May 212014
 

Author, poet and diplomat José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. Cotija de la Paz is about thirty kilometers from the village of La Palma on Lake Chapala’s south-eastern corner.

Romero’s father, an outspoken liberal, had been forced to leave the very conservative village of Cotija de la Paz, and the family home, and travel to Mexico City. Six months later, he sent for his wife and two children, Rubén (then aged seven) and his younger sister. Their journey, by horseback, steamer and train, is described in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (trans: Notes of a Villager), published in 1932, by which time Romero was the Mexican Consul in Barcelona, Spain. He was later served as Mexican ambassador to Brazil (1937-1939) and Cuba (1939-1944).

romero-ruben-coverBesides his diplomatic career, Romero worked in a variety of fields, including journalism and as a university dean. He is best remembered, though, as a writer whose vivid depictions of the people and customs of his native state make him an outstanding exponent of the modern costumbrista novel. The costumbrista genre focuses on regional life, customs and manners.

Romero’s lasting legacy of fine works includes Desbandada (1936), El pueblo inocente (1934), Mi caballo, mi perro y mi rifle (1936), Viaje a Mazatlán (1946) and Rosenda (1946). But by far his best known book is the picaresque tale of a lovable rascal: La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Pérez), first published in 1938. A best-seller in innumerable editions, this book was turned into a movie starring Ignacio López Tarso in the early 1970s. One of Mexico’s best-loved writers ever, Romero died on July 4, 1952, in Mexico City.

In his autobiographical novel Apuntes de un lugareño Romero describes Lake Chapala on two occasions. The first time he encounters the lake is in about 1897, on his way to Mexico City with his mother and sister at the age of seven. It includes Romero’s impressions of the steamer trip from La Palma to Ocotlán, a regular route at the time. Romero’s second encounter with Lake Chapala comes later, when he was living in Sahuayo between about 1907 and 1910.

Translations of Romero’s works in English include:

Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution (Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press, 1988) is a fine translation by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar of Apuntes de un lugareño.

The Futile Life of Pito Perez (Prentice-Hall, 1966), translation by William O. Cord.

A Translation of Jose Ruben Romero’s Mi Caballo, Mi Perro, Y Mi Rifle with a Study of His Life, Style and Works, by Carl Edgar Niles (University of Tennessee, 1947)

May 162014
 

The earliest known reference to Lake Chapala in a poem must surely be that made by Bernardo de Balbuena (1562-1627) in El Bernardo, written between 1592 and 1602, published in Madrid in 1624. The poem took a decade to write because of its extraordinary length—some 40,000 octavo reales (Royal eighths) in size!

Bernardo de BalbuenaBalbuena was born in Valdepeñas, Spain, in 1562. In 1584, at age 22, he crossed the Atlantic to join his father, who owned properties in New Spain. This was only 63 years after the conquest, but already various cities had been founded and were beginning to prosper.

Balbuena was already a prizewinning poet by the time he was named Chaplain of the Audiencia of Guadalajara in 1592. He later lived for several years in the small isolated village of San Pedro Lagunillas near Compostela, close to Tepic. In 1593, he wrote Grandeza mexicana, a poem which appeared in book form in 1604, and was dedicated to Doña Isabel de Tobar y Guzmán, with whom he was in love.

Balbuena returned to Spain in 1606 and was never to set foot again in New Spain, despite having fallen in love with the country and having become a “Mexican” poet. In 1608, he published Siglo de Oro en las selvas de Erífile, a pastoral novel. In 1626, he became Bishop of Puerto Rico, dying there the following year.

In El Bernardo, the author begins by describing France and Spain. By Book XIII, he is describing Asia. Then (Book XV), he overflies Europe. The descriptions of imagined aerial trips are supposedly the best passages of the entire work, with the highlight being Book XVIII which sees the magician Malgesí flying over America, from Patagonia in the south to the northern edge of New Spain.

Numerous places are mentioned, including the Andes, Brazil and Chiapas, as well as Zacatecas, Guadalajara and the erupting volcano of Jala, before Chapala gets its moment of fame:

Come, between the fresh Pánuco and Gualulco
to Tlaxcala, and the Mexican kingdom,
to Michoacán, Colima and Acapulco
the town closest to the southern sea,
the villages of Quiseo and Tlajomulco,
and in their environs and flower-filled plain
the abundant lagoon of Chapala,
which equals the Ocean in depth and breadth.

