Vacation 8: Perdidos

The second most important thing I set out to accomplish during this trip was to once again establish a relationship with my cousins, the children of my aunt Yolanda, my mum's younger sister.

They have always lived in Colonia Chimalistac, but after fifteen years of no contact, it was anyone's guess whether I would find them at the same address.

The original rupture is complicated. Suffice it to say that they, a family of nine, began to disintegrate in a serious way once my cousins grew up, reached their late teens and early twenties. Mum tried to help her younger sister and the old Russian addage about life punishing he who volunteers good deeds rang true once again.

For many years now, though, I have thirsted to resume my relationships with my seven cousins, who range in age from 36 to 22. The last time I saw them was after the rupture, which was always more of a problem between our parents than between us. It was the year 2001, when the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional descended on Mexico City issuing their political demands to the then-new President of México, Vicente Fox. I went to Mexico City to witness this historical event, and while I was at it, I paid them a visit. Any anger they may have had towards my guilt by association vanished almost as soon as they opened their front gate and made me out. I remember that two of them escorted me to the airport on the day of my departure.

The prospect of finding them this time was complicated by the fact that their home in Colonia Chimalistac was never their own property. My uncle, their father, being an albañil, or construction worker, could never (and I mean never) afford to live in la Chimalistac except as a servant. La Chimalistac is one of the most expensive and attractive places to live in the Mexican capital. It is home to physicians, diplomats, and other such types.

Long ago, before any of my cousins were born, their father's boss, an architect, was given permission to live on the property, which also served as a storage facility. Their father built a home on the property out of construction site leftovers. The anomaly of a sturdy, but makeshift, house in the middle of a wealthy colonia, expressive of our world's "savage inequalities" (Kozol), was varnished only by the tall walls characteristic of all of those place´s properties.

This time, I would not have the same luck as in 2001 (when I found the same front gate and then the same friendly, contemporary faces on its other side.) From all indications, the property was sold long ago, since the gate has been replaced and now a white art-deco home towers even higher than the tall walls.

When I saw that last Sunday (which is when I went to Colonia Chimalistac in search of them), my cousin, and vacation host, Toño, was with me, and I stopped talking for about ten minutes as I tried to deal with what I was now experiencing: the possible and likely loss of all contact with this part of my family forever. In a city of more than 20 million souls, I would not know where to start looking for them.

As Toño and I walked away from their former home, towards Álvaro Obregón Monument Park nearby, where I wanted to go to walk off the shock, tears began suffusing out of me. I stopped and broke down. 


Vacation 7: Japanese Garlic

Yesterday was the big day, the most important reason for my trip here, to México, to see my dad, after twenty years.

Carlos drove me to La Raza (Line 3 and Line 5) metro station on his way to work.

La Raza is home to the world's first science/technology  tunnel-museum installed in a mass transit venue. Walking from Line 3 to Line 5, I read brief exhibits about maize and global warming. México is the global home of maize. Maize is the domesticated seed of the once wild teocintle seed.

I took line 5 to Indios Verdes terminal

Pino Suárez, home of an ancient Mexican ruin fragment that was found during excavation for the metro's construction and turned into an exhibit, where I transferred to line 1, taking that all of the way to Indios Verdes terminal where, after some anxious searching (I cannot help but stand out in the crowd, thus making myself vulnerable.) for the appropriate bus, I found the route to take me to dad's neighborhood. The ride was just over forty minutes long.

Dad´s part of the city is starkly poorer than Carlos's neighborhood. To an extent, it resembles a war zone, with very blighted infrastructure, many empty lots, buildings left unfinished, films of soot on walls, prevalent graffitti, lots and lots of trash. People are murdered and kidnapped for large ransoms on a regular basis. I took bare essentials with me: no cameras, a wallet, or any more cash than I could need. I reached my destination safely, though, with no cause to fear the entire way.

I visited my aunt Juana first, who lives two blocks from my dad's home. I had never met this aunt before. I stayed with her and her husband for nearly three hours before parting for my father's. We talked in their living room and then had a late lunch of chicken pipian with rice. I learned important parts of my dad's family's history through my aunt. We also talked about my father's philandering past. My father's father was also a philanderer, and I inherited this destructive vice, and am in the process of breaking.

