MEXICO CITY: Adios Mi Amor

For me, one of the most painful experiences in life is not death or failure or the dissolution of a relationship, it is the final day of a trip. This sorrow is increasingly difficult in places that you love and don’t know when you’ll see again. When I’m in Luxor I have to stop by the Lantern for one last dinner with Debbie. When I’m in Paris, I simply have to make one final stop at Miss Manon for a poppy seed baguette. And when I’m in Mexico City, I have to go for one last walk through town, dreaming of my next return.

The advantage of Mexico City is its unexpected nearness, something I’m not over and something I’m not likely to ever be over. For whatever reason, and I don’t have the willpower to analyze my biases at the moment, I never once thought about going to Mexico before my first nonchalant trip. All of my interests lay across vast oceans in medieval cities or crumbling temples in the Sahara. And all this time, there was the perfect city waiting for me just a few hours away by plane. I suppose I had to see other places in the world to fully appreciate the power and majesty of Mexico City. Without Paris and Turin, I wouldn’t love Mexico City at twilight. Without Egypt, I wouldn’t love the chaos of the streets in Mexico City or the luxury of an excellent exchange rate. Without travel itself, I wouldn’t be ready for the glorious escape that a trip to a foreign land brings. I wouldn’t understand the magic of speaking a foreign language in a foreign land, and I wouldn’t understand how vital it was for my psyche to feel like a native in a nation I grew up knowing nothing about. Mexico, like France and Egypt before, welcomed me like a long lost son and the longer I stay, the more of a Chilango I feel. I know parts of Mexico City now better than my own hometown, a place I still don’t really know at all.

Jessica and I didn’t want to leave. We never want to leave. I couldn’t stand the idea of not seeing Patron or Little Chiffon or being knocked over by Raja. I didn’t want to miss Bitch Cat demanding entire bags of treats. I didn’t want to think of a day when Señora Pati wasn’t there to gossip with. I would miss my fish taco shop, my breads, the flower stalls, the people, the sound of the cacophonous traffic. And most of all, I think, I would miss the courtyard of the apartment complex. It is, for me, my favorite place on Earth. I revel in the well with it’s aluminum roof, the bougainvillea that creeps along the crumbling enclosure walls, the potted plants that look as if they’ve been sat there for a hundred years, and the random animals and people that would come traipsing through. I’d miss sitting there at night, sipping tequila, looking at the stars which were oddly bright in that cosmopolitan place, thinking of how wonderful and marvelous life could be. I didn’t want to think about being back home where I would have cats but no courtyard. I long for Mexico City every moment. It’s painful to be away.

We finished packing our bags, one of the saddest tasks in all the world. I didn’t even feel the usual pleasure that courses through me when I cleverly fill my bag to bursting yet manage to zip it. It’s a gift. I wish I never had to practice it. I wrapped my fragile art purchases from the market in my clothes and I tucked things into my shoes. We gorged ourselves on the remains in the refrigerator and then it was time to head out for the last day.

Strangers were coming to infiltrate our apartment, and I’ve become oddly possessive of the place. I know it’s a rental property, but I’ve spent so much time there and had so many happy memories in that studio that I can’t think of anybody else being there. To me, it’s my home, it’s an extension of myself. I’m not going to dive deep into a wild thought process that has been rushing through my mind. But…I can’t forget it. As you may have read, my father recently passed away and I have come into a bit of money. Not a lot of money, mind you, but enough money that I paid off my car and my credit cards and decided to buy a new refrigerator. I mean it’s not the way I expected to pay off my car but I have to admit, and this is a safe space reader, it feels very good. I feel an actual weight off of my shoulders.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot of emailing the owner of the apartment and inquiring what they’d sell it for. It’s not exactly the apartment of my dreams, it’s only a studio, after all, and in need of some repair, but I love it with my whole heart. I already see the new loft, the whitewashed walls, the antique light fixture, the redesigned bathroom with waterfall shower, and the revamped kitchen with a little dishwasher, a marble counter, Talavera tile backsplash, and a better couch. It’s dreamy. Not a large space, but like I said, it’s actually quite perfect. I feel safe and at home and I would be able to feed my neighbor’s cats whenever I could get there. And it makes sense logistically as a holiday home. I’ve long fantasized about a Parisian apartment or a villa in Luxor, but it’s not exactly easy to get across the Atlantic and into the depths of another continent on a whim. Mexico City, on the other hand…well, it wouldn’t be hard to go there for a long weekend. I think about it too much. Someday I’m going to send that email.

