First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the Twenty-first Century
By David Lida
Riverhead, 2008, 352 pp.
If Mexico City were located in western Europe, it would be a must-see tourist destination in the same league as London, Paris, and Rome. The metropolis' extraordinary museums, architectural masterpieces, vast cultural scenes, and extravagant restaurants are world-class; many Mexican elites are refined and erudite, their dinner conversations unsurpassed displays of verbal virtuosity. Lida critically surveys the capital's glittering literary, artistic, and culinary enterprises, but his revealing, sympathetic vignettes center on the "real" Mexico City: chaotic, resilient working-class neighborhoods; sprawling open-air markets; welcoming cantinas; boisterous lucha libre theaters; and degrading, overcrowded prisons. A New York intellectual living in Mexico, Lida is, fortunately, not hung up on his own persona; he spends more time discussing the advantages that educated European and South American immigrants enjoy in local labor markets than on anti-Americanism, and he reports honestly that Mexican consumers are thrilled with the low prices and endless choices offered by Wal-Mart. Readers also learn about Mexican sexual practices (mostly repressed) and how to daintily eat a taco de guisado (with small bites). Lida argues that crime rates are gradually falling, while hinting that he knows a specialist in negotiating with violent kidnappers, just in case.