Dec 102016
 

This review, by Dale Palfrey, of “Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique” appeared in the 24 November 2016 edition of the Guadalajara Reporter:

New tome uncovers obscure details about amazing Mexico

“Mexican Kaleidoscope,” the latest book by Tony Burton, takes readers on a delightful romp through Mexican history and culture, spanning 10,000 years from the Pre-Hispanic era to modern times.

“Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique”

Where to buy this book

The author explains the genesis of the book in the first line of his preface: “My quest to find evidence of the past in Mexico’s present led me to some surprising discoveries.” It’s an observation that reflects his unquenchable thirst for “little-known facts, incidents or individuals plucked from the vaults of Mexican heritage.”

Indeed, over 165 pages broken up into 30 brief chapters, Burton reveals astonishing details about the people and events woven into the rich and colorful tapestry that is Mexico. All the better due to his knack for turning dry facts into to fluid prose. It’s the kind of book you can easily read straight through or jump from one vignette to another according to the appeal of the diverse topics.

The first three thematic sections are related to the centuries prior to the Spanish Conquest, proceeding chronologically through the era of New Spain’s settlement and the consolidation of independent Mexico.

Here he explores the foundations of Mexican farming and cuisine, the scientific genius of ancient astronomers and secrets unraveled through archaeological research. Further on he introduces the cradle of the Mexico’s wineries, the population’s African roots, great exploratory adventures by land and sea, and the ups and downs of the railway industry and military ventures.

Subsequent sections delve into people and society, and culture and popular beliefs, offering fascinating insights on the insular Huichol and Tarahumara tribes, true tales of eccentric characters who have left their stamp on the country, and the superstitions and common wisdom that make the people tick.

The text is complemented with handsome black-and-white illustrations designed for each chapter by lakeside artist Enrique Velázquez. The final pages are dedicated to a comprehensive bibliography and complete index to the contents.

The good news for lakesiders interested in acquiring “Mexican Kaleidoscope” is that Burton will launch sales at a public presentation and book-signing reception scheduled for Friday, December 2, 5 p.m., at the Centro Cultural de Ajijic. The books will be sold at discount price compared to the Mexican retail price of 300 pesos (US$19.99). Guests will also be able to view an exhibit of art works by Velázquez while enjoying wine and light refreshments.

About the author

Born in the United Kingdom in 1953, Tony Burton is a geographer who taught, lectured and guided specialist cultural and ecological trips in Mexico for 18 years. He and his wife Gwen currently reside on Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada and frequently travel back to Mexico.

His previous book titles include “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” (2014), now in its fourth edition, and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales” (2008). He is the co-author, with Dr. Richard Rhoda, of the landmark volume “Geo-Mexico, the Geography and Dynamics of Modern Mexico” (2010).

He has also written extensively on Mexico’s history, economics, tourism and geography, with bylines appearing in numerous magazines, journals and online publications in Mexico, Canada, the United States, Ireland and elsewhere. Look for his growing compilation of profiles on writers and artists tied to the Lake Chapala area at sombrerobooks.com and frequent contributions to the geo-mexico.com website.

Mar 162015
 

Never content to rest on their laurels, John and Susy Pint have published a second volume of Outdoors in Western Mexico. This volume is bilingual; the Spanish title is Al aire libre en las cercanías de Guadalajara, 2.

Outdoors in Western Mexico, Volume 2, continues where the first volume, Outdoors in Western Mexico (2011) left off. It offers short, accurate descriptions of 25 varied new sites in the environs of Lake Chapala and Guadalajara that are suitable for day hikes. Each chapter appears first in Spanish and then in English. (For beginning and intermediate Spanish-speakers, this book would be a great way to improve your language skills!)

The book is beautifully designed, enhanced by a small section of excellently-reproduced color photos. Small line drawings and maps help break up the 240-page text and no design details have been overlooked. A final section has clear drawings of animal tracks, compiled by biologist Karina Aguilar, that will help you know what to look for.

All locations and hikes have clear instructions as to how to get there, and where to go, including ample GPS coordinates. All hikes are also on the online Wikiloc Routes system: GuadHikes.

The book costs 200 Mexican pesos. Contact the authors for details of where to buy or how to order one by mail. The review copy was posted from Guadalajara and took about a week to reach Canada. It arrived in perfect condition.

The sites and hikes described in this book include:

Chapter 24 presents UMA Agua Blanca, featuring bird watching, hiking, camping and a beautifully preserved circular pyramid (Guachimontón), two thousand years old.

Related posts:

Oct 062014
 

Where’s Annie? (Random House, 1963) is a novel entirely set in Ajijic, and based, at least in part, on characters and events witnessed by author Eileen Bassing during her residence in Ajijic, with two sons and husband Bob, from 1950 to 1954. In many ways, Where’s Annie? is timeless, touching on so many themes that have recurred and continue to recur in the lives of Ajijic residents.

bassing-where-s-annieThe book opens with a description of the tensions created between a retired American naval officer and his much younger wife, the “Annie” of the title. All the main characters are expatriates from the United States. The cast of characters includes a middle-aged female novelist (Victoria Beacon) who has moved to Mexico in search of inspiration for her next novel; a cold, success-hungry young painter; a Negro guy hoping for self-fulfillment before his impending death from a brain tumor; and a group of young men addicted to jazz and drugs. As a contemporary review so aptly describes the Ajijic expatriate community “… most of them think of themselves as artists, and about half of them are.”