Spanish-Mexican philosopher Ramón Xirau describes Balbuena as a “splendid poet who should be remembered and, above all, re-read.” However, reading (or re-reading) 40,000 octavo reales might well be more than most people have time for!

[Extract from "Lake Chapala—as large as an ocean?", chapter 7 of Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers' tales]

 Posted by at 8:07 am  Tagged with:
May 122014
 

These extracts come from Dale Hoyt Palfrey’s review of the latest (4th) edition of “Western Mexico, a Traveler’s Treasury” for The Guadalajara Reporter, 18 April 2014.

9780973519150-Cover-thumbnail“Whether you’re an intrepid on-the-road adventurer or a relaxed armchair traveler, Tony Burton’s “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is an ideal companion… One factor that lends special appeal to this singular travel book is Burton’s departure from the stock formula found in conventional guides. He adheres to a more organic approach, drawing on personal experience and meticulous research to divulge the virtues and peculiarities of every destination.”

“Another major strength is the author’s attention to historical details that enrich the individual profile of each place. In some cases he scratched up intriguing facts by chatting with the local people, in others he tapped on tireless study of a vast array of previously published works. The bibliography lists writings going back as far as 1899, as well as “Lake Chapala through the Ages,” Burton’s own compilation of excerpts from works by other travel writers covering the era of 1530-1910.”

“Above all, the British-born geographer is a bold adventurer who delights in departing from the main travel routes to explore back roads and discover unexpected corners that other travelers and writers often see as nothing more than dots on the map. He has a knack for digging up the idiosyncrasies of each destination he visits, be it local legends and folklore, off-beat museums, geological characteristics, mining deposits of minerals, stones and precious metals, or an outstanding restaurant, inn or spa worthy of mention.”

“First published in 1993, the revised and expanded fourth edition of “Western Mexico”… opens with what qualifies as the most comprehensive guide to the Lake Chapala region available in English. “The next segment explores the agricultural valley and the Sierra highlands stretching west from Guadalajara. Part three covers Tapalpa, Mazamitla and other high altitude spots, plus the city of Colima. From there the text follows a route northeast of Guadalajara into the region of Los Altos and beyond Jalisco’s borders to León, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes, continuing into Zacatecas and the far-flung northern “hand” of Jalisco.”

“Material in parts six and seven spans the Pacific coast from San Blas, Nayarit to Cuyutlán, Colima. The final chapters thoroughly survey the state of Michoacán.”

“The development of Puerto Vallarta and the birth of the Paricutín volcano stand out among the book’s fascinating historical accounts. Expositions on Jalisco’s Manantlán Biosphere Reserve and the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries of Michoacán are obligatory reading to grasp the value of Mexico’s extraordinary natural treasures.”

“Burton’s clear writing style and bonus sidebar boxes added to each chapter make for easy, breezy reading. A series of area maps drawn by the author and Mark Eager’s attractive pen and ink illustrations of different locales complement the text. The cover art work is a reproduction of a watercolor scene of Ajijic by the late Georg Rauch.”

Both paperback and Kindle editions of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” may be purchased from amazon.com. Ajijic outlets that keep the printed book in stock are Diane Pearl Colecciones, Opus Boutique and La Nueva Posada. Guadalajara residents may place orders through Sandi Bookstore.

[This review, by Dale Hoyt Palfrey, first appeared in The Guadalajara Reporter, 18 April 2014]

May 052014
 

Verna Aardema (1911-2000) was an American author of dozens of children’s books.

She has no known connection to Lake Chapala beyond the fact that one of her books, The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (New York: Four Winds, 1979), is presumably connected either with Tizapán [el Alto] on the southern shore of the lake, or with Villa Corona [formerly called Tizapán el Bajo] just west of the lake.

aardema-coverThe story, illustrated by Tony Chen, is a translation and retelling of “El Aro de Hinojo y el Cuero de Piojo”, from Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, by Howard True Wheeler, American Folk-Lore Soc. 35, 1943. The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico can be viewed online via the website OpenLibrary.org: The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (free registration required).

