mexico diaries 0: The Arrival
Matt and I arrived around 2:30 or so on Tuesday, ready to run the gauntlet that we’d been warned the airport was. However, on going through it, it really seemed admirably set up to be safe, with lots of security checks and personnel, carts on which to carry bags (good because we have a shitload of ‘em), and a taxi ticket-stand inside customs, so that when you go out, you are already reserved for the official taxis. There are uniformed and well IDd guys all over with carts to take your bags to well-marked official taxis. We were a bit nervous, since the uniforms hadn’t been described to us, but, in the end, the obvious thing was the right thing. We got to and into the hotel with no problems, helpful official personnel helping us to carry our bags all the way. Matt had been having a conniption (quietly, I didn’t notice) in the airport because of all the warnings, so he was gladder than even I was to get in.
I was the tireder of the two, so crashed almost immediately, but Matt soon joined me, and we slept from four until eight, and it was dark. We adore the Hotel Isabel, despite the too-dim, strangely deco ceiling fixture, despite the ratty carpet and weird phones and buzzers in the hall, that ring all day long. The safe on the wall makes it possible for us to go out wherever and however long we want without carrying all our crap and fearing muggers, or worrying about leaving it in the room, either. On the other hand, I can’t figure out if the staff is receiving mail and or phone calls for us, since we rarely get messages, but I can deal with that. I’m already getting into the Mexican flow of things. This hotel is, however, about the only cheap thing about this city (130 pesos per night for a double), and despite the air seeming relatively clean, and the city having a definite attractive buzz, a big-city excitement, we can’t afford it without jobs, really. We go to Oaxaca on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on when I get my cover painting done, I guess, and stay a week, trying to figure out if we can live there and getting some more projects done.
Wednesday, I can’t remember what we did, though I know we went to Restaurant Danubio and had huge chunks of garlic on fish for dinner. Thursday we called some of our contacts and reached very few. Ate at a Castillian place. Deelish. Friday, more busywork, to the post office, and then to meet Fabian, who gave us a lot of tips to follow up in comics and internet access, and we were done at eight, so headed to Condesa for dinner at the creperie. Condesa feels like SoHo or something. The home in Mexico of the international hipoisie, and I get the buzz there, the feeling that something will happen, that all these people have something interesting going on. It’s ridiculous, really, I’m sure they are all just vapid rich kids. But who knows, artists live there too—only, like SoHo, we can’t afford it. Only to visit every once in a while.
We started looking at apartments yesterday. We’ve only been able to see two so far (several others we either skipped on seeing the outside of the building, or the landlords didn’t show up…) and man, they were miserable. I would be really depressed about it, except we finally met this guy Chris last night and he has a beautiful apartment, and he introduced us to two of his friends, Rachel and Brian, who ALSO have a fuckin’ great apartment, and have hooked us up with a friend who is moving out soon, and we’ll see her place tomorrow…anyway, hopefully that works out and we don’t have to do this anymore, because I hate it and what a waste of time. So things are looking up.
It was really fun meeting Chris and Rachel and Brian last night. Aside from being extremely nice, it’s also interesting that they’re definitely connected to a network of friends and resources in the Brit/US ex-pat population. I always got the sense from my sister Justine that the ex-pats she knew in Africa were, for the most part, a rather strange and somewhat older, hard-bitten crew, but I dunno, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Maybe you don’t have to be quite so desperate to end up in Mexico, as compared to Guinea. Who knows. Anyway, My preconceptions of how nice a place one could get in Mexico were corroborated by their apartments, and so our decision to not try Oaxaca feels a little better now.
I really really want an outdoor part to the place we live, and it is actually a lot to ask here in the city. Sammy’s apartment at least has a small balcony, or something. I had this fixed idea of the way I would be living, and this wasn’t it. I could see the pressure to stay here in Mexico building in Matt, though nothing directed at me, and I was struggling internally with that for several days, so I made a point of discussing it a couple of times, and by the second time I was reluctantly giving up my idea of a retreat in the face of economic reality (jobs) and, mostly, Matt’s desire. Given that, I proffered the idea that we should give up our planned trip to Oaxaca (last Wednesday), because it would serve us better to just get started looking for apartments. It’s this hotel living that’s getting to me more than anything else. I spent three or four days last week painting the cover to my new issue—on my lap. My back is still killing me. I’m thinking of buying a $30 drawing table (or maybe a $60 one) and just planting it in here until we move on, just for the sake of my sore back.
I keep forgetting to write down all the events and so forth, but then again, I’m not sure how much it matters which restaurant we went to when. One interesting thing has been meeting this guy Jack Fahey, a friend of a friend in the US, and his friend Silvia, who is a sculptor. It’s a little insight into the contemporary art scene here, and that’s kind of cool. Jack’s an installer of art, among other things, and he’s only down here for three weeks or so, but we’ve hung out a couple of times. He invited us to an opening or reading or discussion or something of a show of Silvia’s work at the Centro de la Imagen on Tuesday. We kind of sat around waiting for something to happen for a while, and when it didn’t, we got up and introduced ourselves to Silvia and had her point out Jack. Then we left before the discussion. I felt a bit guilty, but really didn’t want to sit through an hour or so of Spanish discussion (not speaking Spanish)—and we had to go meet Rossana Fuentes, a contact of mom’s, at Reforma newspaper. She was a trip—very intense, investigative reporter, and I felt totally on the spot, trying to explain what the fuck we are doing in her country. She mostly told us that it is incredibly dangerous. That’s about it, really, in the end. She might have a tip on a nice apartment, too.
Things are going well after what felt like (but in fact was not) a slow start. It seemed like it took forever (about five days, actually) but we found an apartment! It’s really nice, (unfurnished) in Roma, the neighborhood we were looking for. It’s a huge place, on two levels with its own entrance (almost like our own house). It has two little terraces in the front on the street, and a huge roof terrace too. It needs a bunch of work (rugs to tear up and painting, mostly), but it’s dirt cheap compared to most of the places we saw (about $325 a month) and has a beautiful studio room on the roof that you get to by a spiral staircase—I can’t wait to get in. We will probably sign the lease today, and then we have to get TelMex to put in a phone line (takes a week) and do the work before we move in, so it’ll probably be close to a week before we leave here, but I’m much happier even just knowing we’ve jumped that hurdle.
We were in Hotel Isabel until last week (Thursday), and that was OK – they are very nice, but trying to eat out every meal for a month, gah! – we learned a lot about the Centro (neighborhood), which will serve us well in the future, and I painted a painting for the cover of the next book, and did another large drawing too. For the former, I worked largely on my lap (why don’t they outfit these places with drawing tables, I’d like to know?!) and for the latter, I bought a drawing table and set it up in the room. What they thought, I don’t know. The front door guard had a collective crush on us, I think. He’d lived in Wash state for 12 years or so, and has great English, which he loved to use with us. I almost thought he would cry when we left. Things here are both more expensive and cheaper than I thought – mostly things are really reasonable, but we’re setting up a whole household from scratch, and that’s really tough. We went to La Lagonilla market on Sat and bought all our furniture (with an eye to selling it when we leave), which cost around $700. Which is damn cheap for an apartment’s worth of furniture (minus living room and a few extras), but is a fuckin’ lot of money anyway!
At the moment, I am reveling in being able to cook (literally—I just took a break from typing to chop garlic), despite a really ridiculous dearth of utensils and dishes. Ah, well, all part of the great adventure, no?