My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
It's been an honor reporting the news in Latin America. And it's been especially rewarding to cover news in Mexico, on Mexico, and especially for Mexico. Now, after eight years of doing so, I'm relocating to Los Angeles and picking up where I left off.
I've been trying for weeks to come up with something decent to say about this change. I've received anxious reactions from readers asking why I'd leave, and believe me, I've been anxious too.
It's a combination of personal factors and the opportunity for another big challenge.
I needed to invoke binational privilege, and take a little breather on this maddening and infinite place. DF wears on the body and brain. Anyone who's lived there knows this. In my case, the horrors of the daily news cycle in war-weary Mexico began straining me with greater force. Each trip to the field with the VICE News crew in Mexico, to see how someone in my country had something horrific happen to them, with no recourse, no justice, left a little unexpected scar. (I know "tough" reporters aren't supposed to talk about this stuff, but that's that.)
Being away from the beach for so long wasn't good for me either.
I also needed to check back in with my family. Their demands that I be closer to them intensified in 2015 as the news out of Mexico got worse and worse. Yes, the flight to DF is as long as the time it takes to drive between L.A. and San Diego. But it's the cosmic comfort of knowing I'm not across a border and several states away on the bellybutton of the moon that pulled me back.
I also began missing, for reals now, a lot of my old friends.
This is not an act of abandoning Mexico, not abandoning my friends in arms in DF. I'll still be covering the stories that matter to my communities, doing some field reporting in Mexico and anywhere else we gotta check out in Latin America, as long as VICE lets me. I still got my Mexico cell phone. Now I'll also start poking around for stories in Califaztlán and down the border, a fertile land for contradictions to explore.
Not clueless: I know my country the USA is as messed up as Mexico but in different ways. So if you got any leads or tips, drop me a line.
Writing about leaving Mexico has failed me. I can't really wrap my brain around all the issues and implications that this transition stirs up. I love Mexico too jealously — maybe too violently — to attempt to sum up these years with some lines, or even some pages. Maybe a little down the road.
Right now I just wanna wake up on Monday morning and get to work.
* Photo by Hans-Máximo Musielik.
Here's a link to my print feature in the January issue of VICE magazine, on the Raul Isidro Burgos Ayotzinapa Normal School, near Tixtla, Guerrero. Excerpt:
It's said as a slur, but it happens to be somewhat true. The Federation of Campesino Socialist Mexican Students, uniting the student leadership at 16 schools across Mexico, including the one in Ayotzinapa, formed in 1935. One of Ayotzinapa's best-known graduates, Lucio Cabañas, was national president of this group when he studied there. Cabañas would go on to form the Poor People's Party, a militant political organization with an armed wing. The group kidnapped politicians and operated a radio signal over a wide region in the Sierra de Atoyac.
The students believe in direct action today as well. Through their "Struggle Commission," for example, they take over buses and toll booths. Masking their faces, the Ayotzinapa students charge a flat 50-peso toll on any vehicle that passes, be it private, public, or a commercial passenger bus. We watched as they did this for a few hours one day at the Palo Blanco toll booth. Some motorists I approached in line said they supported the Ayotzinapa students, but about just as many said they were nothing but vandals and hooligans.
* With my homie Franco, an hincha for club Newell's Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, May 2014. Photo by producer Raymundo Perez-Arellano.
There is no use apologizing. Intersections, like a lot of blogs that started in this long-forgotten blog big bang of 2005-2006, went into posting decline after the realization that it was impossible for me to keep up. Not while at the same time taking on a reporting and writing job with extremely demanding responsibilities and expectations.
When I was in the DF bureau of the LA Times, at least I managed to re-post my stories, most of the time. Since 2013, this has also become functionally impossible. Work just went from crazy to crazier.
After a year as editor of VICE México, in June of 2014, my boss asked me to step in and become Mexico bureau chief of VICE News. It was the kind of job I had never really thought about doing but at the same time knew I was capable of doing, so I said yes. With this, my year, and my life, changed.
By then, early summer, our office's Munchies Guide to Oaxaca (which we actually recorded in November 2013, produced by Santiago Fábregas and shot by Guillermo Alvarez), was finally live and cookin'. Munchies had also just posted my profile on food queen Diana Kennedy.
I was on my way to being a food host for VICE, and was still editing the Mexican edition of the print magazine at the time.
But after seeing and hearing good responses to my first hosting gig for VICE with the Oaxaca guía, the chiefs wanted to try me out on a serious news assignment. Right away, they sent me and a crew to Rosario, to investigate the drug war happening on the streets of an important port city in Argentina.
From there, other assignments in the field followed. I said "Yes" to whatever was asked of me — including yes to a trip that was decided on and carried out within hours of arriving to the office for a normal work day — dealing with the challenges as best I could, recognizing and representing, in a corner of my mind and in my own little way, for my beloved brown America.