Where’s Annie? looks at some of the underlying tensions between local villagers and foreign incomers in Ajijic. Some expatriate residents choose to ignore such tensions and deny their existence, but this book proves that some things really have not changed much in the past fifty years!

The differences between the villagers and foreign settlers are bridged not only by maids and gardeners but also by the local medic, Dr. Obregón, who has to provide medical advice and comfort to both sides. The doctor, however, is torn between his love for his wife and his infatuation with Victoria Beacon.

There is an exciting array of characters and, as one reviewer put it, Eileen Bassing “writes with sympathy and insight–and without sentimentality or facile sensationalism.” The atmosphere is a heady mix of drink, drugs and intrigue, laced with jazz and attempts at literature, with all the forerunners of an A-set developing among the American residents.

Any hope of equilibrium is disturbed by a powerful rich newcomer who buys up properties, evicts some impoverished renters from their homes, and reports people to the authorities, hoping to get them deported. Money lending and shady real estate deals, such as those involving the use of borrowed names “prestanombres”, complete the picture. Betrayal, mayhem and even murder–nothing is too much for this motley crew of foreigners trying to escape from past memories and deeds.  As a reviewer in Harper’s put it, Victoria Beacon eventually becomes aware of “how deeply she has been drawn into their sordid maelstrom and how destructive their whole way of life is.”

Some of the book’s characters can readily be identified as based on real people living in Ajijic at the time. For example, the woman novelist Victoria Beacon was based on Leonora Baccante, a fiction writer, and the rather unflattering portraits of Willie Chester and his wife Sam in the book are based on Willard Marsh, author of Week with No Friday (published in 1965) and his actress-turned playwright wife George. Marsh retaliated against the Bassings in his own novel by describing the wife of a minor character, Beau Blissing, as “a lady novelist with a lousy memory”.

Despite various newspaper reports that Where’s Annie was to be turned into a movie, that never happened. For instance, the 11 February 1963 edition of Daily Notes, published in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, noted that “Robert Bassing will both write and produce the screen version of Eileen Bassing’s Book of the Month Club novel, “Where’s Annie?”. Eileen is Robert’s wife. This will be Bassing’s first effort as a producer and he has formed Robert Bassing Productions for the film, which will be shot in Technicolor on location near Guadalajara.”

The following month, it was reported that “Bob Bassing is after Anne Bancroft to star in “Where’s Annie?” after she finishes “Mother Courage and Her Children” on Broadway…” (Pasadena Independent, 9 April 1963). Perhaps financing proved to be the stumbling block? Whatever transpired, the movie was never made.

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Nov 022013
 

Sombrero Books is delighted to announce that Tony Burton’s Lake Chapala Through The Ages, an anthology of travellers’ tales has been chosen as one of the 15 best books about Mexican history. The list – Recommended Mexico reading: 15 of the best – was compiled by Ellaine Halleck for the Guadalajara Reporter newspaper. The newspaper’s website offers a free 24-hour registration, giving you plenty of time to read the full article.

lake chapala thru the ages-front-cover-376x600Lake Chapala Through The Ages is summarized as covering “the Lake Chapala area from the arrival of conquistadors in the early 1500s to the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910”, “based on letters and articles from past centuries”. It reveals that “Lake Chapala has not always been the magnet for expatriates that it is today.”

Buy your copy of Lake Chapala Through The Ages today, in plenty of time for the holiday season!

– Link to review by James Tipton (MexConnect)

– Link to review by Thomas Hally (El Ojo del Lago)

Chapter titles of “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales“:

WMATT-CONTENTS

Nov 052011
 

A Review by James Tipton:

Lake Chapala through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales

Edited with Historical Notes by Tony Burton

Sombrero Books, B.C., Canada. 215 pages  $24.95 (Canadian)

Tony Burton’s passion is Mexico, and particularly Western Mexico. Most readers of Mexico Connect find his many articles on Mexico to be both fascinating and useful, articles with titles like “Guayabitos — the Family Vacation Spot,” or the four-part series, “Can Mexico’s Largest Lake Be Saved,” or “Butterflies by the Million: The Monarchs of Michocán.” Burton currently puts together “Did You Know? Facts About Mexico,” a monthly Mexconnect feature, offering answers to such questions as: “Did you know blacks outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico until after 1810?” or “Did you know the oldest winery in the Americas is in Parras de la Fuente” or “Did you know the birth control pill came from Mexican yams?” [Note: all of these articles are accessible in the e-zine archives.]

