MEXICO CITY: Adios Jessica!

We woke with the dawn for the first time and recalled something that we both knew to be a scientific truth: there are some hours of the day that no human should ever have to see. You should only see six o’clock in the morning if you’ve been up all night, not because you have to wake up. Waking up is the absolute worst. Well a lot of things are awful, but waking up is one of my least favorite things in my personal life. 

The sun was bright as it rose over the city, but we didn’t have the time to admire it. Clouds were rolling in as they always were in the summer. Mexico City is perfection, never get me wrong, but if you’re going to Mexico City for a short time, try not to go during the rainy season. It dampens the mood — see what I did there? — and it ruins your expensive suede Chelsea boots. And even though the rains had wreaked a bit of havoc on our trip, there was still something refreshing about it. I rather like the ominous look of dark clouds slowly covering the sky, something deliciously melancholy. And when it’s done pouring, everything sparkles. Like Paris, Mexico City is almost more beautiful in the rain. 

It was almost cinematic, as we got into an Uber to the airport; the rain began to fall as if the city itself were weeping for Jessica’s departure. It became a torrent almost at once, and I was surprised that there were still cars on the street with the amount of rain that was filling them up. The gutters were overwhelmed, but our driver wasn’t deterred. This was probably normal for them, the same way that driving nonchalantly through a blizzard is normal for Iowans. I’d rather drive in the snow than in the rain. You just can’t see anything at all. 

I quite thought we would float the rest of the way to the airport, but somehow the car made it through and we were soon deposited at the departure doors. The rain pounded heavily onto the roof, but that didn’t stop the flow of people from entering and leaving the airport. It is one of the busiest ones I have ever been to, and it is one of the most infuriating. I love almost every single thing about Mexico City, but the airport is not one of them. It is a caliente mess. I can navigate any airport, in any language. I have gone through Athens and Cairo with airport signs in languages I can’t even read, and I can find what I need. Mexico City’s airport is nothing like this. It does not make sense to me. At all. And it never has. And in three weeks, it’ll be perplexing me again. 

Mexico has a new president now and one of the things he campaigned for was ending the construction of a new airport for the city. It was a billion dollar monstrosity, and I have to assume it would be more reasonably organized than the current one. We will never know, though, for now the project is on permanent hold. 

Finally, we found the departure gate where Jessica needed to be. Last place I would have expected it. She was weeping, so I told her to charge herself anything she wanted on the flight home to ease her anxieties. And honestly, is there anything more fun than ordering an overpriced box of crap nibbles on the plane when everybody else is eating worse crap? I knew that would cheer her, and I persuaded her to go through security and head towards her plane home. She was sad to go. Mexico, I think unexpectedly, suited her right down to the ground. It is a happy place. And I think we were both happier there than we have been for a long time. I can’t explain quite what I meant by that, but life has seemed so much more stressful lately. I think it’s that we’re transitioning. We both were in the process of significant change, and though that change has its many blessings, it still causes tremendous mental strain. When we were in Mexico City, there was simply no need for that. We didn’t have to worry about money. We had cats. We had more food than we could eat. We had no major obligations or responsibilities. We only had to enjoy being alive. 

I don’t think people really get a chance to do that as much as they should. I recently watched a documentary by Michael Moore called Where to Invade Next. It’s about his exploration of cultures around the world and how foreign nations are living the American dream while we languish back home. In Italy, he spoke about the number of days off that people have at work, and the Italians are disgusted when they hear how little Americans get. In Italy, they are given city holidays, generous maternity leave and paternity leave, state holidays, lengthy vacations in the summer, vacation days, and more. The bosses feel that if their employees are well taken care of, they will be happier and more effective employees. It’s an obvious and revolutionary idea for Americans that we should start embracing. Mexico City was this for Jessica and me. It was a medication of sorts. We needed it for our physical and mental health. 

And so, she was sad to get on her plane and leave this wonderful place. She cannot wait to get back in a couple weeks from this writing. It convinced her that she needed to change parts of her life that weren’t bringing her any joy any longer, like her job. So she quit it and got another job that she enjoys tremendously. 

The airport is connected to the Metro somehow, even though I’d never taken it to my apartment. My friend Sebastian had warned against it, and I thought he was just being silly. I took the train all the time, after all. But this, reader, this is one of those rare examples where I was enormously wrong. You should absolutely never take the Metro from the airport. It is a living Hell. 

There is signage all over the airport directing you toward the Metro. Then suddenly it stops altogether and you wonder where you have found yourself. After some research on my phone, I found out that the Metro entrance isn’t in the airport, after all, it’s just located nearby. This was a lengthy journey, but the rain had stopped, and I didn’t have any bags to carry around with me. I was still innocent. It was early in the day and I was too tired to become concerned, but that soon stopped.

