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
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.