David is more than a little disgruntled this morning. He limps out of the bathroom of our Mexico City hotel room and like a disgusted pet owner of a wet and smelly dog that has been too long in the rain. He holds out what he refers to as his “leg,” an unwieldy contraption that is actually a brace that keeps his knee from collapsing without warning. The Velcro closing is torn and hanging by just one scrap of cloth. This will not do. Walking without the brace on a collapsing knee is foolhardy. A solution is a necessity. And one must be found sooner rather than later.
We walk out into the streets of the capital, into the morning light that’s still soft against the walls of the old colonial buildings, glinting off polished brass door handles, gleaming on the wrought iron grilled windows. Pots of geraniums and bougainvillea burst into bouquets of colour. Flags flap crisply in a sudden gust of wind. The air is fresh and cool, belying the heat that will come. Even here in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world, there are avenues of green all around us. Birds sing from the acacias, a foreign yet familiar melody.
A few blocks from our hotel, we pass a fabric store on Calle Isabel La Catolica. Is it possible that they might also do mending? we wonder. The older gentleman who stands outside the store, arms crossed, his black hair oiled into a perfect coif, speaks not a word of English and our Spanish is rudimentary. Our miming of a needle and thread sewing a piece of fabric does not appear to illuminate him either. He calls to the young woman inside the shop. She speaks very little English but does understand the word “fix.” We tap David’s leg to show that he has a brace. She nods. So far, so good. David feigns pulling his pants down so that he can show it to her. She shrieks and covers her eyes. We laugh and assure her that she is safe. Nothing will be revealed that shouldn’t be.
She recognizes immediately what needs to be done. The man and the woman speak in rapid Spanish. Sí. It can be done. They mime the information that a call has to be made to a tailor. “Cuatro minutos,” he says after he hangs up. Four minutes. We aren’t sure what is going to happen in four minutes but we trust him. He points to a chair for David to sit in. Everything now will be in the hands of the tailor.
The tailor arrives minutes later. The situation is explained to him in what seems like meticulous detail. He studies the problem area like a cartographer poring over maps of a distant land. He nods. Sí, he will fix it. “Setenta pesos,” he tells us. Seventy pesos. About $5.50 in Canadian dollars.
With a wave in our direction, he heads out the door and motions for us to follow. I grab my backpack and sunglasses and we run after him into the maze of the already-hot streets of Mexico City’s historic center. We follow him for several blocks, three ducks in a row, the tailor in the lead carrying David’s leg brace, David limping behind him and me bringing up the rear, wondering if I have time to take just one more photograph of just one more example of beautiful colonial architecture. Common sense tells me to keep walking.
Several blocks away, we turn off the street into an old brick building and follow the tailor down a long, narrow, deeply-shadowed walkway to a rickety old elevator that looks centuries old. Amazingly, there is an elevator operator, a small, stooped and very old man. Once we are in, we are packed like sardines in a can; the elevator holds only four people and even that is a tight squeeze. He pulls across a decrepit wrought iron cage and pushes a few buttons. Claustrophobic as I am, I hold my breath, imagine the thing stalling and all of us smothering in this tiny, stifling tomb-like box. The elevator creeps up several floors and I can see the old stone walls through the space in the door. I watch faces drift by, doors that lead into shadowed rooms.
We emerge into a long dim hallway on the fourth floor. Heavy wooden doors stand open and, in the dark interior of every room, I see racks and racks of fabrics, long wooden cutting tables, people bent over the tables cutting, draping, pressing. And sewing machines. Many, many sewing machines. This clearly is a small corner of a street that is devoted to the world of tailors.
We reach a room at the end of a hallway that is brighter than the rest. Our tailor carries the brace and sits down at his sewing machine across from another man who is busily sewing on his own machine. He looks up at us and grins, then continues on with his sewing. Our tailor sets to work and in minutes the job is done. And it’s perfect. David sits down and takes his pants off so that he can put the brace back on. The tailor laughs and says in perfect English: “Striptease.”
“Cómo te llamas?” says David. What is your name? “Valentine,” the tailor says proudly. He points to a poster on the wall. “Mi pueblo.” Wildflowers on a golden hillside. Blue/green hills in the distance. He motions for me to take his picture. He stands proudly under the poster of the village he calls home while I snap the photograph.
David gives him 100 pesos. We walk back down the dim hallway, choosing the stairs this time instead of the rickety elevator. We walk down four flights of stone stairs, each level as dark and mysterious as the one before. Out into the glare and the chaos, the stomp and the roar of the city, all we can do is look at each other and laugh. I love the way things are done here. It’s always completely crazy, but in some mysterious and magical way, it works. It always works. Beautifully.