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September 24, 2003

back in Mexico City

It's been a couple of weeks since I've written, as I've been busy traipsing around Mexico with my friends from Australia, Mel and Tristan.

They met me here in Mexico City on Saturday, 12 September. I was already happily installed in the delightful Palenco apartment of Cecilia de la Macorra's family. Cecilia is one of my best friends from New York, and she was in town for her brother Jaime's wedding.

Her family is a wonderful example of the general excellence of nearly every Mexican I have encountered. These people are extremely friendly, warm, gracious, helpful and hospitable. Their mini-ness also makes them very lovable. The de la Macorras are particularly mini and unusually lovable.

The whole weekend was a huge family-fest. Ceci's enormous blended family is pretty complicated, as both her parents remarried when she was little. Her mother, Edna, lives in Barcelona, as her husband, a book publisher and writer, is the Mexican consul there. They flew in for the wedding, and on Friday night took the whole family, plus me, out for some delicious modern Mexican cuisine - I ate snapper in saffron sauce on a bed of special strange truffles that grown on the corn husks. It was terrific.

Ceci was a tour guide extraordinaire, and was always anxious to see that Mel, Tristan and myself were well lubricated with tequila, and very well fed. We were happy with this arrangement, and soon became quite obsessed with the national Independence Day dish, chiles en nogada. This is a roasted green pepper, stuffed with mince and dried fruit, smothered in a rich walnut sauce and decorated in pomegranate seeds and coriander so that it resembles the tricolor Mexican flag. Independece Day struck on the Monday after we arrived in Mexico, so the city was full of flags and fairy lights and banners - there was a terrific air of celebration everywhere.

Mexico City is just wonderful. It has 20 million people which creates an incredibly vibrant, hectic atmosphere. The neighbourhoods vary enormously one from the other, so it's like a whole lot of cities rolled into one, and the huge gulf between the haves and the have-nots gives the city its special character, too - it's so sophisticated and hip and international (not just wealthy yet unsophisticated, like other capitals in this part of the world), but at the same time life for so many of its citizens is just a matter of hand-to-mouth survival.

The city's centre is dissected by gracious Hausman-esque boulevardes that do little to speed up the traffic in this car-clogged town. If you're in a bad traffic jam, it can take up to an hour to move a few blocks. Ceci, whose size belies her sargeant-major spirit, surprised Mel and Tristan one day by leaping from the car to remove a roadblock a policeman had just placed in her way. She won't take any nonsense, that Ceci.

We spent that Saturday exploring the lovely colonial San Angel neighbourhood with Ceci, including a tour of the house where Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo once lived. The cactus fence is super-cool, and the bridge joining their two seperate studio apartments initially appealed to me as the perfect domestic arrangement, until I learned that it was there so that Frida - who was a cripple, you know - could hobble over the footbridge with Diego's lunch! His apartment didn't even have a kitchen. We had a leisurely browse through the art market, after enjoying our large tequila-soaked lunch, then Ceci and I rushed back to the apartment for Jaime's wedding.

The bride, Carla, is Bolivian, and the traditional religious ceremony will take place in her country, but to speed up her immigration process (the couple lives in Mexico City) they decided to have a civil service here. About 150 people crammed into the apartment, and after much signing of papers, the party began. There was lots of drinking, plenty of excellent conversation, and later on, dancing. At one stage there was even some person-throwing. I thought Jaime's friends were going to break the ceiling with the groom's head. Ceci and I ended up going out afterwards with a couple of others, to a club.

It was pretty cheesy and full of wealthy young show-offs pretending to enjoy the hideously thumping and totally passé dance music. At one stage, I announced my intention to visit the ladies' room, and took off across the dance floor only to be almost crash-tackled by the very gallant (some might say excessively gallant) Alberto. "You can't go to the bathroom by yourself! You don't know what the men here are like!" he shouted. Well, I knew what they were like, alright. I knew they were sleazy little numbers, but I didn't think they were dangerous. I was very amused. Alberto waited patiently outside the door for me and took my hand to protect me from the marauderers on the dancefloor.

He should have paid more attention to the men of our own party, one of whom was very pushy. This is a problem in this part of the world, I've found. I think Latin women must make a habit of playing hard to get, because so many of the men here can't take a hint. When you dance with them, they try to kiss you, and when you indicate that you don't wish to, they say "Why don't you want to kiss me?" and pull a very sad face. Such a stupid question - there's only ever one reason why, and it's too rude to articulate, but in fact they do put you in the position of having to be impolite in order to get your message across. It's quite silly. Anyway, I managed to escape his clutches and get into the apartment at around 6am, after nearly falling asleep into my early morning tacos (this is what Mexicans do at 5am after a night of drinking). Ceci and I were exhausted.

On Sunday, Mel and Tristan and I did more eating and drinking and cruising around with Ceci. She took us to se the Zócalo, which is the main square in the centre of town, flanked by the basilica (sinking into the mud that was once the lake on which the Aztec city was founded) and the presidential palace (full of very stirring Diego Rivera murals that we weren't allowed to see because the presidential guard was in the house, preparing for Independence Day). Mexico City's Zócalo is the biggest in the world, and that day it was swarming with people - stallholders selling little flags and all sorts of snacks, hundreds of maids enjoying their day off and hoards of people revving up for the celebrations that would take place the following day. There were little kids everywhere, all of them being carried by their fathers and mothers. Mexican people are very family-oriented and they don't go in for strollers or baby carriages. It's a very pretty sight to see so many dear little kids being hugged to their parents' bodies.

Right next to the basilica are the ruins of the Templo Mayor that was the focal point of Tenochtitlán, the colourful, beautiful, watery Aztec city that Cortès - who must have been the world's most wicked philistine - destroyed and buried beneath the austere flagstones of colonial Mexico. It's too sad to contemplate, really.

On Monday morning Tristan and Mel and I set out for our trip in the south of the country, and Ceci headed back to New York, where, as the press attaché to the Mexican mission to the UN, she has been quite frantic with the business of the Security Council, and in recent days, the visit to NYC of President Vicente Fox.

I was very sad to say goodbye to Ceci outside the apartment that morning. I will see her again in November in New York, but it just seemed like the first installment of a far more horrible departure in December. I will hate to leave her and all the others. The dear old Mexican cab driver sang me a little song and told me not to cry as we made our way to meet Mel and Tristan.

But it was wonderful to be in Ceci's hometown with her. Being a visitor is so infinitely superior to being a tourist. You are immediately plugged into a place, and you no longer have that feeling that you're outside, just peering in at it, looking like a useless gringa. I am so lucky to have so many friends from such interesting places. In fact, I got an email just the other day from my friend Marina inviting me to stay with her in Buenos Aires, so that will probably be my next stop after Peru.

Posted by Sarah on September 24, 2003 05:47 PM
Category: Mexico

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