Everything you wanted to know about el D.F. (but were afraid to ask)

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While I was a full-time student, and then also when I was working full-time, I found it difficult-to-near-impossible to read for leisure. I listened to some books-on-tape (well, they are on CD…I suppose you call them “audiobooks” now), which I could do in the car or while cooking dinner, and I also became interested in podcasts because I could put them on in the background while doing work (because of their ephemeral nature, you don’t need to worry about missing anything significant), but each of the above is a poor substitute for getting wrapped up in a good book!

Before leaving Lawrence, we went on our last trip to Half Price Books, where I selected a novel to read during our travel and acclimation to living abroad. I decided to buy ONE BIG DAMN PUZZLER by John Harding.

One Big Damn Puzzler

Harding is a satirist, and is a somewhat inferior version of a Dave Eggers or Steve Almond.

I was instantaneously charmed by the characters in the above novel: inhabitants of an unnamed island in the Pacific, specifically Managua, the only literate islander who has a passion for Shakespeare (the title comes from his translation of Hamlet: “Is be or no is be, is be one big damn puzzler”), and William Hardt, an American lawyer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who is determined to get reparations for the islanders from the malicious actions of the US Armed Forces during a period of occupation. In the end, the novel could only disappoint as it progressed, as the story becomes more farfetched and travels briskly from quirky to implausible. A fun, but unfulfilling read.

Mary E already mentioned that during her Fulbright Orientation, we met journalist David Lida and purchased his book FIRST STOP IN THE NEW WORLD: Mexico City, The Capital of the 21st Century.

First Stop in the New World

I subsequently finished the book, which admittedly is much more relevant to this blog, and as I write this, Mary E is over 50% through it.

The Lida is a wonderful survey of Mexico City and an insider’s view of its various neighborhoods, companies, politics, inhabitants, and a little history thrown in to bring the reader up to speed. It’s a must read for anyone coming to visit us or thinking about visiting.

The book opens with a little excerpted image from Guía Roji’s map of Mexico City, which is less of an atlas or city guide and more of a tome. Lida sets the stage for exactly how overwhelming it is when you first arrive here as the city is so enormous and expansive.

As I’m thumbing through Lida’s text (I should have taken notes), I would like to point out a few interesting discussion points:

  • When I speak of Mexico City, I always call it “el D.F.” (Distrito Federal or the Federal District). Mexicans tend to call Mexico City, México, but some are offended by this. Obviously, the country is México, and el D.F. is located within el Estado de México (Mexico State), and thus, I can only imagine how insulting it must be to refer to the capital city as the name of the country. It’s as if to say that nowhere else matters. Imagine referring to Washington D.C. as “the USA.” In fact, I can’t even really envision that. As I said, I always call here “el D.F.”, but you would be surprised by how many Mexicans call the city México!
  • Lida discusses who has the money in the city (e.g. monopolist and shrewd business man Carlos Slim), and who doesn’t (almost everyone else).
  • Lida also speaks to a few of Mexico’s working class about their lives, including a man who sells newspapers on a street corner (and here, you meet hundreds-of-thousands of people who sell x on the street).
  • He talks about the city’s development, the planning or lack thereof. Remember, this is a city where for 3 days we had internet and cable, but no water. Priorities and interests are different here. It is also interesting to see how the city changed from manufacturing (remember the days when we got all of our cheap stuff from Mexico? Now we get it from India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, etc. and so do THEY!) to a service industry.
  • Some of Mexican culture is very lackadaisical. Lida includes a whole chapter essentially on how your goals can be delayed. In Spanish, the word ahora means “now” in English. In Mexico, they sometimes use ahorita, which means “right now” or others say it means “now, sort-of”…there is also the word ahoritita, and your guess is as good as mine as to what that means.
  • Other chapters discuss the churches and Catholic culture, sexual repression and counterculture, the role of lying in the culture, machismo and malinchismo, alternative art, street food, and much more.

I suppose Lida’s overall point is that Mexico City does not deserve the bad reputation that it has garnered in the US, and that the Mexican people have been able to survive and subsist against drastic changes and poor conditions due to their insatiable survival instincts and the ability to maintain wholly improvised lives. It’s a really good read, oh, and did I mention that David Lida also has a BLOG!?

David Lida

Yepts Out.

Oh, and I won’t say the name of the next book that I read, but I’ll give you a clue:

And, I was going to call this entry “Following the Lida”, but I was afraid that Mary E’s eyes would get stuck in a rolled-to-the-back-of-her-head position, and so for health reasons, I withstood the urge to pun.

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5 responses »

  1. For the record, I loved “Following the Lida,” haha! Also, there will be more on Carlos Slim (to be titled “Slim Shady”) later.

  2. I agree with Neil! Yepts, I think you make even your Tuba mouthpiece sound interesting. Kind of like that time I spent an hour watching your video blog where all you talked about was candy. haha

  3. Pingback: La Cocina Mexicana « Playing and Eating Flautas in México!

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