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“Yeah, sure, she’s the Ralph Nader,” says Francisco Goldman, whom I’ve run into on the street. We sit at a sidewalk café in the Condesa, a welcome break from the press conferences and political rallies.
Goldman tells me how Mercado’s effect on the outcome of the election is similar to that of Nader’s Green Party on the 2000 U.S. presidential election. “For the Democrats to win,” he says, “the coalition of African Americans, the union working class and white liberals has to be there. And with Nader, white liberals betrayed that coalition.”
Fruit vendors blow into long, tropical-sounding whistles as they ride along the sidewalks on their bikes, and birds chirp in the lush trees above our heads. A strolling musician stops to serenade the afternoon coffee crowd.
“And here it’s that same kind of effect. It’s fresa liberals,” Goldman says, who abandoned the leftist coalition and placed a vanity vote for Mercado. “Someone said to me, ‘No poor people voted for Patricia Mercado.’ ”
Goldman is Guatemalan and Jewish, born in Boston, but he divides his time between Mexico City and Brooklyn. Before writing three acclaimed novels (The Ordinary Seaman, The Long Night of White Chickens and The Divine Husband), he spent years as a Central American correspondent for several American magazines like Harper’s and The New Yorker. He would come to Mexico City to collect payment and wander the sagging stone streets of the old colonial center.
He lives here today but never writes about it. For him, he says, the D.F. is neutral territory: “Mexico City is incredibly conducive to what I need to get lost in the imaginary world of a novel. It’s always a bit of a dream space for me, a bit detached from reality.”
Goldman’s home is now in Tacubaya, a district farther to the west, but he used to live in the Condesa, in a decaying, stuccoed-over two-story modern apartment building on Amsterdam, the leafy, circular street in the center of the neighborhood. We walk past it on our way to the café, and Goldman flattens his hand against the building’s wall as if feeling for its energy.
“I love my old, beat-up apartment that I used to have here, I love the rain in the afternoon.”
Once upon a time, the Condesa was a relatively quiet and peaceful, if a bit rundown, enclave in the middle of the frenetic city. The woodsy streets lined with forgotten Art Deco treasures gave the district an Old-World Italian or French feel that attracted Mexico’s urban Jews, bohemians, writers and artists. For Goldman, it was the sort of place “where people were living the way they do in New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles. This neighborhood was the epicenter of that phenomenon, and then things like La Panadería would spring up.”
From 1994 to 2002, La Panadería was an experimental arts space that served as the central gathering point for the edgy and underground Mexico City scene. The gallery was on Amsterdam, not far from Goldman’s house, and it was a harbinger of the changes in the Condesa — as both a beginning and an ending.
“The first time I walked by,” Goldman recalls, “I just laughed my head off because they seemed so young and adorable. Kids that looked like 15 or 16 and seemed really hip, really self-consciously hip. They’d be playing these B movies, like Roger Corman and stuff. And then they began having art shows, and I met Yoshua, and I started going to openings.”
Goldman hands the strolling musician a few coins. “There’s something in the atmosphere, an energy that sort of throbs up through the sidewalk here, that both seems very young, and very ancient. What makes this place so terrifically inspiring to all the senses is that blend, that energy, combined with all that remains of the overwhelming megalopolis, the labyrinth, the impossible city. This place eats time.”
“Do You Want Fiesta?”
After four days of eating street tacos and quesadillas, the artist Miguel Calderón tells me, I should have something different for dinner. How does a French bistro sound? We meet at his house in the Condesa, and from there hop in his small German car and drive a few blocks — while bumping Kool Keith — to a place named Bistro Mosaico, where the wait staff wear black bow ties.
Calderón, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, launched his career at La Panadería, which he co-founded with Yoshua Okon. One of Mexico’s hottest artists, with galleries in New York and the D.F., Calderón is known for photography and video that poke at the dissonance of modern Mexico — like his 2003 photographic series of middle-school kids posing in uniform for a class picture, each of them looking stone-faced in the sort of bomber sunglasses commonly associated with Mexico’s narcotraficantes. He recently had a major solo show in the capital that was mentioned in The New York Times, in a story gushing about how cool and exciting Mexico City art is.