‘The history of a city is the history of its cafés’: writing life in Mexico

Finding the old coffeehouses among the American chains in Mexico City is hard, says author and journalist Juan Villoros, but they’re wonderful spaces to write in – when you find one

By Juan Villoro and translated by Philip K Zimmerman for The Writing Life Around the World from Electric Literature, part of the Guardian Books Network

Built over a lake that was drained, overwhelmed by the exhaust of cars and the pollution in a valley encircled by mountains that don’t let the wind in, Mexico City is a bastion of dust mites. The atmosphere isn’t as aggressive as our winter is benevolent (although you suffer inside the houses, built according to the superstitious idea that heat is unnecessary), but spring asthenia thrives in the dirty air. The arrival of the rains, more torrential all the time, provides relief from allergies but not from flooding.

In this context cafés are not, as in other parts of the world, places where you can escape the snow for a while, but rather spots where you can combat the rush and, in some cases, breathe differently. Some modern coffeehouses have a system known as “washed air”; the more traditional ones don’t have it and don’t need it: they make up for the vapors of the Italian machine with a fan that simultaneously refreshes the air. The best atmosphere in Mexico City is in a café.

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Finding the old coffeehouses among the American chains in Mexico City is hard, says author and journalist Juan Villoros, but they’re wonderful spaces to write in – when you find one

By Juan Villoro and translated by Philip K Zimmerman for The Writing Life Around the World from Electric Literature, part of the Guardian Books Network

Built over a lake that was drained, overwhelmed by the exhaust of cars and the pollution in a valley encircled by mountains that don’t let the wind in, Mexico City is a bastion of dust mites. The atmosphere isn’t as aggressive as our winter is benevolent (although you suffer inside the houses, built according to the superstitious idea that heat is unnecessary), but spring asthenia thrives in the dirty air. The arrival of the rains, more torrential all the time, provides relief from allergies but not from flooding.

In this context cafés are not, as in other parts of the world, places where you can escape the snow for a while, but rather spots where you can combat the rush and, in some cases, breathe differently. Some modern coffeehouses have a system known as “washed air”; the more traditional ones don’t have it and don’t need it: they make up for the vapors of the Italian machine with a fan that simultaneously refreshes the air. The best atmosphere in Mexico City is in a café.

Continue reading…
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