Friday, Feb. 26th, 2016
1 p.m. Arrive from Chicago to Mexico City Airport. Waiting in customs line.
3 p.m. After a frustrating 2 hours of trying to get my phone to work, finally connected with cousin Christian who picks me up from airport and off we go driving through city streets to funeral parlor. Suitcase in trunk.
4 p.m. Arrive at funeral parlor amidst a gigantic celebration pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe. Thousands of people walking around, firecrackers going off that make you jump every other minute. An explosion of noise, colors and smells.
Once inside, I see relatives I haven’t seen in 40 years, 20 years, and a few months. We embrace and kiss each other on the cheeks. I walk into the parlor where Tia Chica is laying. She is wearing her coat and clutching her rosary and looks at peace. Her hair is still speckled black and white – just like the last time I saw her. Floral fragrances penetrate the air. We wait for the priest for what seems like hours and finally he arrives. He proceeds to give a full mass in spanish. I am glad that my parents made me go to mass in spanish a few times as a child but it is still not enough. All of us American mexicanas are completely lost. My sisters and I walk up to the casket together and cry and pray and embrace. Everyone cries as they weep their final goodbye and we console one another. We are united in our mourning. Dad goes with her body to the crematorium and we don’t see him again for hours.
6 p.m. Cousin Christian drives us back through the city so that we can check into the hotel and clean up before dinner. None of us have eaten anything in over 12 hours. We laugh and cry so hard we almost pee our pants. We fall back into our sisterly roles and pick on one another- taunting and teasing and loving each other only the ways that sisters can. We feel sorry for Christian for having to put up with us.
8 p.m. We are on fumes but refuse to eat hotel food and lay in bed. Christian takes us to La Casa de los Abuelos for dinner. Mom asks for a drink and I’m thinking that’s a great idea, I could really use a good drink. The waiter says they don’t serve alcoholic beverages at La Casa de los Abuelos. Somehow this leaves us in hysterics. Poor waiter. We inhale our food. Meet up with Dad after dinner back at the hotel and yell at him for not eating anything (he is diabetic). Around 1:30 in the morning, we fall asleep and I get the big bed all to myself while my sissys share one. They tease each other about eating too much dairy and what might happen as a result. Ah- good times with sisters.
Saturday, Feb. 27th, 2016
5:30 a.m. My eyes open wide and adjust to the dark. Argh! I can’t sleep. I get on my phone in the dark and look at social media. Somehow this bothers my sisters- can’t understand why. Uber is supposed to pick us up at 7 am – we need to get an early start to this day. I’m going to beat them to the showers.
7:30 a.m. My sister Veronica just accused me of trying to boss them around like if they were my kids. Some habits just die so hard, especially when you are used to being bossy. We wait downstairs in the hotel lobby.
8:30 a.m. We arrive at cousin Marta’s mom’s house who lives across from where Tia Chica lived for 40 years. Cousin Cynthia has arrived from Holland- have not seen her in 8 years. We catch up and I drink cafe de olla for the first time- why have I not had this before? Coffee, cinnamon, piloncillo all mixed together. There is a relaxed, familiar feel to the morning- like you are a small child again, visiting your relatives with your parents but this time you are not bored and asking when are we leaving every five minutes. You wish you could stay- always. Small, protected, warm and safe from all that life will give you- the good and the bad. Because unlike when you were a child- now you know what lies ahead.
9 a.m. We arrive at the Antigua Basilica. Built in 1536, it still stands and is under considerable repair but as you walk inside, you feel the ground shift up and down below you. It seems to be on a hill or slope of sorts and if you think too much about it, you get dizzy. This magnificent antique cathedral is exquisite, on par with the likes of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I am entranced as always by the ceilings and stained glass windows. We are silent in our thoughts as we walk around, observe, reflect. We also visit the new one- the Basilica de Guadalupe built in 1974, where there is a mass being observed. We walk around and up to the miracle- the apron containing the image of the Virgin Mary who appeared to Juan Diego. The apron is under bullet-proof glass and remains completely immaculate and intact- just as it was hundreds of years ago.
10 a.m. After a little shopping at the Basilica, we make our way to the cemetery where Dad’s parents- our Abuelitos are buried. Minus Dad, it’s our first time here. It is a quiet and emotional trek that we take to place flowers at their grave site. The air is slightly damp and the sky is gray. It grieves with us.
11:30 a.m. Back to home base we go. They feed us tlacoyos. I have never eaten or heard of this meal before. It is a blue corn meal tortilla stuffed with cheese or chorizo. On top you place nopales, then you sprinkle cheese and hot salsa. It is a gigantic explosion of flavors in your mouth. How have I not eaten this either? When we are done, we walk around the neighborhood on city streets with random eyeless dogs staring at you and come upon a farmer’s market. We are face to face with cow tripes, fish, long, slimy pieces of beef, cut up jicama drenched in lime juice, peeled coconut strips, honey covered bunuelos, and every type of the most beautiful produce you can imagine.
5 p.m. After visiting with relatives throughout the afternoon, a group of us heads over to el Centro- the Zocalo. It is the largest plaza in Latin America. We walk around, burning time, enjoying each other’s company, knowing we only have hours left in this city, here together. We visit the main square, Mexico City Cathedral, Templo Mayor archaeological site, and an ice cream shop. The energy of the hundreds of people and of the history of my people, their souls and spirits- vibrates through my body. This is one of many places throughout Mexico where the Spaniards conquered and killed hundreds of Aztec Indians and destroyed their civilization in the 16th century. There is both a beauty and sorrow in these holy places.
6:30 p.m. We meet everyone for one last family dinner at what was my Abuelito’s favorite restaurant- Centro Castellano– in operation since the 1940’s. The ambience, food and service is a pleasure for every one of my senses- sight, taste, touch, sound. Our appetizers are individual shrimp caldos, platters with roasted garlic pieces, Spanish frittata, fried calamari, cheese with serrano ham and wait for it… roasted BULL’s blood! We drink sweet sangria, sing to the band, wiggle our bodies, and eat until our tummies are about to explode. We toast our Tia Chica- only she could have brought us all together here, this evening, for a brief moment in time. We sorrow that it took this to get us here.
Sunday, February 28th, 2016
12:30 a.m. Believe it or not, we end up at a bar in Coyoacan- the pueblo where Frida Kahlo was born and raised. I am delirious with exhaustion. I don’t remember much at this point except one singular thing- I am craving a mexican corn off of the street. What is that you ask? A mexican corn for those of you who don’t know is one of life’s most simplest pleasures. You take a cooked corn, place it on a stick, slather it with mexican cream and sprinkle heavy amounts of parmesan cheese on it. The grand finale is of course – the hot sauce! This my friends was my last morsel in Mexico City.
3 a.m. We stagger to our beds. I sleep for 3 hours and then wake, shower, pack and wait for my Uber driver. My tummy is not well- no surprise there.
6:30 a.m. The haunting sounds of a singing priest reciting morning mass echo through the streets. It is the only sound I hear. It’s dark and I see lumps of people sleeping on the grass underneath blankets. Goodbye my Mexico. My heart aches for what I know I will miss when I get on that plane – my familia mexicana and their unending generosity, warmth, love, and my sense of belonging. My tummy aches too for different reasons and you know what- it was well worth every morsel!