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Sun July 13, 2014
'The Interior Circuit' Meditates On Grief And Mexico City
Originally published on Sun July 13, 2014 10:47 am
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: Mexico City skies are always dramatic - sometimes soaring in azure, with long rows of choreographed white clouds moving slowly or swiftly. The city's pollution abetted sunsets are spectacular. Conflagrations blazing up over the Western mountains, filling the sky with balloon-dye colors, igniting the glassy, modern office buildings that I can see out my rear windows into giant, neon rectangles of scarlet.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Francisco Goldman reading from his new book, "The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle." It follows his highly acclaimed novel, "Say Her Name." Goldman's new non-fiction book struck me as a love letter to Mexico City. And when I spoke with him, he agreed.
F. GOLDMAN: A love letter to the city and I suppose a horror letter to the city, too - a lot of different things. If it is the main character of the book, that would be a character with 100 heads and 2 million feet, you know. It's constantly metamorphosing into something else.
RATH: Well, let's talk about that complexity and those contradictions because I've never been to Mexico City. And there's a stereotype of, you know, pollution and corruption and violence and crime. And that's there but you paint a different sort of picture.
F. GOLDMAN: You know, I love living here. And I don't just love living here, I think this place got me through a very difficult period in my life, and I wanted to celebrate that. I think the common stereotype of Mexico City, you know, the things that you just mentioned, that it's dangerous and so forth. The remarkable thing about the city is that, especially since 1998, this has been really a pretty uniquely well-governed place in a way that sets it apart from all the rest of Mexico. In the 1990s, this was a place notorious, and deservedly notorious, all over the world for crime, for kidnappings, for murder. And by the time you get to 2010, for example, the crime rate in Mexico City is pretty much the same as New York City's.
RATH: You mentioned of the city that you love so much that it helped you through a dark period. And we should explain, as you write, you're reflecting on the death of your wife, Aura, and it's coming up on an anniversary.
F. GOLDMAN: Aura was a spectacularly talented, beautiful young woman. And she died on July 25, 2007 when we were on a vacation at the beach in Mazunte. And she was airlifted to Mexico City. And she died here in a Mexico City hospital at the age of 30. And for me, the fact that this is where she died, it made this place a sacred place to me.
RATH: It's an unusual book because, you know, there's great travel writing, there is reflections on grief and on death. There's investigative journalism mixed into it and political - recent political history of Mexico. Did you set out to write it in that way?
F. GOLDMAN: Not at all. I think the metaphor at the heart of the book, right as when I go and do that driving project, I realized in the five years of grief I hadn't driven a car anywhere, which seemed to me a metaphor of the sort of listlessness and loneliness of grief. And I said, I'm going to get over this. I'm going to attack driving in Mexico City this summer. I even took some driving lessons. And I used the Guia Roji, which is this fabulous, Yellow Pages-thick book of street maps that taxi drivers and everybody used to get around this impossible city. My plan was to open it up to any random page, drop my finger down, and then need to drive to that spot. And in a way, that's how the book kind of evolved in this kind of letting myself be led from one aspect of Mexico City to another aspect of Mexico City.
RATH: You're starting off talking about this meditation. And, you know, the reader is really expecting a lot more reflecting on the past, which is there, but you really end up getting pulled into what's happening at the moment. Life is moving on.
F. GOLDMAN: A lot of what I was writing about - I was writing about it almost as I was living it. 2012 was a really not just a transformative summer in my life, but in the life of Mexico City and in this country. We had this extraordinary presidential election that returned the PRI the power after they'd been out of power for 12 years, after they'd ruled as the perfect dictatorship for most of the 20th century. In response to that here in Mexico City out of nowhere, almost overnight, exploded the most enormous student movement. And kind of in the spirit of Occupy Wall Street and Chilean student movement - just massive marches with millions of people taking part. And obviously the biggest tragedy in this country, and that's the rampant reign of terror brought to us by the narco cartels. And in fact, 2012 was the summer when that kind of horrible narco violence finally really struck in Mexico City, in the heart of Mexico City. And so I read about how we here in Mexico City are constantly saying Mexico City is a bubble. All those terrible things happen out there. They don't happen here.
RATH: At the end of that summer in 2012, you complete your goal. You find that spot on the map - on that giant map - and you drive successfully there.
F. GOLDMAN: Yeah.
RATH: Was the feeling what you expected when you did what you set out to do?
F. GOLDMAN: Well, the feeling was completely kind of anti-climactic because I'd set my finger down in just the most ordinary, nothing little block with nothing going on. But I had one moment and that was the surprise. I had made a wrong turn and the wrong turn took me - it was right at the edge of the university, UNAM, which is where my late wife Aura studied. And I found myself on this funny little street called Facultad Detras (ph), the department of philosophy and literature - my Aura's study. And it really felt to me like almost sort of almost a mystical moment where I felt Aura's presence there among those students. It was like there she was, you know, 15 years ago that would've been her. And I felt very keenly at the same time her loss - a mixture of presence and loss at the same moment. And in a strange way it was like, you know, an embrace and a goodbye, you know? And so that moment was a much more moving moment than when I finally reached my destination.
RATH: Francisco Goldman's new book is called "The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle." Thank you so much.
F. GOLDMAN: Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.