As luck would have it, the camote man turned up on my birthday. We’d put away beer after beer and pizza after pizza, I had a birthday brownie (fully equipped with ice cream) comin’ my way, and there came a whistle so plaintive it could have only one source. While indeed plaintive, the whistle also has the quality of “extreme volume,” so a friend easily tracked the man down and had him wheel over to our table. One of the Japanese people I’d only just met bought me a camote with condensed milk. Some brave entrepreneur needs to import this ancient tradition into Los Angeles.
(The ancient tradition of Japanese people buying me sweet potatoes.)
My experience of D.F. eating culture mostly comes down to comida corrida, or street food. In line with the general phenomenon of every patch of open space becoming a store, many of those stores sell tacos, quesadillas, sincronizadas, tortas, huaraches, flautas, sopes, gorditas, empanadas, pan dulce, fruit with chili and lime, prepared tamarind… the list goes on. You find good things to eat on almost every city block. (You also find less appealing stands that sell what I call “sun-dried sushi.”) We’ve eaten full meals, and eaten well, for around five U.S. bucks. Not to say that you can’t go all-out; when friends took us to Roma’s famous Contramar, we ate a meal we’ll never forget — and it still cost about two-thirds of what an equivalent L.A. restaurant would have. If an equivalent exists.
One possible structuring principle for a future Japan trip: go from jazz club to jazz club to jazz club. Given Japan’s large, enthusiastic jazz culture, this would ensure a rich experience. The same goes for Mexico City coffee culture; on some days, the drive to find the next coffee shop seemed to hold everything together. I need give you no more detailed a starting point than the café de olla found at Coyoacán’s Café El Jarocho.
This reminds me to reflect upon how much sweeter a café de olla tastes than anything I get into the habit of drinking — or eating, for that matter — in L.A. Vast swaths of Mexico City’s culinary scene could take their slogan straight from those Juicy Fruit commercials of the late nineties: “Gotta Have Sweet ®”. I reached the apex of this at Churrería El Moro, an all-night churro joint in el Centro that offers four different kinds of hot chocolate, each sweeter than the last, for the express purpose of churro-dipping. (One even has what looks like a warning on its menu line: “MUY DULCE”.) I took two of these churros home with me but left them on the floor of a cab, which is the greatest loss anyone can experience.
A less appetizing element of that night in el Centro: digging to build a new Metrobús station, a crew seemed to have hit a sewer line, smelling up the whole block and beyond with human poop. This rarely happens in the States, but then again, you don’t get a bus service as good as the Metrobús in the States. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.
If you go to Coyoacán for a café de olla, do pay visits to Frida Kahlo’s house and, a few blocks away, Leon Trotsky’s house, both of which stand as museums about their former residents. I don’t have to tell you to go to those, actually; almost every foreigner seems to. While I have no particular love of -isms, I gather that Leon Trotsky’s fans consider him the one communist you can like without getting too much historical blood on your hands. How they feel about the Negritos machine installed in his backyard I cannot discern.
Speaking Spanish and Japanese, languages I don’t even understand well enough to call “second,” brings to mind a piece of research I once read about. I can’t find the original now, but, in gist form, it found that autistic men marry foreign wives much more often than non-autistic men do. (Here’s an Asperger’s-type forum thread discussing it.) We’ve all met the caricature couples of socially maladroit men with wives from halfway across the world (usually Asia, in my experience), and it’s easily observed that ladies who come from other cultures don’t care about or, often, even notice the quirks that put off their men’s own countrywomen. But I bet the obvious and thus acknowledged communication barrier between partners from different cultures also wards off the kind of misunderstandings that come from the assumption that two people, by virtue of being born in the same country and natively speaking the same language, can and should communicate with perfect clarity, as if by telepathy.
One of our Japanese friends doesn’t live in Mexico City; she quit her job in Tokyo and came to visit her sister here for a few months. Discussing this in Spanish, I’ve heard the verb “renunciar” come up. It means “to quit” or “to resign,” but I like the sound of it: “She renounced work.” After two and a half months of my current, very unsustainable lifestyle, I’ve begun to feel like I, myself, have renounced work.