19 Mayo 2001: The Canals of Xochimilco

My last full day in Mexico City was another lazy one. We rose late and made our way to Flor's house by cab. We took the Metro to the end of its line--Tasqueña--and boarded el tren ligero (the light-rail line). It was 19 crowded stops, mostly standing, to Xochimilco. This area is south of UNAM and Cuicuilco, where I was two days earlier.

Xochimilco is an area of many canals, some open to the public. They are also called the "hanging gardens," but from what I saw, they are just verdant canals. This area is a natural place for Mexicans of all races to flock for some relaxing but not tranquil moments. Flat "gondolas" can take up to 16 people at one time. Some parties we saw had more than 16 people and even a deejay and loudspeakers, all there on the water. There are smaller boats with people selling food and drink and even tacky souvenirs. Some are too persistent. But it was a good, relaxing two hours on the water. Most of the houses off the canals were poor ones, but there were some glam ones as well. All types of Mexicans were on the water that day, and in some cases, some idiot Americans. You could spot them a mile away. All seniors, in this case, wearing baseball caps and shorts. Some insisted on posing as the gondaliers for the sake of their camcorders. They all sat quietly facing in one direction, while the Mexican nationals danced, laughed, carried on. It's interesting to see just how boring Midwesterners can be. Innocents South of the Border, if you will.

 Some say that the canal activity in Xochimilco is the closest approximation we might ever have of the Aztec water culture. At one time, much of what is now Mexico City was a giant lake, with the Aztec emperor's cities on islands.

In general I have avoided eating street food in Mexico City, but I couldn't resist the grilled corn on the cob, with fresh lime rubbed over the surface, and then salted. Ab had one dipped in mayonaise and sprinkled with chile pepper powder. Ab enjoyed that. My belly rumbled for quite a while afterward, though.

Limes are all over the place in Mexico. I forget the exact reason why, but they accompany every meal. They even used spent lime rinds in the trowel-style urinals at the gay bar last night. Much more envirofriendly than cakes of antiseptic soap, and cheaper.
 There's nothing like sitting around drinking and smoking in the great outdoors (top). Stray dogs line the shore as Mexicans feast and party on the canals, day and night (center). And who doesn't enjoy some corn on the cob smothered in mayo and red pepper powder?

After the boat ride, we took a stroll to the cathedral. Like last time, and like some other trips, there was a wedding in progress. The bride and groom couldn't have been more than 20. Less than 20 and being married in a church that's at least four centuries old. It's amazing. Later, we saw some sort of dance performance in an adjacent area of the church. Near the loos in the back, there was a one-stop medical dispensario; a clinic for all your needs: optical, gynecological, podiatry, pediatricians, orthodonture, and psychology. So if you're a crazy blind girl with bad teeth and a limp, you are in luck!

 This pink cathedral didn't have a date on it, but once inside, it definitely looks like it cannot be younger than at least 350 years old. The same goes for the little clinic out back. However, no lines. Note the empty chair.

It was a long ride back to Polanco. The entire tren ligero trip, plus almost an entire subway line back north, and a transfer to the east-west line to the Polanco stop. We went to a chi-chi area where there are upscale restaurants and an art cinema. We ate at an organic foods restaurant, a small chain called La Tierra Buena. We shared a wonderful plato arabe (all middle-eastern foods). Afterward, we went to see Malena, the new movie from director Tornatore, who made Cinema Paradiso. Like his earlier film, Malena is set in a small town in Sicily. It was not impossible but not easy to hear them speak Italian (a language I studied briefly), with Spanish subtitles (a language I studied for seven years), and trying to absorb it all without over-anglifying it. It was also difficult last year to see AMerican movies where they talk in English and have Spanish subtitles. I can never "turn off" subtitles, and I find it difficult not to bristle at nuances lost for the sake of readability for the lowest-common denominator.

The following day, I got to the airport before the air got too polluted (you could tell it was starting to get smoggy), and since it was Sunday, there was no traffic. I was there way too early. I sat reading quietly while the silent surface of the morning was broken, once again, by Americans. Hyper children played hackeysack, joined by adults. Meanwhile, about a dozen "dewds" discussed buying duty-free rum. Of course, some suspected a one-world conspiracy about it not really being duty free. "What's to stop them from slapping taxes onus when we get back?" Um, deeeewwwwwd! Your receipt, duh?

On the plane, I watched an edited version of Almost Famous (they (wisely) cut the scene where the plane nearly crashes). Meanwhile, three Mexican men in two rows up were looking out the window on and off throughout the flight. It occured to me that they have probably never flown before. I've taken that for granted as well, having been in planes since I was six. Imagine being an adult and never having flown before. Imagine being older than 40 and never going anywhere, never having looked down upon the world where we live.

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