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Where. Do I. Begin.

This story has been brewing for some time. It all begins with one particularly brutal classist society: Mexico. Then you have a safe neighborhood, a nice apartment, and a reasonably upper middle class young couple. And when you are reasonably upper middle class, you have an unspoken duty to society. It is this: you hire people to do things for you that you can do yourself.

To me, and to many Americans I would imagine, this feels very uncomfortable. Not necessarily wrong because you’re paying someone to work, but because this arrangement has all kinds of unspoken power differences inferred, rather demanded, by the rules of the game of classism.

First, it is very racially obvious who is the “patron” and who is the worker. Sorry, but the shorter and more brown you are, the more your life is “destined” to clean someone’s house, or street, or park, etc. Of course I don’t believe this, it is a long and unbalanced history that has shaped society in this way, but I am yet to find an exception to this rule in the limited scope of my experience here in Mexico. I would love to hear somebody refute this- but I will say it is the rule rather than the exception, so much like the rest of the world, yet blatantly, painfully obvious.

That’s pretty bad, but what makes it even worse in my eyes is that there seems to be an expectation that people of the “lower class” identify themselves when mingling among the middle class. Small women walking beautiful dogs through our neighborhood still wear their work aprons, as if the owner is sending a clear message: “This is my cleaning lady walking my dogs. Those nice dogs wouldn’t belong to her!” I know that this is a cultural perception on my part: perhaps they wear the aprons because it is comfortable and practical if you’re going to be cleaning. But EVERYONE who is in this position wear them, and to me it is an accepted identity to proclaim to the world: this is my position in life. This is what is expected of me.  I’m kind of tempted to buy one of these aprons and start going around town, walking my dog, going to the grocery store, etc, just like they do. You’ll never see a middle class person doing this, even if they ARE comfortable and practical. I guarantee you that it would get a lot of open-mouthed stares!

I saw this “keeping someone in their position” very clearly within the first month living in Mexico. A family acquaintance invited us to a fancy welcome dinner in a very nice restaurant in a very nice part of town. The dinner party consisted of the two of us, three other adults, and a 2 year old. And a nanny, wearing a nanny uniform. And although we were sitting in an enormous, empty restaurant, at a huge table accomodating more people than we were, the nanny had to sit in a chair outside of our dinner circle. And wait for us to eat. Next to us. Silent. And the 2 year old sat at our table. That, in my opinion, is not how you treat another human being, whether you are paying them or not. I think the people we were eating with, at heart, did not mean anything malicious. It was perfectly part of the societal norm. It’s just that I find the norm kind of disgusting.

The power imbalance creeps into the consciousness of everyone living in this society: I observe many embrace it, many ignore it, and have yet to hear many people talk about it. Out loud. Maybe they don’t notice it anymore. All I can say is that the voices on the upper middle class side of the divide are largely silent. I’d like to know what the other side of the divide has to say when we’re not around.

So, it was within this context of confusion mixed with quiet outrage the first few weeks in Mexico that I got a knock on my door. It was Imelda, the wife of the portero (rough translation- do-everything-man for the apartment building), who lives in a cubby-sized apartment on the ground level,  who asked me if she could clean our apartment. Horrified by the idea that I have no excuse not to clean for ourselves, I politely declined. She waited another day before knocking again. And asking again. And again, being politely refused. This cycle repeated about 4 times before I finally gave in. I do believe, despite all that I’ve said before, and how uncomfortable it makes me, that this is the right thing to do. You should employ people to help you if you have the means, because you are a source of income. Even if you don’t need them. Money on the table is better than a moral highground. And even if you can’t change their social circumstances, or the fact that you are tall and white and they are short and brown, by damned you have an opportunity to pay them a fair wage and try to treat them like an equal in the couple of hours you spend together. That’s it, that’s the best I got.

So, ok Imelda, come on in. Once a week. Name your price. Stop calling me Señora. I’m Megan. No, I will not sit here and tell you every last thing that you have to do. No, you do not need to clean my floor with a toothbrush, get up please. No, I’m not buying you a ladder, I think I can handle the tops of the cabinets, being that I’m 5’8 and you’re 4’8…ok? I got that one covered. Where do we go from here?

Little did I know what lay in store from that day on…

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Fun times in Mexico City this week! On Tuesday night, we celebrated Dia de la Independencia (Mexican Independence Day) in the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square since the Aztec empire.

