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Down and Delirious in Mexico City 

Wednesday, Aug 16 2006
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Party in Polanco

I’m sitting on a sleek black leather divan in a Modernist second-story flat in Polanco, a ritzy neighborhood of Mexico City known for its mansions and foreign embassies, sipping soju out of a plastic cup and having one well-deserved Parliament cigarette. A party is going on around me, but no one is talking to me. No one even looks in my direction.

A new face is of little interest here; the fresas, or upper classes, are notoriously snobby and cliquish. All I can do is take stock of the scene around me — a roomful of beautiful and handsome 20- and 30-something Mexican creative types, all of them stylishly dressed, all of them smoking, all clearly coming from money. Fauxhawks, it seems, are big here. Impressive contemporary art hangs on the walls, and expensive furniture is placed sparsely across the hardwood floors. I feel as if I’m 10 stories up somewhere on Wilshire Boulevard — in 1975.

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What am I doing here? The short answer is that I am in my second city again, this time to cover the presidential election. Tonight I am the tag-along for Yoshua Okon, a video-and-installation artist and a leading member of the local scene.

The big-picture answer is one I’ve spent the past four years trying to figure out: What is it that is so addictive about Mexico City? I have time to think about this for a moment, my social capital having been spent on cursory and short introductions. It might be the challenge of it. The sharp-tongued locals, known unkindly as chilangos, have an unsavory reputation in other parts of the country as pompous liars and cheaters. And they’re traditionally hostile toward Mexican Americans, us pochos, their wayward countrymen from the north who speak bastard Spanish. Was I Mexican enough?

My parents did not approve of my attraction to the capital. They told me to never, ever come here. “Te roban los calcetines sin quitarte los zapatos,” my father said. “They’ll steal your socks without taking off your shoes.” I went anyway.

Or it might be the city itself, the sheer audacity of it. For the rest of the world, Mexico City, or the D.F. (de-efe for the Distrito Federal), is a megalopolis defined by pollution, poverty, congestion and chaos. But what is often left unsaid is that it’s also one mighty society’s capital of wealth, excess and consumption. It is glamorous and cosmopolitan. And like New York, like L.A., like Tokyo, London and Berlin, it is a magnet for a culture of creative workers who go about their day dabbling in this and that, from fashion to drugs to “alternative sexual lifestyles,” and wake up in the morning to do it all over again.

Earlier in the night, I met Okon and his wife, Gabriela Jauregui, a student and writer in Los Angeles, at their spare apartment in the Condesa neighborhood, and went along with them to a couple of art openings. Now, at the party in Polanco, Okon introduces me to a few artists, a few designers, a few writers including the novelist Francisco Goldman. I say hello to Daniela Edburg, a Houston-born Mexican artist with neon-red hair. A few hours earlier, we had been at the opening of her latest show, a collection of comically morbid photographic illustrations with titles like Death by Gummi Bear. She barely acknowledges me. Then to another young artist, some sort of designer, who I’m informed is from T.J. “My family is from Tijuana,” I offer. The guy appears to be looking directly through me, far away. I ask what he’s doing in the D.F. “On vacation, güey,” he grunts, walking away without looking at me. It’s a brilliant diss, using the Mexican man-to-man endearment as a piss-off.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a group of partygoers moving sneakily into a room and closing the door behind them. Presumably, this is the party’s coke room, a staple for a swanky party in Mexico City. A young woman standing next to me, a writer, is licking her lips at the thought of going inside. “Don’t you want just a little ray?” she whispers to me slyly.

We wait. No one emerges. As we stand there, I’m hit with a flashback — the summer of 2002, when I lived here and was first exposed to the hard-partying, almost religiously decadent lifestyle of Mexico City’s young culturistas. It wasn’t what I bargained for. I was fresh out of college, with no friends, no family and no contacts besides a friend of a friend of my dad’s, and I came to the D.F. on a noble, slightly bloated mission. I was a post-Chicano from the borderlands, searching for my Mexicanness. Instead, I discovered the glories of vice and solitude in the biggest city of the Americas. Now I was back, and the city seemed more self-aware, self-assured and self-absorbed.

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