Musings on Mexico City

A view from the bus

Christmas piñata lights in Mexico City small bytes


(To my readers: small bytes has been sadly neglected this year due to the two operations my husband, Paul, had to replace his faulty hips and my involvement in two big writing projects. Things should be back to normal in 2008.)



Look up the word “vexing” in any good thesaurus.  Every one of the many synonyms fits Mexico (capital and republic both).  Mexico can be annoying, disquieting, irksome, disturbing, distressing.  The opposite of each one of these adjectives applies just as well, and therein lies the dilemma.  How can anyplace swing so wildly between two extremes? 

Or be both at the same time?

I couldn’t help thinking about the insane variations in the metronome of Mexican life after a seven-hour bus ride from Pátzcuaro to Mexico City that we made a few months ago.  Seven hours was already two hours longer than we normally took to get to Central Poniente (also called Observatorio).

Both rain and traffic slowed our progress down to a crawl the closer we got to Mexico City.

We were off to a doctor’s appointment to see if a specialist could do something about a botched leg operation I had the year before in Morelia.  Paul had countered my less than successful operation by having two precisely executed hip replacements in 2007, both in Querétaro.  Maybe it’s all less a dichotomy and more like a crap game.  Some days you get twelve’s and some days you get snake eyes. 

Today, it goes beyond ludicrous to leave home the day before a doctor’s appointment, take a seven-hour bus trip, and stay overnight in a hotel in order to get to the appointment a day later.  After all, we weren’t in the bush in Africa or in Bolivia’s antiplano.

Actually I didn’t care.  I was more than content to sit and stare out the rain-drenched window as we slowly meandered around the curvy streets of Santa Fe, one of Mexico City’s tonier neighborhoods.

The kind of view of Santa Fe generally offered on the Mexico City-Toluca tollway.

Paul, always philosophical, said, “Look at the bright side.  If it wasn’t for highway repairs back there on Constituyentes, we wouldn’t get the chance to see how the other point five percent of the population lives, now would we?”

“True.  This is one hoity-toity detour.  Normally a bus would never get this close.  Would ya look at those places.  A small village could fit in each one of those homes.”


I stared out the rain-streaked window with equal parts disgust and awe.  We had enjoyed fifteen years of a very rustic lifestyle before moving to Mexico.  Granted, no running water and no indoor toilet made it extreme, but it was hard not to be impressed by these mansions...a little disgusted, true, but impressed.  

A lot of wry, tongue-in-cheek commentary popped up from passengers in the bus that more succinctly mirrored my thoughts. 

I nudged Paul in the ribs.  “You know, our rental on the hill is great, but the owners of these homes wouldn’t even consider our present digs a possibility for an occasional weekend in the countryside.”

Paul pushed out his bottom lip and nodded.  “Got that one right.”

High walls and dense shrubbery shut most of the residences off from view except for a tiny glimpse of the top floors and the elaborate roofs.  The places looked dark and deserted, abandoned. 

“Suppose everyone’s off gadding about in Europe?” I asked Paul.

“Well, not all of them.  Look at that.”

He pointed to a four story building aglow in light.  No brick wall or trees obscured the view inside the multi-windowed extravaganza.  Two women stood in front of the brightly illuminated twenty-foot windows on the third floor.  Behind them, I could see a massive crystal chandelier that belonged in the grand hall of some disposed Russian Czar. 

They stood in elegant spender and frowned out at the torrential rain and the masses of mere peons making their way through it.  By now, the water ended in ankle-high, mid-hubcap streams.  I couldn’t tell if the disapproving looks were directed at the rain, the worker scurrying to a bus stop, a sheet of plastic held over his head ineffectively shielding him from the fat drops...

or by the fact the huge, blue Autovías bushad invaded their domain.

I couldn’t help wondering what the woman I saw earlier was doing in the rain.   We had passed a Wal-Mart as we entered the city earlier, and I noticed a pile of clothes outside the parking lot fence.  Odd that someone would just throw those clothes away on the sidewalk.  There must be someone around. 

Sure enough, as the bus inched its way through yet another traffic jam, I saw the pile move slightly and realized a woman sleeping on the sidewalk, surrounded by the clothes.  Off to the side, I saw a medium-sized white dog staring intently at the recumbent form.  Guess everyone has an alarm system of one kind or another.    

