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The Mexico City Reader

Edited by Ruben Gallo

Publication Year: 2004

    Mexico City is one of Latin America’s cultural capitals, and one of the most vibrant urban spaces in the world. The Mexico City Reader is an anthology of "Cronicas"—short, hybrid texts that are part literary essay, part urban reportage—about life in the capital. This is not the "City of Palaces" of yesteryear, but the vibrant, chaotic, anarchic urban space of the1980s and 1990s—the city of garbage mafias, necrophiliac artists, and kitschy millionaires.
    Like the visitor wandering through the city streets, the reader will be constantly surprised by the visions encountered in this mosaic of writings—a textual space brimming with life and crowded with flâneurs, flirtatious students, Indian dancers,
food vendors, fortune tellers, political activists, and peasant protesters.
    The essays included in this anthology were written by a panoply of writers, from well-known authors like Carlos Monsiváis and Jorge Ibagüengoitia to younger figures like Fabrizio Mejía Madrid and Juieta García González, all of whom are experienced practitioners of the city. The texts collected in this anthology are among the most striking examples of this concomitant "theory and practice" of Mexico City, that most delirious of megalopolises.

“[An] exciting literary journey . . .”—Carolyn Malloy, Multicultural Review

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to Princeton University's Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty for funding the translation...


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pp. xv

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Introduction: Delirious Mexico City

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pp. 3-32

The Mexico City Reader is an anthology of literary texts about life in Mexico City over the past thirty years, a period in which the capital has grown at a precipitous rate to become a megalopolis of over twenty million...

1 Mexico City on Paper

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Mexico, City of Paper

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pp. 33-52

My house—or your house, as Mexican politeness calls it, to the bewilderment of foreign visitors— tucked into one of the starched crinoline folds of the Ajusco hills, in a village graced by the name of San Nicolás......

2 Places

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pp. 55-77

From above, Insurgentes is just a broad thoroughfare cutting vertically through Mexico City, jammed with little cars. They say it's the longest road in the world because it goes from Acapulco all the way to Nuevo...

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Zona Rosa, 1965

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pp. 78-85

The Zona Rosa, or Pink District, is a cheap perfume in a fancy bottle. It's a chick from the sticks dressed as a chorus girl, a nouveau riche's daughter who pretends to be worldly but must go home early, so Daddy...

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San Rafael

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pp. 86-92

I met Juan Almela1 in the first months of 1943. We were eight years old, and our eyes met when we both looked away from a live turtle that was having its shell wrenched off in the fish section of San Cosme market...

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Coyoacán I

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pp. 93-95

I've come to Coyoacán to have my shoes shined; I also suffer from nostalgia. I enjoy Coyoacán because it has survived the quick-buck facelifts imposed by city officials and the tiresome trends of fashion (which, as we...

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Coyoacán II

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pp. 96-98

Coyoacán Square, my friends tell me, is one of the nicest corners in Mexico City. I stare, nonplussed for a moment, before conceding: yes, it is, inasmuch as any corner that might be called nice is a rare bird, and...

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División del Norte

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pp. 99-103

The first time I saw the stuffed bear I was struck by the shade of its fur: the white, polar shine I always imagined in such creatures was sorely lacking in this specimen. An array of grayish, bluish, muddy stains covered...

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Plaza Satélite

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pp. 104-107

You can be born and raised in this city, vow never to leave it, and still hardly know it: to live here is simply to practice ("ejercer" is the dazzling verb employed by Salvador Novo) some of its locations, those that best...

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Las Lomas I

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pp. 108-113

Lomas is where the motherland stands tallest. There she glows, emblazoned and moneyed, ancient and modern, palatial and wooded; her proud lines belie any crisis, any threat of pessimism. There the nation...

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Las Lomas II

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pp. 114-120

Daniela Rossell had her first solo show in 1993, when she was barely twenty. It was held at Temístocles, Mexico City's most lively alternative space, housed in a condemned mansion in the ritzy neighborhood of Polanco. She showed portraits of various female family members posing...

3 The Metro

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The Metro

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pp. 123-132

Welcome to the Big Bang! In 1950 Mexico City numbered 2.9 million inhabitants; in 1970 there were 11.8 million, and by the year 2005 the population will be close to a figure that sounds like a doomsday emergency...

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Voyage to the Center of the City

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pp. 133-138

Choose the day and the hour, accept the urgency of your daily grind, decide to save some time—"for the metro goes much faster than any vehicle rolling over the surface of the city"—descend into the nearest station, and step, for your misfortune, into the deep expressway of...

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Metro Insurgentes

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pp. 139-142

Some of us may remember the propaganda blitz that preceded the construction of the great sunken plaza at the Insurgentes metro station. Geometric abstraction was then all the rage: the Olympics posters, the...

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The Metro: A Voyage to the End of the Squeeze

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pp. 143-146

Every day, close to five million people make use of Mexico City's metro, fighting a vicious battle for oxygen and millimeters. Long gone are those old film scenes showing countless individuals squeezing into a ship's...

4 Monuments

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pp. 149-151

I love monuments—statues, fountains, palaces—those periods marking the end of every paragraph in the urban text. They are my now and my nostalgia. The first to leave its trail in the path...

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La Diana

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pp. 152-162

Diana"s buttocks are stupendous, there's no other word for it. At 21 inches across, you'd need arms five and a half feet long to hug them. Besides, they're made of bronze, as is the rest of her. Two tons of metal to produce a hollow, eviscerated body, the perfect female chassis...

