Oct 192017
 

Following Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, a renewed emphasis was placed on the gathering of reliable statistics. Officials of the state of Jalisco made several attempts to gather relevant information, primarily in order to better monitor the state’s development. These efforts began with Victoriano Roa (1825) and were continued by Manuel López Cotilla (1843), Longinus Banda (1873) and Mariano Bárcena (1888). These statistical reports may not be as fun to read as travel accounts but are a veritable gold mine of valuable information.

Manuel López Cotilla (1800-1861) was born in Guadalajara. His father, a Spaniard who died in 1816, was a captain in the Royalist army, and hated the insurgents who were fighting for an independent Mexico. At age 18, Manuel López Cotilla contracted tuberculosis, following which he led a reclusive life for many years, dedicating himself to drawing and studying mathematics.

When he entered public life, he became a popular politician and successful educator. He occupied various posts on the city council and in the state government following Independence and was instrumental in reforming primary education. He founded several schools, including the first night school dedicated to adult education. López Cotilla was also responsible for producing noteworthy textbooks, including a handbook of practical geometry for schools. In 1851 he made a formal proposal for the creation of a teacher training college. This proposal was not carried out until long after his death.

Manuel López Cotilla’s statistical account, entitled Noticias geográficas y estadistísticas del Departamento de Jalisco, provides no details about the lake itself, but does include short descriptions, all following a set pattern, of each of the main villages on its shores. By this time, administrative reorganization had resulted in most of the northern shore of Lake Chapala falling into the Third Division – Tlajomulco – of the District of Jalisco. Apart from Tlajomulco itself, which boasted 3,066 inhabitants, the most important village in the district was Jocotepec, as these brief extracts reveal.

Jocotepec, a village located at the western end of Lake Chapala, is the seat of the curacy and receives payments. It has a justice of the peace, a municipal school and 2,742 inhabitants dedicated to farming, fishing and manufacturing. Its municipal fund produced in 1840 the sum of 456 pesos and 3 reales. It is 16 leagues from Guadalajara and 8½ leagues SSE of Tlajomulco.

San Cristóbal Zapotitlán, similarly situated on the shore of lake Chapala and belonging to the parish of Jocotepec, has a population of 735 inhabitants mainly working in farming, fishing and making mats (petates or esteras). It is 12 leagues SE, ¼ S. of Tlajomulco and 20 from Guadalajara.

San Juan Cosalá, situated like the previous villages, has 667 inhabitants dedicated to farming, fishing and the manufacture of equipales, which are low round seats, with or without high backs, and very commonly used in the country. Its climate is warm compared to its neighbors; it has a justice of the peace and belongs ecclesiastically to the parish of Jocotepec. It is 14 leagues from the capital of the District and 9 SE, ¼ S from Tlajomulco.

San Andrés Ajijic, with 954 inhabitants dedicated to the same jobs as the previous village and whose location and climate it shares, belongs to the curacy of Jocotepec and has a justice of the peace. Its distance from Guadalajara is 15 leagues and from Tlajomulco 11 SE, ¼ E leaning towards the SE

San Antonio Tlayacapan is in similar circumstances to the previous village, except for the occupation of its inhabitants, who number 423, and their dedication to only farming and fishing. It is 14 leagues from the District capital and 12 SE, ¼ E from Tlajomulco.

Chapala is the village that gives its name to the extensive lake that bathes the shores. It is the seat of a curacy, sub-office for payments, has a justice of the peace and 1,029 inhabitants employed mainly in fishing, farming and the cultivation of orchards. It is 14½ leagues from Guadalajara and 12½ ESE of Tlajomulco. Its municipal fund produced in 1840 the sum of 46 pesos 1 real.

Manuel López Cotilla retired in 1855 on the grounds of ill-health and died on 27 October 1861. His remains now repose in the Rotunda of Illustrious Jaliscienses in downtown Guadalajara, overlooked by a fine commemorative statue.

This profile is based on an extract from chapter 22 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

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

Oct 122017
 

Horace Sutton (1919-1991), one of the most prolific and well-known American travel writers of all time, and the creator of the term “jet lag”, visited and reported on Chapala in 1970.

Sutton was a lifelong travel journalist and editor. He began his career, before the second world war, in the advertising department of The New York Post. During the war he worked in Army Intelligence and then returned to The Post as a reporter and travel writer.

He joined the Saturday Review in the late 1940s, and remained there for more than 30 years, first as travel editor and then as editorial director. He also founded travel sections for Sports Illustrated and McCall’s. In the 1980s he served as the editor of Citicorp’s Signature magazine (1981-1985) and editor-in-chief of Citicorp Publishing Company (1984-1987).

As author of a syndicated column, Sutton traveled more than 100,000 miles a year, not only to popular destinations and resorts but also to some of the most remote areas of the planet. His work was published in dozens of newspapers and magazines. In 1960, at the peak of his career, Sutton was profiled for Time magazine in “The Press: The Traveling Press”, shortly after returning from Tahiti:

In the musette bag of red-haired Horace Sutton are Dramamine tablets, bug spray, a ten-bladed Swiss army knife, cable cards, swimming trunks, traveler’s checks—and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of paregoric. These are the tools of Sutton’s profession: he is a travel writer, working for newspapers and magazines in an age when more and more of the world’s citizens are excursioning to more and more foreign countries.”

But perhaps his most enduring contribution to the world of travel was his coining of the term “jet lag”, which he first used in a 1966 piece in the Los Angeles Times when jet passenger service was barely 14 years old. Sutton explained that jet lag was “a debility not unakin to a hangover” and derived “from the simple fact that jets travel so fast they leave your body rhythms behind.” The phenomenon had previously been known as time zone syndrome.

Sutton won numerous accolades for his travel writing, as well an award from the Overseas Press Club for his coverage of a military counter-coup in Indonesia in 1965.

His eleven books included a series for Rinehart that included Footloose in France (1948); Footloose in Canada (1950); Footloose in Italy (1950); and Footloose in Switzerland (1952). In addition he wrote Confessions of a Grand Hotel: The Waldorf-Astoria (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1953); Sutton’s Places (Holt, 1954); Aloha, Hawaii;: The new United Air Lines guide to the Hawaiian Islands (Doubleday, 1967); Travelers, the American Tourist from Stagecoach to Space Shuttle (William Morrow, August, 1980); The Beverly Wilshire Hotel: Its Life and Times (1989).

In his 1970 article, “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction” (sic), Sutton described the town of Chapala – “a settlement of 7,000, Mexicans and Americans included” – as “the heart of the hammock and siesta country, a prime center for lollers, yawners and retirees”, where “more than 10 per cent of all the residents are retired citizens down from the U.S. of A.”

He claimed that “nearly 20,000 American retirees are nesting along the fringes of Lake Chapala, a balmy pool that is 70 miles long, 20 miles wide and a mile high. The weather is peachy.”

Everyday prices were very favorable compared to prices back home since “shoeshines that now cost 50 cents in midtown urban centers up north, are 8 cents.” Haircuts were 48 cents (compared to $2.50 up north), a bottle of spirits was $1.25 and a cook-maid might cost $30 a month. The average rent was, according to Sutton, under $100 a month, with the highest $240.

In nearby Ajijic, “once selected by bands of hippies”, Sutton found that most- Americans stayed at the American-operated Posada Ajijic, where they could dine for $2, and shopped at El Angel for stonework, embroidery and other “hand-turned works of the native citizenry.”

Sutton’s other pieces related to Mexico include articles about Acapulco and Guadalajara.

After a lifetime of travel and reporting, Horace Sutton died at his home in Manhattan on 26 October 1991 at the age of 72.

Sources:

  • Hofstra University (Hempstead, New York). Sutton, Horace, 1919-1991. Papers, c. 1948-1991. Special Collections Department.
  • Rebecca Maksel. 2008.”When did the term “jet lag” come into use?“, airspacemag.com (Air & Space, Smithosonian), 17 June 2008.
  • Frank J. Prial. “Horace Sutton, 72, Magazine Columnist And Travel Author” (Obituary), in New York Times, 28 October 1991.
  • Horace Sutton. 1966. “Jet Set Living has its Perils”, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feburary 1966.
  • Horace Sutton. 1968. “Acapulco: Golden Nest for Tourists”, Chicago Tribune, 7 April 1968.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Murals, Mariachis. Colorful Guadalajara.” Chicago Tribune, 15 November 1970.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction”, in Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 15 November 1970, p 30
  • Time magazine. “The Press: The Traveling Press”, in Time, Monday, 4 July 1960.
Oct 052017
 

Author, playwright and lecturer Vance Bourjaily (1922-2010) lived in Ajijic during the summer of 1951. We know from Michael Hargraves that Bourjaily completed a play there, entitled The Quick Years that was performed off-Broadway two years later. But the most interesting of Bourjaily’s works from a Lake Chapala perspective is one that was never published. The Lion and the Tigers is a verse play about the Ajijic literary and artistic colony, written after he had left the area. This play, a copy of which is preserved in the library of Bourjaily’s alma mater – Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine – will be the subject of a future post.

Vance Nye Bourjaily was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 17 September 1922. Writing was in his blood: his father was a journalist and his mother wrote feature articles and romance novels. After high school Bourjaily attended Bowdoin College in Maine, but his studies were interrupted by the second world war. Bourjaily enlisted in 1942 and served as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in Syria, Egypt and Italy (1942-1944) and then as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Japan (1944-1946).

He completed his B.A. degree and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1947. He had already been commissioned to write a novel about a young man coping with the experiences of war. This first novel, The End of My Life (1947), established Bourjaily’s reputation as a fine writer. In his influential book, After the Lost Generation: A Critical Study of the Writers of Two Wars, John Aldridge compared Bourjaily to Fitzgerald and Hemingway:

“No book since ‘This Side of Paradise’ has caught so well the flavor of youth in wartime, and no book since ‘A Farewell to Arms’ has contained so complete a record of the loss of that youth in war.”

Bourjaily’s later novels explored other great American themes, though none of them garnered the same degree of praise as his debut novel.

During the summer of 1951, Bourjaily stayed at “the now defunct Posada Navarro, run by Doña Feliz” in Ajijic (Hargraves). He also spent part of the summer in Mexico City. Bourjaily was a close friend of novelist and creative writing teacher Willard Marsh, who lived at Lake Chapala, on and off, for two decades.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, whose family lived in Ajijic at the time, remembers Bourjaily as an accomplished jazz musician who played his cornet alongside professional trumpet player Harry Cook. (The protagonist in his novel The Great Fake Book (1986) is an amateur jazz cornetist).

Vance Bourjaily in the 1960s. Credit: patricktreardon.com

Vance Bourjaily in the 1960s. Credit: patricktreardon.com

Immediately after Ajijic, Bourjaily and John W. Aldridge co-founded (and co-edited) Discovery, an anthology of “Outstanding Short Stories, Poems & Essays” published from 1952 to 1955. The first issue included a piece by Norman Mailer, as well as a story entitled “Confessions of an American Marijuana Smoker” by “U.S.D. Quincy” (Ulysses Snow Davids Quincy), a pen name adopted by Bourjaily after the name he had given the story’s protagonist. Bourjaily later wrote several stories under his own name about Quincy for The New Yorker, including “The Fractional Man: A Confession of U.S.D. Quincy” (August 1960) and “Quincy At Yale; A Confession” (October 1960).

An article by Allyn Hunt alerted me to the fact that the fourth issue (1954) of Discovery included “The only beast: an essay”, a story about Jocotepec by poet and translator Lysander Kemp, who had moved to that Lake Chapala town the previous year and lived there until the mid-1960s.

Front cover of Girl in the Abstract Bed

Front cover of Girl in the Abstract Bed

It was also in 1954 when a curious limited edition children’s book by Bourjaily entitled The Girl in the Abstract Bed (New York: Tiber Press) was published. Tobias Schneebaum (an artist-explorer who had been in Ajijic at the same time as Bourjaily) contributed the illustrations, which were real silkscreen prints of watercolors that were tipped in to the unbound book.The book’s title came from the name of an abstract painting that Schneebaum had done for Vance and his first wife, Tina, to beautify the headboard of their daughter Anna’s crib.

Bourjaily’s text is delightfully whimsical. The book opens as follows:

“There once was a girl
named Nicole Pennsylvania Snow
who, when she was ten months old,
slept in an abstract bed
designed and decorated for her by a famous artist.”

Double-page spread from Girl in the Abstract Bed

Double-page spread from Girl in the Abstract Bed

The book ends when “Reactionary Grandmother” (above, right) drags Nicole away from the Danish tableware, Mother Proust stories, and Lait au lait and into the sunshine, where “DADA” and “jane” learn that “our baby is primitive, after all.”

Bourjaily’s summer in Ajijic was not the only time he was in Mexico. He returned several years later to work on archaeological digs in Mexico City and Oaxaca with Ignacio Bernal and John Paddock. This experience became the backdrop for his novel Brill Among the Ruins (1970), which is about how Vietnam-era turmoil affects a middle-aged Midwestern lawyer.

When he lived in San Francisco, Bourjaily was a feature writer for The San Francisco Chronicle. When he moved to New York, he wrote stage reviews for The Village Voice.

He left New York in 1957 to become an instructor at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. He was an associate professor at that institution 1960-1964, 1966-1967, 1971-1972. He was also on the faculty of the University of Arizona in Tucson, as a visiting professor, 1977-78, and then as a full professor, 1980-85. Bourjaily was also the founding director of the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Louisiana State University.

Bourjaily’s works of fiction, mostly published by Dial Press in New York, include: The End of My Life (1947); The Hound of the Earth (1955); The Violated (1958); Confessions of a Spent Youth (I960); The Man Who Knew Kennedy (1967); Now Playing at Canterbury (1976); A Game Men Play (1980); The Great Fake Book (1986) and Old Soldier (1990).

His non-fiction books include The Unnatural Enemy (1963) and Country Matters: Collected Reports from the Fields and Streams of Iowa and Other Places (1973).