Daydreaming of the day I’d call the place mine, we left our bags with Dave to collect later that evening as we would be departing Mexico very early in the morning — or late that night — depending on how you look at things. It was like a dagger in the heart, but I suppose I dare not go on and on like this and risk boring you with all the details of my personal tragedy.

Jessica and I set up a plan to meet later that day to collect our bags and with heavy hearts we hit the streets to enjoy one final day in the glorious sunshine of springtime in Mexico City. We decided that we would visit another cemetery because it was something that we both enjoyed tremendously and wanted to explore more. Before we headed to the cemetery, though, we decided to grab lunch and eat it in the Alameda, something that always delights me and thrills me, and for some reason I can’t fathom, Jessica agreed to eat outdoors. This isn’t normal.

Something else that was abnormal was the behavior of literally everybody in the park. It took us absolute ages to figure out what was happening; it was so mysterious. At first, people just seemed to be stuck to their phones, which in itself wasn’t particularly unusual, but then we noticed some peculiarities. Literally nobody was looking up and it didn’t matter if they were young or old, men or women, tourist or native, there was nothing obviously in common aside from their dedication to their telephones. When we started to notice that some people were literally carrying two phones and actively monitoring them both, we decided we had to do some sleuthing.

Jessica was the first one to figure it out. Literally everybody in the Alameda was out playing that Pokemon Go game that people remain obsessed with and which I have never understood. It appears that there was some rare gym there or something? That means nothing to me, and for once, if that means something to you, please don’t enlighten me in the comments below! I truly don’t care. Jessica and I found it captivating to watch and we could stare openly at people without concern because they would not have noticed us unless we suddenly turned into an animated figure or somehow managed to infiltrate their virtual reality. At first we scoffed at these people and I simply couldn’t understand why they’d rather stick their faces in their phone when they could be drooling over the jacarandas. But then I stopped judging them. It’s not healthy to judge people, after all, and for some of them, the jacarandas were probably much less special than a Pikachu. That’s the only one I know, so please don’t quiz me. Though we were delighted by very different things, I shouldn’t presume that their bliss was any less valid than my own.

Still, it was a bizarre sight. Kind of culty. Jessica and I finished our nibbles and stopped by one of my favorite resting places in the city, the Parroquia de San Fernando. Here, there is an attached cemetery that was closed after the major earthquake loosened some of it up. I though that added some extra glamour to the place. Very romantic and crumbling. Excellent atmosphere that was only improved by the dozens and dozens of cats that call the place home. They were out in force that afternoon, soaking up the sunshine from their perches atop old monuments to people long forgotten. We cooed appreciatively over them but they weren’t really interested in either of us. They simply wanted to tan and I couldn’t fault them for it. If it were deemed appropriate for people to sunbathe in a graveyard, well that’s exactly where you would find me.

We weren’t quite finished with cemeteries yet, and you may grow fatigued of all the time we spend gallivanting around sepulchers…but that sounds like a you problem, and after all, this is my website and I’ll rhapsodize over whatever I want. And you’re in for a treat because Jessica and I were much luckier with our passion for felines than we had been earlier. Here, in the next cemetery, we met a cat who was a grumpy old angel and I think about him every day.

I was delighted to spend the last day in Mexico City back in the first major cemetery I had found a couple years before. It’s a gloriously gloomy place, and I didn’t mention anything about trees to Jessica because I wanted to see how many jacaranda trees there were. and I knew that she would be annoyed in advance if I mentioned them. And that really wouldn’t help anything, would it? I’d been impressed by the other plants that were there, but you know my enthusiasm for jacarandas. It’s gone too far. It’s become a fully fledged addiction. I would like to apologize to you all for it, but I wouldn’t like to enough to stop. THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!

