MEXICO CITY: Ho For A Good Churro

Bless that pharmacy. I woke up feeling so much better than I had in the past few days. I didn’t have to worry about things exploding out of my mouth like that scene in the Exorcist where Linda spews out that river of vile green fluid. I’ve never been able to eat pea soup without thinking of demonic possession. Do you know anybody who has ever been possessed by an unholy spirit? It happens so often in the movies and television that you’d think we’d all know of at least somebody. I’m in a coffeeshop right now back home, watching the rain fall — like in Mexico City, it won’t stop — and this idea has quite suddenly enraged me. Every week there’s some new show on the Travel Channel about some possessed child. But this has literally nothing to do with anything I’m going to talk about. I’ll just leave it at this: I was feeling like myself again, and please comment below if you or a loved one has been taken by Satan. Cheers. 

We weren’t up exactly early, but it wasn’t too late in the day to head out and do some sightseeing. I gave Jessica a list of ideas and she selected a convent that houses mummies I had visited the year before. This suited me right down to the ground. I had such a good time there last year, down in the tile-encrusted crypt with the skeletal corpses smiling down at me. 

As we got ready to go, I was tidying the place up, as I like to do. Now, reader, I just realized that I lied to you, demonic possession does indeed have something to do with this post. Jessica wasn’t possessed, obviously, but that would explain her rattling snores and the foul stenches that follow her around. Maybe she is? As she was preparing for the day, she mentioned that she thought she had seen a dark figure crouching down beside the stove during the night. It was vaguely human and she remembered being startled, but hardly horrified. Was it an illusion, a shadow, a figment of her imagination, a dream? Who knows, but all I know is that the gas line was turned on, which we never leave on, and the apartment is full of oddly placed pieces of carbonized wood. The Internet failed to teach me what exactly these are for, but they were clearly not there to deodorize. They were placed quite strategically under furniture and behind cabinets and in each corner of the place. So maybe the place is possessed by some unholy spirit. I didn’t much mind. The spook never bothered me, even though I guess it tried to poison me, but I didn’t take too much offense. No harm, no foul after all. Is that a sports reference? Look how straight I can sound!

Now that we were healthy again, we were obviously starving to death. I’m quite proud of how many restaurants we ended up going to together, and I went to even more when she left me. I’m still trying to figure this out. In Paris, we don’t really go out all that often. We will go to maybe one restaurant and just go there once in a while. I get the feeling that both of us pride ourselves so much on assimilating into French culture that we don’t want to make a mistake in public. We are, truly, quite passable as Parisians when we’re there, and that is something special for us. 

In Mexico, though, we don’t give a hoot. We don’t look Mexican — even though the kids at work yesterday swore I was born in Guatemala because I was speaking Spanish with them — so we aren’t going to be easily able to camouflage into the crowd. I might look a bit Spanish, I suppose, if I tan and talk to somebody half blind. I’ll do my best Spanish, but if they end speaking English at me, oh well. In Paris that would make me want to jump into the Seine and just die. DIE.

So we walked down a couple of blocks and made our way to a place called La Casa de Toño. Every time we passed, there was a line that stretched down the block, so when we saw that it was a little less lengthy we hopped in line and were soon sat at the only free table in the place. The menu was extensive, and there was certainly something to thrill every palate. We didn’t realize that we were ordering almost everything on the menu, but whatever. In the end, it was only $270 pesos…like how is that possible? In American money, that’s roughly $14. And we had so much food.

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We couldn’t begin to eat it all, but we did try. I had a vegetable pozole that was filled with mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, radishes, and weirdly tasty corn fungus. Quite good. On top of that I had a mushroom covered sope, a bowl of guacamole with tostadas, and then a beer. Jessica had a cheese empanada and some enchiladas. And there was so much food. My god, the plates just kept coming.  We did our best to gobble it all up, but an hour later, we were literally waddling back up the Calle Simon Bolivar. 

I did find it delightful that there was an earthquake warning poster in the restroom upstairs. Not coming from a place where such an occurrence ever happens, this is so strange to see. It’s a bit of a shock. Kind of like the “What should you do in a terrorist attack?” posters that covered the Paris Métro a few years ago. That was dark. And I was a bit scared of earthquakes. After experiencing that relatively minor one in Turin, it’s become one of my major anxious fears. Thankfully I slept through the only earthquake that occurred this summer in Mexico City and it wasn’t worrisome at all. 

