By Caitlin Donohue
In the gorgeous, minimalist Mexican film Alamar, which my disheveled film teacher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (student count: 330,000) screened last week, an old fisherman talked about his life on the ocean to his son and grandson. To paraphrase: if you’re not made to live at the sea, at sea you will find everything around you ugly.
Here’s some other things I’ve learned over the last six weeks. If it’s after midnight here, you need to settle with the taxi driver how much your ride will be before you get in the cab. No one is on time, so you shouldn’t be either. Yes, it’s going to rain. That taco is 12 pesos. Don’t bother shopping for vegetables at the supermarket because there is a weekly market by your house where produce is not sad and corporate. The subway and the Metrobús (the bus fleet that dashes about the city in its own protected lanes) will most likely be crowded at some point during your journey, and there will always be a journey in a city this big. If you accept that you are the kind of person that must complain about the public transportation in that pressed, “what can be done about this?” way, you must accept that you will always be unhappy in one of our earth’s largest megalopolises.
Guerrero Maya Jr. (center, floor) contemplates life in Mexico City
I actually know shit-all about life here since I have only lived it for a month and a half, so maybe don’t take my word for it. What I have managed to do in that time: stuff myself on homemade pulque, quesadillas and fresh roasted beet and zucchini salads in the shadow of the ruins of an ancient poet-king’s pleasure palace, watch a violinist from a Yucatan orchestra perform for a private living room full of people in slutty period costumes, watch a lucha libre wrestler spar her siblings in the family gym, and spend yes a lot of time on sweaty Metrobúses on my way to intensive Spanish courses on a mega-campus. I’ve gotten ill a couple times, fixed it with wildly affordable doctor visits a couple times. I’ve angered the security guard at a tiny drag cabaret and hung out backstage with a queen while she prepped her makeup for the go-go box (more on that for AHDM4U’s Pride Issue next week). I’ve decided that after experimentation, roasted chapulines (crickets) were not for me and that mezcal with orange slices really was.
The other day on the way to class, I was reading a magazine article about a downtown home for retired sex workers while the “Pretty Hurts” music video streamed on the Metrobús monitor above my head. The night before, I’d watched a lucha libre wrestler sail over the railing meant to separate him from his audience. Guerrero Maya Jr. hit an elderly man in the head with his boot before settling to the floor at our feet in a bright heap of spandex. The luchador lay there for 10 minutes while his teammates carried on the fight in the ring.
Getting ready with Yolanda in the back room at Purísima
I hope I am supposed to live here — because here I am, and also because — I find it far from ugly in DF, which stands for Distrito Federal for those following along abroad. (Think about how people call the capital city of the United States DC.) Porque of course the subway is crowded, this is one of humankind’s largest settlements.
The population of DF’s greater metropolitan area hovered around 21 million back in 2012. This is much. San Francisco is 700 miles closer to DF than New York City. That doesn’t change the fact that I am a white girl writer who wants to check out a massive city of brown folks. Can you balance the inherent imperialism of travel writing with a desire to connect like-minded people in different parts of the world? Where do I get off?
For starters, on how relevant this city is. Not just to me, but to everyone. As a writer, I feel like I’ve found the spot where the story is worth telling, over and over and in many ways. Non-Spanish language speakers have probably never learned what an idealized DF apartment looks like from a favorite sitcom, they’ve most likely never subscribed to a magazine published here, certainly could not name their favorite Mexico City DJ. There’s more fresh per square inch in DF than in any of the over-broadcast cities I’ve lived in. And more than enough reason for the rest of the world to keep tabs on the place.
Or at least, AHDM4U readers ❤ Watch this space for more BIG CITY