mexico diaries 3: The Pink Hotel

06/09/98

Having had four rainstorms in the last two weeks, and having hope of more soon, I finally feel it is safe to poke my head out of doors and write some news. I should probably address the bunch of recent reports on the horrors of Mexico. First, crime: The recent reports make it seem like you can’t leave the house here, and that’s just not the case. However, the reports do not lie. It’s as bad as they say, and worse. The thing is, it’s been that bad for a while; there’s nothing new about it, only I guess some Americans have been victimized, so there’s been international press attention, which, in my opinion, is all to the good. Citizen pressure has done nothing to change things; maybe international pressure will be more effective. The deal is this: as in any city, there are certain patterns crime follows here. Although there is more of it, and there is plenty that doesn’t fit the patterns, if you are careful-bordering-on-paranoid in a few situations, you are more likely to be OK. The main problems are anything to do with taxis and ATMs, and house break-ins. Knock on wood, one’s not likely to get shot in the street or anything like that. We try to carry a spare 200 pesos when out at night, in case of muggings, because you can get hurt if you don’t have enough money to give the attackers. We always use sitio (dispatched) taxis at night, and use ATMs during the day on well-lit and frequented corners. That’s about what you can do. We hope for the best and try to be smart.

The second big hoopla recently is the fires/pollution. Yes it is bad. Real bad. Getting a bit better with the rains, but it’s about as bad as most of our expat friends remember ever seeing, and I haven’t discussed it with Mexican friends. It’s like this: you clean off your desk. You leave your stapler on your desk. 12 hours later, you pick up your stapler, and you see a clean stapler-area. Bad bad bad. We hope we’ve seen the worst of it, however. As far as major ecological damage goes, I have no opinion, since I haven’t read a newspaper in longer than I care to remember.

And, yes, the city is sinking into the primeval mud of Lake Texcoco, but it won’t disappear into the murk until well after we move away.

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote an update on my activities, but, I must say, not a heck of a lot has happened since then. My life has become rather ordered and regular, with working on the computer and Spanish study in the morning, Spanish conversation class from 12:30 to 2:00, home to lunch, and then drawing and dinner and whatever else until 2:00 am or so. Then to bed and do it all over again tomorrow. Partly this is out of necessity, since Artbabe is due in a few weeks (out in the end of July or beginning of August), but partly, I find, it’s just my personality to want a routine. Unfortunately, my routine includes very little contact with other people, so I can get a bit stir-crazy! It’s proved fairly difficult to hook up with friends here, despite good-faith efforts on all sides, but we do manage to see people a few times a week, on average, so that’s my chance to catch up on interpersonal relations.

