Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mario, Paulina, and Leon Trotsky

The people of Mexico City are very cold today but I'm not even wearing a jacket. I went downstairs this morning to wait for Lucien's school bus wearing only a long sleeved t-shirt and a pair of jeans, True, I was also clutching a cup of very hot coffee, which may have had some impact on my temperature tolerance.

But you'd think we'd walked out into Siberia. The people on the street wore heavy winter coats with their chins tucked down inside. They looked miserable. I re-entered our building after Lucien's bus had carted him off to school and Carlos, the smiley doorman, asked, "Oh no, aren't you cold?" He blew on his hands to warm them and hopped a little from foot to foot to make sure I understood he was worried for my health. It's 58 degrees out there, Carlos, I think I'm gonna survive it.

We've hired a housekeeper. I was reluctant to hire help because I like my solo time when the kids are in school. I admit I'm a very strange person when I'm alone at home. There is a lot of talking to myself and some very odd outfits indeed when I don't need to go outside. My favorite pairing is my rainbow sundress with a bathrobe and Ugg boots. Cozy yet colorful. I also eat weird things when no one's watching, such as "sugar bread," which is exactly as it sounds -- butter and sugar on bread. I know, I'm an animal.

If someone were to be in the apartment with me all day, my concern was I would be more self conscious and could no longer be my strange self. I would have to get dressed for real, maybe even shower god forbid, and sit around looking proper and drinking tea or whatever when I really just wanted to crank some Metallica, sing into a cucumber and practice my rad spins.

I was quickly told by the Mexico City ex-pat ladies I was dumb for not taking advantage of what is very much the norm here. There's little downside to the housekeeping win-win. It's giving someone a well-paying job and freeing yourself up to focus on your interests. It would mean I could write pretty much all day, sitting in the sun with my laptop until my fingers fell off.  Heavenly.

I thought hard about it. Why was I fighting to do my own laundry instead of learning how to get dressed like a normal person every day? Why was I more willing to do sinkfuls of dishes than surrender a small bit of Metallica? Was I really that attached to pouring sugar on bread or would it be worth it to shelve that recipe for a bit in order to have someone else cook dinner?  And bottom line, which was preferable: doing all the work around here by myself as usual or finally devoting all of my waking hours to finishing the Paris book?

The answer was clear, the ladies were right, I was dumb. After a few recommendations and a very awkward interview (Alex didn't know the questions to ask and I didn't know how to ask anything at all so just sat there and smiled to show her I'm friendly), we hired Paulina. Paulina does not live in the apartment with us, as many housekeepers do, because she has a teenage daughter at home. She puts dinner on our table, says hasta luego, and returns at 10:00 the next morning. It's a perfect situation for her and for me -- she gets to be home with her daughter evenings and mornings and sometimes when Alex takes the kids swimming after he comes home from work, I still get a little lampshade-wearing, robot walking solo freak time.

When Paulina is here, you would not believe what all she does. Our laundry basket is always empty now, anything tossed in there is dealt with immediately. She takes Alex's shirts to the dry cleaners. She goes to the grocery store daily and cooks us dinner. She goes into our closets and organizes our drawers, refolds all our t-shirts and sweaters. I have not seen any dust bunnies since she arrived and I do not miss them; they used to blow like tumbleweed through Banister Abbey, stopping only briefly to mingle with large clumps of dog hair.

Paulina cleans out the refrigerator and packs the kids' lunches for the next morning. She washes our duvet covers at least once a week which makes me wonder, have I ever cleaned our duvet covers at home? Because it's not ringing any bells. Paulina irons everything, including our socks. She's also agreed to babysit once a week, something we'll be trying for the first time this weekend when we go out for dinner with two other couples.

This all sounds like bragging but I don't mean it as bragging, I'm more processing all she does for us in an incredulous manner and wondering why I chose to live here a full two and a half weeks without her. I don't miss sugar bread at all so far.

