This is a big city. By population, It’s the second biggest city in the Americas after São Paulo, and there are around half a million more people here than in New York. There are 8.8 million people in Mexico City. Lincoln, the city I was born in, has 85,000 people. Mexico City has roughly the population of 103 Lincolns.
There are a lot of the same cultural aspects that I’m used to in England, Germany, the States, and, recently, Canada. But it is different here. For one thing, I don’t really understand what people are saying. I can kinda muddle through reading a sign, a newspaper headline, or an advertisement, but if those same words were spoken, I’d have a difficult time understanding. I’ve spent a total of three weeks here in the past on three separate visits, so it’s not entirely a new experience for me, but the one massive difference I’ve noticed this time is within myself. It’s not very often I notice a positive change in my head, but I’ve noticed one this first week in Mexico City.
I’m a lot less nervous about being somewhere that is “different.” I kinda knew theoretically that I’d relaxed and trusted my instincts more during my six months travelling around the Americas in 2008, but this is the first time I’ve been back to a place where I have been nervous in the past. Mostly unfounded nervousness, of course. My first time here, I was so ridiculously convinced I was about to be mugged at any second in the city centre, it was incredibly annoying for my then-girlfriend. The second time I was here, I really didn’t do much if there wasn’t a taxi involved. And when I was walking around, I was like a squirrel; constantly looking for predators. But this time, I’ve found myself wandering around, and as long as I have my watch on my wrist (it has a compass on it), I know that I’ll be able to find my way back.
Not that I’ve strayed that far — I’ve stayed within a half-hour radius — but I really have noticed that I’m not looking over my shoulder all the time. I’m not expecting to get mugged at any second. It’s not even something I think about. Which is a far nicer way to live your life, frankly.
Today I had a wander, ended up on Reforma (the big avenue where the parades were), and headed west towards Chapultepec, a big ass park. I was on the wrong side of the street — a massive street with about 100 lanes of traffic and a big barrier in the middle — but there was an underpass. There is no human invention as dismal, grimy, and inherently ominous as pedestrian tunnels under big roads. You never see them in children’s stories, do you? There’s a reason for that. They are the invention of a city planner who’s imagination was equal to the darkest corners of David Lynch’s mind.
So, I went into the underpass. This is where one would normally say how it was dirty and smelled of piss, right? That’s not entirely true. It did smell of piss, but it wasn’t that dirty. It was queasily lit, though, as is the law with underpasses. This underpass wasn’t straight, it had a bend in it, so I couldn’t see the other end. And there, right in front of me… was a little ginger kitten! And a little black kitten! Aaaaaw, cute! They miaowed at me. I thought they might be hungry, but I saw an empty can of cat food on the floor. And there was an open door on one side of the tunnel. I looked inside, and there was an old guy in there. I didn’t want to be too nosey, but the quick glimpse I got indicated he lived there. There was a mattress, a chair, and he was sewing something. I looked at him, he looked at me. I smiled, and said “hola.” He said “hola” back. Just outside the door was little red shelf with a framed picture of Mary, a couple of house plants, and some glittery tinsel in the colours of the Mexican flag.
I carried on along the tunnel. When I came out of the tunnel, I noticed it was kind of a tunnel to nowhere. To my left were plywood panels, the sort that go around the outside of a building site. To my right was a locked gate to the park. So rather than go back through the tunnel, I walked along the edge of the road and after five minutes or so I found an open gate and had a stroll around the park. It was getting kinda late, so all the market stalls in the park were closing up for the day. But should I want to buy a picture of a luchador cut out and stuck on a neon pink piece of paper, I know where to come.
I tell you what is nice: the Niños Héroes memorial. The Niños Héroes were a bunch of kids (aged 13 to 19) who resisted U.S. forces in the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War. As they were killed, the last one wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leapt to his death from the top of the castle to stop the flag falling into the Americans’ hands. And there I was proud of getting my O-level in art at school…
Anyway, here’s a picture of a common bird here. It makes a nice clicky noise when it flies, and it’s got red bits on its wings that you can only see when it’s in flight. It’s called an Inca dove. I asked the guy at reception what the bird was called in Spanish. He started to Google it, and was about to tell me it’s proper Latin-y name, but then I asked what he would call it, and he told me people just call it a coquita.