Friday, February 25, 2011

stolen notebook better than a stolen wallet (right?)

Mexico City. We walk and we walk. Anyone who knows me knows I have no sense of direction, so that means R walks and I follow (which doesn't, however, prevent me from striding out ahead now and then or arguing with him that we're going in the wrong direction). R likes to choose the less well-travelled streets which is fine by me most of the time. Get away from some of the astounding cacaphony that rocks this city. Other times we're picking our way along pieces of broken sidewalk, squeezing past ad hoc tortilla stands--a wok of hot oil over a bunsen burner, a half-rotten crate with a chopping board, a sack of onions, a child curled asleep on the onions--or around the pieces of plastic people throw on the sidewalk to demarcate their pile of shoelaces or ankle socks or belts or pirated CDs--their store. Keep an eye on the ground. Ignore the noise. Every store with its own ghetto blaster on max. All the retro music I haven't heard since the 70s and 80s. Neil Diamond. Gloria Gaynor. The accordion grinders who get so exhausted churning their arm around and around that their already melancholy tune gets downright pathetic. At some street corners the pedestrian crossing clangs with an electronic sound like aliens zapping you dead with supersonic ray guns. And always there are smells if the high level of traffic exhaust hasn't killed your nose yet. Hot oil is a constant. Roasting corn or cornmeal a close second. The occasional whiff of sewage. Actually, that's not bad considering it's dry season and there's a water shortage and there are just so many people in this city.
SO MANY PEOPLE. At 3 or 4 pm the streets erupt. Trying to cross a main street feels like broaching a tidal wave of shoulders and heads. At every tortilla stand--both the metal stalls and the sidewalk burners--cluster a group of regulars who eat standing up, licking green or red chili sauce off their hands. I haven't tried to eat standing up yet. I know my gordita would end up down my front. I need a table and napkins. (Spoiled white brat.) People like to shop. People like to neck. (More on that below.) They love ice cream. And pastries. You walk into a pastry shop and grab an aluminum tray and tongs at the entrance, circulate up and down the rows of tables displayed with buns and breads every size and flavour. (Well, seemingly every flavour. We've tried a few and they more or less taste the same--nothing to impress one, such as myself, of Sachertorte heritage who now lives in Montreal.)
Yesterday was R's birthday. We had a good meal, most of which we could identify when it was served to us, though we couldn't find any words from the menu in our dictionary when we tried to order. Well, okay, we know fish and beef and chicken. But what kind of fish? Dunno. I had some absolutely delicious greens in my salad that looked tough and weedy, but tasted tender and nutty. We finished the evening with a tequila in a karaoke bar. Left before the karaoke got underway. The bartender was disgusted that we couldn't tell her which brand of tequila we wanted. We told her to choose for us. It was smooth. We drank it straight with a Fresca chaser. Guess that's why I don't usually drink in bars. Fresca? But she wouldn't let us drink it without a chaser.
That old question about which ten books would you take to a desert island? Mine is which ten words should you know if you find yourself among people who speak only that foreign language. Here are two at the head of my list: left and right. You need those or you will never find the hidden bathrooms in tiny hole in the wall restaurants. No one is so indelicate as to point in the direction of the toilet. They murmur a long complete sentence and smile at you politely. Listen hard and you should hear iskierda or deretcha.
Mexicans enjoy necking in public. They must because they do it with such reckless abandon. Full-tongued, open-mouthed making out. On benches, against walls, in doorways. You want to kiss? Go for it. Legs over legs, between legs, fingers trailing down cleavages. But not down belts. There seems to be a line where one doesn't touch in public view. But there is absolutely no restriction on the energy with which you can root your tongue into your lover's ear or bite the neck.
When you buy a fruit cup with wedges of papaya, pineapple, and watermelon, you might also find chunks of white vegetable with a taste and texture similar to raw potato. It's actually called ayote. (I think.) It goes better with the fruit if you've followed the vendor's advice and added chili sauce.
We're visiting tons of museums. Mexico City--with its long, rich, intricate history of civilizations and conflicts--is museum town. Yesterday we spent almost the whole afternoon in the Anthropological Museum and didn't get through a third of it. Excellent displays. My particular fondness is for ancient glazes--ochre and turquoise and green--that have survived hundreds of years under dirt and buildings.
In yesterday's museum visit my wee notebook was slipped from my back pocket. I suspect it was the guy who fake-bumped into me, pretending to take a photo. Well, bully for him, making off with my notebook of details in shorthand English scribble. I mean, sure, I miss my notebook, but I'd sooner lose a notebook than my credit card or money.
Lots of police here. Guns and bullet proof vests sometimes just to stand in the entrance to a bookstore. Riot police too. The first time freaked me out. Uniformed men with their plastic shields, bully clubs, and guns tumbling out of a bus. A couple of blocks away about 30 people were waving green flags and shouting... well, we don't know what. Then again today. More riot police. Off to quell more chanting. 
So necking is okay, but forming a group and chanting isn't.
Another thing which is not okay is going out the in door in museums or galleries. So that's another word that's handy if you know only ten and come to Mexico City. Salida. It means exit. If you accidentally move toward the wrong roped line, the museum guards descend. Two of them with rigid arms pointing you the right way. (Pointing is okay in this instance.) Or if you don't follow the correct direction during a museum visit. There are guards in every room to direct you. I suppose it's a make-work program. They take their responsibilities very seriously.
Actually, forget needing to know the word salida if you're only going to learn ten words. People will let you know quickly enough whether or not you know the word.
Our hotel is an older building with an amazing vagina shaped staircase done in brass poles. That image will make more sense once I can post a picture. Our room is enormous with a king-size bed. Triple-sheeted which means there's a bottom sheet, a top sheet, another top sheet over the blanket. Don't know what the purpose of that is, but it feels luxurious. Of course, we can't normally afford such luxury, but R spent quite a while poking around Expedia.

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