The one thing Mizu would remember from her stay in Mexico City was the comida. She liked to say the word ever so often to remember how she felt. A comida was an extended lunch in Mexico city that started at 2:00 pm and went on until the end of work hours. Nobody cared much about dinner here.
Comida, Mizu thought. She was now standing by a lake in Mexico City with its raspy salt on her face. She thought back to the start of her day when she landed in the city and paid a large sum for a taxi ride to the city center. It was only later that she knew to always book the inexpensive Ubers while traveling in Mexico City. She had paid 700 pesos, which when revealed to the locals, was met with bouts of humor. They told her it was very much like she willingly got mugged.
At 1:00 pm, Mizu found herself seated at a Mexican restaurant with no menu. There were only two tables and she, being seated on one of them, shared it with four other strangers. A cheery Mexican chef was preparing meals in an open kitchen adjacent to the tables. He would present them with dishes he liked, so all Mizu had to do was sit back and wait till the dishes were served, one after the other, until each customer was content. The restaurant was called, “Expendio Del Maiz Sin Nombre” and Mizu sat there for a long while eating freshly made corn dishes, her favorite being the tender enchiladas, tortillas wrapped in a filling packed with guajillo chilies, tomatillo sauce, Oaxaca cheese, served with marinated onions and seranno. The chef here said that Mexico City knew 500 varieties of corn and he wanted to find each of them and turn them into a dish.
Comida. Hours must have gone by. Time meant nothing to the Mexicans. The lunch ended when the sun went down, and at the end of the meal, they were keepers of time, like the sun in Barrow. During the comida, Mizu had met people from Indonesia, Saudi, and France and they all shared tortillas with a side of vivid experiences they had on the Mexico City train.
Mizu shared her’s too. She recalled the sight of the train, a red train, the colour of the red salsa she had tried earlier, pulling into a station at Mexico City. Now recollecting the whole experience, it dawned on her that the Mexicans were really expressive, atleast more than the Japanese. They had asked her to enter quickly, they offered her a seat, asked her warmly if she had a place to stay, and told her where to get the best enchilada in the city. She had also overheard a man speaking to his friend on the phone with that “chilango” attitude, the same one that had washed over everyone at the lunch table. In Tokyo, nobody spoke on the phone in the train as it was considered rude. You couldn’t disturb another’s peace at your own expense. In Mexico city, it was different. You could speak so effortlessly, openly, without a care.
Mizu had boarded the train as she was off to Tepito city, a city inside Mexico City, a place which was known as the home for lost souls – thieves, dealers, and the like. Mizu wondered why it was called so for a while until she reached the market place and saw the skeleton-statue of Santa Muerte, the Lady of Death, but also a saint of healing and protection. It was Santa Muerte that comforted the poor mothers of Mexico City who came to pray for their sons. She was the care taker of Tepito and made it a place for those who were rejected by the Christian faith, a place for those whose sins were too monstrous to forgive.
It was only in Tepito that Mizu realised that in Mexico City, the people were either extremely rich or very poor. There was no in-between. The children tried to make a living through boxing or narcotics. Two options: be granted a reputable life or sink into the scurrying low lying bottom where all things were thrown to rot. You had only one shot at life here. Every top restaurant owner or car dealer survived through his connections with the underbelly or the government. There was no way out.
Mizu walked through the market which had plenty of small carts selling everything: tiny trinkets, pirated records, secondhand goods, utensils, and Mizu’s favorite Mexican meal – flavorful enchiladas. The smell of pinto beans was in the air and made everyone think of la comida. Comida. There was yearning still, that’s what Mizu thought it meant, a yearning for something beyond the reach of this city. It could be seen in the socket-ish eyes of Santa Muerte…she was an ornamental skeleton with a black wig in the center of Tepito.
The saint of death was comforting to Mizu. She thought she was very much like a lost soul too, yearning for the day of rest, the day when the mind was afloat, sin was unknown, and the body withered, all that remained would be the grit of the bones. Do you ever look at the bones of dead people, or animals, or birds and realise the weaker or more malnourished they look, the more was their burden of unfulfilled dreams, of a life not lived. Santa Muerte’s bones looked to be in fine condition, which is why many of the lost souls sought her here in Tepito.
After her brief time in Tepito, Mizu walked back to the city center. The way back was like walking right into another dimension. While leaving Tepito, Mizu walked past a few bodies lying dead on the floor with a candle lit near each of them. Mizu realised that, here in Tepito, someone was shot dead every other day and the people in Mexico City would light a candle and leave it near the body as a small prayer. Both would lay there, in the open air, slowly withering. Another lost soul.
The moment Mizu reached closer to the city’s more refined center, she saw trees in abundance. One would think Mexico City was the greenest city to exist, such was the paradox that it withheld. Nature’s bounty, but an enemy to man. To add to this baffling mix were palaces, Gothic cathedrals, museums, everything marvelous like it was part of the very Renaissance!
Mizu recalled visiting the Basílica de Guadalupe, known to be the holiest of all places for the Catholics in the city and around the world. People came from afar, 12 million every year, to see this national shrine. An old lady who Mizu met at the basilica had told her that in 1531, Juan Diego, a poor Indian and a tiller of the soil, saw the Virgin Mary’s vision on the church’s current site. He also revealed an image of Mary on his cloak, which made the bishop build a church to venerate the Virgin. Juan Diego soon became a patron saint of Mexico and that’s how this shrine came to be. The basilica now looked like a huge residential tent from the far south of America. It had seven entrances which stood for the seven gates of the heavenly Jerusalem City mentioned in the Bible. Yearning to be. Mizu thought how the yearning was absent in the Virgin’s statuesque eyes as she stood tall at the basilica. It was instead more alive and well in Santa Muerte’s sockets. Comida. Yearning.
Mizu saw that the sun had begun to set far across Lake Xochimilco. The waters of this lake were once part of the Texcoco Lake, the water body upon which Mexico City was built. How old the waters were here, older than Mizu could ever be! The Texcoco lake was known to have salty waters and the salt still hung in the air, after all these years, and touched Mizu’s face warmly now, almost playfully, the past chiding and ridiculing the city that was.
When the sun had set completely, Mizu got into an Uber to get to the airport. Her mind was still occupied with thoughts of la Comida. Yearning. Santa Muerte. Texcoco. The city of Paradox!
Which city will Mizu visit next? Find her on instagram for updates!