Friday, June 22, 2018

CDMX

On my second day back in Mexico City, I spent the day being the consummate Mexican flâneur.  I wandered long blocks and and streets laid jagged by time, earthquakes and decay.  I spent a lot of the day lost in thought.  Thinking about cities near and far; about la condition humaine and my own "otherness"; about Borges; about Quixote and la bella Dulcinea.  And of course, thinking about food.

After a breakfast of eggs and nopale cactus, I headed towards the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico.  I arrived five minutes before it opened, so I backtracked to grab a fresh-squeezed vampiro (beet, orange and carrot juice).  I arrived to the museum, and found an interesting exhibition first on the nature of cities. Ancient cities' connections to their lifeblood rivers; modern cities through planning, sprawl, pollution, transience and decay. As Italo Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities:

Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither the one nor the other suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.

The exhibition continued with the various stages of development of the leviathan Mexico City.  From its floating roots in Tenochtitlan through its colonial significance and design on through the thoroughly modern metropolis of today.

I wandered through the various exhibits and after decided to find myself a cafe de olla (traditional Mexican spiced coffee).  I got a cup from an old woman's cart and sat under an breezy shaded archway reading Don Quixote.

And I counted my time down for lunch.  I feel like I spend my Mexican days counting down until my next meal, and pondering all the possibilities and options. I came to the pithy realization that the best food doesn't have a Michelin star, and it doesn't have an address.  Exhibit A would be the quesadilla I had on the roadside stall.  Covered by a tarp, I sat on a plastic chair eating stellar tinga (shredded chicken in tomatoes and spices)  covered in grilled stringy white quesillo wrapped up in a hand-made quesadilla tortilla.  Superb at 25 pesos ($1.25).

I spent the afternoon reading in the sprawling central CDMX park of Parque Alameda.  The last time I was here, the park was covered in a floral purple canopy of jacaranda.  But still lovely in green splendor.

I also ventured down Calle Donceles, which is home to scores of old used book shops.  Stacks and stacks to the ceiling of old books of every subject imaginable in shop after shop.  I breathed in the decayed dust dusted decay in the air that clung to the old pages that lined the shelves.  Perhaps one of the most comforting smells and spells I know.  And good Abu Hurayrah played with the bookshop cats.  I imagined an old Gabo probably doing the same meandering store to store.

And I walked some more.  Through Chinatown and its paper red lamps, and past electronic depots.

I was lost in thought over dinner at a favorite spot called Tacos Arandas.  The place is always packed, and I am generally always the only gringo tucked inside.  I was thinking both about my feeling of "otherness" in America, of spending the last six months in LA, Denver, Philly and DC and not feeling connected to any of them.  And yet as I listened to the lilting Spanish bounce around the yellow-tiled third floor, my feeling of "otherness" here in Mexico. I was reminded of another "otherness" Moroccan moment in the kasbah gardens of Oudyah in Rabat:

Impossible. Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn’t belong to. I am this and this and this, but definitely not that and that. All your definitions are negative. I could make an infinite list of the things you are not. But a person who really believes she doesn’t belong to any community at all invariably kills herself, either by killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad.

My "ever the only" status on display as I sipped my beer and watched the night descend.  This question of where I fit, because I am local everywhere and yet feel at home nowhere.  I was reminded of Borges' Everything and Nothing:

There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words (which were multitudinous, and of fantastical and agitated turn), there was no more than a slight chill, a dream someone had failed to dream. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the surprise and bewilderment of a friend to whom he had begun to describe the hollownewss showed him his error, and also let him know, forever after, that an individual should not differ from its species.


But don't let all this fool you, this is not a tale of existential woe.  I was actually quite content.  I sat eating my bistec a la mexicana, a  thickly shredded grilled steak covered in grilled onions, grilled tomatoes and grilled jalapenos.  The plate came with half an avocado, fries covered in pepper and a grilled nopale cactus.  I wrapped the shredded steak and grilled veggies with fries and slivers of avocado in warm tortillas that I slathered alternately with red and green salsas.  A total steal at 67 pesos ($3.40).  I washed it down with a Victoria with half a small lime shoved down inside and lightly sprinkled salt on the bottle's rim.

I thought a lot about how much I missed the chance to be in my own head, in my own solitude.  To enjoy a delicious, cheap meal as a world-not-my-own sits oblivious of my presence as I silently observe and take it all in.  It reminded me that through my travels I am able to process the road behind me in ways that I can never do when I am still.

As the waitress cleared the table and refilled the salsa to the brim, I taught her Moroccan gestures of over-full, amer.  I sipped my Victoria as I read about Asimov's coming dilemma and our connections with artificial intelligence.

I ducked out into the light drizzle of the evening, trying hard to hold onto the muse's existential meanderings.  

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