Tuesday, March 5, 2019

‘The Most Surreal Place on Earth’

The Mexico City Reader, edited by Rubén Gallo

Mexico, D.F., La Ciudad. The oldest capital in the Americas, contemporary Mexico City is a sprawling megalopolis that all but beggars description, spread out, as it is, over 579 square miles and home to some twenty-one million people, speaking a mixture of Spanish, English, Nahuatl, Otomi, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Mazahuaare.

In The Mexico City Reader, editor Rubén Gallo has compiled an urgent and eclectic anthology of croncias—short hybrid texts—from the last thirty years about life in one of the world’s most vibrant, chaotic, delirious cities, a city André Breton called the most surreal place on earth. Writes Gallo: 

The writers included in this selection not only live in Mexico City but have made it one of the most prominent themes in their work. They are avid flâneurs, persistent explorers of the most recondite corners of the capital, even at a time when highways, expressways, and periféricos have left many parts of the city inaccessible to pedestrians. This collection of varied texts about life on the city’s streets aims to replicate the experience of walking through the streets of Mexico City, where one’s five senses are constantly bombarded by the cultural contradictions that make life in the capital unpredictable.

The history of the Mexico City flâneur is as old as the city itself. From the poems of the pre-Columbian poet-king Nezahaulcóyotl to the reflections-observations of Bernardo del Balbuena, Fanny Calderón del la Barca, and Alexander Humboldt to the brilliant, sometimes darkly stirring testimonies of Artemio de Valle-Arizpe, Salvador Novo, Carlos Fuentes, Gonzalo Celorio, David Lida, and Francisco Goldman, the city has long been a source of fascination for writers—native and foreign alike.

Covering topics as varied as neighborhoods, the Metro, monuments, eating and drinking, maids, urban planning, corruption and bureaucracy, waste disposal, and the morgue, The Mexico City Reader represents a complex, humane, nearly kaleidoscopic perspective on what is surely one of my favorite cities in the world.


Peter Adam Nash

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