The Water Feature on the Wooden Walkway

At the time, we didn’t notice the building across the river…

Outside our apartment there is a river, and along forty feet of it there is a wooden walkway. Next to the wooden walkway is a little ditch, and in the ditch there are fifteen evenly spaced jets. These jets, on the days that they are functioning, shoot water in an arc over the wooden walkway and into an oblong pool on the other side. The jets create a staccato tunnel, the imaginary ceiling of which is high enough that a person can walk along the wooden walkway without any worry of getting wet. It is an excellent place to take pictures.

Cesia took my picture under an arc of water on the wooden walkway outside our apartment. At the time, it was not our apartment. At the time, we didn’t notice the building across the river because we had no reason to. It was the 18th of February 2016, nine months and four days before I would propose to Cesia. 

Since moving in to our apartment I have looked out the window a hundred times and seen people playing in the water feature on the wooden walkway. They use their hands to redirect the water, splashing their friends. Parents hold the hands of toddlers who want to investigate the strange way the water moves. On windy days, or days where the water pressure is weak, people run and duck and dodge the jets, like they’re avoiding laser beams guarding a bank vault. A lot of people take pictures exactly like the one Cesia took of me. 

There is absolutely no meaning in this coincidence. We didn’t look at the building, back in February 2016, and determine to make this place ours. We didn’t decide, in May 2017, to live in a place that had any particular significance to us. Like almost everything, it just sort of happened.

Cesia just happened to attend a university thousands of miles away from her home. The university just happened to be in the city I was in. We just happened to be using Tinder at the same time. We just happened to be available the next day to get coffee. And so on.

The coincidence of us taking a photo outside the building we would later move in to, is nothing compared to the coincidence of us meeting and forming a relationship in the first place. Or it isn’t a coincidence. We have both had to be patient when an ocean separated us, and take professional and educational risks to prioritise our relationship. And so on.

It might be a coincidence, it might not. There might be meaning in these events, and maybe not. But either way, I don’t care. I’m just glad it happened.

New bed

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted so I’d like to apologise to my thousands of readers, however, as I don’t have thousands of readers, it’s impossible.

Yesterday the bed we ordered weeks ago arrived. We’ve been sleeping on a sofa bed that is a little too small, so a good night’s sleep has been a rare treat. When the bed arrived Cesia and I were caught off guard because we were expecting it next week.

The pool on our roof was empty and we were enjoying the sun and seeing who could do the best underwater handstand (me) when Cesia’s phone rang. It was one of the building’s administrators saying some furniture had arrived for us. We quickly threw on T-shirts and Cesia went down to the lobby and I went to the flat. Two men dragged the bed and mattress inside and had me sign something and they left. Both items were wrapped in plastic and cardboard and as we heaved the bed into the bedroom Cesia said that this is the first bed that she has ever bought.

‘I bought it.’ I said.

‘OK. And I bought the sofa, the dining table, the food you eat, the wifi.’ she said.

‘Don’t change the subject.’ I said.

We tore through some of the plastic and realised that there was a lot more than we first thought so I went to the kitchen to find something to use to cut it. It says something about our prioreties that, while we have not yet bought a pair of scissors, we do own four different cheese knives. We used two of them to open our bed.

We put sheets and pillows on it and then went out to run a few errands. Cesia needed to pay her phone bill and we needed a new shower curtain because the one we bought when we moved in has already started to fall apart.

We went to a mall that has fancy restaurants and shops that sell imported meats. There was a department store that reminded me of Debenhams and it was there that we found our new shower curtain. We needed a soap dish too so we got one of those, and then walked around the different departments looking at some of the weird stuff someone, somewhere, presumably wants. There were salt and pepper shakers in the shape of slices of watermelon. For some reason I thought the salt shaker seemed fine, but pepper? Who wants to pick up a little red piece of ceramic, patiently designed and painted to look like an idealised cartoon version of a sweet, fresh, fruity piece of melon and have a stream of black pepper fall out of it?

Near the melon shakers was a shelf of wine glasses that were on sale. I liked them and so did Cesia. They’re big, like the kind you see in the fancy restaurants we had walked past a little while ago. We took four over to the cashier and we (Cesia) paid.