Bourjaily’s first marriage, in 1947 to Bettina Yensen, with whom he had three children, ended in divorce. In 1985, he married Yasmin Mogul, a former student, with whom he had a son.

Bourjaily died in Greenbrae, California, on 31 August 2010 at the age of 87.

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her memories of Vance Bourjaily.

Sources:

  • John W. Aldridge. 1951. After the Lost Generation: A Critical Study of the Writers of Two Wars.
  • Vance Bourkaily. 1954. The Girl in the Abstract Bed. (New York: Tiber Press) Illustrations by Tobias Schneebaum.
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).
  • Allyn Hunt. 2008. “Writers On The Lam In Mexico: For Many, Ken Kesey Came Late And A Bit Too Noisily, But For Totally U.” Guadalajara Reporter, 29 March 2008.
  • Tobias Schneebaum. 2000. Secret Places. My life in New York and New Guinea. University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Bruce Weber. 2010. “Vance Bourjaily, Novelist Exploring Postwar America, Dies at 87” New York Times, 3 September 2010.

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

Sep 142017
 

Journalist-adventurer Don Hogan was one of the more extraordinary characters who lived in Ajijic in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While there is no evidence he wrote anything of significance while living in the village, several people certainly later wrote about him, not always in a very complimentary manner. Stories about Hogan’s life are commonplace but hard facts difficult to find. Inevitably, therefore, this brief profile of him begs as many questions as it answers.

Hogan arrived in Ajijic with his wife and two children in the late 1960s and lived in the village for about two years. In May 1971, he was one of the organizers, along with Beth Avary and Peter Huf, of a large group art show, Fiesta de Arte, held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic). None of the 30 or so artists [1] who took part in this show, or the 500 or so viewers, could have guessed that barely three months later Hogan’s life would end in tragedy.

Donald William Hogan was born in New York City to William Anthony and Marie (Joule) Hogan of Greenwich, Connecticut, on 20 September 1928.

Hogan married Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris (1932-1985) in Farmington, Connecticut on 14 November 1953. “Betsy” Hogan had graduated from Vassar College that year and was an active feminist. As a writer, producer, and broadcaster, she specialized in themes related to the status of women and women’s equity and later founded Betsy Hogan Associates which arranged equal employment opportunity seminars for public and private sector organizations.

Don and Betsy Hogan had at least one child, a daughter, born in about 1956. They later divorced and Don Hogan married Kulla Kuusk. Kuusk, born in Estonia, graduated from Vassar in 1955. Don and Kulla Hogan had two children: a daughter born in about 1960 and a son in about 1962.

Early in his career, Don Hogan worked as a journalist for The Boston Post before taking a job as assistant city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. While at The Boston Post, Hogan, ever an adventurer, had uncovered a story about an unknown soldier trapped in a hospital with amnesia, which became the basis for an NBC “Big Story” dramatization in 1956.

At the New York Herald Tribune, Hogan reported on a variety of significant events, including the arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1958 of someone “identified by the cognoscenti as a racketeer of international importance”: Meyer Lansky. [Coincidentally, Meyer Lansky’s grandson later married the granddaughter of American artist John K. Peterson, who was living in Ajijic at the same time as Hogan and undoubtedly knew him quite well.]

Not long afterwards, Hogan and fellow journalist Peter Braestrup investigated New York’s clothing industry and were shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for their series exposing racketeering in the New York garment industry.

Peter Huf recalls how Hogan told him that in pursuit of another story – one about a society murder – he had arranged for a fireman’s ladder to be positioned so he could reach the cell window of a woman being held in police custody to get an exclusive interview with her about the crime.

Hogan’s family had links to sugar estates in pre-Castro Cuba, and his brother, Tony Hogan, was a sugar broker with offices at 120 Wall Street, New York.

In the later stages of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), Don Hogan therefore found himself ideally placed to write about events on the island and used his press credentials to gain access to Fidel Castro and the rebels fighting Batista. In 1957, Hogan spent 12 days living with the rebels, much of the time with Castro’s troops, and wrote about his experiences for the U.S. and foreign press. New York lawyer and investment banker Richard Coulson visited Hogan in Havana and later wrote that Hogan, “had covered Fidel’s campaign from the guerrilla skirmishes in the Sierra Maestre to victory in the streets of Havana.”

Once Castro’s government was in power in January 1959, Hogan accepted a job as the public relations manager for Cuba’s Sugar Stabilization Institute, working alongside its head, Alberto Fernández. A year later, Hogan’s position was abolished and he returned to New York.

During his time in Havana, Hogan had made contacts with an FBI informant and had also developed CIA connections. Joan Mellen, the author of The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution (2016) writes that Hogan was a CIA informant from mid-1960. The CIA were especially interested in the activities of Alberto Fernández, and encouraged Hogan to make regular reports on his activities, while later recognizing, according to one source quoted by Mellen, that Hogan was “somewhat unscrupulous and hazardous from a security standpoint.”

A year later, back in New York, Hogan was regarded by the CIA’s Bernard Reichhardt as an “undesirable hanger-on”. Mellen says that Reichhardt received a full biography of Hogan in May 1961 and “knew that Hogan had been “thrice married”, had been suspended from the New York Herald Tribune at the time it faced a strike and had taken on a job to write a history of Castro’s 26th of July Movement.”

By all accounts, Hogan did complete his book which, according to Peter Huf, was anti-Castro. However, he was unable to find a willing publisher.

After his Cuban adventures, Hogan does not appear to have remained in New York for very long. According to the various versions of his life he shared with acquaintances in Ajijic, he spent several years in South America, dividing his time between the sophisticated social elite in Buenos Aires (a city he loved) and trying to make a fortune from a sawmill he owned in Peru.

Hogan was still convinced his book about Cuba would one day make him rich but in the meantime appears to have lived on a modest monthly remittance – $700 according to Jerry Murray – from his father in the U.S. and had to borrow additional funds to maintain his accustomed lifestyle, while hoping his luck would change. His wife, Kulla (usually known in Ajijic as “Kulale” and thought by locals to be Hawaiian), took a job with Helen Kirtland in her loom business to help make ends meet.

In his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic at this time, Henry Edwards describes “John Hamilton” (Hogan) as arriving in the village with his wife and their two youngsters after losing all his money in a logging venture in Peru expropriated by the government. Hamilton, over six feet tall with a “boxer’s frame”, had thick blonde hair and blue eyes. He “habitually wore a hunting jacket (tan with shell pockets), big leather lace-up boots, tan jungle pants and a leather belt.” He also regularly carried a gun and hunted in the mountains.

As family finances collapsed, Hogan became more desperate and decided to risk drug dealing. He borrowed money to buy a substantial stash of marijuana but had several guns pulled on him once he handed over the cash and never did get any weed. A few weeks later, after borrowing another $20,000, Hogan tried again, this time taking a weapon with him, prepared to use it to enforce the deal. This attempt went horribly wrong. No sooner did he reach for his gun than the drug dealers shot him dead. It was 21 August 1971.

This is the version of his death as recalled by several people who were in Ajijic at the time, who say he died “across the lake”, with some mentioning the states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Jerry Murray, for example, has written that Hogan died in the state of Guerrero while trying to make a deal for “a strain of mota renowned as Acapulco gold.”

The true story may be less prosaic. According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter, Hogan had died “in his pick-up car near Tequila… Police said that he had apparently suffered a bullet wound in one arm but that was not the cause of death.”

Even after his death, controversy dogged Hogan. He was buried in the southern section of Ajijic cemetery in grave marked by a “five-feet-tall crucifix made of black marble” (Murray), paid for by his father. Unfortunately, the following year, a hotel developer’s bulldozer plowed through the area, desecrating many graves, including those of novelist Willard Marsh and journalist and adventurer Donald Hogan.

Note:

[1] The list of exhibitors who took part in the Fiesta de Art in 1971 reads like a Who’s Who of artists in Ajijic at the time. It includes Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Acknowledgement

  • My sincere thanks to Peter Huf and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing their memories of Donald Hogan with me.

Sources:

  • Richard Coulson. 2014. A Corkscrew Life. iUniverse.
  • Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 18 October 1956, p 57.
  • Henry F. Edwards. 2008. Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Heinz-D Fischer and Erika J. Fischer, 2003. Complete Historical Handbook of the Pulitzer Prize System 1917-2000. Walter de Gruyter.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 22 May 1971; 28 August 1971
  • Harvard University Library. Papers of Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris Hogan, 1971-1976: A Finding Aid.
  • Don Hogan. 1958. “Watchdogs Call Lansky for Quiz on Apalachin”, New York Herald Tribune, 13 February 1958, p 17.
  • Don Hogan. 1957. “The Rebellion in Cuba”, Kingston Gleaner (Jamaica), 16 December 1957, p 12.
  • Don Hogan and Peter Braestrup. 1959. “Dress Union Shares in Blame for Rackets.” New York Herald Tribune, 30 June 1958, p 1.
  • Joan Mellen. 2016. The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Jerry Murray. 2002. “The Devil’s Weed, Orgasmic Days, y Laguna Lust“. -e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002.
  • Jerry Murray. 2008. “Slodge“. e*I*40 (Vol. 7 No. 5), October 2008.
  • Stephen Woodbridge. “Woodbridge Family Tree.”

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

Aug 172017
 

Michael Hargraves is a writer of screenplays, literary surveys, bibliographies and literary criticism. He was a frequent visitor to Lake Chapala in the 1970s and 1980s, usually staying for two or three months at a time.

He is included in this on-going series of profiles because in 1992, he self-published a 48-page booklet entitled Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. The book was dedicated to Robert and Eileen Bassing. Hargraves included brief biographies of about forty different authors and artists who lived and worked at Lake Chapala. Most of the characters mentioned were active in the 1950s or 1960s.

The book has proved to be a valuable starting point for my own attempts to document the history of the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala. Curiously, however, I have failed to find out much about Michael Hargraves himself beyond what can be gleaned from his book about Lake Chapala.

According to the bio in the book, Michael Hargraves was born on 29 February 1952 at Jacksonville, Florida. His mother died when he was only eleven years old. He registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam conflict, attended the University of Florida, and graduated in 1974 with a B.S. in broadcast journalism/cinema.

The story behind Hargraves’ first visit to Mexico, believed to be the summer before he entered the University of Florida, involves a personal tragedy. As he tells it,

“My introduction to the South of the Border came about due to a busted, never-to-be-consummated marriage to a Japanese woman, whom I had met years earlier in San Francisco and reconnected with in Paris during a much needed sojourn. She did herself in after I caught her in the sack with her Japanese boss. I returned home to ponder my life, my future.”

On his return to the U.S., he was asked by a friend, the famed Scottish novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp (1934-2013), if he would fly down to Mexico, go to Tlaquepaque, and collect some handicrafts Sharp had purchased while visiting Mexico in 1970 for the soccer World Cup.

The lure of a round-trip ticket and expenses was sufficient to convince Hargraves to accept the offer. He stayed a few days in Guadalajara, but took an almost instant dislike to the city. After he had made arrangement to collect the handicrafts, he still had a few days to relax and explore. While viewing the Orozco murals in the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara, he met an American couple who extolled the virtues of Lake Chapala, so Hargraves took a bus down to Chapala and stayed there for a day or two. He enjoyed this initial visit and returned several times over the next decade, usually for two or three months at a time.

“The best thing about my times at Chapala has been the solitude. Naturally you can be with people there, with good options: all Americans, all Mexicans, or a combination of the two. However, my biggest pleasure comes from being anonymous. Over the years I have befriended all types. But not having lived there for a true extended period, say for a year or so, I can come and go as I please, do what I want, think what I will, see what I want. I don’t know if my love for Chapala would be the same if I felt like a “prisoner” there, like many of the retired Americans or the poverty-stricken Mexicans.”

Hargraves has written numerous books and screenplays and has catalogued several major collections of rare books and photographs.

His published works include: Henry Miller Bibliography with Discography (1980); Triple-Decker Kiosk (poetry) (1981); Harry Crews: A First Bibliography (1981); The Hamlet Additions: The Unpublishing of The Henry Miller-Michael Fraenkel Book of Correspondence called Hamiet (1981); Times, Things Change (poetry) (1983); Eight Obscure Literary Autographs (1983); Harry Crews: A Bibliography (revised edition) (1986); Robert Gover: A Descriptive Bibliography (1987); Henry Miller’s Hamiet Letters (1988).

Hargraves’ screenplays include Kiki of Montpamasse (with Frederick Kohner) (1977); Confusión (with Jacques Tati) (1978); The Man Who Thought He Was Groucho (based upon the novel Madder Music by Peter De Vries) (1980); Overkill [1982); Love in the Ruins (based upon the novel by Walker Percy) [1983); Murder City (based upon the novel by Oakley Hall) (1984); Coming Into Focus (1985); Restaurant: The Motion Picture (1992).

Hargraves also published some limited edition works, including Ishmaelite Scrolls by Benjamin Barry Hollander (1979); The Cagliostro Arcane by Jack Hirschman (1981); Bring Me the Head of Rona Barrett by Robert Gover (1981); A Chapter from Blind Tongues by Sterling Watson (1983); Tropico, the City Beautiful. Photographs by Edward Weston (Facsimile edition) (1986).

Source:

  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves). 48 pp.

As always, 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.

Jul 312017
 

Watercolorist, etcher and illustrator Elbridge Gerry Peirce Jr., more usually known simply as Gerry Peirce, was born in Jamestown, New York on 3 June 1900 and died in Tucson, Arizona, on 16 March 1969.

Peirce visited Ajijic in the mid-1940s, and may have been there more than once since he is known to have made several trips to Mexico. His visit to Ajijic, believed to be in 1945, was recorded by American author Neill James who had settled in the village a year or two previously: “Gary Pierce [sic], director of an art school in New Mexico, visited our village and executed many delicate water colors and engravings.” (Modern Mexico, October 1945). Despite the misspelling, and the fact that the art school that he directed was actually in Arizona, there is absolutely no doubt that James was writing about Gerry Peirce. Sadly, the whereabouts of his paintings and engravings of Ajijic remain a mystery.

