A Twenty-One Day Countdown

Posted: 02/21/2012 in Food, Mexico, Personal, United States

It is three-weeks until I leave Mexico City for the foreseeable future. For me, I think it is natural to lean forward into change, but preparing to leave el DF feels different. Mexico City is an amazing place and, given the right set of circumstances, I could see myself living here for the longer term. It is normal for my co-workers to ask if I am excited about returning to Texas, but the truth is I am torn. I am very glad to be here now. I will miss it when I am gone.

Last night, I arrived back in DF from a weekend of outreach in Tlapacoyan, Veracruz, and the return trip, which I’ve made by car several times now, is via highway from Puebla to the south-east. Entering the last half-hour of the drive, you trace a series of steep switchbacks up and over and into the Valley of Mexico (for an idea of the angle, there are rampas de frenado off the side of the highway, which are braking ramps in case your car runs away from you at this grade). As you tip into the bowl, as we did at about 8:00PM yesterday, the massiveness of Mexico City is spread out below and lit up with millions of tiny lights from every swinging bulb in a market stall, every tail-light in a micro, every glowing Metro entrance, every home and hotel, church and office building, every street lamp and every street corner altar below it. The hugeness of it all is otherworldly and takes your breath away for a long minute before you descend into the maze of highways and billboards.

What will I miss about Mexico City exactly? Although the essence of such a massive and complex place is beyond words, there are a few specifics:

I will miss the food. The food from hole-in-the wall comida corrida comedors, from market stalls, and from the street is truly the best. Blue corn tlacoyos, huitlacoche  and squash blossom quesadillas, cactus salad, little cups of flan and pudding, sweet rice and milk popsicles, egg and cheese tortas with thick slices of tomato and avacado and pickled jalapenos falling out the side, freshly squeezed juice (papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, beet, carrot, orange, pinapple –pick your combo), or sliced fruit sprinkled with chile powder. I don’t eat meat, so I’ve passed endless spits of tacos al pastor up completely, but I don’t feel deprived in the least. Most of the fancier restaurants, let’s say most of the ones with doors, can be bypassed. Mexico City does food and does it best in the street on a little red plastic plate with a square of wax paper while you reach around your dining companions for the lime or salsa balanced near the grill.

A fresh mango, cut like a rose and doused in chile powder in the Bosque de Chapultepec.

Food stand in Tepoztlan.

A New Year's Day breakfast in my local market: huevos rancheros and cups of cafe olla with milk.

Crispy fried chiles for those who like it hot.

I will miss the markets, oh-so-much. Going to the grocery store in the U.S. is frequently a chore (Austin’s Central Market notwithstanding). You submit to the florescent aisles and fill your cart with what is often punky looking produce from the other side of the planet. At the local Mexican market, you wander aisles brimming with fresh vegetables and fruits (some grapes and apples make it in from the U.S. but it is largely local). I can fill my shopping bag heavy with tomatoes, onions, avocados, potatoes, poblano peppers, spinach, and squash for less than $10.00 USD. At another stall I’ll buy a wedge of cheese cut off a wheel and a kilo of eggs fresh from the chicken. This isn’t to say that Mexicans eat particularly healthy (I believe they are right behind us nationally in terms of obesity), but a lot of the destructive globalization of food distribution simply isn’t affordable here. In the U.S. we are able to absorb the absurd costs because of our vast comparative wealth. In Mexico, $1.99 USD avacados from Chile would be ridiculous.

Tepoztlan Sunday market fresh fruits and vegetables.

I will miss my neighborhood very much —my beautiful apartment and the location of everything. I live a five-minute walk to the Metro (which, given my love for that public transit system, I will also miss), a five-minute walk from the market, a fifteen-minute walk from work, and just across a main street from the amazing Bosque Chapultepec. I will miss the few neighbors who know me, the women who sell me my produce at the market, and Juan at the corner store where I buy my water and late-night snacks.

These are what come immediately to mind when I think about leaving this city and the life I’ve been living in it. And there’s something more, that essence which I hesitate to try to describe… But the essentialness of it is something like this: Mexico City is totally captivating. It is a loud and rowdy blend of history (you can almost feel the Aztec ruins under your feet when you walk) and modernity that defies all simple descriptions. What will I miss? Everything.

Virgen of Guadalupe in the city's north bus terminal lit by the sunset.

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Comments
  1. julie says:

    What a blessing! We travel to experience other cultures. I am glad to be an American but I know the American way is not the only way, nor always the best way.

    By opening our hearts & minds more we can discover & celebrate more about ourselves, other people & life…

  2. Kelley Ready says:

    Came to this by chance but it is wonderful and has made me quite hungry! I’m going to forward it to my comadre who grew up in Mexico City. Enjoy while you can!

  3. Kamila says:

    I am reading this before dinner, so I will ignore the fact that I suddenly want to eat everything you just listed so bad but can’t have it. But yes, I felt a wave of nostalgia for Prague and the time I lived there while reading this — there is the obvious stuff we miss (food, walking, metro, specific places, views of the city, markets, post office) but there is an essence that is harder to describe but missed as much as all the other things combined. It’s what happens when you take the sum of a country’s history, all its buildings and art and wars, and the daily interactions and thoughts of countless people who have come before you, and mix it with the present day, the colors and the sounds and the smells and the many more countless people living lives you briefly share on the tram… and you get this *feel* of the place, it seeps into you, and like a first love it never, ever goes away, no matter how far away you are, no matter if you ever live there again. It sounds like you really made Mexico City yours, which is an amazing thing to have done, this experience of making a home in different places — because like knowing people, places can teach you a lot and you grow so much by knowing a variety of them. I am sure that you will be able to be able to similarly nest a new home in Austin — and I look forward to visiting (and hopefully by then you will have uncovered some awesome places to eat, because I’m hungry!).

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