Wednesday, 15 October 2014

some books

From my favourite bookshop, betterworldbooks, we have a cache of wonderful books regarding Mexico.

Some are conventionally but helpful travel guides, against which I usually rebel. So much primary source travel information now on the web.

But here are some which are proving really interesting.

D.H Lawrence [Mornings in Mexico 1927] begins (I think in a village outside Oaxaca, which he refers to as Huayapa):

One says Mexico: one means, after all, one little town away South in the Republic, and in this little town, one rather crumbly adobe house built round two sides of a garden patio; and of this house, one spot on a deep, shady veranda facing inwards to the trees, where there are an onyx table and three rocking-chairs and one little wooden chair, a pot with carnations and a pen. We talk so grandly of Mornings in Mexico. All it amounts to is one little individual looking at a bit of sky and trees, then looking down at the page of his exercise book.
Which I should surely paste up as the guiding principle, the cut-me-down reminder to avoid folie de grandeur in this blog.

I last read Mornings in Mexico many decades ago in the blind dark of pre-internet, how different it is to read now with a ready view of Oaxaca and more via the web....albeit some differences since 1927!

I'm steering you to your own reading, I wish really with reading to be able to offer reflections with some basic internalised understanding of things, not to claim expertise.

And I confess that before getting into those heavier items, I have just been back to read Len Deighton's 1980s spy trilogy, or first three books of a nonology, Game, Set, Match. Being originally three little books, Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match. Deighton is a writer disparaged by the literati but an accomplished writer nonetheless, with a capacity to yank you through a story of huge depth of detail, innumerable twists and plausible characters. The middle volume, Mexico Set, is indeed part set in Mexico. It's a Mexico City before the air was cleaned up and where in the humid depths of summer air conditioners are said to be called politicians: they make a lot of noise but don't do anything. I have always used Deighton when needing to step back from being stuck in complex writing; to pick up speed reading something entirely absorbing, intelligent and fast.

In a particularly morose passage, our hero, possessed of whisky and cigarettes as only older English thrillers and French films can be, engages in desultory discussion of a difficult task of recruiting the KGB man, while in the window from below come lines from the mariachi band and singer, interspersed over several pages of the book:
Life is worth nothing, life is worth nothing,
It always starts with crying and with crying ends.
And that's why, in this world, life is worth nothing...
...Only the winner is respected.
That's why life is worth nothing in Guanajuato...
So to Guanajuato we go... Dolores Byrnes is an anthropologist and her Driving the State: Families and Public Policy in Central Mexico is set in Guanajuato, working together with other women in a program related to migration and the maquilas where goods are assembled in favourable tax environment for export. Insight into life.

The Mexico Reader is as big as the Deighton book at 800 pages, an extraordinary anthology sweeping through life in Mexico over centuries. Only just put a toe in so far.

Mexico: A Traveller's Literary Companion is a collection of translations of work by contemporary Mexican writers and a book small enough to be perhaps portable while travelling.

Peterson and Chalif's A Field Guide to Mexican Birds is an astonishingly beautiful book by the Audubon Society, with the preface telling a story of the work on it taking from WW2 to the 1970s. And at the same time it seems a mark of cultural imperialism in the Western Hemisphere that while thanking so many people in the preface, there is no mention of any person or institution consulted or relied upon south of the border.

How to Eat Out in Mexico is a tiny gem, scarcely bigger than smart phones used to be, a fabulous guide to what the foods are on a menu, some recipes, some language help too. Absolutely pocket sized.

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