It seems that every single person in Mexico City was on the train. I could not find space on the first two trains that came lugubriously into the station. When I finally did, I was packed like a little sardine, balancing precariously on my half a square foot of space on the ground. The trains were slow and the stops were ridiculous. I started timing them. It took, on average, ten minutes at each stop before we started moving again. I should have gotten out at once and taken an Uber back to the apartment, but I was determined to see this journey out for some godforsaken reason that I don’t remember. They weren’t good reasons, let me assure you. 

It took me hours to get back to my part of Mexico City. In an Uber, even in bad traffic, this journey rarely takes more than half an hour. I could not believe the waves of people that were descending to the subterranean trains. I’d always read about them being packed when I read about Mexico City online, and I’d heard warnings about how delayed they could be, but in all my time, I had never seen anything quite like this. It was remarkable. With all the people packed in the cars — surely breaking numerous safety codes — the heat rose dramatically. Even with the windows slid open, there was no breeze in the underground tunnel. I was perspiring profusely and my hair was falling flat, and I was not at all amused.

My amusement declined again when the train came to an unexpected screeching halt and tilted sharply toward the center of the tunnel. This was absolutely unpleasant, and I was wondering if we had derailed or hit something. None of the other passengers tightly packed together reacted much, so I didn’t panic. It wasn’t likely an issue if they were being so nonchalant about it. We were there for twenty minutes, reader. And we all had to find our center of gravity and fight to stay upright. Eventually a bunch of us pushed against one side and the train slowly shifted back into position. This was particularly peculiar and I was wondering if I’d ever see the light of day again or any of my beloved kittens.

Finally, after I’d lost liters of sweat, the train took off again and soon I was gasping for the fresh polluted air of Mexico City. I have literally, in all of my lengthy life, never had a more unbearable trip on public transportation. I still loved being in Mexico, but I began to worry about descending into the Metro. In fact, this horrifying moment inspired me to up my daily exercise, so it was probably a blessing in disguise. 

Instead of being crammed into the subway, I began exploring the city with a greater attention than I ever had before. Instead of reading a book on the way to Walmart, I decided to take myself there on foot. It took forty-five minutes and it was not convenient, and I did something horrible to my shoulder as I lugged back bags loaded with tequila and ravioli, but I started to feel more and more like a native. This is a fantasy I have no matter where I go. I fantasize about what my life would be like if I just gave everything up and moved to a new place. 

But it was some time before I was settled in and pretending to be a Chilango. It was hard to do much of anything after Jessica left. I wasn’t weeping for missing her, it just would not stop raining. The rains were absolutely endless. It would not stop.

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There was so much rain. It was insane. The sound of rain was so loud that I couldn’t determine what it was at first. When I looked out the doors onto the courtyard, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. For all the world, it looked like we were underwater. And then the sound changed and I squawked. It was hailing and raining and storming all at the same time. It was wild. And my boots were made of suede, so there was no meandering for many days. Instead, I decided I should reorganize and tidy up the apartment. I had space now that I could enjoy with Jessica gone. Instead of her dirty clothes and water bottles and random shoes, there was empty space to spread out. There was a hideous rug on the first floor that as driving me absolutely insane. It was covered in detritus I couldn’t identify. I even borrowed my neighbor’s vacuum, but it didn’t do anything. If it did anything at all, it simply spread the dirt out more evenly. This was not at all what I wanted. I freak out when floors aren’t clean. It’s like my number one pet peeve. I can tolerate not folding laundry and I can excuse myself from the dishes, but I can’t sleep if there is an untidy floor. Don’t ask me why, just one of my many eccentricities, I suppose. Let it be known, then, that that hideous rug was making me insane. 

Imagine my delight when I discovered that the rug rolled up neatly and could be hidden underneath the sofa! I grinned from ear to ear. It made the tiny study apartment feel so much more spacious. Honestly, I should be a consultant for AirBNB hosts. They mean well, but some of their offerings are honestly lame. Give me a budget, a couple weeks, and I will make any AirBNB apartment a luxury rental. I did it in Mexico with nonsense I found at Walmart and flowers from a street vendor. A bouquet changes absolutely everything. 

I called the cats all over when the rains finally let up. I don’t think they were as impressed by my enhancements, they just wondered why I was waiting so long to give them treats. Miffed that they weren’t gushing over the new fengshui of the place, I dumped out some treats and watched as they thrived on their salmon-flavored nibbles. I couldn’t stay upset with them for long. They were far too precious. 