This man has a knack for searching out and then writing well about interesting places, people and events. Because I like to read what Tony Burton writes, Lake Chapala through the ages is one of those books I would buy sight unseen.

Many readers own his book Western Mexico—A Traveller’s Treasury (now in its third edition in English with a new edition well under way), which has taken us to off-the-beaten-path destinations. A geographer, Burton has also created the definitive street maps of the Lake Chapala area, maps that have been copied by others but which are original with Burton: Lake Chapala Maps — 2008. Obviously Burton is no stranger to our shores here at Lake Chapala.

Lake Chapala through the ages is “a collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.” In the Introduction, Burton tells us his book “includes extracts from every published book that could be located which makes more than a passing mention of Lake Chapala, and which was written (originally) prior to 1910. Most are first hand accounts.”

Burton selected 1910 as the cut-off because “that marks the end of Chapala’s first tourist boom.” “Later that year the Mexican Revolution erupted. Mexico, including the Lake Chapala region, was thrown into chaos for more than a decade.”

Lake Chapala through the ages presents, then, historical accounts, beginning in 1530 when the first conquistador wrote about seeing the lake — and also the town: ”The scout, going over the mountains found himself in a village called Chapala and in other places whose names were not known at that time….” Lake Chapala through the ages ends with a piece about “Holy week and the elite of Mexican society 1909-1910,” in which we discover:

“Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Díaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

In addition to the excerpts, Burton himself provides many historical notes. We learn that Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital in August of 1521, but only two years later, in 1523, two “well-placed brothers, cousins of Hernán Cortés,” were given the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from Indians)” for a vast area that included the shores of Lake Chapala. The Spanish subjugation of the Indians in this area was “a relatively peaceful process, which enabled many indigenous customs to survive largely unchanged into much more recent times.”

Most of the early accounts were written by Franciscan friars. The Franciscans “saw the New World as an opportunity, not only to convert the pagan masses of native Indians to Christianity, but also to put their idealistic ideas of utopia society into practice, and demonstrate that natives and Europeans could live in peaceful and productive co-existence.”

Some of the excerpts are about those early relationships with the Indians: “Converting the barbarians” (mid-16th century),” but others are about geographical details — “Gathering geographic knowledge” (1579-1585) or “Lake Chapala… as large as an ocean?” (1600c). Still others are about a new paradise, filled with abundance, and with fascinating new fruits and vegetables: “Some roots that are called xicamas grow there, shaped like, and almost the same color as, round turnips, without any roots hairs, so thick that each one weighs at least thee pounds…. It is a very delicious fresh fruit, marvelous medicine for thirst, especially in hot weather and in hot lands.” (from “Visits to the Lake Chapala friaries” 1585-1586).

We discover, through Burton’s notes, that Domingo Lázaro de Arregui (Fishing and farming” 1621) made the earliest known historical reference to the making and consumption of tequila: roasting the roots and bases of agave plants then “by pressing these parts, thus roasted, they extract a must from which they distill a wine clearer than water and stronger than rum.”

In earlier censuses taken by the Spaniards (“Early censuses 1768 and 1791-1793”) we discover that Chapala had 123 Spaniards, 451 Indians, 37 mulattos and 671 castes, figures that were particularly interesting to me because the castes (those of more mixed parentage than mestizos or mulattos) now significantly outnumber the Spaniards and Indians combined.

Throughout Lake Chapala through the ages, Burton selects highly varied material that does not bore us with the weight of history and ponderous prose but instead actually delights us and even makes us long for more. Many passages are actually charming, and the historical notes provided by Burton are themselves illuminating and pleasurable.

In his notes to “Mezcala Island — scene of rebellion” (1824), Burton tells us the Italian author, Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, was an “incurable romantic and inveterate roamer,” who among other accomplishments discovered the northern source of the Mississippi River. Beltrami describes his visit to Mezcala Island, which by 1824 was being used as a penitentiary, where the convicts, Beltrami notes, “are less harshly treated than in the penitentiaries of our World [Europe], the dictator of civilization.” Shortly after he visits “Oxotopec, ten milles from Axixis,” Beltrami, with his youthful eye, records that it is “the largest village of all those around the lake,” but that “it has nothing worth noting except for the pretty niece of the curate….”

Even as we move toward more recent times, when there are attempts to accurately determine the dimensions of Lake Chapala, we still high imaginative descriptions of Lake Chapala. Felix Leopold Oswald in “A fanciful sketch of Lake Chapala” (1867-1877) announces Lake Chapala is “ten times as large as all the lakes of Northern Italy taken together, and four times larger than the entire canton of Geneva, — contains different islands whose surface area exceeds that of the Isle of Wight, and one island with two secondary lakes as big as Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine!” [The Isle of Wight, incidentally, is 23 x 13 miles, almost as large as Lake Chapala. Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest lake, is 24 x 5 miles.]