I told my aunt, "I want this to stop here, with me!"

At 4:30pm (late), my aunt walked me over to dad's home. Neither him nor I recognized each other. After twenty years, I am no longer the teeanger I was the last time I saw him. He, on the other hand, is not the strong, colorful, healthy man he once was. Half of his hair is gray and thinning (which is not bad, actually, for being 73.) , and due to a recent illness he is very skinny on the shoulders and legs. I felt sad that our relationship had been absent for two decades. I did not want to be the late thirty-something I am today, contrasted with the youthful, ebulliently optimistic, glaringly handsome, athletic teenager I once was.

Sometimes, I could not stop staring at my father, as if in awe. This was my long-lost father! I was shown photos, one of his wedding day to the woman who had been his real wife all along. He was in his early twenties in the photo. They all told me I look a lot like my father, over which I felt a certain pride. Dad gave me his Bracero Program identification card from the early 1960's as a memento. After agreeing to visit his hometown of Acatlán, Puebla today, I left.

On our walk to Recursos Hidráulicos avenue, where I would catch a minivan back to Indios Verdes, a very young man, the husband of his granddaughter approached him. Dad introduced me as his son, and the kid asked,

"So he is Carolina's brother?"

Caroline is one of my father's marriage daughters. Dad could not bring himself to confess that I was a child born out of wedlock, a result of one of his many paramours. I was not angry at him, only a little embarrassed at my father's cowardice.

When the young man looked at me for verification, I looked back at him and moved my head left and right. The kid got it and did not judge me, and smiled.

On my way back, I got off at Tlatelolco, the site of the 1968 government-led massacre of the Mexican student movement on the eve of the Olympics hosted by México, and perused the neighborhood.

Back at La Raza transfer station, I saw the second half of the tunnel-museum, which was about coffee and water.

In the last stretch of my commute, I boarded the wrong route, and had to walk a few blocks from the station to Carlos's home in darkness. I made it home safe.

So why Japanese Garlic as this post's title? I will tell later in an update.


Vacation 6: City Outing

Yesterday, I went out into the city, el Distrito Federal, for the first time; in like ten years. Mexico City is where I was born and lived until I was seven. Despite the very young age when I left, I never forgot how to get around. Until the Great Recession, I returned to México regularly, visiting Tenochtitlán often, as well.

I left Carlos's home at nine in the morning, arriving at Pantitlán mass transit station at ten, in order to get on the subway. A good way to experience the massive population of el Defe (Mex. City) is to ride the subway. Especially at transfer stations, one will witness furious rivers of pedestrian traffic progressing along halls, traditional and electric stairways, and boarding platforms. I rode the metro line 2 to Pino Suarez transfer station, then line 2 to Zócalo, the city´s main square.

Once out of the subway, I walked to the nearby jewelry district, where I met my friend Franie, who was talking on the public phone. Franie and I met in Oaxaca, where she is from, in 2003, when she was an architecture student at UABJO. Once together, and after warm and affectionate greetings, we walked to la Alameda and spent a couple of hours there catching up; before I accompanied her to Ermita metro transfer station as she headed to pick up her son from school.

Franie got off the subway at Ermita, and I continued to the next transfer station to get on Line 3, and then to Coyoacán station. Coyoacán is a posh colonia in Mexico City, with a downtown that dates back centuries. In its plaza are an ancient cathedral, a square with iron-wrought benches and statues and sculptures of historical figures like Miguel Hildalgo, and symbolic ones like the fountain of three coyotes howling. "Coyoacán," a náhuatl word,  means, I believe, Heart of the Coyote.

In Coyoacán, I took photos, sat on the benches under shades, read, and wrote. When I got hungry, I bought tlacoyos and horchata. Coyoacán is one of my favorite places in the city to just hang out. It is very popular with students, tourists, street performers, and artists. The National Film Library, or Cineteca Nacional, is there, as well as Frida Kahlo's famous former residence, La Casa Azul.

