Archive for March, 2011
A honk, a shout, and I turn to see a car hurtling straight at me. One second and two steps back, and the car brushes by me.
What the hell? The light was in my favor. That car ran a red light and didn’t even slow down when I stepped off the curb.
I stumble across the street, thinking in Spanish, “No me tocó” – “It’s not my turn.”
A few more paces and I stop, tears in my eyes.
God, I’m angry, but at myself.
Here I am in Mexico City, where I lived for most of my life, acting like a blind tourist.
I’ve been away too long and become used to American ways.
Before, I knew drivers here don’t give a damn about pedestrians. People on foot, considered the lower order of beings, are the ones supposed to watch out. In those days, I always had a car. The only place I ever walked was to the supermarket two blocks away, and my high heels were a major impediment.
These days, I don’t wear heels, and I walk everywhere I can. For me, walking in Mexico City is both entertaining and a chance to revisit old haunts and renew memories.
I look up and see that I’m standing in front of a house that I once knew well. There, I met my first husband, an American who looked like a young Clint Eastwood with startling blue eyes. At seventeen, I was no match for his brash come on. We were married and I went to live in the U.S.
Then I found out his export business was not Mexican curios.
Bye, bye youthful dreams, but at least I’d got away from Mexico City, a place I’d wanted to leave almost from the day I arrived.
I first came – or was brought – to live in Mexico City when I was ten years old. Even in the fifties, this overcrowded metropolis was a shocking contrast to my seaside village in England. An ocean away, another continent, another culture. From a cool, clean climate to a hot, smelly one.
That move cost me my home, my father, my school, my friends, and my cultural identity. Letters from England took three weeks to a month to arrive, phone calls were too expensive to consider, and a trip “home” cost a small fortune.
I hated the food, the dusty odor that hung over the city, my grandparents’ home with its marble floors and high ceilings – the complete opposite of our comfy abode in England. I hated the kids at school, and the school, and Spanish – those yammering sounds – so much that I refused to utter more than the most basic words for one year.
If I didn’t learn to speak Spanish, for certain I’d be sent back to England.
All that happened was I got poor grades in school and nobody wanted to be my friend. Not that I cared. I didn’t want to make friends anyway.
After a year, my mother divorced my father and found a poor choice as a replacement.
Mexico became the home that I couldn’t wait to get away from.
After discovering Mr. Blue Eyes’ true occupation, I returned to England to find myself a foreigner in my own country. But I regained my father, my British accent, and even a former school friend, and in time, became a true Londoner of the sixties.
I’d have remained in England all my life, but circumstances drew me back to Mexico City. I meant to stay for two years, make a lot of money (in dollars vs. a low wage in English pounds), and get ahead in my chosen career – international advertising. Instead, I met my second husband, had two kids, and stayed another thirty years. While my kids grew up, I had a wonderful life, a high-flying career in a top ad agency, a beautiful home full of laughter, and many enduring friendships.
In those years, Mexico City became “home” for me.
Despite this, I missed the English-speaking world, one where I’d not be a foreigner.
So, in my fifties, after a forced early career retirement, I moved to San Diego, California. Ten years later, I had a comfortable existence with plenty of freelance work and time between jobs to pursue my writing.
To my surprise, I was homesick for Mexico. I missed my many friends, my Mexican family, the food, and even its craziness. Then I’d come to Mexico City to visit and I’d miss my easy going lifestyle, newfound friends, and my family in the U.S.
“You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.” Maya Angelou
Am I like my half-American mother who grew up in Mexico, went to college and lived in New York until she met my father who took her to live in England? She was always saying how much she missed Mexico. After she returned, she hankered for anything English, missing everything except for the weather. For the rest of her life in Mexico City, she complained about “this country” and how much she wanted to return to “her” country, the U.S.
Mexico contains many of my memories, and much of my past.
In the U.S., I’ve carved out a new life, I’m forging new memories, and a future – but I miss the warmth of the familiar.
Or is home wherever I am?
What do you think?
I’d love for you to give me your opinion in the Comments section below.
From experience, I knew a move would disrupt my life and change my lifestyle, especially since I was going to live in a completely different area. I dwelled on all the negative aspects – how it would affect my sleeping, eating, and working habits.
Until I remembered…
I’d had much worse moves than that one.
These days, most of my possessions fit in a 10 X 10 foot storage unit.
Very different from when I lost my five-bedroom home in suburban Mexico City and had to dismantle it.
The following is an excerpt from my book, “Don’t Hang Up!”
A MEXICAN YARD SALE
At seven-thirty a.m., I open my curtains to see about twenty seedy-looking individuals lined up outside my front door. Battered vehicles with signs on them proclaim their owners to be flea market merchants.
What was I thinking when I put that yard sale ad in the Classifieds section of a popular newspaper? I never expected this kind of potential buyer to troop across the city to my exclusive residential area.
At the door, I face a combo of low-class macho and a slimy thief. Macho leers at me with obvious intent. He has hot eyes, a bushy mustache, and thick curled lips. “Come on, Seňora, let me in. I took the trouble to get here early before all this riff-raff,” and he waves at the others.
I back away from his incinerator breath. “Not until eight.”
Slimy, slicked-back hair, leather jacket, and the sallow, foxy features of a down-at-heels thug, whines that he was the first to arrive and therefore, deserves to have first go at everything.
