Where would I go if I could be magically transported? Hawaii – just went; Paris – maybe; Mexico City…..yes!!
I lived in Mexico City for three years and had several residences during that time – or at least some. The first “room with a view” had no view. It was small, big enough for a single bed, a chest, and a door. No window that I remember. No colors either, rather the maid’s room on the roof of a building above where my director, Sergio Olhovich, who took me to Mexico the first time for a role in his movie, lived with the family. Not much to describe.
My second room was the city apartment of a friend, Jeff Pinochet, who had a big house in Cuernavaca and a thirty minute drive south of Mexico City. The town apartment was bigger than the maid’s room: a living room, bedroom, small kitchen, on one of the main boulevards in the city. It was a dark apartment and I usually kept it dark. That was my dark period after deciding to live in Mexico. I found the British Library, checked out books, and sat on the floor reading, the books scattered on the floor and stacked on the coffee table. I only had a suitcase of stuff.
The third apartment happened because my friend Laura, who had worked on the same movie I’d worked, only she was a location scout, offered it to me when she was going to Palenque for three months to scout locations for another movie. Laura was far more in demand than I. And her apartment had two bedrooms. I took over one. In a neighborhood street market, I found a small unfinished table and carried it home, balanced on my head, and set up a writing space in front of a wide window overlooking the garden. I’d spent a couple of weeks teaching English at the Coca-Cola offices in the city and had a bit of money to spare. A wonderful and light-catching willow grew in the garden. Another family lived in a small back addition, and one evening I watched them celebrate a quinceanera (15th birthday), complete with fireworks, for the daughter. In Mexico that’s a big deal, welcoming the girl into adulthood with a beautiful dress. One afternoon when I was feeling distressed with my continued poverty and fretting over what in the world I was doing staying in Mexico instead of returning to New York (where I had an apartment with windows facing the street-and a desk), a slice of sunlight hit the willow and for one glorious moment, the magical tree sang light as if to reassure me of my choice.
And then, magic really did happen. I was hired by a travel agency as secretary to the American-born manager, Pepe Lobo. That wasn’t his real name, his real name was Joe Wolf, but he went by his Mexican name. He’d arrived in Mexico shortly after the revolution years to work on a railroad and he told stories of being paid in big silver pesos the size of oranges. Pesos weren’t quite that valuable when I got there. I think I earned 100 pesos a month for my part-time work in the mornings, typing letters and making a lot of mistakes. But the job came with an apartment on the top floor of the building. That was only four stories up, but I could take an elevator to work every morning and leave at lunch. I moved my table there too, into the back bedroom with a window. After a year there, I asked Pepe why in the world he’d hired me since I remained a troubled typist. “I didn’t hire you for your typing,” he said. “I hired you for your looks.” Oh.
I moved my writing to the bedroom and the bed to the living room because the first night after I moved in, I discovered a disco lived on the ground floor, behind the travel office, but directly under my bed. The music began at ten each night and went on until 4 a.m. In the living room, in a dark corner, the only sounds that woke me were the trucks rumbling through the streets in the early morning. The only earthquake I ever experienced came in that apartment. My sister was visiting when the overhead light began swaying and the room trembled. “Is than an earthquake?” she said. “Nah, I replied,” rather nonchalantly. “We’re built on a lake bed. It’s just the trucks.” “No,” she said. “That’s an earthquake!” Oh. The back bedroom window looked out over the city’s buildings, this in the Zona Rosa, the tourist part of the city, and in a corner of the building next door, a Jacaranda tree exploded into purple bloom each spring. If you know Mexico, you know that the dry season comes in the spring and the city hot and dusty and dirty after months of no rain. But in that worst of seasons, the Jacaranda bloomed unfailingly each spring, a promise the rains would come soon.
But the very best part of that apartment was a wide-spaced terrace beyond the front door. No one came to the fourth floor except the maid who also cleaned my apartment, and I could sit out there undisturbed and watch the sky and the city come to light each evening. Four blocks away, the Angel of Independence on Reforma Ave. flushed into illumination just at dusk. But even better? Across the street and two buildings away, King Kong graced the roof of the Banana Republic terrace and in his hand, lolled Fay Wray, long blond hair streaming from his grasp.
One summer, after a particularly brutal storm, I sat outside to view a clean-washed city and discovered King Kong had lost his arm; Fay Wray escaped at last.
Yeah. Send me back to Mexico, magic transport. And bring my husband with me.