Being an ideal place to read and write, I wanted to stay into the evening, but since I do not sleep well, I felt too tired to continue out by 4pm, so I started for home. Both times I rode the subway yesterday, I noticed there are many more people making their living by selling things on the subway nowadays. There was always a vendor on metro car, oftent there were two. On sale were everything from novelty whistles to music to USB drives and beyond.

By 6pm, I could not wait to get home because I kept nodding off on the buses. A little later, I got home, then straight to bed.


Vacation 5: Hosts

I am staying with my cousin Toño, a nephew of my father José Anastacio, his wife Gloria, and their children Mauricio, 15, Ana, 8, and Liliana, 2. They live in a five-bedroom, three-story home, with concrete walls lined with red bricks, tile floors, that Toño built himself. They do not pay a mortgage since they bought the land bare, then just began building. Their home is a work in progress. The third floor -- from which there is a panoramic view of Mexico City is a work in progress. 

We are in Mexico State, which borders with Mexico City, on a mountain, immediately overlooking Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl -- a major Latin American city of working-class people. When I was a child and came to Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, the streets became muddy swamps in the rainy season. It was a city built by its people, not developers.

Toño is a regional sales coordinator for a major national daily. But these are not subscription, newsstand, or curb box sales. These are direct sales completed at traffic intersections, in the street, under the elements, commission-based. Toño's father, Silvano, did the same thing his entire life, and still does (now for Toño). 

Uncle Silvano never got an opportunity to  be a coordinator. He was an intersection sales rep. That is how he raised his family of five children and built his home (the same way Carlos is doing so now.) My aunt Cata passed more than a decade ago, a victim of diabetes. Uncle Silvano remarried.

The edition of the daily Toño sells is a pilot-project that my cousin has made a success. Due to its success, along with the fact that it is a unique edition of the daily that needs constant supervision, gives Toño the very unique opportunity of meeting with the OWNER of the major daily -- a powerful man in Mexico, on a regular basis. 

Gloria works as a housewife. Mauricio is a high school freshman who enjoy soccer and video games. Ana is in grade school. Liliana is in the toddler phase where she wants her mom all of the time.


Vacation 4:"Let us fly!" (Mexicana Airlines' Struggle to Fly Again)

My beloved cousin Carlos picked me up at the airport.

Before leaving the airport, I wanted to take some photos in front of a famous mural, so we went looking for it. On our way there, the shrieking sound of a whistle being repeatedly blown through pierced my ears, demanding my attention.

When I turned around to see what the commotion was about, I saw a row of middle-aged women holding protest signs. They kept chanted,

"Let us fly!"

After taking in the scene, I told Carlos I wanted to talk to the ladies, and proceeded to approach them.

"I support you 100%!, " I said first.

"Thank you!" they said.

"What is your struggle about?" I inquired.

"It is about demanding from the government that they reauthorize Mexicana de Aviaciòn to fly again. We are ready to fly. New investors are lined up!"

The dozen, or so, ladies were all retired Mexicana flight attendants who are not being paid their monthly pensions.

"Oh yes, I heard about Mexicana's bankruptcy a few years ago," I stated.

"Mexicana is not bankrupt nor anything like that. The only reason we are not flying again is because our competitors, like  Volaris and Interjet are blocking our reauthorization."

The spokeslady continued, "Mexicana has been an airline for eighty years. Before folding, we were a leader in the global industry. Volaris, on the other hand? The United States FAA has announced it will renew Volaris's U.S. concession because their planes are failing safety standards."

I flew in Volaris.

"What can I do to help you?" I wondered outloud.

She said, "Tweet! Tweet [our president] Enrique Peña Nieto and just say, "Let Mexicana fly again!" 

Vacation 3: I need to poo

I was on my flight on Volaris airline, sitting in 3C, only three seats from the front, and only, exit and entrance. I was glad I was not going to need to wait much to unboard once the plane landed. It was the reason why I paid an extra four dollars for the so-called privilege of selecting my own seat in advance.

I felt we were close to arrival time, and asked the flight attendant about it.
 "In forty minutes," she said with a pleasant, friendly smile.

"Forty minutes?" I said, with my eyes open wide in surprise. I was thinking more in the order of twenty.

Only a few minutes later, I decided I should go to the bathroom then. I got up and got in line to the front end bathroom, when an attendant said,

"One of the rear bathrooms is available gentleman."

