Note: This is not the typical content for my thoughts on life and work. But – we did have an excellent adventure, and by popular request, here’s the story.
We started the #28daysinMexico project with a weekend in Mexico City – a trip I had looked forward to for several years, since reading several books about Mexican history, growing to love Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera’s story and art and wanting to explore the tastes and foods of this world-renowned city. Of course, we fended off the usual questions of crime in Mexico and were we not afraid – traveling to many major U.S. cities has taught us how to be careful and travel smart. We found out one mistake can get you.
The amazing D.F. did not disappoint! Upon arrival, we were picked up in luxury style and gawked out the car windows at the mind-boggling number of cars, people, and traffic that made New York look like easy to drive in. Upon check-in our bags were whisked away, and we were escorted to our room where Laura showed us all the amenities including a selection of handmade soaps, free minibar, and room controls for lights, climate and drapes from the bedside.
After a quick rest, we headed to the bohemian neighborhood of Condesa for dinner. Following the first of many margaritas here and fresh, imaginative cuisine (I had hibiscus flower enchiladas), we headed out to see the neighborhood and taste some mezcal, the trendy, smoky tequila that hipsters everywhere are craving. Our limited Spanish vocabulary led a local to jump in and walk us about 8 blocks to the best spot – aptly named Clandestine – where 24 glass bottles hung on the wall for the tasting. (Erika, our escort, does advertising for Microsoft; so we talked while we walked about how excited she is to be with them at this time rolling out Windows 8, and phones and tablets that rival Apple and I don’t feel so far from home.)
Once inside the spot we never would have found, we sat at a tiny wooden table, and joined the crowd sipping and laughing, while we watched a stream of hipsters from both countries and beyond, head inside for the smoky potion. Newsflash –Brad doesn’t like smoky tequila.
But we’re loving it here all already – and it’s not even Day One.
Saturday, after the included breakfast of fresh cut fruit topped with coconut, pastries, fresh ground coffee and then the choice of entrees (I opt for the plain yogurt and homemade granola served in a mason jar) we’re now headed to the only thing I really care about – the Frida Kahlo Museum, housed in Casa Azul, where she lived and painted. I’m breathless most of the way through – it’s like walking into your favorite book and being surrounded by the characters. You can feel her there. The house and art are equally exciting and we both swoon over the photos of Leon Trotsky right where we were standing.
On one memorable moment, I enter Frida’s night bedroom where the wall placard tells me her ashes are kept on the nightstand. As I come in – it’s tiny – I meet a man’s glance who is clearly feeling Frida in the room. He shudders and smiles a little – and as I stepped nearer, we both extend our arms to show the goose bumps. No words needed.
Sigh. This is perfection. We head out on foot through Saturday markets, parks (this is one of the greenest cities I’ve ever visited!), busy plazas, walking along beautiful tree-lined streets. We’re in search of the San Angel Inn. We don’t find it this day (we’ll be back later) – and growing weary of looking and walking, finally grab a cab back to the hotel. Exhausted and hungry, we have happy hour at the hotel (cheese filled squash blossoms and more margaritas) and a nap before another flavorful dinner where Brad has fresh, grilled shrimp the size of lobsters. Day One was perfect.
I’m learning that Mexico – and Mexico City especially – won’t just let you be. There is so much to see and feel all with a sense of intensity that I can’t explain. It’s both energizing and exhausting in a wonderful way.
And so Day Two. I’m looking forward to heading to museums, getting some street food, including my favorite, elotes – corn on the cob, grilled and spread with mayonnaise, chili powder, and fresh lime. I’ve been waiting and it’s everything I remember. After walking through a street that closes to traffic on Sundays, fully lined with poinsettias, and yet another massive park, we spend an hour or so walking through Museo de Anthropologia. On the hunt for the jade mask worn by Mayan King Pakal we nearly give up – and finally we score it downstairs on our last hall. And it’s worth it.
There’s more to come and we’re already worn from walking several miles in the sun and thin air. But on we go for more – this time to the Centro district, where we will see Diego Rivera murals inside Palacio Nacional, the government headquarters built by Cortés on the site of Montezuma’s palace. (Seeing these is second only to Frida’s house!) We exit the Federal building the only way you can – onto a street with no cars, just thousands of people and nearly as many vendors shouting out about their wares. It’s a site you can’t really be prepared for – I attempt to capture it on video with my phone as we head down in search of a cathedral we hear was built on a Mayan temple site.
