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Livin´ la vida loca en Mexico!
The dancers spun across the stage dressed in costumes the colors of Mexico: coral pinks, caliente reds, mango oranges, and neon greens...The mariachi played festive songs that made me want to get up and dance...The two weeks I spent in Mexico City in summer 2007 were two of the best weeks of my life. When my best friend Batli invited me to go with her to visit her grandparents and other relatives in Mexico, I whole-heartedly accepted. I had been to Europe three times and fancied myself to be a world-class traveler; I had dreamy notions of myself as an explorer, voyager, trekker, one who blended in with the locals, “did what the Romans did”, and sacrificed everything for adventure.
In Mexico City, my quixotic notions of myself were put to the test.
I told myself that I would try everything, do everything, go everywhere, and say yes, or rather “si” to everything.
After “Si” and perhaps “por favor” my mastery of the Spanish language stopped abruptly.
Let’s just say my “Learn Spanish in 30 Days!” book was intended for someone with no school, AP-classes, and upcoming PSATs.
But even with the language barrier, I was still able to have an extraordinary time.
Batli and I stayed in the loft room above her grandmother’s bakery. Her grandmother is Romanian, so the pastries and cookies were Mexican with a European influence. Most delectable of all were the magical garabatos cookies - vanilla cookies with a thick dark chocolate sauce in between them, that’s richer than Nutella, and has a chocolate scribble on top. (garabatos means ‘scribble’ in Spanish) When I think back on my trip I think of those cookies, for they seem to epitomize my voyage. Mexico is a beautiful country on the outside, but it was the people I met – the dark rich filling – that made it so memorable to me.
Batli’s grandmothers seemed to me to be the exact opposites of each other. There was Elvira, who had glossy rouged cheeks, and a sweet smiling face. She could speak French as well as Spanish so we were able to converse a little in French. (Which I am taking in school) She was the one who started the bakery, invented the now famous recipes, and runs it even though she could have retired long ago. Ruth, Batli’s other grandmother, was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. She immigrated to Mexico from Brooklyn after meeting her husband (who lived there) by being his pen pal. Although she spoke perfect Spanish (which is amazing as she didn’t know a word of it when she moved to Mexico) she spoke to me in English. Kind as she was, she voluntarily translated everything for me. She even translated a movie that we saw (Water, which is in Hindu with Spanish subtitles) while filing her nails, and somehow following the fast-paced movie herself.
All of Batli’s aunts and uncles were the sweetest people. They went out of their way to explain things to me, and help me to feel happy and comfortable in their homes.
The days passed in a blur of exhilarating events. We would get up at 9:00, eat a small breakfast, (perhaps a fresh mango) and go on a mini adventure. One time we went to Teotihuacán and climbed the Sun pyramid, which was built by the Aztecs. Standing at the top, my eyes scanning the distant land below, I felt tranquil, calm, serene. I could have been back in 2. A.D., when the Aztecs had built the pyramid I was standing on.
One thing that astounded me was the ride to and back from Teotihuacan. The shacks piled endlessly on the sides of the road, stretching for miles in every direction, forced me to realize that true poverty really does exist.
Another day we went to the Plaze Basar, a market, (or mercado) where there were authentic arts and crafts like purses made from weaved candy wrappers, hand-made jewelry, masks, and Day of the Dead memorabilia. There was also heavenly-smelling food that I was warned not to taste, unless I wanted to chance Montezuma’s revenge. (Montezuma, thankfully, never visited me.)
One of my favorite outings was when we went to the Palacio de Bellas artes, and saw the Fridah Cahlo exhibit, which told all about her life, as well as her relations with other artists of the time period; it was like a mini art history lesson case-studying Mexico. We also saw some Deigo Rivera murals, so I must say I felt like quite the art aficionada by the time I left.
Once out of the museum, we had churros - at the place where churros were invented! Hot and crispy on the outside and delightfully doughy on the inside, it definitely gives its American counterpart, the donut, a run for its money. I also ordered a Spanish hot chocolate, which tasted like a melted dark chocolate bar – it was so thick that my spoon could rest on the surface!
After coming home from our day’s adventure, we would have lunch at around 3:00 or 4:00. Lunch was a huge family affair – especially on Saturdays when my friends entire extended family would come, honoring tradition, to her grandmothers house where we were staying. There were piping hot tortillas, beans, a wide array of fresh cheeses; bolillo, (Mexico’s version of a French baguette) rice, chicken, and usually a few other dishes. With the meal, I would drink Sidral Mundet, an apple soda.
After lunch, (which could take up to three hours!) us kids (Batli, her sister Ronit, and cousin Alan) would go bowling, ice-skating, take a trip to the mall, or see a movie. (A memorable occasion was seeing Harry Potter with Spanish subtitles)
Afterwards we would eat dinner at around 9:00 or 10:00, oftentimes going to a restaurant. Batli’s uncle owns a chain of restaurants all throughout Mexico City, which we ate at several times... Food, as you can tell, was a huge part of my trip.
By the time I said “Buenas Noches” I was always thoroughly exhausted and ready for bed. But ready to leave – that was another story. Saying “Adios” to such an amazing country and to the wonderful people that I met was hard to say.
However, I know that the memories will always be there.
And so will the box of garabotas cookies I have in the freezer! Well, actually, those are going pretty fast...
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