The cemetery thrilled me as it always does and I loved roaming through the graves with no destination. And I loved to look at the wild animals that call the place home, the crumbling sepulchers that the groundskeepers use as storage sheds, the unlocked mausoleums that you can sneak into and take a closer look at the burials for families that have apparently died out in the past decades.

Jessica and I tried our hardest to charm the first cat that we came across, and we did our best, but for some reason, the cat refused to acquiesce to our love for her. She would taunt us by walking near, allowing us to pet her briefly, and then attack our hands before — I swear — chortling to herself and flopping down on the ground just out of reach to spin around in the dust. She was a wicked creature. We played her game for plenty of time and finally decided that if she refused to show us some respect, we would go about our business because we had better things to do than to be the plaything of a wild animal. We were, admittedly, heartbroken.

The anguish did not last, we were thrilled to discover soon after. I was cooing over an iris blossom, one of my favorite flowers, and Jessica could not believe it. Not that it was there, but that I was spending so much time over it. Whatever.

And then I saw him.

Another cat, who was clearly the top cat in the cemetery, decided to favor us with his attentions and we were almost unworthy of him. He was old, had a snaggletooth, shed like his hair like it had never been attached to his skin, liked to use his claws affectionately, and was an actual earthbound angel. Jessica and I collapsed to the ground to play with him and we couldn’t bare to tear ourselves away, so we made sure to immortalize the moment with a photo shoot. Who knew that my iPhone X’s portrait mode would work so well on charming images of us cuddling cats? Take a look and marvel.

We couldn’t stay forever, though we wanted to do nothing else. We had our own cats to get back to in Iowa and our own lives to resume, and though that was hardly something that filled us with delight, we knew that it was time for us to resume some kind of normalcy. With heavy hearts, we bid goodbye to Senor, the simple but effective name we had given the cat, and slowly made our way back to the Metro to the Centro Historico to go and gather our belongings.

The way out was still memorable, and here are some images of the glorious walk we had through the tombs.

I gasped when I saw a pathway covered in jacaronda blossoms. Jessica let out an actual wail of anguish.

I knew at once that I had to make jacaronda blossom angels as if it were snow and it was the most wonderful moment. Jessica glared.

It was a dark journey back, reader, and we both knew that it was likely our penultimate voyage on the beloved Metro. I must admit that it is one of my favorite parts of the entire city. I love the Metro and wandering through the subterranean passages as much as I love wandering through the chaotic streets above.

Back at the apartment, the owners were kind enough to let us keep our luggage there for a spell longer. We still had hours before it was reasonable to go to the airport to fly home, so we were immensely thankful to leave our bags there for another few hours.

And then the owners completely stole our hearts. Over the past few years, I have spent weeks and months in that tiny studio, slowly improving it at my own expense for my own pleasure, getting accustomed to the rhythm of life in Mexico City, bewitching all of the animals in the courtyard, getting to know the neighbors more and more with each visit, and falling more and more in love with that tiny chunk of the enormous city. It meant the world to me when the owners told Jessica and I that they so enjoyed having us stay, that they thought of us as family, that we should think of the apartment as our home, and that we were always welcome back — and without an AirBNB fee! — and I could have cried. Few places on the planet make me so happy, so content, and I struggle to find places that make me feel so completely and authentically me. I will think of it as my home and I do.

The owners were going out for the night, but they left us our key so that we could grab our bags at a later time. It was a gesture of trust and it was deeply meaningful. With tears in our eye, Jessica and I decided we had to rush out back into the city and treat ourselves one last time now that we had a bit more time.

We booked an Uber and took off for that wonderful mall a little while away for an exclusive meal of the very finest the Cheesecake Factory had to offer. And you know this is another one of the reasons that I love Mexico City. I get my beloved stuffed mushrooms and Olive Garden. Mexico City has it all.

