Panic! And Respite

As the panic about swine flu sweeps around the world it appears, in some respects, to be decreasing in Mexico City. Today, there was more traffic on the roads and plenty of people on the streets, both masked and unmasked. When I got to my local tennis courts – it was business as usual. It is one of the only sports that is still considered safe to play.

I scanned the English papers, BBC website, and listened to the News at One and the growing fear in the UK is really palpable, even from here - the pandemic’s epicentre.

Despite reports of a shortage of surgical masks, from what I sense (and have experienced myself), the earlier panic seems to have been replaced by the exhaustive after-effects of shock – hard, relentless depression. It’s like a gargantuan hangover. Both Jaime and I have felt washed out and increasingly tearful throughout the day. Later, the dispiriting news about the spread of the flu added to our sense of despair. I may risk missing the last flight out of Mexico for some time, but have decided to stay and am retreating to Jaime’s parents in Cuernavaca* this weekend.

Unfortunately, Jaime is needed in the industrial town of Monterrey which, as far as I can make out, is one big shopping mall. I was feebly excited when I learned that the first international professional women's tennis tournament, the Monterrey Open, was held there in March, 2009 and that the city has the some of the best hospitals, second only to those in Mexico City. I was less enthusiastic when I learned of the escalating violence there, involving bloody gun battles between the drug cartels and the Mexican army; the frequent kidnappings and car-jackings of ordinary citizens; and the targeting of foreigners.

Hmmmn. My choice: Stay alone in the pandemic capital or spend a weekend confined to an anonymous hotel in Monterrey.

Jaime’s parents live in Cuarnavaca, a town known as ‘the eternal spring’ for its temperate climate all the year round. Although our language barrier (my fault) means that we can only get by through an extensive use of mime and wind-milling arms, I am confident that I will be loved and cared for and that this time I will learn the art of (chocolate) mole as well as reading, writing and regaining some emotional strength. The eerily deserted streets of Mexico DF, the surreal masked faces, the phantom people on the buses, have all taken their toll.

* Cuarnavaca, some 50 miles south of Mexico city and the capital of Morelos state, can claim to be - partly- the inspiration for Malcom Lowry’s classic Under the Volcano.