MEXICO CITY: Mercado Madness

It’s true what they say about time flying by when you’re having fun. In what felt like no time at all, two weeks passed and my two month escape to Mexico was down to only forty-five more days. I know how absurd and spoiled I sound, but please take note that I have spoiled myself on my own paltry earnings and made my life into an absurdity for my own amusement. Years ago somebody commented on one of my posts about what an awful person I was and proceeded to  suggest I travel to war-torn Syria so that I could die in crossfire. That was charming. I blocked them, but I hope that they are still reading my blog. I ain’t bothered by you. And if you are still reading, you’re an idiot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Life is far too short to focus on miserable people, though. Do you ever find yourself surrounded by negativity? It’s the absolute worst because unwittingly you get drawn into it, like you’re a part of it, like the world’s darkness is inadvertently yours, even though you honestly have absolutely nothing to do with it? I seem to be a flame for negative moths and there are moments when it drives me mad. That’s another of the reasons that I travel so much. I need to get away. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely cherish the people I keep in my life, but there are moments when I need to take care of myself. That’s when I disappear. 

I always wondered why do this. I’ve been told that I’m empathic quite a few times, and at first I thought this was all a load of nonsense. Lady M went on and on about sensing my empathic nature on the rooftop in Giza. She told me more about myself than she should have rightly known, but she did claim to be a psychic in addition to an empath and a reincarnated Atlantean high priestess who was born into this world once again to find the buried Akashic Records somewhere on the Giza Plateau. She thought she’d ascend into the next dimension when she was in the Great Pyramid and learn some kind of revelatory cosmic truth. I wonder what ever happened to her? Life can be so strange. 

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She was the first person to ever really define what an empath was, and because she laced it with loads of paranormal terminology (which admittedly I ADORE), I found it hard to take her seriously, but then I was in New York City a few weeks later and in a used bookstore there was a book about Edgar Cayce, a psychic she talked frequently about, and then across the street was a bakery called Lady M Cake Boutique. I nearly screamed. I know I gasped. Lady M told me that coincidences aren’t real, and there is no way that this odd combination could have been a coincidence, I’d almost bet money that it was prophesied long ago…

I started writing this a week ago and I really wish I could remember what my point was. I’m sure it was deep and thoughtful. Probably super insightful, too. Oh well, it’s lost to me now. I looked back over the notes I took and I couldn’t see anything about empathic connections. Let’s just carry on then. I’d delete it, but I like blathering on about coincidences. They thrill me. 

Anyway, Jessica’s time in Mexico was quickly coming to a close and she was somewhat melancholy. She had no interest in going back home. I don’t think she cared for Mexico at first. She was overwhelmed by the hustle and the chaos the first day, but I was proud to see her embrace this new wonderland the same way I had. It has become a dream destination we will go back to a hundred times. In fact, we are going to go back sooner than either of us anticipated, but that’s a story for another time. I’m not repeating my mistake of last year, where I had to stay home for Spring Break. That was miserable. I didn’t have any choice, though, as I had to complete some work for one of my college classes. This year I don’t have the same restriction, and I made a solemn vow to never stay home on break again, so, we are off to the exact same spot for nine glorious days. I’ll never get caught up on all these blogs, but there are much worse things. 

Today I thought Jessica should see some of the markets, but this was a bit more psychologically damaging than I had anticipated. The first market was the Mercado San Juan to visit with my fruit man. I had neglected my nectarine consumption and decided that I really needed to up my daily intake of fresh fruits and delicious cheeses, so the Mercado was the perfect place to stock up.

It’s a short walk, but the market is really nothing like the Parisian markets that Jessica is more accustomed to. These are sprawling and wild and loud and the varieties are truly endless. It was fine for her at first, but she did not care at all for the variety of fruits my beloved fruit monger prepared for us to sample. I don’t know if Jessica eats fruit. I can’t even think of a memory where she ate a fruit. Hmm. This was trying for her, but it was not nearly as emotionally damaging as the meat section. I needed to get eggs and cheese, and unfortunately you have to pass quite a few skinned animals as you make your way through the narrow aisles.

I had been a vegetarian for years at this point, so I understood some of her malaise though she was a carnivore, but now that I have adopted a pescatarian diet, I don’t find myself so repulsed by dead animals…fish anyway. Sadly, there are many more exotic things than fish available. You could buy crocodile, and there are even rumors of lions and other rare bush meats. I don’t want to think about that.  