I looked, and indeed, there was a lit green light above the bathroom indicating availability.

I began walking back. Inside, I sat down, settling into my business. I had been happily doing number two for about five minutes when, suddenly, the plane began moving like we were going through some turbulence. There was no mess, but it felt like I was on a roller coaster named Bowel Movement. There was a tinge of fun about it until I heard a loud, and demanding knock on my door.

"I am almost done!" I said strongly. The knocking stopped only about a minute when it resumed with a vengeance.


"WE ARE LANDING!!!," an attendant yelled, frantic-like, back.

"OH!" I said, by then I was already washing my hands and getting ready to open the door.

As soon as I stepped out of the bathroom, an attendant yelled to me too rudely, "SIT DOWN!"

I promise, had she been nice about it, I would have sat down. Instead, I asked, "Why are you angry at me?

"Because it is dangerous for you to be standing as we get ready to land!" she responded, only slightly sobered.

"Your told me we were twenty minutes away from landing, and then you allowed me to come and use the bathroom. If I sit down here now, I am not going to get out of the plane for an hour. I bought front row seats precisely to avoid the traffic," I said, disregarded her, and began walking back, aaaalllll tttthhhe wwwwaaaayyyyy toooooo ttttthhhhhe fffffronnnnnt.

The attendant made a run for me for about the length of six rows of seats when a sudden loss of altitude, for which we both had to stop and hold strong to handles, hit. Recovering from that much long before her --- who was wearing a weighty uniform not designed for chasing passengers quit. I had to stop twice more, as well as watch the suspenseful eyes of the front attendants watching me, before arriving to my seat, but I made it.

Vacation 2: I need to pee

I had to leave home at 3am. I bought shuttle service from San Diego Amtrak Santa Fe Depot to Tijuana airport. My stepfather, Enrique, drove me to the depot. While waiting for the shuttle, I got the urge to pee but the terminal was closed. I would normally go in some bush, but a cop made the rounds every few minutes and I could not stand anywhere there was not some camera looking at me.

I really needed to go when the chauffeur came.

"Sir, I need to use the bathroom," I said to him.

"I am sorry, the shuttle has no bathroom," he answered.

"Then please stop somewhere on the way," I ordered.

"I am on a schedule, kid," was his response. Kid? Whatever.

"If you do not obligue me, I will issue a complaint because your service should be prepared for a situation like this," I countered.

A Spaniard tourist interrupted, saying, "Gentlemen! I still need to stop at customs. In the time you are here arguing, we would be at a bathroom already."

He had a point, so I stopped arguing and went to the bus. The conversation continued in the bus.

"Can't you hold it? Customs is only sixteen minutes away." stated the chaufferu.

My penis was sore from the holding that had already transcurred. I gave the man an "are you kidding look?" but accepting that he was in a bind himself, I said, "I will try my best."

About ten minutes into the ride, I said, you need to pull over.

The chauffeur was stubborn, the Spaniard demanded that I wait, that we were almost there, and the three other passangers tacitly agreed with him.

I could not believe these people! So I went militant.

I said, "Okay. If you don't stop right now, I am going to pull my zipper down in here, walk to the back of the bus, and relieve myself in between two seats. Let´s see how you feel about my urine running to your feet when the bus stops."

I heard the only female passenger gag, "Ugh!"

Suddenly, all of my fellow travelers became very understanding.

Before I knew it, I was peeing on the side of the freeway. It was a long pee, but for good measure, I stayed out a little longer. Just to jab at the Spaniards' patience.

Vacation: Intro

Unemployed, I have decided to leave for vacation in México. 

I have flown out of Tijuana airport on Jun 2, at 6am, and arrived in Mexico City at noon. I will take the return flight on the fourth of July. In the interim, I will visit with my father, José Anastacio, for the first time in two decades, visit a beloved cousin of mine and his lovely family, and travel to Oaxaca, where I will visit more relatives as well as do ethnographic research for future books of mine. Upon return, a post-Godzilla Tool chapter of my life will begin. 

My destinations in Mexico will be Mexico City itself, Mexico State, and Oaxaca.