“See that bougainvillea? I took this because I knew you’d like that,” Steve tells me. On his computer screen is a great pink explosion. I have had a love-hate relationship with bougainvillea in the past, when we lived in El Salvador and I routinely shredded the skin on my arms trying to keep our thorny, blooming beast under control, but these days I miss it. “See the feathery trees?”
“You sound like you’re trying to sell me something,” I say to him. I think Mexico is my idea, at the root of it. But it’s his field research, his dissertation. We’re gambling for an academic job for him. I will try to write a new book, or at least pump out travel pulp. These days, art-making is as stable a career as academics. Or perhaps I should say that the other way around: academics are as unreliable as art these days.
I study each photo: The stone aqueduct. The Casa de Artesanias where Steve will do some of his research. The wooden front door of the Montessori school Steve discovered on a tree-lined pedestrian avenue near the university. The cafes under the arcades around certain plazas. The fireworks raining over the cathedral. A girl in quinceañera pink having her photo taken in front of a fountain. Apartments with “Se Renta” signs taped in front windows.
I study the map. I taste the candied fruit from the Mercado de Dulces. I flip through the bus routes. I have so many questions: Which is the best hospital? Will we want to have a car? What neighborhood will we live in? Will we traumatize our son?
“Here is where the English schools are,” Steve says, running his finger along one street.
Will I teach? I have taught ESL before—in Spain and in Ecuador—and I like it well enough. Until it keeps me from writing; then I hate it. Teaching would help me meet people, even if the pay rivaled writing. But, I would need a work visa, not the temporary resident visa that Fulbright will give me. Besides, I will have enough on my plate with one baby and talk of a second.
Mostly, Steve wants to talk about food. Chopped jicama and mango with lime juice and chiles. Bowl-shaped tortillas filled with beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and topped with cilantro and green salsa. Molé enchiladas. The best hot chocolate anywhere.
“And ice cream,” he adds. “There is ice cream everywhere—I know you’ll appreciate that. And it’s really good.”
He is referring to my childhood home in Upstate New York, where ice cream windows are ubiquitous in summertime. He is also referring to pregnancy.
We are not pregnant, but we hope to be by the time we get to Mexico. We hope that our toddler, born in New Mexico, will learn Spanish, and that our next-born will be born in Old Mexico and have dual citizenship. Some of my mother-friends look at me sideways when I say this, but to me, this plan sounds perfect.
Now I have Steve imagining Mexico to me as I fall asleep. Mangoes, chocolate, old stone churches. From our little home in New Mexico, it all sounds so romantic. But we both know well what bougainvillea is like up close.