During all this, I've had to keep up my main, most important duties, with a teensy staff: editing, translating, fact-checking, and publishing original news stories and features from across Latin America. The bureau staff and I have spent long hours working with reporters filing from Santiago to Tijuana, often under breaking-news pressure, just everyday hustling, getting stories up onto the VICE News site.
The stresses in 2014 were the steepest I've confronted since the start of my career. Then, in late September, Ayotzinapa happened. And the work got even more intense.
But I'm not gonna complain. I'm only looking forward. This year I plan on hosting more for VICE News in my role in the bureau, and I also hope to squeeze in some fresh field assignments with Munchies. There's more in store, and I want to thank all my readers and my community for staying strong with me and hanging on through all the madness and bullshit out there.
So, below, some highlights from my first seven months at VICE News. For all the stories I've written or co-written for News, click here. I'll have a post later — I hope! — all about our Ayotzinapa coverage.
The Rosario documentary I mentioned. Beautiful city, fucked-up story. This documentary, fixed locally by Gaston Cavanagh, made some waves among locals in Rosario and was cited in numerous subsequent news reports in the Argentine press.
Stopping over in Buenos Aires, we decided to check out the issue of paco, the BA streets version of crack, and a symptom of the economic malaise that has plagued the country since 2001.
A quick Munchies interlude in here, a tour of three classic Mexico City fondas. Mmmmmmm, ¿A que hora es la comida?
On September 11, we landed in Chile, to cover the demonstrations and street protests tied to the anniversary of the 1973 coup that brought down socialist president Salvador Allende and initiated the military dictatorship. Three days earlier, a bomb went off in a Santiago subway station.
At the Tolemaida military base, in Melgar, Colombia, our crew covered the 2014 Fuerzas Comando competition, a meet-and-greet for elite special ops teams from across Latin America. This documentary was produced as part of the VICE News "War Games" series.
This is the full-length version of our documentary on the horrible case of the missing students in Guerrero, Mexico. All the credit in the world for this work is to be shared with the committed and talented producers, fixers, photographers, editors, and administrators at the VICE México headquarters in Mexico City, and in particular, Rafael Castillo, Hans-Máximo Musielik, and Melissa del Pozo.
We really put in as a team the toughest hours and biggest risks many of us had ever seen in Mexico.
Me and the VICE News crew were also in Peru in late 2014, for a documentary that is coming up early this year. But that's another story ... 2K15 has begun. Stay tuned, and as always ... More soon.
Check out the official trailer for the Guide to Oaxaca I am hosting for MUNCHIES, the newly launched food channel at VICE. It's a quick taste of the five-part, hour-long series I recorded in November with colleagues Santiago F. and Guillermo A. from VICE México.
Yes, I tried the turtle eggs.
* End of the line: a concha below the volcanos at the terminus of Line 12, Tlahuac, Dec. 31, 2012.
I've spent three years reporting stories in Mexico, the region, and sometimes on Mexico-related topics north of the border from the Los Angeles Times bureau here in Mexico City. On top of that, I've been contributing steadily to a bunch of magazines and radio, Web, and video outlets, all places I love.
It's been rad. But, man, I needed to make a move! And I think I've made a good one. Vice is expanding, not contracting. It has vision, huevos, and, most importantly for anyone who wants to do good journalism, cash.
Talks started informally months ago, and it's been a fully pro negotiation and transition with Vice Mexico publisher Eduardo Valenzuela and the head of content here, Bernardo Loyola. I've also been contributing pieces to Vice's New York headquarters, so I'm looking forward to working more closely with the editors at the hub.
For more context, check out these highlights from a recent profile on Vice by The New Yorker, including interesting comments from players such as CEO Shane Smith:
Rupert Murdoch, after his visit, tweeted, "Who's heard of Vice Media? Wild, interesting effort to interest millennials who don't read or watch established media. Global success."
"Part of the reason Vice is successful is because we have cash to make stuff. Everyone else is just fucking wandering around trying to find budgets to make their dream project."
"[T]he nice thing about Vice is that it's the future and it's already very profitable."
McInnes told me, "My big thing was I want you to do stupid in a smart way and smart in a stupid way. So if you’re going to Palestine, try to find a good burger joint. Don't talk about Israel and the borders, 1967, Gaza -- just find a good burger joint. Conversely, if you're gonna do a thing on farts or poo, talk to experts in digestion, find out the history of what we know about farts, why they smell. Be super-scientific and get all the data. Which is what we did with 'The Vice Guide to Shit.'"
Vice is opening bureaus as quickly as traditional-media organizations are closing them.
