Belize when I saw it in 1981 was a dump, but I met some Americans who were high on the place. I suppose they were investors, though they didn’t say that and indeed there seemed to be nothing to invest in. I don’t know what they themselves accomplished there, but I understand (I never did go back) that Belize is now quite an attractive destination. Cape Verde when I saw it in 1994 was not a dump but an archipelago of desert islands, and I could not picture anyone ever doing even as much as that hotel Aeroflot saw fit to build. Yet when I revisited in 2017, quite a few parties had done quite a lot more, and the country seems to have become a popular place. I think neither "Belize" nor "Cape Verde" brings many images to mind; they have almost no history; their popularity seems disconnected from people, or human mannerisms, or even any fact of geography apart from being south of somewhere.

Which come to think of it is pretty much all that Mexico has to advertise. And yet Mexico rings so many bells. Even to someone like me who hasn’t been there very much or studied it with much care, in just one day it could show me – really just a tourist - a lot, and remind me of a lot.

Just waiting to get my passport stamped, I was in receipt of a mild but significant Spanish workout. There were large screens mounted on high walls, showing what might be called propaganda. The Communications & Transport Secretariat was boasting of new superhighways built, and there was an interview (subtitled - if there was audio, I couldn't hear it) of a satisfied motorist who said that before a certain road was finished, it had been "a martyrdom" to get between the points it now connected. I'd remember that usage, though graciously not use it myself when trying, two days later, to get out of this airport in the direction I had come from. Another piece of government self-promotion, on the same screens, was of a lottery. I had been sensitized to lotteries ever since 1985 when I saw Hoy Se Juega all over Uruguay and figured out it was a drawing. Here in Mexico, we were told, "Luck is in your hands." Ho ho, that's the last place it'll ever be!

I suppose Mexicans tune this out. They certainly get enough practice doing so. Elsewhere in the airport, though I did not notice it until later, there were displays, what in a pre-electronic age would have been posters, with the following words conspicuous: "That is false." What was asserted to be false was the assertion by commercial airline pilots that flights were delayed by movements of the Presidential jet. There was a pie chart, followed by the counterassertion in words - because the slice would have been invisible - that 0% of delays were due to the Prez flyin' around at whim.

The power and yet the defensiveness - I cannot say that is exactly Mexican, but it sounds like it, whereas nothing Belizean or Capeverdean has any sound at all. The latter places have yet to evolve stereotypes.

The next morning, over breakfast, and further with Spanish-language education, I learned the word chusco, which has several unflattering meanings but in this context meant muffed plays in the NFL. Which I knew gets more than a little coverage in Mexico, if nowhere else in Latin America. But as with at least Brazil, where I'd seen on TV a blooper reel of regrettable baseball, there was the truly Latin American love of screwups. With both the football here and the baseball there, the same few mishaps were shown over and over, without explanation of course because these sports are still quite foreign. Likewise was treated the season-ending injury of a certain player. It wasn't gory but I sensed, from the repeated replays, the strong wish that it had been.

Anyway, on to the Torre Latinoamericana, which I believe was once the tallest building in Latin America and to judge from what I could see at eye level on the 42nd-floor observation deck is only tied, not surpassed, by just a few other skyscrapers. Really nice: cool and clear, or as clear as Mexico City ever gets. There were two tour groups up there with me, one Asiatic, the other Slavic I think. If the guide was speaking Serbo-Croatian, it was the Ijekavian version, mjesto instead of mesto, which makes it...Croatian? I can't remember who talks what, and anyway, I can't swear this was either version. At about 9:29 a chime above us sounded, an electronic bell tolling, and the guide checked his watch and said something with pol minut (a half a minute) in it, followed by a joke I couldn't decode but which the tour group did. Something else at the expense of these comedy Mexicans!

On the way down, I asked the elevator attendant if she had been here for the last earthquake; thankfully, she had not. Then, after a perfectly agreeable passage by Bellas Artes and the Alameda, I went to the Police Museum, which was emphatically not pleasant at all. Not that the staff wanted it that way; they were just doing their jobs. At least the ones who were on the Serial Murderers Exposition detail. I did not meet the ones on the Vampires detail. At the ticket window I opted for the former but heck, maybe in Mexico, vampires are police business too. I did not last long with my pick. The tour was semi-guided: you were issued a small electronic device with a headset. It was tedious - the fact that I could understand this Spanish proved it wasn't very challenging - so after I got through the one exhibit specifically devoted to Mexican serial murderers, I left, turning in the machinery to the girls, who laughed when I said ¡Basta!

