Category Archives: Mexico

Wrapping Up Blogathon and Starting New Projects

Memo to: Readers of A Travelers’ Library

From: A Traveling Reader

This morning was the wrap-up on Twitter by all the people who participated in the blogging marathon. Now I’m off on another sort of marathon–checking in to Likaholix most every day.  If you have not seen it, take a look.  It would be a great place for you to share your favorite travel books.

I’ve updated my TBR page to indicate travel books finished, travel books started, and a new book on the to-be-read pile that I’m very excited about. (Hint: Paris and food)

Recommendations are flowing in for books to read about Mexico, so maybe we’ll need to go back there soon.

C. M. Mayo writes to take exception to my laughing at “dolphins porpoising”. She says, “Dolphins do porpoise. Can be used as a verb.” Don’t want to belabor the point, because I love the way that Madame Mayo (as she is known at her blog) uses the language, and the ingenuity of her verbs and metaphors. And she has been most gracious about accepting what I wrote otherwise. And she is, after all, the one who teaches writing.

Next Up

This week we are going to visit some travel classics.  I will be showing what a babe in the woods I am by reviewing must-read travel books that I never read before. So here come Bill Bryson, V.S. Naipaul, Eric Newby, Paul Fussel, and Bruce Chatwin (the ONE out of these that I had already read.)

Next weekend I will disappear for a few days as the Traveler’s Library morphs into a new form.  Stay tuned.

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Baja California, Mexico Literature for Travelers

Before I launch into today’s book on Baja Mexico, I want to take note of the fact that this is the final day of the May Blogathan. I’m late posting, but here I am–and I met the challenge of daily posts, with the help of Kerry Dexter of Music Roads and Sue Dickman of A Life Divided who did guest posts while I went gallivanting.  I encourage you to take a look at the list of fine bloggers who were part of this challenge. Special thanks to Michelle Rafter for starting this whole thing. Now back to business.

Miraculous Air by C. M. Mayo

Miraculous Air by C. M. Mayo

Destination: Baja Mexico

Book: Miraculous Air: Journey of a thousand miles through Baja Califonia, the other Mexico, by C. M. Mayo

This was the first non-fiction book for C. M. Mayo, an American who lives in Mexico.  She worked as an economist until she realized that she enjoyed telling stories more than teaching about economics (which involved telling stories, too.) Because she developed her writing chops in fiction,  this is true travel literature, packed with lovely language, and stories delivered with a good ear for dialogue.

In Miraculous Air, we follow her travels through the length of Baja California as she gives us detailed accounts of the history of the Spanish missionaries who built small churches, what is known about the natives who lived there originally, and the stories of people who live there now.  She visits petroglyphs, talks to sport fishermen, admires the art of resident artists, comments on the food and lodging along the way, and goes whale watching.

At first, I could not put this book down. (I literally was wandering through the house reading as I went.) It is most gripping when she is harvesting the stories of the people who live in Baja. Since she speaks fluent Spanish, communication flows whether the subject is Mexican or American ex-patriate.  I stumbled a bit when the narrative turned to the past. I love history, and coming from Tucson, am particularly attracted to Spanish history, but I found the history in Miraculous Air became too detailed and I became lost.  When the book returned to conversations with people who live there today, I was once more enthralled.

Mayo had a real challenge in keeping the descriptions of landscape and shabby homes and towns interesting. I personally find the desert lovely, but the desert is the desert and does not lend itself to a variety of descriptions. Likewise with crumbling adobes without electricity, and with old sofas on the front porch and junked cars in the side yard. However, Mayo, who teaches writing classes, rises to the challenge with fresh metaphors and similes, and unique verbs, although sometimes she stretches a bit to far. When she wrote that “the dolphin porpoised”, I had to laugh.  She used porpoised again later, and I thought “Once is enough for that particular figure of speech.”

Miraculous Air (a description borrowed from John Steinbeck) provides the traveler with a lot to think about. The economics of a tourism influx and its effect on the people. The environmental concerns of areas that are overfished by people whose only source of income is fishing. The effect of outside industry on the environment. The relationship of Mexicans from different regions–particular Oaxacans–with the Baja residents. She talks a lot about prior visitors such as  Earle Stanley Gardner (of Perry Mason fame) and Lindbergh. She reads everything she can find from the journals of the early Jesuits to modern visitors and her 10-page bibliography will keep a traveler to Baja supplied with reading material for a long time.

