Mexico City Blog 1: Scene-Setting

7 February 2019

In her first blog, Natalie Russo who is studying at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México tries to unravel some of the details of the buzzing life in Mexico City.

natalie blog

I had planned to play the level-headed "Louis Theroux" journalist card this academic year, but that intention was chucked off the balcony when I arrived in a very big and baffling Mexico City which has decidedly taken the reigns to show me all sorts of thrilling and baffling things, in days which are unfurling in what feels like a very Latin American way. (It's not only in salsa that I have had to follow and not lead the dance.) I've been here 2 months, and still without a chosen topic and rather all my thoughts sprawled across my mind, I've dedicated this first blog to scene-setting.

Natalie Ruso B1 Rain

Starting off: yes, this city has control over me, but the weather has absolute power over the city. At 11am, we get a period of nice sunshine- and hot, considering Mexico City is 2,200m closer to the Sun than London. A thrashing thunder and lightning storm awaits us in the evening.

Natalie Ruso B1 Pasteleria

And so life fits around this daily cycle: Pink street cabs, Volkswagen Beetles, the wide and box-like Metro; ... Lots of dogs :), from Chihuahuas to hairless Xoloitzquintlis to... Pit Bulls; ... Pastelerías, shoe shine stands, internet cafés, a scattering of Walmarts (the beasts) but second to exciting and bountifully-stuffed covered markets; ... 2018 election propaganda on the walls (Mexico's first left-wing president López Obrador is inaugurated on December 1st) and twangy Banda songs playing in the distance; ... Street vendors selling single cigarettes, these notorious marzipan wheels, phone chargers; cyclists selling tacos out the basket (SOFT shells only); puestos, puestos, puestos, puestos. ... Pretty riveting!

Natalie Russo B1 cars

The hallmark of my Mexican experience has been buying from these "puestos": put-up put-down stalls of food, books, jewellery... They sit on curbs and crowd metro exits with colour, they are informal but important to the running of the city. The only thing I cannot bear is the amount of serviettes and plastic cutlery which are constantly dished out to customers and then thrown away: so, I reuse my spoons and tubs and tuck into some esquites (es-kee-tes), a delicious cup of corn topped with mayonnaise, cheese and red spice powder, in some peace. I'll have had my water bottle filled up with Horchata, too, that beautiful rice drink. I say "some" peace: I think I've come to accept the staring, but my mind's still trying to process weirdly amicable, if not intense behaviour from the odd stranger. Is there a kind of xenophilia in the mist? Sometimes? Mmm. It makes me uncomfortable, and the machismo can go away, too.

Hypocritically, I'm people-watching all the time. My flat window's the best for it, three floors up and on the grungy high street that connects Copilco metro station and the UNAM's central campus, so there are always students about. And complementing this, I used to live in one of Mexico's "Pueblos Mágicos" (Magic Villages), Coyoacán, which is probably used for the cover of the Lonely Planet guidebook it's so quaint (think Frida Kahlo's house). It also boasts a fantastic Cineteca Nacional- look it up

For now, I'm swinging by the puestos and then walking up through the university's massive green spaces, past the mesmerizingly-tiled Central Library, and right around the University Stadium to an 8am. The night is spent with my four Mexicana flatmates who are also undergrads with stacks of "tareas" (homework), but with just as much time for evening chatter; topics range from religious practices to Mooncups, which is fun!

These girls and my other Mexican friends have been everything to my stay. They've armoured me up with the jewels of their slang and the basic cumbia moves, but their words on Mexican life have been even more necessary protection, and 100% worthy of my next blog: they've guided me through this last month which has surged with political protest... marches for abortion rights, the still-missing 43 students of Ayotzinapa, the 50th anniversary of the Mexican Movement of 1968... And out of nowhere, a 3-week university strike?

In the meantime, a song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkFJE8ZdeG8

Natalie Russo B1 graffiti