Lately I’ve been thinking about my city and the difficulty of living in it, while being stuck in traffic or struggling to ride the subway, I end up going through all the problems that need fixing. While this is in no way a post to talk about socio-political issues, I want to express simply how I came to the subject of this post.
You see, I live in Mexico City and while it is the capital and considered a great, cosmopolite place, sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it. I have a very complicated love/hate relationship with my city ever since I was very young and, lately, the balance has been greatly inclined towards the “hate” part.
Don’t get me wrong, Mexico City is a great and beautiful place, full of history and culture, lovely people and gorgeous sceneries. It is not perfect and sometimes bad things happen but I guess that can be said for any place on Earth; no place is flawless. Mexico City, however, seems to me like a pot that is just about to reach it’s boiling point. Being a centralized country, Mexico City ends up being the “it” spot for absolutely everything. Every federal government quarters are stationed here, the best schools, the best jobs… It’s supposed to be THE place to make a life of your own.
But when everyone wants to live here, it ironically becomes the worst place to live in. It’s like the hipster culture premise; something is cool and awesome while not many know of it but the moment it is known by everyone, it loses its charm. That is how I now feel about my city.
We now enter the five bookish struggles (in no particular order) I’ve come to face in the last few years, as I’ve entered adulthood and been brutally shoved into the so called “Real life.”
I want to point out beforehand that this is simply my appreciation and my opinion taken out of my personal experiences. I know not everyone feels the same way and we don’t exist in the exact same context, so while some of these might be recurrent problems for me, they are not a generalization.
Mexico City’s transportation system is faulty to say the least and every day it seems to get worse. Being such an overpopulated place, the subway trains and city buses are always crazy full. We even have memes about just how crazy trying to get into the damn train can get.
It is overwhelming, specially in stations near the big corporate buildings, where thousands of people work. I, unfortunately, happen to work in such a building meaning I have to deal with an overpopulated train every single day to and from work. And you see, the bookish struggle here is that, being so busy with work and the time I actually take to get there, the commute is one of the best times I have to read. But how can I get any reading done if I can’t even get any breathing on? I lose valuable reading time and I am squished to death in the meantime.
Not cool, subway trains. Not fucking cool.
It is no better if you try to take a bus, since drivers believe themselves to be driving F1 cars and not buses filled with people.
*This next video is actual footage from a real bus driver in Mexico. I’m always half scared I’ll get inserted into the seat in front of me. Though I must admit when they actually drive like a sane person and it is not stuffed with sweating bodies, I can get a lot of reading done.
2. Reading Culture
The reading culture in Mexico as a whole is very depressing. The levels of illiteracy are alarming in some areas of the country and we always end up at the bottom of the list when reading habits are polled throughout the world. The average Mexican reads 2.5 books a year.
People are just like, “Reading? Meh.”
Having such bad (or more like inexistent) reading habits means that literary events are not as publicized. There are wonderful places all around the city; organizations, libraries, bookshops, college departments that are completely devoted to encouraging people to read yet many of them don’t have the support to truly be heard or to make the type of impact they deserve to be making.
If you like cultural events, reading, jazz nights, concerts, etc., you get to know about these things. If not, well… you just miss out.
This is sort of a ‘chicken or egg’ type of dilemma, I find myself wondering if prices on books are so high because no one reads or if no one reads because the prices are high.
The truth is, you can find affordable books in some places and one thing I do love is the huge amount of old book libraries where you can sometimes find precious hidden jewels at extremely low prices. However, some books are just not affordable in the long run, particularly if you (like me) feel more comfortable reading in English, which leads me to my next point.
4. Foreign Languages
Prices for the English versions of books can sometimes double the translation price. This particular point is very personal, because like I just said, it’s about my very individual preferences. I truly dislike reading books translated into my native language (though I own and have read my fair share) because I believe I’m missing out on the actual experience. While translators are badasses that allow people to read the same story in different languages, the truth is that what you’re reading is their take on the original story.
For example, I read Emily and Charlotte Brontë’s books in Spanish when I was 14, but Anne’s The Tennant of Wildfell Hall in English when I was 19. I fell in love with Anne’s writing and pinned her as my favorite Brontë sister. But the truth is, that is not a fair assessment because I have not read Emily and Charlotte’s words, just the translation of them. That is why I prefer to read books in their original language whenever I can. I know it’s impossible to do so unless you’re a polyglot but with languages I am fluent in, I try to practice this. It is also a great way to practice a foreign language (which is why I’m looking so hard for French books!)
The big, fat problem is that my economy just doesn’t allow me to purchase as many books in their original language as I would like because prices are ridiculous. Le sigh.
5. Free time
Mexico City is a hectic place. People who say that NYC is the city that never sleeps have clearly never been to Mexico City. It’s a buoyant and active place, where people are always rushing to get somewhere and where time is just never enough. I lose a little over 3 hours each and every day in a commute that, with proper transportation systems, would take 1 hour at most. I get home late and tired, with little time to get through the stuff I want to and the days just go by in a blur of movement.
Being caught up in such a place where everyone is neurotic, late for something, annoyed by everything is tiring and sometimes all I want to do is lay on my bed and sleep for a week. But since reading relaxes me I attempt to get some reading done before crashing. Except that lately it’s become more and more difficult to stay awake, so I always leave it for the next day.
And then the next day, I am faced with my transportation nightmare and so the cycle of struggles never ends.
This post is not meant to scare you and make you think Mexico City is a shit hole. That is not my intention and I hope that is not what I leave you with this. But I think sometimes it’s good to let out the things that frustrate us, in hopes of letting out some steam that keeps boiling inside.
I love my country and my city will always be dear in my heart even with all its faults and complications. It is the city that watched me grow up, after all.