By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
We head to the mescal bar, a smoky, barren place packed with fair-skinned, hypercool Condesa kids. There is a jukebox and, all along the back of the bar, a display case of action figures from the ’80s: Star Wars, Transformers and plastic soldiers. Greeting several people, Calderón lets out a big, loud “woo-hoo” before taking his seat at a tiny table, among three more of his forever friends.
View From the?Middle Class
As sprawling as Los Angeles and as vertically stacked as New York, Mexico City is tough, treacherous and fast. The metro system, one of the largest and busiest in the world, is a high-speed parade of Mexican society. Daily, riders cram into the cars by the millions, filling every available inch for often-suffocating rides from north to south, east to west. The transfer stations are awesome feats of engineering, swarming with commuters, teenagers selling candy and pirated MP3 collections, deformed beggars, barefoot Indians, groggy businessmen heading to the office, all marching through tunnels, up escalators, on bridges, on the platforms. Like many of the city’s big public-works projects, the metro was built at the height of midcentury Modernism: The color scheme is shag-carpet orange, fecal brown, and olive.
Emerging from the División del Norte station, I’m met by Hortencia Perez de Jaime and Guillermo Jaime Alarid in their white four-door SUV. Relatives of a friend in Oakland, the Jaimes have promised to give me a short tour of their life in the D.F.
“We are of the middle class,” announces Hortencia, 52, a cosmetologist, who does the driving and most of the talking. Guillermo, 50, is a member of Mexico’s large Lebanese community and makes popular low-budget movies about “love, contraband and death,” according to Hortencia. It is the day after the election. They voted for the PRI, she says. “Why bite the hand that feeds you?”
We drive past auto shops, pharmacies, corner stores, cramped apartment buildings, fortified homes, street vendors and lots of raw graffiti. I ask how they feel about the campaign and López Obrador. “He did scare us,” she says. “Poor man is too accelerated. The PRD [López Obrador’s party] are socialist capitalists, like all us Mexicans,” she laughs, before adding by way of explanation, “Yes, let’s help the poor, but ‘Ay, what car do you want to buy?’ ”
The concept of what qualifies as poor in Mexico has changed, says Hortencia. “The people are poor if they don’t go to KFC every day, if they don’t go to McDonald’s every day.” She lets out a generous laugh and keeps an eye on me in the rearview mirror: “The south of the United States isn’t Texas. It’s us! We have all the influences of the U.S., the good and the bad.”
The Jaimes drive me to their comfortable, walled-off house in the Colonia Ruiz Cortines neighborhood in a rougher part of Delegación Coyoacán, one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs. Along the way, they complain about the lack of order to the streets, the lack of police officers.
“It’s the police officers that make me nervous,” I offer.
Hortencia giggles. “You’re learning fast!”
They tell me about their lives in the capital, about what Mexico needs to succeed in the future. For starters, it should put a stop to the endless flow of cheap Chinese goods that are crowding their sidewalks and markets: electronics, pirated software and designer accessories, toys, hygiene products, baskets, books, purses, belts, dresses, watches. Guillermo’s production company has suffered tremendously because of rampant pirating of his films. He can go to any market and find his movies being sold, with no licensing or reproduction fees or royalties going back to him.
“You’ve been to the Centro?” Hortencia asks. “Aren’t you embarrassed by the amount of Chinese junk they’ve allowed in? All of that was allowed by the PRD [which runs the local government]. But what happens to people like us, who pay taxes?”
Hortencia says they have heard no acceptable explanation as to why so much of Mexico is still poor, or why the country is now importing beans and maize — the “foundation of our pueblo.”
“Everyone has a place where they hang their dirty clothes,” Guillermo says. “That’s what Mexico is. We’re that place.”
Death of the Art Bakery
It’s a balmy summer night after another seasonal afternoon rainstorm, and though it’s midweek, the Condesa might as well be celebrating a national holiday. The streets are jammed with tiny commuter cars, and the sidewalk cafés and cantinas are packed with the kind of Diesel-clad people who are fond of rolling their eyes, sprinkling their chatter with unnecessary English and smoking Camels. Valets are working hard, dashing from corner to corner. And as they seem to do every night in this neighborhood, police cruisers are on patrol, their siren lights inexplicably on, perpetually signaling motorists to move on.
Mexico City is experiencing its 15 minutes. Hollywood, perhaps drawn to the heat from the new Mexican cinema, is making movies here. The global art market is hungry for work by Calderón, Okon and others. American Apparel has arrived: The L.A.-based company is producing a monthly bilingual zine on newsprint called Mexico City Monthly, which concerns itself entirely with how cool Mexico City is. Every culturista in the U.S., it seems, is “dying to see” the D.F. Much of the attention is focused on the Condesa. Flowery reports about how neato and on-the-edge the general area is have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other foreign papers and magazines. But the truth is, the Condesa is really beginning to suck.