The king of Tizapán has a beautiful daughter Princess Fruela. He asks a wizard to make her a special drum. The only man that will be allowed to marry his daughter must first guess what kind of black leather the drum head is made from. Prince Tuzán rises to the challenge, but knows he will forfeit his life if he fails. En route to victory, he gathers around him several unusual characters, all of whom contribute to his success.

Verna Aardema (full name Verna Norberg Aardema Vugteveen) was born in New Era, Michigan on 6 June 1911. Even as a child, she wanted to be a writer. She graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Journalism in 1934, before working as an elementary school teacher (1934-1973), later combined with being a local newspaper correspondent for the Muskegon Chronicle (1951-1972).

Aardema’s first set of children’s stories Tales from the Story Hat was published in 1960. She started writing for children mainly because her daughter wouldn’t eat until she’d heard one of her mother’s stories. In most stories, the setting was somewhere that Aardema had been recently reading about, such as Africa and Mexico.

Her children’s books, based almost always on adaptations of traditional folklore tales, won numerous awards. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1975) received the Caldecott Medal and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award. Who’s in Rabbit’s House? (1977) was the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. The author herself received the Children’s Reading Round Table Award in 1981.

Mar 312014
 

This brief post in the latest in our on-going series about the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. Please use the “Category” system on the right hand side of all our pages, to find previous posts in this series.

Lysander Kemp (1920-1992) worked as a writer, professor, translator, and was head editor of the University of Texas Press from 1966 to 1975. During his tenure at UT Press, he collaborated with Octavio Paz (1914-1998), the Mexican poet and essayist, on numerous translations and oversaw the publication of two collections of Paz’s essays and criticism.

Kemp, who lived in Jocotepec for many years, was a noteworthy translator of several great Mexican writers and authors, including Octavio Paz (The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico) and Juan Rulfo.

Kemp’s published poems and short articles about the Lake Chapala area include:

  • 1957. The Penguins Gather. Saturday Review v 40 (May 11, 1957) p. 38. This short article, with photo, describes a dance-band in Jocotepec. Kemp was the first saxophone.
  • 1957. Perils of Paradise. Travel piece in House and Garden vol. 111 (April 1957) pp 172-4.
  • 1955, Gods: Jocotepec, Mexico [poem] The New Yorker. Vol 31 (Sept 10, 1955) p 114.

Kemp also translated, Juan the Chamula: An Ethnological Recreation of the Life of a Mexican Indian by Ricardo Pozas (University of California Press); Selected Poems of Ruben Dario (University of Texas Press); The Time of the Hero, by Llosa Mario Vargas (Farrar Straus & Giroux); Pedro Paramo: A Novel of Mexico, by Juan Rulfo. (Grove/Atlantic, 1959).

Mar 222014
 

For anyone who lives or travels in western Mexico, Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is a “must have.” I own a well traveled copy of the third edition (2001) but I was delighted to see a fourth edition (2013) recently appear…in part because so many changes have taken place in the decade or so that has followed the third edition. For example, Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, is described in far more detail than in the third addition.

There are lots of other changes as well. “A federal project to promote cultural tourism, called Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns), has brought much more publicity to no fewer than 15 towns featured in previous editions, including Tapalpa, Tequila, Mazamitla, San Sabastián del Oeste, Lagos de Moreno, Comala, Pátzcuaro, Santa Clara del Cobre and Angangueo.” In this past decade, the “quality of hotels has also improved, with the opening of excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places….”

New chapters have been added, new material has been added to existing chapters, maps and directions have been updated, new destinations, like Zacatecas, have been developed in detail.

Reading Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury, I felt that old desire rise up in me to be on the road, if only for a day or two. And so, even before writing this review, I called a young Mexican adventuress in Guadalajara. With the Kindle version of Western Mexico in hand we headed up a now modern highway to the charming old colonial town of Mazamitla, high in the mountains on the south side of Lake Chapala… and far more sophisticated than when I visited it twenty years ago. We even stayed in the inexpensive ($40US) boutique hotel Hostal Ciervo Rojo (a member of the Haciendas and Country Houses of Jalisco) recommended by Tony in his book.

A few days I went with a Chapala buddy on a day trip to Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, passing trucks loaded with sugar cane, passing stands of a local potent drink called pajarete (a combination of milk, aguardiente, brown sugar, and sometimes chocolate) to arrive at what has become in a few short years, “one of the most astonishing archaeological sites anywhere n Mexico,” although only twenty years ago it was only “mounds of earth”. “The dramatic circular structures at Guachimontones, tiered in concentric terraces, are absolutely stunning….”

