Reviewing David Lida's First Stop in the New World

I'm a lover of travel narratives, which is why my first impression of this book, come three or four chapters deep, wasn't yet rave-ish. David didn't write a travel narrative taking place in the hypermetropolis of Mexico City/Federal District (D.F.); he did something better than that. Working off twenty years of experience as an expat in Mexico's capital - as a journalist and, therefore, a well-informed observer of society - David describes this somewhat daunting land of 20+ million residents as THE example of the future of the urban future. We in America have no idea what's in store for our homes, that is unless we look deep into the essence and creation of the world's second largest metropolitan area.

The Flow of the Content

After first introducing us to the city and its founding (by Aztecs in 1325 on top of a lake), David intermixes various elements of Mexican culture and our impressions of Mexican culture to dance around with the final choreography indicating the D.F.'s real nature.

David goes to the heart, the zocalo (or city center), to describe the characters on the street and the inevitable display of socio-economic gaps.

He proceeds with a rundown of standard Mexican wages and the irony that the world's wealthiest man makes his livelihood in the same setting, however among very different circumstances. Most Mexicans view their wealth with relativity, always noting they are never rich because someone else makes more than they do (though I doubt Slim is of that line of thinking these days). David is thorough about his uncovering of all things monetary in the realistic situation of work and life in Mexico's capital.

He notes the obvious problems with transportation, the craze of Mexican wrestling known as lucha libre, the common occurrence of gross overconsumption in cantinas, and the metamorphosis of Aztec markets to their current, still chaotic, sprawls.

The drug-crippled street children are another topic, along with more linguistic studies that tap into the cognitive landscapes of the residents.

David even follows the path of a young teenager who dreamed of playing Jesus in a reenactment of the crucifixion come Easter, his storytelling ability singing to the mass amounts of passionate people and the unexpected ambitions of the D.F.'s youth.

Though his perception of the faith-driven Mexican soccer fan base was rather amusing, his insight into the sexual undercurrents of the city was particularly informative and seemingly vital to the overall understanding of the D.F. mentality. The topic of sex being a lesser covered tab in most travel narratives or destination guides, it seemed David found in incredibly indicative of the gender roles and implied social limitations.

Covering the old worlds of cabaret, the staple street food items and their vendors, the art scene inspired by the muse of the city, the telenovela-heavy media industry, and the trend of lying, David manages to knit in enough anecdotes to make you feel like his tag-along sidekick.

David takes on disseminating some irrational fears of Mexico City's safety, all while still establishing there somewhat legitimate nature, which ends up giving the city a well-balanced feel akin to any compelling city worth spending time in.

And, finally, he explains the reality of globalization, the lifestyles of the expats, and the debilitating concept of malichismo that immobilizes a Mexican's own work force, even in their own political system.

From Personal Experience

Rather than trying to claim my week's worth of knowledge can debunk Lida's weathered opinions, I'd rather mention the experiences I had that harked back to the book's tales.

Lucha Libre: What seemed to be the WWE of Mexico turned out to be a sport of, dare I say, honor. Visiting the training center for many Lucha Libre hopefuls, they noted our presence was different than most people who come to cover their sport. We weren't there to make a fluff piece or poke fun. Our bodies made awful noises as they were flung across the mat, where our sweat merged with that which was already stewing there.

Lucha Libre
Lucha Libre

Transportation: It took us at least an hour, if not two or more, to get around Mexico City, seeing as we stayed on the south side of the megalopolis. And there are most certainly days when it seems as though Mexico City is solely made of ribbons of cement. Three lanes standard, odd exiting strategies, and speed bumps galore - the worst is when you're suffering from a bout of food poisoning, and the end never seems in sight.

Drugs in Streets: Sadly, I did see a guy - presumably my age but with the crow's feet of a 50 year-old - sniffing a bag of something in between washing windshields at stop lights. It was a split-second sighting, but it stole my attention.

Lying: Yes. True. We got the run around. There's definitely very little transparency or honesty in what can be delivered, when things can happen, etc. etc. etc. Come on, Mexico City. Say what you mean, and mean what you say!

Safety: Since we had a Tourism Board driver (and guide) throughout our stay, seldom did we need to forge the city on our own. The one time we needed to take cabs, we were told to look for the driver's registration on the driver's side back window. Taking the pirated taxis does nothing for the wallet and sounds like it could lead to bigger problems. I experienced no safety issues (other than some crank calls from a soccer team staying in our hotel), and I'm certainly glad for that.

Hector, our driver in Mexico City
Hector, our driver in Mexico City

Malichismo (and other cancers): Mexico has many cancers (don't we all?), and it was intriguing listening to a resident discuss those. Looking at billboards, TV, and asking around, it appears true that the Mexican population prefers the look and style of non-Mexico. It cuts away from their own identity, obviously, and doesn't do any favors for the indigenous population that makes the heart and soul of the country.

The Bottomline

Mexico City wasn't really what I expected. The visual I conceptualized didn't match the organic mess that stretched in front of our van. I also flew into Mexico City anticipating a certain dissent for the megalopolis, but I left not minded it terribly. I was shocked!

Quality read. Incredibly interesting city. This book just may be my cup of tea...or, maybe...tequila.

Yeah, I did it. I made a pun. Read this book.

I got this book at the library. There are affiliate links on this post. Read it and hook me up.