Monday, October 30, 2006

I turned 31 recently. I had a strange day, calmer than usual. I went out with a few friends to a nearby Mexican restaurant, probably to pick up some of the country I miss, but also because of its great margaritas (which I normally do not like). I felt at ease and had a fix of busy socialite, so it was a good day despite the stress I'm currently in. My boyfriend organized a small cake before the trip to the restaurant. I received my gift then, a large attachment for chairs that will give tireless shiatsu masagges. I have already set it up and I'm now thinking how I can profit from it at work or how I can distribute my own sessions without becoming addicted. I guess its age that makes us wiser in the end, but also a bit more complex. Good thing we always have margaritas to fall back on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Today I started thinking about time again. A rush of memories from different times in my life came while I walked to work. Gentle, rumored stories in my ear. But also sunshine, sparkling and cutting through trees and the sidewalk of a city and a town that I miss. A glimpse from a window overlooking the Northern oceans of South Boston and a freshly watered lawn from my home town, now covered in graffitti. Not sure if I feel sad or afraid that time goes by so quickly, and its suddenly seven years since I graduated from college. I guess I'm more perplexed than anything else. It makes me feel eager to conclude this stage then, and to move back to a quiet space that yet maintains the wild feeling of freedom and unplanned future. I suddenly feel a woman, almost a doctor, almost settled in domestic mode full-time, worrying about cats and inventing dinner that reflects my neverending curiosity. I am very happy most of the time. I smile when I wake up and giggle my self to sleep now and then. I guess this recurrent nostalgic feeling is the common feeling of time over us, and the awe and confusion when we confront its unpredictable yet inevitable landscape.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Being a graduate student is a bit surreal. I could be a grandmother in a rural town, with my fifteen year old daughter recovering from giving birth at the same age I gave birth to her. I could also be behind a desk in a small, yellow, government office in Mexico City. Tired of diluted morning Nescafe and the usual knots to undo the simple burocratic procedures of, for instance, getting a drivers license. I could be walking 2 miles to get seeds from the Millennium Village Projects in Western Kenya. Instead, I'm a graduate student that walks on 77th everyday, to get to a castle-looking museum, climb in a freight elevator suited for dinosaur fossils and end up in the 9th floor that overlooks the fantastic outline of New York City and its Central Park. There I do the usual, PCRs with blue latex gloves, cafeteria lunches under maple trees, coffee breaks on a wooden bench, agarose gels to check if my PCRs worked. I'm close to ending that routine, at least in that museum. My heart is pressed with stress from coming deadlines and as I stuff my daily calendar I think again of what its like to be a graduate student instead of someone, something else. I don't feel sadness, regret or frustration. Its hard for me to ever feel that. I don't have to attend to a 15yr old daughter, only two cats that are fattening a little from their indoor life. I list that daily routine and think of the advantages of the graduate student life. I wake up when I want to and I choose the city that suits me most, at least for now.
My students don't really depend on me, at least not in the maternal figure of a real advisor, and my only classes are the greek lessons I may take this fall. I'm free to read books, think, plan my nights, simply make sure I attend the Wednesday lab meetings in a timely fashion. It's not so bad. Soon I will move to be a postdoctoral fellow, which is the next step in the academic tree, and my graduate feeling will be behind. I wonder what I'll feel like then.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm back in NY. Its warm and the sky has continuous thunderstorms. I like this city. I'm in high spirits, glad to be home and see my cats, their funny poses. I have to remind them that I'm the boss though (probably by feeding them more often). I am exultant to see Sergio. I may write about him soon. I've been dreaming of Guanajuato, so while I gather stories from NY I thought I'd put more pictures of that windy city.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I saw my closest aunt Vicky and cousin Irene last night. I had just come back from a long drive Guanajuato-DF, this time much more comfortable, easier since I was driving a different car and there was no rain, road bottlenecks, fog nor darkness. My brother and I listened to music and chatted while I drove steady, sunglasses on and the smile of the pleasant road trips. We arrived to DF with rain, just the tiny piece of the end.
Irene and Vicky are a very dominant couple, they talk, laugh and invent constantly, even for my matriarchal family. I seem shy and quiet next to them! They picked me up in a flashy car with a driver, who’s also my aunt’s bodyguard. Vicky is a politician for the left party in DF, and has the most important sector of the city under her supervision. They were coming with another cousin and a friend, so we struggled to squeeze in the back of the car, most of us Jaramillos quite generous at the hips.
We went to a Lebanese restaurant, to show support in light of the terrible attacks lately. Labhni made my heart glad since I remembered my own version at home, compliments of Reem, I never get tired of it. We joked and told ghost stories (Irene’s favorite topic of conversation and I told anecdotes of all the recent events in my life and even sang a country song for Vicky, who thinks the lyrics are great (‘My name is Sue’).
After an excellent meal and very good wine, we left, shielding from the rain outside under two huge umbrellas that the bodyguard was carrying for us. I always feel pampered and spoiled when I cruise DF with Vicky. Our next stop was a cantina, probably from the 80s, where a local, old singer was about to perform rock & roll oldies. She had a surprisingly strong and clear voice, melodic and happy.
We were getting drunk quickly, sipping good beer, criticizing each other and joking about everything. Just as I do with a couple other people in my life, talking to Irene is always a game where we both try to improve each other with clever remarks or funny comments, I love it! We are addicted to dancing and all we need is a little hint of music to start the show, so we were soon on stage with the singer, almost thrown in the air by a couple of seasoned dancers that spotted us quickly and kept our high heels above ground.
The night ended with busy chatting in my aunt’s kitchen and the realization that it was 4am, we were all drunk, and because Vicky had forgotten her purse in the car, long gone from the house with the bodyguard, we realized we were locked in her house. We couldn’t open the door from inside so we arranged ourselves to find a good spot in Vicky’s multiple rooms and drifted our drunken and happy souls to sleep.
The next morning I was eager to go back to my mom’s house, since it was my last day with her and in a couple of hours I’d be on a plane back to NY. I really hope to come back to Mexico soon, I thought, I miss my family and enjoy being part of their daily lives. I called the bodyguards, trying not to wake anyone else despite the squeaky wooden floor and doors around Vicky’s home. They finally came and opened the door for me, just when I was starting to get nervous about the lock-in.
I stepped out quickly, my hair flying all over the place, my little black pumps and my mother’s leather jacket covering the fresh air of the morning. I was almost running to get to the tamales that I knew were also waiting for me. I hadn’t felt like changing the pajama Vicky lent me, a white gown down to my knees, so I looked like I had just escaped from a mental hospital. I giggled all the way to my mom’s house, just a few blocks away, and giggled even more when I went in and heard her and her boyfriend’s laughter at my crazy attire, what a good way to start a day.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I had a productive morning at my brother’s house. We slept late chatting, criticizing our parent’s couples, worried about them. I then took a kilometric and exhausting ride from his small town to Guanajuato. The bus I rode smelled like chickens and dirt, and it was the best example of a ‘guajolotero’ that I’ve seen. I was wearing a new dress, and had spent time brushing my hair into a high ponytail so I was mortified to get dirty and smell like a bag of potatoes. The bus went through winded, narrow and dangerous roads stopping constantly in the middle of steep curves and I was quickly getting hot and anxious, I am not used to waiting inside a bus and my acute sense of smell was strangling my patience.