I got eggs and Manchego cheese, and a whole bag of delicious fruits, but Jessica wasn’t really having much fun. I didn’t want one of her last full days in this wonderland to be unpleasant. So we headed back to the apartment for a quick nibble and cuddle with the kittens before setting off for the Mercado Sonora.

I really don’t know why I didn’t know better, because I absolutely should have known better. Mexican markets are something that thrill me. They are densely packed, house an incomprehensibly large variety of goods, are filled with simply the most interesting people, and no matter where you go, you’ll find something that will delight your senses. It might be a woman flipping rounds of masa on a little charcoal grill or an ancient man wrapping incense sticks together or an actual witch creating potions. I thrive in busy places. Nothing makes me feel more alive then being surrounded by an endless hum of life. When I’m in big cities like Mexico City, I’m naturally more at ease. Cairo and Paris have the same effect on me. It’s an endless buzz of activity. I love Luxor and LA, too, but they have their unexpectedly quiet moments. There is little peace and quiet in Mexico City, so I was in my element. 

Well, this is hardly Jessica’s element. She doesn’t like to be in busy places, or shops she doesn’t know, or even in places where there are narrow aisles. She gets paranoid in the situations where I feel myself beginning to thrive. Odd that, but we are very different people. 

I was there for Santa Muerte goodies, which Jessica agreed that she needed. It took us quite a bit of wandering to find the witchcraft section. I had been to the market several times in the past, but it’s a maze and impossible to memorize unless you’re there everyday. I found my old witch doctor and had him blend me a custom tea for a friend. She was dealing with a brain tumor and would be having surgery soon. I told the witch doctor what the problem was and he scurried between various barrels, scooping out bark and leaves and god-only-knows what. It is worth the price just to watch him weigh out the perfect remedy. I loved the autoimmune tea he made me the year before. It didn’t taste like much of anything, but it brewed up into the most gorgeous hot pink color and I felt like such a Millennial sipping on it. I don’t know if it did much of anything, but I certainly felt a lot more energetic after it. 

Santa Muerte figurines were next, and Jessica finally enjoyed this, I think. She purchased a small figure and swears by it now. She sometimes housesits in a spooky house that I find unsettling. She can never sleep there very well, but now when she takes her little skeleton saint, everything is totally chill and she can sleep just fine. Like all icons and potions and spells, the effects are probably more placebo than anything else, but just because a placebo effect works doesn’t mean it isn’t fake. If a little resin statue filled with mysterious seeds and chunks of something helps a person mentally, then why not put one in every room?

She hated what came next. At the Mercado Sonoro, if you know where to look, there is absolutely nothing you can’t find. There are all sorts of exotic animals and electrical outlets that look like they’ve been ripped out of walls and Paw Patrol piñatas. Really anything that you can think of and more. We found ourselves surrounded by caged birds, which was fine and dandy, there were exotic birds and common pigeons and just random chickens. And then there are puppies and kittens and Jessica absolutely lost her mind. There was this tiny little white kitten who was honestly the most gorgeous thing I’d seen since the last kitten I’d come across. I think every kitten is precious. 

She wanted to take it with her, and I couldn’t deny that it would be delightful, but we can’t rescue every cat we come across. We would have thousands of them at this point, and there were all the wonderful cats in the courtyard. We had my little angels Patron and Simba and Little Chiffon and Jessica’s beloved Bitch Cat. We didn’t need to adopt the gorgeous white kitten and name her something ridiculously French and get her a pink collar with a bow. I would have been absolutely delighted to do it, but I knew in my heart that it would be better for somebody else to take her,

This wrecked Jessica emotionally and we had to leave the market and went out into the drizzly afternoon. We wandered through a shop full of housewares that seemed to be intended for hotels. Why else would you need a shop full of the same crappy painting you find in every Super 8 and potted fake plants and white china and what seemed like a million basic vases? This intrigued Jessica more than it seemed reasonable, but I suppose she was trying to shake the haunting image of the gorgeous kitten’s beautiful blue eyes. 

