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.