I then struggled to walk on the cobblestone in my pumps and with a heavy backpack (laptop, jacket, keys, ipod and probably some unnecessary accessories) until I found a bank I was looking for. A man was following me all the way, trying to be nice by guiding me through the alleys of Guanajuato. He had offered to take me to the center when I asked him directions in the bus. His name was Gustavo and he was about 35, a small business-man that worked in Leon, the capital of Guanajuato (the state). He kept chitchatting and I responded with crazy stories to confuse him. He asked me if I was from the capital of the country (DF) and was marveled at the stories I was telling him, I couldn’t believe he hadn’t been there himself so it was my chance to reinforce the urban legends of the capital. It was until I found the branch of the bank that Gustavo went his own way.

The inept cashiers at the bank couldn’t help me so they sent me to an even smaller branch literally in the middle of the city market, where ironically I could achieve all my desired transactions. I walked like a mule for a good 20 minutes, dodging the slow walkers typical of small towns, ladies with children and shopping bags and a few crazy cabs that almost climb the narrow streets. The small branch was too small to handle everyone in need of some bank business so I waited in line with an annoyed face for 30 min until I made a juicy deposit to the account of my field assistant, collecting palms for me as I write this, in the humid, dangerous forests of the coast of Veracruz. I almost exploded against the slow tellers but I held on to my impatience more fitting for New York than for Guanajuato. While I waited I talked to a nice man carrying a baby about life and life in small banks, both of us complaining on how useless the manager of the bank was.