Later that night we lay in our new bed and Cesia reminded me that on our first night here we slept on the floor. We spread a blanket over the tiles as if we were having a picnic. We pulled a sheet over us and slept badly. The next day we (Cesia) bought a sofa bed.

I thought about that night, and about how quickly things have changed since I got here. I have a few jobs and a few friends. I’ve been able to enjoy a handful of luxuries and try new foods and drinks. But it also reminded me that it’s the less dramatic, less showy things that make me happy, like being able to end evey day by falling asleep with the woman I love. Little things like making dinner together, and finding new Netflix shows we both like. Things like spending a weekday afternoon playing in a pool we have all to ourselves, and setting up the bed we ordered because our current sleeping arrangment was good, but not quite good enough, and buying wine glasses because we’re bored of the ones we have already, and coming home to our view of beautiful mountains surrounded by a fringe of tiny houses inhabited by people that know poverty I will never experience and will likely never fully understand.

I wondered if I have become shallow, or if I’ve always been this way.

This morning, as Cesia was getting ready for work, I asked her if she had any tweezers I could use.

‘For your eyebrows?’ she asked.

I had not planned on using them on my eyebrows.

Maybe I am shallow sometimes, or materialistic, or something like that. But I’m glad that I’ll always have Cesia who, without meaning too, is expertly able to keep that side of me in check.

Rain

 
Since the last post I have gotten two more jobs, and Cesia and I have booked our wedding venue. When it first occurred to us that getting married in Mexico would allow us to have an outdoor wedding, outdoors is the only way I’ve been able to picture it.
 
We went to the venue and looked around and Cesia asked several questions and looked at a bunch of papers. I took photos of the garden, set up with round tables and hanging lanterns, and the dance floor against a backdrop of green mountains and a blue sky. It was perfect.
 
We had a date in mind, in October, but it was already booked. We could gamble and choose a date earlier than we had planned, but in September the weather would be a few degrees closer to uncomfortable, and the chance of rain would increase to about 20%. You can take the man out of the UK but you can’t take the UK out of the man. 20% was too much. And it would mean less time to organise everything, and for my family to make travel arrangements and book time off work. We wanted that venue, but moving the wedding three weeks earlier seemed like a bad idea.
 
I was trying to convince myself that the 80% chance of no rain would be enough to give me confidence. I didn’t want to pretend like I knew more about Mexican weather than Cesia, and she was excited about the wedding being sooner. I couldn’t let it appear as though I wanted to push it back out of nerves or doubts about us, but I also didn’t want to be the one to disappoint her. It was as though she was throwing a parade and I was somehow going to cause it to be rained on. If only there was a fitting metaphor for the situation.
 
She spoke to her mum who came up with a good idea; ask for a different day in October. In Mexico, weddings take place on a Friday or Saturday, but that doesn’t matter to us. My family will be flying in from England. A weekday wedding won’t make a difference, and it’s still far enough in advance that Cesia’s relatives can make any arrangements they need to. We picked a day in October near to the first date we wanted. It was available so we paid a deposit and started picking our decorations and discussing the menu
 
Today it was Father’s Day and my family sat in my parent’s back garden and enjoyed the sun. It was 30 degrees in England. I spoke to them on the phone and they bragged about the sunshine. Later on I sent them a screenshot of my phone’s weather app. It said it was 40 degrees, and moderate.
 
I’m looking forward to the September rain.

Facebook

Mexicans are amazing. No wonder Donald Trump asks them to make a lot of his merchandise. I need a job while I’m here and I don’t speak Spanish so I’m pretty limited on what I can do and how I can find work. most job postings are in Spanish and google translate is not the most reliable resource so I was starting to worry about how I’m going to figure this out.

As a long shot I searched for English Monterrey on Facebook and found a group for teachers of English in my city. I joined the group and posted this:

Hello/hola,

I’m new to Monterrey, from England, and I’m hoping to start teaching independently. I want to teach individual students but I’m having trouble connecting with people that want to learn. Can anyone here give me any advice, or pass on my details to people they know who could help. I’m a native speaker with a degree in English. Sorry if this seems like spam.