As Tony notes in his Introduction, this is “not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all the possible day trips and longer tours in the region…. Rather, it is a personal, idiosyncratic collection of my favorite places in Western Mexico….” The book is filled with whatever Tony finds fascinating… interesting and curious details of history and geography and geology and flora and fauna, and art and architecture and archaeology.

My kind of book!

Parts One and Two cover destinations within three hours of Guadalajara or the north shore of Lake Chapala…day trips. Part One begins with a history of the region from ancient times to the present, and discusses in detail Mezcala Island—“Lake Chapala’s National Monument”—and the “The Riviera communities: Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec,” although the spas at San Juan Cosalá, like the luxurious Monte Coxala with its large-scale pre-Hispanic replicas, are also included along with interesting places to stay, like the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast in Jocotepec, which was the home and studio of internationally famous Austrian artist Georg Rauch. Although Rauch passed away a few years ago, his charming wife Phyllis continues to operate their bed and breakfast.

Part One also takes us to the south shore of Lake Chapala, to places like Jiquilpan, a nondescript town that gave birth to two important Mexican presidents—Anastacio Bustamante and Lázaro Cárdenas), and several distinguished artists, like José Clemente Orozco, “one of the famous “Big Three” of Mexican Muralism.” Rafael Méndez (whom I heard when I was a teen, back in Ohio), “arguably the world’s greatest ever trumpet virtuoso,” was also born in Jiquilpan.

In Part Two we go west of Guadalajara to Guachimontones—those round pyramids—and to old haciendas (with concise histories of each), and to Tala, the sugar town, and to the giant stone spheres near Alhualulco. We also learn about mines…silver, opals, obsidian, and of course we visit the ever popular town of Tequila.

Part Three takes us on longer trips, best for overnight stays, to picturesque mountains towns like Tapalpa, and through pine forests to Mazamitla, and to Colima, a provincial state capital with important archaeological sites. Near Colima is Volcá de Fuego, sometimes called Volcán Colima, “the most active volcano in Mexico, and indeed one of the most active in the world, having erupted at least 30 times since 1576.”

Parts Four to Nine cover longer trips, to places like León, the “Leather Capital of Mexico,” and to Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas, and Bolaños, where the “old mining town revives its fortunes.” In Part Six we head west to the coast, to San Blas and Guayabitos (a youthful beach town for “a modestly-priced family holiday”) and even to Puerto Vallarta, “the resort that keeps reinventing itself.” In Part Seven, Barra de Navidad and Melaque—places once popular with pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish–are jewels not to be missed, and discovered by tourists only a few decades ago. Part Eight finds us on the road to Tzintzuntzan and to Pátzcuaro, a region where the first Bishop of Michoacán, Don Vasco de Quiroga, “based his approach on the Utopian principles espoused by Thomas More. He established a series of communities in the vicinity of Lake Pátzcuaro, the heart of Tarascan country, where the people would receive training in arts and crafts alongside religious instruction.” He allocated “specific crafts to specific places,” and thus today, Paracho is famous for its guitars, Tzintzuntzan (named after the sound a hummingbird makes with its wings) is famous for its pottery, Santa Clara for copper, and so on.

The final section, Part Nine, is mostly about the beloved monarch butterflies of Michoacán. “Every winter, some one hundred million monarch butterflies fly into Mexico from the U.S. and Canada. On arrival they congregate in a dozen localities high in the temperate pine and fir forests of the state of Michoacán.” Tony discusses the various reserves where visitors can witness the amazing number of monarchs, but Tony also insists that you sample the delicious local blue-corn tortillas. He also takes you farther west to Tuxpan and the country where John Huston shot Treasure of the Sierra Madre, staring Humphrey Bogart. The first bend on the narrow road from Tuxpan to Jungapeo is the bend to have a name on the official topographic survey map: La Curva de la Gringa, a rather dangerous 110-degree bend.

Leaving The Gringa’s Curve behind, you come to the best place to overnight or vacation in this “scenically-stunning part of Mexico,” at the Agua Blanca Canyon Resort, “a charming, small spa-hotel with just 20 rooms, its pools and lawns overlooking the deeply carved valley of the River Tuxpan.”