I did take notes, and did later look up the one of Las Poquianchis who not only served a long prison term but had to pay a fine. Or restitution, to somebody; the exhibit did not actually say, or use the word multa. If anybody anywhere could make a recovery off mass murder, I guess it would be in Mexico!

Now to the Wax Museum. My first. And last, because I presume they are all the same. Indeed, on the strength of this one visit, I am already formulating iron laws of nature for them. Such as: Michael Jackson always bats leadoff. Whatever wax museum you walk into, the first image you see has got to be Michael Jackson. Also: if Frida Kahlo is in there, and she was in here, she almost looks normal. The collection, if that is the word, was motley, as I expect now it has to be - it is inconceivable that there could be a wax museum anywhere that doesn't have Justin Trudeau in it - but there was solid national representation. I approached a room which, before I even entered it, I could tell was occupied by presidents. It interests me now to guess how I could even guess. What Mexican president would I even recognize? I think it was Gortari who clued me initially. Although it could have been Fox. Maybe the combination. But why?

I was unaware, when I'd bicycled a few months earlier through the border town named after him, that Díaz Ordaz had been a president. Well, here he was. Almost uniquely among the "exhibits" (is that even the word?), these presidential ones got little explanatory placards, and the one for Díaz Ordaz indicated - in the third person plural, which in not a few languages functions as the passive - that there had been outbreaks of civil unrest and police abuse, which of course just sorta comes outta nowhere, you know how it is - but also that during his term, both the subway and a great drainage project had been commenced in the capital. Yeah, you'd kinda need both! This was circa 1970, and was consistent with the observations I had at last made today. I have always liked the Mexico City subway, which I first rode en passant from Belize in 1981, but only now struck me as absurdly old. It truly looked like a 1970s artifact. The fact that a ticket I had left over from my 2009 visit still worked only emphasized its oldness.

I did not exhaust the wax museum, going through the house of horrors but backing out of the hall of mirrors, the latter of which did not need to be as dark as the former. It was confusing enough! I found my way out, which was not difficult but was long - this is a multistory structure - and proceeded to my final museum, the chocolate one, just a couple of blocks away. This was bright and airy. Otherwise, about it I have little to say. There was chocolate, I guess. In an amazing feat for the Third World, this establishment, even its gift shop, was odorless. But there were, among the exhibits proper, figurines and tiles, some in chocolate - why? - and others in baked clay, all modern. There was some archeology, and I learned how to say "beyond the shadow of a doubt" in Spanish. Good to know controversies in this discipline are quashed! There was also a room of insects. Cacao-tree pests? It didn't say. The specimens were pinned. I had no idea why they were there. I asked another museum-goer, a teenage girl, "What does this have to do with chocolate?" She and her friends just repeated the question in high voices. They seemed to find it funny. They certainly hadn't thought of it on their own.

On the way back to the subway and my hotel, I passed a school. It was boarded up but there were construction noises inside. A banner outside proclaimed that parents of children who attended this school, I don't know when, wanted either it or a neighboring structure demolished because the next earthquake might do that anyway. I was distressed by an upper-floor broken window, clearly something that someone had cruelly thrown a rock through. It occurred to me that people who would vandalize schools are irredeemably creepy. Like people who would destroy musical instruments (I don't know why that thought came to me first - maybe because it was inconceivable that any of the native entertainers I had seen at the wax museum would have had that in their act); or people who would wager on cockfights (which may or may not go on in Mexico, definitely does so openly in Peru, but in neither place with government promotion); or, for that matter, serial killers. It's not that these beasts are all the same, it's that they're all in their own dimensions incomparable. Well, wherever any such people might be coming from, here was a concentrated pageant of humanity. Mexico is so. Belize and Cape Verde are so too, surely; yet somehow that is not obvious. Because they are at a too-early stage of tourism? We shall see.

© 2017 J.A.Hutter

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