32. Chance encounters: Magdalena Contreras

I descended from the Cerro del Judío among the houses built upwards into the woods. Water gushed downwards through concrete culverts separating neighborhoods. Trees dangled above the grey-walled houses. I walked through the labyrinth of staircases towards the hilly forest marking the beginning of the volcano ranges south of the city. I started downwards for the long-descent to the nearest hotel, a two-hour detour taking me into the city proper. After walking for some time the buildings were a little bit older and the slope less steep.

I passed a group of construction workers enjoying a late afternoon beer in the street. They asked me to join them for a drink. I sat down and we talked briefly. I told them I was from the Netherlands. After a few minutes with the already somewhat tipsy builders I continued on.

As I walked along an avenue I rued the fact that the hotel was so far away and the enormous detour, descent and climb that I would be making just to find a place to stay for the night. Abruptly a car stopped just ahead of me and a young man stepped out. He walked up to me. He said he had spoken to the construction workers up the hill. They had told him I was Dutch. He was going to the Netherlands to work on a documentary art project. He was wondering whether I could help with a place to stay in the Netherlands.

I said I would help him of he would help me with a place to stay for this night. I explained the project to him. He walked up to the car and spoke to the older woman behind the wheel. He walked back and said I could stay at his house, but before they were going to a family party close-by. A problem arose because I could not enter the car. So we decided to meet in an hour by a large bakery further down the road.

Having reached the bakery I waited. The young man, handsome and enthusiastic, came up to meet me. Then he walked with me to the house of his uncle. A large table was placed in the patio and several couples sat around it. A beautiful girl sat next to my young host. He had been running through a park and had seen her there. He knew that if he didn’t speak to her then he would probably never see her again. So he did and now she was here. Apparently it was a tradition that every year his mother’s family, which consisted of three sisters, would have a party and bring all their husbands. Later in the year the father’s family would do the same.

The father of the young man was the owner of a moving company. He was worried about his son’s trip to the far-away Netherlands, which would be the first time his son had lived alone. Beyond that the young man planned to overstay his visa in order to make maximum use of the ticket and the experience of being outside of Mexico. I told him people did find work and that I was often surprised that Mexicans spent more money in a dangerous desert crossing into United States than simply buying an airplane ticket to Europe.

The father noted that apparently I liked dangerous ambiances as I told him about my walk. He said he knew a few places which were remarkable in that sense. As a mover he knew the whole city. He had never told his son about them since they were too seedy, but maybe someday he would take me. The walk seemed a fine adventure to him.

He asked me where I lived and I said I rented an apartment in the city center, though many people on the edge of the city seemed to disapprove of renting, seeing it as a way of wasting money which could be spent creating a house as legacy for your children. He surprised me by saying he disagreed. He said that people who built on the edge of the city did indeed create property for their children, but that growing up in a middle-class environment surrounded by the services and beauties of the city center was also a great contribution to children’s lives. Growing up on the edge of the city could be a hard thing.

The family enjoyed its pre-Christmas party chattering and talking over the food. I remained a bit to one side, an odd guest of their bold son and nephew. I saw them talk over food and beer in their garden patio, the beautiful sisters and courteous husbands.

As they retired, Mauricio, the young artist, accompanied me on foot to his house. We entered the low building set into the hill. He offered me his bed next to his brother´s on a wooden loft. I fell asleep like a stone.

Later we discovered that the person who had invited him to participate in an art project in the Netherlands was my cousin Thomas Peutz.