Peirce graduated from the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) in 1925, and also studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City. He married his childhood sweetheart, Priscilla, and the couple moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, where Peirce began to execute etchings and engravings.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

After Canada, Peirce and his wife lived and worked in New Orleans. His time in New Orleans is particularly noteworthy because he was one of the co-organizers and charter members of the New Orleans Art League in December 1929. The other organizers were Harry Armstrong Nolan (1891-1929), Gideon Townsend Stanton (1885-1964), William Weeks Hall (1895-1958) and Henry Costello. By coincidence, Gideon Townsend Stanton also had close family links to Chapala: his maternal grandparents had a holiday home there for several years at the very end of the nineteenth century.

This early dry point, The Cat, is one of several dry points gifted by Peirce to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1934:

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, Peirce and his wife lived in various places, including Florida, Cuba, Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, where Peirce established a commercial art studio, producing cards for Cartier and Tiffany & Co. Later, the Peirces moved to Colorado and began to spend winters in Arizona, eventually making their home in Tucson, Arizona, in the mid-1930s. Peirce opened an atelier (“The Print Room”) in Tucson in 1934 and continued to produce wonderful dry point engravings. He also turned his hand to books.

Writing as “Percival Stutters”, Peirce wrote and illustrated at least two children’s books: How Percival Caught the Tiger (1936) and How Percival Caught the Python (1937), both published by Holiday House. Peirce also drew the black and white illustrations for Plants of Sun and Sand: The Desert Growth of Arizona, which had short texts by Stanford Stevens and was published by The Print Room, Tucson, in 1939. The original edition of that particular book is highly distinctive since it had a plywood cover.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

At about this time, a sketching trip with Stevens turned out to have a momentous impact on Peirce’s subsequent art career. As Peirce later recalled:

One day I was looking at a scene Stan was doing and wondered why he had picked out that particular spot. Why paint that I asked? His reply, “Because it has such a beautiful color,” jolted me right out of everything I’d been doing for the past twelve years. I realized that I was no longer seeing a landscape with its colors, but in terms of the black and white of etchings. I saw that even my etchings were becoming flat no longer suggesting the color of things.”

Though he never stopped producing his exquisite engravings, after Peirce picked up a brush and watercolors, he never looked back. He soon gained recognition as one of the country’s leading watercolorists. He was also a fine teacher and his studio-classroom attracted students from all across the country. In 1947, the Tucson Watercolor Guild was organized to provide a permanent studio and classroom space for Peirce to continue his work. His teaching career was curtailed by a heart attach in 1967.

In later life, Peirce wrote two non-fiction works: Creative You (The Print Room, 1954) and Painting the southwest landscape in watercolor (Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1961).

Peirce’s timeless portrayals of the Arizona desert and his tireless efforts to help others see the beauty he saw helped shape Tucson into the artistic center of Arizona.

From Arizona, Peirce made several sorties into Mexico. The wonderful collection of prints, published by The Print Room in 1969 as The drawings of Mexico, included images of San Miguel de Allende; Marfil and La Valenciana (both in Guanajuato); and of Tzintzuntzan (Michoacán). By this time, Peirce was no longer completing watercolors en plein air but was making quick pencil sketches or rapid watercolor impressions in the field to serve as memory aids for his final paintings done back in the studio.

A contemporary reviewer described the collection as “a portfolio of reproductions of pencil drawings made by Gerry Peirce in Mexico, a country he visits frequently and understands. This understanding and his affection for the country and its people are reflected in every sensitive line and shading of these outstanding drawings.”

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Peirce was a frequent exhibitor wherever he lived and a member of the Society of American Etchers, the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the California Print Makers. Note that the oft-repeated claim in contemporary newspaper accounts that Peirce had been awarded an honorary doctorate in art by “St. Andrews University College in London” can not be substantiated since there is no record of any institution of that name, though it is possible that Peirce was granted an honorary degree by St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.

Peirce’s work is in numerous museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harvard’s Fogg Museum; the Boston Museum of Fine Art; the Library of Congress; Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the J.P. Speed Memorial Museum (now Speed Art Museum) in Louisville, Kentucky; Denver Art Museum; Arizona Museum of Art; Tucson Museum of Art; the Mobile Museum of Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; University of Arizona Art Museum; and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

In 1980, more than a decade after Peirce’s death, a retrospective exhibition of his watercolors and etchings was held at the Kay Bonfoey Studio and Gallery in Tucson. Bonfoey, one of his former students, had purchased the adobe-and-redwood building that had formerly been Peirce’s studio and classroom space after his death to run her own gallery, and to continue the legacy of the Tucson Watercolor Guild. Interviewed at the time, Bonfoey said that Peirce was:

… a unique human being. He wasn’t just a teacher of art, he was a philosopher, a thinker. No two classes were ever the same, the explorations were always different, always … well, awesome. He constantly looked into the relationship between nature and art. Nature was the base for everything he saw in his paintings, in other people’s work, in life around him.”

A fitting tribute to one of America’s great twentieth-century watercolorists.

Sources:

  • Arizona Highways Magazine. 1945. “Gerry Peirce”. Volume 21, 1945.
  • Art Life magazine. “Biography of Gerry Peirce”. Art Life magazine.
  • Arnold Elliott. 1951. Tucson Festival of the Arts, Exhibition Catalogue, March 25-April 8, 1951.
  • Judith H. Bonner. 2011. “New Orleans Art League.” Article dated 23 May 2011 in Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities).
  • Peter H. Falk (ed). 1985. Who was who in American art, 1564-1975.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • John Peck. 1980. “Late artist Peirce comes home.” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), 11 May 1980, p 75.
  • Peggy and Harold Samuels. 1985. Encyclopedia of Artists of The American West. Castle Books.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona). 15 October 1960, p 12; 1 September 1965, p 15; 13 August 1966, p 29; 17 March 1969, p 22 (obituary).
  • Warren Times Mirror (Warren, Pennsylvania), 11 December 1934, p 5; 11 March 1939, p 2; 1 August 1939, p 8; 16 March 1949, p 4.

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

Jul 272017
 

Dr. George Carpenter Barker (1912-1958) was an anthropologist, author, editor and translator.

What makes Barker a worthy inclusion in our series of mini-biographies of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala is his editing and translation of a performance of a nativity play or pastorela in the village churchyard that he saw on Christmas morning 1948.

Barker was visiting Chapala in the company of Hugh S. Lowther, Professor Emeritus of Classical Languages at Occidental College, Los Angeles, and his wife, María López de Lowther, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Emeritus, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The trio of academics witnessed the play which was performed outdoors, with no platform, stage or curtain and lasted about two and a half hours. The cast of about twenty performers, mostly teenage boys and girls, was “surrounded by a crowd of spectators, all but a handful of whom were Mexican people. Some of the men in the audience sat or stood on top of a high wall enclosing the churchyard, and small boys perched on branches of a tree overlooking the performers. Several women stood throughout the performance with infants strapped to their backs. To prevent the audience from pressing in too close upon the cast, the hermit periodically patrolled the circle with his flagelot poised to swat any overbold onlooker.”

The shepherds and shepherdesses “were beautifully dressed in flowing white robes and carried long staves or crooks brilliantly festooned with ribbons, bells, and paper flowers.”

Excluding short choral interludes, “the only break in the performance occurred when the bells in the church towers directly overhead pealed out the call to High Mass. The noise was so deafening that even the chorus could not be heard. To fill the gap, the hermit improvised a clever pantomime, alternately sopping his ears and shaking his fists at the bells, much to the delight of the audience.”

After the performance, Barker was able to obtain “the old copybook containing the long-hand Spanish text… from the play’s ensayador, or rehearser, Aristeo Flores, who also played the part of Lucifer in the production. Flores was a shopkeeper about forty-five years of age who lived in the neighboring village of El Salto. He told Mrs. Lowther and me that he had transcribed the text [in about 1914] when he was a schoolboy in the village of Ocotlán, Jalisco. He said he was aided by his schoolmaster and by old people in the village in writing down the lines of the play.”

Barker’s 167-page translation and analysis was published as The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).

This work was described in a review by Frank Goodwyn in Western Folklore (1954, p 220):

This is an unusually full and well-written version of the nativity play traditionally given on Christmas morning in Spanish-speaking countries…. Barker has made a close translation of the play and presented it in parallel text, thus making it intelligible to the English-speaking reader without losing the flavor of the original tongue. Barker concludes that “this version is more Mexican than Spanish”. “There is also a description of the play’s presentation on Christmas morning, 1948, at Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, from the manuscript which Barker subsequently obtained and reproduced.”

Publicity material accompanying the book’s release described it as, “containing the text of an old Mexican folk drama”… [that] “belongs to class of religious folk dramas introduced into Mexico in the sixteenth century. They were patterned after the Miracle Plays produced in western Europe during the Middle Ages”.

Barker’s account of the nativity play at Chapala is far from the earliest reference to the peculiarities of Christmas festivities in Chapala. For example, celebrated anthropologist Frederick Starr, who visited Chapala several times, described what he termed a “Passion Play”, the Pastores (Shepherds), that he had witnessed in December 1895. Starr considered the performance to be “probably entirely foreign” compared to Tastoanes and Conquista which combined Indian and imported elements. According to Starr, “The play is fairly recent at Chapala. Only a few years ago a young fellow from the village saw it at some other town; he learned it by heart and trained his band of actors. This illustrates the way in which dramas travel – even in Mexico – from town to town.”

In 1947, the year before Barker visited Chapala, Norman Pelham Wright had published Mexican Kaleidoscope, in which he argued that the words of what he called the Chapala Christmas dance were “sheer gibberish”:

“The traditional dances themselves are in most cases hopelessly corrupt. The formal Spanish blank verse which is orated at the Chapala Christmas dance, for instance, is sheer gibberish, which has been passed on verbally from one generation to another, and never entrusted to writing; in the dance, Malinche is confused with the Virgin Mary, Moctezuma with Pontius Pilate, and Hernán Cortés with Christ, in a weird jumble of ideas relating both to the Conquest and to the life of our Lord. There is no reason to suppose that the music has not suffered similarly.”

carpenter-george-c

It is tempting to speculate that perhaps Barker wanted to judge the authenticity of the play in Chapala for himself after reading Wright’s words which surely would have made any anthropologist interested in Mexican traditions curious to learn more.

Barker concluded from his detailed textual analysis that the pastorela he had seen and analyzed incorporated numerous elements from Europe and was among the least corrupt of the thirteen pastorelas previously recorded from Mexico or the southwestern part of the U.S. Even so, it was “largely of Mexican origin”, as evidenced by references in the play to such things as pulque, tacos, baúles de colaciones (Christmas sweetmeats), coyote, tepejuage, birria and panela.

Barker’s parents were California artist and art teacher George Barker (1882-1965) and his wife Olive Carpenter. George Carpenter Barker gained a degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and an MS degree in journalism from Columbia University, before completing his masters and doctorate degrees in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

He received his PhD in 1947 and then worked as a research associate in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Arizona from 1947 to 1948. From 1950, until his death, he was a research associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at UCLA.

At UCLA, his research focused on Mexican-American youths in the Los Angeles area, though he never lost his interests in folklore and the religious ceremonies of various Southwest Indian tribes, including the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico.

Barker was the author of a number of articles in scholarly journals, and of the short studies entitled Pachuco: An American-Spanish Argot and its Social Functions in Tucson, Arizona (Univ. of Arizona Social Science Bulletin (1950) and Social Functions of Language in a Mexican American Community (Univ. of Arizona Press, 1972).

He was a member of various professional societies in several fields, including the American Anthropological Association and the Asociación Española de Etnología y Folklore (Madrid).

The Papers of George C. Barker now reside in the Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries.

This is an update of a post first published on 27 July 2015.

Sources:

  • George C. Barker. 1953. The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).
  • M. S. Edmonson. 1954. Review of “The Shepherd’s Play of the Prodigal Son: A Folk Drama of Old Mexico”, American Anthropologist, Volume 56, Issue 5, 1954, p 924-5.
  • Frederick Starr. 1896. “Celebrations in Mexico” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 9 #34 (Jul-Sep 1896) pp 161-169.
  • University Bulletin: A Weekly Bulletin for the Staff of the University of California, Volume 2, University of California, 1954.
  • Norman Pelham Wright. 1947. Mexican Kaleidoscope (Heinemann).

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

Jul 202017
 

Novelist Oakley Hall was a professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, and directed its creative writing program.

Hall and his wife Barbara Edinger Hall, a photographer, lived at Lake Chapala for about six months in 1952, during which time, according to Michael Hargraves in A literary Survey of Lake Chapala, Hall was working on his third novel, Corpus of Joe Bailey, published by Viking in New York the following year. Hall visited Mexico several times over the years and more than one of his novels is set in Mexico.

Oakley Hall. Credit: website of Al Young.

Oakley Hall. Credit: website of Al Young.

Oakley Maxwell Hall was born on 1 July 1920 in La Jolla (near San Diego), and died in Nevada City, California, on 12 May 2008.

After his parents divorced, Hall lived with his mother in Honolulu, Hawaii, but later returned to California to complete his high school education at San Diego’s Hoover High School. Hall then attended the University of California at Berkeley. After graduating from Berkeley in 1943, he served in the Marines during the second world war.

He married Barbara Edinger in 1944. The couple moved to New York so that Hall could study writing at Columbia University but Hall left as soon as he sold his first novel, Murder City, which he claimed to have written in only two weeks. They then spent 18 months in Europe where Hall studied in England, Switzerland, and at the University of Paris, aided by the G.I. Bill. In 1950 he earned a Masters degree in Fine Arts (creative writing) from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Hargraves writes that Hall was at Lake Chapala for six months in 1952 and quotes him as saying that the British novelist Christopher Veiel was also living at Lake Chapala at that time. Little is known about Hall’s (or for that matter Veiel’s) time at Chapala beyond these scant details.