I recommend this book for the traveler’s library and suggest that if you are stymied by the detail, that you can dip into the sections that most interest you.  So what other books about Baja Mexico have you read? Have you read Steinbeck’s descriptions, or Earle Stanley Gardner’s? I’d like to know what you think.

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Filed under Books, Destinations, Mexico

Finding Mexico in Books

Destination: Mexico

Books: The Mexicans by Phillip Oster and Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor

Many years ago when I thought it was necessary for me to understand Mexico, I read two books. Both gave me new insight, but they did not lead to understanding. For that, I would need to learn to the Spanish language and perhaps even live there. At Least travel there more frequently. But even people who were born in Mexico and lived there all their lives profess not to understand Mexico. At least not in a way that allow them to explain the country to her northern neighbor. Nowhere in the world are there two  countries with such sharp differences–in economics, in customs, in assumptions–that share a common border. The more I live near the border, and the more I read, the more confusing it becomes.

The book The Mexicans, A Personal Portrait of a People (1989/2002) by Phillip Oster, tells the stories of twenty Mexicans from various part of Mexican society. Oster gives glimpses of everything from the survivors who live off of garbage dumps, to a doctor trying to help the poor. The very fragmentation of looking at the country through so many different people’s lives, points out the difficulty of understanding the whole picture. However, through direct quotations and his description of these lives, we are drawn to a personal understanding of at least pieces of the puzzle. The book allows you to meet people you might not meet in your travels.

Please continue to see Rain of Gold and a video with Victor Villaseñor. Continue reading

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Poll Answers Revealed and Mexico Re-visited

Baja California Sud beach

Baja California Sud beach

When Vice President Joe Biden warned people to stay home because of the H1N1 flu, and travel writer Peter Greenberg responded that he was going to happily travel to Mexico on empty airplanes and stay in empty hotels, we decided to ask readers if they agreed with Joe or Peter. Or perhaps they wanted to wait and see. You can see the results of the poll now, but here’s a hint. Travelers visit A Traveler’s Library.

Mexico suffered more than any other country from the flu epidemic, and their tourism industry suffered mightily. I’m thinking about Mexico now because I’m reading a book about Baja Mexico, which I will be talking about here soon. I was intrigued to see that Peter Greenberg’s newsletter (and web site) revisited the question of Mexico and the flu. San Diego announced an event to promote Baja California tourism.  And the U. S. State Department dropped their Travel Advisory against travel in Mexico as of May 15.

Personally, although I live near the border, in a U.S. town that was part of Mexico until the mid 1850’s, I have not traveled widely in Mexico. One wonderful week in Guadalajara and two memorable trips to the village of Mata Ortiz in Chihuahua, which I wrote about at Velvet Escape’s Blog. That’s it. In the next few days, I want to talk about some books that I read several years ago about Mexico, and then a newer book about Baja in the  hope that you have not abandoned Mexico as a possible destination.

Photograph by Giandomenico Pozzi, from Flickr.

Have you traveled in Mexico?  Have you read about Mexico?  Share your experiences here, please.

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Cinco de Mayo and the American Southwest

Mariachi and Dancer as part of a table at Bellota Ranch

Mariachi and Dancer as part of a table at Bellota Ranch

Destination:  Southwestern United States

Book: Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink:Offbeat Travels through America’s Southwest by Tom Miller

Yes, Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but as I am going to try to convince you, the Southwestern United States is oh, so close to Mexico. (Sometimes it is tempting to turn on its head that old Mexican quote and say, “Poor Arizona. So close to Mexico. So far from God.”) So I am featuring a book about the Southwest today, Cinco de Mayo, because it is celebrated at least as fervently in the Southwest as in old Mexico.

In the introduction to his book,  Tom Miller says, “To the Northeast, the Southwest is exotic, the other.”  For good reason. Many factors make the American Southwest distinctive within  both the American landscape and culture. The lure of the American West draws people here–wide open spaces, the possibility of reinvention and opportunities to disappear or strike it rich.  Along with other western states, it is a land of frontiers.

It is also a land of borders.  Not so long ago, compared to Asian or European history, there were no borders between what is now the Southwestern United States and Mexico.  Where I live, in Tucson, was the northern edge of the Spanish New World. The roots of Spanish heritage dig far deeper than the northern European heritage that influenced the rest of the states.