The next day, the skies betrayed me in the worst way possible, but that was a discovery for later on. I decided to finally visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It’s one of the most stunning pieces of architecture in Mexico City, and honestly, that’s saying something when you talk about a city full of gorgeous design. If you appreciate aesthetics, there is really nothing quite as satisfying as a mindless wander though the city. The grand buildings are delicious and even the residential abodes can be delightful. There’s an entire street where everything is painted purple, and for some reason, I don’t find it at all offensive. I hate the color purple, I hate the color purple so much that I haven’t even seen the movie let alone read Alice Walker’s original. And this has nothing at all to do with the content of the film, I just literally hate purple. I don’t look good in it. But, of course, this is irrelevant. 

The afternoon was gorgeous, as I expected it to be. There is no such thing as a miserable day in Mexico City. It is slightly ridiculous. Even the nastiest days of rain are heavenly in their way. The rain makes the city gleam and sparkle and seems to refresh the spirit of the people. It’s not all that fantastic as it’s happening, but afterwards, oh how she shines! I’m so excited to go back to Mexico next week that I can hardly process my memories of nearly a year ago. (God, I wish I was up-to-date on these blogs! I need to get back.) 

The Palacio loomed large as I entered the massive construction for the very first time. I hardly knew what to do or where to go or what to look at first. The entry hall was cavernous, and I wanted nothing more than to be wearing a tuxedo, or that red dress Rihanna wore to the Met Ball in Oceans 8. That move was highly impactful on my personal style. 

You could buy tickets to the galleries somewhere, but that wasn’t immediately clear at first. I was in a long line for tickets to the national ballet for some time. I really didn’t mind making the mistake, it gave me an opportunity to stare around the room with wonder. Everything seemed to be covered in brass or marble and the lighting was dark and it was cavernous and Art Deco and it was entirely to my taste. 

I really didn’t know what to expect from this visit, but it was highly recommended on TripAdvisor, where I am weirdly influential. In Iowa, I’m like in the top three percent of reviewers. What can I say, travel is a calling? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I finally figured out what line I needed to be in and soon had my ticket to get to the next level of the building. 

I admit that I was somewhat letdown by what I found. It wasn’t a traditional museum or anything, more a gallery of murals. Had I known this better, I would have done some research on the muralists and their oeuvres. There was a great number of paintings by Diego Rivera, who I really only knew as the socialist lover of Frida Kahlo, and I really only knew her as a unibrowed artist with an amazing cameo in one of my favorite movies, Coco. That wasn’t her, of course, but it was her character. She was a hoot. 

I was quite mesmerized by Rivera’s murals. They were the very definition of the word extra, the word that the youths are using to say “over the top.” There was one that was about the worker rising up over the government or something and it was dazzling. There was a man in the center that had wings like a dragonfly and was surrounded by scientists and miners and all sorts of fantastical scenery. It was rather dreamy.

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I thoroughly enjoyed staring at the murals. Most of them were proud scenes of innovation, of equality, of all the good things in the world. But there was one that was absolutely horrific that I couldn’t stop staring at. It was a mural depicting a historical scene, and I was reminded at once of one of the horrifying discoveries I made last year about Mexican art. 

There is a great wealth of paintings that show the fall of the indigenous empires in Mexico as it is such a poignant and resonant part of their culture. In America, we don’t really hear a lot about this awful time, though that is slowly changing. Still, when I’m in history class, I’m always somewhat appalled at the limited information we share about European genocide. The conquistadors were brutal to the Aztec people. They murdered, they pillaged, they raped, they tortured. It’s not difficult to hear about these things, and in general, we have a sense that something awful happened, but it’s not widely discussed. Because we refuse to accept responsibility, we mainly talk about the accidental genocide that occurred when Europeans inadvertently brought smallpox across the Atlantic with them. This was absolutely horrific and killed more natives than any murder, and because of this, we brush aside the cruelties inflicted on the people of the Aztec empire. 

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The natives people were not wiped out, though, and they did not forget the cruelties they suffered. This truth is reflective of the art that is displayed in galleries across the country. In this particular mural, conquistadors wearing suits of armor are watching as the Aztec leader is being roasted alive. His feet are in the roaring fire and the Spaniards are trying to get him to break his spirit or give up his power or find out some information. Whatever the story is behind the painting, it’s gruesome. You can see the Aztec ruler’s agony in life size detail. And it really makes you think the worst about your heritage. Even though I only have the slightest Iberian history in my DNA, I still feel guilty for what was done to the indigenous people. (And, also for you, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t have a drop of Mexican blood in me because I would be insufferable calling myself LA REINA DEL SUR. Speaking of my queen, Teresa Mendoza, are you on the edge of your seat for the second season, which comes out TODAY? I am. I can think of next to nothing else. Why don’t we watch the official trailer?

I could have done the entire thing for you, to be honest, as I’ve watched that video probably a hundred times at least. It’s everything to me. Anyway, back to the narrative.)

