Newsflash: the June 2009 issue of The Brooklyn Rail includes “Love in the Time of Swine Flu,” my feature on David Lida, pegged on the softcover release of First Stop in the New World, his addictively readable book about Mexico City.


Now that the epidemic seems to have peaked, with a global body count far lower than the Andromeda Strain horror scripted by the U.S. media, reasonable minds on both sides of the border are taking a hard look at the media etiology of the panic. When American anxiety was at its height, Right Wing frothing heads like Michelle Malkin and Michael Savage helped spread the hate, blaming the Creeping Pig Death on the engulfing tide of “uncontrolled immigration” (Malkin). “Make no mistake about it: illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico,” Savage barked.

David Lida’s affection for the city remains undiminished. In the new paperback edition of his justifiably acclaimed First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the 21st Century, Lida rips and remixes the ‘hypermetropolis, the ur-urb of the American continent’ into a fast-moving mashup.”

Even so, the book is no Travel Channel puff piece.

In the chapter on crime, ‘Who’s Afraid of Mexico City?’ Lida describes his harrowing hours, in 1996, as the victim of what locals call a secuestro express (express kidnapping), in which a pair of goons held him and his then-wife at knifepoint on a cab ride from hell, trying his credit card at various ATMs.

Two hours is a long time under such circumstances, and we were able to engage in a little Stockholm-syndrome dialogue. The Gorilla was the most voluble. Soon after the joyride began he informed us that what was happening was not his fault but the government’s, for turning its back on its neediest citizens and forcing them to steal to survive. [My wife] was quick to point out that neither she nor I had any connection with the regime. “Les tocó,” he said, in a perfect illustration of Mexican fatalism. Your number came up.

    Sign up to receive blog posts and news about Mark's books, bylines, and appearances.