We’ve survived our first 90 days living in Mexico City, 640 or so to go. Yes, you really can’t drink the water here. Yes, you have to wash in water laced with Clorox most foods before you eat them. Yes, you cannot eat street food. Yes, the air in the dry season is severely polluted (it burns the eyes and throat, even on good days). Yes, Mexicans have a fetish about death (and the desire to make one’s passing as gory as possible).
But we like it, as long as it’s temporary, just passing through. If we had to live here permanently … well, does the word suicide ring a bell?
During our 3 1/2 years living in Buenos Aires, which really is the “Paris of Latin America,” I often dreamed of Mexican food. Argentine cuisine is bland and unimaginative — after you’ve eaten 50 or 60 steaks, you start getting a little tired of cow meat. Mexican food is the complete opposite.
Then we began living here, and it has turned out to be like being thirsty on a raft in the middle of an ocean. Lots of water, but you can’t drink any of it. The food of our dreams can be found virtually on any street corner, but if you eat it, you are probably going to spend the next few days chained to your toilet.
In these three months, I have had “intestinal distress” four times; the most recent being quite violent. I am trying to be even more careful about what I am eating. My wife was so sick last weekend while on a work trip to Guadalajara that the hotel called a doctor for her and she is now on antibiotics. You cannot take any food for granted here, and never, never eat or drink anything that has not been chemically cleaned. Even the knife used to cut something you might eat was probably washed off in dirty water.
People in Mexico City, and probably Mexico as a whole, make do with what’s available. Need an office, try the trunk of your car.
This is a huge city. Mexico City is in the five largest cities in the world. There are a lot of people here. And there are millions of stories in the naked city, as TV informs us. One of my favorite parts of living here is the daily human show. It is often comical, and too often sad. But here’s a cute one. The other day, my wife and I were eating a late breakfast at a place in Polanco (where most of the foreigners and rich-enough people live), and watched a model-pretty young girl on a too-big motorcycle, trying to get her bike over the curb to park it. She just couldn’t figure out the necessary mix of throttle and brake to bounce the bike over the curb without either crashing into the tables in front of her, or ending up under the toppled bike. Once it became clear how utterly gorgeous the girl was, suddenly men from all around appeared to give her a hand.
We were highly entertained.
It is also a cleaner city than I expected it to be, not counting the air, of course. Trash is valuable here, and very little of it is left lying around. But it still surprises me to see dramatically overloaded garbage trucks lumbering through the streets.
I should note, in the midst of this rather down and out in Mexico City essay, that every single encounter I’ve had with a Mexican has been courteous and friendly. Like any city, the throngs of passersby on the sidewalks are anonymous — no one exists to anyone else. But ask a question and the response will be open and friendly. Mexicans have gone out of their way to point me in the right direction when I’m lost, and any conversation with a Mexican is likely to be warm and friendly. (Seems like they are only inclined to murder and mutilate each other.)
The other day, my wife and I were wandering around the edge of a great colonia called La Condesa, looking for a particular restaurant. We had forgotten the address, knowing only the general area where it was supposed to be. Tired from the wandering, hungry from the hour, we stopped two women on the sidewalk — they seemed to be mother and daughter — who had the look of living in the neighborhood, and asked if they had heard of the place. They had not, but the younger one took out her cell phone and, even with our bad spelling of the name, started searching for it. Then she showed us the map on her phone and directed us how to get there. All this done with smiles, and not a bit of exasperation at being held up for quite a while on the sidewalk by a couple of lost gringoes.
In my limited experience, Mexicans are extraordinarily patient and friendly with strangers.
I don’t know much about Mexico City, and nothing at all about the rest of Mexico below Tijuana, a city I lived too close to for a long time in the Eighties. This is not an authoritative report, probably not even barely knowledgeable. I live here in a foreigner’s bubble. If not for that, I wouldn’t be here at all. Mexico is on the long list of places on the planet I have never wanted to spend any time in. Like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Nigeria. Who would possible want to go there? A list of the places I have no interest in visiting is ten times longer than a list of the places that attract me, or about which I am more than mildly curious.
When there’s not enough time to see and do everything, one tends to become quite selective. Thus, I am living in place I never even considered passing through. It’s not the first time, but I am hopeful it will be the last.
I want to get around and see some more of Mexico — at least the places where I feel a bit more likely to not get murdered. After that, I may have a different impression. After all, it’s been only three months.