a couple of weeks ago I set out for Mexico City, braving hail, plane delays and the constant tauntings of a muddy-mouthed group of East Indian children whose mother, during a five-hour stopover at La Guardia, felt it perfectly acceptable that they mock me wildly, repeatedly tear off my glasses with their teeth and claw at my eyes with their glutinous fingers.
Once we were in the air, I gave myself up to the pleasurable anticipation of a leisure-oriented four-day weekend, steeped in
mind-erasing frozen cocktails and the benevolently muted rays of a foreign sun healing me from its glazy socket in a damp grey sky. I would speak of great things from the comfortable curve of the rattan chaise lounge, my attractive friends would laugh and smoke, happy and well-fed children would bring us ceramic bowls of chilled fruit and mariachis would strum elegantly painful ballads in their rolling native tongue. It didn't work out that way.
On the first day in Mexico City, my dear friend M. and I put on tight sundresses, high heels and movie-star sunglasses and set out for the center of town with our friend "Xavier," who is a native Mexican and a long-haired, leather-jacketed type who resembles the archetypal Leisure-Class Druglord. As the three of us entered the old city, surrounded by collapsing churches of soot-blackened rock, we created quite a stir. It was as if we had been airlifted from a Lite Beer commercial wearing nothing but wet thongs and dropped in the middle of a militant Islamic religious ceremony. Catcalls and whistles whirled around us like a meaty typhoon of dark lust. Spite and envy curled out from behind brick corners and rose up from poncho blankets spread with plastic Jesus paraphernalia, the poisonous sparks swarming around us like a swarm of black gnats. M., a doctor of anthropology, glowered defiantly at the drooling scowls of the poor and restless men from her impenetrable fortress of large, safe, White Money, Intelligence and Entitlement. I just started giggling and smiling at people, hoping to shuck the whole experience off as a momentary channeling of the Goddess of Love.
As we walked along, men kept running up to us and muttering something in Spanish to Xavier. When we asked him what they had said, invariably it proved to be something along the lines of "You will lend them to me for several hours?" All comments on our appearance were directed to Xavier, who was perceived to be our owner and proprietor. Our high spirits began to sag as we realized that our glamour and prestige was directly related to the oppression of the men violently slobbering at us.
As I walked out of a terrible little restroom, my ass was surreptitiously grabbed by a stealthy hand. This let the last air out of my otherworldly balloon. I suddenly realized that we were inviting not admiration but violation. We were buckets of bloody chum dropped into a knot of sharks, USO showgirls performing nude in front of a group of speed-addled war prisoners. "It is simply not done," the city intoned about our sundresses. We embodied everything nasty, all evil temptations: porno videos, dirty money, hard booze, crack cocaine and free time, all rolled up into two unsuspecting touristas. Get your rich honky tits away from our good Catholic men, who wish to smear you into the ground with open-mouth kisses and frot you limb from limb, came the hum from the cobblestones and the Che Guevara T-shirts pinned to canvas frames. Go back on the television where you came from.
That night, Xavier gathered a group of us together for a romp in the Wayward Mariachi Graveyard, another square in the city, where vast numbers of the famed roving troubadors go to beg and howl and drink and die. Groups of three and four men in identically brocaded toreador suits chased alongside our taxi like packs of dingos with fat guitars, inflicting angry spurts of song on us with the desperate aggression of panhandling window-washers. When we arrived in the square, Xavier's friend Geraldo and I posed for a photo in front of a plastic box containing a Virgin of Guadalupe, within eyeshot of another slurry of feral
mariachis. Geraldo, a fan of the nation's tequila, feigned licking my armpit for a quicky polaroid with the Holy Mother. He did not realize that the burly serenaders were in charge of protecting her honor and that they now intended to shoot us. Sweating with fear, Xavier desperately tried to explain to the mariachis that we were stupid Americans who didn't understand that imitating armpit-licking in front of a religious icon was grounds for being executed by musical Christian thugs. Geraldo and I, oblivious to this interchange, skipped away with our lives and the oblivious luck of the drunk.
The next day, Xavier, M. and I set out for the charming little craft village of San Miguel de Allende to stay in the palatial home of a friend of my family. We were to be taken care of, said the family friend, by the capable cook and delightful maids. In fact, the aforementioned employees greeted our arrival with less than ardent enthusiasm, and the next morning we were nonplussed to discover that all of M.'s jewelry had vanished from her purse, never to return. This disappearance was clearly a miracle, because the housekeeper and the owners of the home regarded everyone in the house as so far above suspicion that the only possible explanation was a sudden ascendency to the heaven where good jewelry goes following the Rapture.
Having been warned throughout my childhood that vagabonds in any foreign country would cut off your index finger with a dirty razor blade for a Snoopy ring, I was a little surprised that M. had brought thousands of dollars worth of jewelry to Mexico, but we nonetheless all felt the loss sorely and left San Miguel at once with a cloud of distress over our heads.
Far from making me feel hostile toward Mexico or Mexicans, though, the entire experience seemed to have a great equalizing effect. It reminded us of the importance of humility. The flexing of our obscene power before the natives in Mexico City had been somehow paid for with M's queenly gems. It could have been a lot worse: Judging from how badly we pissed people off, we might have paid with our lives. The moral of the whole trip was, "Don't wear a little tiny sundress in Mexico City or all of your jewelry will be stolen in San Miguel." Or something. In any case, we all learned some kind of valuable lesson -- I guess we're still trying to figure out what it was.