notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
“Earth and water: it is a city that harbors nature, rather than excludes it… [we] treat the city not only as a setting or a moral environment but as a main character endowed with a riotous multiplicity of voices.”
–Gonzalo Celorio, “Mexico, City of Paper”
In 2012 I fell in love in Mexico City. I also fell in love with Mexico City at the same time, so both experiences are inextricably linked for me.
Three weeks ago I made my second trip to the DF and fell in love all over again, both with my now-fiance and with the city. As a pre-trip gift he bought me The Mexico City Reader edited by Ruben Gallo and Loren Scott Fox. (Most of the essays were written 20+ years ago, but I still recommend it–more than I’d recommend, say, Daniel Hernandez’s Down in Delirious in Mexico City, which I did not relate to or find very well-written.) While I had the book in my possession for months prior to our journey south, I decided to save the book for the trip–I planned to read about the city’s history and subcultures and politics while actually walking around the very streets and neighborhoods where so much change and destruction and rebuilding had occurred.
I read most of the essays in the book, but what grabbed me the most was actually Gallo’s introduction (that, and Elena Poniatowska’s essay, “The Earthquake,” about the infamous 1985 Mexico City quake; images of her pinned beneath that concrete slab haunted me the entire trip, and I prayed I would not experience the old stone walls of Condesa or Coyoacan shaking around me while I leisurely sipped Sangremal mezcal in a cafe.)
There’s a problem, a “thorny question of how to theorize the city.” Gallo asks us: “What intellectual framework can help us make sense of a place long associated with disorder and chaos?… What kind of questions should we ask to try to understand Mexico City?”
There are many places in the world I’d like to live, but Mexico City definitely tops the list. It can be very affordable for budget travelers, the cuisine is delicious (perhaps, I dare say, the best in the world), the temperature is ideal, Mexicans are a welcoming and proud people, the city is brimming with culture, every street is so different and vividly colorful… I could go on and on. It truly is a a place of “constant transformations, constructions, and destructions.” I’ve spent less than three weeks in the DF, but I feel pulled back–I’m already planning my next sojourn, perhaps to visit, perhaps to stay.
Gallo is eloquent and exact in his descriptions of Mexico’s capital; he also makes me aware of the fact that I’ve only seen a minute sliver of this city, this megalopolis, and every time I reread his words I want to go back and see it all, every neighborhood and market and restaurant. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book, a quickly sketched portrait of the city I experienced while traversing the city on foot, a voyeur of sorts:
“[The authors] are avid flaneurs, persistent explorers of the most recondite corners of the capital, even at a time when highways, expressways, and perifericos have left many parts of the city inaccessible to pedestrians. This collection of varied texts about life on the city’s streets aims to replicate the experience of walking through the streets of Mexico City, where one’s five senses are constantly bombarded by the cultural contradictions that make life in the capital unpredictable.”
–Ruben Gallo, “Introduction”
There really is no place like the DF, no city where I’ve felt so immediately at home and intrigued and simply happy. I wish I could read these authors’ works in Spanish, as they were initially written, but for now I must settle for the translated essays in The Mexico City Reader.