That Sanborn's Sailor DressMonday, December 24, 2012
|Lauren Stewart & her Sanborn's Can Cun sailor dress|
Going back to a city that was so much a part of my life was exciting, off-putting, challenging, stressful, surprising, pleasant, nostalgic and ultimately even more than all that. Cities refuse to fit in with one’s idea of what they were about and the reality of what they really are cannot be understood with my mere four days in Mexico City.
Flying over the city, at night annihilates any idea of what one might think is a really big city, unless you happen to do the same over Tokyo.
Going through customs immediately made me think that everything was possible or not possible and that routine was a word that can never apply to a city such as Mexico City.
When I was about to take off in my predictably, boring (in that most Canadian definition of boring) Air Canada flight I knew that I could not breathe in relief (the stress of the expectation that something, unexpected can always happen in Mexico) until I could hear the wheels of the undercarriage being tucked in.
In Mexico City, after years of having lived there and after years of not having lived there, I still walk around, sit, relax, sleep, laugh, smile and even go to the bathroom with every one of my senses working full-time.
My relatives in Argentina do not believe me when I tell them that the electric (plugged into the wall) Kit-Cat clock in my kitchen tells accurate time even after a year (I do not tell them of the wind storms that sometimes make trees in our back alley fall and electricity is cut off for a few hours). I tell them that in Canada we have, air, space, water and 110 volts that are unwavering and as steady as the 60 cycles of our alternating current.
|Candy bars I used to buy when I was 15, still available at Sanborn's|
Being in Mexico always makes me think of Carlos Fuentes’s novel El Gringo Viejo and how Ambrose Bierce went to Mexico to die. Unable to control his personal destiny on his own, Bierce depended on Mexico and its gods to take care of business. I must have since Bierce disappeared in that country where things happen and some never do unless you have enough money in the pocket for a bribe.
On my way to Mexico City I had chatted with all my close seat neighbours. Coming back (via Toronto), a Mexican widow by the window seat and I exchanged notes. It seems we had both married within months of each other in 1968. I had spoken with one of the flight attendants, Marcos who was an Argentine. His boss the senior flight attendant was into cats so we showed each other pictures of our loved ones. When time came for the on board food service my fellow passengers could but not notice that I had been also served with a little tub of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice-cream that had been “purloined” on the side from first class.
It was only when I was in my Boeing 777 cattle car that reality set in. I was in the middle seat between a young woman who never looked at me (and I had to avoid looking at her cleavage until she finally covered it all up) and who passed her left hand, then her right hand over her strands of hair for a solid four and a half hours. She watched movies on her seat without earphones. The man on my right, a youngish Ottawa bureaucrat (coming perhaps via Toronto) was reading Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard P. Feynman but alternated this watching a film about a grown man who talked to a talking Teddy Bear and another that featured a crazy American comic actor who happens to swear like his mother when he is bitten by a snake at church. For four of those almost five hours three babies cried without stopping. I told the bureaucrat that this was one of the worst flights I had ever been on. He could not understand and dismissed me with a lukewarm smile.
Within three, almost four days, the predictability of things Canadian and the unpredictability and uncertainty of a friendly country, which is especially friendly if you speak the language, became most obvious to me. My Mexican Spanish came back with a fury and before I knew it I was almost a Chilango, a long-time resident of that place where the eagle bit on the snake.
As friendly as Mexico City felt I am not sure I could ever go back to live there. On street corners I saw men with dark glasses hovering around big black SUVs. They looked idle but perhaps they were not.
Walking the streets I saw that the life of the streets in Mexico City is that of our Main and Hastings multiplied by a factor of one thousand or more. I saw the anguish on the faces of young people and old. It was the anguish of having to cope with the stress of living in a city that represents the future of most cities of the world if we do not do something now.
There was an old Native Mexican woman sitting against the wall of a very dark street at 10 in the evening with an array of goods that nobody would ever buy. The goods brought a level of respect to her obvious profession of beggar. A little girl by her side said in Spanish, “Abuelita (little grandma) when are we going home?” By my logic that woman would have lived very far away. Would the little girl get home by midnight? But like a Mexican who has lived in that city for such a long time (even though I can no longer claim that) I did the usual and kept on walking without stopping to give. I felt ashamed.
But I cannot end this with such a sad note.
I went to Sanborn’s a few times. Sanborn’s has the best that American drugstores have and more, with the Mexican twist that you can eat, (even dine!) buy books (a great selection), electronics, jewelry (very good assortment of Mexican Sterling Silver), clothing, candy, cakes, cookies and the list goes on. In the bookstore I found many books but only purchased four, including one which is the latest novel by my fave Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
It was quite a few years ago that at a Can-Cun Sanborn’s I purchased the little sailor dress I have photographed both my granddaughters in.
Some things in that huge city (a city that is constantly sinking into the lake it drained) will never change. And one of those things, I can happily report here is that Sanborn’s has not changed, and in fact was every bit exactly how I imagined it to be.
Unfortunately this picture of Lauren with her violin in her Sanborn’s sailor dress is much too small for her to wear it again. Will I be around when one of their offspring might just put it on? Only time will tell. And seeing that we are indeed in Vancouver, Canada, my chances are pretty good.