An article about my work as a mitigation specialist by Vianey Fernández was recently published in the Sunday supplement of the newspaper Milenio. For the Spanish-impaired, lo siento.
I’ve always wanted to take a picture inside this tunnel, which divides Colonia Condesa, the Zona Rosa, Colonia Roma and Colonia Juárez on Avenida Chapultepec. But there are no walkways along its sides, and given how chilangos like to drive, I would no doubt never make it out of there alive if I tried. But I love the imagination of painting the walls of a tunnel as if they were an aquarium or the ocean. Or a huge fishbowl.
Few would argue that, these days, Mexico has an image problem. The bad news has been building up since 2006, when Felipe Calderón, president at the time, declared war on drugs, a war that has claimed about 100,000 lives and has been sustained by his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto.
Peña Nieto’s problems have not abated since last autumn, when 43 students were kidnapped, tortured and probably murdered in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero — most likely at the behest of the local government. The President’s response to this and other atrocities has been woefully inadequate; it would appear that there is absolutely no one in his cabinet who is capable of showing him how to put a foot right.
Still, the government has its ways of trying to change Mexico’s reputation. The people who hacked into the internal files of Sony recently published reports that officials of the government offered tax incentives of up to $20 million to Sony to make changes in the script and casting of Spectre, the upcoming James Bond film, partially shot here in the Mexican capital.
Mexico wanted the script shaken rather than stirred. Among the alterations solicited were that, instead of the murder of the mayor of Mexico City, an “international leader” would be killed; the principal villain of the film would not be Mexican; and the Mexican police force would be replaced by an “international police force.”
The officials who dealt with Sony also demanded that a Mexican actress get to play a Bond girl, for the first time in the 24-film franchise. Stephanie Sigman, who shined in Miss Bala in 2011, got the gig.
There were also requests by the government that they shoot some flattering travelogue scenes in Mexico City. (Apparently, they stopped short of asking that James Bond’s name be changed to Jaime Albóndiga.) According to reports — published here in Proceso, and also in the Washington Post, the Guardian and other international media — Sony executives Jonathan Glickman and Amy Pascal, happy to save some money, bent over backwards to accommodate Mexico. “We should insist they add whatever travelogue footage we need in Mexico to get the extra money,” wrote Pascal in a hacked email.
Spectre is also being shot in Italy, Austria, England and Morocco. I wonder if those countries’ demands went as far as Mexico’s. Meanwhile, the violence continues here — to name just one incident, earlier this month, a mayoral candidate in a Guerrero town was kidnapped and decapitated. The government may have $20 million to offer to Sony, but half the Mexican people still live in poverty. Perhaps a snuff movie, rather than a James Bond film, would reflect the country more accurately.
Although he grew up in a town in North Carolina of 2,699 people, for many years Joseph Mitchell was one of the most important voices in New York journalism. Because of his inability to pass his math courses, he never finished college, and instead of joining the family business — tobacco growing — he went to the Big Apple, arriving at the age of 21 the day after the stock market crash of 1929. He worked as a newspaper reporter for a decade, and in 1938 joined the staff of the New Yorker, where he remained until the day he died (although for the last 30 or so years of his life — he passed away in 1996 — he didn’t publish a word).
As part of a cycle of talks called Autores Secretos (Secret Authors) at el Palacio de Bellas Artes, I will be speaking about Joseph Mitchell on Wednesday, February 25 at 7 pm. While he is a cult figure in the U.S., known among readers who are interested in New York and in journalism, he is unknown in Mexico, even though one of his books, Joe Gould’s Secret, was published by Anagrama under the title El secreto de Joe Gould. Sadly, whenever I do journalism workshops here, no one has ever heard of him.
Mitchell was famous for writing about the underbelly of New York — winos, beggars, a bearded lady, a ticket-taker in a Bowery movie house, a man who rented out racing cockroaches to society parties. Indeed, Joe Gould, the subject of his book, was a homeless man who went from bar to bar in Greenwich Village, claiming to be working on a book called The Oral History of Our Time that would weigh in at over a million words.
Joseph Mitchell once claimed that the most interesting people to interview were “anthropologists, farmers, prostitutes, psychiatrists and the occasional bartender,” and that the least interesting were “society women, industrial leaders, distinguished authors, ministers, explorers, movie actors and any actress under the age of 35.”
He is probably the author who has been my greatest influence. I will talk about his marvelous work — and the possible reasons for his silence — in Spanish.