I am staying with a girl called Gaby in downtown Mexico city. I have found Gaby on airbnb. I rock up at the flat and am greeted by a pretty, skinny, 29 year old Mexican with elfin hair and large green eyes. Her apartment is gorgeous, huge and light and filled with plants. She has green tea on the shelves and a quote in the kitchen that reads:
The only journey is the one within.
On her wall in the living room is a postcard from Foyles – a British book retailer . The lovely Susan had a copy of the same promotional postcard on her desk when we worked together – no doubt to keep her sane from the madhouse of Network Rail.
So there you go, it doesn't matter if you are in downtown Mexico or just off the Euston road – poetry is the all.
The next day I start trying to get into a routine of waking up and doing some yoga and/or pilates. I have some green tea then take a little walk around one of the big parks nearby. It only takes me asking two policemen to find my way out again. My sense of direction is definitely getting better.
I write to Nico via facebook. I think at the age of 37 I may have just sent my first love letter. Oh well. Its a start....
Later I go in search of dinner and find a street food stall – there are two men cooking up bits of meat on two huge hot plates. There are men gathered around it ( I think they must be cab drivers.)
I stop and stare at what's going on. They have lots of different meat – carne (beef) pollo (chicken) and chorizo, being chopped up and fried on the hotplates. On the other hot plate there is lengue (cow's tongue) but instead of the delicate pickled slivers from Buenos Aires, here the whole tongue is on the side and they are hacking off great chunks. I order a carne and am about to dress it with coriander, chopped onion and the two salsas when one of the men warns me off the green sauce – "muy picante!!" (very hot.) Then he suggests I try a pollo and a chorizo and I have one from the other plate too. He leaves and I wave goodbye – when I come to pay I realise he has paid for mine too. Free dinner! What a lovely guy – I like Mexico. Later i'm telling Gaby about it...
"There were hot plates and meat and you put the meat on these little discs of pastry..."
"er you mean tacos??" enquires Gaby laughing. Oh yeah - tacos! only authentic.
The next day I awake, have a green tea and go for a run in the nearby park. Fifteen minutes and i'm left wheezing. I come back and buy some salad vegetables en route at the local supermarket where I notice they also have piles of raw meat stacked up and a plethora of cacti or Nopales as they are called. This is the type of cactus with the large flat oval shaped discs that branch away from the main body of the plant. There are little food stalls outside Gaby's apartment with men cooking up tacos and shaving off the spines from the Nopales before frying them.
The mexicans are a short and swarthy race, I feel like a very long legged, skinny pale giraffe that's accidentally wandered into the buffalo pen. I tower above the men folk – but give them their due their staring is polite and nowhere bordering on obscene level of sexual harassment that the Portenos excel at.Before I arrive in Mexico City I am given all sorts of scare stories about kidnappings and how its worse than Columbia now for safety – my parents are convinced i'm going to be taken hostage. But sitting in Gaby's light filled apartment drinking green tea and then going for a wander around Condessa the local nearby arty and boho neighbourhood - the scare stories really seem just that. The North of Mexico has been dominated by the drugs trade and is unsafe for tourists to visit...but my personal experience of Mexico City and of the Mexicans that I met was that it is a safe and friendly city as long as you apply the usual laws of the street.
Coming from London I am already well prepared in that area – don't wander off the beaten track, stay in well lit areas, don't take your eye or hands off your personal belongings, don't flaunt wealth, don't allow yourself to get too drunk in an unfamiliar area – and if in doubt ask a local which parts of the city you should avoid.
Condessa is a lovely leafy neigbourhood with prettily coloured houses and shops. I find a little cafe with fresh flowers on the table and have a capuccino and a coffee eclair. Then I wander into a local church. They are in the middle of a flower giving ceremony to the Santa Rosario. I am given a bunch of white and yellow carnations and gladioli. I line up with the other women and children and lay them aross an effigy of the saint and then leave. As with South America the churches here are ornate and heavily decorated with candles, gold leaf and half life sized statues of saints and Christ. The depictions of Christ, his blood and wounds are gorily life like. Catholicism is still strong and even on a week day there are often locals knelt in prayer in the churces that I venture into.
Mexico is hot and dusty after the cold cold Autumn of Buenos Aires. I try and go into Mexico City to see some galleries but am exhausted by the time I get to the main square – called the Zocolo in all of Mexico's cities and towns. When I arrive there is a huge multicoloured market, hot dust, men dressed up as purple druids, a massive Mexican flag and a hundred tents filling the space – some kind of protest. I have developed a litte cold no doubt thanks to the poor but fabulously unhealthily tasty diet of Buenos Aires and decide to take these few days as a detox and time to get bettebefore travelling to my next destination – the little village of Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca – like the Thomasina Miers Mexican chain of restaurants...)