What prompted you to write a book about your experience in Mexico, and more specifically in the gigantic city of Mexico?
Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel: As I write in the prologue, my encounter with Mexico was born of my simple curiosity. I have been attracted to the Spanish-speaking world in general for several years, and in July 2018, I decided to go to Mexico City for the first time to discover the city. We can then talk about a love at first sight. It was first of all the feeling, even the certainty of finding myself in a world much more alive than our own that motivated me to undertake the writing of this story.
It is a book about Mexico, but it is also a book about the malaise of the West and of Quebec in particular. It is a book about an extraordinarily lively culture and, at the same time, about a Quebec society that no longer really knows how to live.
Since the pandemic, Quebec spends its time running away from life for fear of death, a tendency that its statist and maternal vision of society had well prepared.
Why do you call Mexico “the land of the dead”?
Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel: I will not teach you anything by saying that Mexico is a country where poverty and violence take their toll. The former Aztec empire has become a quasi-narcotic state where corruption is at an all-time high.
At least 35,000 homicides are recorded there every year, not to mention the hundreds of people who disappear every year, most of whom never see their families. This country is extremely violent and I do not try to hide the dark side of Frida Kahlo’s country in my book. I don’t think I’m offering a flowery vision of Mexico, even if it is a tribute to this powerful and culturally rich country.
But it is also “the land of the dead”, because in Mexico there is a mythology inherited from its pre-Columbian past that celebrates death instead of rejecting it and denying it in vain, as we see today in Quebec and in other Western countries.
In Quebec, during the pandemic, the impossibility of saying a last farewell to our deceased and even of visiting our dying loved ones in the hospital testifies to a people who no longer know how to deal with an inescapable end and who, in addition, sink into an unworthy inhumanity.
In Mexico, the famous Day of the Dead (Día de muertos) is the best example of this imaginary worship of death, seen as the alter ego of life. It is fascinating to see the daily intertwining of the murder stories that make the headlines and the fascination for the other world that Mexicans have.
On the other hand, one of the findings of my book is that Mexico is certainly no less mortifying than the present-day Quebec, which is marked by a rejection of social and collective life, which is a great paradox. Quebec has never been so dead as since it claims to do everything in its power to save lives.
How would you describe Mexican culture?
Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel: Mexican culture is flamboyant and chivalrous, which comes from its Spanish heritage. It is a whole and often explosive culture (sometimes too much so…) that has no difficulty in assimilating newcomers, also for demographic reasons (the Mexican population is 129 million).
It is a culture light years away from our unfortunate penchant for mediocrity and half-heartedness. Quebecers have never liked the strong and brilliant, who are seen as a threat to the integrity of the weak and fragile masses.
You have to come to Latin America to see that Quebecers have lost much of the lively, pungent Latin spirit that is supposed to differentiate them from North American Protestants. Quebec has become a regulatory hell where cocooning has become the way of life par excellence for its mentally washed-up and bureaucratized inhabitants.
Quebecers have become so socially puritanical since the pandemic that they may even be becoming more Protestant than their gringo neighbors, both Canadian and American. Their abandonment of the sense of family also goes in this direction.
You say that Western civilization is in crisis. Why is this?
Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel: That’s a big question, but it is certain that the West has begun its decline, both culturally and geopolitically. We are going from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a multipolar world.
The Covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly be the fatal blow to this anxious and comfort-filled civilization on the scale of history. China is strengthened economically and ideologically.
Not only is the center of gravity of the world economy shifting to the Pacific, but Beijing will have succeeded in making Western countries unable to escape from fear and zero risk, their new state religion, adapt part of their social model. It is a sad spectacle.
It has been known since the Greeks: there is a point where a society reaches such a high quality of life that it tips over into decadence. With its recent plan to have a turkey only for the vaccinated at Christmas, Quebec is clearly there.
Here is a society that had all the resources to blossom fully and that is self-destructing under the weight of hypochondria and insignificance. Seen from Mexico City, it seems obvious to me that Quebec and Canada as a whole are unfortunately at the forefront of the decadence of the West.
As the Mexican essayist and poet Octavio Paz wrote, a civilization that denies death comes to deny life. The West no longer dreams of abundance, movement and world conquest, but of decline, stability and withdrawal.