As a kid and a teenager I lived, physically, in San Diego but my mind lived in Mexico City. I kept up on the progress of the unearthing of the Templo Mayor in the city's main square, amazed - as a nine year old - that an entire ancient city could be buried underneath a modern metropolis. I compared maps in National Geographics and other publications that showed how the Aztec neighborhoods and streets led to the modern day urban layout. I knew by heart the series of labor union strikes and student brawls that led to the massive student protest and killings by soldiers on October 2, 1968. I wondered about my mother's reaction to the unrest, living in Mexico City with me in her womb.
The colors, history, and language of Mexico D.F. (for Distrito Federal, like District of Columbia) echoed in my head in San Diego because of the three-week trips there every summer for nearly a decade. Two of my grandparents are buried in a hillside cemetery in Tlalnepantla, on the northern edges of the city. On a clear day, after a summer rain, their tombstones have a sweeping view of more than half of the Valle de Anahuac, que abraza la Ciudad de Mexico.
Seeing that stunning opening scene in "La Dolce Vita" recently on the big screen, with the ancient Roman arch, and a large statue of Christ hanging from modern helicopters reminded me of the similar triptych of the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in D.F.: a colonial Spanish church, built on the ruins of an Aztec pyramid, with modernist, hard edged apartment buildings as a backdrop. Residents of Rome and Mexico City bump up to, dance with, and make love to the ancient, the modern, and the eternal every day.
Reading "Down & Delirious in Mexico City: The Aztec Metropolis in the Twenty First Century" by Daniel Hernandez reminded me of how much time I'd spent peeling back the layers of Mexico City history, how much the city's changed, and how much it has stayed the same. The book is a pull-you-by-the-hand-otherwise-you'll-get-swallowed-by-the-mosh-pit account of the city's youth cultures and Daniel's moth-to-the-lightbulb first hand account. You'll remember Daniel from his days in Los Angeles as a reporter with the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly.
Here's an email back and forth I had with him about the book:
From: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
To: Daniel H.
Sent: Thu, June 2, 2011 12:14 AM
Subject: Down and Delirious
Hey, got the book, I really like it. The opening scene of the masses of people engaged in the Virgen de Guadalupe pilgrimage is so Canterbury Tales, you know, we're going to find out the individual stories about the participants in an age old ritual. But Chaucer didn't have any pot smoking in his book. :) So I'm curious what made you decide to get up and and go, leave your writing career with the LA Times, the LA Weekly, etc?
From: Daniel H.
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Tue, June 7, 2011 2:16:21 PM
Subject: Re: Down and Delirious
I don't know. Wanderlust? I wanted to try out that "citizen of the world" thing and see how it works, see if I cold inhabit it. It was mid 2007; I could see the writing on the wall. The media companies were contracting. I wanted to try out a different platform, a book, try out a different city, DF, and try living in a different country, one of two that I can claim as my own.
On Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 12:36 PM, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez wrote:
You'd reported for two LA publications with very different voices and styles of writing: the LA Times and the LA Weekly. Down and Delirious definitely sounds more LA Weekly than LA Times, you're writing from and engaged and participatory point of view. There's a point in the book when the character Leti hands you and envelope with "Devil's dust" that's almost like the scene in Matrix in which Neo's faced with the quandary between swallowing the red pill, which will show him the true nature of the world, or the blue pill, which will return him to a false, made up world. You sort of think twice about swallowing the red pill, but don't. How did participating in DF's drug culture help you tell the stories you sought to tell?
On Jun 15, 2011, at 10:52 AM, "Daniel H." wrote:
Yes, I think I do remember thinking twice about swallowing the red pill. But not. Let's defer here to my thought process represented in this post at Intersections. Drugs and drug-use are a highly complex issue, of course. I had some misgivings about how the drug-related sections of "Down & Delirious" would be read and absorbed. Thankfully, in the reaction among readers, these sections have not overshadowed the rest of the book. I think that says something about changing norms and attitudes regarding drugs among regular people, regular book-buyers, regular voters, regular taxpayers. Also, I showed the sections early on in the process to my parents: They were cool with it.
On Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 8:42 PM, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez wrote:
This is your first book. What advice would you give the young bucks who'd like to follow in your footsteps? What did you learn from the experience?
On Thu, June 23, 2011 11:31:16 AM, "Daniel H." wrote:
Get out there and explore explore explore. Go inside and write write write. Like anything else, you get better the more you practice. As a newspaper reporter by training, I've also learned crucially that a writer should never get too attached to his or her words. My editor at Scribner was direct and ruthless in edits, suggestions, questions, cuts, and I had to steel my skin and understand that in the end the book would be better if it was leaner, clearer, and smoother. Edits are healthy, self-editing is healthier. When in doubt, chop chop. I mean, I just looked through my files again and I literally wrote hundreds of pages of raw single-spaced notes before "Down & Delirious" congealed into what it is now. Hundreds of pages of writing that I loved, writing that I didn't love but knew I had to put down, experiences, intimacies, self-doubts, senseless scribbles, stuff that the public will never see. It's the writer's booty and burden, know whatta I mean?
On Thu, June 23, 2011 12:27:28 PM Adolfo Guzman-Lopez wrote:
That's good advice. Take is easy, talk to you soon.