Photo: Paco Forriol/Shutterstock

A Diary of Disorientation in Mexico City

by Avi Davis Sep 20, 2013
May 5, 2010 – “The Accountants Have Computed”

The pace of life is more relaxed in Mexico. That means it takes fifteen minutes to pay for a cup of coffee. Maybe this will change as they open more Starbucks franchises.

June 9, 2010 – “Metro Mexico”

Mexico City metro stations are inordinately large, as if the corridors were designed to admit a military procession or a running of the bulls. It often takes five to seven minutes of hard walking to make a transfer between lines. Probably to compensate for this, the trains are too small.

June 22, 2010 – “Rainy Gods”

It’s the rainy season here, which means it pours between about 5 and 9 pm every evening. Umbrellas are useless. To have any hope of staying dry you would need an ankle-length rain jacket and thigh-high waders. Or a car. Yesterday I took refuge in a taco joint for about two hours while the streets around me turned into ponds. I was the only customer there. One young waiter periodically peered out from under the tarpaulin and shouted to the god of his ancestors, “Tlaloc! Qué pasa, Tlaloc?”

October 19, 2010 – “The Mexican Renaissance”

One of the unforeseen challenges of learning a foreign language is that in addition to learning all the names of objects (arena = sand, mancha = stain), you have to learn the names of various supposedly universal cultural items (“Vaselina” = “Grease,” the movie). It makes you re-examine how things are named.

This weekend some Mexican friends and I played that parlour game where you get a card with a character’s name written on it stuck to your forehead and you have to ask the other people in the game yes-or-no questions to figure out who it is. One guy’s card read “Miguel Ángel.” I had no idea who this was. Someone from the Mexican Revolution? I chose to hide my ignorance by not answering any of his questions, and only became more confused when I found out this historical personage was neither Mexican, Spanish, nor Portuguese. About three questions from the end of the round I realized “Miguel Ángel” was the Renaissance artist Michelangelo.

The day before, I had been equally confused by a bus with the words Pato Lucas and a picture of Daffy Duck painted on the back. Then someone explained that in Mexico, Daffy Duck is called Lucas. “Lucas” is a play on “loco” — crazy. Of course, so is “daffy,” but I’d never thought of that before.

February 25, 2011 – “Se Busca Fido”

Mexicans love to carry their dogs. I think this is why they invented the Chihuahua.

On a possibly related note: For a while I was puzzled by the overwhelming number of lost dog flyers I saw everywhere in Mexico City. Then I realized how many Mexicans walk their dogs without leashes (when they are not carrying them).

March 9, 2011 – “A Year in Mexico”

Today I’ve been in Mexico for a year. I don’t know what happened. Having lived my entire life in temperate climates, I have trouble noticing time pass here, because there are basically no seasons.

March 10, 2011 – “Digital Pirates”

Pirated CDs and DVDs can be bought everywhere in Mexico City: in street markets, on the Metro, in Metro stations, in front of Metro stations, in front of movie theaters. Today, after nearly a year in Mexico, I bought my first pirated DVD — a copy of an Oscar-nominated American film which was released in Mexico as “Spirit of Steel.” It cost fifteen pesos, or about $1.25. I would love to know who created the Spanish subtitles. The spelling of the main character’s name changed every other scene, and was variously rendered as“Rolston,” “Roster,” and “Rabbit.”

March 28, 2011 – “Spanish or in Spanish?”

Yesterday in a small bookstore I came across the latest copy of Granta. It was a collection of stories by “The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” — the next Llosas and Bolaños, as the back cover put it. Of the twenty or so writers included, eight were from Argentina, six were from Spain, and only one was from Mexico. It was the first time I had seen a copy of the literary magazine in Mexico.

March 31, 2011 – “Drugs or Booze”

In Spanish, “GNC” and “Hennessy” sound the same.

May 19, 2011 – “La Decadencia Romana”

My neighborhood, Roma, is fast on the way up. It is something like Mexico’s East Village or Williamsburg. Every week I see a new bar or restaurant opening. Yesterday the telenovela “Entre el Amor y el Deseo” was filming on my block. On my walk home tonight, Roma definitely seemed on the brink of something, though exactly what I’m not sure. The grocery store was full of tall foreigners and girls in orange leggings. An opening at the new Museo del Objeto del Objeto (the Museum of the Purpose of the Object) drew a crowd of young men wearing denim shirts and middle-aged socialites with heavy glasses and pomaded hair, while a block away the scent of marijuana smoke wafted picaresquely through the air. And around the corner from my apartment, the only man in Mexico City I have ever seen wearing booty shorts in a non-professional capacity was out in his most sparkly gold pair.

June 9, 2011 – “Mexican Humour”

Yesterday I was leaving my building when a neighbor whom I had met a few times stopped me.

“You look very serious,” she said in Spanish. “Phlegmatic, we say.”

“That’s funny,” I said. “We don’t really say that in English anymore.”

“About the English,” she said. “We say they’re very phlegmatic.”

“Actually I’m not English,” I said. “I’m American. We’re happy. Goodbye!”

September 26, 2011 – “Folkloric Violins”

Last night I went to the Ballet Folklorico for the first time. Overall it was pretty world-class entertainment and the music ensembles were impressive. Amazingly though, the violins were as out of tune as the violins in every street-side mariachi band I’ve heard in Mexico. Throughout the performance I tried to decide if this was the result of “authenticity,” laziness, or something having to do with atmospheric pressure and elevation. After two hours, I still could not decide.

One expert offers an explanation:

Stanford (1984)…stresses the devastating effect the inclusion of the trumpet initially had on traditional ensembles, particularly in causing the role of the violin to atrophy. According to Stanford, the violin players in the first modern mariachi groups (after the inclusion of the trumpet) subsequently viewed their instrument as less important, and began to play out of tune and with less care. In small mariachi ensembles, the violin was retained only to complete the overall visual image.

October 26, 2011 – “Mexican Steak”

Mexican steaks tend to be flat, thin, and dry. Mexicans seem averse to anything that resembles a rare filet mignon, and for a time this worried the meat-eater in me. But happily I came upon a restaurant just a few blocks from my apartment where American values are clearly championed in the carnivorous department. Two large, red neon signs in the window glowingly advertise Sirlone and T-boin.

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