By the early 1900s, tourism comes into sharper focus. One early and popular traveller’s guide, Lake Chapala, a travellers’ handbook (1909) by Thomas Philip Terry lists rooms available in Chapala, e.g. Hotel Arzopala, “facing the lake,” at $2.50 to $5 American Plan. In his note to this excerpt, Burton tells us that D. H. Lawrence, because of this handbook, was convinced to visit the lake; and of course Lawrence ultimately moved to Chapala in the mid-twenties and this is where he wrote The Plumed Serpent.

Those of us who live here, full time or part time, or who simply visit here have been relieved that the lirio, the noxious water hyacinth, seems at least for the time being to be well under control. I, like others, thought that the lirio problem originated only a few decades ago, but Burton tells us that it was introduced around the turn of the last century, and that by 1907, articles were being published about “the invasion of the terrible aquatic lirio,” which in some places “has completely blocked some docks, and in others it has appeared in such large masses that the Indians have been forced to suppress their trips, damaging trade, scared that they will be caught up in the wave of green.”

And so, there is something for everybody in Tony Burton’s, Lake Chapala through the ages. Whether you are fascinated by the early history of the place where you now live or visit (or would like to visit), or whether you interested in early accounts of the natural history of the region, or of the lake itself, or whether you are fascinated by those votive objects found on the bottom of the lake, or whether you simply want to connect yourself more deeply to the place you now call home (or that is “home” in your imagination), this book is for you.

I think Lake Chapala through the ages is terrific. Buy it!

Nov 012011
 

LAKE CHAPALA THROUGH THE AGES —An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales
By Tony Burton. 200 pages. Reviewed by Thomas Hally (El Ojo del Lago, April 2009)

Tony Burton, an award-winning travel writer and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, takes us with him on a spectacular journey on and around Lake Chapala.

The tales begin immediately after the Spanish Conquistadors had begun to take possession of the land referred to as New Spain, and end at the first ten-year mark of the 20th century, the final phase of the first Lakeside tourist boom and the onset of the Mexican Revolution.

Burton’s work is divided into five parts, with each part covering significant scenes, events and characters in the history of Lake Chapala during colonial and independent Mexico. The author advises us to remember his character analyses of each of the narrators of the 55 tales while reading through the sketches. The extracts are taken from every known published work that mentions Lake Chapala.

The narrators provide a vivid description of Lakeside, giving leading roles to the Indians, the Spanish rulers and priests, the scientists, the geographers and the eccentrics, who either came to the region or were born here. Special attention is given to the conditions at Lake Chapala itself: the various hot springs, the size of the lake, the flora and the abundant fish and avian population. Whitefish is frequently recommended as a delectable and healthy food and with corn, chile and frijoles, was a mainstay in the diet of the villagers.

Hernán Cortés made an appearance at Lake Chapala shortly after the Spanish arrived in the New World and appointed his nephews to oversee the region. The first Franciscan missionaries arrived on the north shore and Ajijic had built its friary by 1531. Jocotepec was the first village to be settled in 1529, and by 1548 Chapala also had a Franciscan mission.

The Franciscans were genuinely utopian in their outlook, caring not only for the souls of the newly conquered and converted Chapala Indians, but they also attended to their physical needs. They introduced crops and agricultural techniques as well as domestic animals into the region, and strived to put Indian and Spaniard on a relatively equal social status.

But the Spanish masters were harsh indeed, paying little attention to the friars and, in the first 100 years after the Conquest, the indigenous population was drastically reduced, with the number of Amerindians in New Spain dropping from a reputed 4 million or possibly as high as 30 million souls to a scant 1.6 million survivors. The Spanish rulers were constantly asserting their power, and the natives were the perennial victims of European diseases and brutality.

Tony Burton devotes several short chapters to the Island of Mezcala in Lake Chapala where a famous insurgency took place between the years 1812 and 1816. The uprising was led by a Creole priest, Marcos Castellanos, a curate from the parish in Ajijic.

Castellanos led a band of Indians as they fought the Royalists.  He was involved in combat until he was 75. In 1816, an honorable surrender was agreed upon and no reprisals were meted out to the Indians or to Castellanos. This marks one of the few times that the masters of the New World south of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande) actually kept a promise to the indigenous inhabitants.

Burton emphasizes the importance of Mezcala Island and the insurgents, and states that the historical events surrounding the history of the island should be a focal point of the Mexican Bi-Centennial Independence Celebration in 2010.

There is a chronicle written by George Francis Lyon, an author and adventurer who accompanied Captain William E. Parry on his quest to find the Northwest Passage. He was the first native English speaker to write about the lake, shortly after Mexican Independence; Joel Poinsett is briefly referred to. How many of us knew that the poinsettia plant popular during the Holiday Season is named after this horticulturalist and first United States Minister to Mexico?  In Spanish, it is called flor de noche buena.

Mary Blair Rice, who later changed her name to Blair Niles, first visited Mexico with her husband, Charles William Beebe, in the winter of 1903-1904 to take notes on the various species of birds they observed. Blair Niles would later have a distinguished career as a writer and novelist as well as being one of the principle founders of the Society of Women Geographers. The lady novelist/geographer left a legacy of books with variegated and controversial themes such as homosexuality and condemned prisoners. She had a noteworthy impact on 20th century feminism.

