just a sinus fluid issue and it would clear over time, but nothing helped. A couple months later I was diagnosed with single-sided deafness and a regimen of inner ear steroid injections was recommended. So, an ear doctor shot me up with steroids four times. They literally stuck a syringe full of steroids through my eardrum. It was bizarre. I do not react well to steroids, reader. The first time I had them, just before I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, they made me fat, hot, crazy, and slightly suicidal. I didn’t want to go through all of that again, but they did work, so I allowed the injection to occur. 

It did absolutely nothing to improve my hearing and the only obvious side effect was me swelling up, which unlike the first time, has refused to go down. So I’m stuck with this steroid bloated body that I hate, but whatever. I suppose it’s good that they tried this method out. Never would know if it worked or not if it hadn’t been tried. Just the other day I went for a checkup on my hearing and I learned that I only recognize 10% of the words I hear in my left ear. I’m actually deaf. It’s weird to know that I’m clinically deaf. I knew I was, but to have it official is something of an affront to the psyche. I have a consultation next month for a device called a BAHA, which is a cochlear implant that is literally screwed into the skull. It’s supposedly miraculous and I can’t wait to get some hearing back, but isn’t this stupid? I was in nearly perfect health for almost thirty years and now I’m literally falling apart. Something new and more stupid every year. Look at the video of the surgery:

Ugh. But back to Mexico.

We finally made it to the top of the hill and hit the streets.

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It was a winding way through a poorer part of town than the Centro, and I found it absolutely fascinating. There were vendors lining either side of the street selling all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables. You could buy shoelaces and buckets and freshly butchered meat. And all over the place, women sat over tiny grills roasting vegetables and meat and preparing tacos and all sorts of delicious looking things that I don’t know the name of. One of the women was making my very favorite street food, the tlacoyo, so I decided that I would absolutely have to have one of these on the way back to the Metro. I had been so distraught that the guy who usually makes them for me seems to have disappeared. 

We popped into a little shop to grab drinks, which were half the price of what they would have cost near our apartment, and remember that they already cost next to nothing by us. It was so strange to make transactions that barely added up to a dollar or two. If one could find themselves in Mexico City with an average amount of money that an American might make, well they could live like pashas. I found myself an orange flavored drink that tasted so much like my favorite French drink, Oasis, that I could have wept. I might have. 

Crossing the street in Mexico City is not always a simple task and the chances of being struck be a vehicle are astronomically higher than I’d wager to guess. It’s not that I ever saw anybody plowed down by a truck, but the wary looks that certain intersections garnered left me in the know. So, every once in a great while, a massive ironwork structure is raised over the road and a pedestrian bridge is built. These are absolutely fabulous. Not only are they somewhat reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, but when you stand high above a busy street with the mountains surrounding you, well it’s peculiarly lovely. Jessica and I stood transfixed at one point, watching a lithe black cat scurry up a sheer brick wall using only its claws. It was a scene of immense suspense and we were horrified that at any moment, the gorgeous feline might lose its hold on the mortar that held the wall in place. The cat obviously knew better than we did and had plenty more experience, for it scaled the wall with nonchalance and we burst into rapturous applause at its success. These prompted some curious looks from the others on the pedestrian bridge, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , we’re cat people through and through. 

Finally I was truly at the Panteón de Dolores and I could not wait to begin exploring.

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The cemetery is massive and sprawling and at once I knew that we had no hope of covering the entire site. Like Père Lachaise, this place will take years of purposeless wandering to cover and fully appreciate. I’m still finding new corners at that beloved Cemetery in Paris. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that I’d rather spend a lazy afternoon’s stroll. 

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We had no specific interments to see here, so we just went wherever our feet took us, looking for the more absurd and beautiful and memorable graves. There were quite a few to stop and enjoy. And unlike any cemetery I have ever been to any where in this world, there was an abundance of reasons to have a good time. They had a snack cart, reader! You could literally buy a bag of popcorn to take with you as you wound amongst the crumbling tombs and  meandering pathways.