We decided that we would digest our delicious repast on the way to the monastery instead of taking a little siesta back at the apartment, as was our wont to do. We knew that if we stopped, we would stop for the rest of the day. We are generally quite prone to laziness, which is shameful, but this must come as no shock to any of you, my darling readers.

Down in one of my very favorite places — unless it’s unreasonably stopped for an endless time on a particularly stuffy or damp night — the bowels of Mexico City in the Metro, we flew down to another part of town. 

On this trip, I tried to examine all of the different districts in Mexico City for future trips. I know that I will be going back all my life. I might even try to get back every single year. Maybe multiple times per year! Fiscal issues are truly the only thing that would keep me away. I want to know each part of town for this and if I should ever come into some money…well I think I would quite like to have an apartment down there in my favorite North American city. The region where the monastery stands is on my shortlist of possible locations to live. It’s so peaceful. It’s not Roma or Condesa, which are both gorgeous but a bit too gentrified for my tastes. San Angel reminded me of the Left Bank in Paris near the Sorbonne. It’s full of students and coffee shops and bookstores and gorgeous parks. It doesn’t feel quite so infused with hipsters or travelers. Just a matter of time, though, I’m sure. I loved it and went back several times during my stay, growing increasingly fond with each visit. I could easily live there. 

We popped out of the Metro by another glorious Walmart and determined that we would do our shopping on the way back instead of going to our favorite haunt on Insurgentes. I would quite like to see every Walmart in Mexico City, but that’s just one of my weird desires. Like my life mission of visiting every single Alfredo’s restaurant. (Very pleased that I did that.) Quite immediately, Jessica was parched and was hollering for a drink of some kind. We popped into a coffee shop and bought these tasty lime agua frescas that were deliciously tart, surely full of sugar, and immensely hydrating. We passed incense vendors, people crocheting bags with gorgeous cat patterns, old men peddling crystals and candles, and even one man who was carving wooden pipes surely meant for legal herbs. 

My mental map took me the right way without needing to think. That’s one of my favorite skills that doesn’t make any sense to me. I have absolutely no sense of direction where I live, which is absurd as I have lived in the same place for nearly three decades. I am only now recently able to get to my friend’s house without needing a GPS. But for whatever reason when I’m in a foreign location, I only need walk there once and I’m never turned around again. I can walk blindfolded most places in Paris, and I know Luxor like the palm of my hand. My hometown is different. I didn’t even know the name of the street I work on until this afternoon. 

To get to the convent, we passed through a gorgeously landscaped park full of wide paved walkways, wonderfully tall trees, a huge statue that I have never discerned the meaning of, and an extraordinary number of young people utterly failing to do skateboard tricks on the ramp of the statue. It was almost worth stopping for a spell to watch them repeatedly fall off their boards. I can hardly stay standing up on one, and I was nearly involved in a fatal accident involving a longboard, a ramp, and work hours, but thankfully that only ended in a police officer teaching me how to propel myself through the halls of my job while school was going on. That was a particularly peculiar afternoon. I’ve never tried again. I have absolutely no interest in skinning my knees or breaking my wrist. 

Jessica was absolutely bewitched at the sight of young kids in the middle of the street doing a performance for tips. They would sit on each other’s shoulders and manically juggle metal balls waiting until the light turned green before scurrying away from the street. Jessica would have watched them for hours, I think. 

The monastery was only a short walk from this intersection, and we were soon making our way to the entrance. When I had visited last year, I was simply waved in by a very kindly woman, but today there was an entrance fee. I suppose I visited on a Sunday last year; many of the museums in Mexico City are free for residents on Sunday afternoons, which is a very luxurious amenity that reminded me happily of Europe. If I lived in town, I would make a lengthy list of all the museums in town and then work on going to every single one. It would be divine. The museum scene in Mexico is so vibrant. There’s one that I visited a few weeks later that I think about every single day. And then another that haunts me. 

