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Brie’s Mexico City memento

December 8, 2010
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I am so, SO excited to share today’s Sentimental Salvage with you. I met Brie through a boxing friend of mine a few years back. She is many things: beautiful, stylish, glamorous, clever, witty, fun… and since I started following her blog, A Brie Grows in Brooklyn, I’ve learned that Brie is also a sensational writer. She can capture a sense of place like nobody’s business and I gave her carte blanche to write as much as she wanted, in her signature style. I think you’ll be completely blown away, as I was.

When I was twenty-four, I lived in Mexico City for four months. I was working for a photography exhibition called Ashes and Snow, as the director of communications, a job that I had stumbled upon by pure chance. Most of my time in the city was spent working at the museum, a bamboo structure almost 56,000 square feet in size that we had erected for the show in the Zócalo, the central square of the city. I spent almost 12 hours a day in the loft space at the top of the structure, ensconced in the swarm of humanity that flocked to the museum. In the final week of the show, we were receiving almost 150,000 visitors a day, a number that broke attendance records across nations.

At night, I would return home to my hotel, a building that hovered over the downtown of the city. It was a luxurious place, with one of the best restaurants in the city, and I had my own room on the 20th floor. I kept the curtains open on the windows when I went to bed, so that every morning I was awoken by the sunrise, which is one of the uniquely strange splendors of the city. The pinks and oranges and deep grays of the rising day, normally blended together like an oil painting, are obscured and pixelized by the pollution in the atmosphere in Mexico City, making the sky look like a Seurat painting writ large.


In all of my adult splendor, I languished. I had never been more lonely in my entire life.

I was still something of an ingenue, and an over-educated one at that. All of my life, I had been surrounded by people. By my five siblings, by my multitudes of friends, by my long-term, destructive boyfriend. My daily existence was one heavily dictated by routine, by plans that I made weeks in advance, by activities that I scheduled so that I would never have to face my own inability to decide who I was, or what I wanted to do with my life. I was a flurry of meaningless action.

But in Mexico City, I had nothing to distract me but my own restlessness. The city wasn’t safe enough for me to walk around alone at night, but during the lulls that came during the afternoon every day, instead of staying in the museum, I would take cabs to relatively gringa-friendly areas of the city, and explore them on foot. I would walk the untrodden concrete strips along the sides of gated estates with my iPod (at the time exclusively programmed to play the album “Boxer” by the National) turned low to avoid potential ambushes, my camera in hand. When I could, I would try to snap photographs of people unawares, or colors that I thought were beautiful, or self portraits of myself, terminally narcissistic, in the mirrored surfaces of car windows. The city is as dangerous as everything says, but the danger heightened my sense of everything. I felt buzzing and frightened and alive.


It was on the day that I visited the National Museum of Anthropology, in the center of Chapultepec Park, that I stumbled upon a street vendor selling movie stills of old Mexican stars. He had his wares laid out on the street, in rows like a contact sheet. He had set himself on a part of the street so narrow that it was almost inaccessible to foot traffic. All around him, purple oleander flowers bloomed.


If the city were more romantic, I could have made the encounter into something poetic, but he was perched next a highway. I asked him the price of each photograph, and he stated a sum so high that if I had paid it, I would have deserved to be kidnapped right then and there, off of the deserted strip, for being such a fool.

None of the photographs were particularly beautiful, and some were even ugly. They were yellowed and worn, crinkled with age, and crusted with dust. I didn’t like any enough to chose only one, so instead I bought 10, agreeing to pay what in the US would amount to $5. It was a killing of a day for my bizarrely situated salesman.

Once I returned back to my hotel, I placed my package of movie stills in my suitcase, and forgot about them until I unpacked it in my apartment in New York, a few weeks later.

I had recently moved into my own place, on the top floor of a brownstone built at the turn of the 20th century. In my tiny space, which was probably once a single bedroom, but had been divided into four doll-sized rooms (kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom), I had a boarded up fireplace. On the mantle, I had begun collecting photographs from my travels, small tokens from foreign lands, a tin of mink oil for my leather boots. It begged for further additions, for revisions in the obsessive compulsive symmetry of my mantelpiece menagerie.


So I placed one of the photographs I had bought on the street, chosen completely arbitrarily, on the top right corner, where it still lies today. For a while, it didn’t have a frame. It curled upon itself, bending against its own weight, damaged by the sunlight that hit my apartment in the morning. I barely looked at it, but if it had gone missing, I would have mourned the memento, the one true curio that I bought back from my life in Mexico City. A life that began my freedom from attachment, and taught me the invaluable ability to be completely alone. Eventually, when it could no longer stand on its own, I bought the image a frame at Ikea.

Looking at it again, it makes sense why I chose this one particular image of all ten that I brought back. The Mexican starlet stands alone, looking off into some unknown distance. Her hair is down, tied back in a white bow. Her dress is silky and shining, but high necked and demure. She bears a certain innocence, a certain childishness unbefitting to her somewhat advanced age, but her mien is one of confidence. She holds her head high. She is everything I was at the moment that I first lay eyes on her. She is looking into the future, relishing in her solitude. She looks hopeful. She looks sexually satisfied. She looks like a girl who could travel on her own without panicking. She looks like a woman.

Brie, you have outdone yourself, thank you a million times over.

Be sure to check out Brie’s blog – it’s simply stunning.

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