Mexican capitalism...I mean pride....at it's finest

Mexican capitalism...I mean pride....at it's finest

We were fortunate to get “front row seats” to the party- that is, a standing spot in the rain partitioned a little bit from the main crowd closer to the Palacio Nacional, because one of Alex’s good friends works at the President’s office. I love living in Capital cities and having friends in the government. Sweet hookups abound! So we all met at Los Pinos, the Mexican “White House”, and rode an official bus down to the Zocalo. Fun times!

Alex in front of Los Pinos

Alex in front of Los Pinos

Our "VIP" passes...100% proud to be Mexican! Tee hee!

Our "VIP" passes...100% proud to be Mexican! Tee hee!

Can somebody explain to me why Mexico City has sailors guarding the President's house?

Can somebody explain to me why Mexico City has sailors guarding the President's house?

When we arrived, it had already started to rain.  But even though it was around 6pm, the Zocalo was already roaring with live entertainment and swarms of people flooding toward the action. Think Times Square on New Years Eve proportions, but let me tell you this right now: the Mexicans know how to throw a party. Everything was in epic proportions! And, because the Bicentennial is 2010, this was the pre-Bicentennial party, so they did it up BIG. I can only imagine what the party will be like next year! It was pouring 100_1501for around 5 hours straight, but that didn’t stop patriotic Mexican crowds decked out in Red, white and green (it looked like Christmas had exploded all over the place) to flock to the square by the thousands several hours early to secure a place, see the enormous stage where groups of 40+ mariachis and famous singers from all over Mexico were performing, see the absolutely INCREDIBLE laser show in front of the palace, sing anthems, and wait for the Grito!

View from the bus: a rainy day indeed!

View from the bus: a rainy day indeed!

It aint a party without the foam!

It aint a party without the foam!

100_1484

Swarming crowds, despite the rain

The National Cathedral looked like it belonged in Vegas

The National Cathedral looked like it belonged in Vegas

Pimp my Zocalo

Pimp my Zocalo

Stage with Cathedral backdrop

Stage with Cathedral backdrop

Pre-bicentennial decorations

Pre-bicentennial decorations

The stage

The stage

Palacio Nacional

Palacio Nacional

Let me tell you about this laser show. They set up a thin fountain of water in front of the Palacio Nacional to act as a wall to project images for the laser show. In addition, they used special lighting effects to trasform the face of the Palace into various forms: antique, black and white, covered in vines, covered in words, undersea, covered in Day of the Dead skeletons (my favorite), and illusions that pieces of the palace were moving in 3D. I wish I could do it justice in the pictures, but being that I have the world’s crappiest camera, there was a torrential downpour and it was night, well, you get it.

Here’s a clip of one of my favorite moments in the show:

Although the real holiday is September 16, (Wednesday) the main event in Mexico is el Grito de Dolores, which happens midnight of the 16th (or in this case 11pm due to torrential downpour) where thousands gather in the Zocalo in front of the National Palace to hear the President ring the same historic bell Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang on September 16th, 1810, and cry the same words shouted just before midnight to declare war on Spain. Although the original cry was uttered from the small town of Dolores, in the nearby state of Guanajuato, the original bell now hangs from the Palacio National in the Zocalo.

Please excuse the amateur videography. But this is my footage of the moment itself:

After el grito, the crowd disperses, and heads off to various celebrations City-wide, powered by plant-based beverages into the wee hours of the morning. The rest of our evening involved getting lost trying to find the bus and eventually boarding it, returning home, and defrosting our socks. Wild times. But I must say, totally worth it, a truly once in a lifetime opportunity.

The next day, we joined the rest of the bleary-eyed citizens of Mexico City for a bowl of birria, spicy meat soup, for “breakfast” (approximate time: 2pm). I can say that although the soup is a traditional hangover recipe, it tasted quite good even after a sober night! The music was loud, and many fellow patrons, hiding behind their sunglasses, ordered another round and fortified with spicy beef. Viva Mexico!

Perfect morning-after food: Birria and (for the strong willed) beer.

Perfect morning-after food: Birria and (for the strong willed) beer.

Bleary-eyed customers

Bleary-eyed customers

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Vivia la independencia! Viva Mexico!

The laws of human attraction baffle me here. I’ve never been one to reel in a lot of attention on the streets. I’m perfectly ok with that. There are plenty of beautiful women out there to do that job for me-who are built better, dress better, walk better, flaunt better… I’m always the lady walking behind the other lady that has a group of dudes track the progress of her behind all the way around the block. And then I walk by and run into a pole or drop my ice cream cone on my shirt. Hot.

