Q: What do an entrepreneur, a human resources executive, a high school English teacher, a middle school history and science teacher, and a graduate student have in common?
A: They live in Mexico City, and they are my friends.
My long-awaited (for me, at least) return to “CDMX” was a resounding success. I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, nor was I able to hit up every one of my former stomping grounds, but on the whole, I was able to stroll through some of my favorite neighborhoods and spend time with old friends – even if it was just for a quick drink.
Would you like to meet them? (Apologies in advance to mis amigos for posting these pics – although I don’t think the content is anything too compromising.)
A few months ago, I had posted pictures from Nicaragua online, and they piqued the curiosity of Rosalina, a Mexico City-born English teacher-turned-business owner. “Are you still traveling in Latin America?” she asked. “I have started a new venture in Mexico City and can use your help if you plan to return.” I responded by telling here that I was back in Tennessee and planning a February and/or March-ish trip to CDMX. Not a return move – at least not yet – but a return visit to catch up with old friends and see some corners of the city that I had somehow missed.
Rosalina – Nina, Rosita, Rosa but never Rosie – offered to pick me up from the airport so we could spend some time together and I could learn more about her business. Turns out she was opening her own language school, not unlike the place where I had worked in 2013 and 2014 and where she had worked for much longer. I must confess: although Rosalina is an easy person to admire for her ambition and her time management skills, she’s an even easier person to admire for her looks. Well, perhaps “admire” isn’t the right word. What do you think?
I happened to be staying in the same neighborhood that Rosalina called home, so she and I spent a fair amount of time together, some of it in the company of her two children, who spoke better English than many of my American friends. Together, we attended my first Pumas fútbol game (they won!), and we even journeyed south to Xochimilco, where we boarded a trajinera (gondola) for the muy, muy creepy Isla de las Muñecas. (More on “Doll Island” in a future post.)
Oh, Rosie. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) To recycle an old saying, you are an 11 on a 10 scale. Estoy enamorando. But alas, you are raising two children – great ones – on your own, while starting a business that needs much more than the required 40 hours/week of tending to. I, on the other hand, am still trying to find that career path, that perfect work-life balance, and that special someone who genuinely gets me. Although you and I surely want the same things out of life, methinks we have different ways and means of getting there. That is okay, as long as we are honest with one another.
I am not the guy for you…at least not at this time.
The Human Resources Executive
I almost called this chapter “The Monroy.” The title refers to the name of a person who is perhaps my oldest friend in Mexico City. Her name: Monroy. Her neighborhood: swanky Polanco. Her occupation: HR executive for the Mexico City branch of a prestigious American big box store.
Monroy was one of my first students, and the first one with whom I became friends outside of the classroom. She featured in my A Saturday in Tequisquiapan blog post of 2014. Ever since I moved away in June of that year, she and I have kept in touch via social media. When she heard that I was in town last month and suggested that we meet for dinner at Antara, the city’s nicest open-air shopping mall, I immediately said “yes.” I made a day out of it and took the metro to San Joaquín, from which point I walked along the Ferrocarril de Cuernavaca, a railroad track-turned-walking path, all the way to Nuevo Polanco, a hive of construction. It was here that I visited Acuario Inbursa, the city’s newest attraction, four subterranean levels of aquarium tanks with reef systems, sea turtles, and enough jellyfish to give a person nightmares.
Monroy was on time and we spent the meal catching up on each other’s lives, reminiscing about past (and future) travels, and – entering dangerous territory here – talking politics. “Oye, gringo, why Trump?” is a question that I have gotten quite frequently on my recent travels. It seems that many Mexicans can at least somewhat relate, as their own commander-in-chief, the vapid eye candy that is Enrique Peña Nieto, has all the smarts of a shoe. But he has just two years remaining in office; Trump still has almost a full four.
Sorry for the tangent. Monroy offered me the chance to earn some extra money in the form of conversation classes. “Sounds nice,” I said in response, but the truth is, I wouldn’t take her up on her offer. I was in CDMX on vacation, visiting friends such as Monroy because I wanted to, not because there was money involved.