Smith told me, "It used to be, back in the day, that news was the most profitable of all shows that the networks did. The Gulf War built CNN. There's a lot of conceptions that news doesn't make money, that young people don’t care about news. But young people obviously care about news -- that's why we're successful."
Still, if Vice is the future of media, it might be argued that, for all its faults, it's no worse than what we already have. For anyone accustomed to the current offerings on cable news -- with its twenty-four-hour cycles and blow-dried personalities rehashing wire reports -- it's hard not to be impressed by Vice's vitality and by some of the topics that it covers firsthand.
Pretty G. ...
My top priority is to always challenge myself, challenge my craft. I'll be editing an established publication again more than ten years after my "EIC" days at the college paper. But, hugely, my primary audience for the first time will be hispano-hablantes en México y Latinoamerica. That's a crazy challenge for this die-hard pocho and I'm eager to take it on!
Admittedly, there's a nostalgia factor also at work here. I grew up checking out Vice as a teenager, picking it up once it started appearing at skate-, head-, and record shops in my hometown. When I lived in L.A., I was around when lil Mark "The Cobrasnake" Hunter started showing up at the Vice store parties at Sunset Junction. Through friends, I met and really fell in love with one of Vice's original muses, lil baby Dash, and I still think fondly of the time we shared in L.A. with K. Garcia and Nina T., the trouble we'd get into. ... Que descanse en paz.
The magazine, the brand, the broader ambitions of Vice Media have morphed so much, it's remarkable. I am honored to get a chance at joining what I suspect will become a long tradition of good, fucked-up reportage. I start on Monday. Got a story idea?
** The following is an excerpt of an English/Spanish-written draft of a piece published in the February 2013 issue of Gatopardo magazine, 'El fin de un ciclo.'
* See original post here.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 18.104.22.168.14]
El punto clave de información that we aquired on this stop was that in the town of Ticul, south of Mérida pero antes de Oxcutzcab, vivía un maestro de los garabatas, como se llaman los guaraches en Yucatán. Jorge Coronada, one of the healers we met at Kambul, told us el maestro Jose Ortiz made the best shoes on the peninsula. We drove off.
A place often reveals itself to you by the character of its roads, and in Mérida, there was a prominent but never menacing police presence all along the city’s periférico, a modern highway lined with factories and government compounds. We passed our first of many state police checkpoints, there to help maintain Yucatán’s proudly held rank of safest state in the country. In the town of Uman, the street I took to reach the center suddenly turned one-way against me in the opposite direction. A kid on a motor-bike taxi coming in the correct direction took one look at me as he drove past my dash and sneered, "Vete a la verga, vato." I laughed it off as the capricho of a local angry teen with a mean streak. One can never truly say about a people, "They are so kind, they are so welcoming," because there's always at least one or two exceptions.
It was early evening by the time we arrived in Ticul. The sky was clear and a sea of stars shone brightly above. The moon was regal, the roads one long line of darkened forest from point A to B. This town was like most others we’d come to see in Yucatán. It contained a market, a bus station, cell-phone and clothing and shoe stores, and low stone houses that looked as though they could have been built twenty or two hundred years ago. The towns that dot the plain of the peninsula are all centered around a plaza with a church that often looks built to repel a siege. In fact, many of them were. The churches in towns like Tizimin, Muna, and here in Ticul were built tall, with few windows, and with massively thick walls. They are reminders that the Maya of Yucatán resisted the Conquest forcefully and for generations more than the Aztecs.
In Ticul, which 19th Century traveler John L. Stephens described as "the perfect picture of stillness and repose," I drove into the dusty center of town, made a right, and pulled up alongside a middle-aged man sitting outside of a shoe store. I told him we were looking for Mr. Jose Ortiz, the shoemaker. The man was about sixty years old. He had white hair and unusually clear green eyes. "He is my father," he replied, and offered directions.
A few blocks back, on the same street, we came across Mr. Ortiz's taller. There was a small hand-painted sign attached to a wooden post, marking the front of a house. The door was open and the only illumination inside was a single flourescent bulb attached under the shelf of a work table, bathing the room in a humming pale blue light. No one was inside. We knocked and called, knocked and called. In the window to the street, Christmas lights were draped over an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The lights were the kind that come with a device that plays carols in a single tone in a loop. We inched inside and waited. Old photographs, signs, maps hung from walls appeared as though they hadn't been touched in decades. It was clear that Mr. Ortiz's taller was a special place. I felt good just standing there. A woman passed on the street and asked us who we were looking for, and a minute later Jose Ortiz Escobedo came strolling our way.
He was a very slim old man in trousers and a work shirt. Mr. Ortiz had a handsome brown face and a sharp triangular nose. He greeted us kindly and we introduced ourselves. We expressed interest in taking a look at his offerings of garabatos, but at first it was a little difficult to comprehend what Mr. Ortiz was saying. He said he was 90 years old. His words blended together and his sentences came in mixed clauses. His Mayan accent was strong – the swirling yet chopped castellano that simmers at the front of the mouth and pops with K's and Q's.