The courtyard was divine as ever and I once again supposed that I was a monk or a nun in a former life. I don’t think that I’ve ever been a woman, though that would seem to make sense. All my incarnations on earth have seemed distinctly masculine. I feel I went down on the Titanic as a wealthy man. I feel I died of a gunshot wound as a priest in a church. I feel almost certain that I was a French peasant. And I know that I certainly did something in Hollywood as a man. I should do a past life regression one of these days and see if any of these intuitive thoughts are anything near reality. That’d be a lot of fun. I just went to a place in Des Moines the other day that might have a recommendation for where to get this done. I’m off topic. Shock. 

Anyway, Jessica admired the courtyard too and we had to have photographs of us looking charming and candid for Instagram. She decided that she should hop up onto the crumbling talavera tile fountain in the center of the courtyard, which just felt like a horrible idea.

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Before I could tell her to get off, a security guard rushed in to scold her. This was deeply amusing and a shamefaced Jessica entered the inner rooms of the monastery. 

It hadn’t changed at all and remains one of the most peaceful places I’ve visited in Mexico. I think about it all the time, the dark oil paintings, the broken statuary, the gilded altars, the relics, the warped floors, the crumbling gardens, and the bizarre art displays in the modern part of the building. I was in a state of rapture leading Jessica down the stairs to the mummies. 

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We were all alone in the dim subterranean crypt, a few flickering lights cast their glow on the tiled sarcophagi lending a perfectly eerie atmosphere begging for a cinematic adaptation. (Don’t steal from me Hollywood. I’m looking at you, Ryan Murphy, I know your tricks. I know them far too well.) The room that houses the mummies is just astonishingly wonderful. There’s nothing quite like being all alone and surrounded by mummies. It’s one of my favorite things. These mummies are naturally preserved, not embalmed like Egyptian mummies, so they look like a fantastical set piece for some movie macabre.

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Their jaws gape wide, their clothing is in tatters, revealing crumbling flesh, the eye sockets are sunken, the teeth protrude. It’s just fabulous. Had to get a photo, of course of me and my mummy friends. 

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Jessica seemed to enjoy the mummies, but I don’t think she was as taken by the rest of the displays. She was routinely shocked that there were more rooms and halls and stairs to climb. She took particular umbrage with the stairs and seemed to think of them as personally victimizing her. She often thinks inanimate objects are intentionally distressing her.

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We were both utterly delighted, though, when we saw a cat in an open area on the new way to the building. She was grey and very pregnant and so very friendly.

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Jessica and I were so delighted to play with her, but then there was another cat, who was gorgeous and looked like a fluffier version of my Clea, and she was just as friendly as the other one!

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It started to drizzle, but we could not leave the cats alone, especially when we saw other cat bowls and cat houses and cat toys. There must have been an entire coven of kittens! It was too much, too delightful. And once we had seen the cats, we were emotionally overstimulated, so it was very much time to go.

To the shock of none of you, we were hungry. We stopped at the Cafe Jerusalem for delicious tortas. Mine was made with fried eggs and loads of panela cheese and an unnecessary bit of lettuce. It was fabulous. Fabulous, reader. I’d go back to Mexico for a million reasons, but another sandwich would be reason enough for me to make the intercontinental journey. 

At Walmart we bought what might be the lowest quality chef’s knife I have ever encountered. I have used sharper butter knives with more regularity. I mean, it wasn’t as if I was picking up a gourmet knife like the one I use at home, but I don’t understand how any home or apartment can function without a good knife. Which leads me to a point that is not my main point. I think I have found a fabulous career opportunity for me. I am a huge supporter and fan of AirBNB, and thanks to their services I have felt in home in Italy and France and Mexico and many other locations. But though many of the homes are beautiful, they could use some help. They need to have good knives, clearer instructions, hidden cords, better toiletries. Sometimes they just need a bouquet or a little redesign. I almost always spend my first few days getting the apartment tidied and organized to my liking and buying necessities. I think my job should be to live in an AirBNB for a week and make it more livable for the owner. Hire me. 

