Mexico City - I'm enjoying the challenge of dressing to 30 below, although my seal fur boots are giving way after too many years in Toronto salt water. They were purchased way back in the last century at the fire sale warehouse that used to be on Yonge Street. It took me a long time to choose the sensible low-cut curling model from many styles.
This was back before Hollywood starlets were sweating in their mukluks in the sun. Fur boots were definitely out and, needless to say, seal fur even further. Most people who walked by the table while I was deliberating over the stock from some Canadian Souvenir Shoppe gone bust snorted with laughter. There was just me and a couple of Africans who recognized serious winter boots at the bargain price of $11 and were willing to risk ridicule to save our toes from frostbite.
I continue to thank the seal that gave its hide and hope that prayers and glue will convince it to adhere to the genuine crepe soles for another season.
According to the TV, record numbers of chilled Canadians are buying airplane tickets to hot places. Not me. I went someplace that isn't hot but sure is hell. Mexico City. I like the look of the words. But to go there? That's suicidal!
Mexico City feels like all the bad people I know. There are so many I've lost track and sometimes get caught in ugly situations because I've made the mistake of not remembering what they did to me in the past. This time the city really tried to kill me. But I survived to live with the regret of having convinced an unwitting northerner to accompany me to downtown Hades.
His symptoms were different from mine. His tongue turned grey. Then black. Then striped. His bones hurt. And his veins. My lungs seized, and the motors behind my eyeballs ached like they'd been cranked the wrong way with the devil's own wrench.
In 50 years the air of Mexico City has gone from sparkling to poisonous. Impressive what a few million cars can do. It's surrounded by mountains that are now virtually invisible, blocked by the smog that chokes the first city of the Americas.
Deep down I knew I should never go back there. But I forgot. Mexico is worn out and sick. It survived the invasion of the Spaniards, but this, the tyranny of the gasoline-burning engine, has sapped all its strength. The manners built up by Aztecs as a defence against barbarism are all gone. A sneeze no longer elicits a "Salud" from those nearby. Everyone is sneezing. Deep, rattling lung coughs echo throughout the hotel.
Drug companies advertise all sorts of anti-cough drugs that would require a prescription in Canada. Vendors sell eucalyptus suckers in the subway with a spiel that says they heal.
For five days I froze and sweated with a fever, my forehead hot enough, according to my friend, to light a cigarette. You know how bad you can feel with any cold? All of Mexico City feels like that. Everyone is suffering. This is the future. This is where driving gets you.
The government of Vicente Fox is spending unprecedented amounts of dough to trumpet its greatness. An ad in the subway says a few million people now have health care thanks to the government - and to Pemex, the oil and gas company. A video purporting and promoting the magnificence and magnanimity of the government was played five times to the captive audience on a five-hour bus trip. President Fox was on TV all the time bragging about what he will send to the victims of the tsunami.
In neglected Mexico City, the European Instruments Of Torture show has moved to another colonial building to continue its apparently permanent run. The "breast rippers" and "skull splitters" of the Inquisition are out of commission. A far more effective life crusher has been devised. It's taken over the streets.
It takes your breath away.