We realize there is a strong police presence here and that we are nearly the only gringos – but we feel comfortable and are surrounded by families and children. Again, not finding what we’re looking for, we sit along a wall to check our notes for where the Mayan temple site is. We know we’re close.
Losing sight of our surroundings (my mistake) and focused too much on what we’re looking for, I’m engrossed with my phone in hand when I feel it suddenly grabbed from me without much of a bump and my thief jumps over the wall (down about 10 feet). My instincts kick in and I start shouting, “Hey! He stole my phone!” thinking the crowd will maybe think this is not okay. They don’t – and as he climbs back up the stairs opposite of me – a man tackles him, but the thief is younger and stronger, and squirms away and heads into a shop.
My back was to Brad and I watched thinking – well it’s gone – shoot! And then I see Brad, who out of nowhere made the decision to chase the thief, who was maybe 19 or 20 years old. I’m a little entertained watching my fifty-one year old husband scramble up the stairs and it looks as though he’s going to get him cornered in the store. About the time I think it’s not a very smart move, someone directs one of the many police officers to the scene and he enters to store.
Ah! All is well! Brad, the police officer and the thief are in the store. I may get the phone back! I relax and sit smiling at those near me. Literally right next to me is a mom feeding her baby in a carrier. Everyone is watching and no one seems terribly upset.
Time passes. This is taking a little longer than I thought. Should I go over there or leave well enough alone? I feel the stares of people wondering why is she just sitting there? Someone brings a police officer over and tells him what happens. I can’t for the life of me remember the word esposo to try to convey that I’m more concerned about my husband than a phone. Through sign language I’m encouraged to follow the officer who heads over there.
And then – I see that it’s a store with not so many walls. There’s no police, no thief and no Brad. A tiny bit of worry seeps in, but I feel good with the officer along so we head through the interior hallways, past shops while he radios for information. A few more officers join us, we chat, no one really understands anyone, and then they start running. So I join them – and now I’m running with the police in Mexico City. I was never really afraid and thought the whole thing was silly over a phone, so I’m having trouble taking any of it seriously. Shop owners are watching and chuckling as we go by.
In just a few minutes, I see Brad and we congregate with his officers and one now who speaks decent English. I find out that Brad and the officer chased the guy up several flights of stairs, onto a rooftop – where the guy enters a little house, comes back out and is tackled by the officer. No phone by now, so they let him go and at this point they just want to get us out of there.
We’re almost done but not quite yet. They tell us that we need to go to the headquarters and file a report – to teach this boy a lesson and to help them fight crime in the area. We realize at this point that our day is over and this is not going to be quick, so we try to politely decline and say, no, really – it’s okay. In the U.S., a phone gets stolen, and you say, oh shoot. Nothing like this. We’re now escorted out of the area and surrounded by the officers as they tell us, “We know it’s Mexico, but really, trust us, it will be okay.”
I’m not sure what they do with criminals here, but for us to fit in the back of the squad car, things are rearranged, thrown in the back, seats moved forward and we climb onto the hard, white plastic seat. A sizable crowd is watching. We’re deciding by now that we may as well make a full adventure of it. Through the insanely congested streets of Centro Mexico City, we sit and make a plan for anything weird that happens from here. Does either of us leave without the other? You stay, I go? Who do we call given a chance? Who gets Brad’s phone? At no time did we really believe there would be trouble – but we wanted to be done and have this story to tell.
The end is not so exciting, but we knew we weren’t at home. We stand in a hallway in the police station – and they bring in the young thief who now has a pretty severe and gaping injury on his leg. He’s upset, his mama is there with him, calming and I try to ask, can you please get him some medical help? No one here speaks any English. They give up on us filing a report (cinco hordes) and we’re back in another squad car and delivered 45 minutes later – to the front door of our hotel, where we shake hands with the officer and squeak past the doorman who says, “Was there trouble?”
How do you end a night like that? Starving and still a bit hyped up, we walked to Brassi for big bowls of pasta, bread and a bottle of wine. Told the story over and over to ourselves for entertainment. And toasted ourselves for choosing wisely when we found each other…stuff you sometimes find out in the back seat of police car.