Of course, there are times and places, right or wrong, when any woman expects the symphony of “praise” to be showered on her as she walks the streets- this for me is a 5-block stretch of South Broadway in Baltimore, or below many a construction project worldwide. Ok, lets just go ahead and be stereotypical here, it fits with my story. The “Mexican” (what many Americans refer to any Latino) guys in America are famous for this. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a baby or look like any of their Moms, but somehow they all think my name is “Mamasita.” Also, I think there is a guidebook out there instructing young Latino men that if you whistle and hiss, a woman will come running in response to your mating call, and darn if they don’t keep trying.

So sorry if I didn’t expect just the least bit of a reward for my grooming efforts down here in Mexico. I figured that any American woman down here, no matter if she was born to a wolf mother and hunchback father, would be the object of at least a little attention on the streets.

What? Nada.

Alright, lets be honest, maybe it’s me. First of all the women here are gorgeous, and DEFINITELY know how to flaunt it better. Or at all. These chicks wear 3 inch heels to the mall, the grocery store, the park, the street festivals, the airports…there is always product in their hair, always jewelry in their ears, and they always mark their territory with perfume…I can usually tell when one of my female neighbors has been in the elevator before me, and by now, I can pretty much tell who by the scent. I’m impressed- awed in fact at the grace in their stilt-walking steps and the time it must take to prep for simple outings. Naturally, in this type of environment, one such as myself would expect to be overlooked.  Again, I am perfectly content with that fact. In this context, it makes sense.  My housekeeper (I know, don’t judge) Imelda, with no malice intended, happily pointed this out to me as we chatted in the kitchen.

“Your mother in law wanted me to tell you,” she offered helpfully, “that you might want to start making more of an effort. Look at all the pretty women in the street. You’re not doing your husband any favors by dressing the way you do.”

Fact or fiction whether this came from my Suegra? No matter, message received. And filed in the “ask me if I care” folder.

Here’s where I begin to be baffled…

I have a magic hat. Really, it’s magic. The hat cost about $6.99 at Target. You’ve probably seen me wearing it. I do not wear it to be cool. I wear it because I often (as in, multiple times weekly) do not like wash, style, or brush my hair, at least before 1pm, and therefore when I can no longer stay hiding in my squalor because the dog needs a walk, I throw on the magic hat and a coat over whatever clothes I’m wearing and head out the door. This, my friends, is magic time for me in Mexico City.

They whistle. They mutter under their breaths. They stop me for directions then try to keep talking. They make me stand there with grocery bags that weigh 20 kilos and talk to me about dancing and would I like to go sometime. I’ve had men turn around from walking in front of me in the park, who I swear could only see me from spider sense, and start asking me out. Are they attracted to the smell? I have to angle my head to the opposite side of where they are standing to hide my morning coffee breath as I politely tell them I’m married.  This only happens, without fail, on the no-makeup, no-shower, hat hair, bleary-eyed afternoons. Never, never once I tell you, have I gotten a compliment following a morning I used a blowdryer. Or heaven forbid the rare day I feel like actually putting an “outfit” together or, deep breath, wearing a pair of heels to meet someone for dinner.

Someone explain this to me, please! Is it the thought that I just may be desperate enough to go out with anyone? Or maybe they think I work the nightshift or else there would be no other excuse for looking the way I do? Or maybe there is a Mexican tale that states a woman in a hat will fulfill all your wildest dreams? Does the  hat create a mirage of beauty?

Please don’t tell me it’s my natural beauty. I am a beautiful person, I think, but I have a great potential to have unbeautiful moments. The hat is always present during these times. I honestly think it’s the hat. I don’t know what it is. It could be the new match.com for underachievers. Magic, I tell you.

I think this one picture sums up the situation for dogs in La Condesa, my neighborhood. Consider it your moment of zen.

I was informed that this dog was on his way to a birthday partyI was informed that this dog was on his way to a birthday party

Enjoy, and have a pleasant weekend.

Apparently, anybody who’s anybody in Mexico, or a large part of Latin America, lives, writes, acts, and plays in our neighborhood. Everyone is hip. Everyone, except for those living in Departmento 702. (Alex and Ella, I love you but…me neither). This is the apartment which Monday-Friday is occupied by a person and a canine who don’t find it necessary to shower daily when they have no obligations to do so, nor put on clothing other than a sweatshirt and jeans (or go buck, in the case of the canine). And by sweatshirt, not some witty hipster trying-to-look-like-I-got-it-in-a-vintage-store-but-really-paid-$150-for-it, but an actual, I-got-this-in-the-puyallup-value village-in-1998-and-still-wear-it-and-saw-the-exact-same-sweatshirt-on-the-poor Hmong boy-in-Clint Eastwood’s-Grand Torino-sweatshirt.

uh, the kid in the headlock is wearing my sweatshirt

uh, the kid in the headlock is wearing my sweatshirt

My neighbor across the hall from us is a Telenovela star for goodness sake- living the highlife and having people coming and going at all hours, including to play guitar hero starting at 8 am on a Monday morning and finishing around 3 am wednesday morning. But so goes the life of the rich and famous.