The narrators relate tales of nature, geography, lake and irrigation projects, rulers, visitors, villagers and even a brief mention of love forlorn. The intelligence and industriousness and, in some cases, the laziness and slowness of the Chapalan Indians is on the book’s agenda as well. Told is the short biography of the man who originally proposed draining a sizeable portion of the east end of Lake Chapala to help with the year-round agriculture: Ignacio Castellanos.

The local villagers saw through Castellanos’ plan and rejected it as self serving and pernicious. Castellanos, one of the wealthiest landowners in Ocotlán, wanted lifetime royalties paid to him if he were to finance the project.
The first English-language guide book, Appelton’s Guide to Mexico, published in 1886, advised tourists “to carry soap and matches.” Anecdotes throughout the pages of Tony Burton’s anthology tell stories such as those of José Francisco Velarde, El Burro de Oro, or “The Golden Ass,” and oddball Septimus Crowe. Velarde was a fabulously wealthy and equally foolish supporter of the Emperor Maximilian and the French Intervention in Mexico. He supposedly owned territory as large as a small state, a personal army, a harem and curious works of art purchased from around the globe.

His demise came in 1867, shortly after the execution of Maximilian in Queretaro, when Velarde was captured in Zamora and put to death by a firing squad. The order to eliminate Velarde was carried out, even though he had offered the government soldiers one million dollars if they would miss.

By 1888 the age of steamboats like Libertad was coming to an end on Lake Chapala and the era of the railways was fast approaching. Abandoned was Filipino-Mexican Longinus Banda’s plan to use steam boats to help train mariners, thus eventually providing Mexico with a national navy. Ernst von Hesse Wartegg, an Austrian-born naturalist and geographer, gave 100% of the credit to “Americanization” and the railroads for opening Mexico to tourism. Interestingly, in his narration, he also claimed to have sighted small alligators in Lake Chapala.

Mexico? Si señor! is a book written by Thomas L. Rogers for the ultimate benefit of the Central Railway system. Described as “upbeat and positive,” it provides American and European tourists with the reassurance that knowledge of Spanish is not essential but “…a little knowledge of Spanish is a very valuable thing in Mexico…,” and notes that prices are low south of the boarder.

Dream of a Throne, written by 26-year old Charles Embree, an American, was the first novel written in any language that was set in its entirety at Lakeside. And many of us are familiar with Callejón Mister Crow, a short street in Chapala named after a wealthy eccentric named Septimus Crowe.

As Chapala’s fame as a resort town grew, so did the power of Mexico’s dictator President, General Porfirio Díaz. President of Mexico from 1876 to 1880 and again from 1884 to 1911, he spent Easter Week 1904 in Chapala with in-laws, and would henceforth return yearly during the end of the Lenten Season to Chapala. El Porfiriato, as his long term in office is called, was ending when the Mexican Revolution started in 1910. He had balanced the national budget, done wonders for Mexico’s agricultural production and respected individual liberties; yet he was, nevertheless, a dictator.  Prone to nepotism, favoritism and the rigging of elections, he had corrupt advisors known as los científicos, but who were, in fact, lawyers and not scientists.  These scoundrels grew more and more powerful and wealthy as El Porfiriato dragged on. Porfirio Díaz and his family abandoned Mexico for Paris in 1911. The end of El Porfiriato coincided with the close of Chapala´s first tourist boom. Tourism was revived after the Revolution.

Tony Burton’s magnificent anthology gives the reader a brief but thorough look at Lake Chapala between the years 1530 to 1910. Nowhere will the lover of the delightful region we casually call “Lakeside” get such a colorful and detailed account of what the lake, the land and its people were like.

Feb 042010
 

Cover of The Tarahumar of MexicoThe Tarahumar of Mexico, Their Environment and Material Culture contains a wealth of valuable information about one of Mexico’s most distinctive indigenous groups.

Published by Editorial Agata, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, 1996. Soft Cover. Book Condition: New but appears lightly used with minor shelfwear rubbing. Only a few copies remain; this publisher is no longer in business.

This book has 33 b/w photographs, 12 full-color photographs (found only in this edition), and 4 fold out maps in the back pocket (Two maps show the historical boundaries of the Tarahumar country; one map shows mean annual precipitation, and the fourth map shows physiographic regions; all maps are 1:500,000 scale).

Dimensions (in inches): 8.6 x 5.75 x 0.6.  Price: US $20.00 [plus shipping; contact us for options]

Details:

The Tarahumar (more commonly, but less correctly, the Tarahumara) live in the Copper Canyon region of Northern Mexico. In many ways, their way of life has remained unchanged for centuries. This area has spectacular scenery, and numerous massive canyons. The main canyon – the Urique Canyon – is longer,  deeper and narrower than the US Grand Canyon, so ‘spectacular’ is definitely the right word! The famous Copper Canyon railway, linking Los Mochis and El Fuerte to Divisadero and Creel. passes right through this area.

