With the remnants of my high-school Spanish, and a guidebook that I pasted
under my arm, I was able to navigate the city. I traveled up and down
the Reforma and saw the Zócalo, the Palacio de Bellas Artes with
its Folkloric Ballet, the pilgrims on their knees arriving at he Basilica
of Guadalupe. I visited the Alameda Park and the floating gardens of
Xochimilco I took a side trip to Teoticuacán and the Pyramid
of the Sun, the Temple of Quetzalcoátl. It was here that something
in me stirred, an interest woke.
I fell in love with Mexico, with
its various indigenous cultures. Awestruck, after I looked at the pyramids,
I went to the Museo de Antropologia to stare, uncomprehending, at their
displays. Maya, Olmec, Toltec, Aztec, what a bewildering number of indigenous
tribes had lived in Mexico. The Maya in particular caught my imagination.
There must be a lot to learn, I thought, knowing I was just skimming
I found the real culture of Mexico
on street corners where I also discovered that miracle of corn called
the tortilla. By day, I bought tacos and enchiladas from strong-boned
women with single braids that reached to their waists. At night, I went
into restaurants that serenaded diners with plaintive Mariachi music,
and offered red snapper Veracruz style, and the dish that would become
a favorite - chicken sauced with mol , a dark sauce made of peanuts
and chocolate. Peanuts, chocolate and chicken? When I learned the ingredients
in the dish, I wanted to leap up and shout.
I was out of school,
but wanted to stay and so explored the possibility of being an exchange
student of sorts. It worked, and I was placed with a family in Mexico
City, able to see the life of the people from within. All seven of their
children were girls, their ages ranging from seven to nineteen, all
very obedient to their madre. I didn't know what to call her since I
had a mother, so I asked if she would be my mamacita. She agreed. The
family showed me Mexico City all over again, and I fell more in love
with the power of the Indian culture evident in the city, as well as
the Spanish influence that had taken hold. I toured, studied, learned,
and let Mexico take a place in my heart.
During the week
some of the girls went to work, some to school, but on Saturday they
came together to form a tornado of energy that cleaned, shopped and
cooked. I had my chore, too, though only one. I went to the tortilla factory to
buy 2 kilos of tortillas. I loved the factory, indeed all of the markets with their abundance of corn,
tomatoes, the many varieties of chili peppers.
I fell in love with
the spices of Mexican food, but I was wide-eyed at the habit of the
youngest daughter who ate jalapeños as a snack. I thought the
Mexicans very clever for making sopa
de elote, a rich corn soup, instead
of just boiling corn. I loved the logic of huevos rancheros which
lifted scrambled eggs above the ordinary. I was amazed at the variety
of spices used to create huachinango
a la veracruzaña.
I was included in
the kitchen, though I hardly knew how to cook. Dutifully, I wrote down
recipes that were so habitual for the Del Valle family that they needed
no written recipe. But Mexico meant Mexican food.
I was included and
they included themselves. When I had a crush on a young man with sparkling
brown eyes, we went to a movie with two of my 'sisters' trailing behind.
I did a lot of souvenir
shopping before I left Mexico, mostly things to bring home to my family.
I took a side trip to Taxco, famed for silver, and bought many items
of Mexican silver. For myself and my sisters I bought jewelry with insets
of turquoise and jade; for my mother I bought a sterling silver sugar
bowl and tiny creamer. I bought large sterling silver belt buckles for
my father and brother - ones that would make them look like Charros
if they wore them when heading to their corporate offices.
I shopped, and then
I shopped some more, buying black pottery from Oaxaca, papier mache
skeletons used only on Dia de Los Muertos, a pair of ornate boots for
me. And when I left, I went to buy tortillas. Shhh, don't tell the customs
people, but stashed in the boots, wedged in with sterling silver, was
a kilo of tortillas
I cried when I left,
but I was not through with Mexico. The Yucatan called to me, the Mayans
fascinated me. I must return, I said to myself, to follow the trail
of the Maya. I must return, I must return.............................