I don’t have a smartphone. Seems this simple fact is becoming more abnormal and inconvenient with the passage of time. I mean, really. My guides in the Sahara Desert had smartphones. I witnessed homeless people in Seville using smartphones. Shoot, even both of my parents have smartphones (no, this is not a joke). Technologically speaking, I’m not even a dinosaur, I’m like a freaking amoeba.
Which means when I travel I get around the old fashioned way. I use maps. You know, those paper things. But here’s the problem—I don’t have one for Mexico City and haven’t found a place to buy one. This really isn’t so bad since I brought along a guidebook I picked up in Rochester before I left. Moon series. OK, it’s no Lonely Planet, but it covers most basics and contains a patchwork of neighborhood maps that have been helpful for the most part. As long as I marry up its info with Google Maps I’m good to go. But still, as soon as I step out the front door I have to rely on memory and intuition. And I’m not much gifted with either.
So it’s no surprise that I managed to get turned around a few times between my flat on Pilares and Casa Azul—the artist Frida Kahlo’s house, now a museum, in the Coyoacán neighborhood. But just as well, I don’t think it would have mattered when I arrived, the line would still have been ridiculous. The anxious queue snaked from the entrance and worked its way down a full block before double-backing, finally petering out in a cluster of folks looking for its terminus. I took one look and decided to reschedule for a weekday, as if that would matter. Guess I’ll find out later this week.
I believe getting lost is the best way to get acquainted with a place, so I took a different route home, trying to picture the sparsely detailed strip map from my guidebook. Wasn’t long before I came across a crowd of police and military setting up a cordon barrier along the length of Calle Popocatépetl. Boxes of bagged lunches marked “POLICÍA” sat on the curb and volunteers were passing out free bottles of water. Families had parked lawn chairs along the barricades, many were waving white and yellow flags at any official vehicle that motored down the closed street. Something was happening. Something big.
Turns out the 266th leader of the Roman Catholic church, 80 year old Pope Francis, had arrived in Mexico City the previous day for a six day swing through the country. That particular afternoon he and his motorcade were about to make an appearance. I hung around for a while to absorb the spectacle: live traditional music, vendors selling artisanal crafts and Pope memorabilia, tons of people taking selfies with stoic police officers baking in the mid afternoon sun, and lots of people who looked tired of waiting for something to happen.
Before long, the waning energy of the crowd suddenly shifted. A deep roar came from far up the road, and everyone looked north just as a line of vehicles, flashing lights and all, came into distant view. I had just enough time to find a vantage point, a tall tree stump, where I got my camera ready. Five, maybe seven seconds later, it was all over. Like, done. The Popemobile had passed. Definitely there was something gracious in the moment, but all in all it was rather abrupt and inelegant. Sort of a buzzkill even to me, and I didn’t even plan to see him. But whatever, it was the Pope. And that was cool.
Fact is, it’s a pretty memorable day in Mexico when you get to see, in the flesh, the country’s most revered man on the planet. Especially when it follows an attempt to visit their most adored woman. Funny though how it was easier to see the Pope than Frida Kahlo—and that it wouldn’t have happened if I owned a damn smartphone. Yeah, I think I’ll hold out a while still.