I compensated my suffering by going to one of my favorite plazas in the city, I chose a table under a majestic tree and sat down for a coffee and a quick dinner at Bossanova Arte & Café. It was the pleasant music and the stickers in support to Andres Manuel on the door of the establishment that drove me to this particular restaurant, as well as a string of middle-age women sitting on the bench next to the tables. As I sat down I was amused to hear they were telling stories about this city. Guanajuato is very well known for its scary or romantic legends (probably fueled by its deep mines and narrow alleys) but I never thought that Guanajuatenses actually talked about them in the streets.

I was busy typing the first chapter of my dissertation when the owner of the place, a tall dark-skinned, handsome man that I had asked a few questions before, approached me and with a strange accent (Brazilian?) and told me that he had to run an errand. I was a bit puzzled so I asked him if he wanted the check for the frapuccino I had drank so far so he could go. He said that his name was Tavo and that he was rather interested in spending some time with me and chat, that the check was not a hurry. I blushed since the proposal was so unexpected and I was still technically his customer (would I get a discount?). Fortunately, he ran off quickly after sensing that I wasn’t interested. I stared at his back, wondering if he planned his questions before or after making my spinach quiche.

After a few minutes another man came to my table. He had been talking loudly to two other people in the table next to me. He was scrawny and had the usual air of an artist or intellectual, dressed with tight jeans, long white hair, and a rebel t-shirt with an unidentified figure in the middle. He gave me his card after telling me that he was from DF, that he was a photographer and that he’d love to take pictures of me since I looked so lovely sitting there on the table. I laughed it off quickly since I didn’t really feel like posing for a stranger. He was funny and familiar though, reciting the characteristic DF phrases and pointing out the quirks of Guanajuato. I was very comfortable with him and the fact that he was 50 or so made me feel more comfortable than the other two. He asked me if I was here presenting a short film in the upcoming international festival, which I will unfortunately miss. I explained I was simply waiting for my brother and that I’d soon be gone from this charming city. After a while I focused on my vegetarian meal and he left, kissing me DF style (only cheeks touch, mouths kisses in the air, to who knows what).

I smiled at the strange parade of men that had talked to me today, asked for the check and planned my next more mundane stops, email and manicure, then work again. While I waited for my change I stared down at the funky card that the photographer had given me. His name: Gustavo.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I just closed a surreal day. This morning I woke up to a warm but hurried shower and ran to pay the electric bill for my mom’s Campaign House, 17,000 pesos, equivalent to 1,600 dollars of computers, radios, sound systems and TVs that reported the latest political news. After we paid the bill, we settled back in the Campaign House and I worked on my first paper for my dissertation, a short communication to report my primers. I finished it –almost- and struggled to connect to the internet, so difficult these days despite everyone having wireless (I just don’t have the passwords!).

Soon after, we went to show some support for an event that my mom’s bland yet kind-hearted boyfriend organized, a congregation of homeopathy and alternative medicine in which you could get a free consultation. We both signed up for ‘high cholesterol’ and waited in line until we were diagnosed. I was given some pills to reduce stress and my mom some pills to increase her recently declining energy (bad lungs and hormones are suspected).

We then took a cab towards one of the most famous crafts centers, to look for woolen slippers that my mom wanted to give Sergio, she noticed his were ripped in her brief visit to NY. We strolled the halls of never-ending crafts, carved wood from the west, baskets from the north, white linen from the south, alebrijes, musical instruments, chairs, blankets and sweaters. A few attractive foreigners wondered around like we did, admiring the skill of all the regions of this vast country. I was tempted to translate for a few confused Frenchmen but instead we bought a few things, here and there. We were hungry, so my mom took me to dinner, to the most unexpected place.

A time capsule, back to the Mexico of the 1950s, with few decorations except a mounted deer and a goat, with an Aztec calendar between them. I walked in the new terrain and admired the pastel walls that carried me to a time where I wasn’t born yet. I passed a bar with a few busy men cutting meat to prepare the perfect pork tacos, all experts at selecting the juicy segments and picking the warm hand made tortillas from the woman next to them. She was busy keeping the tortilla supply going, her gray braids swaying back and forth over the huge stove where she fabricated each tortilla, unique and personal. They were all quick and sleek, despite the greasy situation they were involved in. Past the taco bar, was an ample room with many small, square metal tables and chairs, all with a center of mini salsa tasters, a salt shaker and a little box of toothpicks. The place was full and waiters that seemed related to each other strived to comply with the busy orders. Pozole, guacamole, sopa de tortilla, arrachera, and the most outstanding combination of tacos which only valiant and experienced tastebuds seek (eye, cheek, tail, brain and testicles).

