By the third day, you would consider drowning a kitten, or giving up sex, for a decent cup of coffee. Such a pedestrian pleasure is hard to come by, apparently, and when you ask for it, a mug of almost-hot water gets plopped on the table with a jar of instant. Looks like sisters are doing it for themselves.
A better bet is the OXXO chain, where you can get a Styrofoam take-out of those fake lattes. While not technically “good,” machine cappuccino is a delicious kind of guilty. And also, they are crack. Except that in Mexico, everything is ten times sweeter, and you can choke on the sugar. It’s not drinkable, but the sugar-free is worse. It’s Aspartame extremism. The stuff is so sweet that your eyes unhinge themselves from their sockets.
Coffee in Mexico is, quite literally it seems, more rare than gold. There is gold everywhere, mountains of it, rising above you, showing you the way to heaven. Up, up, up it goes, taking your eye onto the frescoes where painted saints tell their stories. The altar in front of you is carved out of solid gold, and all the horrible and majestic history of Mexican mining and the Indians and land and the Spanish thieves and the grandeur of the church and beauty and all the art and skilled craftsmanship required and inspired, all of it is told to you on these altars.
The candelabra, the frames on the Old Masters, the painted trim and the statues, gold, gold, gold. At night the flames to the dead and of our sins flicker and the churches thrum with quiet fire. You can kneel inside of this beauty, you can light another candle for a lost soul that you are missing so hard you fear you could fall open, you can watch the silent tear-streaked faces glowing gold in the trembling light.
There is a gold beacon, a seven tonne angel, high above the maze and urgency of city traffic. El Angel, the Angel of Independence, stands triumphant and 22 feet tall, atop a column of 118 feet. Artist Enrique Alciati gave her wings by 1910 after a series of stops and starts and crumblings. Now Victory blinds in bronze, melting in the sun in a top coat of pure 24 karat gold.
But you can’t get a proper coffee.
Don’t worry, we’ll go to Starbucks, the artist tells you. If we have to, we have to.
You take two strong Americanos over to the Malecon and watch a little man all in white balancing a few dozen cubic metres of colourful puffed snacks on a bicycle. You have already tried the dayglo green cheesies, and they might not have been bad if the guy hadn’t soaked them with hot sauce. The flavour had real pep, but the soggy texture negated the crunch that you needed from such a calorie investment.
You sit behind the famous bronze dolphins and try to count the gold rays across the sea to the horizon but there are hundreds of them. The artist is telling you about what it was like, coming home after fifteen years. How he had gone into America through a hole in the fence when he was twelve, he’d been sent by his family to the other side. He’d had something of a life there, eventually. A wife and two kids, nearly teenagers now. A few years here and there in prison.
You both chain smoke, sipping the coffees. The artist wonders if he will ever leave again. He hopes never, he was homesick every minute and he is happier now, even though he was also near the ocean there. He doesn’t mind serving tourists at a restaurant or making postcard paintings of the river or the sea. He doesn’t want to live away from Mexico. There’s Aztec blood still running through these veins, he says.
Except he’s always been curious about Canada. Can you find construction work there if you’re willing, he asks. Is it easy to sell your art? Is the cold pretty?
But you wonder about moving here, what it would take to never have to leave. Its sweetness has been mainlined into your veins and going back home feels like grief. You could be an ex-pat, like Toller Cranston or Elizabeth Taylor. You could open a coffee shop, you could have good coffee with a Stevia option, nothing artificial, and local art, and maybe some poets could read there at night, too.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is a Toronto creative working in collage, paint, photography, poetry, and prose. Visit her at www.mixedupmedia.ca.
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