Mr. Ortiz explained that he would be unable to sell us any pair of the leather sandals that hung on his wall. They looked like delicate but sturdy objects. He said any he had "would hurt your feet." He only makes garabatos to fit a foot right, he said. I tried on a shoe and it fit perfectly, but Mr. Ortiz absolutely insisted he would not sell us anything not made to fit – not even a belt, although I tried. For a minute, it was impossible for us to comprehend the possibility, that unlike in Mexico City, money couldn't buy everything, and everything wasn't for sale.
We asked Mr. Ortiz if he heard anything about the supposed prediction of the end of the world, and he said it was nothing, and although he hadn't been to Mérida in more years that he could remember, he concluded in between other thoughts: "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy a Mérida."
Mr. Ortiz was born in the house where we stood and his father was born there too. He has worked as a shoemaker for 75 years. He married at 22. His wife is still alive, and they have the same age, 90. He had eight children, but only five survive today. He told us he had 12 great-great-grandchildren.
He explained to us the Maya translations of certain words – che for madera, eck for estrella. He said the Maya of Yucatán always say what they mean, no matter how blunt. He said he belonged to a stubborn people. And, being a man of his age, Mr. Ortiz didn't demure while elaborating.
"Porque los mayas, lo que ven, eso dicen," Mr. Ortiz said. "Lo que hablamos ahora es amestizado, no es la verdadera maya. La verdadera maya es ofensivo, ofende a la mujer."
"El apedillo que tengo yo no es maya … me llamo Victor Jose Ortiz Escobedo. Es español … Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en la tierra maya, nuestro estilo es maya, solamente el apellido no es."
We talked about life in Ticul, and asked what he ate to stay so healthy and alert. He eats chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, no mention of meat. He moved about the room freely, using his arms to emphasize thoughts. "Tengo que trabajar," he said. "Si se acuesta, envejece mas pronto."
I asked again if he saw any meaning in the "end of the world" as supposedly predicted by the Maya. Mr. Ortiz explained: "El sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va terminar, y empieza lo de los mayas."
* Printed with permission of Gatopardo magazine, c/o editor Guillermo Osorno.
* Above, screen shot, via BBC Magazine.
The talk at DePaul was about the processes in which the populist-progressive current leaders of Mexico City, under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, have re-socialized the core of the city into a "user-friendly" urban enthusiast's playden. The process I think at least partly reduces or represses some of the instinctual, genetic cultural ticks of improvisation and negotiation that define the true capitalino or chilango. "Safety first."
I'll have more about these ideas in future pieces. In the meantime, thank you Hugh Bartling and the DePaul community for the invitation. And thank you, Ector Garcia, gifted artist, for showing me around.
Chicago is impressive and I am eager to return.
Here's the extended clip of an interview I did with the charming Yarel Ramos of mun2 some weeks ago in Mexico City about a subject that touches us all -- ha! -- the state of the Mexican pegoratives of pocho and naco.
Enjoy. And ... Pochos Unite!
* ADD: I'm inspired on this subject by the work of historian Claudio Lomnitz.
We're doing a cool event on Tuesday night, May 22, at Casa Familiar in right in San Ysidro, the most southwesterly community on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Excited to share the space with Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly editor and author of the new book "Taco USA"; Bill Nericcio, San Diego State professor and author of "Tex[t]-Mex," who organized the event; and un servidor. I think I'll read some from "El bajón y el delirio."
The blog started on 20 December 2006, in my apartment in Echo Park, Los Angeles, while I was a staff writer at the LA Weekly. I wanted to add more context to my stories and also share stuff I've read or watched online.
As the days and weeks passed, Intersections began evolving. I wanted it to be about media, food, music, art, sex and sexuality, spirituality, fashion, film, politics, a sprinkling of sports, on the planet, on literature, and on the future.
Almost immediately, Intersections started making an impact on the conversation in Los Angeles, thanks to early inter-webbing for which I remain grateful. In all my work, I had to consider a new dual role, a staffer producing copy for the machines, and an independent voice, answerable to no one but myself.
Once I moved to Mexico in autumn 2007, Intersections turned into a running first-draft of my book, the place where I posted an early photo, interview, or observation that would turn into a chunk or chapter in "Down & Delirious in Mexico City." Since then, the blog is where I re-post and share my reporting work for the L.A. Times foreign bureau in Mexico City, where I am a contracted news assistant.
The blog has also sometimes been a platform for righteously pissed-off protest. There is, after all, nothing more valuable for a trafficker of facts than the freedom to say exactly as one can conclude bearing all the information at hand.
