Joy and her husband Brendan moved to Mexico City exactly one year ago today. In an exclusive interview with El Blog de Joy, she shares some of the things she’s learned over the past year…and what she’s looking forward to as she continues her Mexican misadventures…(to read previous interviews on Joy’s life in Mexico, go here and here.)
Q: So, a year already in Mexico City. How does it feel?
A: It went by really damn fast, actually. But, looking back, it has been an incredible year. I know so much that I didn’t know one year ago.
A: Well, sort of. After spending my first six months aggressively trying to learn espanol, I sort of got lazy and gave up. The huzzband and I reached a certain level of competency — like ordering food in restaurants and bossing taxi drivers around — and lost interest. I should point out: I quickly lose interest in things I’m not naturally good at, and I’m definitely not a natural at learning new languages in my early 30s.
Q: Que triste! You’re such an American, you mean?
A: Exactly. Almost all of my new friends here in Mexico City speak at least two languages. Many speak four or five — a talent I can’t fathom. How do they remember all those words? How do they keep it all straight in their heads? Amazing. I’ll never be like that, because I grew up a monolingual American.
That said, though, I do have to keep in mind that I work in English all day — editing in English, no less — and so there’s no real impetus for me to learn advanced Spanish. If I had no job, and no internet, I’d be learning a lot more. We’ve created a little English cocoon for ourselves, and it’s quite warm and lovely and hard to leave.
Q: Well, beyond remedial Spanish, what else have you learned?
A: The exhilaration and exasperation of living in a foreign country. New York City was a bit like living abroad, and then I moved to Mexico City and learned what it’s really like. I’m proud of myself for being willing to do it — to chuck most of my former life out the window — and proud of myself for choosing to live in an urban neighborhood without a car, where I live a very fun life not unlike NYC, but far more Mexican. I have met too many Americans here who shelter themselves out in the ‘burbs, behind walled compounds, driving giant SUVs. I’m glad we were bold enough to live in a really cool area.
Q: What’s been the hardest thing to deal with?
A: Besides not learning Spanish as easily as I would have liked, the lack of traveling. We spend most of our time like most Americans — working hard, surviving the daily grind. We just happen to be doing it in Mexico City. I had envisioned a very romantic version of life here, one that involved metric tons of sunscreen and margaritas.
…and, well, food poisoning sucks, too. Salmonella truly feels like your stomach is being eaten alive by a rapidly multiplying, pissed off organism — and all you can do is vomit, or worse. And my dog, Charlie, has even been sick. I really wish Mexico could make safe water a national priority. These are the things you learn living abroad — clean tap water is not a God-given right for most people in the world.
Q: Excellent point. Back to the traveling….reading over some of your blog posts, it does seem like you’ve traveled quite a bit?
A: For sure, but it’s never enough. You could say I’m addicted to it. I live in Mexico City, fergodssakes. I can’t get enough. We squeeze in weekend trips whenever we can, and we’ve got a long Mexican trip coming up in December – a road trip through Oaxaca!
Q: What’s been your favorite trip over the past year?
A: I actually appreciate the U.S. more than I ever did before, so the trips back to the places we call home — New York City, Corpus Christi, Texas, Minnesota/Wisconsin — those trips home were really some of my favorites. I drink from water fountains in the U.S. simply because I can.
So far, I am not sad to return to Mexico City as our headquarters. I figure once I am not happy to come back here, then it’s time to go “home” — where ever that is!
I also want to stress to everyone who hasn’t traveled to the “real” Mexico to do so. Cancun doesn’t count. Neither does the border. Traveling into the interior, away from the tourist resorts and the border — it’s a whole ‘nuther word. The Aztec influence becomes overwhelming here in the “heartland” (popote, totopos, aguacate, jitomate, chocolate, elote, cacahuate, etc) And farther south, the Mayan influence is impressive (huracan, Kukulcan, Oxcutzcab). I can’t wait to visit Oaxaca and learn about the many cultures there, I’ve heard there are at least 60 different languages and related dialects still being spoken there, such as Mixtexa and Zapotec.
In reality, my favorite part of Mexico is a place I visited before I moved here: the Yucatan. We did a week-long road trip across the peninsula, and I still think about that trip almost every day. The ruins, the turquoise water, the jungles, the underground pools, the Mayan people…it was all like a dream.
Q: Let’s do some stream of consciousness chatting here. Food?
A: Arrachera steak, michelada cervezas, mangos chilados, hot chocolate, pan de elote, crab taquitos, pescado de tlacotlapeno (or something like that). fresh tropical fruit out the wazoo, tacos al pastor (OMG – TACOS AL PASTOR), cochinita pibil, cecina, salchichas, chiles en nogada, tepache, agua de jamaica, paletas de mamey…and exercising more than I ever have to enjoy all these culinary luxuries.
A: Watching bad dubbed movies on the bus, staring at ‘cactus trees’, dancing in the plaza in Tlaxcala, feeling woozy on a poorly planned booze cruise in Puerto Vallarta, watching telenovelas with our host family in Cuernavaca, eating carnitas at the world’s largest Mexican restaurant in Tlalpan, shopping for sugar skulls in Toluca, touring the anthropology museum with Mom, Dad and Dora, laughing with Bob and Martie as an impromptu parade in Xochimilco blocked our vehicle, getting lost in the rental car only a few miles from our house, drinking pulque and mezcal, listening to fireworks where ever we go, falling in love with NYC all over again.
Q: Mexico City?
A: Amazing! More fun and more international than I expected, full of adventures, beauty and ultimately, chaos. No more polluted than New York City, but far more enormous.
A: Gratitude! Dominoes! Well-earned hangovers! (I have to say, the best thing about living here in Mexico City has been making so many new, wonderful friends! And the hardest part is watching them move away. Ah, the ex-pat life.)
Q: Finally, what’s the weather like? We know this is a favorite topic of yours.
A: Today is perfect, like most days. A few of the trees are beginning to lose their leaves, just to remind you that in certain parts of the world, it will be very cold very soon. But not here. It will still be perfect.