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The Boa’s Embrace


As a boy I had to leave Mexico City because my health made living in a place with that much pollution impossible. I had asthma and spent more time hospitalized than I did in classes. It was the ’90s, one of the harsher periods in the life of that headless monster known as “the DF.” At school, when the pollution got worse, they forbade us from going out to the playground, exercising, or moving around too much; we spent recess motionless, facing our desks, yelling at top volume as a backup strategy for using up energy. The city seemed to me a kind of boa constrictor encircling my lungs. A gray monster that made my only pet, a gaunt hamster, come down with pinkeye.

Then everything seemed to get a little better: the pollution subsided for a few years, the left passed progressive laws, and the city flourished like a sort of oasis in the middle of a country sinking little by little. But like any good oasis, that Mexico City—varied and breathable—was only a mirage.

The future of the city I chased doves through as a boy can’t even be called uncertain: there’s no question that everything’s going to hell. Of course, that also makes it a magnificent place. The constant, cadenced rhythm the city has taken on for its plunge into the abyss is ideal for dancing at a party, accompanied by MDMA and “madrecuixe” mezcal.

There are many neighborhoods in Mexico City where cocaine is easier to come by than clean water. I imagine within a few years both will be made available on the black market by the same criminal groups, whose activities will, at that point, have diversified to a ludicrous extent. Today, one can buy a pirated DVD of the last season of Mad Men, a gram of coke cut with laxatives, and a tank of diesel gas from different branches of the same criminal corporation. The assassins’ business model is more like Procter & Gamble’s than the Catholic Church’s.

The hyper-diversification of narco-capitalism will produce fantastic dealers, who, for interested parties, will offer tanks of oxygen, water for human consumption, and substandard drugs, the kind whose memory lives on for days in the form of jaw pain and bloodshot eyes.

When that level of decadence strikes in Mexico City—at the start of the next decade, I’d venture—I’ll go back to live there, to be in the front row for the end of the world, mournfully stroking the boa as it embraces me.


Daniel Saldaña París (born Mexico City, 1984) is an essayist, poet, and novelist whose work has been translated into English, French, and Swedish and anthologized, most recently, in México20: New Voices, Old Traditions, published in the UK by Pushkin Press. Among Strange Victims (Coffee House Press, 2016) is his first novel to appear in the US. He lives in Montreal.

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