Sometimes I've wanted to quit this exercise, let it have an expiration date. Even in the lowest moments of frustration or stagnation, however, I end up reminding myself that this blog is now a part of me, my web with the world.
Intersections was and remains about the cross-currents in our cultures, the bridges (and divides) that exist between black and brown, North and South, high and low, the Tribes, and the cities that many of us call "home" -- Los Angeles, Mexico City, the San Diego-Tijuana border complex, the global sponge that belongs to all of us.
Like, the blog has rights. In other words, killing it would be unjust.
The first posts inside the blog are here, starting at the bottom of the page. All the archives and categories are here. Thank you, readers, friends, colleagues, for going along for the ride! I hope you keep checking in with me through 2012 and -- hopefully -- beyond.
* Photo: Blending in at the ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca, Nov. 2011.
The Spanish-language translation of my book, "El bajón y el delirio," is going on sale in Mexico. I'm excited and nervous. Starting in January, I'm going to have to re-live the book all over again, this time in chilango Spanish, which automatically takes the intimacy and immediacy of the book to other levels.
I'm also super happy with it y espero que los lectores lo disfruten. The design is beautiful, a worthy match to the terrific design of the original edition. For the Spanish edition, the celebrated Alejandro Magallanes devised a double-flap sketch for the cover, with the title in relief, as if the words were tagged with a scriber. He has more on his design at his blog, here.
(I love it. Gracias, Alejandro!)
The translation of "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" to Spanish is by Elizabeth Flores (an old friend from the Survival Brigade). Liz and I worked closely all summer on the translation, meeting in person to review each chapter line-by-line, discussing every possible outcome for a translation we both wanted to ring as true as possible for D.F. readers, yet while also retaining some of my native pochismos.
The editor of the translation is Guillermo Osorno, an associate editor at Editorial Oceano, my publisher in Spanish. Osorno is also editor of Gatopardo magazine, where one of two early sneaks of the book is published, in the December issue. Here is the chapter titled "Originales del punk," in its entirety, a journey through Mexico City punk, to the other side of Santa Fe, and back.
I hope you like it. I re-read it in the magazine with lots of trepidation, then found myself moved by it in a totally new way. You'll see.
Of course, there will be another big-ass party. Thank you. Y saludos a la banda de la caseta a Cuernavaca, a Reyes y su familia, y a los Agudos Crónicos y Vegetales.
* Elsewhere, "Gringo, chicano, chilango, y delirante."
Here's part one the episode from June of the Canal 22 program Esquizofrenia on hipsters in Mexico City, with a exploration of the Condesa vortex then a graceful and smart detour to reggaetonero-land. I am interviewed as a periodista cultural along with a few other expert commentators.
I had no idea there was such a thing as "reggaetoneros fresas." For our part, we had started calling them chakahipsters. You know who I'm talking about. Have we really come full circle?
The photo above is by Tatiana Lipkes, an editor and author at the indie publishing house Mangos de Hacha, during the presentation and party for "Down & Delirious" on Thursday night in Club Atlántico in Centro. I'm waiting while Gabriela Jauregui is presenting the book.
Went so well! I read from the book in Spanish for the first time, from a draft of a Spanish translation by Elizabeth Flores. Gaby and the Pulpo ladies had us sweat-dancing all night. Took some questions. Rad performance by punk riders Agudos, Crónicos, y Vegetales. Thanks to everyone who collaborated, participated, and attended! Special thanks to the friends at Bósforo for the mezcales.
Now some notes:
† "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" is now on sale in D.F.! You can get it at Pendulo Condesa; that's at Nuevo León 115, in Col. Condesa. Sorry for the delay on that, for readers who've been asking where they can get the book.
El taller abarcará temas como medios, plataformas, métodos, y éxitos del periodismo que se practica en línea. Las sesiones son martes y jueves entre las 4 y 6 de la tarde. Informes con .357! Apúntense!
††† Finally, here's a video by Carlos Alvarez Montero where I introduce myself and the workshop. Check it out, and see you soon.
Sal Castro stole the show at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday, with total justification.
For starters, the longtime activist and lion-figure in the 1968 student movement in East Los Angeles broke flat-out late into the 12:30 panel shared between Castro, author Mario T. Garcia, author Miriam Pawel, myself, and author Hector Tobar, the moderator.
Castro showed off posters related to film depictions of the walkouts he helped lead: the 1996 four-part PBS documentary "Chicano!" and the film "Walkout!" by Edward James Olmos. This time Castro was presenting, with co-author Garcia, the book version of his story: "Blowout!" by UNC Press.
But the panel wasn't about the book or any other represented in the room. It was about Sal Castro and his stories from the trenches.