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NIBBLES

I thought this was the very definition of chic. I don’t know why I didn’t stop for a sachet of pumpkin seeds or a Jarritos soda, but I was too delighted by another development. There was a mariachi band, reader! 

Jessica and I followed the music and looked for the source and finally came across a burial. People surrounded the sepulcher and looked on mournfully whilst a mariachi group played some gorgeously sad sounding melodies. The guitars were gorgeous, their hats were fabulous, and I felt like I was in Disney’s wonderful movie, Coco. Did you ever see that? I highly and completely recommend you do that. It’s on Netflix now and I may have watched it five or ten times of maybe more. It never gets old. And I love the soundtrack so much! Anyway. I was in a state of rapture because of the combination of graves, nibbles, and live music. 

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Axel lived a full, albeit short life.

Our cemeteries are so dull in comparison. I regularly go on a walk to a rather old cemetery a couple miles from my house. It’s one of my favorite places in all of Iowa and I have spent many happy afternoons wandering through the crumbling headstones. Most are severely weathered and it takes considerable effort to figure out what is engraved into the stone. This is the most ornate cemetery around here and it looks like trash compared to the gorgeous Mexican cemeteries. They embrace color and flowers blossom in profusion. Saints and Jesus and Mary shine down from every surface, lichen crawls over the stone mausoleums, the paths meander in a nonsensical fashion, the smell of nature is pervasive, and everything was just so beautiful. 

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For some reason, something smelled like my Grandma Betty, which was very odd. I never was able to figure out what had caused this sensation, but it was quite overwhelming. Jessica and I were terrified of one glass tomb that was filled to bursting with dolls. It was the grave of a child, and I suppose it was sweet in a way, but the condition of the dolls was deteriorating and it took on the macabre air of a horror. 

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Jessica thought this one looked particularly fancy.

This got us to thinking about the cinema and so I looked up the theatre that is on the top level of the mall at Reforma 222. There were all sorts of films playing, and we were delighted to come across a few that were in English from other countries and that we had never seen anywhere near us in the United States.

We knew immediately that we were owing to go see something called Crucifixion because it’s a quality looking horror film and also because it takes place in Romania.

You know how I’m a ho for Romania, right? I have an all consuming ambition to spend the summer there in the countryside in a hayfield. I’ll get around to this eventually. I’d prefer to go in the autumn so that I could be there for the hay harvest, but I’m always working in the autumn, so I’ll have to make do with a summer excursion. There are so many brilliant looking places to try out in Romania…sorry about getting sidetracked. We both decided it would be absolutely fabulous to see a film and eat popcorn, so we finished up our tour of the cemetery. 

There was a pack of dogs there with several puppies who were playing by an empty fountain, so Jessica and I had to watch that for quite some time. I had to literally pull her away from the cemetery.

After all that walking, I was obviously starving to death, so I stopped for a tlacoyo where I had seen them before.

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It was twenty pesos and was absolutely and astonishingly good. I talked about them last year, but if you’re new here, this is what this divine treat is. Blue masa is formed into a dough, stuffed with beans or cheese, or, if you’re lucky, both, stretched into an oval and then cooked on a very hot griddle. This is covered with salsa, nopales, cheese, and various other things. It is eaten best by shoving it all in your face as fast as humanly possible.

Jessica and I sat in the entrance of a flower market and watched the people passing by. I could have stayed there all day eating my favorite treat. But Jessica was insistent that we get to the cinema, and she always likes to arrive at least four hours early, but we couldn’t go to the cinema without a restorative nap first. So we made our way back down the hill, which I was very proud of navigating without GPS. It was a lengthy trip back, but it was worth it for a nice lengthy nap. I absolutely love a good nap. 

Earlier, when I had shown Jessica the Parisian Metro entrance, I thought that she had finally fallen hard and completely for Mexico City. I wasn’t wrong, but she hadn’t been fully seduced by the city yet, it took a trip to the mall for her. We took the train to the Paseo de la Reforma, where the Reforma 222 mall is located and the beloved and holy Olive Garden. It’s one of my favorite walks in Mexico City and I highly recommend it. 

