MEXICO CITY: Casa de las Flores

Each day in Mexico City was a revelation for me. I learned something new about the culture, about myself, or about alternative ways to live. I eagerly look forward to my next trip, and the next, and then the next. Being away from home for so long allowed me to lose myself in the rhythm of this new world and take part in it in a way that a casual visitor can never really imagine. It’s that kind of adaptation and melting into culture that really brings me the most satisfaction in life. I like to be a chameleon when I travel. I find few things more rewarding than slipping into the customs of a city and finding myself instinctively doing them. I like to sit on the Metro and watch the people. I like going to Walmart and buying necessities that are only slightly different from my purchases in Iowa. I like experimenting with what’s available and I love learning the language and customs. I love it all.

I’m meant to be a traveler, and not in the way that travel is defined by so many of us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to hotels and all-inclusive resorts. There’s no crime in enjoying a decadent cruise. (AND CATCHING THE MODERN PLAGUE!) There’s no shame in any of this, but these experiences are what I consider vacationing. I like that, too, but I’d prefer to travel. I’m not sure that I can clearly define the distinction between these synonyms, but I feel that they’re different. When you travel, at least in my experience, you are going out of your comfort zone, you are embracing discomfort for moments of utter bliss, you are allowing yourself to learn and broaden your horizons. This will be different for every person who travels, but there are some shared elements. Travelers learn to live their lives by adapting to their surroundings, not by bringing their world with them. The point of travel is to experience a new way of living and a brand new way of thinking.

And if that sounds very highbrow and fancy, forgive me, and I disgust myself too sometimes. Anyway, I’m going to be talking about shopping for flowers today. Today, I wanted to dive deeper into a particularly delirious fancy of mine. We’ve talked about becoming Romanian hay farmers before, I’m sure, so I won’t rehash that. And I know I’ve mentioned the longing I have to be a Monoprix checker in the south of France. But, I have another one of these new alternative life fantasies about Mexico that grips me every so often with an intensity that I can’t shake.

This desire to drop everything: my life, my identity, my surroundings, my world, and replace it with an infinitely simpler one is probably something that should be studied by a psychoanalyst. There’s surely something the matter with the way my brain is functioning. I shouldn’t really want to slip away in the middle of the night and take on an entirely new role. None of us should, but I think it sounds like the most sensational and fulfilling thing. At least it’s something to try. I don’t mean to ramble on about this. Just know that if I ever suddenly vanish, I’m probably fine. If I’m not, I have a code with my family so that they will know if I’m lying and actually held captive by some terrorist or cartel or rabid fan — lol. I want to disappear one day and wind up in Mexico City selling flowers at a florería. I want to spend my days winding ribbon around bouquets of hydrangeas and sunflowers and carnations and birds of paradise and other gorgeous varieties I’ll never bother learning the names for. I want to watch the city pass by beside my flowers and then return to my apartment and my cats and my tacos. It’d be a lethargic delight.

The main place that flower peddlers acquire their floral stockpiles is at the Mercado de Jamaica. In a vast warehouse, flowers of every variety and shade are up for sale. When I first read about the place, I knew that I had to get there as soon as possible. And, as is so often the case for me, this meant putting it on a list and then putting it on another list as I kept putting it off again and again and again. I don’t know why I’m like this.

The bouquets that were strewn about the apartment were finally beginning to show their age. The sunflowers had become particularly vile, producing some kind of slime in the water overnight that smelled like something I hope to never smell again. In disgust, I threw them out, boiled water to clean the vases, and stepped out of the apartment with determination.

But, I got distracted, and had to immediately give Simba treats and worship him for a bit. He was perfect.

LOOK AT HIS PRECIOUS FAT LITTLE FACE!

It took a few switches in the Metro to make it to the Mercado, but that didn’t bother me in the slightest. Once back in the sunshine, I had a hard time determining where the entrance to the market was. There were many huge doors that looked more like loading bays than entrances, and any of them would have worked I learned later, but I wandered around until inspiration struck.

I was captivated at once by the inside of the Mercado de Jamaica. The ceiling seemed to reach up into infinity and flowers festooned every available surface. There were flowers for weddings and funerals and parties. There were flowers to buy in bulk for the flower stands. And, at almost every stand, you could pay a stunningly little amount of money for whatever small supply of flowers had caught your eye. And by stunning, I mean I couldn’t believe it. I bought some lovely filler flowers — you know what I mean? Those indeterminate flowers that don’t have much of a presence on their own but look fabulous when they’re bulking up a bouquet. I think they can look sensational alone in a vase, especially when you stuff the vase to excess. Like…so many flowers that you worry the glass might shatter. I bought heaps of them that day at the market and each generous bunch cost me a little over twenty pesos. Depending on the current exchange rate, that’s a pittance over one United States dollar. Wild.

The more beautiful and impressive flowers were more expensive, of course, but even the sunflowers that I bought in profusion were astonishingly inexpensive. Each bloom was just slightly more than I had paid for the bunch of filler flowers.

A vendor took mercy on me and sold me a canvas bag for nothing. Now I could hold all of my flowers and then more flowers. I quickly realized that I was taking things to excess again. This happens too often. I was going to look a little odd on the Metro later, if I could even manage to wrangle them and myself into the crowded cars. But that thought did nothing to dissuade me from buying a few more here and there and then a taco and then a candle.