Paulina and Mario, our driver, who also does many things for us including buying all of Coco's school supplies (Mario is now her favorite person because he bought her the notebooks with the sparkles and sheets of stickers inside) are hugely helpful but truthfully, it's very awkward as we get to know each other and understand how to work together. Paulina does not speak one word of English and my Spanish, well, estoy aprendiendo but it still sucks. This has made for some painful "conversations" and some inevitable miscommunications. For instance, I seem to have given Paulina the impression we require lactose free milk. I have no idea how I did that, must have strung together some words I didn't even know I knew. I can barely say, "I like milk" but somehow managed "lactose intolerance?"

Now our fridge is full of the stuff and I can't bring myself to tell her we don't need lactose free milk. She was so happy to find it, even sent Mario to a larger grocery store farther away to find a larger container. I can't let her know her efforts were for naught, as well as being very confusing.

Lactose free milk tastes terrible but I still hiss at the kids "just drink it" and they dutifully glug glug glug with grimaces. Alex keeps sighing at me and telling me we have to tell her, that she'll understand it was a miscommunication, but I'm biding my time and instead constructing a needlessly complicated plan. We'll keep drinking the gross milk then I'll tell her in a month or so our lactose intolerance has been miraculously cured, perhaps due to Mexico City's fresh air (that's a joke, we live in pollution city).

We took the weekend away from the gross milk

We spent the weekend in Coyoacan, a former village outside Mexico City now considered a suburb. Coyoacan is where Frida Kahlo's house/museum is, still one of my favorite places in the city.

This is Mario navigating the insanity of Friday late afternoon traffic 
on a three-day holiday weekend.
The 30 minute trip to Coyoacan took two hours.

Alex planned the weekend. He was excited to do so because he had accumulated points via his credit card and could get us a hotel room for free. The only hotel that qualified for the points in the Coyoacan area was the Holiday Inn.  Alex told me Holiday Inns are nice in Mexico and anyway, the hotel didn't matter because we planned on spending most of our time in the historic center of the town. As long as we could walk into town, we'd be happy anywhere.

The Holiday Inn looked nice enough but things turned odd when the bellhop used the key given to us to enter our room and we walked in to find somebody else's belongings all over the place. Lucien was like,"this room comes with a lot of stuff" and then the realization dawned we were standing in the middle of someone else's room. We all turned and hightailed it out of there fast as we could. Thankfully the person whose room it was was not there -- or perhaps he'd heard us entering his room and was hiding behind the curtains with a sharp stick prepared to defend himself.

The bellhop stammered an apology and ran downstairs to straighten out the room situation. He returned and took us to a different floor. We entered that room and thought, "whoa, this is a really big room!" but soon realized it was because it was the handicapped accessible room and was meant to fit many wheelchairs. There was a large handicapped-friendly potty chair thing installed over the toilet, which I never did figure out, and the sinks were so low you ended up with a backache just for attempting a freshly scrubbed face.

Fine, the room was a little oddly sized for us and sure, we almost walked in on some other dude in the comfort of his own room but who cares as long as we could get into town.  Alex asked the person at the desk for the nicest walk route to the main square and the guy looked at him like he was crazy. You can't walk into Coyoacan from the Holiday Inn. You have to take a taxi and it's at least a fifteen minute ride.

Alex didn't make eye contact with me after that, just kind of repeated "but it was free but it was free but it was free" like a little mantra then said with a forced cheer, "OK, kids, let's go grab a taxi and get some food before your mother kills me."

Mariachi dinner
they were so loud we could not hear ourselves think.

Coyoacan, as always, is insanely charming. The best way to spend your time is to wander the Calle Francisco Sosa, a street full of historic old colonial homes. The sidewalk is so uneven it sometimes feels like climbing small rocky loose-tiled hills but it's worth the effort if you can survive the terrain. Aside -- I feel sad for those who need handicapped accessible hotel rooms at the Holiday Inn near Coyoacan because nobody in a wheelchair can come close to navigating most of those streets.

Calle Francisco Sosa

Alex has a co-worker, Eduardo, who lives in Coyoacan and after meeting for lunch, he and his wife invited us back to their house for tequila and coffee. Their house is one of the more unique homes we've visited and we were immediately informed by our children that our own house is "really boring."

there's a tree in their interior living space

and a hammock indoors
The Loosh is sneaking up the back stairs to the "playground..."