5 Eating and Drinking

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The Chinese Café

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pp. 165-168

Like a magical, secret flower growing in the sorry neighborhood of San Miguel was Rosa Li, my love never conquered and forever lost. I would like to tell this story as Thomas Burke might have done when he wrote about London's legendary Chinese quarter in Limehouse Nights...

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Armando’s Tortas

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pp. 169-171

One of the greatest inventors in the history of Mexico City has been Armando, peerless creator of tortas, or Mexican sandwiches. His influence upon the culinary evolution of the Mexican people has been so profound...

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Vips in the Early Morning

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pp. 172-174

He has grizzled hair and a bad case of inebriation. At this time of night (3:30 a.m.) the staff at Vips doesn't know what on earth to do with him; they have already threatened to call the cops, to no avail. It's a weekday...

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pp. 175-192

The light of day falls harshly upon individual or collective traits: grotesqueness, bad taste, physical imperfections, high risk. But while daylight exaggerates—it's class conscious and catastrophist—nighttime...

6 Urban Renewal/Urban Disasters

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Call the Doctor

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pp. 195-197

Years ago, when I was a boy, I was proud of this city. I think we all were proud of this city. I can still remember how delighted I was to find it in my geography book, listed among the cities with more than a million inhabitants...

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Tacubaya, 1978

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pp. 198-201

For several years, the city government has launched spectacular highway projects that benefit motorized individuals. This state of affairs, serious enough already, is becoming worse by some even more alarming developments. The constructions favoring the individual transportation...

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Avenida Álvaro Obregón, 1979

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pp. 202-205

Once Colonia Roma was aristocratic, but lately it has fallen on hard times. In the 1950s it had already gone euphorically middle class and was starting to become a hub of commerce and activity as wealthier...

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San Juan de Letrán

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pp. 206-209

Neither the 'sad and super-vulgar bourgeois' nor the 'airhead chicks with their candies and Yankee movies' nor the 'ice-cream youth with garbage filling' of Efraín Huerta's poem are to be spotted nowadays...

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pp. 210-221

The streets of downtown Mexico City—and their chaotic jumble of people from all walks of life—provide the setting for most of Francis Alÿs's performance pieces. Ambulantes (1995-2001) focuses on the hurdles...

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pp. 222-226

The Cuauhtémoc District, like the rest of Mexico City's district boundaries, was a brain wave of President Luis Écheverría that our city hardly deserved. It was drawn with an arbitrary stroke of a highlighter...

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“Who’s There?”

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pp. 227-229

Many years ago, we lived in a four-apartment house on Avenida Chapultepec. The entrance was virtually impregnable. There were two identical cast-iron gates: the one on the right opened onto a little staircase...

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Klaxons and the Man

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pp. 230-234

At a gathering one day, the conversation turned to an individual who was not present. A certain charitable woman reprimanded a friend of mine, "How can you say you don't like him, when you don't even know...

7 The Earthquake

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The Earthquake

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pp. 237-246

It started out like a normal day, says Elia Palacios Cano. My husband woke up before me; he had a business breakfast at eight. Then I got up and went into my daughter's room. I took out her school uniform, laid it...

8 Maids

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Maids I

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pp. 249-250

I love maids because they're unreal, because they leave, because they don't follow orders, because they embody the last vestiges of unstructured labor and they lack insurance and benefits; because they arrive like ghosts of a lost race, they enter other people's homes, they snoop,...

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Maids II

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pp. 251-255

There is no starker contrast in a typical Mexican home than that between the main bedroom and the room assigned to the servant, domestic worker, house help, or simply—as she's called by employers with...

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Chapultepec and the Maids

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pp. 256-260

The figures, the stubborn figures tell us so: neither crime, nor clouds of beggars and knickknack vendors, nor the pollution, nor the filthy dumps that formerly celebrated areas have become, are enough to discourage provincial tourists from coming to Mexico...

9 Corruption and Bureaucracy

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Trimmins for the Comanche

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pp. 263-265

Duty Officer: Take off your hat, this is the attorney general's office. Citzen: Uh, sorry, yes, sir. Attorney: If you'll allow me, officer, my client's a little jumpy. If you'd just let me explain...

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In the Same Boat

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pp. 266-269

What Rockefeller said about all of us being "in the same boat" is partly true, partly false, because there's a world of difference between being the captain on the bridge and serving as the stoker in the engine room. Yet...

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The University

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pp. 270-288

The National University of Mexico (UNAM) is the largest university in the world, with more than 250,000 students and almost 30,000 professors. 1 Between April 1999 and February 2000, the university students...

10 The Margins

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pp. 291-308

Garbage has become an obsession for the inhabitants of Mexico City, spawning any number of fantastic stories, all of them true. There is, for example, the story of the open-air garbage dumps that spontaneously...

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pp. 309-326

One day in the spring of 2000 the corpse of a young punk arrived at the morgue in Mexico City, another casualty in the endless war of drug trafficking and gangsterism that pervades the slums of the biggest megalopolis in the Western Hemisphere. Peacefully resting on the stainless steel...


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pp. 327-330


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pp. 331-336

Index of Mexico City Streets

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pp. 337-340

General Index

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pp. 341-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780299197131
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299197148

Publication Year: 2004