I included my email address and then forgot about it. I probably started watching Bob’s Burgers and making a quesadilla. But then my phone exploded! And no, it’s not a Note 7. I got emails, Facebook messages, friend requests, messages from a creep with an English fetish, likes, and comments with advice and email addresses asking for my CV. Later that day I taught my first English lesson over Skype, and the next day I interviewed for a regular teaching job. I’ve had two more interviews and have more scheduled for next week.

It was the most response I’ve received to a Facebook post since 2010 when I got over 100 comments arguing about my status, “Fact of the day: penicillin is made from pencils.”

It took one Facebook post and those listless, lazy, drug smuggling gangbangers found me a job in less than 24 hours.

Gracias, amigos.

 

Also, this has nothing to do with this post, but the picture is the view from our bedroom.

Uber

We’ve moved! We have our own place and it is awesome. A pool, a gym, round the clock security and maintanance. It’s fantastic. I spend my days applying for jobs, wondering around in the sun, working out in the air-conditioned gym, and watching netflix.

Yesterday we needed groceries so, instead of Cesia coming all the way back here from work, we decided to meet at the supermarket. I put on my shades and stood on the pavement and ordered an uber.

The guy arrived later than the app said and, after checking that I was his customer, he said he tried to call me but couldn’t connect. I haven’t registered my Mexican phone number with uber yet. I tried to explain that the problem was my fault and that my number is no good.

‘Mi nombre es no bueno.’ I said, in perfect Spanish.

‘Uh?’ He said, in perfect Spanish.

‘Mi nombre,’ I said, ‘es no bueno.’ Again, in perfect Spanish.

‘O.K.’ he said.

While I had been speaking Spanish, and speaking it perfectly, I had not said that my number was no good. Number is Número. I had said Nombre, or name. I had stepped into this man’s car, and told him my name is bad. He had said ‘Uh?’ and I said it again.

The car ride passed in silence, and in the silence, I realised my mistake. It was like he had checked I was his customer by saying ‘Joe?’ and I had said ‘Yes, but my middle name is danger.’ He replied, ‘O.K.’ which is probably the best response I could have hoped for.

I wanted to say something else, not to correct myself, but to let the guy know that I’m not a total moron. I wanted to appear comfortable, as though there was a chance that what I had said was normal, and that he had misunderstood. I wanted to gaslight him.

I could go casual (Gracias, mi amigo) or formal (Gracias, señor) or, even better, I could extend it (Gracias, señor. Buenos tardes) and be both formal and polite.

We were at the supermarket and Cesia messaged me to say where I could find her. I typed a reply and sent it and saw that she had started typing back.

‘Está bien.’ I said, and the driver stopped. I opened the door and, before closing I fired my parting shot.

‘Gracias, mi amor.’

And then, after accidentally saying ‘Thank you, my love,’ to a complete stranger, I put my sunglasses in my bag, entered the supermarket, and considered that interaction one more success on my slow journey to fluency.

 

 

 

Spice boys

My in-laws are very nice. They have welcomed me into their home for as long as we need until Cesia and I can move into our flat. There is a cultural misunderstanding, that has shown me what Mexicans think of Brits.

My in-laws are terrified that I will eat something spicy and die.

Yesterday I reheated some leftover chicken in a pan. I threw in some chopped up chili and tomatoes and sprinkled the whole thing with salt. I ate it with a couple of tortillas and it was good. I don’t know the names of the different chilis but this was green about twice as big as a jalapeño. It had a mild kick to it and was a bit sweet. In short, it was fine.

Later that evening Cesia told me that her dad had seen the pan I had used and saw that there were a few seeds in it. The seeds (or the membrane connecting the seeds to the rest of the chili – thanks, QI) are the hottest part of the chili. Cesia’s dad worried that I had eaten these, which I had, and suffered from the heat, which I hadn’t.

I’m not saying this as any kind of macho bravado. I know people that order the hottest thing in an Indian restaurant to prove that they can…provide for their family, I guess? Defend their home from intruders? I don’t know. I enjoy a korma if that’s what I’m in the mood for. I order the medium heat at Nando’s, but I’m not going to panic if they bring me a hotter half-chicken by mistake.

