By Arturo R. García
Toward the end of Down & Delirious In Mexico City: The Aztec Metropolis In The Twenty-First Century, author Daniel Hernandez talks about encountering a group of seven muses. It’s a credit to his craft and this book that he’s able to weave the entire septet together skillfully, not just with each other, but with the whole other array of characters that inhabit the worlds he encounters as part of his own journey.
The title of Down & Delirious calls to mind Hunter S. Thompson’s more famous stories, and the similarity comes through in the content: the stories we get are part-journalism, part-diary and part-history lesson. But whereas HST dove headlong into chronicling the excesses of things he despised, Hernandez’s stories show him on the path toward becoming not just a visitor to Mexico City, but a full-fledged capitalino, is one of reconciliation: “Mestizaje became a material truth operating inside me, inside all of us,” he writes. “So Mexico City, teeming with millions and millions, as surreal as Los Angeles, as majestic as New York, a mighty city all its own, became both my crossroads and my destination.”
Along the way, in Hernandez’s hands, the megacity itself becomes a character, not just because of its’ size or its’ multitude of places to be and to do – though those get visited in depth – but because its’ somehow has produced a population of smoking enthusiasts despite its’ reputation as one of the world’s smoggiest cities:
During this extra-smoggy weekend in January, residents in my building make an effort to go outside as little as possible. We open beers and talk. In the darkened interior of an apartment upstairs, my neighbor Ponce, a cartoonist and illustrator born and raised in the capital, calmly explains the air of normalcy while smoking a few singles. “We’re mutants,” Ponce says.
I down my can of beer, ask for an extra smoke, and retreat back to my apartment. What Ponce says makes my eyes pop in recognition. To be raised in Mexico City, or to willingly assimilate yourself to it, is to relinquish control over your natural state. The environment physically alters you. Because we’ve physically altered it. Ponce has uttered a cosmic truth. The Mexico City mutation is real.
Hernandez’s own assimilation grounds the rest of his stories. He finds fast friends in the Federal District’s fashionista crowd (“I have never seen posing like this in Los Angeles, and people in Los Angeles carry posing in their DNA”); he joins the city’s old-school punk community in their hoyo fonquis; he watches people mourn their dead, then finds himself in mourning. Love and religion, crime and music, all collide around him. But somewhere in the middle, Hernandez manages to find the seven muses, add them to his own, and give us portraits of a city, and a people, on a constant search for its’ own redefinition.