You would think that this is one of the fanciest neighborhoods in DF (DF=distrito federal=mexico city). No, it’s quite nice aesthetically, with actual living things known as trees which hide the brown tint of the sky, and parks that are actually beautiful spots with plants and not just plots of dirt scattered with garbage, a bench or two and the occasional bush.  There are no bodyguards, gated accesses, walled fortresses that are single family homes, escalade SUVs, german-speaking communities,  or any other aspect of the typically highest-echelon Mexican neighborhoods. Apparently, it’s hip to be in the middle class. So here we are. In hipster land. And we all know famous people love to be hip.

This is the land where the writers, poets, playwrights, journalists and screenwriters crank out their masterpieces chainsmoking in the sidewalk cafes. This is where they film any variety of soap operas, tv shows and movies on the street (more than one I think my dog has accidentally been an extra in, performing her bodily functions). This is where I have to skirt around supermodels having their portfolio pics taken in the park, where I almost ran into Diego Luna getting out of an SUV to hit up the pharmacy on our corner early one Sunday morning, where Malkovich stayed while directing the Buen Canario starring aforementioned Diego Luna, where the mayor lives a few blocks from our house, and Gael Garcia, and the list goes on.

The problem:  for the most part, I don’t know who these famous people are. And they’re EVERYWHERE. Why is this a problem? Well, the majority of human encounters I have around here is in Parque México, 1/2 block from our apartment. (more on this park in another post, it deserves its own). And these human encounters usually happen when our dogs are sniffing each other’s butts. This is how I “met” the director of Amores Perros, although of course I didn’t know it was the director of this famous Mexican movie, until some guy on a bench pointed it out to me afterwards with overwhelmed reverence for this stranger who I had been talking to with a bag of dog poop in my hand.  Ok, that’s not so bad…it’s kind of nice not knowing people are famous when you encounter them, kind of empowering actually, to be able to interact with them as the regular humans they are, without stoking their self-esteem more than it needs to be stoked.

But then, when you’re me,  you’re bound to do something stupid, and if you’re also me, it’s probably going to be in front of somebody famous. Like the time I wanted to bodyslam Bill Murray at the Daily Grind coffee shop in Baltimore for standing in the doorway and not moving when I came in, giving his party all the dirty glares I could muster,  having to be told not-so-subtly by my frantic roomate that the person I was complaining about audibly was in fact Mr. Murray.

Sorry, Bill.

Sorry, Bill.

So, I was surprised, but not all too surprised when browsing the New York Times online this morning and came across an article featuring a famous Mexican author to whom I made an idiot out of myself one day in the park. Thanks world, not only did I make a fool of myself,  I now know that I did it in front of an extra intelligent person. Yes. It’s not the worst of my tales, a simple math mistake if you will, but this was merely weeks after graduating with dual masters degrees. It went something like this:

He has a basset hound, I have a basset hound. This makes us talk to each other in the park. It is morning. I am not a morning person. Those of you who know me, know this is not merely a statement, but a very real truth.  I ask, in Spanish,

“how many months old is your dog?” (I think it’s a puppy.)

He responds, with a smile, “48”

I say, “Oh! So he’s 2 years old!” (it was morning)

“it’s a girl”

(awkward pause)

“she’s four years old”

(Megan smiles. Not computing…not computing…morninnnnng….)

(he shifts uncomfortably. dogs finish mutual butt sniffing)

“um, I guess I’ll see you later”

(Megan still blank look on face) “Uh? ok…bye….”

(about 45 seconds pass after he leaves)

“oh, sh#($*%t.!”

(Megan has realized she appeared to have IQ of a sea slug. Megan now avoids this man in the park, even though she sees him at least every other day. Megan now realizes he is a critically acclaimed author).

Oh the injustice...this man is better at writing...and math

Oh the injustice...this man is better at writing...and math

Ah well, it could have been worse, right? But if you know of any more famous Mexican people I should be on the lookout for, please send me a photograph, ASAP. I have a lot of free time and a lot of opportunities for these types of activities. I’m curious though…would you rather remain in the dark, or be on the lookout for potential famous people? I remain undecided, but would rather continue glaring at them when they run into me with their grocery carts in the supermarket…