...said "playground" is the glass roof of the living room.

This is the slide they have on their roof.
We can't win.
Our house is indeed boring.

Our kids and Eduardo's kids acted just like kids, chasing each other around the house and laughing maniacally even though they speak zero languages in common. I wish I could run around and play tag with all the people I've met here with whom I cannot even remotely converse.  It would take so much pressure off the situation. "You're it, Senor Scowly!" *takes off running and laughing down the street*

I wish I could play with Senor Scowly, carefree,
on a set of aerial silks in the living room.

The next day our family visited the Leon Trotsky Museum, which is located in the home where Trotsky lived after being granted political asylum in Mexico. I wasn't very interested in the museum before we went but by the time we left I was on fire with the Bolsheviks and Stalin and Marxism and KGB assassinations. My favorite museums are the ones located directly where the history happened, or directly where historical figures lived.  I loved Frida's house for that very reason; you get to know people better when you're walking through their living spaces.

The same went for Trotsky. I got to know him better when walking through the heavily fortified iron doors of his bedroom and seeing where he was sitting in his study when he got an ice pick to the head. I understood how very afraid he was for his life, and also learned that when Stalin wanted you dead, didn't matter where you were, you got dead.

Trotsky's house, all windows and doors bricked up and a guard tower for his security.
It didn't work for long.

The study where Trotsky was sitting when he was assassinated.

Coco being very unnerved by the heavy iron doors to Trotsky's bedroom.
You don't come to Trotsky's house to have fun, little girl.

Pretty house, though, guard tower and all.

Lucien and Coco sit in the garden outside the guards' house and contemplate Marxism.

Paulina just placed a stack of our underwear on the ironing board.
The woman is out of control,


  1. Why can't you still eat sugar bread and wear weird things when the housekeeper is around? Thems sound like stupid normal-people rules. Your housekeeper interview reminds me of the movie Spanglish.

    Oh god, I was once given the wrong room key and walked into someone's room while they were in the shower! To this day I still have major anxiety every time I open a hotel room.

    1. It's true, Bec, I probably could do the same things in front of poor Paulina I do at home. I just hate to scar her like that, and give her a worse impression of Americans than she likely already has. Ambassador!

      Your hotel story is worse than mine. I am so sorry. It's a weird thing to unintentionally wander into someone else's personal space. If you'd wandered into mine, I'd be wearing sundresses with bathrobes and emptying packets of sugar into my mouth.

      I'm so happy you're still with me, Bec!

  2. Loving the Mexican tales!
    Housekeeping question: the european washer/dryer combos (Paris and Madrid) and even the standalone dryer (Amsterdam) never got our laundry dry, so we had to drape it all over the furniture in the tiny apartments. How does it work in Mexico? And what did you do in Paris? That's the biggest foreign travel mystery for me.

    1. Truthfully, things in Mexico are much more like things at home than things were in Paris. Our washer and dryer here look much the same as they do at home, except with Spanish labels on the knobs. No problem to figure those out.

      Paris was much more complicated. We at first had a machine that washed/dried in the same machine. That didn't work at all, so we also draped our clothing all over the apartment to dry it.

      Then we had a separate washer with the metal latch claw thing that imprisons your clothing, and two rooms away a thankfully somewhat sane dryer. The dryer worked great; the washer broke a bunch of times and they always told us it was our fault. Ha. I miss Paris now.

  3. Hahaha, I remember your post on your first washer/dryer, where all it did was turn your clothes into a scalding hot mess of...well, wet clothes.

    I hope with your free time, while not writing the book, will involve you updating us with your adventures!

    It sounds like you already have a better day-to-day support network than Paris, are you feeling less apprehensive about adjusting to life abroad again now that you're there?

  4. Oh man, I remember that washer/dryer. What a mess. Mexico is friendlier to the ex-pat than Paris, and there are awesome funny people here, truth. We're feeling good for the most part though missing our people at home.