It was a bit of a strange feeling to be in the subway with a knife with a nine inch blade. There was no security really, and that freaked me out. If I could get down there with the knife, what else did somebody else near me? I have been watching loads of shows about narcotic trafficking and the specter of terrorism constantly haunts me, so I was momentarily quite overwhelmed and overexerted and my mind was drafting a very exciting scene for the second season of Reina del Sur. (Side note: it is so important that you are aware of this glorious return, it airs sometime next year on Telemundo, and I might have to move to Mexico if the channel isn’t available here. It is so important to me.)

This naturally made us quite hungry, so after resting for a spell, we decided we had to go to one of the most famous churro shops in town so that we could eat our body weight in ice cream sandwiches made out of churros. Isn’t that genius?

El Moro was only a few blocks away, so Jessica and I gathered up our pesos, hurried through the courtyard, and dashed down the street. An irritating indication of a quality establishment is a line that snakes down the street. There is a cafe in Paris called Holybelly that I am literally dying to get to, and the owner posts pictures almost every single day of the enormous line that stretches down the rue. The churro shop was not quite this dramatic, but we had to wait for ages and ages. I didn’t mind at all, though, there was so much to see. 

It’s right off a busy street, so there was more than enough to distract me from the time, and as I’m older, I really don’t mind waiting for much of anything. The line moved slowly, though steadily, and soon we were stood outside of a large glass window that was slightly steamed over. A team of churro masters — I don’t know what they’re really called, but that should be it — were making quick work of the progress. There was something that looked like an actual bathtub filled with scalding hot oil. A piping machine dumped streams of dough into the oil, causing it to sizzle, and sometimes splatter dramatically up onto the glass. One of the churro chefs used a tool to spin the the dough into a spiral, and in the end, there was a massive round of curled and perfectly browned churros. These were scooped out of the oil and then long scissors snipped them into servings about a foot long. It was insane. I was in love and found the whole thing mesmerizing. I couldn’t wait to make it to the front of the line and veritably gorge myself on churros. 

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Finally, Jessica and I made our way to the inner sanctum of the famed and justly beloved churro shop. Now the line weaved up and down, taking us to a cashier and then finally to a friendly gentleman who would prepare the order. I was tremendously pleased with myself when I ordered everything in Spanish and didn’t have to resort to a single word in English or even a befuddled glance to elicit sympathy. I was on cloud nine, however, when we arrived at the counter and the man understood my request for chocolate dipping sauce; it had been ordered correctly, but for some reason, the cashier put caramel dipping sauce on my receipt instead of chocolate. It was simple enough to tell him the error, even with my limited grasp of Spanish. He nodded at me and fulfilled my request, and it seemed that he didn’t think me exceptional or strange to be there. 

This is something that I have missed when I travel. In Egypt, there is absolutely no mistaking me for a tourist. The locals latch onto me at once as a supposedly wealthy foreigner who had oodles of money to spend on knickknacks and taxi rides. And to these impoverished people, my lowly income might surely have appeared to be a fortune. There was no chance that I could ever escape from the crowd, even if I wore a turban and a galabeya and tanned my skin, my blue eyes would give me away. In Mexico, though, I looked very much like I could have been of Spanish descent. I really rather reveled in this normalcy. I am a ho for attention, but I admit, it is oddly seductive to be nothing more than a face in the crowd.

This isn’t even the most important point of ordering churros, and though I feel rather foolish for making some kind of poetic rhapsody about buying a sweet treat, something else happened that I already mentioned, but it hit me quite forcefully: I was being understood and I understood what was happening around me. It felt like witchcraft and I quickly realized that the ability to speak a foreign language is perhaps the closest we can ever come to true magic in this world. I cannot remember a moment in my life when I didn’t long to be fluent in every language, every dialect, every dead script. I want to be able to read absolutely anything and talk about everything with anybody. I am still ages from any true Spanish fluency, but that was a special memory. 

I still remember the first time I felt this way in French, sitting in the cafeteria of the Louvre, two ladies beside me were chatting about their day. It was nothing special, but my newfound comprehension of it rendered it akin to angelic. When language becomes understandable to me, when it switches over to an automatic reaction rather than a forced and calculated response, I find myself in an ecstasy. 

The churros were also delicious and we devoured them in a matter of moments, chortling over how divine they were and how many more we were sure to get. Then we did tequila shots and tried to juggle with limes. I was finding limes in odd spots for the next month and a half. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

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