MEXICO CITY: Death Becomes Us

After being more active for a few days in a row than we normally are in an average year, Jessica and I were exhausted and treated ourselves to a lazier day without major destinations. I thought she was dead for long time because she was still asleep long after the noon hour. I grew concerned enough to climb up to the loft, but halfway between the levels I heard one of her earthshaking snores, so I knew she was still alive. I’m not sure what I’ll get out of her insurance and will when she dies, surely something, but I really wasn’t in the mood to deal with complex inheritence legalities in Mexico City, so I was quite relieved. 

I was achingly tired — something that didn’t have to do entirely with stomping through Mexico City. Of course that played into how I felt, but ever since multiple sclerosis entered my life, there are some days when I just don’t feel right. This was one of them. I feel annoying for even typing this all out, but for those of you who don’t have an autoimmune disease or chronic illness, there’s just no way to truly get it. I thought I did before my diagnosis, but I certainly didn’t. And for those of you that do get it, well I know that it helps to read this whinging. 

For the most part, I truly do feel fine. Only, I don’t feel fine at all. I haven’t come close to finding a way to figure out how to properly explain this situation. A few months ago, I was in California with my beloved cousin, Pam. We have gone through the discovery of autoimmune disorders together, and it’s been wonderful to have her to commiserate with. Sick people — at least me and those I know — don’t really want to bitch about feeling like crap all of the time, but if we find somebody who can empathize, then we let it all out. It’s been a blessing for me to have her, even though I wish we both could have finished our lives without this nonsense. 

Driving down to Los Angeles, we talked about our ailments as we so often do, the injustice of it, the stupidity of it, the bleak cosmic humor. She described her sickness as a little thing that wasn’t a part of her, a little demon. Immediately my Egyptological brain presented an image of the hideous protector god, Bes:

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He was an oddity in the Egyptian pantheon, disgusting looking, small, always shown straight on and never from the traditional profile, and he was a personal god. You wouldn’t really go off to a temple to give offerings to the priests of Bes. No, he was a little thing to protect the home. It was allegedly believed that Bes’s image was so absolutely loathsome that no evil could stand to be around it. (See referene: Jessica in her Louvre pass.) So, if you were to wear his image around your neck, you and yours would be free from danger. Charming, isn’t it? Even in the ancient city of Akhetaten, the heretical capital of ancient Egypt where only the Aten was worshipped, archeologists have found little lapis lazuli figurines of Bes. The people loved him and wouldn’t give him up no matter what the pharaoh told them. Can you believe that I’m getting off topic?

I showed Pam a picture of Bes and she seemed to recognize him at once as the little creature she associated with her disease. I don’t think about the disease as mine either. I can’t really picture it being a part of my own brain or of my own nerves, you know? It feels alien to me. My body would never betray me, so it can’t be me. To me, multiple sclerosis is like a shroud that can cover my body, but is not truly a part of me. Maybe subconsciously I believe that if I don’t accept it, it can’t truly be a part of my life. Who knows? But all I know is that I understood what Pam meant with the entirety of my soul. So when I have symptoms of this disease or just something feels out of the ordinary…I’m not sick, it’s just the MS showing up. My disease is like a faulty heater that you can’t trust to operate. You still go on as normal, but you’re inconvenienced.

That’s how I felt. Just not right, so the day was calm and chill. When I finally felt up to it — and I was always up to it, mind you, the shadow of fatigue just overwhelmed me — I went for a lengthy walk all around the Zócalo. I had no intent and no purpose and I realized as I wandered through the sunny streets, that I’ll probably never be able to travel normally again. I can’t just go somewhere for a week and find complete satisfaction. Of course I will because of time constraints, but it’s so much nicer to get lost and find yourself in unimportant places. Having considerable time to settle somewhere on vacation, lingering mindlessly for months, allows you to find divine pleasure in a daily visit to the corner store, a chat with the laundryman in crappy Spanish, or just getting to be on nodding terms with the tattooed woman at the smoke shop who always waited outside her shop that sold marijuana grinders, t-shirts, and ceramic skulls with succulents growing out of the eyes. Odd place. Lovely woman, but that’s a story for months from now…

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My wanderings led me, as they so often do, back to Maison Kayser where I saw something that made me want to shriek, to run through the streets pulling out my hair with pure glee, to dance the dance of the seven veils, to give absolute thanks to the most gracious god: they had a multigrain baguette. Reader. I am a ho for a good multigrain baguette. 

