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August 4th, 2011

Your jive talkin'

Mexico has been described as a developing country with an emerging economy. Guadalajara is the bit which has developed and emerged. Naami, Matt and I found a city more at home in Europe than Latin America; the taxi ride from the airport, which went through industrial areas, then slums, then the commercial district, showcased a city of more refined infrastructure than Mexico City, or indeed, any other city I have seen here.

It's hard to express how an industrial factory district can be more complete than another, as those in Guadalajara had the cracked concrete, reinforced glass windows, and even dirt parking places you would find in Preston, but there was something more than in the D.F. - small things like gutters between the street and properties, less rubbish on the ground, and the idea that the cracked concrete was once properly made.

The slums, also, strangely had a less decrepit feel than in Mexico city or elsewhere. Indeed, they were still tiny little rooms made of concrete beams with brick sections in between, but here they were made of slightly less drab red brick, rather than the bleak gray besa bricks elsewhere in country. They were also not painted the bright contrasting colours – purple and yellow, red and green, blue and orange – seen everywhere else, used as a attempt to disguise the inherent melancholy of the situation, but ultimately increasing it through the feeble nature of the gesture.

The town centre had a series of public rubbish bins, lacking the Mexico City, and no metre-cubed holes in the paving, prevalent in Mexico City. Also, there is little or no flaking paint on the buildings. Most importantly, the abundant public parks had green grass, where in Mexico City the equally abundant parks have mainly gray dirt.

The main reason for this seems to me to be that Guadalajara never experienced the population boom Mexico City did in the 1970s, from which it has never recovered. The quality of life, as a result, appears to be higher, and the public purse more full.

Guadalajara has indulged, in one section, in a glut of architecture reminiscent of Italian fascist design, but largely the buildings are colonial and beautiful. For reasons I can't grasp there is an abundance of Chinese restaurants, and yet no Chinese people out on the streets.

A final cute detail was the LED displays at pedestrian crossings (and the existence of the crossings was pleasing enough) – the red man stands still, as one might expect, but the green man walks, and with the exaggerated motions of a 1970s pimp, lacking just the hat and the big feather. As the time counts down the pimp walks increasingly faster, until at the end he is no longer jive-walking, but jive-running.

So, if you ever find yourself in Mexico for too long, and wish to see somewhere with more familiarity and higher standards of living (what the gringos might call 'going back to the real world'), check out Guadalajara.

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