Two days later I left for San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato state, 3.5 hours north of Mexico City. Two days after returning from San Miguel, I left for Cuba. Upon my return, I had just two full days remaining in Chilangolandia, but no specific plans. Monroy was available that Sunday afternoon, and we met for drinks at Parque Lincoln, also in Polanco. I walked, from Roma Sur, and including a detour to take pictures at an exhibition of Salvador Dalí sculpture art near Chapultepec Park, the journey took over two hours!
This time, her dog, Maya, was in tow. A snack-craving, squirrel-chasing Papillon, Maya was on her best behavior – until we found a pet-friendly restaurant and were seated for drinks. The problem was, seemingly every other dog owner in Polanco went to the same restaurant, so there was quite the commotion. Butt sniffing, barking, growling…good times.
It wasn’t until we starting talking over drinks that I realized what a good friend Monroy truly is. Her positive attitude is infectious, and she convinced me to put renewed focus on completing a writing project that has been sitting in limbo for months, even years. I will do it! And when it’s done and received with the acclaim that I hope I will be, I will have Monroy – and Maya – to thank for it.
The High School Teacher
Jorge, like myself, is a fan of horror writer Stephen King. You might even call him King’s “number one fan,” if you wanted to be clever and borrow dialogue from King’s novel Misery. Jorge recently adopted a dog and named him “Jake,” after a character of the same name from SK’s Dark Tower saga. If Jorge is the writer’s number one fan, I’m probably more like number two or three or four. I won’t name animals after characters in King’s books; I’ll content myself penning the occasional list about top ten King books.
So how do Jorge and I know each other? Facebook. We are each members of a Stephen King fan page on FB, and one of the members once posted a “roll call” thread, asking us to (voluntarily, of course) chime in with our home state and/or city. This was circa 2014, and Jorge and I had both typed “Mexico City.” One of us sent a friend request to the other, as these things go, and voilà.
Incidentally, we never met in person until my most recent trip. We got together twice: once at the grounds of the Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico City’s famous Catholic pilgrimage site, and once at the campus of UNAM – the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The basilica was just blocks from Jorge’s home, while the UNAM campus was just a few metro stops south from where I used to live.
I took the metro in the wrong direction prior to our first encounter, and was a good 30 minutes late. Jorge, a teacher for whom punctuality is a necessity, was on time but in good spirits. We compared notes about our favorite Stephen King books and about our trials commuting all over the city for work. I dickered with my camera all the while. The sun was setting to the southwest of the basilica, making for some great sunset shots. (I already had at least 100 pictures from previous visits to the basilica, but this city beckons shutterbugs, and I snapped a few dozen more.)
I met Jorge again on my last full day in Mexico City. We alighted at Metro Universidad and took the 20 minute walk to the Espacio Escultórico of the UNAM’s south campus. Here, a UFO appears to have crashed in a field of volcanic rocks (leftovers from Xitle volcano, which erupted some 1,800 years ago and entombed the Mesoamericans living at nearby Cuicuilco), and the ship’s remains have been fashioned into a series of concrete slabs from which one can scramble to the top. Okay, so a UFO never actually crashed there, but that’s the effect that the dynamic sculpture creates. See for yourself:
We had lunch at a Mexican fonda in my old neighborhood, and the menu del día (menu of the day) included tilapia, consome, and the requisite plate of rice. Comida corrida is nothing to get excited over, but I rarely leave hungry from a place such as that. Sated, we parted ways as I prepared to meet Peter, whom you’ll learn about in the next few paragraphs.
The Middle School Teacher
Peter, like myself, has been obsessed with Mexico for years, and moved here several years ago. Peter is Australian, which, when translated from the native Aboriginal, usually means “drinks a lot.” In this Peter’s case, however, it means “tall.” 🙂
I met Peter in front of the Palace of Fine Arts, which gets my vote for Mexico City’s most beautiful building. The day was humid and ominous skies suggested rain on the horizon, so we immediately headed for the nearest pulquería, where we could wet our whistles with some fermented maguey (better than it sounds). Las Duelistas is a veritable hole in the wall a few blocks south of Bellas Artes, and its chairs and stools are as crowded as its wall and ceiling murals (check out the 4D skulls, below).
