Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Mexico - the second time round nearly ruined me. It was the memory of the first time that was the thing. I couldn’t even remember how long ago it was since I’d visited, but the stamps inside my passport soon cleared up any ambiguity. Three years. I felt much older, less wide-eyed and more well practiced in the art of tolerating my own company.

The feeling of aloneness seems to have little do with how many people are around you. Mexico city is one of the most populated places on the planet. The first night I slept in a cheap hotel. The soft furnishings were brown, there were cigarette burns in the bed sheets and my window looked straight at a large and noisy extractor fan. These things didn't bother me. Hotel rooms are for sleeping in, not wallowing in. However, the lack of toilet seat was literally a pain in the arse.

Jet lag prodded me into consciousness at an unreasonable hour, so I decided to pack my things and head out to find another cheap, but hopefully, better hotel. That day’s dawn saw me walking down a busy street in Mexico city’s historical centre as the shoe shine merchants set up their stalls and men with trolleys shifted goods around the city before the day began. I stopped at every cross roads to check in with my map.

I'd arrived on the Tuesday and I was due to give a master class at a university on the friday, so I spent a few days pottering around in Mexico City. The cathedral bells echoed around and brushed my ears with delight every fifteen minutes. After numerous goading tolls, I decided to go and investigate the source of the sound. The Cathedral on the Zocalo is a wonderful thing. Even the depths of my atheism did not fail to wince in amazement at the scale of that building. It's not that I hadn't seen the Cathedral before. I'd stood outside it in the dazzling midday heat three years previously, in the company of a person I hardly knew, at the time. I hadn't been inside it before. I'd experienced the exterior but this time was more about what lay behind and around it. 

After the deciphering of many things Hispanic, I realised that it was possible to go up onto the roof of the Cathedral and see the bells up close. I bought a ticket and waited around, hoping that I hadn’t got the wrong end of the stick. I clocked another non-Spanish speaking person who seemed to be in the same predicament as I. He was a tall, blond man from Australia who, to my surprise, answered to the name of ‘Bret’. I explained my findings to him and we climbed the bell tower together.

The bells on the Cathedral roof were mighty. They were bigger than my body. The thingies inside them which makes them ring (what do you call them? Dongy things?Swingy chimes? Bongy wotsits? Suggestions welcome) were bigger than my cranium.

After that, my mind was a little flimsy and open to suggestion. I went for a beer with Bret and watched the sun setting from a roof terrace above the Zocalo. The colour the sun cast on the opposing buildings was a rich yellow. I felt that nothing could have made that moment better*

I was a little tipsy but I felt quite sober. My hotel was only ten minutes away so I wandered back, setting off in entirely wrong direction which meant I was walking for a good two hours. I passed by a number of men in sombreros, sleeping with their guitars propped up against them. I came across a Mariachi playing a Paraguayan harp. I can't imagine every foreigner he happened upon even knew the difference between a Banjo and a Ukulele so he seemed impressed by assertion that "me gusta el arpa de Paraguay". I had another beer or two, sat on out some square in the cool evening air.  I think I ate some chicken wrapped in a tortilla, which broke my vegetarianism of 17 years**.

After a good amount of confused map reading, I found my hotel again, filled up my water bottle, climbed into my little bed and let the Cathedral bells chime me to sweetly to sleep.*** 

 *I since learned that it could have been slightly improved upon if I'd have have ordered a Michalada ‘Bohemia Obscura’ beer. Naivety was saving that liquid delight for another moment.

** Excluding the rabbit incident of 2009. See previous blog.

*** the standard tune that chimes the bells of Mexico City Cathedral is conspicuously major in key, but the resonance of the bells is so pronounced that is actually sounds quite minor. This gives the strangest effect, and it vexed me every time I heard it because I just couldn’t work it out. After a few days of the delightful but interminable ringing, I escaped to the coast where nothing but the sound of pacific waves breaking ran through the sonic landscape.

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to hear those bells! I think the inside dingy thing is called a clapper. (doesn't sound very dingy does it?!)