Colors of Mexico 1: Yellow
Tuesday, March 10th: I am still on a year abroad at the University of California Santa Barbara, I am listening to a fascinating class about Spanish linguistic, my phone vibrates. UCSB chancellor announces us that all of the Spring quarter classes will be online and that we are invited to leave the campus. The coronavirus shuts down my year abroad. But how was I to leave knowing my home is 10,000 km away?
First idea: after some crisis reunions with my friends, we come up with the idea of going on a trip around the United States or Latin America (the destination is controversial), but the fear of border closures finally dissuade us from doing so.
Second idea: returning home to France to spend the unavoidable lockdown with my family in the Parisian suburb, in a ghost country where going on a walk is barely allowed. Not very desirable.
Third option: joining my boyfriend as well as my best friend from France in Mexico City (yes, the plan does not go any further at that point).
I have to decide, while the campus is emptying out and all of my friends are going away; while the world is freaking out (and I am too). What am I supposed to do? Following my heart rather than my brain, I pick the third option.
The following days are horrible. In a matter of five days, I have to leave my apartment and follow all the steps to break my contract, say goodbye to all of my friends I have met on the way … Within my six months in the US, I constructed the walls of my new life. I acclimatized myself to a totally new environment where I adapted to a new culture, I learned a new language and made new friends, worked in a new school system… Under the influence of a microscopic virus, these walls turn out to be nothing but sandcastles, falling apart after the first gust of wind. Therefore, it is tough to leave an entirely new life behind knowing that I will probably never come back, but there is nothing I can do to hold onto it. I have to say goodbye.
Monday, March 16th, 8:30 am, departure day: I am in front of my residence in Santa Barbara when I realize that my Uber will never show up and that my bus is leaving in 20 minutes. The only remaining solution for me is to run but the downpour is turning the streets into a river. Despite that, I run as fast as I can under the rain, pull my luggage and slip a few times, I can feel drops of rain on my skin creeping down to my toes. I certainly am a miserable sight but I make it, I arrive literally one minute before the departure of my bus for Los Angeles Airport (LAX), soaked but on time. After one last journey along my beloved Pacific Coast, I arrive at LAX three hours later. I check in, exactly at the same time the French president, Emmanuel Macron, announces the beginning of a lockdown in France and border closure. An Aeromexico employee let me know that no flight is left to Paris, no possible way back. The anxiety reaches its climax, I go through security, throw away half of the liquids I have in my luggage, a friend of mine is also at LAX, she boards the last flight for Paris, I board my flight to Mexico. It is too late now, I can’t go back on my decision, we are taking off. My doubts remain stuck on the ground, I feel relieved.
Three hours later, I am looking out through the window, and the only thing I see is a massive black cloud coming directly towards me. I grab the armrest, tackle my plane phobia and breathe heavily. The plane is seized by obscurity, and the fog blurs the view while some turbulences harden the landing. After a few seconds, when my eyes open up again, a huge city expending its arms through the valleys with the fingers reaching mountains’ summits is facing me. City lights are being switched on, creating an endless sky of yellow stars. The fifth biggest city in the world spreads out its wings under my eyes, and it is absolutely breath-taking. While the plane keeps on descending, I manage to glimpse the airport to ensure that we are not going to crash. But the only thing I can point out is thousands of colorful houses getting closer to the plane, I even catch sight of the people inside. A runway finally appears and I feel the wheels touching the ground. I can breathe, my life is not going to end in a plane crash. It takes me an hour to go through passport control, pick up my luggage and step out the airport. I meet up with my boyfriend and we catch a taxi headed for our hotel.