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I was also trying to distract myself from something horrible, and that horrible thing was my hair.  It was long and floppy and had absolutely no shape to it. After the shoeshiner in the Zocalo had told me that I was looking a mess, I decided that I really had to do something about that. I looked all over the Internet for the best salon for men’s haircuts, but literally every haircut photo looked like a clone of a soccer player. I wasn’t really about that life, so I decided to be tremendously brave and stepped into the salon that was a couple blocks down the road. 

I was, dear reader, shaking in my boots. I had a hideous flashback of the hair I had in Paris during pastry school. I had been far too nervous to pop into a shop although I’m sure they could have figured out what I wanted. I was in a hair salon after all. A young man about my age looked surprised to see Jessica and I and then waved me over to a chair. Jessica plopped down into a couch with what might have been the world’s ugliest poodle and watched Spanish soap operas whilst hair began to fall from me.

This was such an unexpectedly luxurious experience. I can’t get over it. The barber was slow and methodical and I was delighted by his considerable attention to detail. I managed to convey that I wanted a very similar style, it just needed to be shorter than it currently was. He understood, even though he didn’t say much. He gingerly snipped away at my locks, and then when I thought he was done, he went in with another kind of scissors, and then when I thought this was done, he came back with a fresh razor blade that he used to deftly trim off all the excess hair around my neck. He even styled the hair and I felt like a gorgeous Chilango. And it was only one hundred pesos, which is wild. That was, with a tip, like seven American dollars. Blessed. 

I obviously needed to show off my latest hairstyle, so we decided to go out to dinner. Memory took me back to my very first night in Mexico City, when I had fallen madly and completely in love with the massive town. I had just wandered through the Zocalo and was swept away by the open archways that lined the huge public square, the monstrously large Mexican flag that flapped in the merry breeze, the warm yellow lights, the geniality of the populace, and the fact that I felt as if I had been swept suddenly away to Europe, even though it had only been a short flight from Los Angeles. That night, I stopped in at the first cafe I stumbled upon and had the most wonderful meal and I have been thinking of it ever since.

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It was just as wonderful this night, and I had the same meal, huevos divorciados, which I am absolutely in love with. I need to make it at home, but I never seem to make much of anything anymore. I’m just too busy. That has absolutely nothing to do with this post, though. If you don’t know, this is a dish that is closely related to huevos rancheros. Refried beans are spread down the center of a thick tortilla, and then two fried eggs are placed on either side of the beans. Each side is doused in salsa, one side is red salsa and the other is green salsa. It is absolutely satisfying and I would be happy to eat it for every single meal. Jessica had a quesadilla that was filled with almost too much cheese, which is hard to believe, but it was insanely good. Everything was good, and we had to celebrate, because the next day was Jessica’s final day in Mexico City. I don’t think she was mentally prepared. 

She had fallen under the same spell as I had, but I still had another month and a half in wonderful Mexico City. Like Paris and Cairo and Los Angeles and all the other cities that I love, I could spend all my life here and never manage to explore every wonderful corner. There is always something new to see and do, and with each passing day, my list of things to do and see gets longer and longer. It really is a shame that life is so short. We hardly get a chance to have any fun, so I suppose we have to grab it whenever we can. Enough moralizing. 

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Jessica wanted to go to the movies and the Olive Garden for her last day, and I have absolutely no issue with ever visiting the Olive Garden, so that was fine and dandy with me. We don’t do things until the late afternoon at the earliest, so I wasn’t too perturbed that she slept most of the day away. I was guilty of doing the same thing too often. 

It wasn’t the most beautiful day, and in the Mexico City summer, the weather is so unpredictable. There could be gorgeous sun or monsoon rains. There could be monstrous thunder storms or peaceful breezes. The weather is insanely variable, but it’s never extreme like back in Iowa. As I type this (months and months behind schedule) we are entering a Polar Vortex. The high is going to be something like two degrees, but the windchill is some absurd number like negative forty-five degrees. Isn’t that wild? I think that the surface of the moon or Mars is warmer than that. Let me check. I guess the moon can get boiling hot, who knew? But Mars has comparable temperatures to us during the Polar Vortex, in fact, it will be warmer on MARS in a couple days than Iowa. Insane. But climate change is a hoax and Russia is cool and locking immigrant children in cages is totally fine… Everything is insane. 