Although Peter and I keep in touch via social media, including our blogs (check out LatinAmericaFocus.wordpress.com), the last time he and I had actually seen each other was Good Friday, 2014, at that year’s Passion Play in Iztapalapa. I learned that Peter was no longer commuting to a private school in Tlalnepantla de Baz, all the way in the ridiculously-northern reaches of CDMX. As he was about to tell me more about his new role as a writer <totes jealous> I couldn’t help but notice that Las Duelistas looked familiar. I had been here before. With – gulp – She Who Shall Not Be Named. If you are one of my newer readers, simply check some of the older archives and you’ll soon find out who I’m talking about.
But I digress. The pulquería was getting more crowded, if such a thing was even possible, and we left in search of more adult beverages, via the pedestrian streets of Calle Regina and San Jerónimo. I have always considered myself the heartiest explorer that I know, but Peter gives me a run for the money. He knows alleys and street names that locals who’ve lived in the area their entire lives cannot recall. Calle Regina and San Jerónimo, neither street of which I was familiar with, are just two such places.
We poured back a few more drinks at a bar/lending library (!) and passed the time by comparing notes about favorite Latin American travel memories until the time came for me to meet Mario, my third friend of the day.
The Graduate Student
I met Mario for the first time when he propositioned me on the subway.
You read that correctly. But hear me out. It was some time in 2013, and I was heading home from a long day of classes. I somehow struck up a conversation with one of the city’s nubile senoritas, who wanted to practice her broken English with me for the duration of our subway ride. I alighted at my usual station, bidding her a fond farewell (alas, we would never meet again) and thinking about the next day’s lesson plan. “Excuse me,” a voice said from behind me. I turned and saw Mario, who was wearing workout clothes and was on his way home from a run in Fuentes Brotantes, in the southern quadrant of the city. Mario went on to explain that he was a university student preparing to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. I was leaving in just a few days to fly home for the holidays, but we made plans to meet upon my return in January. Mario offered to pay my asking rate, and I prepared some listening comprehension exercises for him.
We met several times, and although I could sense his apprehension over the exam, I believed that Mario was ready, and I was as positive and encouraging as could be. Time came…and he failed. Still, we became friends. Mario and I had much in common. We were close in age, we both knew basic German, and we had similar stories as regards dating in Mexico City. When the time came for me to leave, in June of 2014, Mario was one of the last persons I hung out with, and one that I knew I would miss the most. An all-around cool guy.
It turned out that I had left two small bags behind. Mario volunteered to collect them for me and hold them until I could either pay for their forward shipment to Gringolandia or pick them up in person. In the meantime, I had fallen upon hard financial times and couldn’t afford the $100 or more that it would take for him to ship the bags. All I could do is hope that he didn’t lose, sell, or discard them. If that sounds unfair to Mario, know that I have several “friends” who would do just that. But they probably aren’t reading this anyway.
Mario and I finally met and exchanged the bags last month. Our timing was serendipitous, as Mario was home for spring break from Germany, where he is currently enrolled in graduate school! It would appear that his German has surpassed mine, which really isn’t saying much. More good news: he finally passed the TOEFL!
Mario and I got together twice: once at Parque Delta, Mexico City’s newest mall, and once at Plaza Garibaldi, which should really be renamed “Plaza Mariachi,” after the roving troubadours-for-hire that ply its confines. Our second meeting was on my last full day in Mexico, after having lunch with Jorge and cervezas with Peter. Not a bad way to spend an evening, inebriated or not.
Man, that 5:00 a.m. wake-up the next morning was brutal. But for the camaraderie that went down the day before, I’d endure it again in a heartbeat.
It gets better. I learned recently that Rosalina and Jorge, to whom I had provided each with the other’s contact information, were scheduled to meet to discuss the possibility of Jorge picking up some extra English classes, courtesy of Rosalina’s new company. I don’t know if there will be a fit for Jorge on Rosalina’s staff, but they are good people, with better heads on their shoulders than I can reasonably claim to have on mine. My work here is done.
And the world is smaller.