Years ago, when I was nomadic full-time, I wrote in a notebook that I thought one needed to be in a place for 6 weeks to fully feel lived-in—to get some kind of first real understanding of a city. I don’t know the mathematics of how I came to that number (likely none) but I’ve thought of it through the years.
I’ve now spent 12 weeks in Mexico City so by my own theory I should know this place doubly, whatever that means. And I think I do—I have my own places now. Places where I like to get coffee, tacos, croissants; or where I like to read, write, edit, or even where I know there’s a good bathroom to use while on a walk. And then I know the places that I should want to see—the landmarks, which are quite worth it here in their grandness and space. I know the parks and the restaurants that makes recommendation lists and where a good place to sit for an hour would be based on traffic and people watching and maybe a nearby huaraches stand to fill the stomach up.
When I first came here about three years ago this was the vision I left with. Coming back here to get to know the city, instead of just seeing it. I did that, and I’m happy to have done it.
It was an incredibly rich experience which I assumed it could be from that very first visit. But you never know, of course. I had something like a dozen friends come down here that I got to see and tour around. I was in a music video, I saw a soccer game at Aztec Stadium, I played golf on the outskirts, I saw Lucha four or five times. I ate at traditional restaurants, modern ones, expensive ones, and sometimes I just settled for a street taco and it was better than I could have imagined.
On my last day here, I think, too, about the other purpose I came here with—to edit the book I wrote mostly while traveling in Asia. I am almost done with that task, about 5/6 of the way through that first draft and should be done with it soon. As far as editing location, I’m less confident in what Mexico City provided. Not that it was bad. I got it done and had a great time sitting at parks thinking about scenes and characters and purposes.
But part of me wishes I had written here. Mexico City is so full of life that what I did get to write (some short story beginnings, essays, poems, the start of a movie script) seemed more alive than the book itself. At least at times. Of course this could be a symptom completely of the way I see writing vs editing—but the feeling sticks here on my last day.
Because this city brightens me. It enlivens me with its smells, its colors, its squares and parks, the trees that have blossomed these wonderful purples—the people gossiping and walking slowly (goodness do they walk slowly). All of this plus the modernity of a growing city and the traditional past that sits never too far behind. It’s a changing city—I think when I come back to visit in another three years it will look vastly different than it does now—and that liveliness feels ripe for the capture of words.
But it was editing time and editing I did. Here in Mexico City I edited something around 335 pages of text—about 12 chapters of my book and made improvements that I’m proud of. I come away with that accomplishment and the set-up for the next step in the book process of trying to get published.
I also come away with a map. The kind that 12 weeks provides—more expansive than 6 weeks of course. There’s the tangible map on my google account where I’ve bookmarked restaurants, bookstores, plazas and more to remember where they are. But more importantly there’s the map in my head—of where things are and how to navigate this city but also fit with the intangibles of the pace of life, the wide streets where I walked in the middle amongst statuary, and the benches that don’t make a Google map but make life worth a sit down and restful few minutes to take it all in.
The map that’s been created I’ll carry as a memory and additive to my life and its experience. And Mexico City will exist in that map. But what really is going to be the memory of Mexico was coming here without much of a plan and leaving with a solid one. Because during my time here I started a relationship with someone wonderful (and got to host her here for a weekend). And now I leave with a plan and a greater purpose. This city will always be tied to falling for her, will be brightest during the weekend with you, and will be the set-up for what comes next (the great and exciting mystery). I think in all of my years of travel I’ve never been so excited to leave a place I’ve been in for a while—and it has nothing to do with Mexico City (which I love) and everything to do with her.
Two years ago—between my first trip to Mexico City and this much longer one, I tattooed Adrienne Rich’s line “the words are maps” on my right foot as a guidepost for myself. And now, leaving Mexico City, I see words and maps combining in ways I hoped they might. The book editing and the building of the internal map of the last three months here. Everything I wrote in the last year—the book’s drafts, the essays, the poems, the notes to myself—and all the places I’ve gone in the process of writing it. Even this blogpost is taking me somewhere—around the city, to the past, and toward the future. The words are maps.