One anecdote of many he shared struck me. He told us about a young woman he met in his years of working with Mexican American public-school youth and encouraging them to gain higher education. He said a bright young student had been offered a coveted full scholarship to Occidental College, but the scholarship would require she live on campus.
In a traditional immigrant household in Southern California in the post-68 period, that's something parents would never approve for a young woman. (Heck, even in the late 1990s for a young man it wasn't easy to convince some Mexican immigrant parents that college away from home was viable, as was my case.) Mr. Castro told us the girl's parents dug their heels, and so did Occidental.
Someone called Sal. El maestro came up with a plan. He agreed to meet the parents, and speak to them in Spanish, as they were not fluent in English. He told us he told the parents in serious español that their daughter's scholarship offer was a federal program, and that "in this country you don't mess with the federal government," so they better accept or they'd get a "multa." Or worse.
The girl's parents swiftly relented and accepted. The young lady, Castro told us, ended up excelling at Oxy, enjoying a long academic career. Once more, Taper 101 filled with laughter, cheers, and applause. The C-SPAN cameras rolled. At one point, Hector tried to throw the mic to me, but I declined. Like most of others in the room, I wanted to hear more from the guys who walk in history.
* MORE: Read a Q&A with Castro and Garcia on "Blowout!" at the UNC Press title page. I couldn't get my hands on it Saturday. It sold out during the signing session.
** Photo via Jacket Copy, L.A. Times.
My last round of book-related events for the roll-out of "Down & Delirious" in the U.S. is this coming week, back in Southern California. YES! Almost done! It's been fun and enriching sharing the book with people, but also a long and exhausting ride. Wanna get back to work.
On Saturday at the LAT Festival of Books, I am on a panel titled History, Identity & Purpose: California, Chicanos & Beyond. Should be an interesting discussion.
I'm just gonna to keep it real up-front right here.
During Part 1, Tuesday night, I had a nice dinner in the West Village with a friend, nice little Italian place, quintessentially New York, four cheeses. Later, in the dead of night, my stomach rumbled me awake. I got up. I then proceeded to puke up buckets and buckets of purple cheese sludge.
It was really disgusting. Came without warning, unprompted by alcohol or anything else. Just a violent expulsion. At a loss once more. Something in this city is disagreeing with me, I thought. Then Thursday happened ...
Above, "Miss Octavia," at Suite, a bar near Columbia University, Saturday, April 9, the night of my arrival in New York City. She started her set by busting out "Seasons of Love" from the musical RENT, a song in search of a NYC that exists now mostly in the imagination.
This is New York, in "new winter," 2011. This is my New York diary.
Here are two fliers for dual events in New York this Thursday, April 14. Extra details at bottom. Hello, Nueba Yorr!
Both citas promise to be bad-ass: First at the Columbia history department, with scholars I admire and respect, including Claudio Lomnitz; then at a new D.F.-style cantina in Williamsburg, with three great DJs: Jawnita of East Village Radio, Marcelo Cunning of Nacotheque, and Discoyoacan, aka Felipe Mendez, a partner at Cantina Royal and La Superior.
As always, in the spirit of the book, a pachanga and a space for collaboration. (With thanks to the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Center at Stony Brook, and Mex-and-the-City.) Ponganse a bailar! Corre la voz con tus paisas, far and wide! Let's bring out that capirucha energy here in NYC. Would love to see you there. FB invite here.
Tonight, Monday, April 11, I will be in-studio with Jace Clayton aka DJ Rupture for his weekly program Mudd Up! on WFMU (90.1-FM in the New York area), at 7p. We'll be working through tracks, sounds, questions. Rupture's announcement.
Here all week. What's good?
* Previously, "How the 'Down & Delirious' book cover came about." * Post edited.
Above, a "moodboard" used by designer Jennifer Heuer during her process for the book-cover design for "Down & Delirious." The image appears in a fascinating interview Heuer did with Faceout Books about how she approached creating the book's central selling-pitch, its cover.
I loved reading this, as I've never met Heuer and had no idea what Scribner would offer as potential covers, or from whom, until I saw the designer's options. Here's what Jennifer had to say about the process (love that she started doing research at the New York Public Library):
What is Down and Delirious in Mexico City about?
The author is a journalist living in Mexico City taking a look at the new urban youth cultures and the people who love them or sometimes violently hate them. This was directed at a young fresh audience interested in how certain, and sometimes similar subcultures can form and clash in different areas. The author introduces us to the new hyper-emo crowd, a fashion-forward crew, artists and musicians. It's in no way a tour book for the city, so the general direction was to aim in a fresh, modern and somewhat fashion-minded direction. Mexico City is set in a volcanic bowl which means the city can't physically grow outside it's borders. So the density within the city is intense, hot, polluted, and grounds for subcultural strife ready to boil over.