A few seconds after exiting the airport’s parking lot, I find out Mexican taxi drivers’ way of driving, to whom the horn is the day’s main melody, and the colossal traffic jam the music. The taxi zigzags between cars and pedestrians in chaotic and narrow streets for one hour. A unique scenery goes by behind the taxi’s windows. The buildings are low and diversified, the facades filled with statuettes and flowers. Every building differs from its neighbor, creating a messy and unique atmosphere. It looks very crowded, people are on their way home or resting on terraces after a tiring workday. I am blown away by all the colors constituting the architecture, the clothes as well as the food. From green to yellow and pink, streets are like bunches of flowers where the rose and the hyacinth are separated by a poppy. I must confess that I do not understand anything, I can see men seating down in a taqueria, women shopping in a tortilleria, and kids buying bread in a panaderia. The sun is setting, radiating the city with its yellow-orange rays, and highlights every other color; what would be a bunch of flower without the sun? It would be dull and faded, exactly how Mexico City would seem without the sun. If you take yellow off, you take off every other color. For that reason, for me, yellow is Mexico’s primary color. Yellow that can turn to dark when Aztec Gods take their revenge at night and throw their anger off in massive storms, transforming the city into an apocalypse scene. The taxi finally arrives at my hotel, getting off, saying goodbye, saying hello, “hola señor tengo una reservación”, keys, room 45, door, double bed, finally laying down. My parents and French people are stockpiling, my friends are moving back to their room. I take a deep breath, I did it, I am in Mexico City. The world is locking down, I am crying in my hotel bed.
Once the heavy feeling away, we decide to go on a walk and we head to the center. However, as soon as I step out of the hotel, an astonishing feeling takes hold of me. I feel overwhelmed, ill at ease. I am freaking out, and I feel anxious without any obvious reason. I must say that the culture shock like I have never experienced before is hard to handle. Mexico is so different from France or the United States, the two countries I have lived in before. I need time to grow accustomed to it, exactly like the first steps in a new school. After a few minutes, I start to look up and see what is surrounding me. I first see workers, dressed up in orange, destroying and building up again the pavement, along a noisy boulevard, walkers are managing to clear themselves a way through the crowd. My weak ears try to figure out the words of my boyfriend among all the sounds while my eyes look for a way to follow. The dust shapes a yellow cloud above us, blurring the clear blue sky and hurting my eyes. On my right side, I catch sight of the wonderful Palacio de Bellas Artes, I must say that I am blown away by this impressive white marble block, with its gold and orange roof looking like a sunset. The angel on the top overhangs the city and looks after both of us, he reassures me with his sweet expression and tells me that nothing but positive experiences are waiting for me. We turn right and end up in the middle of a crowd on Avenida Francisco I Madero, the busiest street of Latin America. People are hurrying up, offering me discounts on each and every item you could imagine, pushing me away, jostling… I barely see anything but constant motion of individuals.
I feel like a bough drifting along a mountain torrent, in a valley constituted of three floors grey buildings. Head high up to the sky, I see La Torre Americana, a horrible needle which is the pride of Mexico. It is a square skyscraper whose architecture is very out of fashion. We float up for some minutes before getting to an estuary, an endless square, surrounded by splendid buildings and a Mexican flag as a gravity center. I can finally fill in my lungs with air. The cathedral stands out thanks to its peculiar and asymmetrical shape, two dominant towers and a multitude of little peaks headed to the sky, calling God out for her lack of help, the cathedral indeed threatens to collapse due to ground’s instability. Right next to God’s unsure house, the ground shows off its best highlight, some ruins which are testimonies of the ancient city Tenochtitlan, Aztec empire’s capital, erased by Spanish colonialism. In the middle of this battle between the gods and the earth, I take pictures.
Afterwards, we bound for a restaurant called Café La Habana. This coffee played a crucial role in history because this is where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara met up to plot the Cuban Revolution and planned their strategy for political and social reform. So I take advantage of this inspirational place to realize that I am in the early days of one of the craziest experience of my life, which is about to revolutionize my world and change me. I need to channel my inner Revolutionary to have the bravery it takes to stay in an unknown country in the middle of a pandemic. Despite the anxiety that comes along with it, this journey is going to remain in my memory until the very end of my existence.
Yellow stands for joy, happiness and fraternity, and these are three perfect characteristics of my stay in Mexico. Joy because I am living moments amidst the most beautiful of my life and creating unforgettable memories. Happiness because I found out a population who continues living, helping out the others and remains positive even in tough times. Despite the current pandemic, people keep living somewhat normally with a mask and going to work because they simply do not have any other option. In this country, staying home means not earning a single buck and it is simply impossible for the majority. In the same way when an earthquake occurs and everybody just goes back to work fifty minutes after while I fear going back into my apartment. Fraternity because, as a foreign gay boy, I don’t feel any kind of judgment at all, which is not always the case in France. It’s like people are always willing to help me out when I need them. I must say that Mexican people are teaching me a real life lesson that I will try to pass down to you guys throughout the next chronicles.
Here are the reasons why yellow is the first color that pops up to my mind when I think of Mexico.
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