When my fingers were finally losing circulation, I decided it was time to go, but when I stepped back into the daylight, I was accosted by the stunning vision of a doughnut vendor. A woman so ancient that you could have told me she was three hundred years old and I would have believed you was flipping little fried rounds in sizzling oil. Of course I ordered a dozen and they were quickly wrapped up and I was sent on my way balancing probably a hundred flowers and a dozen scalding hot chocolate donuts. It wasn’t easy, but I succeeded. And everything went well…until it went oh so very wrong.

I maneuvered the Metro like an old pro and people looked at me with only a bit of increased curiosity. I mean I wasn’t the only person down there hauling around far too much. There were always vendors walking through the cars asking if we wanted to buy chocolates or mix-tapes or cell phone chargers or nail files. Oftentimes they hauled a large black garbage bag with them loaded with their wares. But most weren’t carrying flowers. I think more should. You should be able to buy flowers wherever you are and wherever you go, even if you’re hurtling through an underground tunnel. Nothing wrong with a bit of beauty.

Victory was mine!

I made it back to the apartment. I opened the door the courtyard. What happened next is a shocked blur. I inserted the key to the lock and immediately felt a sharp pain shoot up my arm. I dropped the keys — but thankfully not the donuts or the flowers — and gasped as I saw a thin shard of wood beneath my fingernail, happily buried halfway down my cuticle. It didn’t really hurt at that moment, my body was probably making some kind of painkilling endorphins to make it bearable for me for the moment.

I managed to unlock the door, put my purchases down on the counter before the agony began and I could barely blink without wanting to scream. I didn’t have a medical kit with me nor did I have any tweezers or anything to remedy the situation, so I had to improvise.

The pain was becoming increasingly more intolerable so I scrounged around the apartment for something that could save me. Surely there was something somewhere. But nothing availed itself to save me from my plight. I attempted a minor surgery with a chef’s knife, and let me tell you, I didn’t like that at all. And it didn’t do much of anything anyway so that was a wasted and terrifying effort.

Finally, I remembered a pair of nail trimmers I had bought the other day at Walmart because I had forgot to pack some. I thought the little file might do something to help me out, but it turns out that it didn’t have one! It dawned on me then that I would have to use the blades of the clippers as a makeshift pair of tweezers. The folly of this was obvious. How could I grip the sliver of wood tightly enough to extract it from the depths of my nail bed without the brand new blades cutting it cleanly in two, leaving over half of a centimeter of wood behind?

There were no other options — and thank you for following this riveting account — and I had no other choices. I methodically began trimming the nail down to as low as it could possibly go without causing me even more pain. Let me tell you, reader, this was PARTICULARLY awful. After several dramatic near misses, I felt like I had enough of the sliver of wood exposed to attempt extraction. Oh so gingerly, I gripped the wood with the trimmers. They were quite thick and it forced the sliver to put more pressure on my nail bed. This was an agony but I had to do it. I’m very good at removing myself from situations mentally, reader. I can willingly leave my body — not like astral projection or anything — but when I’m about to go through something unpleasant, I can kind of dull my senses. It’s very handy when you have to give blood samples all the time, let me tell you.

So, I made sure that the blades were in the best possible location. I meditated on the angle of extraction. I readied myself for the pain by having a glass of ice water at the ready. I applied pressure to the trimmers. I paused. I closed my eyes. I left the throbbing finger behind and I visualized my actions. Deftly, and I might add with a surgeon’s efficiency, I did what had to be done .

The sensation, reader, was vile. A combination of relief and agony reminiscent of the worst pain I’d ever had, a spinal tap. Oh god that was a nightmare that I didn’t ever want to experience again. Thankfully, this operation took much less time.

I opened my eyes, thrust my finger into the icy cold water, and then looked at the criminal that had so egregiously wounded me. It was grisly. Truly horrifying. About a centimeter long, and half as wide, but mercifully thin. If I were a vampire, I probably would have died. Blood had turned the ice water a frightening hue of pink that was hardly comforting, but as I withdrew the finger from the water, I can’t begin to tell you how much better I felt. I was still in agony, but the throbbing had stopped as soon as the alien shard had been expelled from my body.

I was quite sure that this was going to develop some kind of infection that would lead to amputation — I was clearly thinking with all my brainpower — so I decided that when the pain had subsided enough to be a distraction rather than a burden, I would head to Walmart to get a first aid kit. It dawned on me today, over a year and a half later, that I could have simply gone to the pharmacy across the street for the same, but for whatever reason, I determined that the only logical move to make was to walk the forty-five minutes it takes to get to Walmart. And even though these weren’t my wisest thoughts, it didn’t do me any harm, and I’ve only ever regretted going to Walmart in Mexico City once.

I shopped to my heart’s content, pushing my cart through every aisle of the behemoth, until it dawned on me that I would have to carry these things back with me. The thought of the pressure on my wound was a bit too much for me, so I obviously got an Uber. This was a great idea.

Another great idea was dinner. I was mentally preparing myself to get busy cooking something, but then I just decided to go get tacos. It was a beautiful day in many ways. Flowers and tacos and Walmart and the bright sunshine and all the jamaica I could drink. The impalement of my finger was really nothing more than a minor shitshow, but I will assure you, dearest reader, it hurt like all of the curse words that have ever been uttered…and more.

I miss Mexico.

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