Thursday, May 21, 2015

Finding Home: Other Voices

Today I'm pleased to share another story of finding home in Mexico City, from author Claudia Long.

Mexico Lindo, Where My Heart is Home

I moved 14 times in my first 17 years for reasons too tiresome to detail, but I always knew where home was. I grew up in Mexico City, and for me, calle Puebla, Puebla Street, was always where my heart was.

Our fortunes ebbed and flowed while I was growing up, and for a time we lived in a strange and dingy three-room place in a tall building. It was in that building, on Calle Rio Rin, that my father brought home a tiny puppy in his pocket, to my mother's tolerant dismay. We named that mutt Corky, or Cokis in Spanish since the foreign word was clumsy on the tongue.

We moved to a large stone home at some point, and the walls crawled with tarantulas and scorpions. My father used to come into our bedroom at night with a baseball bat to kill tarantulas.  After my sister was stung on the knee by a scorpion when we returned from a long trip and she knelt to pet Cokis, we moved.  From there I remember a rambling house with a huge flowering garden, where milk was delivered by a dun-colored burro. My mother had to boil the milk to pasteurize it, and I found the smell nauseating. This was 1962, so we just substituted the delicious cafĂ© de olla, coffee spiced with cinnamon, for the disgusting milk, engendering my lifelong love of coffee. 

I was nine when we moved to Calle Puebla. The apartment on Puebla took up half of the top two floors of a five-storey building. The building had an entrance door for humans, and a gate for cars and the gas- and wood-trucks that delivered heating fuels early in the morning. From the terrace on the top floor you could see Popocateptl on the increasingly rare clear days, and the faint outline of Ixtazihuatl in the distance. Popo was the male volcano, rising phallically into the clouds, and Ixta was his mate, undulating mountains of sleeping woman. We lived there for two and a half years, and whenever I think of home, that's where my mind goes.

We had little planters all around the terrace and my mother grew geraniums in them, brilliant red flowers with furry green leaves. The sky was blue with "towering cumuli" as the English-station weatherman used to say on the radio almost every day. In the spring, as the dry season wore on into choking dust, the horizon would be obscured with a brown haze that Los Angeles later re-named smog, but for now it was dust and exhaust and the fact that the rains had not yet come, and our eyes watered as we walked down the street choked with cars and buses spewing black smoke.

One day we got the word that the great God of Rain, Tlaloc, had been found by archeologists. It was unearthed and was going to be brought to the City on the back of a truck. Lines of people formed alongside the roads to see the great stone god, and my father realized that we would have a better view of the event from the terrace than if we tried to worm our way into the crowds. As Tlaloc made his dramatic entrance, the skies, bright blue through the smog until that day, darkened suddenly, and opened their reserves of water. Rain came down in torrents, drenching the eager crowd, washing the streets and skies, and running in rivers through the gutters. Thunder and lightning accompanied the god, letting us all know that we had trifled with the wrong guy.

When I was eleven we moved to New York, and I have only been back to visit a few times. The last time I saw Calle Puebla, about ten years ago, the street had hardly changed. There was still the dry-cleaner and the paper goods store, and the little convenience store where I spent my allowance on candy. The vacant lot across the street where my little brother played cars in the dirt was now a high-rise though, and my old building's paint was peeling and dull.

Of course, it has been nearly 50 years since we moved away, so it's amazing more hasn't changed. But maybe I have the right to expect permanence when home is a land where a rain god can still wreak havoc for having his sleep of 300 years disturbed.
 Claudia H. Long is the author of Josefina's Sin and The Duel for Consuelo, two historical novels of Colonial Mexico. She grew up in Mexico City, and lives in Northern California with her husband and too many dogs. And a cat. 
Like Claudia on Facebook at and enjoy her blog at


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