Hall’s distinguished teaching career included a spell at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop before he joined the University of California, Irvine, in 1968. In 1969 he co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a summer program linking published and unpublished writers. Hall and his wife divided their time each year between San Francisco and Squaw Valley.

Hall retired from UC Irvine in 1990. Through his teaching, Hall had a profound influence on California literature. His students included Michael Chabon, Richard Ford and Amy Tan. Amy Tan, in particular, credits Hall with having given her the necessary support to become a well-known writer: “Oakley was the reason that I found my confidence as a writer… the Halls are a remarkable family. They are deep-hearted and stalwart, generous and kind and giving.”

Oakley Hall’s two best-known works are Warlock (1958) and The Downhill Racers (1963). Warlock, a western tale set in the fictional 19th century town of Warlock, was a finalist for the 1958 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted for a film of the same name, released in 1959. The Downhill Racers was the basis for the movie Downhill Racer (1969) starring Robert Redford.

Hall received numerous awards including lifetime achievement awards from the PEN Center USA and the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

California poet Al Young (who lived in Ajijic for several years in the 1960s and whose novel Who is Angelina? includes several scenes set at Lake Chapala) was a friend of Oakley Hall for more than thirty years. Following Hall’s death, Young was quoted as saying that, “Oakley Hall was a master storyteller who loved the West…. His novels and stories reflect the landscapes that he inhabited most of his life: the Pacific islands of his youth, the foothills and ski slopes of the Sierra and the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco.”

Early in his career, Hall wrote several mystery novels using the pen name Jason Manor: Too Dead to Run (1953); The Red Jaguar (1954); The Pawns of Fear (1955); The Tramplers (1956).

Hall’s nonfiction books included The Art and Craft of Novel Writing (1994); Heroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old West (with Jack Schaefer, 1987); and How Fiction Works (2000). He also had short stories published in numerous magazines, including Playboy, Tri-Quarterly, The Hawaii Review, and The Antioch Review.

Hall’s major works of fiction included Murder City (1949); So Many Doors (1950); Corpus of Joe Bailey (1953); Mardios Beach (1955); Warlock (1958); The Downhill Racers (1963); The Pleasure Garden (1966); A Game for Eagles (1970); Report from Beau Harbor (1971); The Adelita (1975); The Bad Lands (1978); The Children of the Sun (1983); The Coming of the Kid (1985); Apaches (1986); Separations (1997), about the discovery of the Colorado River; Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades (1998); Ambrose Bierce and the Death of Kings (2001); Ambrose Bierce and the One-Eyed Jacks (2003); Ambrose Bierce and the Trey of Pearls (2004); Ambrose Bierce and the Ace of Shoots (2005); and Love and War in California (2007).

Several of these books have links to Mexico. These include his Ambrose Bierce series of mysteries which had the legendary San Francisco newsman and satirist Ambrose Bierce as main protagonist. Bierce (author of The Devil’s Dictionary) had significant ties to Mexico. In December 1913, when he was in his seventies, Bierce disappeared in Mexico in mysterious circumstances. After allegedly joining Pancho Villa’s army as an observer, he was never seen again.

In his review of The Adelita (1975), blogger Steven Zoraster writes that:

“The narrator in this novel is Michael MacBean Palacio, son of an American father and a Mexican mother… a child of privilege, graduate of Andover, graduate of Harvard, and leader of a band of guerrilla cavalry during the war to overthrow the Mexican dictator Huerta. He is also the lover of Adelita, the woman of the title, the living symbol of the revolution, whose name is also that of the Mexican soldier’s wife in a famous and very real ballad of the Mexican Revolution.”
. . .
“Oakley Hall is unparalleled in the portrayal of the American frontier, where the law is distance and tenuous. Here it is up to the protagonists to establish their own law. To establish it with great difficulty and often with bloodshed, and always with uncertainty about the cost that must be paid. In “The Adelita” the necessity of establishing the rule of law is extended to an entire country, Mexico, a country Mr. Hall seems to have understood very well.”
. . .
“In 1968, witnessed by MacBean, the Mexican government, in which his son has an important role, orders the pre-Olympic massacre of protesting students at Tlatelolco in Mexico City. And thus MacBean is drawn back into the unfinished struggle for some sort of justice or righteousness or legality in Mexico.”

In Children of the Sun, Hall spins a story based on “The famous journey of Cabeza de Vaca through northern Mexico (1535-36), and its treasure-seeking aftermath–in an intelligently fictionalized version that turns the story into a morality play involving greed, religion, racism, and ambition.” (Kirkus Review). [That story is part of chapter 11 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique]

After these two books on Mexico – The Adelita and Children of the Sun – Hall had begun a third book, provisionally entitled Independencial, an historical novel set during Mexico’s 1810-1821 War of Independence. In an interview late in life Hall recalled that his publishers had not displayed any enthusiasm for further books relating to Mexico since, “Books about Mexico don’t make enough money.”

Sadly, some things clearly haven’t changed!

Sources:

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

Jul 132017
 

Captain H. E. William (“Bill”) Strange OBE was Director of Naval Information in the Canadian Navy before “retiring” to Mexico with his wife, Jean, in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) . He then proceeded to research, write and produce several radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).

Strange was born in Corazal, British Honduras (now Guyana) in 1902. His father was the then District Commissioner. He attended a boarding school in the U.K. from the age of seven. When the first world war broke out, Strange became a cadet in the Royal Navy, and undertook training at Osborne and Dartmouth. Following his discharge in 1918, due to a vision problem, he moved to Trinidad, where his parents were then living and worked in that country’s oil fields. After Trinidad, he took teaching positions in England and Egypt.

Strange emigrated to Toronto, Canada, in 1929. During the next decade he worked in a variety of jobs related to sales, advertising, writing and public relations but found most success in writing radio scripts and plays. Among his weekly productions were “Who’s Who in Music”; “Let’s Disagree”; and “Echoes from History”. In 1935 he published a novel, Sunset in Ebony, based on his experiences in Trinidad.

When the second world war began in 1939, Strange used his skills to focus on radio programs designed to assist the allied cause. After producing about 20 half-hour shows in a series for CBD titled “They Shall Not Pass”, he started a long-running series named “Carry on Canada”. In 1941 he visited England as a CBC war correspondent “to look at the blitz”, collecting material for another book (below) and for several radio specials, one of which became the first Canadian program to win the top award at Ohio State University’s Institute of Education by Radio. Royalties from the book all went to the Navy League of Canada.

Strange joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1942 as an information officer. He served as Director of Naval Information from late 1945 until his retirement in February 1959. Much of his time with the RCN was spent making radio broadcasts.

After the second world war ended, Strange established the RCN’s first peace-time public information organization. During his time with the RCN Strange produced dozens of radio plays, booklets and articles as well as several books, in addition to documentary series, including a tri-service show called “Comrades in Arms”. In 1948 he founded The Crowsnest, the magazine of the Directorate of Naval Information.

William Strange wrote several books related to Canada and the second world war, including Canada, the Pacific and War (Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1937); Into the blitz; a British journey (Toronto: Macmillan, 1941); The Royal Canadian Navy, 1942-1943 (Canadian Print and Lithographing Co, 1943); and Ships Mean Security (Toronto: The Navy League of Canada, 1945).

For his many and varied services, Captain Strange was awarded the OBE in January 1946.

Captain William Strange married Jean Taylor in 1950. In his memoir, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power, Peter C. Newman pays tribute to Captain William Strange for having been an outstanding mentor to him in the early 1950s. Newman also refers to Strange’s wife, Jean, “his wonderful architect wife”.

From 1959 to 1961, the Stranges were in Jamaica where Bill was writing and training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

In 1962, the couple took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya civilization for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas, from where they began to explore the rest of Mexico, working on new projects for the CBC. A brief note in the 30 April 1964 edition of the Guadalajara Reporter informs us that “Capt. and Mrs William Strange have returned from a trip to Mexico City, Tlaxcala, Cholula and other spots. He’s doing research for a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto.”

From a lengthier piece in the same newspaper the following year (18 November 1965) we learn that the Stranges have returned to Chapala Haciendas after spending the summer settling affairs in Canada. Captain Strange’s 90-minute radio documentary about Hernan Cortés’ conquest of Mexico, “The Bold Ones”, was being broadcast by the CBC national network. Strange had already completed a new project, the story of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota, which the CBC had agreed to produce and broadcast.

In 1966, Strange entered an “experimental film” entitled “Dimensions” into a contest held as part of Guadalajara’s annual Fiestas de Octubre celebration. The film won “Capitán William Sprange” (sic) a silver sombrero.

It was in 1966 when Strange was appointed to the first board of directors of the newly-formed Anglo-Mexican Institute (IAM) in Guadalajara. Less than a year later, he became president of the IAM’s governing council and he was still actively involved in IAM affairs when it celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 1976.

Captain William Strange, OBE, CD, RCN, died in Chapala in 1983.

Sources

  • Anon. “Founder of The Crowsnest Retires.” The Crowsnest, March 1959.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6;
  • Informador 11 Sep 1966; 28 Oct 1966; 3 July 1967; 11 Sept 1976
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.
  • William Strange. 1941. Into the blitz; a British journey. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Captain William Strange Papers (Director of Naval Information): Speeches and Related Materials in National Defence Headquarters Directorate of History and Heritage.

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

Jul 032017
 

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth, also known after her second marriage as Frieda Mathilda Das, was an accomplished painter, writer, and illustrator, who is perhaps best remembered today for having painted one of the earliest portraits of Mahatma Gandhi.

Hauswirth visited Mexico from August 1944 to early in 1946. While it is unclear if this was her only visit, she definitely visited Ajijic on this trip: Neill James, in her account of Ajijic in 1945, described Hauswirth as “a naturalist from India”.

Actually, Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth was Swiss, but with very strong Indian connections. Hauswirth was born in Switzerland on 8 February 1886 and studied at the Universities of Bern and Zurich for two years before moving to California in about 1905 to attend Stanford University, from which she graduated with an A.B. in English in 1910.

Immediately after graduating she married a fellow Stanford student, Arthur Lee Munger, who later became a doctor. Their unconventional marriage ceremony on 7 August 1910 was held at the Temple Square in Palo Alto. The couple were “in street attire and unattended.” The ritual, “quite unlike that of any other church, in that it minimizes the religious and accentuates the philosophic and social side of marriage”, omitted any suggestion of “the inferiority and submission on the part of the bride”. Each “placed a ring on the fourth finger of the other in token of marriage, repeating the nuptial vows in unison”.

Hauswirth’s liberated approach to matters of the heart became apparent soon after marriage when she became infatuated with an Indian professor (and with India and its complex politics). A short-lived affair brought her marriage to an end and she and Munger divorced in 1916.

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Illustration from Meine indische Ehe (1933)

While studying at Stanford, Hauswirth had become friends with a high-caste Indian student named Sarangadhar Das. Das had studied in Japan, funded by a wealthy patron in India, but turned his back on his patron (and his family) to continue his agricultural engineering studies at the University of California in Berkeley. After he graduated, he worked for several years in a sugar mill in Hawaii. Das and Hauswirth, who had now immersed herself in Indian literature and managed to get several articles published in the Modern Review of Calcutta, had always remained close friends. Hauswirth longed to visit and teach in India but wartime travel restrictions prevented her from realizing this plan. Das had proposed to Hauswirth several times over the years before she agreed to visit him in Hawaii, where they married in 1917.

The marriage made their migration status very complicated. Hauswirth lost her previously-acquired American citizenship even as Das was petitioning the court for his own naturalization. The legal situation was complex. The United States District Attorney opposed the petition “on the ground that the petitioner, being, a Hindu, is not eligible to ‘naturalization under Revised Statutes, section 2169, which limits naturalization to “free white persons” and those of African nativity and descent”, but local Hawaii Second Circuit Judge Edings eventually ruled that Das did indeed have the right to become a U.S. citizen.

Even the couple’s honeymoon was sensationally eventful: they were called as witnesses during the famous Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial in San Francisco where two men were killed in the courtroom.

Frieda and Das then lived in California for a short time, where Frieda took classes with Gottardo Piazzoni (1872–1945) at the California School of Fine Art (now San Francisco Art Institute) in San Francisco.

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

In 1920, following the death of Das’s father, the couple sailed for Calcutta, India, where Das tried to start a sugar factory in Orissa. The prejudices that were rife in the India of that time made life extremely difficult for Frieda. For instance, she was never able to meet her mother-in-law since if she had done so, the elder Mrs. Das would have “lost caste” and would have been reviled by friends and family alike. It also quickly became obvious to Frieda that her presence prevented potential investors from lending her husband the money needed to finance his sugar project. Not surprisingly, Frieda, a staunch feminist, found this situation intolerable and the couple agreed to live apart.

Sarangadhar Das went on to become a nationalist revolutionary who served in the Constituent Assembly of India that was responsible for framing the country’s independent constitution that took effect in 1950. He remained in politics until his death seven years later. A later account of his life and contribution to the Indian independence process, by Jatin Kumar Nayak, credits Hauswirth with having been instrumental in persuading Das that he should “return to India and make use of his expertise to improve the lot of his impoverished fellow Indians.”

Frieda left India and returned to Switzerland to paint and write. She studied art in Paris and divided her time over the next decade between Europe and California, with occasional trips to India. Frieda’s book about her experiences in India, A Marriage to India, was published by Vanguard Press, New York, in 1930. It is a detailed, heartfelt account of her relationship with Das and the difficulties they encountered as an inter-racial couple in India in the 1920s. The book’s frontispiece is Hauswirth’s own 1927 sketch of Gandhi, who was a friend of her husband’s family.

In early 1938, she moved to California for six years. She sought to restore her American citizenship and announced that she was prepared to divorce Das if necessary in order to expedite the process.

