Riding Lessons at the Polls


I’ve been working on a profile of a candidate who ran for a municipal election, so on Sunday it was off to the polls. (That man in the picture is not the candidate. He’s part of the 30 percent of the population that turned up to vote.)

I was told by the campaign manager to arrive for a press conference at 11 am on election day. Silly chilangabacha that I am, I believed him. I showed up right on time and was told to come back at 1 pm. I decided to wander around aimlessly and happened upon a dusty little book store. You know how in cartoons an old lady will put a pie in a window and a “finger of aroma” will reach out and grab Bugs Bunny by the nose? That’s kinda what happened to me, but with Alan Riding’s excellent novel, Distant Neighbors. Instead of pie aroma, it was the fragrance of musty pages that drew me in.

The timing of picking up the book, an essential guide to Mexican culture and history, couldn’t have been better. The 11 am press conference got pushed back to 1 pm, then 4 pm and finally 8 pm. During my nine-hour wait, Riding taught me that, “Arriving an hour or more late for a dinner party does not merit an apology; to the contrary, it is arriving on time that is considered rude.” Oops.

Distant Neighbors also outlines Mexico’s turbulent and colorful political history in such a way that after two years of living here I think I finally get the gist of the political timeline of the past century. So the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) are the dudes who ran the country from 1929  until Vicente Foxy Fox won the presidential election in 2000 under a dual ticket of Mexico’s Green party (PVEM) and the right-wing PAN  (Partido Acción Nacional). Foxy’s successor was Felipe Calderon, also known as Fe-Cal (you know, like caca) by some of his detractors. Why the stinky nickname? Well it depends on whom you ask. Some members of the PRD (Partido Revolución Democrática) claim that Calderon stole the 2006 presidential election from their man, Manuel Lopez Obredor, a la George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 – only Lopez Obredor is still out there contesting the vote, while Al Gore is making movies about sweaty penguins.

Are you still with me? Basically, there are as many political parties as there are saints’ days in April in this country, and everybody wants a swing at the piñata.

This wasn’t a presidental election, but  the race for Congressional seats, governorships and state and local seats was nonetheless interesting.The old school PRI gained footing in places such as the DF suburbs like Ecatepec, Neza and Chalco, thanks to the fancy footwork of its new star, Enrique Peña Nieto, a guapetón widower with a telenovela girlfriend. PAN fell flat in several of its favored districts and the PRD had predictable less-than-hair-raising results. The real stars of the show were the 10 percent of voters who chose to nullify their votes by putting a giant “X” through the entire ballot.

If all of these acronyms have your head spinning, you can either go track down a copy of Distant Neighbors, or watch the following video of the press conference that finally happened nine hours after I showed up.


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