Our Uber was wonderful and wonderfully memorable. If I wasn’t so overwhelmingly in love with the city’s Metro, I would take Ubers all over the place because they are driven by some of the loveliest people I have ever had the opportunity to meet. Sometimes they are respectfully silent, and other times they are eager to practice their English…or have me practice my Spanish. Either way, I learn something new, and I always appreciate it. It didn’t happen in Mexico City, but I’ll never forget one trip I took in Chicago from the Drake back to Union Station. My driver had been on the cruise that had flooded and filled up with human excrement. He became a celebrity to me because he said, “I was on the shit cruise, you know the one.” Wild. What a story. I’ve never taken a cruise, but I worry that it would fail to live up to the potential for a fantastic story that this man was lucky enough to have the chance to brag about for the rest of his life.

I know that you and I might differ, but I think a story is the most valuable thing to take away from a trip. Bumping into Prince Charles, meeting Angela Lansbury, crawling through a pyramid, nearly getting murdered (like for real) in Hackney, the glorious afternoon I spent in an abandoned Italian ghost town hoarding sausage rolls with tourists from Sweden after a man committed suicide in front of our train, and then that night alone drinking champagne from a vending machine in Vintimiglia as I watched the sun fade, cats stroll through a piazza, and the sun come back up on the Mediterranean. All of those moments mean so much more than a trinket. I had stories to tell. And that lucky Chicago man got to talk about the Shit Cruise, and I would be lying to you if I said that I had never been so jealous of a travel experience in all my life. I only hope that someday I can have something that will compare.

Anyway, our Uber driver was immensely charming and we had a wonderful chat on the way to the Cheesecake Factory. First we learned all about his wife’s passion for Japan and how he never wanted to go because he couldn’t stand fish and assumed that sushi would be his only option. We bonded over the fact that there are McDonald’s literally everywhere. I proceeded to think of all the wonderful locations I’ve nibbled McDonald’s at in the past. The glorious one under the Louvre, that wildly futuristic one (that’s now totally normal) in Brighton, and the one that I couldn’t decide if it was real or a knockoff in Luxor. There’s comfort in knowing you can always eat fries if you’re a picky eater.

Then we started talking about different areas around Mexico City that were worth a visit. I talked about my overwhelming love for Cuernavaca which prompted the driver to offer all of his tips on the best times and days and routes to visit the city. This was unnecessary but certainly informative. I manically took notes for future trips. God, I need to get back there.

Our last point of conversation was about our love for Mexico and how frustrated the three of us were that the public perception is one of drugs and crime. I said, it’s not all Reina del Sur after all, and we were fast friends.

I’m glad it’s not literally like Reina del Sur, reader, even though I love the show with a passion that threatens to equal that of a thousand fiery stars, but I like the relative security of knowing that I’m not going to be shot. I love that Mexico City feels reasonably secure, and I’ve had so many lengthy experiences here that I am convinced it isn’t at all that dangerous. I mean, of course it CAN be, but if you have the most basic common sense, you will be fine in Mexico City. It’s obvious where you shouldn’t be. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mexico City or your hometown, if you use your head, you will be fine. You will be fine anywhere. We were charmed with him and I think he was charmed with us, and with a feeling of mutual charm, we got out of the Uber and into the mall.

Cheesecake Factory was, as always and as shall ever be, divine. I can’t get enough of it. What rhapsody could I write for you that would elucidate the wonders of Cheesecake Factory? Such word don’t exist, no string of phrases could do justice to the rapture I felt there, sipping passion fruit martinis and gorging myself on stuffed mushrooms. So, I shan’t say a thing. Know it was wonderful.

Time passes, as it has a horrible wont to do, and soon it was time to head back to the apartment. We let ourselves into the neighbor’s apartment to grab our bags, locked up, had a moment with the kittens, tearfully told them that I’d be back soon, and then hopped in another Uber to the airport. The journey was not significant. The airport was irksome as ever to navigate, but before too long we were in our zone and I was spending the last of my pesos on little bottles of tequila that ended up being quite bad. I bought very expensive vanilla, too, and that ended up being quite good.

After some time, the plane took off and we were soon in Chicago and then on the road to St. Louis for a story that I’m not sharing now. Saving that one for the autobiography, Wake Me When the Crocus Blooms. Honestly, y’all, it’s wild. You wouldn’t believe it, I still have a hard time processing it. But know this, Jessica absolutely refused to visit Cahokia with me, which I find infuriating. She takes unnecessary umbrage with Indian burial mounds.

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