Living in Rooms with a View

Thanks Wikipedia
Thanks to Wikipedia

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.




Daily Post: But No Cigar!

The prompt, to write about a time when “things came this close to working out…but didn’t” immediately made me remember a night in New York City when I’d just returned from making a movie in Mexico. The time, December 1985, and the place a Christmas party at my agent’s offices.

I’ve never been particularly great at parties and in New York I’d perfected the art of wallflower, hugging the sides of the party, rarely speaking, watching. But at this Christmas party, it was impossible to go unnoticed. My agent at the time introduced me as Janet-who’s-just-come-back-from-making-a-movie-in-Mexico as if I were a trophy rather than a person.

I must say, the introduction created a stir and everyone wanted to talk to me, the “everyone” being mostly other actors. I don’t remember any directors or producers although there might have been. I was too overwhelmed with questions and comments and hosannas to catch any names.

Everyone wanted to know who were the stars, who wrote the script, who directed, who were the stars, who produced, who were the stars. No one asked about Mexico.

Old Man Laughing
Old Man Laughing

I’d fallen in love in those six short weeks – with the people, the land, the sky, mountains, kindness and generosity. One night, I was blessed by a Mexican healer who was also my hairdresser, a curendera (who would later, after I moved to Mexico, become my mentor), and another day after I’d finished shooting, I’d driven into the countryside by myself and met extraordinary and ordinary Mexicans who all opened their arms and homes.

But at the party, no one asked about Mexico. And I felt pinned to the wall by their questions. I was on the brink of whatever measure success meant, and I hated every minute of it.

Over the next year, I kept returning to my friends in Mexico City whenever I could and finally, after one two-month stay escaping the bitterness of New York winters, I simply stayed. I didn’t go back. And I lived in Mexico for three years.

I stayed because I convinced myself there was film work I could do in Mexico through friends and contacts. And I did do more work. Many U.S. productions came to Mexico to shoot because it was cheaper and sometimes I worked as an actress and sometimes as a crew member. But I never went back to New York to live.

When I finally left Mexico, I moved to Washington D.C., essentially ending a serious film career although I have done film work since then in bits and pieces.

The second part of the Daily Prompt question was “Would you like the chance to try again, or are you happy with how things eventually worked out?”

Would I go back and redo the choice? No. Although each year when the Oscar season comes up, I feel a ping. I do like to visit New York and would even enjoy a summer-long stay; would I go back and redo the choice to return to the States from Mexico? No. But I’d go back to visit or live a few months in Mexico. Am I happy with how things worked out? Absolutely.

Fate and free will are interesting concepts, both in the thinking and in the living. I’ve thought about this often in my life of journeying and changing and layering careers. Which part is fate and which free will?

If I’d stayed in New York or even Mexico, I wouldn’t have married Cliff and I’m happier now, in our 1924-built Waldo home and with Cliff than I’d ever be just making movies, even in Mexico. Now, if I don’t feel like talking at a party, I smile while Cliff stands beside me, holds my hand, and carries on the conversation.

If you’d like to try the prompt yourself, go to

Found Treasures #1

The tale that wouldn’t stop wagging

In the latest office move and resultant clearing out and tossing, I’ve found saved treasurers that, taken together, may become a series: ergo the title. And like all saved gems, regardless of the makeup (glass, plastic, paper, pottery), they have a story. This story is The Tale That Wouldn’t Stop Wagging. And yes, I’ve used “tale” and not “tail.”

The tale really begins with my older sister Judy and me and sixty plus years of experiences, fighting as two sisters often do, and taking care, as sisters also tend to do.

The first time we each married, we married within two years of each other. Our children are stair-stepped in ages and the oldest grandchildren in the family. We both tended children and homes for a good many years and we both divorced. And then we each remained single for a good many more years. The last time we each married, the timing also ran to about two years apart, but until then we spent a lot of time taking care of each other in one way or another.

The Tale That Wouldn’t Stop Wagging is one of the reminders of that care taking.

The way we are different is also predictable: Judy, as oldest is remarkably responsible: a good employee; I, as second child, am remarkably irresponsible, never holding down a full-time job with benefits job in my life. We’ve both moved a lot, but my moves have tended toward the extreme while hers have remained in the Continental United States. This is minor, but figures into the tale of tails.

In the early 1980s, I lived in New York City for a few years. I can’t remember how or why I became a member of the Humane Society of New York, but I did. I had a cat, but she’d come to New York from New Orleans, so it wasn’t as if I used their services much. But I became a member.

And then, in the late 1980s, I moved to Mexico City. The cat lived with friends, and I left a forwarding address of Bellingham, WA, which is where my sister, her last name also Sunderland, lived at the time. Judy received the newsletters from the humane society. And then she moved from one address in Bellingham to another, and of course, the humane society was able to track that.

And then, she became Sunderland-Yorkey, and the humane society took note. Every once in a while, she’d receive another newsletter. And then she moved, with her husband, to Spring Texas. But still in the Continental United States with no gaps in addresses.

In about 2007, years after she moved, and years after I’d moved to Kansas City, and years after getting the last Humane Society of New York newsletter back in Bellingham, the above envelope arrived, replete with printed tails. She called and told me and we laughed long and hard, and then she sent it to me, and I wrote, “The tale that wouldn’t stop wagging” on it, and put it in a file, thinking it would be a good story someday. And then I responsibly cleaned out the file, found it again, and it is a good story.

That’s the problem with being responsible. Things find you.

Now she’s moved again but I’m still in Kansas City, a hyphenated-name in the files of the Humane Society of New York. But a few years have passed. Time enough for return envelopes to return and a new address begun. Eventually, another envelope will wend its way to where she is.

The tale to be continued, in one way or another, or as Judy puts it, “I’ve no doubt that when/if I get to Heaven, within a couple of weeks I will have mail from the NY H. S. addressed to “Janet Sunderland-Yorkey!”