Were there any steps taken before starting, and was there a clear working process that led to the final? Any known influences?
I began by heading to the library (NYPL has a wonderful picture library and I'm lucky enough to have the Pratt library at my fingertips). I researched mainly Aztec art, Latin American Catholic art, Day of the Dead ephemera and so on. I also began setting up an online moodboard through Imgspark.com!
I tend to spend at least half of my time writing and sketching. I start by listing out categories within the book, then lists within those categories and see if there's anything interesting that pops out or crosses over (I find this works for fiction and nonfiction alike). It's also just good to get bad ideas and buzz words flushed out of the system so I can ignore their nagging.
For this cover, the final piece uses a cutout Aztec-inspired pattern and beneath is an image of a volcano erupting.
Super interesting, and also intrigued by Image Spark. In Heuer's moodboard above, I see the sun stone, pyschedelic pyramid forms, the skull-influenced cover of "El Monstruo" by the late John Ross, feathered serpents, Aztec glyphs, and a thrilling find because I've considered these a personal visual influence since I first saw them: old Slash magazine covers.
I love that the eventual design is a mix of stylish and superflat, pre-Hispanic symmetry and volcanic tension, almost radioactive. It's interesting that Heuer describes listing and cross-referencing categories, which is a method I used in writing and visually mapping the book's themes and eventual chapters. See this image and post.
She adds: "I basically learned what I always knew; which is to get away from my desk, go to the library, museums, read through fashion magazines and the newspaper, listen to the radio, watch documentaries and observe closely."
Friends and readers consistently tell me that the cover for "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" is eyecatching and inviting, so this discovery is a real treat. Congratulations, Jennifer! Hope to one day meet and shake your hand with gratitude.
Readers and friends have been sending along or posting some awesome photos of the experience -- guess you could say -- of getting through "Down & Delirious."
Above, Conrad is reading along studiously while at a dentist's office in New Orleans. Below, the blog Love & Hate L.A. (so good) is stuck one evening absorbing the book by candlelight. I'm blushing.
Nice to hear that Metropolis Books in downtown L.A. is carrying it. Last I was in town, a friend reported that the venerable Skylight Books on Vermont was carrying the book but had sold out -- less than a week after the title officially hit shelves.
It's not Amanda Hocking, but it's something!
Friends and contacts in New York, Texas, and the Bay Area have been going to Barnes & Noble (first-person confirmation here) or asking for it at local shops. Is it or isn't at the Strand in Manhattan? I'm hearing different things, but I see it on the Strand website, at a paltry eight bucks. In San Francisco, I'm stoked to hear it was "on its way" at City Lights Books, the landmark shop in Beat-central North Beach. ... I remember going there to browse while in college.
Below, photographer William Dunleavy (whose excellent work led to the photograph accompanying Chapter 11, "Originals of Punk") sent this fantastic photo of the book in a 'proper' place, at least in his homemade cosmology. It's on an altar.
Pretty amazing. Thank you, up front and right now, for all the kind and thoughtful notes of feedback I've received. I appreciate each one. Now ...
The day before I traveled back from Southern California to Mexico City, I went to a Barnes & Noble store at one of those new suburban malls that still sprout up on the outskirts of cities. My mom and I hit up Otay Ranch Town Center, kinda east of Eastlake, east of Chula Vista, southeast of metropolitan San Diego. We wanted to see the book in its natural habitat.
With Borders going bankrupt, Barnes & Nobles is the only big bookstore chain carrying "Down & Delirious in Mexico City." We searched the long aisles of self-help books, books on celebrities in Spanish, study guides, books on crafts or pets, romance novels. I finally found two copies of my book on a low shelf in the travel section, wedged between a couple of bestsellers on ex-pat life in Mexico and some travelogues by Brits or Australians on India or the Pacific Islands. One of them had the word "savages" in the title.
The experience neither pleased nor disappointed me.
As I wrote and worked on the thing, I knew that one day I would walk into a big bookstore and see it on a shelf, an anonymous mass-produced product like any other. In Otay, it looked just as I had envisioned it. One book in a sea of books, each one waiting to be bought, each one worried that it might not happen. Its placement as a travel title also seemed a bit imprecise. But ... whatever?
It hit me. This book is no longer mine. The thing has its own life now. The process was my reward, my prize. After trying daily news reporting, weekly feature-writing, magazine work, blogging, radio, and video, I wanted to try another form to tell stories. Writing this book was that experiment, an opportunity to seize.
The process was long, hard, and often drove me crazy. I learned and grew and suffered plenty of doubt and setbacks. But I won't feign modesty. I'm proud of the work and the way the project turned out. Now I want to share it with people, and I'll keep doing so as long as you want me to. But in my mind I've already released myself of it.