In 1944, after building a cabin-studio at 11, El Portal Court in Berkeley, she decided to visit Mexico. The visit lasted from August 1944 to early 1946. As described by Hal Johnson, writing several years later about Hauswirth for the Berkeley Daily Gazette:

Then came the urge to paint in Mexico and to gather material there for a travel book. In August, 1944, she motored south of the border with “Lennie”, a cross between a German police dog and an Airedale, as her sole companion.

Mexican roads were like driving over washboard through which spikes stuck up. Tires were scarce in Mexico then as they were in the United States, but Frieda Hauswirth and her dog, “Lennie”, finally reached Ajijic Lake.

She made her headquarters in Chapala and did in oil some delightful paintings. Followed a sojourn in Mexico City and then a trip to Oaxaca, where she painted from the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, the most intelligent of Mexican Indians. She spent Christmas, 1945, in Monterrey, Mexico.”

There is an as-yet-unconfirmed report of an oil painting, labeled “Ajijic” on the back, by Hauswirth of a Mexican couple at a market which presumably dates back to this time.

Hauswirth flew back to Europe early in 1946 to live in Switzerland and study Italian. She revisited India in 1950, but eventually resettled in Berkeley, California, early in 1951. A contemporary newspaper account describes how she did not have wall space to hang “several of her earlier oil paintings which won prizes in Paris art shows. They are carefully packed away along with her more modern canvases painted in Mexico.”

Hauswirth became well known for the frescoes and portraits she painted. Her major art exhibits included shows at the Salon des Beaux Arts, Grand Salon, Paris (1926); in London; at the San Francisco Art Association (1920, 1925); in Boston; at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City (June 1931); and in Mysore, India.

Frieda Hauswirth wrote and illustrated several books including A Marriage to India (1930); Gandhi: a portrait from life (1931); Purdah, the Status of Indian Women (1932); Leap-Home and Gentlebrawn, A Tale of the Hanuman Monkeys (1932); Into the Sun (1933); Die Lotusbraut (1938); Allmutter Kaveri (1939).

This progressive woman, who had led and enjoyed an extraordinary life, died in Davis, California, in March 1974 at the age of 88.

Sources:

  • Russell Holmes Fletcher. 1943. Who’s who in California, Vol. I (1942-1943).
  • Frieda Hauswirth (Mrs Sarangadhar Das). 1930. A Marriage to India. New York: The Vanguard Press.
  • Edan Milton Hughes. 1986. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • Hal Johnson. “So We’re Told”. Berkeley Daily Gazette, 29 October 1951, p 9
  • Maui News. “Judge Edings Grants Citizenship to Das”. Maui News, 4 January 1918, p1.
  • Jatin Kumar Nayak. 2011. “Orissa Whispers – Unsung Hero: Sarangadhar Das is one of the makers of modern Orissa“. The Telegraph, India, 7 March 2011.
  • Oakland Tribune. “Berkeley Woman Balked, by Caste System of India”. Oakland Tribune (California), 30 March 30, p 13.
  • The Plattsmouth Journal. “Murray Department: Former Plattsmouth Young Man married at Palo Alto, California“. The Plattsmouth Journal (Nebraska), 25 August 1910, p 6.
  • The Stanford Daily. “Former Stanfordite To Divorce Hindu”. The Stanford Daily. Volume 93, Issue 26, 31 March 1938, p 1.

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

Jun 262017
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946.

The author is traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle. They meet up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

Ross Parmenter describes Ajijic and its church in 1946 in chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey:

At Ajijic the boatman brought us alongside the pier.
– – –

After getting the hat, Mary Alice and I took the time to do what had been impossible the day before. We looked around the town. We noticed that nearly all the low houses had corrugated tile roofs. Because of the wide, overhanging eaves, the roofs seemed to slope towards each other as if they wanted to meet over the narrow, cobbled streets. Most of the houses were whitewashed, but some were cream-colored and others showed the brown adobes of which they were built. The uncoated walls harmonized with the dirt roads, for the adobes were made of the same earth.

Occasionally we saw sprays of magenta bougainvillea toppling over expanses of flat, high walls. At one corner we saw fishing nets tacked for mending to the side of a house. Looking up the steeply sloping cross street, we saw high hills flanking the upper side of the town. Looking down, we got a glimpse of the lake, a silver-gray line drawn at the end of a vista of walls and sharply projecting eaves.

At the centre of the village, as we expected, we found a plaza with a church at one corner. The plaza was like an unfinished sketch. There was no sign of a municipal palace, but otherwise it had the usual elements. But nothing was complete. The bandstand, for instance, had railing posts, but no railing; and there was no sign of a roof. There were tiled walks radiating from the stand, but the more important outer walks were still unpaved. There were cement lamp posts, but they were used only as supports for electric cord that was strung between them with a few exposed bulbs hanging at irregular intervals. And the fountain had a circular stone basin all right, but its source of water, instead of being an ornamental centrepiece, was an ordinary kitchen faucet on one side.

Most of the iron benches were broken and the flower beds were unkempt and forlorn, Indeed, the whole square would have been dusty and dreary had it not been for the trees. The jacarandas were a mass of blue blossoms. And among the pale green foliage of the flat-topped flamboyants were so many red-orange flowers that I could see why they are called “flame trees.”

The church was at the back of a walled garden. Its steeple rose in four diminishing stories and was so elegant in effect that it suggested the work of a Georgian admirer of Sir Christopher Wren.
An arched gateway led into the garden. When we passed through its wrought iron gates we found the fine tower had raised false hopes. The rest of the church did not live up to it. It was small and crude, with all of the rough facade being whitewashed except the old doorway. In the gray stones of its lintel, cut in rough letters, was the information that the church had been built in 1749. By this time I had seen so many earlier dates that I felt blasé about anything so recent. After all, it was a mere twenty-six years before the American Revolution.

The low-ceilinged interior was not impressive, but it gave evidence of care. Defining the vestibule, was a new entrance screen of highly varnished wood and the floor of blue and white checked tile was as clean as a Dutch kitchen. The wooden reredos behind the altar looked as if it had been planned for a loftier church and then been cut off at the top to fit this one. It was painted white. A big picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe hung on the side wall. Another Virgin was a large, fresh-faced doll that resembled Deanna Durbin. With her white dress, blue cape and silver crown, she was decked out as if she were a princess in a Christmas pantomime.

In striking opposition was the church’s most interesting object: a primitive Jesus realistically nailed to a fanciful cross, which had rays suggesting a sunburst. The Saviour’s brightly gilded crown of thorns and his red velvet waist wrapper contrasted grotesquely with his gray, blood-streaked body.

As we turned to leave, a bell began ringing outside. It had a regular sound pattern: one long clang and two short ones. We also heard some pleasantly tinkling bells. And rounding the vestibule screen we almost caught our breath at what we saw. Framed by the trees of the garden and the high round arch of the gateway was a beautiful view of the cobbled street, and making his way up that street was a man in the white cotton clothes of a native driving three tan oxen, who were ringing the bells at their throats with the rhythmic bobbing of their heads.

The louder bell, that was ringing dash, dot, dot, was one of those in the steeple of the church. A boy was tolling it by pulling on an outside rope that reached the ground.” (pp 96-98)

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

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.

Jun 122017
 

As we saw in previous posts, Rubén M. Campos, though now largely forgotten, was one of the major figures in Mexican literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Campos spent several vacations at Lake Chapala and made good use of his knowledge of the area’s history and geography in his acclaimed novel Claudio Oronoz.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

The parts of the novel that were set at Lake Chapala were, as Dulce Diana Aguirre López has shown, based on a straightforward, narrative account that Campos had originally published some years previously, as “En el Chapala”. “En el Chapala” was the second of three descriptive, factual pieces about Lake Chapala, published in La Patria in 1899, which we consider in this post. The first of his three short articles in 1899 was datelined “Chapala, 27 March”, the second “Chapala, 28 March”, and the third “Ocotlán, 28 March.”

The first piece describes the train ride from Mexico City to Tula, Irapuato (where the train remains for two hours allowing passengers to find an early breakfast) and La Barca, where  a “picturesque multitude” fills the station: two blind men playing guitars and singing, while fruit and vegetable sellers compete to sell their oranges, mameys, cucumbers and nopales, offering “the fruit at very low prices, without taking advantage of strangers of foreigners”.

The train then continued on to Ocotlán, arriving there by mid-day. There, Campos was met by his friend (and fellow poet)  Honorato Barrera and they took a streetcar across the town to the steamboat “Chapala”, which was moored in the River Santiago, awaiting the arrival of some important person from Mexico City and his family.

Within minutes, the steamboat was on Lake Chapala: “We entered the lake, amidst some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable, the largest lake in our beautiful country, and the lake whose horizons unite water and sky, surrounded by bluish-violet mountains with distant small fishing ports, barely distinguishable, even with a telescope: Jamay, Cojumatlán, Jocotepec, Tuxcueca, Tizapán – a parade of musical names that reach my ear on the fresh breeze…”

In the second article in the series – “En el Chapala” – Campos likens the movement of the steamboat to that of a serpent making its way through the water, and gives a lengthy, poetic description of the varied colors of the sky, lake and landscape, as seen from the steamboat. Campos expresses his emotions and marvels at his own feelings of enchantment as the sun goes down in the late afternoon, and the lake is bathed in moonlight as they reach the village of Chapala.

In his third article, Campos offers a much more detailed description of the village itself, starting with its position as a “small port, lost in a fold of the mountains that descends to kiss the surface of the lake”. Chapala, that has “a line of buildings that defends if from the lake breezes”, is only a small village at this time with “barely a fistful of houses on winding little streets that creep up the mountainside.”

The village does have some magnificent homes: “Suddenly, I find myself in a golden age. We wander up and down around the buildings that wealthy gentlemen have built here, starting with the English consul, Mr. Carden, who discovered this paradise.” Even though it is nighttime, Campos and his companions are invited to view several of these homes, clustered around a small bay. with their balconies, terraces and extensive gardens.

A few hours later, the party is ferried back out to the steamboat “Chapala”, lying at anchor some distance offshore, for the return journey to Ocotlán.

Notes :

  • All quotations are loose translations by the author of this post.

Sources

  • Rubén M. Campos. 1899. “Notas de viaje”, La Patria, 30 March 1899, p 1; 2 April 1899, pp 1, 2.
  • Rubén M. Campos. 1906. Claudio Oronoz. Mexico. J. Ballesca y ca.
  • Dulce Diana Aguirre López. 2015. Edición crítica de Claudio Oronoz, de Rubén M. Campos. Masters thesis, UNAM, 2015.

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

Jun 052017
 

Gordon Gammack was an Iowa newspaper reporter and columnist. During his 40-plus years working for The Des Moines Register and Tribune he covered three major wars – World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War – as a war correspondent.

Late in life in the early 1970s, he visited Chapala and wrote a couple of newspaper pieces about the area. The first focused on the places, including Lake Chapala, where Iowan individuals and couples had chosen to retire. The second piece looked at the downside of living in “Shangri-La” as Gammack christened the northern lake shore.

Gammack, the son of an Episcopalian pastor, was born in Lenox, Massachusetts on 31 May 1909 and died on 18 November 1974 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

After graduating from Kent School, Connecticut, where he wrote for the Kent School News, he attended Harvard University and then began work as a reporter for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. A friend of his older brother, Tom, arranged for him to join The Register and Tribune in 1933, during the Great Depression, when jobs were hard to come by. Gammack never looked back. He began by covering crime and sports, then moved on to state politics. Fellow reporters considered Gammack a natural – someone who could walk into a strange town and “three stories would run up and jump into his pocket” as one of his colleagues put it.

During World War II he became a foreign correspondent for the newspaper and followed Iowans serving in the armed forces in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, often sending personal notes home from front-line soldiers to their families. He was with the American forces that liberated Paris.

After the was Gammack became a columnist. His evening Tribune column usually appeared in the left-hand column of page one.

During one of several visits to Korea during the Korean War, Gammack witnessed the first exchange of sick and wounded prisoners of war. He secured an exclusive radio and TV interview with Iowan Richard Morrison, the first American soldier released.

Gammack also covered the Vietnam War and won a National Headliners Club Award for his series of articles about Michael Kjome of Decorah, Iowa, who had been held as a prisoner of war.

A collection of his war columns, edited by Andrea Clardy, was published in 1979 as Gordon Gammack: Columns from Three Wars.

In 1971, Gammack visited Chapala during his research to write and photograph Iowans for an article entitled, “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”. In the article, Gammack describes how, “two former Tama residents, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Morris, find retirement pleasant in Mexico. Domestic help there is so inexpensive that the Morrises have two gardeners and two cook-maids at their magnificent home near Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara.” He also photographed “Harold Stillwell, formerly of Malcom, and Mrs Stillwell” in their garden overlooking the lake.

A couple of months later, Gammack penned “The Trouble with Shangri-La” which looked at the downside of living at Lake Chapala. Noting, first, that a home that cost $50,000 to build in Des Moines would cost less than half that to build in Chapala, Gammack lists some of the many disadvantages, as he sees it, of retiring to live in Mexico, and, in particular, at Lake Chapala: the loneliness of expatriation, the “formidable separation” from children; the Napoleonic system of justice; the “high percentage of extreme right wingers and racists among the Americans in the area”; the loss of Medicare; the lack of telephones; the danger of contaminated water; the inferiority of local beef; the erratic mail service; “almost no worthwhile U.S. TV or radio programs”; problems with language.

Gordon Gammack died of lung cancer at the age of 65. One of his daughters also became a columnist for The Des Moines Register.

