MEXICO CITY: Free for a Coffee

After wandering around for ages and ages yesterday, Jessica and I were surprisingly willing to wander around again. I was desperate to see a cemetery since roaming through a city of the dead is one of my beloved pastimes. I have never found a better way to understand a culture than through their graveyards. You see what’s important to them, what’s normal for them, and what they value. In Paris, you find splendid and somewhat pretentious mausoleums, in Egypt, there are simple markers and the occasional actual village where people live in tombs and steal electricity from neighboring power lines, in the Midwestern United States, you frequently see spartan tombstones that show the Protestant and Lutheran simplicity that is traditional.

Mexico is more French, but less focused on aesthetic splendor. There are many gorgeous mausoleums, don’t get me wrong, but they will sometimes give into architectural flights of fancy that take the breath away due to their absurd hideousness. Some are made of glass and look more like a misplaced Apple Store than a tomb, others borrow European preference for graceful lines and stunning masonry. The styles blend harmoniously for the most part, though there is the occasional glass fronted sepulcher filled with children’s toys or stunningly inappropriate displays on the tombs of youths who leapt too early from this Earthly coil. (Though they’re sad, these tend to be my favorite. They’re just so over the top.)

Oh I suppose I’ll stop expostulating on cemeteries now, but in another life I would have found a way to be a cemetery historian. Is that a thing? Is there a degree I can get in studying graveyards? I’d be sensational at it. Anyway, while going to the Red Lobster of all places, Jessica and I found a cemetery that was dedicated to the French who had come to this part of the world when the nation of France tried to control Mexico. There’s a whole movie about this starring Bette Davis that I’ve never been able to finish. Absolutely puts me to sleep every single time. I love Bette, but I must admit to you, she never was a Joan Crawford. Oh I bet she’s lighting a cigarette and rolling in her grave knowing I think that!

It was an easy trip to the cemetery, and it was quickly becoming a well trod route. This top got us close to a mall, and a mall is not something that usually fills Jessica with a thrill, but this mall had everything. Everything to eat, I suppose I should say. There’s a Red Lobster, an Olive Garden, a Cheesecake Factory, a stand that sold awful macarons in a pale imitation of Pierre Hermé’s complex flavors, and even a Which Wich. We were stunned by the variety, but it wasn’t time for us to eat, that would come later.

The cemetery is surrounded by vendors selling funereal floral arrangements and other little icons necessary for grieving. If I die, which, mind you, I have absolutely no intention of doing, please don’t bring those hideous white flowers to me and my cremated remains. Bring me sunflowers. Sunflowers are my absolute favorite. So cheery.

We walked into the cemetery and I immediately began screeching about the jacaranda trees that lined the central alley.


They were too glorious, too beautiful, too marvelous to be real. While I was squawking, a security guard came over and told us that this cemetery was private and didn’t allow visitors. I didn’t want to sound too American or disrespectful, so I told him that we understood, we were just so overwhelmed by how beautiful the cemetery was. I knew that he would want a bribe, and I kept that in mind as I asked permission to sneak in for just a few minutes.

This game of bribery is one that used to infuriate me. When I went to Egypt for the first time, I was prepared for the culture of baksheesh, but the reality of it was intensely trying for me. I didn’t understand how much to give, how to do it subtly, when it was appropriate, or if I even needed to give baksheesh in certain circumstances. It enraged me in the end, I couldn’t understand why the Egyptians didn’t do their job and get on with it. I have learned plenty since then and my second trip to Egypt was much more fun because I understood baksheesh culture. It changed the experience entirely. So now in Mexico, while hardly as ubiquitous as Egypt, when the situations arise, I’m much more aware of them than normal and ready to play the game. You can get anything you want with a bribe.

So, with a smile, he welcomed us into the cemetery with an instruction that we shouldn’t take pictures because the cameras will see us. I’m not sure how much truth there is in that warning, but we took our photos surreptitiously and slyly even though a little extra bribe would have surely allowed us to bring in an entire film crew.


The cemetery was absolutely gorgeous, absolutely decadent, absolutely the kind of place that I wouldn’t mind being buried if I ever were to wind up dead. I love cities devoted to slumbering corpses, sprawling neighborhoods of gorgeous architectural treasures. This was that type of cemetery. It felt more like Paris’s Père Lachaise than any other graveyard I’ve ever visited which filled me with glee. Now that we had our free pass into the cemetery, I couldn’t helped absolutely gasping at all of the jacaranda trees. If you have yet to see a jacaranda tree with your own eyes, you can’t understand the whimsy or the delight they will inevitably fill you with. I’ve rhapsodized at length already, I know, but there are certain plants that just absolutely captivate me.

