Night one in our new home is predictably disenchanting.
I say predictably because this is a country foreign to my own, a home that isn’t my own, in a city that I know nothing about and have yet to adapt to, even enough to eat meals at the proper times (restaurants are categorically closed whenever we are hungry). And I say this because, of course, there were signs: details that I consciously overlooked from the start, and neglected, in true travel-writer style, to mention in my earlier ravings about tiles and fountains and stone façades.
Most of these details were little things that my previous years in Latin America have made endearing to me: bright blue floor-to-ceiling bathroom tiles, for example, decorated with bubbles, that are somehow meant to complement the floral sink pattern (which differs drastically from the floral faucet patterns) and ornate, frosted glass candelabras built into the mirrors. Beyond issues of style, there were damp corners that suggested that the rainy season does not keep entirely to the outdoors, there were issues with the gas tank (we do not yet have hot water or a functioning stove), and there was the strange lock system on the front door that requires a key to enter and exit (which is complicated further by there being only one set of keys). But these functional details can be rectified and just require a little Latin patience for the ambiguity of the term mañana.
I saw all of these potential flaws on the first day we visited, but I chose to believe that the positive aspects of the house so clearly outweighed these particulars, and the unknowns were as unknowable as they would be with any apartment.
It was, I realize now, the same leap of faith that we took moving to Mexico in the first place: we anticipated rough patches, but, assuming we can see past those, we may experience beauty that we would have missed wrapped up in the comfort and predictability and functionality of our own home.
As that first night in the new house deepened and wore on, and on, this belief was rattled by nuisances far more irksome than leaky ceilings and cold showers.
The worst offender was the late-night karaoke blaring from the “Video Bar” around the corner and down the street.
But if it hadn’t been the karaoke, it would have been the traffic, not on our street, but echoing through some geometry of stone walls and cobbled streets from one street over. And I don’t mean the ordinary swoosh, swoosh of passing cars, but a cacophony of variation. Inversely proportional to the degree of exhaustion was the overall volume: the odd macho revving his motorcycle for a quarter of some pre-dawn hour gave way around four to a roar of incongruous engines, squeaking belts, and porous mufflers.
And if it wasn’t the traffic, there was also Raúl (our name for him, and pronounced “rah-ooooooool”), the hound dog who lives on the roof of the building across the street—a (very tempting) stone’s throw from our bedroom window. He bays at pedestrians, at the Great Danes on a roof one block over, at the very sky.
When Raúl takes a break to catch his breath, the church bells start clanging—not anything melodic, but two dongs and then a steady clanging that lasts a minute or so and repeats at intervals that seem random.
On night two I flew out of bed at the sound of a child’s voice screaming “Mama! Mamamamamama!” I realized before I arrive at his door that this was not my child. Avery was sound asleep in his nest of stuffed animals. Still, the terror of that scream, and the fact that the child continued to scream, induced me to crawl into that nest myself. This is when I discovered that in Avery’s room, with the door closed and baby breath in my ear, I was at last able to sleep.
Sunday night, or, rather, early this Monday morning, after a blissful stretch of relative silence, we woke up to fireworks quite close by. The baby, who decided once and for all this past Fourth of July that fireworks are terrible things, crawled into our bed and wedged himself into what we call his H-position between us. I looked over at the clock: it was 5 a.m. The show went on.
The karaoke and the loud, late-night laughter, the revving engines, the missing mufflers, and the baying dog, I didn’t feel compelled to understand. Machos, borrachos, and kids, I thought dismissively, stereotypically. But the fireworks forced me to acknowledge that there was more to all this racket than some insidious Mexican plot to rob me of sleep as if it were picking my pockets.
I learned, with very little effort, that I am in the presence of forces larger than myself. A fiesta we had noticed earlier in the day when there were marching bands and streamers in the street, was in fact a celebration honoring a touring saint’s heart and right arm, in town this week only from Italy. The young people of the temple, and some who have come from far away for the occasion, held an all-night vigil honoring San Juan Bosco’s partial presence. And when the vigil ended, at 5 a.m., they set off fireworks.
Oh, how I wanted to be in the midst of things.
And I do, still. So now we adapt.
The doctor’s wife is sending curtains, and if they’re not enough to dampen the echo and throb we have kept the refrigerator box so we can cut window inserts for our front windows. Steve has bought a floor fan, which I plan to rig so it will rattle, and a speaker for our iPod. Earplugs would be easier, but I worry about not hearing the baby (or the neighbor’s baby, as the case may be).
On other fronts, I have learned, for the first time in my life, to cook with a microwave (another emergency purchase). And I am bathing, for now, with baby wipes, and washing my hair in the laundry sink on the roof.
And the house is really beautiful, blue-bubble tiles, and all. It is the perfect place for us. Or it will be, because we will make it perfect, we will make ourselves people who can live here. When we can’t do this anymore, our traveling days will be done.