We finally got going after a lazy spell. Jessica finished packing up and we spent a lot of time playing with all of the cats. They were so well trained at this point. The second our door opened up onto the courtyard, they would come running in for a treats and pets and worship. I don’t think those cats have ever been so spoiled in the entirety of their lives. I hope they miss us and I hope Simba thinks about me on the daily. I think about him endlessly. When I got home, I even made a keychain that shows pictures of the courtyard cats and the dog so that I could look at them every single time I get in my car. It was such a fabulous splurge. I think you all should have a custom keychain that shows the things that you love most. Not a person, because that’s lame, but maybe you really love your pet hamster or a succulent plant or a place. It’s wonderful to see them. 

The weather was still inclement and the drizzle was beginning, so we grabbed our umbrellas and headed out. Now you might not think that I’d have a lot to say about umbrellas, but that means you would be incorrect. The last summer I’d spent in Mexico City, my friend Sebastian told me that it was the rainy season. I assumed this meant that it would just rain once in a while, but no, this was like a literal ocean falling unexpectedly out of the sky. Umbrellas were mandatory and the ones that I purchased from the street markets were inevitably crap and didn’t last long. So before I went on this most recent trip, I grabbed one off of Amazon that had incredible reviews. It would not flip inside out, it opened and shut itself at the touch of a button, it was oddly elegant for an umbrella, and it shed water as if it were coated in RainX. I was obsessed. I asked Jessica if she wanted one before we left, but she turned me down. This turned out to be a decision that she would regret. 

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We soon discovered that Jessica’s umbrella didn’t work quite as well as it should. As we passed dozens of damp homosexuals on the way to Reforma 222, she complained that she felt like she was still getting rained on. I chuckled. I was perfectly dry under my well-constructed Amazon umbrella. At that moment, I thought she was just being hyperbolic, as the two of us were wont to do, but later on I looked over and saw that there was a fine drizzle of rain truly falling within her umbrella. Shrieking with laughter (well I was anyway) we found that there was an assemblage of fine holes that were letting the rain rain down on her head. So funny. 

Quite wet, and I quite dry, we finally arrived at one of the finest gastronomic offers in all of Mexico City, the Olive Garden. Yes, I too was just as thrilled as you would be in the situation. And, I get the feeling that you think I’m being sarcastic, like when I rhapsodize endlessly over Dancing Queen, Cher’s album of ABBA covers that I truly worship. Olive Garden can be a religious experience if done correctly. And let me tell you, they do it even better than anywhere else on the planet. The Olive Garden is raised to a five-star rating in Mexico. The waiters seem genuinely interested in your happiness, they hurry to your table with black pepper crackers and to courteously check in on your satisfaction, the food is lovingly presented instead of being slopped on a plate, the wine requires you to sample before getting a glass, and they have this spinach ravioli that is mixed with red peppers and chili and it is better than it has any right to be. I was astonished. We don’t have it here in America, and honestly we don’t deserve it. It’s too good for us. Americans, even the best of us, are too damn ethnocentric in our view of the world. We look at Mexico like it’s a desert wasteland, as if there’s nothing there but tacos and crime. Mexico is not like that at all. Mexico can be an absolute wonderland. It’s an oasis. And let me just say, I felt safer in Mexico City than I did walking alone in the dark in New York City. And I don’t know what this has to do with the Olive Garden anymore. I’m just sad that I have to wait another month to get my hands on those dreamy ravioli.

Have I already mentioned that I am making my glorious return to Mexico for spring break this year? If not, know that I cannot wait. I’m on pins and needles to take off and get more fish tacos and ravioli and wander through the wonderland that is the Walmart on the Avenida Insurgentes. Jessica and I booked the exact same apartment and the knowledge that we will soon be reunited with our precious cats is almost too much for us to stand. But now i must get back to June because I’m so behind. 

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The movie theater at Reforma 222 was a gay club as always, but we weren’t going to an exceptionally gay film, so Jessica didn’t have as much eye candy to study as she usually did. She had nachos instead. We saw the divine and inexplicably youthful Jane Fonda in Book Club, had a laugh, hurried home in the rain, and then went to bed. Tomorrow, we had to get up very early to get to the airport and send Jessica back to the United States. She was not eager to leave, and I can’t blame her. Mexico, it turns out, changed her life, but that story is for later. 

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