One subgroup of Tarahumar Indians moves with the seasons from caves near the canyon rim in summer to camps near the canyon floor (at lower altitude where the weather is warmer) during the winter.

The Tarahumar are the subject of several anthropological classics, and this is definitely one of them. This study integrated available archeological data and historical material with extensive field work among the Tarahumar in 1955. The book includes a discussion of agriculture; gardening; tree culture; food preparation; hunting; gathering and fishing; animal husbandry; beverages; ceremonies; games; drug plants; leather, fibers, textiles and personal adornment; and household articles and habitations.

Related post:

Feb 032010
 

This review, by poet James Tipton, first appeared in MexConnect online mazazine.

Lake Chapala Through the AgesTony Burton’s passion is Mexico, and particularly Western Mexico. Most readers of MexConnect find his many articles on Mexico to be both fascinating and useful, articles with titles like “Guayabitos – the Family Vacation Spot,” or the four-part series, “Can Mexico’s Largest Lake Be Saved,” or “Butterflies by the Million: The Monarchs of Michoacán.” Burton currently puts together “Did You Know? Facts About Mexico,” a monthly MexConnect feature, offering answers to such questions as: “Did you know blacks outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico until after 1810?” or “Did you know the oldest winery in the Americas is in Parras de la Fuente” or “Did you know the birth control pill came from Mexican yams?” [Note: all of these articles are accessible in the Did you know archives.]

This man has a knack for searching out and then writing well about interesting places, people and events. Because I like to read what Tony Burton writes, Lake Chapala through the ages is one of those books I would buy sight unseen.

Many readers own his book Western Mexico-A Traveller’s Treasury (now in its third edition in English with a new edition well under way), which has taken us to off-the-beaten-path destinations. A geographer, Burton has also created the definitive street maps of the Lake Chapala area, maps that have been copied by others but which are original with Burton: Lake Chapala Maps – 2008. Obviously Burton is no stranger to our shores here at Lake Chapala.

Lake Chapala through the Ages is “a collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.” In the Introduction, Burton tells us his book “includes extracts from every published book that could be located which makes more than a passing mention of Lake Chapala, and which was written (originally) prior to 1910. Most are first hand accounts.”

Burton selected 1910 as the cut-off because “that marks the end of Chapala’s first tourist boom.” “Later that year the Mexican Revolution erupted. Mexico, including the Lake Chapala region, was thrown into chaos for more than a decade.”

Lake Chapala through the Ages presents, then, historical accounts, beginning in 1530 when the first conquistador wrote about seeing the lake – and also the town: “The scout, going over the mountains found himself in a village called Chapala and in other places whose names were not known at that time….” Lake Chapala through the ages ends with a piece about “Holy week and the elite of Mexican society 1909-1910,” in which we discover:

“Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Díaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

In addition to the excerpts, Burton himself provides many historical notes. We learn that Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital in August of 1521, but only two years later, in 1523, two “well-placed brothers, cousins of Hernán Cortés,” were given the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from Indians)” for a vast area that included the shores of Lake Chapala. The Spanish subjugation of the Indians in this area was “a relatively peaceful process, which enabled many indigenous customs to survive largely unchanged into much more recent times.”

Most of the early accounts were written by Franciscan friars. The Franciscans “saw the New World as an opportunity, not only to convert the pagan masses of native Indians to Christianity, but also to put their idealistic ideas of utopian society into practice, and demonstrate that natives and Europeans could live in peaceful and productive co-existence.”

Some of the excerpts are about those early relationships with the Indians: “Converting the barbarians” (mid-16th century),” but others are about geographical details – “Gathering geographic knowledge” (1579-1585) or “Lake Chapala… as large as an ocean?” (1600c). Still others are about a new paradise, filled with abundance, and with fascinating new fruits and vegetables: “Some roots that are called xicamas grow there, shaped like, and almost the same color as, round turnips, without any root hairs, so thick that each one weighs at least thee pounds…. It is a very delicious fresh fruit, marvelous medicine for thirst, especially in hot weather and in hot lands.” (from “Visits to the Lake Chapala friaries” 1585-1586).

We discover, through Burton’s notes, that Domingo Lázaro de Arregui (Fishing and farming” 1621) made the earliest known historical reference to the making and consumption of tequila: roasting the roots and bases of agave plants then “by pressing these parts, thus roasted, they extract a must from which they distill a wine clearer than water and stronger than rum.”

In earlier censuses taken by the Spaniards (“Early censuses 1768 and 1791-1793”) we discover that Chapala had 123 Spaniards, 451 Indians, 37 mulattos and 671 castes, figures that were particularly interesting to me because the castes (those of more mixed parentage than mestizos or mulattos) now significantly outnumber the Spaniards and Indians combined.

Throughout Lake Chapala through the Ages, Burton selects highly varied material that does not bore us with the weight of history and ponderous prose but instead actually delights us and even makes us long for more. Many passages are actually charming, and the historical notes provided by Burton are themselves illuminating and pleasurable.

