Hola de D.F.
It’s 6:20 p.m. and I’m just emerging from a nap. When I fell asleep, light was still pouring through the windows of our fancy colonial apartment. When I woke up – totally dark.
The sun sets early in these parts come December. No Daylight Saving Time. Mountains and tall buildings all around. And a pallor of smog that mutes out the wintertime sun before dinner.
Off the top of my sleepy, fuzzy head, a few first impressions of Mexico City:
It is far less chaotic and wild than I’d imagined. Granted, I’ve been sticking to the better kempt areas, but still. This city has struck fear in my heart for decades and now I’m half imagining what it might be like to rent a little departamento here some summer or other. I spent a year in Cozumel, Mexico, when I was younger, so I feel a certain ease around the Mexican people. It’s a culture that I get, to a large extent. I’m guessing, too, that my soujourn in India at the beginning of 2013 has rearranged some of my ideas about what makes for a “dirty city,” or a “disorganized city,” or a “dangerous city.” It sounds disingenuous to say Boo about a city where 2/3 of the population lives in poverty and drug and gang-related violence is par for the course, but I am, after all, a tourist, and my reality is altered. Sadly, the more I see of the developing world, the more I come to conclude that most of the World’s Most Dangerous Places are far more treacherous for those who are born, live and die there. Tourists have plenty to fear, but the pitfalls are different. Less ruinous. Less calamitous.
One of the more insidious dangers for gringos like us: food- and waterborne illness. Montezuma coming for his due and whatnot. I’ve had the runs since Sunday, mild, but persistent. Our first evening here, I feasted ill-advisedly on salchicia and chorizo and pastor tacos, throwing my usual traveler’s prudence to the wind and feeding my heart as well as my belly on greasy street foods. I don’t exactly regret it, but I’ve switched to vegetarian fare and am dousing everything in lime and chile and hot sauce. Seems to be working, and we continue to eat with gusto. Caution is required, though, because the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti a few months back has made it here already. I’ve already survived e. coli and salmonella and strep and skin rashes and bug infestations while abroad. I think the list is long enough as it stands.
Residents of this city – Chilangos, as they are known – are some of the most friendly big city folk I’ve ever met. Even the policia with their guns and their riot shields are easily engaged. Mexican hospitality extends to life in the big, bad city, and we’ve met all sorts of interesting folks. The most captivating so far: Roberto, a Japanese-Mexican man who has recently opened a museum of antique toys. We visited today and it was one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen. Planning to do a writeup on the place, but for now: picture floor after floor of darkly lit rooms filled with thousands upon billions of carefully arranged toys in fantastic diorama. Not a speck of dust on anything. After touring the museum, which we had to ourselves, we chatted with Roberto about the best Mexican foods, and why it’s a bad idea to eat sushi in DF, and the flight of manufacturing from Mexico to China (it’s not just happening to us in the U.S.!), and about his father, a soy sauce and MSG distributor from days of old, and his dreams of passing his museum on to his three children so his warehouses and warehouses of antique toys aren’t scattered to the wind. Then, he pulled a headless doll from a drawer, wound it up with a key taken out of another desk drawer, and set it out his desk so we could watch the decapitated little body kick and wave its arms. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.
What else? Traffic is immense. Neighborhoods change from ritzy to rough at the turn of a corner. Bad smells and wonderful foods and quirky little abarrotes are everywhere.
This city requires boldness, and also patience. So many things are broken or closed or malfunctioning. I was telling Emiliano this morning that when I moved to Mexico all those years ago, one of the first phrases I learned was “ No functiona.” It doesn’t work. Still comes in handy a dozen times a day. Add to it: “Sin Servicio.” And the plain but very efficient: “Cerrado.”
We are speaking mostly Spanish, as much as we can, to each other and to everyone else. I’m working on perfecting my future/imperfect tenses and mostly we laugh a lot and eat a lot and sleep a bit later than we normally would. When we leave the apartment around 9 a.m., the Chilangos have lapped us a dozen times with their to-dos and their daily ministrations.
Life here moves in a casual frenzy. DF is like some massive, aging, wind-up carousel: a little cracked and perhaps a tad cheap in the seams, but full of riotous color and tinny sound and charming in its own eager and slightly downtrodden way. Headless gyrating dolls, broken bits, wormy tacos and all.