“You’ll have to wait,” I say, and flee back inside my house.
What have I got myself into?
Hortencia, one of my cooks from my failed food business, arrives with her army sergeant husband, here to give me moral support. They have to push their way through the throng at the door. At eight, she opens the door. The merchants swarm in, almost knocking her over, and shoving each other in a free-for-all to get at the items for sale. Whoever reaches the tables and shelves first grabs whatever he or she can before someone else does.
One wizened little woman who, in her old gray shawl, looks like a beggar, time after time disappears under the throng only to emerge with yet another object. She’s the first to come up to me, not five minutes later, holding an American toaster oven, a top-of-the-line blender, and a food processor, all balanced on an electric frying pan.
“I’ll give you,” she offers the peso equivalent of $3.00, “for everything.”
Lo and behold, the price tags I affixed last night are gone.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you have all these items for so little,” I tell her.
She scrunches up her face and pleads with me. She is the sole support of her daughter’s five children. The few pesitos she can make from resale is all that keeps them from being thrown out on the street. With her tattered dress and bony little arms sticking out from under the shawl, she is so pitiful that how can I turn her down?
“$5.00?” Her eyes fill with the kind of hope of someone lighting a candle in a church.
“Okay,” I say. Poor woman. I’m sure she will make a good profit off those pieces.
“May God bless you, Señora,” she says, and slinging the goods into her shawl, tosses it like a sack over her shoulder, and walks away with a spring in her step.
“She always pulls that act to get the best bargains,” someone grumbles. “Her son’s waiting at the corner in a new Ford station wagon.”
Slimy has oozed his way to the head of the line.
“Watch him,” Hortencia says, nudging me. “Check the price tags.”
I do. “Hey, this silver platter is $10.00, not $2.00.”
Slimy stabs me with a finger. “Señora, it’s not my fault you made a mistake.”
“I didn’t, and I’m not selling it for that amount. I’d be giving it away.”
He turns to the people behind who are making noises for him to hurry up. “You’ll have to wait. She’s trying to change the prices on me.”
“I can’t let you have it for less,” I say, despite his threatening expression. I wouldn’t put it past this human eel to be carrying a knife inside his leather jacket.
He comes back with a rapid sally of how rich people diddle the poor, thus whipping up the others to cries of, “Fair’s fair!”
If we don’t settle, I’ll have an uprising on my hands. I name a ridiculously low amount.
In triumph, Slimy brandishes the silver platter on high to show what he achieved by calling on social injustice. I have the feeling that from now on, I’m well and truly screwed.
Next, Macho plunks down an engraved colonial chest filled to the brim with items. “$25 for everything,” he says in a contemptuous voice even while giving me a mental poke with his eyes.
“The chest alone is worth that,” I say.
He waves bills at me; he will pay $30 for everything. His breath has me reeling and I nod. He leans over to inform me in a hot whisper that if I’m interested in selling more than what is on display – wink – to let him know. Leer. Here’s his card. “At your service, Señora.” With a knowing glance, he struts away.
Within forty-five minutes, almost everything has been cleared off shelves and perches. My head rattles while hands and voices assail me on all sides. What the hell? I’ve had enough of these ravenous merchants.
I explode. “Get out! All of you. Get out of here! The sale has ended.”
The place is a mess of rejected pieces. No one wanted the larger or more expensive ones. Furniture merchants and private individuals come for those later. Kitchen equipment goes in a trice for less than half its worth, the same as my new dining room set and living room furniture.
What about the paintings? Those side tables? The church bell lamps?
I hadn’t intended to sell them. But why keep exotic designer furniture and good paintings when I need the money now? Anyway, there’s nowhere to put them in the bungalow – former servants’ quarters – where I’m going to live.
The buyers are gone at last, and I’m left alone with my memories.
Forget them. This day is all that matters. I count my earnings, roughly a sixth of what I expected.
The shambles of my fortunes.
Dear Readers, I’d love to hear from you and what thought about this piece. You can also find me on Facebook, donthangupbook.com and on Twitter.
“Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.” Wendy Wasserman, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize playwright
At the request of a fellow blogger, Janine Ripper, who writes Reflections of a Red Head, this post is in honor of International Women’s Day. Unfortunately, like many women in this world, I don’t have the time to write one myself. I just went through a major move and upheaval in my life and today, I’m leaving for a visit to Mexico City where I used to live.
Instead, I’m giving over the podium, so to speak, to several great women and their inspiring words.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaїs Nin, novelist and diarist
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Helen Keller, activist for the deaf and blind
“We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” Oprah Winfrey, TV personality
“Everybody must learn this lesson somewhere – that it costs something to be what you are.” Shirley Abbott, magazine writer and editor
“I’ve got a woman’s ability to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves it.” Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain
“None of us in Superwoman. We are by turns industrious woman, harried woman, organized woman, and sometimes cunning woman, because we all agree that one can always find time, in the most hard-pressed life, to do what one really wants to do, whether it is dancing the tango, playing the harp, or writing a book.” Valerie Grove, journalist and writer
“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt, activist, writer, and former First Lady of the U.S.
Dear friends and readers, if you know any inspirational quotes from women, please share them with us, and I will add them to this list.
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