In his notes to “Mezcala Island – scene of rebellion” (1824), Burton tells us the Italian author, Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, was an “incurable romantic and inveterate roamer,” who among other accomplishments discovered the northern source of the Mississippi River. Beltrami describes his visit to Mezcala Island, which by 1824 was being used as a penitentiary, where the convicts, Beltrami notes, “are less harshly treated than in the penitentiaries of our World [Europe], the dictator of civilization.” Shortly after he visits “Oxotopec, ten milles from Axixis,” Beltrami, with his youthful eye, records that it is “the largest village of all those around the lake,” but that “it has nothing worth noting except for the pretty niece of the curate….”

Even as we move toward more recent times, when there are attempts to accurately determine the dimensions of Lake Chapala, we still find high imaginative descriptions of Lake Chapala. Felix Leopold Oswald in “A fanciful sketch of Lake Chapala” (1867-1877) announces Lake Chapala is “ten times as large as all the lakes of Northern Italy taken together, and four times larger than the entire canton of Geneva, – contains different islands whose surface area exceeds that of the Isle of Wight, and one island with two secondary lakes as big as Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine!” [The Isle of Wight, incidentally, is 23 x 13 miles, almost as large as Lake Chapala. Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest lake, is 24 x 5 miles.]

By the early 1900s, tourism comes into sharper focus. One early and popular traveller’s guide, Lake Chapala, a travellers’ handbook (1909) by Thomas Philip Terry lists rooms available in Chapala, e.g. Hotel Arzapalo, “facing the lake,” at $2.50 to $5 American Plan. In his note to this excerpt, Burton tells us that D. H. Lawrence, because of this handbook, was convinced to visit the lake; and of course Lawrence ultimately moved to Chapala in the mid-twenties and this is where he wrote The Plumed Serpent.

Those of us who live here, full time or part time, or who simply visit here have been relieved that the lirio, the noxious water hyacinth, seems at least for the time being to be well under control. I, like others, thought that the lirio problem originated only a few decades ago, but Burton tells us that it was introduced around the turn of the last century, and that by 1907, articles were being published about “the invasion of the terrible aquatic lirio,” which in some places “has completely blocked some docks, and in others it has appeared in such large masses that the Indians have been forced to suppress their trips, damaging trade, scared that they will be caught up in the wave of green.”

And so, there is something for everybody in Tony Burton’s, Lake Chapala through the Ages. Whether you are fascinated by the early history of the place where you now live or visit (or would like to visit), or whether you are interested in early accounts of the natural history of the region, or of the lake itself or whether you are fascinated by those votive objects found on the bottom of the lake, or whether you simply want to connect yourself more deeply to the place you now call home (or that is “home” in your imagination), this book is for you.

I think Lake Chapala through the Ages is terrific. Buy it!

Feb 022010
 

This book by Raymond Craib (Duke University Press, 2004) is one-of-a-kind. Craib combines archival analysis of mainly 19th century documents with perceptive comments on the relationships between history and geography in Mexico from the mid-19th century until about 1930.

Craib emphasizes the significance of map-making in post-Independent Mexico as a means towards furthering nationalism and as a development tool. He traces the changing motives of map-makers, focussing especially on the key area of Veracruz-Puebla which served as Mexico’s main gateway to Europe for centuries.

Craib considers why certain place names acquired more prominence than others, and examines a case study of a mining area where the granting of water rights hinged on precisely where a particular river flowed, and which tributary had which name, a case where cartographic ‘proof’ proved to be impossible and where a pragmatic solution was required.

This is an important study, with meticulous footnotes and bibliography.

Note: This book is not stocked by Sombrero Books, but can easily be bought via amazon.com

Jan 032010
 

Tony Burton’s Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury
Reviewed by Allan Cogan in MexConnect, 2003,

I’m not sure why I haven’t reviewed this book sooner. It’s been around since 1993 and it was one of the first books my wife and I read when we arrived here in Ajijic eight years ago. And – heaven knows! – I’ve reviewed more than 60 books about this fascinating country in the past few years. Anyway, this useful volume is back in a new and updated edition and it’s still as essential as ever. Whether you’re making a brief visit as a tourist, or escaping the northern winter for a few months or checking out the area more extensively as a place to spend one’s retirement years, this is one item you should have in your survival kit. It’s a nice blend of guidebook, travelogue and history text with lots of local color and some ecological notes sprinkled throughout.

Re-reading it brings back a host of good memories. I’d forgotten, for instance, Santa Maria del Oro and the impromptu New Year’s party we were invited to in the campsite there in 1994 when we visited the area – as a result of reading this book. And then there’s the lovely drive up the flower-covered slopes to Mazamitla in September and October. Also, my wife says I shouldn’t forget to mention the restaurant that Burton recommends on page 158 – the Camino Real just outside Pátzcuaro. (Cecilia never forgets a good comida.) The restaurant is located in an unlikely place, next to a gas station. But Burton’s book is like that – well researched and he’s obviously checked out all these places before writing about them. Lots of other memories flooded back as a result of a rereading.