Sources:

  • Des Moines Register Famous Iowans: Gordon Gammack.
  • Friedricks, William. 2009. “Gammack, Gordon” in The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 22 May 2017.
  • Gordon Gammack. 1971. “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”, Des Moines Register, 14 November 1971, p 110
  • ——— (1972?). “The Trouble with Shangri-La”. Des Moines Register, [cited in Guadalajara Reporter 22 January 1972]

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

May 292017
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946. In chapter 3, Parmenter describes how local campesinos raised water from the lake to irrigate their fields on the shores of Lake Chapala in 1946:

[Later] we moved further ashore to watch the men bailing up water for the fields. At Mr. Johnson’s [in Ajijic] we had seen nothing of his irrigation system. I am sure, though, that it achieved greater results with less labor. But if more up-to-date, I doubt if it was more pictorial. The men’s system reminded me of slides I had seen as a boy at Sunday school, for these Mexicans were irrigating their fields in the same way as the Egyptians had watered theirs 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.

Ross Parmenter: Irrigation system, Lake Chapala

Ross Parmenter: Irrigation system, Lake Chapala

The system required three men. The first transported the water from a little inlet in five gallon gasoline cans which he carried, hanging like scales, from either end of a pole across his shoulders. The second man, on an improvised platform, operated the hoist. And the third one saw that the lifted water got into the sluice that drained to a field of squash.

Lacking the resources of a British engineer, the men had created their machinery from what was available. For the upright to support the hoisting lever they were using a willow, whose two main boughs forked about ten feet above the ground. The fulcrum consisted of a couple of lengths of rope braided and stretched taut across the arms of this natural Y. The lever itself was the peeled trunk of a slender tree, which was forced most of the way through the ropes. To compensate, for the excessive length of pole on one side of the fulcrum, the butt end was weighted with a big stone. This working beam set up in the treefork was controlled by a rope at its tip. From its tip, too, dangled a bucket.

When the operator hauled the beam down, the watercarrier would fill the lowered bucket from one of his cans. Then the operator would slacken his hold of the tug rope and the counterweight of the stone would lift the brimming pail. Brought level with the large funnel at the entrance of the sluice, the bucket would be tipped by the third man so the water spilled into a tin pipe. The pipe carried the water to a sloping channel, which, like almost everything else, was homemade. It consisted of boards placed together in a V and supported along their length by crotched sticks.

Like the fisherman we had seen casting his net, these men were wearing straw hats and had their pants rolled above the knees. They were unhurried and worked in easy rhythm, with the man at the hoist pulling on the rope as if he were ringing a church bell. There was little sound except the creaking of the cross-ropes as the beam was tilted back and forth, and that high-pitched creaking was not unlike the piping of the birds singing in the fields and trees. (100-102)

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

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.

May 252017
 

Stories about underdogs who rise to the top of their chosen field or profession are always fascinating. So how did Adela Breton, an amateur artist, come to produce some of the finest ever copies of ancient Mexican murals and friezes? In several cases, the originals no longer exist or have become badly corroded, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Adela Breton, Watercolor of the east façade of the ‘Nunnery’ at Chichen Itza. Photo credit: Dan Brown/Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

Breton traveled widely throughout Mexico. While her most significant work in terms of archeology was undertaken in central and southern Mexico, she also made a major contribution to the story of western Mexico by recording the excavation of a shaft tomb near Etzatlán, investigating a nearby obsidian works, and by mapping the circular mounds that were the only surface evidence of Guachimontones, the major archaeological site close to Teuchitlán. Breton also visited Chapala, where she sketched a couple of local people and collected several small archaeological pieces.

Stone mace head, from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Stone mace head from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

We can only speculate as to precisely why she visited Chapala in 1896, but it is more than possible that it was to see if the curative waters would alleviate her rheumatism or arthritis. This is supported by the comment in The Mexican Herald in 1902 that Breton had “for many years spent her winters in Mexico for reasons of health” prior to becoming seriously interested in pre-Columbian civilizations.

It is possible that her introduction to Chapala was at the invitation of Septimus Crowe, a former British vice-consul who had made his home there. It is also very possible that her 1896 visit was a return visit to the lake. The anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons, who visited in the early 1930s, wrote about the earthenware idolos “washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town” and then writes that “An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow did not impart to the ethnologist.” Breton is the best candidate for this “English lady”. Assuming that Parsons has the chronology correct, then Breton must have visited Chapala and met Crowe in about 1893, well before her proven visit in May 1896. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure since the whereabouts of Breton’s original diaries are unknown.

Adela Catherine Breton was born in London, England, on 31 December 1849. Her father, William Henry Breton, served in the Royal Navy, had a keen interest in archaeology and regularly brought curios home from his travels. He also authored two travel books, both published in 1835: Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Van Diemen’s Land, during the years 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833 and Scandinavian sketches, or, A tour in Norway.

When Adela was 18 months old, the family moved to Bath and established their home in Camden Crescent. This would remain Adela’s home for the rest of her life. Quite how Adela acquired and honed her artistic skills is unclear. Art would certainly have been an essential part of the general education of any well-to-do young English lady at the time but her proficiency, especially with watercolors, strongly suggests that she had some further art training at some point.

After her mother died in 1874, Adela kept house and cared for her aging father. He died in 1887. Adela was never married, and the death of both parents gave her a substantial inheritance (shared with a younger brother) and enabled her to be independent. Almost immediately, she started to travel, perhaps seeking to avoid British winters and find a climate beneficial for her health. She took to spending extended periods abroad, initially in Canada and the U.S., and then later in Mexico and elsewhere. One of her first trips was to Banff and across the Rockies by the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway. She also spent time in Japan (1890) and experienced an earthquake in San Francisco (1891) before visiting Mexico for the first time in 1892, when she arrived at the port of Veracruz aboard a ship from Havana, Cuba.

From Veracruz, she then traveled inland via Tlaxcala, Puebla and Cholula to Mexico City. She was so captivated by Mexico that she submitted the first of several travel pieces to her local newspaper back in Bath as “Your Mexican Correspondent”. Her arrival in Mexico City, to stay at the Hotel Iturbide, was duly noted on 1 April 1892 in a Mexico City daily, The Two Republics.

In December 1893, Breton embarked on an extended adventure in Mexico which lasted eighteen months until mid-1895. She traveled into Michoacán, where she came into contact with a local guide, Pablo Solorio, who she employed as her traveling companion and assistant on this and several subsequent occasions. Pablo looked after the logistics (horses, camp sites, food, contacts to local communities) which allowed Breton to focus on recording the local people, architecture, geology and historical sites through her art.

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

After Michoacán (and possibly Jalisco), they explored central Mexico and the mountains of Puebla and Oaxaca. Breton’s time at Teotihuacan in 1895 was especially productive since it enabled her to make meticulous sketches and paintings of the pre-Columbian murals of Teopancaxco which became a reference point for many later studies. Breton was also very interested in geology and Mexico’s volcanoes, so both 1xtaccíhuatl Volcano and the Pico de Orizaba were on her itinerary.

Photos taken in Bath show that Pablo accompanied Breton back to the U.K. for a visit, though she makes no mention of this in her extensive notes.

In 1896-97, Adela returned to Mexico and Pablo guided her through Michoacán before traveling north into Zacatecas and south to Guerrero. They visited Chapala in May 1896, as shown by the annotation alongside these two small paintings in her sketchbook for that period. The figurine identified as from Chapala was included in “The Remarkable Miss Breton” exhibit at Bath in 2016.

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

By the time Breton left Mexico for New York in April 1897, she had apparently become quite a familiar figure in Mexico City with The Mexican Herald reporting that, “Miss Adela Breton, a young lady of this capital, leaves this morning, contrary to the habits of Mexico, quite alone, for New York on a pleasure trip.”

Over the winter of 1898-99, Breton was back in Mexico, painting in the mining town of Real del Monte, a town which probably has more British connections than anywhere in Mexico. Real del Monte attracted Cornish tin miners, and even today, more than century later, residents still peddle their own, spiced-up version of Cornish pasties. Real del Monte is also the place where soccer was first played in Mexico; the local team, formed in 1901, is the oldest in the country.

Adela Breton. 1896. Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Adela Breton. Watercolor of Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

The turn of the century marked a new and defining chapter in Breton’s life. She made her first visit to Chichen Itza in 1900, at the age of 50. The visit was at the request of archeologist Alfred Maudslay, who asked her to check the accuracy of drawings he had done himself. Breton was able to improve significantly on Maudslay’s efforts and over the course of the next seven years, spent extended periods of time drawing and paintings at several Maya sites. Some, such as Chichén Itzá and Usmal, were well known even at that time while others, such as Labná and Acanceh, were (and to some extent still are) largely unknown.

Among her best-known watercolors are those depicting the frescos of battle scenes in the Upper Temple of Jaguars at Chichen Itza. They were already deteriorating by the time Breton painted them, but her record, compiled over numerous visits, is the only one to show all of them as they appeared at that time and in full color. When color photography made its debut, there was very little color remaining on any of the original frescoes.

Breton was constantly worried about the inherent problems of making accurate detailed drawings of such large objects. Despite being an accomplished photographer, she decided, after some experimentation, that even the best photos lacked some of the contrast and details she could incorporate into her drawings following a prolonged study of the real objects. Over the years, Breton justifiably acquired a reputation as one of the finest copyists of Mexican murals, manuscripts, maps and codices ever known.

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Her success was only possible because Breton had not only acquired some fluency in Spanish but was also able to communicate in several Mayan languages. This was essential, given the remote places where she often worked. As a reporter for The Mexican Herald wrote, Breton had chosen to explore ruins “reached only at the expense of tremendous hardships in the way of travel and accommodations” before adding, appreciatively, “and has done it all at her own expense.”

Her long-time guide-companion Pablo died (possibly of yellow fever) in 1904. Adela did not learn of his death for several months. Even though they had no romantic involvement, Adela was distraught when the news finally reached her, but it did nothing to deter her from continuing to document ancient sites.

By this time, Breton knew all the great names in Mexican archeology, including like-minded foreigners such as Zelia Nuttall, Alfred Tozzer, Fredric Ward Putnam, Alfred Maudslay and Eduard Seler, as well as many Mexicans working in the field.

Archaeologist Alfred Tozzer described Breton as:

“a character … an English maiden lady of much means. Her appearance is typical of an independent, unmarried spinster of fully sixty, tall, thin, and with a long face, grey hair, extremely near sighted but straight as an arrow. She wore a short skirt, a dark blue shirtwaist with straight collar attached, and a brimmed straw hat covered with flowers and planted perfectly square upon her head, but the surprise comes when she starts to talk. She is En-glish, you know, En-glish to the very bone and her speech is as exaggerated as any affected English lady ever heard upon the stage.”

Others who met her were less complimentary. For example, Edward Thompson, who was U.S. Consul to the Yucatán while Breton was working at Chichen Itza, wrote, “To tell the honest truth she’s a nuisance. She is a ladylike person but full of whims, complaints and prejudices.”

Breton certainly had several run-ins with authorities during her trips and appears to have regularly bemoaned the food, especially, once writing that, “The difficulty of going into Mexico is the impossibility of getting any food … I used to live chiefly on air and a few peanuts for the long riding journeys – 30 miles without any breakfast, and then some frijol broth”.

Despite such issues, however, Breton always maintained, like so many other foreign visitors before and after her, that Mexico held a very special place in her heart, so I prefer to assume that her occasional moans were more due to her general ill-health, compounded by repeated bouts of malaria and other diseases, than they were to any genuine dissatisfaction.

Her academic respectability grew as she became ever more involved in the biannual International Congress of Americanistas. At the 1902 Congress, held in the U.S., she exhibited her large copies of Mayan mural paintings found at Chichen Itza. In Vienna at the 1908 Congress, she gave a paper about the survival of ancient ceremonial dances (such as Las Voladores) in Mexico.

During the 1910 Congress, held in Chile and Argentina, she presented a paper (with lantern slides) entitled “Painting and sculpture in Mexico and Central America”. She opened this paper with a fervent plea for the world to recognize the quality of indigenous art and architecture in the Americas:

“Not many years ago it was the custom to depreciate the ancient peoples of America, and to represent them as savages, or as best as semi-civilized, with little knowledge of the arts … The excavations of each season now bring fresh evidence of the high rank reached by some of the ancient races in every line of art, and especially their remarkable skill in painting and sculpture. In their conception of grand and impressive buildings and the decoration of them with painted sculptures and frescoes, and still more in their skillful treatment of the difficult processes of colored relief in stuccoes, they take a foremost place among the nations of antiquity.”

The 1912 International Congress of Americanistas was held in London, England, and Breton was one of the co-organizers.

Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Figurine from Chapala, Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

What makes her trips to Mexico so remarkable is not that she was English, or a woman, or both, but that she was a woman often traveling on her own, riding more than a thousand kilometers side-saddle in the process. This is very different to an earlier Englishwomen, Rose Kingsley (daughter of Charles Kingsley), whose 1872 visit to Mexico (South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico) was as part of a large group led by the influential railroad entrepreneur General William Palmer.

Breton’s last visit to Mexico came in summer 1908 when she went to Mexico City to copy an ancient, and fragile, map for Professor Alfred Maudslay. By 1910, the Mexican Revolution was underway and for most of the following decade foreigners were well-advised to stay away from any off-the-beaten-track places of the kind that most interested Breton.

Major archaeological sites which Breton had drawn or painted include Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Acanceh, Zempoala, Ake, El Tajin, Mitla, Uxmal, Xochicalco, Cholula, and La Quemada. Her keen eye for detail meant that Breton became critical of many of the so-called “restoration” efforts carried out during the late Porfiriato at sites like Teotihuacan, Xochicalco and Mitla.

In 1922, Breton left her home in Bath for the last time, to sail to Rio to attend the Americanists’ Congress. Ill health caused her to stay longer than she anticipated there, to recover from dysentery, before setting off for home via the West Indies and Canada. Unfortunately, she fell ill again, and died in Barbados, at the age of 73, on 13 June 1923.