A little later, we passed a fellow sitting against a wrought iron fence surrounded by multiple plastic bags.  These were the flimsy bags of check-out counters, the kind of things I save to line the wastebasket next to the toilet.  Except for one clear bag that showed a half dozen bolillos, the Mexican bread roll, the contents of the bags remained a mystery.

As we inched ahead in the traffic, the man removed first one huge hammer and then another from inside the depths of his bulky jacket.  Then he retrieved a set of wire cutters.  Next, he produced a claw hammer.  He started to dig down again as the light changed.


I doubted the two women looking out at the storm from the twenty-foot window ever see these people.  Why would they see the occupant of the tiny, one-room, concrete house we passed on the outskirts of the city?  They would never think of setting one foot inside a public bus.  The door to this windowless, block house was open so I could see a single cot covered with a plaid blanket.  The bus slowed down for more construction, and I saw how assorted “stuff” rose in a haphazard heap at the side of the room.  I didn’t see the owner, but he was probably one of a group of men milling about the dumpy tire repair shop next door.  I could see no evidence of electric light, kitchen, water or toilet facilities.

Much of the residential area of Santa Fe is one luxuriant mansion after another. There are sections of the neighborhood, however, where it is possible to see the homes of the wealthy butting up against more modest dwellings.

It was hard not to imagine scenarios for the people whose lives unfolded briefly before our stalled bus.  Did the man in the tiny cot curse his existence or thank his maker for a roof over his head? 

Did the homeless woman thank the gods for her white mongrel watch dog?

Did the man with his abundance of plastic bags grin each time he unearthed another item from his miniature hardware store inside his jacket as he did as we waited out the stop light? 

Did the two elegantly dressed woman behind the twenty foot window ponder great thoughts or did they discuss at length what to do with a nasty hangnail?

A long bus ride in the rain gets a person to thinking.

As we settled into our hotel in Colonia Roma, I thought how, just this summer, we saw a news broadcast that claimed Roma to be number four on the top ten of crime-infested neighborhoods within the city limits.

“Does this look like a crime-infested neighborhood to you?” I asked Paul.

All our friends in Pátzcuaro seem to think so.  They believe we’re totally nuts to travel here.”  Paul flicked the TV through its multiple cable channels, quite a novelty for us compared to our three channels at home.

The variety of this, the world’s largest city, has to be what draws the visitor just like Paul was lured by the multiple channels on the TV.

Even when we don’t do much of anything in Mexico City, I feel like I’ve had an infusion of raw energy mainlined into my veins.

Like seeing this exhibit of useable sculpture on Reforma.

How does a city this size work without imploding?  I keep thinking the whole precarious house of cards will come crashing down on itself without warning.

Of course, it’s inevitable that there are glitches.  Like my doctor’s appointment.  After a seven-hour bus ride, a night in a hotel, and a taxi-ride across town, I was informed the doctor had cancelled the appointment, even after being reminded that I was coming in from Pátzcuaro.  No one thought to inform me of the change, and no alternative appointment with another doctor had been made.

Since this was to be my first appointment, I had Googled his name earlier and saw he had written a book titled Aprender Medicina Sonriendo (Learn Medicine Smiling).  Strange sense of humor, this doc.

We went back to the hotel in another thunderstorm.  The taxi became caught in grid-lock as waves of water gushed by us.

“Didn’t you hear what the taxi driver said after we told him where we were headed?” Paul asked me later.

“No, all I could hear was him muttering.  So what’d he say?”

“Welcome to hell.”

Maybe it’s a prognosis for the future.  Maybe it’s a definition of now.  And maybe I’m crazier than the city since I found the whole interlude enormously entertaining.

“Look at it this way,” I said as waited for the taxi and looked at the rain.  “We know it’s not a golf game.  The guy’s a surgeon.  Maybe he botched something up bad and was called back to fix it.  Think of all the problems we’ve avoided.”

“You’re sounding like a capitalino now.  ‘I didn’t get mugged or robbed or killed today.  I made it to work more or less on time.  I still have a few pesos in my pocket.  Let’s celebrate.’”

“You’re right.  So what are we going to do to celebrate?”  


May you celebrate a glorious holiday season with friends and family.

Hopefully, 2008 will be filled with peace and love, and

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