That said, watching the book make its own life is exciting. I have to keep in mind that my collaborators and I might know the book intimately, but every other reader is getting to know it for the first time. That's exciting. Yes, I'm reading the reviews.
Here's an audio interview I did with Turnstyle News, a new outlet based out of Youth Radio in Oakland, Calif. We talk about the emo riots, the cosmopolitan nature of D.F., and a topic I knew would be coming up: Why did you feel it was OK to address your own dabbling in drug use in some sections of the book?
As I tell interviewer Nishat Kurwa, in more words, of course ... Why not? Not like it's never been done before. In the interest of transparency, I showed those sections to my parents before I showed them to anyone else. Without any misgivings. Think about it: Bet a good majority of your editors and media execs -- to say nothing of your president -- went through exactly what I did when I first hit D.F., my "impossible city" in a world of many.
Listen to the Turnstyle News interview here.
I'm stopping this afternoon at UC Irvine to speak to the students of Erika Hayasaki, a former colleague at the L.A. Times and now an assistant professor of literary journalism at Irvine. This evening, Stories in Echo Park. Wednesday, I'll (still) be talking about the book to the students of Ruben Martinez, journalist, author, and professor at Loyola Marymount University in West L.A. Here's that flier.
Thursday's the party.
Above, a video created by Sister Mantos, an L.A.-based musician and performance artist who will be sharing the bill at the Slake magazine release party for "Down & Delirious in Mexico City." This is precisely the energy that I think is present in many of the book's pages.
Here's the Slake release sheet on the event. The party is Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Echoplex -- ** UPDATE: The venue has been changed to the Echo upstairs. ** The idea is to organize a music party in the spirit of the book. So, also playing next Thursday and also right up our alley, DJ Total Freedom, Crazy Band (who belong to that anti-Internet presence movement), and DJ Lengua. I'll also read a little. Thanks, guys, for agreeing to play!
Thank you Liz Garo, Joe Donnelly, Laurie Ochoa, Anne McCaddon, and Craig Gaines for putting the Echoplex party together. Thank you Pilar Perez and Marcus Kuiland-Nazario for organizing the Stories reading.
We'll have books and also issues of Slake for sale. Slake is now in its second issue. Honored to be a part of a venture in new literary journalism and creative writing in a sometimes bleak landscape for new writing. There's an excerpt from the book in Issue 2, "Mexican Gringo."
Yesterday's reading at UC Riverside went really well. Really engaging questions from students and community members. Was fun to hang out a bit with Michael Jaime-Becerra and Jazmin Ortega, former La Opinion reporter and press official for the L.A. mayor, and a UCR alum. We checked out the campus paper The Highlander and the Tomas Rivera library, which has a great collection of children's literature.
I'm excited to share this project three years in the making with my friends and former neighbors, and to share the energy of Mexico City with its close cuz, Los Angeles, always home.
First post in Author News, so here we go.
On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the day "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" goes on sale, I'm doing my first reading from the book at Writers Week at UC Riverside. Here's the release from the UCR newsroom and from the Deparment of Creative Writing.
Writers Week is an annual event at one of the nation's premier creative writing programs, and I'm honored to receive the invitation from Professor Michael Jayme, the El Monte native and author of "Every Night Is Ladies' Night." On the bill this year is Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic (and FIL homie) Jonathan Gold, and my friend Ben Ehrenreich, author of "The Suitors," among many other great writers.
I'm proud to start the roll-out of this book at the University of California, my struggling alma mater, and especially happy to do it at UCR. Riverside has the highest rates of underrepresented minority and low-income students in the University of California system, making it one of the most ethnically and economically diverse university campuses in the world. The campus's central library is named after Tomas Rivera, the trailblazing author of "... y no se lo trago la tierra," a life-long educator and the first minority chancellor in the UC system.
Also, on Thursday, Feb. 10, I'm presenting the book at Calacas in downtown Santa Ana, hosted by author and journalist Gustavo Arellano. Here's the announcement at the OC Weekly. Santa Ana, of course, is the oh-so Mexican county seat of Orange County and the first front, Gustavo might say, in the "reconquista."
Excited for this event, too. While I know I gotta technically read from the book this week, what I'm most looking forward to with this process are the discussions. I wanna hear what people are thinking these days about Mexico, migration, transnationality, books and publishing, Southern California, the drug war, subcultures, megacities, chilango-isms, the border, whatever comes up.
So please come out and say hi if you're in the area.
And here's something else I just noticed. Simon & Schuster has posted an excerpt from the book online. It's Chapter 6, "The Lake of Fire."
* Reading dates and locations for Los Angeles and San Diego coming soon! I can tell you right now, though, the big L.A. event is gonna be the bomb.
** Photo above, the carillon bell tower on the UC Riverside campus, via Flickr.