MEXICO CITY: To Cuernavaca!

Time is a slippery thing; I can’t make sense of it. The tasks I think will go on for days only take minutes and the ones that don’t need any time at all take me decades. There’s a piece of base trim that I have no reason not to put on…I just don’t. It’s not that I won’t. I just don’t. It’s been like ten years for real, professional procrastination on another level. Mexico City was a dreamland, but during this extended stay, it was also a sentence in academic prison because of my inability to get anything done if I’m told to do it. And I had so much to do for my degree that summer. Papers left and right. And then more. (It turns out that college is just a bunch of writing. That’s basically it, oh and jumping through a few hoops where you have to demonstrate your ability to do something basic. Big price for what? This isn’t the place for that rant, though.) On top of academia, I was trying to stay current with my reading, go further in my study of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, navigate the laundry services in a language I’m not fully fluent in, and try to find a moment to get in some exercise. I always found time for a taco, mind you. That never proved to be a problem.

Academic prison isn’t exactly a nightmare, reader, it’s too much of a good thing in a way. You usually don’t get into the kind of classes I was in unless you have a particularly particular interest. Not one of those necessary and boring classes — truly unnecessary in almost every instance, mind you. I was writing a lengthy paper for one of these classes about the linguistic origin of certain words in modern English from the language that ancient Egyptians spoke. You’d never guess, but there’s a fascinating history to words like ebony and adobe. I’ll link you to the paper. I got an excellent score and the comments really were an ego boost.

I spent days poring over PDFs of old books searching for a sketch of a tomb wall that I had once seen and couldn’t find. It was a desperate search. Eventually, I found the stupid picture and it was thrilling, but upon reflection, I made that paper more of a dissertation. Unnecessarily complex. That’s how I do everything. I must work on that. It was a lot of fun though. (To this day, whenever I get an email claiming that somebody quoted a B. Phillips on academia.com, I assume it’s me. It’s obviously not, but I never check so I can never really be sure it’s not. I think this is immensely mysterious and charming of me.)

This project took a larger physical and mental toll on me than such endeavors usually do, and I knew that I was overstimulated and working too much. It’s probably a little bit of neuroticism or a fun symptom of multiple sclerosis. I get obsessed easily and obsession is not healthy. And writing is one of the most horrifying things in the world to begin with, which is why I do it every day. The more you do it the less awful it is. When you write for an academic audience, though, every single word is selected with excruciating exactitude. I have aspirations for a higher degree, but the stress isn’t worth it right now. No thanks! I needed a reprieve from broken papyrus scraps for a spell. So, while I wrote, I developed a scheme to go on vacation.

Before you say a single thing…yes, I was already on vacation. I’m aware! After my previous trip to Mexico, I learned how much I loved the city, but more than that, I learned how intrigued I was by the entirety of the country. The short visits I had away from the metropolis were fascinating. I knew that I needed to see more of the country and so I researched in the moments I wasn’t researching dead languages. I had a dozen dreams, but eventually, I settled on Cuernavaca. When I look back on this decision I can’t believe I ever seriously considered anywhere else. Cuernavaca was perfection to me. 

When I returned from that fateful first visit to Mexico City, I decided to read all I could about the history of the place and about the cultures, and, well, just simply everything I could. I stumbled upon this bizarre book called Under the Volcano written by Malcolm Lowry. He’s one of those writers who had a horrible life, did nothing to make their horrible lives any better, wrote convoluted garbage, and died. His writing is said to be the stuff of masterpieces. (I would say otherwise.) It took me ages to even get into the rhythm of the book, but I was determined to make it through. I sat in my chair in the courtyard, glaring at my Kindle as I slowly became absorbed in the story. Spoiler alert: there really isn’t a story but people see all kinds of connections in the story. It was fine, and it has lingered in my memory, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend. The thing that caught my attention was the description of the village where the story takes place in, Cuernavaca, the city of eternal spring. 

I did a little research, booked a couple nights in what looked to be a charming hotel, and packed my bag. The next morning — which obviously ended up being mid-afternoon — I made my way to the airport. Cuernavaca is only a couple hours away and it’s a popular destination so there is a direct bus connection between the airport and the city. Rather smart, I thought, accepting a bottle of jamaica, some sweet nut thing, and settled into my plush seat and got lost in the passing views. 

I wish I could ride around in a bus all day in Mexico and just look at stuff. It was hypnotizing to watch the city fade away, to see the suburbs that were so far from the heart of Mexico City that it was hard to conceive of them as being part of one metropolitan area. The suburbs gave way to the mountains and the road wound and wound through them. We climbed through clouds I think, but it was probably just fog. I never thought I’d see something like the top of a Colorado mountain in Mexico. This country is full of surprises. 

The mountains gave way for a moment, and it wasn’t long before Cuernavaca appeared on the horizon. I’d read many descriptions but I honestly wasn’t prepared. 

There are two types of places that draw me in, allure me, give me a very specific feeling of either NEEDING to move there immediately or to preserve it eternally as a fantasyland, to love it endlessly, but never truly know it. Some places need to be kept a dreamy mystery so you can go back and back and get tricked by the veneer. (Unfortunately, reader, we’re about to go on a wander through my memories for a moment. Sorry, I can’t help myself.)