The crowd was a mixture of office personnel (the boss and the secretary lover, the group of loud colleagues) a few Japanese and perhaps German tourists, my mom and me, and a table of clowns. A table of clowns. There they were, in a corner, providing a bright display of purple, yellow and pink costumes. Clowns of all sizes and hairdos, sitting on a table for 12, waiting for their dinner. If that wasn’t enough to provide a surreal touch to my landscape, I suddenly realized that there was yet another gem, waiting to surprise me. A medium-sized man of 65 or so, was standing on a tiny platform in another corner. His hair was deeply, artificially black and voluptuous, yet cut into a squared helmet over his head, only matched by his rectangular mustache and eyebrows. He was proudly dressed in a green vest, snatched out of that 1950’s catalog, advertising a recently invented carpet cleaner, or perhaps selling an encyclopedia. He had a set of speakers and amplifiers behind him and a guitar in his hands, clearly preparing to sing. The music and his out-of tune voice began as my mother and I sat to look at the endless menu. I was beaming.

My mom and I chatted about general family gossip, about my matriarchal family, about the latest unexpected pregnancy, and finally, about my future. She told me that I should be free, and do whatever makes me happy. Take risks, never be afraid, follow your heart. She promised to visit me if I decided to have a family abroad, never come back to Mexico or explore other places. She reminded me that I should try to help our country even if I was abroad but that I should always be bold and roving if that’s what I wanted. I felt a sting of nostalgia before departure and wished there was a way to have it all.

The man in the corner had gracefully switched his guitar to a violin and played one of my favorite songs. I savored my caldo tlalpeño, a spicy soup of tomato, chicken and herbs and as the man in the corner moved on to play the harp, an instrument treasured in the eastern coast of Mexico, his speakers gave him the perfect background beats. I ended dinner with a cactus and cheese, taken piece by piece with the hand-made tortillas, and as we walked out, I heavily tipped the magnificent man, who returned the unexpected gift with a broad smile.

My mom and I unfortunately forgot a bag full of crafts somewhere, but we were comforted by our return home after such an eventful day. I napped and waited for our now favorite soap opera at 8pm, and for my friend Valero, who would pick me up at 10pm to go for a quick night cap. I didn’t want to nap, since I yearned to enjoy one of my last days next to my mother but I was exhausted and still had some of the night to look forward to. Finally, Valero picked me up and we rode through the center of this outstanding city. Mexico City at night is exceptionally beautiful, a beast that shows its kinder side, strange angles form with street lights and the daily chaos is subdued under the moon, and a unforeseen calm reigns its sidewalks. Its age and its history is highlighted at night, and its hard to stop staring at the vicarious architecture of its plazas and main streets. We headed to Zinco, a joint in the middle of the renovated Centro Historico, where cobblestone streets crown quiet businesses and century-old homes with high porches. If you wait long enough, you feel transported to the beginning of the twentieth century, right before the Revolution of 1910.

At Zinco, Valero and I descended a narrow stair flanked by lights that could have been old hotel. We were greeted by a set of velvet red curtains and two women in relaxed black outfits, and entered Zinco and its great jazz music. I recognized pieces of New York and New Orleans, and while I sipped an splendid cucumber and sake drink, I looked at my friend closely and listened to the good quartet, the piano resonating intimately within me. We chatted about buddies, lovers, and the categories in between that convey some sort of attraction, wondering if attraction was independent of gender or age. Of course is independent, I replied, and I mentioned a few of my own unexpected experiences, failing to point out that she herself is a strange attractor to me. She pointed out that I was like a desert spider, buried in a little hole in the ground, waiting for my next prey to come by. I unexpectedly seized people with my passion, passing through their exosqueletons of self-protection. I thought that she my be right, it wasn’t the first time I heard the theory, although it was the first time I hear someone give it a place in the arthropod classification. Hell I may be the spider indeed, but I’ve always had good intentions, I thought, soothing my conscience.

Before we left, I stopped in the bathroom and had my final taste of the unexpected and offering corners of this city. The bathroom had a checkered black and white floor, with an old sink and wooden stalls that framed tiny windows in their middle. It had a poster of a brand of cigarettes (Faros) that has recently renovated their image by selling a retro, colorful depiction of every day life scenes from the 50s. Its contrast with the checkered floor and the yellowish mirrors imprinted my memory and finally, pushed my imagination of an alter-ego, living and smoking under a dim light, somewhere, out there in the only city that allows 22 million people to stop by and share their lives in the most unexpected scenarios. My alter-ego stopped to adjust its pointy high heels and stare at the image in the mirror, smirking before a life that could only exist there.