It was exactly twenty-five pesos and perhaps I went back nearly every single day to get another one and just maybe by the time August came around, the lady behind the counter was already grabbing me the darkest one before I even made it to the counter. No matter where in the world you go, you have to find and patronize a bakery of your own. In France, it’s Miss Manon. In LA it’s the Schwartz Bakery on the corner of Beverly and La Brea but never the one on Fairfax. In Turin it’s the focaccia shop off the Via Carlo Alberto. And in Mexico it’s the Maison Kayser next to the Zócalo. It’s endlessly perfect and over the two months that I spent in that dream town, I sampled all of the pastries. Some were fine, some were mediocre, but sometimes, well sometimes they could be exceptional. I don’t know if I will ever stop dreaming of their baguettes or the loaves of cheese bread. And I will almost certainly never stop lusting over their chocolate tarts and passionfruit concoctions. They sold macarons that were flavored with tequila and with mole and I just couldn’t get over that. The sandwiches were quite generally abysmal, but the sweets were divinity.

I did have one issue. At least once a week I would get on their website and look at the full menu and every single time I quite nearly lost my damn mind. You see, darling reader, they advertised a tart that I needed to have every damn day of my life. It was a  grapefruit tart. In Mexico you aren’t labelled odd or socially deviant for enjoying a good grapefruit like we are in the United States. Don’t even try to argue this one with me. For years I have consistently said that my favorite food in all the world is grapefruit. Never have I ever had one positive word in response. There must be some kind of vendetta against grapefruits in America and I simply can’t understand why anybody would turn their nose up in disgust at the thought of nature’s finest citrus. Quite honestly, if I was on death row, here’s what I’d asked to for my final meal: an egg salad sandwich on focaccia bread from Turin, a bowl of perfectly prepared grapefruit, black pepper kettle chips from ALDI, and a glass of Tempranillo wine. I would hate to die, of course, but what a way to go. 

For whatever reason, I could find grapefruits everywhere but this tart remained elusive. I could even find ready-to-eat grapefruit in all of the Starbucks. Never once in the two months that I was in Mexico did I find a grapefruit tart. And I was filled with an extreme sense of devastation. I didn’t even find evidence that it might exist other than the advertisement online and this filled me, quite sensibly I believe, with a grapefruit-fueled rage. I’m going to have to make my own, which is fine. I have a degree from Le Cordon Bleu for a reason, but still, I wanted that tart more than I think I have ever wanted anything in my life. 

To ease my suffering that day, I bought myself a bottle of mint-infused jamaica, which sounded too damn good to be true. Do you remember me losing my mind over jamaica last year? If not I’ll bring you up to speed, which will require, as most of my stories do, a detour into Egypt. 

When I arrived for the first time at the historic Winter Palace in Luxor, I was presented with a small glass of dark red liquid. I didn’t know what this was, but I took a sip and have been obsessed ever since. It was called karkade, a strong tea brewed with hibiscus flowers and plenty of sugar. I made sure to hydrate with it as often as I possibly could. It was wonderfully on the breakfast buffet each morning and I think I drank my body weight it the stuff. Later, I had some in Aswan at the Nubian Village served to me whilst holding a baby crocodile like it was a kitten. Weird life. Anyway, back in America I missed the stuff quite desperately and didn’t know how to procure it.

Little did I know that a similar drink was commonplace in Mexico, it’s just not quite as intensely flavored. You could buy jamaica at literally any store in Mexico City, and I drank so much of it that it’s stupid. There was even a calorie free version that I guzzled on the daily. I could never be dehydrated in a world full of jamaica. There is a huge Mexican population where I live, but this flavor isn’t commonplace here for some reason. You can get it at the main Mexican restaurant, but you can taste that it is a powdered mix. Thankfully, at the Mexican grocery stores you can buy dried hibiscus flowers that cost so little that it’s a shame the drink isn’t so well known here.

