The soothing pleasure of the known
Felipe and I regularly envision living again in Mexico City where we spent so many happy years before we moved to Barcelona. But when we recently returned for the first time in three years, my heart sank when I saw the slums on the way from the airport. I was startled when we got out of the car in front of our hotel and a little girl held out a smudged and dented piggy bank.
When we walked around the historic center I stumbled over the potholes in the pavement and the air made my eyes water and my throat burn.
We were instructed by a family member to let her know each time we boarded an Uber, giving her the name and license plate of the driver. On journeys within the city, we regularly found ourselves stuck for hours on a freeway that resembled a giant parking lot.
Had we forgotten about the precarious infrastructure, the pollution, the insecurity, and the impossible traffic? They were among the reasons we left this city more than thirty years ago. Had our desire to fantasize been stronger than our grasp on reality?
Truthfully, each day when we saw family and friends in different restaurants for lunch (people prefer to stay indoors after sunset for safety reasons) there were the warm embraces, the shared memories, the gossip about local politicians and above all the Mexican sense of humor, poking fun at life’s absurdities.
We weren’t the only ones having a good time. Each restaurant was filled to the brim with families laughing and singing along with the ‘Mañanitas’ birthday song. Grandparents sat at the head of the table while children dashed around. One proud father came up to show us his toddler son, a lady dressed to the nines recommended the arroz con leche for desert and the waiters joked with us about the level of spice in the food.
It felt as if we could slide right back into our Mexican lives, as though we had never left.
After two weeks in Mexico several hours before our departure we walked around the Polanco neighborhood of our hotel, pointing out the different apartments that were for rent. I liked the one with a big terrace on Anatole France Street while Felipe preferred one on Hegel Street looking out on an exuberant magnolia tree. We discussed the pros and cons of each apartment until it was time to head for the airport.
Perhaps fantasizing about the apartment in Mexico City is a way of holding onto the warmth and kindness of the family and friends we leave behind; dreaming of a place that’s our own makes our desire to belong there tangible.
So we will continue to imagine that we live on Anatole France or Hegel Street in Mexico City, even though we know that we will stay firmly put in Barcelona.