Despite all our good intentions before arriving here, we haven’t had (or taken) the chance of leaving La Ciudad even once since we got here (well, Ok, we went to las pirámides at Teotihuacán once, but that hardly counts—they’re only an hour away on a city bus), so we decided to take a little vacation last weekend and head to the beach. Although our original plans called for going out to Tulum (I’ve always wanted to swim in the Caribbean!) in the Yucatán, it’s a bit far, and we could only afford (in both senses) a three-day trip, so we decided to go to Pie de la Cuesta (foot of the hill), a tiny community (I hesitate even to say “town”) just outside Acapulco. Acapulco is definitely the closest beach-type retreat to Mexico City, only five hours on an express bus. We headed down on Friday, and I spent the entire trip reading the latest Comics Journal cover to cover, ignoring, for the most part, the dubbed versions of something-something-I-forget and the Fugitive (except for the good chase scenes!) on the monitors. We arrived at the brand-new Terminal de Lujo in Acapulco around nine at night, where the weather was as stifling as it is at one in the afternoon in México (as one calls the city), only worse, because the humidity was about 200%. We hopped in a taxi (ah, for the hop-innable taxis of Acapulco!) and arrived at the bright-pink Hotel Puesta del Sol (Sunset) around 9:45. We checked into a cute room fronting the ocean, but, soon after, discovered we had a roommate in the form of a huge two-inch long cucaracha. My brave Matt took care of that little disagreeableness with a rolled up Comics Journal (so versatile this magazine is!), and a Gwynyth Paltrow-Great Expectations promotional postcard to scoop up the rudenating remains. After a late dinner, we took a midnight dunk in the pool, and went to bed with the ceiling fan on high. Well, that was all well and good until the next day, when we found out the room we had slept in cost about twice what we had budgeted, so we moved to a crappier, badly-ventilated, but much cheaper room for the next two nights. During the days, we played in the surf (too dangerous to swim—major undertow—dead turistas every year), swam in the pool, and sat under palm trees working on—comics thumbnails. One would think we could take an actual vacation, but that’s so BORING! We watched dubbed versions of Batman and Robin and Last of the Mohicans on the bus on the way back, with the sound so muffled that a native Spanish-speaker couldn’t have understood it, but then, in the case of B and R at least, it was probably an improvement that way. Didn’t Alicia Silverstone look weird in that movie? Also, as Matt (and my mom) has pointed out, there is way way too much running up and down of hills by DD Lewis in the latter film. Way too much. Anyway, it was all very pleasant, except for getting dive-bombed by mosquitoes at night and sweltering in the heat. Is everybody as happy as I am to get HOME from a vacation? Nevertheless, we’ve made it a goal to get out of town at least every six weeks or so, to try to see some of the country while we’re living here.

Speaking of native Spanish speakers, I’m not, but my Spanish is improving rapidly. I suppose I’ve only been studying it for two months or so, but I’m so impatient to know more that it seems like forever! I am, however, getting much more comfortable with day-to-day-level stuff. Having Matt be so far ahead of me in his studies continues to be both a help (we can practice together) and a hindrance (I’m not forced to speak as much as I otherwise would be). I’ve been in a daily conversation class for about two months, which has been a definite motivation to study more independently, and, I’m proud to say, I’ve just about finished the first book in the Spanish grammar self-teaching course we’re using. Who ever finishes self-study courses?! Not I, up until now! It’s definitely amazing how fast one can learn, not to speak like a native, but to get by, when one is surrounded by a language daily.

On the home front, I’ve planted a bunch of pots with herbs and vegetables on the roof, and, though they have a nasty whitefly problem at the moment, they are thriving. The zucchini especially, as you gardeners will no doubt be unsurprised to hear, is growing like crazy. (Can’t get proper zucchini here; a tasty squash cross, yes, but not true zucch.) We’ve also picked up a few herbs from the Farmacia Paris in the Centro, and inherited a number of unwanted plants randomly chunked together in various unconventional pots (cooking pots, mixing bowls, paint buckets…) from a very nice neighbor, Señora Juanita, who spotted our seemingly-empty pots from a few roofs away, and wanted to free up some pots and space on her roof. All in all, it’s no Eden, but it ain’t bad.

We’ve finished painting and redoing whatever we were going to paint and redo, save only the spiral staircase, which is still trailing scraps of carpet liner from where the salmon-colored carpet was ripped off it. It requires doing with stripper (or possibly thinner) respirator, mask, gloves, and a lot of (careful) elbow grease, and we haven’t been up to it yet. Nonetheless, the house looks pretty great. At least it does for the first five minutes after we clean it. (ok, ok, twelve hours…I stick by my stapler story)

Our neighborhood is great—we are surrounded by conveniences, and it is relatively safe, too (as far as that goes). When we discovered the block-long covered fruit, veg, meat, and etc. market a block away, we were happy; when we found the supermarket a block in the other direction, we were stoked; when we found Fedex practically next door, well, we knew we were home. Most friends live close and most events happen close by. I would tell some tales of openings and parties and so forth we’ve been to lately, but they weren’t as lately as our vacation—I should remember to write stuff down after it happens!—so I’ll save that type of reports for newer parties.