Jessica wasn’t staring at the soaring buildings or the expensive shops or even the vendors selling roasted corn and headphones, no, she had her focus firmly locked on the gays. Jessica is gayer than me, I think. Like she’s a gay man trapped in a lady’s body. I don’t think she’d take offense to that description. She loves and worships gay men in a way that is equal parts worrying and hilarious. She wants everybody to be gay. So, imagine her complete and utter glee to see handsome Mexican men openly parading up and down one of the pedestrian streets hand-in-hand with their impossibly more handsome boyfriends. She sighed in complete contentment so often that it was worrying. I first thought she might be having trouble breathing because of the altitude, but it was just gay joy. 

We finally made it passed the Olive Garden, where I had a quick little mental breakdown of glee comparable to her gay love. I love that restaurant too much, but it has absolutely nothing to do with today’s installment. It should, though. Even if I get really rich someday, which with every passing year seems less and less likely, I will still go to the Olive Garden on the regular. Legit nothing on this planet at any restaurant can really and truly complete with their Lasagna Fritta. But I’ll get back to Mexico City. 

There were even more gays in the mall and the movie theatre itself was more of a gay club than an entertainment center. Jessica, obviously, was delighted, and I was almost self-consciously gay myself. But then I saw that they had popcorn and I was more concerned with the popcorn varieties than the handsome men who might have been some future husbands. I love popcorn. I could eat that for every meal that I wasn’t at the Olive Garden for. 

I joked in an earlier post that buying McDonald’s was the most complex transaction I had ever done in Spanish, but that absolutely paled in comparison to buying tickets and snacks in Spanish. I managed somehow. You have to pick out your seats before entering the theatre, which is so civilized, but really tested my number skills and mastery of letter pronunciations. This was a piece of cake, though, in comparison to the concessions. There were the usual combinations and items, but the guy behind the counter tried to make recommendations and my Spanish wasn’t awful enough for him to switch to English, so that was a mental workout. I finally figured out that he was trying to make me a combo package and save me some pesos, so that was sweet. For next to nothing I had a mountain of popcorn and a glass of jamaica so large that I was quite certain my bladder would explode if I dared to drink it all. 

After a bit of waiting, we were allowed into the theatre where Jessica and I revealed that we had been massive fools. There are trays at the concession stand that attach to the cupholder and makes a kind of desk for your nibbles. GENIUS. Do we have this anywhere in America, yet? This revolutionized our moviegoing experience to sublime. 

Soon the movie, Crucifixion, began and it was hardly anything special. It doesn’t deserve much merit as a horror film, but as pure entertainment, well it was a hella good time. It’s about this young journalist who travels to Romania to report about the suspicious death of a nun who was allegedly possessed. She’s an avowed atheist because of some difficulties surrounding her mother’s death. Once she gets to Romania, kooky things obviously start happening to her and it gets worse as she gets deeper into the story. It features a worryingly handsome priest and repeated possessions and this stunning hotel and a gorgeous little Romanian village that was haunting. I immediately put it on the list of places that I need to visit and that I need to visit soon. 

For me, though, the greatest thrill was when the natives were speaking Romanian and I could pick out some of the words. I’ve wanted to visit Romania for years now as I’ve mentioned, so when the learning language app, Duolingo, released Romanian lessons, I started taking them from day one. I’ve been doing it for over a year now and it still makes very little sense. It’s a romance language but so far removed from the usual formations that it’s utterly mystifying. Still to understand the words “fetele” and “și” was magical! Maybe someday I’ll understand more than a few words. Maybe someday I’ll read sentences! 

Jessica was still in gay heaven on the way home, and we both gasped dramatically on the escalator down to the main level. A very handsome gay man turned to look at us and then he made long lasting eye contact with me. Neither of us quite knew what to do, but Jessica was truly thrilled. 

Back at the apartment we were absolutely exhausted and absolutely starving, so we had a meal and then crashed and then stayed up late looking at social media websites as most people in this age are wont to do. 

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