Therefore, you can’t explain the Southwest without reference both to the wild west, to Spain and Mexico and to the Borderlands Culture.  Since this is where I live, I’ll return to authors who understand the border–both sides of it–but first up is Tom Miller and Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink, a winning title if there ever was one. Continue reading

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Filed under Books, Mexico, United States

Can’t Go? Read About Mexico

Mata Ortiz Pot

Mata Ortiz Pot

Destination: Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico

Books:  The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz, several contributors

Keith Jenkins, over at Velvet Escape, asked me if I had met anybody inspirational in my travels. Keith is a true world traveler, and an excellent writer, besides.  I felt honored to write a guest post for the  series, that Keith calls, “A World of Inspiration.”

The place where I met the man who inspired me– Mata Ortiz, Mexico– seems to be off limits at present. So perhaps we would-be travelers can just curl up with a good book, while we are waiting for the swine H1N1  flu epidemic to end and traffic around the world to get back to normal.

The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz (1999) provides a wonderful guide to anyone going to Mata Ortiz to shop for pottery. But even if you are not going there, the pictures of the amazing creations of the villagers, and the photographic portraits of village family members will keep you enthralled. The book covers the history of how Juan Quezada turned the little struggling railroad workers village into a thriving art center. (For more about Juan, you’ll have to go over to Velvet Escape.) Suffice it to say that the work is considered fine art–not craft or folk art.

The book explains how the potters work and how they are related.  You will be amazed at the intricate designs of the pottery and its relationship to the nearby archaeological site of Casas Grandes. The relationships of potters are equally intricate. Writers include Susan Lowell, Jim Hills, Jorge Quintana Rodriquez, Walter Parks and Michael Wisner. Photography is by W. Ross Humphreys and Robin Stancliff.

I hope that if you have never been to Mata Ortiz, a few hours south of the Arizona or New Mexico borders, that you will be able to travel there some time. In the meantime, take a look at this beautiful book.

Another book in my traveler’s library, The Miracle of Mata Ortiz, by Walter P. Parks, was published in 1994, and was the fundamental guide until Many Faces of Mata Ortiz was published.

I have not yet see a book  released in August, 2008, Mata Ortiz Pottery: Art and Life, by Ron Goebel , but it sounds good. More personal stories about the potters.

Photograph above by Cliff Kemper from Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Have you been to Mata Ortiz?  How is the flu epidemic affecting your travel plans? Please talk back in the comment section below.

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Filed under Books, Destinations, Mexico, Uncategorized

Can't Go? Read About Mexico

Mata Ortiz Pot

Mata Ortiz Pot

Destination: Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico

Books:  The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz, several contributors

Keith Jenkins, over at Velvet Escape, asked me if I had met anybody inspirational in my travels. Keith is a true world traveler, and an excellent writer, besides.  I felt honored to write a guest post for the  series, that Keith calls, “A World of Inspiration.”

The place where I met the man who inspired me– Mata Ortiz, Mexico– seems to be off limits at present. So perhaps we would-be travelers can just curl up with a good book, while we are waiting for the swine H1N1  flu epidemic to end and traffic around the world to get back to normal.

The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz (1999) provides a wonderful guide to anyone going to Mata Ortiz to shop for pottery. But even if you are not going there, the pictures of the amazing creations of the villagers, and the photographic portraits of village family members will keep you enthralled. The book covers the history of how Juan Quezada turned the little struggling railroad workers village into a thriving art center. (For more about Juan, you’ll have to go over to Velvet Escape.) Suffice it to say that the work is considered fine art–not craft or folk art.

The book explains how the potters work and how they are related.  You will be amazed at the intricate designs of the pottery and its relationship to the nearby archaeological site of Casas Grandes. The relationships of potters are equally intricate. Writers include Susan Lowell, Jim Hills, Jorge Quintana Rodriquez, Walter Parks and Michael Wisner. Photography is by W. Ross Humphreys and Robin Stancliff.

I hope that if you have never been to Mata Ortiz, a few hours south of the Arizona or New Mexico borders, that you will be able to travel there some time. In the meantime, take a look at this beautiful book.

Another book in my traveler’s library, The Miracle of Mata Ortiz, by Walter P. Parks, was published in 1994, and was the fundamental guide until Many Faces of Mata Ortiz was published.

I have not yet see a book  released in August, 2008, Mata Ortiz Pottery: Art and Life, by Ron Goebel , but it sounds good. More personal stories about the potters.

Photograph above by Cliff Kemper from Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Have you been to Mata Ortiz?  How is the flu epidemic affecting your travel plans? Please talk back in the comment section below.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

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Filed under Books, Destinations, Mexico, Uncategorized