"when i lived in mexico city at the end of the 1940's, it was a city of one million people, with clear sparkling air and the sky that special shade of blue that goes so well with circling vultures, blood and sandthe raw menacing pitiless mexican blue. i liked mexico city from the first day of my first visit there. in 1949, it was a cheap place to live, with a large foreign colony, fabulous whorehouses and restaurants, cockfights and bullfights, and every conceivable diversion. a single man could live well there for two dollars a day. my new orleans case for heroin and marijuana possession looked so unpromising that i decided not to show up for the court date, and i rented an apartment in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood of mexico city.

i knew that under the statute of limitations i could not return to the united states for five years, so i applied for mexican citizenship and enrolled in some courses in mayan and mexican archaeology at mexico city college. the g.i. bill paid for my books and tuition, and a seventy-five-dollar-per-month living allowance. i thought i might go into farming, or perhaps open a bar on the american border.

the city appealed to me. the slum areas compared favorably with anything in asia for sheer filth and poverty. people would shit all over the street, then lie down and sleep in it with the flies crawling in and out of their mouths. entrepreneurs, not infrequently lepers, built fires on street corners and cooked up hideous, stinking, nameless messes of food, which they dispensed to passersby. drunks slept right on the sidewalks of the main drag, and no cops bothered them. it seemed to me that everyone in mexico had mastered the art of minding his own business. if a man wanted to wear a monocle or carry a cane, he did not hesitate to do it, and no one gave him a second glance. boys and young men walked down the street arm in arm and no one paid them any mind. it wasn't that people didn't care what others thought; it simply would not occur to a mexican to expect criticism from a stranger, nor to criticize the behavior of others.

mexico was basically an oriental culture that reflected two thousand years of disease and poverty and degradation and stupidity and slavery and brutality and psychic and physical terrorism. it was sinister and gloomy and chaotic, with the special chaos of a dream. no mexican really knew any other mexican, and when a mexican killed someone (which happened often), it was usually his best friend."


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