Europeans need to feel guilty for the crap they’ve pulled. I just read the other day that there is at least one nation every week that celebrates their independence from British colonial rule. Is that not a remarkable fact? And so I felt incredibly guilty when I looked at these images, and I have done so much to better my understanding of this part of the world. Even I’m guilty of ignoring the Maya and the Aztec and all the wonderful Native American tribes. It’s a shame because they are every bit as fascinating as the ancient Egyptians and the mysterious kingdom of Kush. Right now, I have a lecture series about forgotten North American civilizations that I can’t wait to start listening to. I hope to learn so much. 

But back to the Palacio. I couldn’t quite figure it out until I realized that it was just a bunch of murals. That was the entire point of being there. For some reason, I had assumed that there would be a gallery of paintings or sculptures or something, but no. Just murals. And that was fine. And it’s worth a visit just to see the interior architecture, which is fabulous. 

I wandered around for a bit, waiting for more galleries to appear, but they never did, and I admit that I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Yes, what I’d seen had been gorgeous, but I felt almost cheated, as if I had been hoodwinked somehow. Perplexed, I made my way back out to the entrance and found a little display area that was dedicated to past performances at the Palacio, and that was unexpectedly riveting. I was particularly taken with the playbills that were preserved, the typography was astonishingly beautiful. I have always been bewitched by fonts, so this was a real thrill to see for me. And then I was done. 

Outside, I quickly came to a halt. The heavens had opened and Mexico City was flooding. Seriously, there was so much rain that I could hardly see the street only fifty yards away. Everybody in the vicinity had rushed to the entrance of the Palacio to stay away from the rain, but it didn’t appear to do them much good. If you were caught in a rain like that, you had no choice but to find yourself drenched. 

I waited for a spell, the torrents in Mexico can be shockingly brief, rather like the drizzle of London. You just learn to accept it and then it fades away as if nothing had ever happened. This was not happening this time, and the rain, if anything, was intensifying. The sound of it was thunderous, and then the clever vendors arrived with raincoats and gigantic umbrellas. Thank all of the gods, I thought to myself, pulling out my wallet and immediately regretting not stopping at the ATM before I took off for the day. I was down to fifty pesos in cash and that was not enough to buy one of these amazingly large umbrellas. All I had money for was for a poncho, so I bought that with some chagrin. I knew immediately that it was money wasted. I unfolded the flimsy packet and swaddled myself with the thin, clear plastic. I nodded knowingly as I tied the hood in place and draped maybe half of my body with the protective cape. Before I even stepped out into the rain, I knew what would happen. And it didn’t take long for me to be proven correct.

The other people watched me go with a mixture of shock and awe. They were more than willing to wait the rain out, and as I reflect on this day, I don’t know why I was so unwilling. I was determined to get home for some reason. There was probably some food for me there that I was looking forward to gorging myself on. That’s really the most reasonable conclusion. So I stuck my poor little suede boots outside of the protection of the Palacio and nearly gasped as the weight of the water crushed me.

It was insane. It was stupid. It was beyond belief.

I was drenched.

The poncho did next to nothing.

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The wind immediately whipped it back, exposing everything but a chunk of my hair to the elements. If I had been really thinking, I would have found someway to wrap up my boots. Had I not learned my lesson from the disaster of the New York City blizzard a year before? Clearly not. Soon my feet were squishing and I was groaning and I was giving up on avoiding puddles. There was no escape. My shoes were completely saturated and I came to a sinking realization that our time together wouldn’t be much longer. I had abused the shoes unintentionally. You just can’t get suede wet repeatedly without suffering consequences. 

The streets flooded. The sidewalks flooded. Awnings offered no protection, as some were filled with holes, others were flimsy, and one collapsed altogether. I didn’t even try to scurry, there was no hope.

Finally, I made it to the apartment and sat down for some time under the protection of a staircase. When it became clear that the rain simply wasn’t letting up, I trudged across the courtyard and hurried into my apartment, shutting the door moodily behind me as the rain added a gorgeous addition of pea-sized hail. I was shocked by the amount of precipitation, so I stared out into the courtyard for ages, dripping, listening as the ice slammed against the tin roof of the well. It was almost mesmerizing.

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Soaking wet and shivering with cold, I stripped off the heavy, wet outfit, threw my shoes into the oven on a low temperature, and warmed myself in the shower. Starting to feel alive again, I got cozy for the evening and wondered if my shoes would ever see the streets of Mexico City again. It didn’t look promising. And it didn’t smell promising. They were steaming and looked stunningly bad, and I started to say my goodbyes. Thankfully I didn’t have to say goodbye to my beloved Mexico City for another month and a half. For that I was happy. 

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