Like Sarasota, Florida. I always thought I wanted to live there — can you imagine? — because I loved the palm trees and the sea air and the ripe oranges falling off trees and the sand, but then I looked into it. Sarasota is bleak, y’all. The apartment options are sad and the view is a parking lot — usually crumbling — and wages are low. And there are a variety of bugs I was unfamiliar with that are apparently common. And guys…the Scientologists have a creepy fake road nearby! And can you imagine me as a Floridian? I’m a California girl! So I’m glad that I didn’t ever move to Sarasota. Now it exists as a hazy, lovely memory, it’s just coffee cans holding up pizzas at an Italian place on St. Armand’s Circle, it’s the whitewashed statues of those horrible explorers magically illuminated, it’s the piers and the sound of waves. It would never be that if I lived there. So Sarasota is a place I want to keep in my imagination. 

That’s how I lost my adulation for San Francisco. At first it was just the bridge and the bay and the skyscrapers at night and the Ferry Building and the fog and the suddenly blue sky and the hulking remains of the Panama-Pacific Exhibtion and then Greens restaurant on its artsy pier and a free Opera cake in a Nespresso boutique. The CITY — as I learned they call it — haunted me, and when I went back, I tried to learn all about it, and I quickly learned too much, and I don’t love San Francisco like I did. I wish I had never seen things, heard things, understood things about that bizarre city.

Cuernavaca, I realized, walking across the bridge with my fabulous black leather bag with the black leather fringe, was a fantasy. I knew that I loved it — we vibed immediately — and I knew that I never wanted to ever lose the dreamy feeling I had looking at the pastel buildings, the wonderfully old Spanish palace with a Starbucks hovering nearby, the cactuses with their flesh etched and scarred with lovers’ initials, the glorious hills, the sky, the flowers, those whitewashed walls that reflected the brilliant light, that perfect eternal second standing in the Museo Robert Brady, oh just all of it. It’s divine!

(But it turns out IT’S NOT! After all, there isn’t a single spot in the world that’s completely perfect. But like…Cuernavaca was the heart of some hardcore cartel stuff. It was said to be one of the deadliest places in the country! And later on, there’s this part of the city I found myself looking around for a restaurant when I was clearly in a spot where tourists don’t go and then other stuff — but I don’t want to know. I want to keep that all to the things I’ll never really know. I want to think only of the broken roof tiles and the inexplicable gardens and the delirium of stumbling by Aztec ruins beside a 7/11.) 

The hotel was a revelation to me. It’s called Las Casas B+B though there’s nothing about it that makes you think of a bed and breakfast. It’s this wonderful sprawling mass of whitewashed buildings and halls and stairs and tiles and it’s all exposed to the outside with lush tropical plants pressing themselves close to the building. I have no idea what the structure was originally, perhaps it was built to be an inn, but whoever did their decoration was fabulous. I was delighted but not shocked to learn later that the hotel was featured in Architectural Digest Mexico with rapturous reviews and photos. 

My room was a dreamy walk through a tunnel and past pools, onto a veranda and then up a stairway. It felt absurdly secluded and exclusive. And it wasn’t that expensive. Crisp white walls and sheets. Black accents. Marble floors. A plush bathrobe waiting for me. It was entirely suited to my tastes and I felt at peace at once. I was going to have a wonderful few days. 

We’ll get into all the reasons why in upcoming posts, but I assume the only logical explanation of this immediate connection is some kind of psychic response to a past life or a vortex or crystals or something. Whatever it was, I felt quite right in Cuernavaca. As I stated earlier, I knew instantly that I didn’t belong in Cuernavaca like I did in Mexico City, but it wooed me. Maybe it lured me? I just wanted to let it drift in, sink in as bits and pieces. I was repulsed by the idea of building a mental map. I wanted to be lost. But it was late because I had been lazy that morning and I really didn’t want to be lost at midnight in a new town. That’s never stopped me before, though, but the hotel was truly captivating.

I drifted to the restaurant as I am so wont to do. It was in Cuernavaca that I realized I was fat again. What a bummer that was. With this knowledge in mind, know that I was deliriously happy, and I considered my oncoming obesity while perusing the menu and making healthy yet extravagant choices.

The restaurant is a sensation. It made me feel like I was in the Chateau Marmont, but only…maybe…better? I don’t know if I mean that. I hold the courtyard restaurant of the Chateau a sacred and rather holy space in my memory. But there was something dreamy about being seated in the low courtyard with those wonderful white walls and the plants and the crisp white gravel and the pool reflecting every fairy light and the romantic chatter of Spanish and low music and the aroma of cooking delicacies. I was in ecstasy. 

I ordered a carajillo, a drink you surely now all about now since I’m so behind on these posts. It’s a shot of espresso and a shot of Liqor 43, a complex liquor that I can’t even begin to describe. When the coffee and the alcohol are shaken, the concoction becomes almost like a refined dessert. It’s foamy and rich, but it’s also sophisticated and remarkably attractive. I could drink them by the gallon. 

The main course was a delight, carpaccio of fresh Yucatán fish was served with charred balls of fresh avocado and the zestiest dressing. It was a thing of beauty. I simply couldn’t get over how wonderful every stage of the meal was. Excellent all around. And the ambiance couldn’t be beaten. I was even photographed for their social media having a delicious evening under the stars surrounded by firelight. It was adorable, never did get a copy of it. A pity, it would have been a treasure. If I was cute. If I wasn’t, I’m glad it never showed.

Exhaustion was coming quick and morning would be coming soon. I didn’t exactly want to rush out at first light — that’ll never be me — but I didn’t want to spend the entire day dozing luxuriously! Just a little bit of the day, of course. I mean, this was a vacation!

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