Don's diary: A quickie with Brozo at president's expense

February 13, 2004

6.30am: Met in Mexico City by local minders assigned by the publishing house to keep me on time for my trial by media on the subject of Porfirio Díaz. My book on Mexico's longest-serving president, who has been a controversial figure ever since being overthrown by the revolution of 1910, has been translated and published here by Planeta.

7.30am: My first interviews reveal a stark contrast between the smart facilities of private media companies and the down-at-heel charm of public radio. The neoliberal assault on the public sector has left a sad legacy.

11pm: Grilled by the upbeat Lidia Pérez on Mexican politics, which has been unsettled since Vicente Fox was elected president in 2000 - the first victory for a candidate from outside the official party in over 70 years.

7.30am: My opportunity for 15 minutes of fame on Mexico's most-watched breakfast TV show, El Mananero (a double entendre meaning both "early riser" and "quickie first thing in the morning"). The presenter, Brozo, alias Victor Trujillo, combines the incisive wit of Jeremy Paxman with the dress sense of Coco the Clown. The disguise allows him to ask far ruder questions - and elicit surprisingly candid answers - than any of his sensibly dressed counterparts.

10.00am : An encounter with the print media in a top restaurant. By now, I am ready for the most familiar questions, none of which, of course, has anything to do with the book: why are foreigners so interested in Mexican history and what was Díaz really like?

7.30am : A series of disembodied but apparently "exclusive" interviews by mobile phone, mainly in the back of taxis. The constant repetition is beginning to take its toll.

2.30pm : Lunch with Díaz's great granddaughter, who is leading a campaign for the return of his remains from the cemetery of Montparnasse in Paris.

The reluctance to give Díaz a burial place in his homeland is the most striking example of Mexico's failure to reconcile itself with his legacy.

5.30pm : The most bizarre interview of the week. Flor Berenguer (Radio Fórmula) asks me, off microphone, if it's true that Díaz was hung like a donkey. I tell her that I don't have that particular detail within my grasp.

9pm : Last interview of the day, with Jorge Berry (Radio Centro), who is far more interested in talking about The Beatles, Bobby Charlton and Tony Blair. I wonder how long the international status of the last member of this trio will hold up.

7.30am : Meet a journalist from Mexico's leading leftwing daily, La Jornada , who finds it hard to believe that Díaz has any redeeming qualities. Persistent character assassination over successive generations clearly works.

4pm : A cramped but memorable meeting with the cultured and ironic Germán Dehesa, who conducts his radio programme from the front room of his suburban house. I am reminded again, as I have been all week, of the high regard in which the UK higher education system continues to be held in Latin America - and wonder how much longer we can preserve such a reputation.

9pm: Struggling to stay awake in my last interview, with the charming Guadalupe Loaeza, I am struck by the number of people who call in to ask questions.

Back in London a few days later, I hear from the publisher that the book is outselling the translation of Harry Potter. Sic transit gloria ?

Paul Garner is Cowdray professor of Spanish at the University of Leeds. His book Porfirio Díaz: A Profile in Power was originally published by Longman.

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