The taxi driver appeared to be 50 or 55, with cinnamon skin, whitening hair and the Clark Gable moustache still favored by many men of his generation. We’d been in traffic for ten minutes without exchanging a word, when suddenly he asked if I spoke English. I told him I did, figuring he would then want to know where I was from, what I thought of Mexico, and if preferred Obama or Hillary. But he surprised me, asking if I could translate the words to the song emanating from his CD player.
It was Barry White crooning “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything.” White is something of a hero here – you can find a pirated CD of his greatest hits at any market and most street stalls in the city. He isn’t Mexico City’s only American idol. The most popular oldies station programs the Beatles for two hours a day, and Creedence Clearwater Revival for an hour more. Other staples of the station are the more arcane “Xanadu” (one of Olvia Newton-John’s less fortunate numbers), and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again Naturally,” a song that enjoyed a vogue in the U.S. for a matter of months in the early 1970s. Its whimpering, self-pitying lyrics appeal to the most sentimental and lachrymose side of the Mexican character.
Spontaneous interpretation is a talent I have never been able to capture, let alone master. Panic sets in: It’s hard to keep up. By the time I translated en tí he encontrado tantas cosas, Barry White had long finished murmuring the next couple of lines. So I tried to explain to the driver that White’s lyrics had never mattered so much as the Love Unlimited orchestrations, and that indeed part of the fun was just surfing along with his growly purr, particularly when he elongated the word “love” as if it had five or six syllables. He looked at me with a gravely mistrustful expression. All he wanted to know was the meaning of the song’s lyrics, and he found himself with an incomprehensible gringo in the passenger seat.
The woman in this picture is not a gypsy fortune teller from a Fellini movie. Her name is Annie Lask and she is a stylist for fashion and celebrity shoots for various Mexico City magazines, such as Caras, Eres and the local edition of Cosmopolitan. A couple of years ago, when Paris Hilton descended upon Mexico City to shill a perfume with her name on it, it was Annie’s job to style her for cover photos.
“If I’m a monster, Paris Hilton is 100 times worse,” she claims. “She showed up two hours late for our first session because she was asleep. She threw a hissy fit because there was no music, and held up the production for two more hours until someone found a radio. Then she didn’t like the music. She only likes Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Madonna and hip-hop. They had to get her iPod from her room.”
The story gets better, or worse, depending on your point of view. “She complained that the cosmetics that the makeup woman brought weren’t new. She complained about her contact lenses – she got something in her eye and held us up while they looked for drops. She has extensions and she doesn’t like anyone to touch her hair. I’ve never seen anyone so insecure – she needed a mirror to check out each of her movements. She has green eyes but she puts on blue contact lenses. She has no glamour, no style. She’s like a sheep.”
Despite this litany, Annie claims that she grew to like the celebrity. She has some reflections about the world’s fascination with the heiress. “Don’t you understand? Everyone wants to be Paris Hilton. She’s a girl who has everything and doesn’t give a shit. Everyone wants to have millions, and be supposedly really beautiful and do whatever the hell she wants. That’s Paris.”
Photo by Everett McCourt
Fanny has long, chestnut-colored pig tails and a sad face. She’s yours for 89 pesos. Magy, with round cheeks and short curly hair, only costs 42 pesos. The German has blue eyes as shiny as the
Labels: Mexico City
If there is such thing as a Mexico City municipal dish, it would have to be tacos al pastor. A variation on Middle Eastern shawarma, it is made from pork (don’t tell Allah), marinated with various spices, including a heavy dose of annato, which gives it a shrill orange color. The slices of pork are mounted atop each other to form a huge orb, and impaled on a metal stick, which revolves around a vertical charcoal grill. The fire from the grill is turned up as orders are placed, and the taquero slices from the most fully cooked part to fashion the taco, which is adorned with cilantro, onion and a slice of pineapple.
Although this version of events is not universally accepted, supposedly the taco al pastor is the invention of a woman named Concepción Cervantes, who discovered shawarma on a trip to Lebanon, and debuted her version at a taco stand called El Tizoncito in 1966. That taco stand – now a well-appointed little restaurant – is still on the same street corner of Tamaulpas and Campeche in the fashionable Condesa neighborhood. (There are twenty franchises of El Tizoncito in Mexico City and around the country.)
My favorite tacos al pastor are located not at El Tizoncito but at Tacos Álvaro O., on calle Álvaro Obregón, nearly at the corner of Tonalá, in the Colonia Roma. The ones pictured are at Tacos Frontera, further down Calle Álvaro Obregón.
The Hysteria discotheque, near Mexico City’s airport, is a monument to local sexual fluidity. A round, two-story cavern, on a recent night in its passageways I saw a man in his thirties dressed in the plaid skirt, white shirt and sweater that makes up a girl’s high-school uniform, while another man wore the short tight tube skirt, the slinky tube top and high heels of a $10 hooker from the Merced Market. Another man wore the outfit of a Playboy bunny. A woman walked by, with her beautiful breasts exposed to the four winds. But were they real? And was she really a woman? That was the $64,000 question regarding the various beauties who circulated in the atmosphere.
There were less spectacular specimens of both genders, too, including bureaucrats in beige suits, boys dressed like members of the Mara Salvatrucha, and a guy in his sixties with a Seventies suit like Travolta’s in Saturday Night Fever. Around one in the morning, the transvestite show began, but suddenly, while an enormous fat man was lip-synching one of Shakira’s biggest hits, gunshots were heard and the majority of the clientele ran for the door.
I stayed put, reasoning that it was better to wait out destiny with a drink in hand than to get stomped by a multitude. Indeed, within minutes everything was back to normal. I left an hour or so later and saw that the entrance had been cordoned off and 12 bullet shells were on the ground. A cop from patrol car S00933, in a bored tone of voice, said, “Absolutely nothing happened. Just a shooting. No one died.”