On one of my first days here we barbecued together. My in-laws showed me how to make salsa by grilling tomatoes and onions and chilis and grinding them together in a pestle and mortar. They made a regular salsa, and another one for me, devoid of spice. Cesia’s mum, and then her dad, both showed me which salsa was the none spicy one. Her dad said the regular one is very spicy, too hot, as though forbidding me from trying it.

It was spicy. Spicy enough to make me eat slower, but still barely more than a strong tingle – FYI, Strong Tingle is my signature wrestling move. On my next tortilla, I spooned a smaller serving of spicy salsa and enjoyed it very much. I tried a bit of the none spicy salsa and decided to stick with the regular stuff. This surprised Cesia’s dad. I imagine that he, and many other Mexicans, have this image of British people eating bread and milk, and cowering at anything with so much as a sprinkle of pepper.

I can’t tell whether Cesia’s dad thinks I’m trying to prove something. I made eggs earlier and had them with some of the same green chili I mentioned before. I had a cup of coffee with my food and he warned me against combining the hot flavour of the chili with the hot temperature of the coffee.

Along the same lines they bought a lot of 500ml bottles of water for me. Cesia’s mum was concerned that the water here would be bad for my system which is a valid concern. I made sure to Google it before I came. The last time I was here I drank that water and nothing happened. Nothing. Cesia’s mum has forgotten that, and rather than asking me or Cesia, sent her husband out to buy water bottles. This is after I had been here for two days so I don’t know what she thought I had been drinking that whole time.

Their concerns are kind-hearted but unnecessary. I expect that – in time – whether by experience, or by me learning how to better communicate with them, these weird trivial things will occur less and less. It’s hard to know how to react because if I say thank you I might imply that what they have done is needed, and that they should do it again. If I say nothing then I’ll feel rude. The best way I can think to handle it is to show off some macho bravado and start to eat the hottest things I can find in front of them. And wash it down with a tall glass of tap water.

Cesia’s dad and I can compete, like gorilla’s thumping our chests and bearing our teeth; teeth that will bite into green and red and yellow chilis, to see who is manliest. I could cook for them and claim that the meal is a traditional English recipe, but then load it with chilis and spices to see if they flinch. I won’t do that, but I could. And soon I’ll be out of their house and into my own, with as many chilis and as much tap water as I can handle. And if we invite them round for dinner, I’ll make them a traditional, British, vindaloo.

Diez cervesas, por favor.

 
Since I’ve been here I’ve watched the first season of How to Get Away with Murder, and now I’m several episodes into Season Two. It’s often too hot to be outside for any length of time so we binge on TV shows until it gets cool and we can go out to eat.
 
Yesterday we went to a fish restaurant for lunch. I don’t know what I ordered but it was good. One was a tostada, the other wasn’t. A tostada it a tortilla with something on it. The other thing was also on a tortilla, but wasn’t a tostada. I have no idea what the rules are for what is an isn’t a tostada, but I enjoyed both dishes.
 
The restaurant offers a bucket of ten beers, and we figured that the 190ml bottles, split between two of us, would be around two pints each; a fun, but not crazy amount for a weekday lunchtime. We ordered ten small bottles of Indigo. They came in a big bucket of ice that the waiter set on a little stand by our table. Cesia and I were talking about something and we kept talking as the waiter opened two bottles and left. We were thirsty and drank half a bottle each before we realised that our order was wrong. We had been given ten 325ml bottles.
 
We looked at the menu to see if it was our mistake or our waiter’s. We weren’t sure. We considered saying something, but decided against it. So, we sat on the terrace enjoying our food and lots and lots of beer. I practised my Spanish, saying Desculpe to the waiter when we needed him to open our next bottle, and when he didn’t hear me, Cesia shouted Hey.
 
We went across the street to look at furniture for the apartment we were hoping to get, and we decided all their rugs are ugly. We looked at coffee makers and chairs and mirrors. And when we were done we took a taxi home to continue watching How to Get Away With Murder. While we were binge watching, Cesia got an email saying the apartment we wanted was ours.
 
Soon we will have a place, and a chair, and a mirror. Maybe a coffee maker. Hopefully a rug that isn’t ugly. And we’ll have a bucket of beer to celebrate.