She left her entire collection to the Bristol Art Gallery & Museum of Antiquities. It includes more than 300 watercolors and 80 printed photographs, as well as 13 sketch books and has not been on public display very often. The major exhibitions include Bristol (1946), Cambridge (1952), the British Museum, London (1973) and one entitled “The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton and the Temples of Mexico”, which began at Bristol Museums in 1989 and then toured the U.K. Two complementary exhibits were held in the U.K. in 2016-2017: “The Remarkable Miss Breton” (in Bath) and “Adela Breton: Ancient Mexico in Colour” (in Bristol). The most significant exhibit in Mexico of Breton’s work was held in 1993 at the National History Museum (Museo Nacional de Historia) in Chapultepec Castle.

Breton’s remarkable drawings and watercolors of landscapes, people, murals and cities remain an invaluable resource and surely more than merit a permanent display somewhere. Come on sponsors: make sure this extraordinary female artist-explorer and her work get the attention they so richly deserve!

Sources:

  • Breton, Adela C. 1892. “A Mexican Sanctuary”. Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1892.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures”, Man, vol 3, 130-133, 1903.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1908. Survival of Ceremonial Dances among Mexican Indians. Proceedings, 16th International Congress of Americanists (Vienna), 531-540.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1912. Painting and Sculpture in Mexico and Central America. Proceedings, 17th International Congress of Americanists (Buenos Aires, 1910), 1, 245-247.
  • Giles, Sue and Jennifer Stewart (eds). 1989. The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton & the Temples of Mexico. City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
  • McVicker, Mary F. 2005. Adela Breton, A Victorian Artist amid Mexico’s Ruins. UNM Press.
  • Pint, John. 2016. “Adela Breton, 19th century British artist and explorer of Mexico feted in England”, Guadalajara Reporter 11 August 2016. Republished as “British archaeological artist visited Teuchitlán in 1896“.
  • The Mexican Herald : 10 April 1897, p8; 25 October 1902.
  • The Two Republics (Mexico City) : 1 April 1892.
  • Townsend, Richard F. (ed) 1998. Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past. Art institute of Chicago.
  • Weigand, Phil C. and Eduardo Williams. 1997. “Adela Breton y los inicios de la arqueología en el occidente de México”. Relaciones (Zamora, Mich.), vol 18, #70, pp 217-255

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.

May 222017
 

Rubén M. Campos‘s novel Claudio Oronoz includes dozens of pages relating to Lake Chapala. The lake is not only described (in all its glory) but also provides the setting for some memorable discussions between the main characters.

Campos utilizes Lake Chapala as a kind of antidote for, or counterbalance to, life in Mexico City. This is perfectly fitting, especially given the fact that the novel was written at the start of the twentieth century, precisely the time when many of the wealthier businessmen and residents of Mexico City established close ties to Lake Chapala, often setting up second homes there.

The protagonist of this novel is a young man, Claudio Oronoz, who considers himself an artist. (His poems appear at intervals in the novel). At the age of twenty-one, Claudio evades the obligations and responsibilities foisted on him by his family, who want him to enter business, turns his back on materialism, and heads for the capital city in search of like-minded bohemian individuals with whom he can share his thoughts, feelings and concerns. Thus begins his “odyssey of pleasure”, which subsequently involves trips to the theater, dinners, “parties and orgies”.

To quote Claudio: “I had imagined a distinct area for dreamers, for thinkers, a special neighborhood for musicians, painters, sculptors, poets …” He hoped to find “that blissful neighborhood which this Latin-American metropolis, like Paris, must have” but becomes increasingly disillusioned as he finds instead “the roar of the struggle for life in workshops, in factories, in warehouses, in the daily traffic of the streets, in the haste of passers-by.”

Eventually, Claudio does succeed in locating the “bohemian neighborhood and the fierce artists” he had dreamed of, and shares friendship and experiences with other young artists. But Claudio has a serious illness (consumption or tuberculosis) which is gradually sapping his energies. He is torn between a tendency to hedonistic debauchery and reveling in the pure love that he feels for Clara Rionda, the woman who cared for him during one of his serious relapses.

Two of Claudio’s other friends share Clara’s home with him: José Abreu, the narrator of the novel, and his lover Ana Belmar, Clara’s best friend, who was born in Jamay on the shores of Lake Chapala.

After some time enjoying themselves in Mexico City, the group decides to escape the city and go to Lake Chapala. (They return to the city for the final section of the book).

The trip to the lake via train from Mexico City to Ocotlán, and then by lake steam boat (vaporcito) from Ocotlán to Chapala is described at some length, and the text includes many details about the village of Chapala. For instance, the group stays on the second floor of a lakefront hotel: this is a clear reference to the historic Arzapalo hotel that first opened in 1898. The group arrived in early April, apparently well before Easter that particular year, since they are described as being among the first visitors that spring. Even the chalets (with verandas) that characterized the second homes of the wealthy in Chapala at that time are described.

These descriptive details owe nothing to coincidence or chance. As Dulce Diana Aguirre López has shown, the main section of the book about Chapala is based on a straightforward, narrative account that Campos had originally published many years previously, as “En el Chapala”. This was actually published twice – first in La Patria (1899) and then, with some variations, in Revista Moderna (1902) – before being suitably modified for the section in Claudio Oronoz: an interesting example of how a regular narrative or travel piece can be recycled as an integral part of a fictional work.

Claudio Oronoz is considered to be Campos’s master work in fiction. Campos’s portrayal of youthful artistic and intellectual ambitions which ultimately lead his protagonist to disillusionment helped move Mexican novels away from the realism of the end of the 19th century into new, emerging “modern” territory. Mexican literature would never be the same; later Mexican writers would never look back.

Notes :

  • All quotations are loose translations by the author of this post.
  • The text of the original novel is included in the thesis (downloadable as a pdf file) linked to below.

Sources

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

May 152017
 

Rubén Marcos Campos, though now largely forgotten, was one of the major figures in Mexican literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Campos, a poet, intellectual, novelist and folklorist, was born on 25 April 1871 in Ciudad Manuel Doblado, Guanajuato, and died in Mexico City on 7 June 1945.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

His first novel, entitled Claudio Oronoz, was published in 1906 and is considered one of the gems of the so-called modernist prose that was then in vogue. Lake Chapala plays an important part in the novel, as the destination towards which the hedonistic protagonist gravitates.

Campos was well acquainted with Lake Chapala and vacationed there several times over the years. In 1906, for example, we know from contemporary newspapers that he spent the second half of December in Chapala in the company of poet Luis G. Urbina (1864-1934) and painter Leandro Izaguirre (1867-1941).

In 1899, Campos wrote several short travel pieces about the lake for La Patria. We will take a closer look at both Claudio Oronoz and these travel articles in later posts.

Campos lost his mother at an early age, and grew up in León, Guanajuato, before moving to Mexico City in about 1890 to try and make his way as a writer. He was soon accepted into the literary circles of the city which gave him the opportunity to have poems and articles published in many of the major publications of the time, including El Mundo Ilustrado, Nosotros, México, Vida Moderna, El Universal, El Centinela and Revista Moderna. The last named, Revista Moderna, published two of his poems – “Desnudos” and “Ruth” – in its second issue, adding Campos to its distinguished list of contributors alongside Amado Nervo, José Juan Tablada, Luis Gonzaga Urbina and Jesús E. Valenzuela.

His only published collection of poetry was La flauta de Pan (1900), where many verses suggest or explore eroticism and sensuality. However, Campos’s poetry is not very well known, mainly because his essays and studies of popular music and Mexican folklore were already gaining him an enviable reputation for non-fiction writing, based on sound research and skillful use of language.

His most important articles about music and folklore appeared in such specialist publications as Revista Musical de México, Gaceta Musical, México Musical and Boletín Latinoamericano de Música. Among the many books by Campos related to the fields of history, folklore and folk music are Chapultepec, su leyenda y su historia (1922); El folklore y la música mexicana (1928); El folklore literario de México (1929); El folklore musical de las ciudades (1930); La producción literaria de los aztecas (1936); and Tradiciones y leyendas mexicanas (1938).

His keen interest in folklore and its history did not prevent him from continuing to hone his skills as a reporter. Campos produced numerous, elegantly-written pieces about different parts of Mexico, and also wrote several short fictional stories, many of them for El Nacional. A collection of  travel pieces was published in 1922 as Las alas nómadas.

The publication of his first novel Claudio Oronoz in 1906 marked the start of an astonishingly productive period that lasted to his death. The novel was welcomed by critics, despite being quite unlike most of his previous work, and established Campos as an accomplished modernist, quickly hailed as one of Mexico’s finest writers of prose of the period.

His versatility knew few bounds and Campos also completed at least three operatic librettos: Zulema (1899); Tlahuicole (1925); and Quetzalcóatl (1928).

He employed pen names at various points in his career; these pen names included Rubén Martínez, R. Martínez Campos, Oro and Rudel.

Given his interest in all aspects of culture and in interpreting the human story, it is not surprising that many of Campos’s stories and novels examine the multifarious seedy undersides of life such as sexual abuse, imprisonment, alcoholism, prostitution, murder and abandonment.

Campos managed to combine this prodigious output with a teaching career. At one time or other, he inspired students in the Escuela Normal Preparatoria, the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Conservatorio Nacional de Ciudad de México, the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía, and in the Universidad Nacional de México (UNAM)) in a variety of subjects, including art, music, history and Mexican folklore.

In addition to Claudio Oronoz, widely regarded as his master work, Campos also completed two other important novels: Aztlán, tierra de garzas (1935) and El bar: la vida literaria de México, which remained unpublished during his lifetime, but was finally put in print by the Universidad Nacional de México (UNAM) in 2013.

El bar: la vida literaria de México is especially interesting. It explores the bohemian artistic and literary scene of Mexico towards the end of the Porfiriato. It is based on the experiences of Campos and the other members of his literary circles, as well as of artists such as Julio Ruelas and Germán Gedovius, and of musicians including Manuel M. Ponce and Ernesto Elorduy. All of these literary and artistic greats are given their real names in the novel, the only exceptions being the author himself and Alberto Leduc, whose fictitious names – respectively Benamor Cumps and Raúl Clebodet – are anagrams of their real names.

Several works by Rubén M. Campos have been re-released in recent years, making them more available to modern readers.

Sources

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

May 082017
 

Bob Somerlott was a well-respected writer of both fiction and non-fiction who lived in Ajijic for several years in the early 1960s before moving to San Miguel de Allende, where he resided for almost forty years.

Robert (“Bob”) Somerlott was born 17 September 1928 in Huntington, Indiana, and died, following surgery, on 22 July 2001 in León, Guanajuato. He attended Northwestern University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and then worked for about 15 years as an actor and stage director before moving to Mexico and becoming a professional writer.

According to Michael Hargraves in Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Somerlott spent the winter of 1958 at Chapala and then lived intermittently at Ajijic from late 1962 through the spring of 1965, before moving to San Miguel de Allende. While Somerlott apparently first settled in San Miguel in 1963, we know from contemporary newspapers that he was in Ajijic over the winter of 1964-65 since in December 1964 he is mentioned as being mid-way through a 12-week competition organized by the Ajijic chess club, playing against Phillip Hildreth and his wife Gina Dessart Hildreth, John Mersereau, Dick Bishop, Larry Hartmus and Lou Wertheimer.

At some point during his several decades of residence in San Miguel, Somerlott was academic director of the Instituto Allende, a college for English-speaking students. Somerlott’s interests were far-ranging. His works draw heavily on his particular keen interest in everything historical, including archaeology. History-related themes frequently made their way into his books.

His first major success as a writer came when he had a short story accepted for the January 1964 edition of Atlantic Monthly; it went on to win that publication’s annual fiction award. The following year, Somerlott had a short story entitled “The Hair of the Widow” published in the January 1965 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. That story was “based on a tale told to him early one morning on the pier in Ajijic by an old man” and was “supposed to be true, naturally, as all ghost stories are!” In 1967, his story, “Evening at the Black House” was chosen by Alfred Hitchcock for his Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories That Scared Even Me. Somerlott also had a piece published in American Heritage in 1971.

Somerlott’s first novel, The Flamingos, written partly in Ajijic and partly in San Miguel, was published in 1967.

The Flamingos is not an especially strong first novel since both plot and dialogue are somewhat predictable but, in the words of the Kirkus Review, is “a most entertaining commercial novel”, in which “The author brings an assortment of expatriate Americans with a full range of sexual tastes to a flyblown Mexican shoreline village”, and a variety of Mexican characters who suddenly find themselves in the path of a major hurricane. “The only bull in the book is a muscular lesbian whose company built a defective dam above the town not destined to outlast such a storm.” As the anonymous reviewer concluded, this would be a better movie than a book.

Some locales and incidents in The Flamingos are clearly derived from Somerlott’s experiences in Ajijic and San Miguel, though heavily disguised. For example, there are descriptions of the “city” of Nexcotela, half-way to the coast, with its waterfall, mineral baths, American Legion and “Café International”, a bar that somewhat resembles The Beer Garden in Chapala. Much of the book is set in the fictional coastal city of San Antonio Tlaxtalapan on Mexico’s west coast. (Clearly, therefore, the title is a misnomer since flamingos are only found on Mexico’s eastern coast!). The city has a “Mexican-North American Institute” that is the educational front of the missionary arm of the church.

The novel’s minor characters include Stephen Mayers, a one-handed, ex-military American who had been a fine amateur pianist. His maid, Adela, is a petty thief whose husband, Roberto, “graduates” into a hitman, employed by two brothers from Guadalajara. The two main characters are Matthew Selkirk, a 58-year-old former professor and translator, an openly gay member of the “American colony” and 26-year-old, blond, blue-eyed Clay McPherson who has fled the U.S. because he believes he has murdered his mother. The relationship between the two men is often strained but Clay eventually risks his own life in order to try to rescue Matthew.

Hard on the heels of The Flamingos came The Inquisitor’s House (1968).

Somerlott then changed track and published a book about occultism – “Here Mr. Splitfool”: An Informal Exploration Into Modern Occultism (1971) (released in the U.K. as Modern occultism) – and another non-fiction work, The writing of modern fiction (1972).

