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


Filed under Books, Mexico

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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Places to Go for Info on Books and Publishing

A Traveler’s Library, is after all about Travel AND Books, so some of the sites listed on my blogroll have to do with books–books about everything–not just travel. For those interested in books and the publishing business, here are three sites.

ABE (American Book Exchange) stocks all those out-of-print, used, and collector’s editions books that are hard to find elsewhere. So this is a fun place to browse. However, they also have one of the pithiest and most entertaining blogs I have seen anywhere. Most expensive books, most surprising, updates on book awards– it is all here.

Bookstores tells you where you can find bookstores abroad to feed your reading habit while you are traveling. This is a recent addition to my blogroll, after I landed on it while exploring another blog. A wonderful recent post talks about leading book fairs in Europe. I’m a little afraid of visiting a place that offers 7000 publishers in one place, as Frankfurt does. I might have a total reading addict meltdown.

Writers and Editors Pat McNees provides a home on the Internet where writers and editors can connect. This site has links to anything you can think of that has to do with books and publishing.

Where do YOU like to get news about book publishing?  Please share your information in the comments section. We’re listening.

And if you are looking for more good stuff to read at A Traveler’s Library, here’s a good place to start: 10 Posts from First 100.

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A Book About Surviving in New Orleans

The people of New Orleans

The people of New Orleans

Destination: New Orleans, LA, United States

Book: Nine Lives, Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum

Just in case you think this book has something to do with how a tourist survives a Sazerac hangover, forget it. The latest addition to my traveler’s library tells about the lives of real people who survived Hurricane Katrina.

A New Orleans friend mused, “I wonder how this book has gotten so much attention with all the hurricane books that have been written?”  But perhaps he answered the question himself, when he said, “I didn’t want it to end.”

Dan Baum makes the readers of Nine Lives voyeurs who learn details of more than ‘life in New Orleans.’  We watch every move of nine people–through things they are proud of and things they are not so proud of.  It is true life to the extent that memory is true and to the extent that anyone who has lived in New Orleans all his or her life can tell a story without a bit of embellishment. Because we become voyeurs, we want more details of each life.

However, being a stranger to  New Orleans myself, I had had quite enough of some of these people by the time the book ended. Some were not the kind of people I wanted to hang around with for long periods of time. And yet one character who spent most of his life in prison and the rest getting in trouble, delivered some of the most memorable observations.

Which is not to say I did not enjoy the book. And, oh my, how much I learned. Continue reading

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Filed under Biography, Books, New Orleans

New Orleans Literary Landmark Hotel Monteleone

Royal Street Stroll in front of Hotel Monteleone

Royal Street Stroll in front of Hotel Monteleone

Destination: New Orleans

Authors: Galore

Did you know that the United States organization Friends of Libraries U. S. A., designates Literary Landmarks? So when you travel in the U. S., you can check their site, visit the haunts of writers past and present, and in a few cases, stay at the same hotels. Checking state by state on the Friends of Libraries Site, you can also get some ideas of literature that came from the state you are visiting.

I just returned from New Orleans, where I stayed at my favorite hotel, Hotel Monteleone, conveniently on the edge of the French Quarter, and walking distance to everything (just ask my aching feet). But best of all, when I walked through that glorious lobby with the towering Grandfather Clock, I was walking in the footsteps of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty and other outstanding authors.

You can even stay in a suite named for one of those three authors–although that does not mean they stayed there–it just means that the suite is decorated in a style that presumably would suit the writer. A few books by Truman or Eudora or Tennessee lie on tables for your reading pleasure.

Truman Capote loved the hotel and returned frequently. Once when he was being interviewed on the late night talk show of Johnny Carson, Capote claimed that he was born in the Monteleone. In fact, his mother and father were staying there when she went into labor and was transferred to a nearby hospital. But it made a good story to say he was born in his favorite hotel. And Capote was made of stories. Continue reading

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Music for the Traveler to Ireland

Cathie Ryan, Irish singer

Cathie Ryan, Irish singer

Destination: Ireland

Music: The Farthest Wave (Cathie Ryan)

Here is the second post by Kerry Dexter of Music Road. This time she talks about a recording that introduces you to Ireland.

Music for Ireland

Contemporary Ireland is a country of connection and intersection. History, myth, and legend live as part of to the present in both landscape and people. It’s also a completely twenty first century country, whose people laugh and grieve, enjoy family and face uncertainty, as their ancestors have and as people in the rest of the world do.

Singer and songwriter Cathie Ryan walks those intersections  in her recording The Farthest Wave.[Note: you can listen or buy from Amazon by following the link] There’s Dance the Baby, a lively set of slip jigs in Irish which Ryan’s grandfather used to sing while playing with Ryan and her brother and sister when they were small, and there’s Peata Beag do Mhathar, a loving and lively song between mother and child.

Cathie Ryan

Cathie Ryan

Ryan’s own What’s Closest to the Heart is a swirling, sensuous dance of  quite another sort, an enigmatic invitation and reassurance framed in both Irish and English. Rough and Rocky is an American song which remains, in Ryan’s hands, both American and Irish in its reflection on  choices, journeys, and leaving loved ones behind

The Wild Flowers is a powerful and graceful song “for anyone who’s ever felt cast out of the garden,” Ryan says. It was written by contemporary Irish musician, John Spillane, and while his version is full of grit and hard knocks, Ryan sees that same determination as a flame of resilience and hope.

What Will You Do Love? a duet between Ryan and top Irish singer Sean Keane, is a traditional ballad of tests and persistence in love, framed in two voices whose connection is a thoughtful conversation.

The title track, The Farthest Wave, is a journey from grief to understanding to  the possibility of healing, framed in images of the natural world and touched by legend. It is also one Ryan wrote.

Ryan is a singer whose power and grace lies in restraint,  and a deep understanding of the words she sings, whether her own or others, whether in English or Irish. She’s been praised for her voice, and deservedly so. She’s also a writer and poet of vision, whose work is both contemporary and timeless.


A Traveler’s Library wholeheartedly thanks Kerry Dexter for these two music posts–taking us to Scotland and Ireland in song. For more, see Kerry’s interview with Cathie Ryan at Music Road.

I hope you have enjoyed the two posts by Kerry Dexter about music for the traveler.  If you would like to have more posts about music and travel, please let me know in the comments section.  I always appreciate suggestions of books, movies, and music and people who might share their expertise here. See you around the Web, Kerry. VMB


Filed under Ireland, Music