Imagine my shock and disgust then when I discovered that the mint-infused jamaica tasted like literally the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth. And remember please, I have consumed a large number of fried grasshoppers. It was disgusting. I can’t even begin to share the shock and revulsion my palate went through at the first enthusiastic sip. I would have projective vomited all over the pedestrian streets if I didn’t hold myself together. 

And to my utter and complete shock, this wasn’t the worst thing that I was going to put in my mouth that day. See, reader, it turns out that it wasn’t the multiple sclerosis getting me down and Jessica wasn’t sleeping so long because of her many usual ailments (most of which are imaginary) and we HAD BEEN POISONED.

Now, don’t get too excited, it wasn’t like we had been exposed to a toxic nerve agent by a Russian spy, though had that occurred I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. I have talked a lot of shit about Putin’s girlfriend, Donald. That horrible meal at V.I.P’s had tried to destroy our digestive systems. I think the ice cubes in our drink had been made with tap water. You simply don’t drink the tap water in Mexico City. Bad things happen. I’m not going to get too deep into the finer points of Montezuma’s Revenge and Traveler’s Flu, but long story short I felt well enough to scurry to the corner pharmacy before the next wave of disease.

Jessica is firmly convinced that I visited a witch doctor. I did not. I went to a pharmacy. She likes to think that I chatted with a bruja who was stirring a cauldron filled with a potion. It was just a pharmacy. She is still convinced that it was a witch, which isn’t absolutely absurd. I did chat with several witches at the Mercado Sonora. But I didn’t want herbs or spells today, I wanted scientific shit to remedy what ailed me.

My medical vocabulary in Spanish is not extensive. I can name parts of the body and I can say “this hurts” but other than that, I will have to mime. So mime I did for the pharmacist, and I’m pretty sure that if it was a televised version of Charades, I would have won a million dollars. I soon had a plethora of pills and was recommended some hydrating beverage. I grabbed a peach one for me and an apple for Jessica. Didn’t know she hated apple flavor. Who hates apples? They’re so good.

So we gathered around the table, popped our pills, and then chugged the drink. Reader…it was gross and so strange. Jessica said it tasted empty, whatever that means. I thought it was slick, like chugging a very light oil. It coated my mouth with a film and the flavor was more like a hint of peach than any peach flavor.

We waited a few hours for the pills to take effect, and they finally did, and of course we were starving. So off we went to the Alameda to stroll through the park before looking for a nibble or two or three.

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Jessica couldn’t get over all the gays sauntering through the park. They were out flâner-ing and preening for the other gays, and Jessica was on cloud nine. We wandered for a bit but she soon began angrily squawking that she needed ice cream and if she didn’t get it within the next few minutes she would veritably explode. I have seen her get hangry, so we hurried to Santa Clara ice cream. 

She calmed down once she had dug into her cotton candy ice cream, but then two things happened that made me say “uh-oh.” First, the rains arrived. We had been lucky for so long, but suddenly it was as if there was a river in the sky, drenching every surface in sheets of icy water. I was wearing suede boots. It was the beginning of the end of our relationship together, and my poor boots are now in some mouldering pile of trash in Mexico City. But that tale of woe is for later. The other reason that I was concerned was the group next to us. A larger gay and a tiny gay were canoodling. The large one even had a photo of the other as his phone case. Adorable and good for them, but I was worried about Jessica’s reaction. She wouldn’t be repulsed or anything, she would have stared openly and ogled them with the same passion she feels for her cats. She loves the gays. You should have heard the gasp she released when she finally caught them out of the corner of her eyes. Mortifying.

The rains lessened, so we hurried back to the apartment. The rain did not stop, though. Jessica was soon moodily stomping barefoot through the streets, shoes in hand, glowering at the world around her, convinced that an errant drip would fall into her ear canal and do some horrific damage to her eardrum. Like I said, those ailments of hers aren’t really real. 

Worn out, we stayed up too late and slept too late again. As one should on vacation.

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