Hargraves has pointed out that Here Mr. Splitfoot includes the following tangential reference to Lake Chapala:

“Throughout Latin America today there are divinas who gaze into a glass, a jewel, or a bowl of water in attempts to find the missing property of clients. Sometimes they have remarkable results, as in the Mexican village near Lake Chapala, where a divina announced that a lost watch would be found wrapped in a blanket—and this proved to be perfectly true. In another Mexican case a ring, supposedly stolen, was described as being lodged in a drainpipe—and so it was true. Despite numerous correct hits and the continued popularity of divinas, there has been to date no realty scientific study of this facet of crystallomancy.” (p 221)

Somerlott then wrote several mystery novels under the pen name Jessica North, including The High Valley (1973), River Rising (1975), The Legend of the Thirteenth Pilgrim (1979) and Mask of the Jaguar (1982), before returning to use his own name for Blaze (1981) and Death of the Fifth Sun (1987). A Spanish language translation, by Miquela Misiergo, of Death of the Fifth Sun, was published as La Muerte Del Quinto Sol (1991).

In later years, Somerlott focused on non-fiction. He co-edited The Penguin Guide to Mexico 1991 (1990) and wrote San Miguel de Allende (1991) before completing a series of historical works including The Lincoln Assassination in American History (1998); The Little Rock School Desegregation Crisis in American History (2001); and The Spanish-American War: “Remember the Maine” (2002).

Sources:

  • Drewey Wayne Gunn. Gay American Novels, 1870-1970: A Reader’s Guide. (McFarlane, 2016).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 Dec 1964; GR 14 Jan 1965
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).

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.

Apr 242017
 

Veteran sports journalist Jack McDonald was already in his late sixties when he and his wife retired to Chapala in 1967. His retirement did nothing to diminish his productivity. McDonald (born John McDonald, but always called Jack) spent the next decade traipsing across Mexico, always in search of the next story. From his home in Chapala, he supplied a continuous stream of well-researched and well-written travel articles to publications north of the border and to the Guadalajara Reporter.

He also served a term as president of the Chapala Society (now the Lake Chapala Society) in the late 1960s.

McDonald was born on 21 October 1899 in Bussey, Iowa. At age 16, seeking adventure, he enlisted in the U.S. Army under an assumed name to serve under Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing and chase after Pancho Villa on the Mexican border. He was sent home when his deception was discovered, but subsequently served his country with honor (in the Navy) during both the first and second world wars. As a chief petty officer and radioman, he was initially on a corvette accompanying convoys to Iceland and South America, but then on a destroyer, which came under fire in Okinawa, Iwo Jima and other battles in the South Pacific.

McDonald joined the sports department of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin in 1926 and was its sports editor from 1947 to 1959. He then wrote for the Call’s successor, the San Francisco News Call-Bulletin until its closure in 1965, when he joined The Examiner as a columnist and rewrite manager. During his career, he interviewed every well-known sportsman of the time, covering all sports and situations with equal dedication and expertise. He was the quintessential cigar-smoking reporter of folklore, who was known and respected by everybody he worked with.

McDonald covered 26 World Series, 28 Kentucky Derbies as well as countless heavyweight boxing championship fights and Rose Bowls. He won the San Francisco Press Club’s best sports story of the year three times. McDonald also served terms as president of the Press Club and of the San Francisco-Oakland Newspaper Guild. The “Jack McDonald scrapbooks of sports writing, 1926-1993” are among the papers and scrapbooks held in the archives of the California Historical Society in San Francisco.

McDonald’s first wife, Helen, died in 1961; the couple had been married for ten years.

After retiring in January 1967, McDonald and his second wife, Beatrice, moved to a home high above Chapala. During the following decade, McDonald was an indefatigable traveler (“never without a cigar or his pipe, ashes spilling over a rumpled shirt”) as he sought out new places in Mexico to write about. His travel articles appeared in a dozen newspapers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Toronto Star.

He also filed dozens of well-crafted pieces for the Guadalajara Reporter, which demonstrate his unrivaled interviewing skills and ability to ferret out the details that made his stories come alive.

McDonald contributed stories, both fiction and non-fiction, to Collier and Liberty magazines, and also wrote two books: Navy Retread (Vantage Press, 1969), his second world war reminiscences, and Something to Cheer about: Legends from the Golden Age of Sports (1986).

In 1978, he and his wife moved back to San Diego. Beatrice died in 1995, and Jack died two years later on 14 September 1997 at his Pacific Beach home in San Diego, at the age of 97.

Sources:

  • Eric Brazil and Zachary Coile. “S.F. editor, sportswriter Jack McDonald” (obituary), San Jose Mercury News, 18 Sept 1997; SFGate, 18 Sep 1997.
  • Robert V. Thurston. “New Book by Reporter Writer Tells World War II Experiences”. Guadalajara Reporter, 8 March 1969, p16.

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

Apr 182017
 

George Adin Ballou was born in Madrid, Spain, on 21 November 1927, and died in May 1986. By the age of 21, according to an article in the Amarillo Daily News, Ballou had already completed several books, including, “a 500-page work on the artist-tourist colony at Lake Chapala”, with the working title of Ajijic. Sadly, there is no record of him ever publishing this or any other book and the manuscript appears to be lost for ever.

Who was George Ballou and how did he come to write a book about Ajijic?

George was the son of Harold Ballou (1898-1981), a journalist then working for the American News Service, and author Jenny Dubin Ballou (ca 1903-ca 1948), known in the family as Genia. They met as undergraduates at Cornell University. (She is also sometimes called Eugenia Ballou or Jenny Iphigenia Ballou, the latter variant appearing in a Time magazine review of one of her books.) Jenny was born in Russia in about 1903, and moved to the U.S. at the age of three. She wrote two well-received works, both published in New York: Spanish Prelude (1937) and Period Piece: The Life and Times of Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1940).

“Café Revolutionaries”, a chapter from Spanish Prelude, was chosen in 2007 for inclusion in Barbara Probst Solomon’s literary collection, The Reading Room/7. In her introduction, Solomon writes that,

“When Federico García Lorca returned from Puerto Rico to New York en route to Spain in 1930 and wasn’t able to leave the ship due to a lapsed visa, [Genia] Ballou was among the small group of intellectuals invited to a small party given in his honor aboard the ship.” She also points out that “In the 1930s she [Ballou] wrote for The Florin Magazine, whose contributors included Aldous Huxley, Herbert Read and Stephen Spender.”

George’s middle name, “Adin”, was in honor of his illustrious ancestor, Adin Ballou, who was a passionate anti-slavery advocate in the 1840s and the founder of a utopian community in Massachusetts.

George spent his early childhood in Spain, where his parents were working at the time. He was barely 6 months old when they first returned to the U.S. for a visit, arriving in New York on 5 June 1928 from Barcelona on board the “Manuel Arnus”. The family returned to New York again on 24 December of the following year, aboard the “Leviathan” which had sailed from the port of Cherbourg, France. The passenger manifest lists their New York address as 221 Dekals Ave, Brooklyn, and they were still living in Brooklyn at the time of the 1930 U.S. Census.

As is evident from Jenny Ballou’s Spanish Prelude, the family spent about four more years in Spain in the early 1930s before relocating back to North America. By the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, they were living in in Montgomery, Maryland.

George Ballou completed his high school education at The Putney School, a progressive independent high school in Vermont. He never shied away from physical work and was strongly built despite being not very tall, about 5′ 6″. By coincidence, two long-time Ajijic residents – John Kirtland Goodridge and his brother Geoffrey Goodridge (better known as the flamenco guitarist “Azul”) – also attended The Putney School, albeit about a decade later.

George and his parents were all fluent in Spanish and visited Mexico (including Lake Chapala) for an extended stay, presumably in the early 1940s, though the exact timing is unclear.

George developed a deep, lifelong interest in zoology. He was both passionate and knowledgeable about all manner of animals. At various times, Ballou supplied specimens of mammals, birds and reptiles to zoos in Philadelphia, Washington, and New York, including specimens collected in the jungles of southern Mexico, specifically in the state of Campeche. He is thanked in the Smithsonian annual report for the year ended June 1945 for having donated “a short-tailed shrew, two diamond-back rattlesnakes, two cottonmouth moccasins, six black snakes, cotton rat, mud snake, six garter snakes, two indigo snakes, two blue racer snakes, chicken snake, turkey vulture, five deer mice [and a], meadow mouse.” Ten years later, in the 61st Annual Report of the New York Zoological Society, in 1956, Ballou is listed as the donor of “spiny mice… together with a Palestine Long-eared Hedgehog”.

Immediately after the end of the second world war, Harold Ballou was appointed chief of the European Press section of the United Nations, based in Geneva, Switzerland. At his father’s insistence, George postponed his entry to the University of New Mexico, and accompanied the family to Switzerland, where he took some classes in anthropology at the University of Geneva. Serendipity intervened. Genia, his mother, needed someone to type her latest manuscript (a memoir or autobiography) and gave the job to Anna Barbara Morgenthaler, one of George’s fellow students. Barbara, as she is known in the family, was multilingual, multi-talented and exceptionally well-educated. A few years older than George (she was born in 1924), she also liked animals and zoology, so it was little surprise that they quickly became close friends.

Sadly, Genia, barely in her forties, died from cancer before the manuscript could be published. This was a devastating blow to George. An only child, he had been very close to her all his life. (Harold, who went on to work for the Pan American Health Organization, remarried in 1950; his second wife was Esther Williamson Ballou, a musician and composer).

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

George and Barbara continued their studies at the University of Geneva until 1948, when his father moved to Egypt as head of the Arab Refugee Commission. (Five years later, Harold Ballou was in Washington D.C. as the Public Information Officer of the Western Hemisphere Regional Office of the World Health Organization.)

By February 1949, George was in the U.S. and about to return to classes at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. (This move, too, was apparently at his father’s insistence!) Clearly, prior to this, George must have spent sufficient time in Ajijic to research and write his now-lost manuscript, though the details of his trip or trips remain elusive.

The Amarillo Daily News article mentions “a copious diary kept of his travels”, and other completed manuscripts, including Too Much Zoo for Mama (a 300-page volume about animals he has collected), Themanop or the Man from Another Planet and The Whole Was His Classroom, as well as several short stories. None of these works was ever published, though Ballou does appear to have published at least two short stories a decade later in Dude magazine: “Slavery Can Be Beautiful” (1957) and “The World’s Best Skier” (1958).

Barbara had accompanied George to New Mexico in 1949 and taken a job as secretary for the New Mexico Society for Crippled Children. According to their son, David Cameron, the social mores of the period meant it was not acceptable for the couple to live under the same roof while unmarried. As a result, his parents decided to marry (in Bernalillo, New Mexico, registry office in 1949) but only on condition that neither would oppose a divorce if their partner later wanted to marry someone else.

Later that same year (1949) the young couple traveled to the newly established state of Israel and spent a month in two kibbutzim.

By the summer of 1950, Barbara was pregnant and the couple had moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where Barbara worked as secretary for the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. The New Mexico Lobo, published by the University of New Mexico, included the following paragraph: “Last year’s wayfaring stranger at UNM, Mr. George Ballou, has settled down in Greensboro, N.C. with his wife, a possum, a skunk, and two goldfish. The Ballous made the furniture in their little love nest.”

Six months later, George and Barbara returned to Zürich and their son, David, arrived on Easter Sunday: 25 March 1951. During their time in Switzerland, George’s mental health was fragile. When Barbara and George went to Casablanca, Morocco, in 1953, they left their infant son with his maternal grandparents in Höngg for a year. Barbara worked as a translator at the American airbase in Casablanca while George focused on his writing. They spent weekends and holidays exploring (on a Vespa scooter), collecting numerous animals along the way.

Back in Switzerland, and reunited with David, they lived briefly in Oberengstringen to the west of Höngg. George divided his time between typing up natural history accounts and caring for a kitchen full of exotic animals – snakes, lizards, mice and geckos – he had brought back from Morocco.

Barbara and George separated in 1956. Barbara took full custody of David and emigrated to Australia to join a friend, Don Cameron, whom she and George had first met in Tangier. Barbara and Don married the day after their arrival in Australia and David was soon to have four younger half-sisters.

Meanwhile, George moved back to New York, where he found work as a longshoreman in Manhattan, while also doing some freelance writing. In his thirties, he married again and had a son, Jeremy. Soon afterwards, George survived bone cancer, despite having to have a leg amputated, but the marriage fell apart. George was forced to take early retirement, the only silver lining being that he received a lifelong union pension and had more time to write.

In about 1969, Ballou fell in love with Pamela Joyce, a telephone receptionist. Their daughter, Daniella, born in 1974, studied at Cornell University (as her paternal grandparents had done) and has subsequently held several senior positions related to global development, especially in regard to health initiatives and policy, an echo of her grandfather’s work with the W.H.O. and the Pan American Health Organization. The family lived for several years in the socially-diverse Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, close to Greenwich Village, and Daniella recalls that her father also earned some income from door-to-door Encyclopedia Britannica sales. During a family trip to Mexico, in about 1982, they traveled to Mexico City by bus and explored the area for a month staying in inexpensive hotels and hostels or with friends.

George Ballou, author of a 500-page work on Ajijic, died in May 1986. Is his book lost for ever, or will some intrepid researcher or garage-sale bargain hunter eventually unearth the long-lost manuscript?

Acknowledgments:

  • Sincere thanks to George Ballou’s elder son, David Cameron, and daughter, Daniella Ballou-Aares, for their help in compiling this profile, which is an updated version of a post first published 8 June 2015.

Sources:

  • Amarillo Daily News, Amarillo, Texas, 25 Feb 1949
  • David Cameron. 2015. “Anna Barbara Morgenthaler – Barbara Cameron – a biographical sketch.” (Unpublished)
  • Time magazine, 5 Feb 1940
  • University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. 1950. Yearbook of University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
  • New Mexico Lobo (published by the University of New Mexico), 28 July 1950.

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