First published in Cafe Dissensus Everyday
It’s the third day of our visit to Mexico City – also the first working day since we landed here. I’ve yet to recover from a severe case of food poisoning, but don’t want to spoil our plans to visit Frida Kahlo’s and Leon Trotsky’s houses in Coyoacan – situated practically at the other end of the city. We decide to take a cab, our first on this trip. The cab driver exudes the friendliness characteristic of his ilk and offers us candy and bottled water. And he brings us to La Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s Blue House – now a museum.
Only when we reach the gate do we realize our cabbie friend probably chose not to mention that the museum remains closed on Mondays. I’m too exhausted from the stomach bug but lurch on to follow my husband to Trotsky House, some six minutes away. Same luck there – a closed gate greets us. Having skipped breakfast, I’m as dizzy and disoriented as I’m disappointed at the wasted taxi ride. By now I’m so famished, I fear I might faint. We walk a few paces and notice a cafe and step inside. It’s a small place with no more than four tables. At one table, three ladies – all in their sixties — appear to be the only other customers.
One of them gets up and says to us, “Welcome, come on in. Please have a seat.”
As we make ourselves comfortable, she asks us what we would like to eat. “Tea, coffee?”
My husband glances at me and says, “Tea for you?”
I’m still a bit dizzy to respond, but the word, ‘tea’, stimulates me — this is the first time I’ve heard it uttered in a restaurant in Mexico City. I nod yes and manage to mutter, “And toast.”
“Tea and toast for you,” the lady says. “And for you?” she asks my husband.
“Cafe Americano,” he says.
His choice lights up her face. “Aha! Americano – that’s how we drink our coffee here!”
Even as black coffee forges that initial bond, the other two ladies convince my husband to have scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions with black beans on the side – the Mexican way.
The lady who took our order moves to the kitchen to guide a young man managing the cooking. One of her two friends asks us where we are from.
“India,” my husband says and goes on to tell them how similar he finds India and Mexico to be, despite the two countries being situated on the opposite sides of the globe. The houses, markets, the trees and the people all remind us of home, we tell them.
The lady nods and says smilingly, “Yes, countries with beautiful people. Beautiful like women.” She winks at my husband and adds, “And like men, too.”
I notice some of my disappointment stemming from missing the museums is wearing off. The young man emerges from the kitchen with my tea. The bag of tea steeping in a cup of hot water is one I’m not familiar with but find refreshing, especially as I sip it with bites of the biscuit the ladies have shared with us – tasting exactly like Marie biscuits sold in India.
The motherly lady arrives with a plate containing my order. The two pieces of crisp, well-done toast, along with the black tea, are just what the doctor ordered for me.
She settles down with her friends as they ask us where all we’ve been so far.
“The Centro Historio (historical district), Zocalo, the National Palace to see Diego Rivera’s murals, La de Ciudadela – the artisan market…,” my husband rolls off.
The women suggest other places like the museums of popular art and anthropology.
We mention our plan to visit the Teotihuacan pyramids the next day.
“Oh yes, you must go there,” one of them says, adding, “be sure to keep your wallets safe, though.”
“Oh, we know that,” my husband says. “It’s the same way in India.”
“It is,” the lady who took our order confirms with a smile. She should know, for she visited India three years ago – Delhi and Rajasthan.
As we eat our breakfast, one of the ladies informs us the three of them are part of a tai-chi group. The maternal lady, who, by now we’ve figured out to be the cafe owner, happens to be their teacher.
“You have yin and yang,” says her chatty friend, pointing to my earrings.
“I do,” I say, pondering on the strange balances of the morning – the sickness and the comfort of the taxi ride, the closed museums and the restorative breakfast, missing Frida and getting acquainted with such an interesting sisterhood of Mexican women.
“And I have this, too,” I lift my shawl to reveal Che Guevara’s face on my t-shirt.
“I saw that,” our chatty friend responds, her face suddenly grim. “I don’t like him,” she mutters.
I pull my shawl back up immediately and say, “That’s why I’m hiding him.”
Her grin returns.
This is the first conversation, a real conversation we’ve had since coming to this city of lovely Hispanic people. And been fed breakfast in true home style, complete with the right balance of humour, hospitality and Mexican warmth.
As we get ready to take our leave, the tai-chi teacher says, “You have to return to Coyoacan. You can’t leave without meeting Frida.”
“We will,” we promise.
The third friend, the quietest of them all, stops us as we move towards the exit. She insists on giving us a ride in her car to the central spot in Coyoacan.