In Mexico the faces of poets are represented on some of our money. On the 100 peso note is the face of Nezahualcóyotl, the prehispanic ruler. The 200-peso bill holds the face of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the nun who lived in the 17th century and wrote some of the greatest verses ever written in Spanish. And one of the designs featured on the 20-peso coin, which has become hard to find recently, is engraved with the face of Mexico’s Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz. I always think that a country that has poets on its currency can only represent a place where anything can happen and everything does.
Colonia El Toro, my neighborhood in Mexico City, is still a place where old and new Mexico congregate and everything happens. This morning the knife grinder came past my house on his bicycle and blew his whistle; the garbage truck stopped outside while the driver rang a brass bell; and the gas truck arrived with a man who walked beside the vehicle and screamed dozens of times over and over, ¨El gas!¨ A bread seller came to the door with a large basket attached to the handlebars of his bicycle. I could hear his high-pitched bell from blocks away. Three Jehovah’s Witnesses rang my front door buzzer.
Later in the morning the ironmonger walked past. He cupped his hands around his mouth and called out that he was willing to buy any scraps of metal or old newspapers. His voice was silenced by a pickup truck that drove by selling oranges. It had a loud microphone attached to the side door with an unintelligible recording about the price of the fruit.
At noon the neighborhood crier stood outside screaming the news about the latest crimes in the neighborhood: the mechanic Señor Diez had killed his wife; an ATM machine had been vandalized; two chickens had been found dead inside a green Volkswagen.
In the afternoon a man walked by announcing with a megaphone that the circus would be arriving at the end of the week. He yelled, “We bring real Indian tigers. We bring an elephant. We bring a boy with three eyes.”
Later one man stands at the corner below my window playing the trumpet. He plays "Las Golondrinas" ("The Swallows") off key. A tin can for tips is tied to his waist.
By late afternoon Señor Primitivo, an old man with three cows, walks up the road. One cow limps. Señor Primitivo explains to me that a man driving a red BMW and talking on his cellular telephone hit this cow. He shakes his head while he makes the hand gestures of driving and talking on the telephone.
In the evening a man pushes his steaming cart down my street and the air is filled with the scent of sweet potatoes and bananas. The tamale vendor walks past and cries, “Tamales from Oaxaca for sale. Tasty, delicious tamales for sale.”
Mexico City is made up of dozens of villages that have joined together over the past one hundred years due to overpopulation and construction projects. This development has created a terrible and fascinating urban sprawl. Therefore, some neighborhoods are more modern and others more traditional. Almost all areas can claim a yam and banana vendor.
At midnight, in my part of the city that is in the south near the UNAM University, I hear the soft, comforting whistle of the watchman as he makes his rounds under a sky that has no stars, because of the pollution and because of the electric lights, a sky that only has a moon. The word Mexico means "the navel of the moon."
JENNIFER CLEMENT is a member of Mexico’s Sistema Nacional de Creadores. Her most recent books are a novel The Poison That Fascinates and a book of poems Jennifer Clement: New and Selected Poems.
Nat Geo Traveler All Access
Available in print and for iPad®! See destinations come alive with 360-degree photos, videos, and more!