Whenever I buy another home, if it has land, there will have to be jacaranda trees and palm trees and some cacti. Bougainvillea will climb up the walls with some wisteria. Oh it’ll be too fabulous. These plants fill me up with contentment for reasons I can’t fully understand, being around them brings me a ridiculous feeling of utter peace. You’ll probably never fully understand the absolute rage that I felt when I first discovered palm trees grow quite happily in London and that Vancouver basically has a Mediterranean climate where palms thrive. Where I live, in Iowa, the weather is not at all conducive for these varieties of trees. In the summer it’s literally a hundred degrees and so humid you have to wade through the air. In the winter, it’s so cold that the mercury regularly dips so far below zero that the actual temperature is some ridiculously incomprehensible number and the windchill feels like minus thirty. It’s not a place where humanity should have ever settled! I don’t get it. And I haven’t gotten it for thirty years, but here I am, restoring my farm…so I guess I’m the fool. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Anyway, Jessica doesn’t give half a hoot for trees, so when she didn’t answer my phone call a few minutes ago about the joy I felt when I found jacaranda saplings for sale on Amazon, it was probably for the best. She surely wouldn’t care. Sad for her. She doesn’t even care if her furniture matches…can you imagine having such an unartistic existence? I’d lose my mind.

After wandering around and surreptitiously taking photos and staying in sight of the guards, we took our leave. On the way out, the guard kindly approached us to make pleasant chitchat and get the bribe that we both knew was due him. I have learned to love and understand this system as I said earlier, but I’ve never fully understood how to determine how much money was appropriate. In Egypt, the fellahin will clearly tell you if they are unsatisfied with your baksheesh, though largely they appreciate anything at all. The amount varies on the task or the favor, but I’m still not sure what is appropriate in Mexico. The guard talked about my coffee appreciatively, so I took the hint, and paid him twenty pesos so that he could get a coffee for himself and the other guard. This was satisfactory to them, and we were on our way.

On the way out, I was particularly enchanted by some of the graffiti that was spray painted on the wall. The most engaging and perplexing image was one that looked like the pope, but instead of the pope in his vestments, the artist decided to make the religious figure some kind of half-human/half-crocodile.

340F27CF-9B44-4281-B064-E965CE7A524CAs an ardent admirer or crocodiles, this was fabulous for me. Oddly, or symbolically, one can never tell with art, the crocodile pope was holding a single red balloon like he was Pennywise the Clown. Odd. Next to this image was, of course, the symbol for the Illuminati — seriously we need to get over that nonsense — and the words “REPTILIAN PEOPLE” sprayed beneath. This was fascinating. This triptych of information absolutely captivated me and I wanted so badly for it to be a print that I could buy and hang in my home. What was the artist trying to convey? Why did they spend so much time on this particular compilation of images and information. Were we to read that the Church is operated by the Reptilians? Are we supposed to infer that the Church lures us in like Pennywise? Are we supposed to understand that the Illuminati runs the world? Is there more than that or is that everything? I’m just obsessed and I need to know more.

After popping by the mall for a very exclusive and delicious meal at Red Lobster, which was unusually divine, we headed back to the apartment, worn out from the long day of luxuriating. That’s the best part of vacation, you can do whatever you want and not worry about accomplishing things. It’s dreamy.

You’ll have to excuse me, but we are taking a detour to talk about life and accomplishing things. I am finishing up my student teaching requirements and in about a month and a half, I will be completely finished and have no more requirements for my license. I’ll be able to work as a substitute and begin applying for positions as a certified educator in the state of Iowa. It’s divine, and it’s such a relief. After four years of working full time and going to school full time, I have lost a lot of the joy I used to find in life. I won’t get too melodramatic, but it’s insanely hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle, a good GPA, decent work ethic, and friendships. Instead, all of your time is devoted to writing papers and arguing points on asinine discussion forums or spending half your life in a car going from various universities for classes to other public schools for internships. It’s been a lot! When I was in Mexico City last year, I spent much too much of my time working on classes from afar. Now, though, as I luxuriate in the final stages of student teaching, I am absolutely reveling in the glory and decadence of having nothing to do each night. Yes, I have chores and tasks that need completed, but the stress and irritation of constant deadlines is behind me for now, and I have to tell you, reader, I have years of my life back!

With nothing to do, I engaged in one of my favorite activities…aimless wandering. Jessica didn’t feel like going out, so I took to the streets alone. There is nothing more delightful for me than to  saunter through a big city without purpose. I like to find oddities and intriguing peculiarities and straight up baffling crap. It’s this that makes a city come to life, what gives it character, and allows me to connect more completely.


On this wander, I stopped in a shop that, for some reason, had a poorly done resin reconstruction of Tutankhamen’s inner coffin. There were custom clothing designers. There was a shop that sold all sorts of powders for medicinal purposes. This seemed to be a particularly booming industry, one block was filled with this kind of activity with specialists weighing out powders in various proportions to heal whatever ails you. There were restaurants that looked awful and others that smelled so good that I wish I hadn’t just eaten.


Finally, I made it back to the heart of the city, the Zócalo, and a beautiful wedding was taking place at the cathedral so I lingered for a while watching the proceedings.  And then, as it was close to sunset, I started to feel again the way I did my very first night in this marvelous city. It felt like I was a million miles away, in another world. I could have been in Turin or Paris or an old colonial outpost in Africa. I fell in love again with Mexico City and all the wonderful memories I’d made here, and I knew that the love would never lessen no matter how many countries I visit or how many cities come to sweep me off my feet.


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