Horizontal vertigo. The title refers to the fear of ever-impending earthquakes, which led Mexicans to build their capital city outward rather than upward. Villoro wanders through the city seemingly without a plan, describing people, places, and things, while drawing connections among them.
... gathers [Villoro's] most incisive essays, chronicles and personal memories in an attempt to tackle a singular challenge: How does one comprehend the most populous city in North America, with its rich history, complicated economy and multivalent culture? Each person who experiences it has his or her own interpretation of what the city is, and Villoro’s is as striking as the iconic urban center ... As a chilango, he offers firsthand insights into a bittersweet mode of life that many have come to accept, enjoy and even take pride in. He delivers that reality, however, with unabashed humor ... Though Villoro navigates such charged subjects as poverty, nationalism and corruption, his writing comes most alive when he highlights the assortment of Mexico City icons (some famous, some unheralded heroes) ... Villoro doesn’t delve too deeply into politics, but he doesn’t miss a chance to criticize one specific leader ... Alfred MacAdam’s translation is generally superb, though there is the occasional awkward word choice ... The joy of Horizontal Vertigo is that it offers a unique entry into Mexico City’s 'inexhaustible encyclopedia' of people, places and old traditions, complementing the history books and outperforming the tour guides. Those expecting more personal stories about Villoro himself will have to find them wandering among the patriotic landmarks and the pirated music for sale on the busy sidewalks: Villoro is so closely identified with Mexico City that it’s impossible to imagine how one can be known without the other, which is why his writings consistently employ the communal 'we,' as in this telling statement about the unbreakable bond between Chilangopolis and chilangos.
Villoro recounts his adventures with a mix of irony and empathy, with a sense of humor and a feeling for the absurd. He is exquisitely attuned to the capital’s contradictions and nuances, and he knows how to listen to its inhabitants. There are deeply moving moments in this book ... For those of us who have witnessed the evolution of Mexico City from what Monsiváis described as a 'postapocalyptic' megalopolis in the 1980s to the global city of the 2020s, Villoro’s book is like a time machine. In its pages, the reader revisits a place that is no longer there ... Despite his unwavering upbeat tone, Villoro offers some glimpses of the recent transformations that have turned the city into a much darker and less humane place as the capital 'became the hostage of drug dealers, tribes of vendors, distributors of pirated goods, the most speculative real estate interests, and an economy that privileged international franchises and augmented social inequality' ... One could add to this list the ravages produced by the sudden embrace of screens, apps and social media. In a city where every single person seems to be staring at a phone, will Villoro be the last of Mexico City’s chroniclers?
Dating back to 1993, the entries in this diary of a city mostly veer away from the catchalls used commonly when writing about metropolises, and stand as Villoro’s own illustrations of an unfathomably difficult task, placing oneself in the context of a world like Mexico City ... The contents of this book are difficult to encapsulate, if only because they are as wide-ranging as they are detailed ... This conglomeration of Villoro’s memories and writings does not necessitate reading from beginning to end; the book could be opened at any page and the story will exist outside of the rest of the accounts told, connected in no other discernible way to each other except that they both exist in the world of Mexico City ... Horizontal Vertigo stands as a remarkable example of an author who so clearly understands the city he lives in. This is no small feat; the previously mentioned generalizations of metropolises can so easily influence our perceptions of place, and yet Villoro manages for the most part to transcend this tendency towards hyperbole. The picture painted here is distinctly Villoro’s, but this is beneficial in the end. As a way to make meaning out of creations like the 'urban metropolis,' narratives of the cities are created, making every individuals’ story a fragment, and just that, and Villoro understands this, and this is what ultimately endows his work with such meaning; his awareness that his experience is a only fragment of the whole world around him, and that that still constitutes something worth exploring.