The book covers eight distinct areas of Western Mexico in the States of Jalisco, Colima and Michoacan. Reading it leaves you wondering if there’s any country anywhere that’s offers so much variety in such a relatively small geographic area. Altitudes range from sea level to 12,600 feet, which is the peak of Tancítaro, the highest peak in Michoacan. That’s almost 2-1/2 miles straight up! The terrain includes desert, cloud forest, ocean beaches, picturesque villages, swampland, mountain ranges, tropical jungle and several cities, including, of course, one huge metropolis….Guadalajara. Also, we have volcanoes. I don’t know the precise number but there are obviously lots of them. And some are still active. As I write this, in February 2002, our local community newspaper, The Reporter, features a front page story on a volcano very close to Colima which is spewing out lava and causing the evacuation of several villages.

Guadalajara receives little mention because Burton is obviously more interested in getting into the hinterlands and exploring everything that’s out there. Be warned that it’s very much a book that’s geared to driving although the author provides maps and clear directions on how to reach the offbeat places he describes.

I know that there are lots of buses in Mexico and the first class ones are really first class. But this volume is also concerned with getting you down side roads and visiting places you might otherwise miss. Along the way you pick up all sorts of information on the various specialties offered in each community – whether it be equipal furniture, quilts, ceramic tiles, straw goods, woollen sweaters, guitars, pottery, toys or whatever. And you’re also given useful information on accommodations and restaurants and Feast Days and other occasions that might tickle your fancy.

History isn’t neglected either. People have been living in this area for thousands of years and there’s evidence everywhere regarding these former inhabitants and their societies. The author covers them with colorful accounts that enhance your explorations or are simply interesting to read, not just about the various Indian tribes that inhabited the area but also about the coming of the Conquistadors and the profound effect they had on every aspect of life here.

Burton is obviously interested in the geological and ecological history of this part of the world. He provides accounts on topics such as how Lake Chapala was formed and why there are so many of those troublesome volcanoes still around.

The book also contains some 30 or so short highlighted passages that cover various relevant subjects. For example half-page sidebars discuss topics like “Why There is Such an Astonishing Variety of Flora Here”, or “The Production of Tequila”, or “The Volcán de Fuego”, a brief look at Mexico’s most active volcano.

The book is illustrated throughout with drawings by Mark Eager. There are about three dozen of them, bringing the overall story even more to life. Maps are also provided for all the areas Burton explores and the driving routes he’s recommending.

Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury is readily available in the usual shops here in the Lakeside area and also at Sandi’s Bookstore in Guadalajara. For those of you who live further afield, Sombrero Books has it.

In my humble O: It’s a volume that just makes you want to git up and go. Now then – where on earth did I leave those car keys….?

Jan 022010
 

“The area of Mexico covered by Mr. Burton’s book is filled with historical, cultural and geographical/geological riches. The problem for me as a resident of this area has been where to find them, and where to learn about them, once you have heard about them. This book has been a god-send as it has allowed us to learn and explore our “neighbourhood” with confidence and always rewarding experiences. If you are interested in more than beach, babes, and beer, then this is a wonderful book to use, or just to read, learn and dream. It is truly a “Mexico” book.
David McLaughlin, Jalisco, Mexico.

British born Tony Burton is a long time resident of Mexico and an award winning travel writer and naturalist. He has collected and updated the best of his writings over the years into what is a unique guidebook to western Mexico. Based on his frequent travels and intimate knowledge of the region, Tony offers his special insights into this scenic and culturally rich area of lakes and mountains, colonial towns and Indian villages. From San Blas on the Pacific coast to the celebrated Monarch butterfly refuge in the high Sierra of Michoacan, the author takes us to all of his favorite places along the less traveled roads of the region, revealing their history, ecology and archaeology, as well as their arts, crafts and folklore. I found the book to be especially valuable for his keen observations on, and enthusiasm for the varied natural wonders of western Mexico. Charmingly illustrated by artist Mark Eager, Tony’s guide is easy on the eye. It is well organized, packed with suggestions for the traveler, with suggested itineraries and detailed maps. A full bibliography and index is also appended.
Reader from Santa Barbara, California.

“I am very impressed with his literary style and his ability to transport the reader to the very presence of the action. I’ve never seen the villages or localities he describes but I can almost believe that I’m there, feeling the gentle breeze off the lake, hearing the birds, seeing the children in the square and seeing the changing scenes. Tony Burton adds a new dimension. He weaves in a history rich in detail and color. The book speaks about the pride of the Mexican people and their love of their homeland.”
Armchair Traveler from Vermont

“I have just finished reading your great book on Western Mexico and found it one of the most interesting and factual books on Mexico I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Even where I think I know a place, you add material that will increase my enjoyment and understanding the next time I visit.”
Editor of AIM (Adventures in Mexico).

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