|Plaza de la Americas, Xalapa|
We exchanged our peaceful pastoral surroundings for the hustle and bustle of the elite Mexican mall chain - Plaza de las Americas, or "Plaza America", as the locals say.
Normally, we don't like shopping malls. Especially in Mexico. Overpriced goods on name brands that could be purchased for far less in the States. Sales reps around every rack and kiosk. Speaking English usually shoos them away if a polite "No, gracias", doesn't.
But we weren't looking for American clothes at inflated Mexican prices. We were there to feel 'American'.
To sit in a dimly-lit movie theater with cushy stadium seats and eat popcorn. To hear English spoken on the big screen. To see scenes of manicured, green, lawns and vinyl-sided houses with shutters in the background. Mailboxes and garage sales. Maple trees and clean streets. Signs of four seasons. Holidays. Traditions. Local accents. Food, like deviled eggs, macaroni salad and green bean casserole.
For a few moments, I'm back in middle-class America, with my own family, friends, and acquaintances as the characters. The movie screen surrogates the social and civil experiences. I'm back there, if only a vicar in vestige. And I'm happy.
Happy ordering from an English menu at Chili's. Close to the US counterpart, expensive compared to local fare. But we don't care. Not today.
Food is good. Half-rack ribs and fries, side salad with ranch dressing and yellow (American) cheese. Free refills on strawberry lemonade. We watch the Steelers vs. Redskins preseason football game on the NFL network. In English.
A few more laps on the marble-tile floor. Shaking our heads at the prices. $90 (dollars) for a Levi's button-down shirt. $110 for Nike lightweight jacket. $140 for an identical pair of shoes purchased in the US for $80. We move on.
To Dairy Queen, where we share a small blizzard. Also more expensive than the US, but this is our American Day. If we want a blizzard, we shall have it. And savor every bite of crushed American candy blended with ice cream.
Exit the tempered-glass doors. Out to the perfectly paved parking lot. No potholes, cracks, trash in sight.
A step on the pedestrian bridge bids a goodbye to our American Day. Descend to the other side, where tortas and taquitos are sold on the sidewalk.
We won't do this again for a while. It's expensive to be American in Mexico.
But for the few hours of semi-indulgence, and sparse moments of sentimental nostalgia, it is worth it.
We sit on the sunny side of the smokey city bus, and smile at the replayed scenes of our American Day.
Hasta la próxima vez.