As in the earlier editions, Tony concludes with a useful appendix that has a “Table of elevations and approximate driving times,” for example from Chapala to Barra de Navidad is four hours and thirty minutes, from Chapala to Mazamitla is one hour and forty-five minutes. He also advises you to take a look at “online forums, such as those on MexConnect.com, to ask for up-to-date information and advice from people who have recently made the same journey or visited the same places.”

If you live in western Mexico or are thinking about living here or visiting here, make this the first book you buy. It has always been a favorite of mine and this latest edition of Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is the best ever!

This review first appeared on MexConnect.com.

Ready to buy a copy?

The 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available at select bookstores, and at:

Want to learn more?

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 012013
 

Give a book!. The Kindle editions of

are only a click away. The recipient will have the book within minutes!!

For Kobo enthusiasts,

Regular softcover versions of both books are available via amazon.com and amazon.ca

 

 Posted by at 9:33 am
Dec 182012
 

Sombrero Book is pleased to announce that the 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available (Kindle  and Kobo editions).

In “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury”, author Tony Burton reveals the magic of Western Mexico. Relaxed and intimate, this easy-to-read yet authoritative account features 37 original drawings by Canadian artist Mark Eager and 10 maps. Enjoy the author’s unique insights into local history, ecology and traditions.

Now in its fourth edition, the book remains a favorite among knowledgeable travelers visiting this region of Mexico. This new edition is one-third larger and includes dozens of new places worth exploring. It incorporates several new chapters, including four (in part five) devoted to the region around Zacatecas. Every chapter has new material. Maps have been redrawn and travel directions updated.

A mixture of interests is represented. Included are historical sights such as Zacatecas, Lagos de Moreno and San Blas; artistic colonies like Ajijic; and lakeside communities, including Chapala and Pátzcuaro. Alongside them are ecological wonders, such as Manantlán and the monarch butterflies; old mining towns like Angangueo and Bolaños; coastal resorts such as Barra de Navidad and Puerto Vallarta; Indian villages like Angahuan, and a host of others.

Many of these smaller places in Western Mexico offer a glimpse of the Mexico behind the mask; they are places where Mexico has retained her ancient culture and her ancient traditions.

All the destinations in parts one and two are within day-trip range (maximum three hours driving time) from Guadalajara (Mexico’s second city) or nearby Lake Chapala, a popular retirement center for Americans and Canadians. In part three, all the locations described are worth at least an overnight stay, though Tapalpa, Mazamitla and Tamazula are still within three hours driving time of Guadalajara-Chapala. Parts four to nine describe longer, three or four day trips, which are all well worth the investment of extra time.

No fewer than 17 of the towns featured in the book have received the federal designation of “Pueblo Mágico” (Magic Town), in recognition of their cultural, historical or ecological significance, and facilities for visitors. There are now many excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places, making it far easier to explore the less traveled areas of Western Mexico.

Whether your interests lie in art, architecture and archaeology; fiestas and folklore; unusual sights and natural wonders, or in Indian villages and indigenous handicrafts, this book will help you discover for yourself Western Mexico’s many hidden treasures.

Author: Tony Burton has specialized in exploring and writing about Mexico for more than thirty years. He is the author of “Lake Chapala through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales” (2008) and co-author of “Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico” (2010), and a three-time winner of ARETUR’s annual international travel-writing competition for articles about Mexico.

For other formats besides Kindle and Kobo, please use the “contact us” form and we will do our best to meet your particular needs.

Sep 142012
 

Several of our books, as well as our Lake Chapala Map Set, can now be purchased via amazon.ca [they have always been available via the US site amazon.com]
We don’t make as much from each book as if you bought it direct, but, hey, on the other hand you have the chance of discounts and free shipping on most items!

Happy shopping!           Sombrero Books

Links to our amazon.ca products:

Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico

Western Mexico, a Traveller’s Treasury

Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travellers’ tales

Lake Chapala Map Set

and

El Occidente de México, un tesoro para el viajero [translation of Western Mexico, a Traveller's Treasury]. Buy both versions, English and Spanish, for an inexpensive way to build your Spanish vocabulary and increase your fluency!

 Posted by at 6:15 pm