Surrealismo in Mexico City

Essay #8 of the 52 Essays in 2017 Challenge.

"I will not return to a country that is more surrealistic than my paintings.” -Salvador Dali, on Mexico


We arrive in Mexico City at midnight.

Is it a cliche to say that it feels like a dream? Well, that’s precisely what it feels like, so to hell with it. I’m dreaming. And my particular dream bubble has been cooked up by equal parts Andre Breton/Leonora Carrington/Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

To enter a foreign city at night — your taxi shuttling headfirst into an underbelly of tunnels, zooming past indecipherable scrawl on walls — is to enter an unfamiliar underworld, one where you can’t communicate with its dark gods.


In Mexico City, my dreams are so interspersed with my waking world that I usually greet the day sweat-drenched and feeling like I’ve just stepped off a dance floor. Not a figurative dance floor, but an actual one. Each night, I transcend the incredibly porous membrane between wakefulness and sleeping; when my head hits the pillow, I cross over into a pane of reality that isn’t a dream state, just a different way of being awake. I greet that night’s partner, always someone I thought I'd long forgotten (How do you do, sixteen year-old boy I met at a party ten years ago?), and proceed to whirl off with him in clouds of smoke and spangly light.

All of it feels real, because it is.


I envision, as we walk through this city by day, my husband and I, that we’re scaling the back of a giant monster. Is it any wonder they call this place el monstruo? Its streets are limbs, lined with spidery entrails of taco wrappers; its belly rumbles with a hunger for the blood of its inhabitants. Or maybe I’m reading too much about the Aztec human sacrifices that took place here?


Glass-encased Virgins adorn every street corner but there are no public trash cans (no hay basura becomes our favorite phrase). Blots of modernist architecture (a shiny heap of twisted metal, a glittering gold tower with steps leading nowhere) break up the usual gray skyline of skyscraper-sculptures. We’re flaneurs along the length of the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan; we tear up at the sight of Frida’s paints that still breathe with her lively spirit.

There are always quicksilver movements out of the corner of my eye. I feel as if I can part the smog with my tongue. I worry that I may turn the wrong corner (dimension) and my husband will no longer be standing next to me.

Regular intervals of time and concepts of space don’t exist. We’re constantly at risk of stepping out of this small block of “reality”, altogether. El monstruo may just decide to swallow us whole.