Sep 262016
 

German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885-1952) worked on a book during her stay of several weeks in Ajijic in 1945. Horney lived in New York and the local Guadalajara newspaper El Informador (27 August 1945) reported that she was visiting Ajijic in order to complete the manuscript of her next book.

Surrealist painter Sylvia Fein, who was living in Ajijic at that time, recalls meeting Horney and a male colleague who was collaborating with the book. Horney was staying at the modest guesthouse of the Heuer siblings on the lakeshore. It seems likely that the male colleague is the fictional “Dr. Borman” described in Barbara Compton‘s thinly disguised autobiographical novel  To The Isthmus. The novel’s protagonist, Peg, stays several weeks at Casa Heuer, having heard about it from one of her husband’s colleagues (Dr. Borman) who “was down here not long ago, with a woman friend. She was an analyst too. They were writing a book together, and in the evenings used to try out their latest chapter on me. They seemed to think I was normal, or normal enough to try it out on.” [ To The Isthmus, p 153]

Karen Horney. Oil on canvas, c. 1940-1950, by Suzanne Carvallo Schulein. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Karen Horney. Oil on canvas, c. 1940-1950, by Suzanne Carvallo Schulein. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Horney was born in Blankenese, Germany, on 16 September 1885. Her full maiden name was Karen Clementina Theodora Danielson. She entered medical school in 1906. On 30 October 1909, in the middle of her medical studies at the universities of Freiburg, Göttingen, and Berlin, Karen Danielson married Heinrich Wilhelm Oskar Horney (1882-?), a law student, in Dahlem, Germany. The couple had three daughters: Brigitte (1911-1988), Marianne (born in 1913) and Renate (1916-2009).

[Brigitte Horney (1911-1988) became a German theater and film actress who eventually moved to the U.S. after the second world war. Her first husband (from 1940 to 1953) was movie producer Konstantin Irmen-Tschet (1902-1977); her second husband (from 1953 to 1985) was Hanns Swarzenski (1903-1985).]

[Marianne Horney (born in 1913) studied medicine and became a psychoanalyst like her mother.]

[Renate Horney (1916-2009) lived with her husband, cinematographer Alfredo Bolongaro-Crevenna, and their three children in Cuernavaca, Mexico, from 1939 onwards. Karen Horney was a regular visitor. While staying with her family in Cuernavaca, in 1944, Horney wrote Our Inner Conflicts (1945). In her later years, Karen Horney would visit Renate and family in Cuernavaca for up to several months at a time.]

In 1926, Karen Horney left her husband, Oskar, and moved to the U.S. The couple finalized their divorce in 1937.

horney-karen-coverIn the U.S., Horney practiced as a psychiatrist and developed theories of sexuality that were at odds with the then traditional Freudian views. Horney, usually classified as a Neo-Freudian, is credited with having founded the field of feminist psychology. She had also founded the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (AAP) and became Dean of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis. She later left these positions in order to teach at the New York Medical College.

Horney had published several books prior to visiting Lake Chapala, including The Neurotic Personality of our Time (Norton, 1937); New Ways in Psychoanalysis (Norton, 1939,) Self-analysis (Norton, 1942) and Our Inner Conflicts (Norton, 1945).

The book Horney was working on in Ajijic was presumably Are You Considering Psychoanalysis?, which she edited for Norton and which was published in 1946.

Several biographies of Karen Horney have been written. They include:

  • Hitchcock, S. T.  Karen Horney: Pioneer of Feminine Psychology (Chelsea House Publishers, 2004).
  • Quinn, S. A mind of her own: The life of Karen Horney, New York: Summit Books, 1987).
  • Paris, Bernard J. Karen Horney: A Psychoanalyst’s Search for Self-Understanding (Yale University Press, 1996). The cover illustration shows Karen Horney in Ajijic in 1947.
  • Rubins, J. L. Karen Horney: Gentle rebel of psychoanalysis, New York: The Dial Press, 1978).

Her life and work are also featured in American Women Scientists: 23 Inspiring Biographies, 1900-2000, by Moira Davison Reynolds (McFarland, 1999).

Dr. Karen Horney, one of the twentieth century’s more remarkable women, died in New York on 4 December 1952.

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.

Sep 192016
 

Eduardo A. Gibbon y Cárdenas, born in about 1849, was a 19th century Mexican art critic, journalist, writer and diplomat.

In the 1870s, he made various contributions to El Artista, a Mexico City-based  “monthly review of literature, science and the aesthetical arts.” After the magazine ceased publication (due to lack of financial support) Gibbon resuscitated the title, with the first of the new series of El Artista appearing in October 1891. By all accounts, this was a well-produced magazine, the first issue of which included translation of part of Hopkinson Smith’s White Umbrella in Mexico. Gibbon’s main contribution as a writer to the first issue of the new series was “a description of the Luray grottoes of Virginia in sprightly and unhackneyed phrase.”

In 1874, Gibbon was elected a Member of the Mexican Society for Geography and Statistics.

gibbon-title-pageHe wrote several books, including La catedral de México (1874) and Reflexiones sobre arte nacional (1892), and a Spanish translation of Felix de Salm’s memoirs about the final days of Emperor Maximilian. While holding a diplomatic position in London, England, in the late 1880s, he took the opportunity to write Nocturnal London (S. E. Stanley, 1890).

A few years later, in 1893, he published Guadalajara, (La Florencia Mexicana). This is essentially a popular guide to the author’s chosen trilogy of major attractions in Jalisco: Guadalajara, Juanacatlán Falls (the “Niagara of Mexico”) and Lake Chapala. Gibbon’s writing is poetic, verging on the flowery, but despite that many of his descriptions make for interesting reading.

Gibbon’s romantic, poetic prose about his trips to Lake Chapala, in 1893 or earlier, includes one of the earliest detailed accounts of a boat trip on the lake. He also mentions the fact that deposits of petroleum have been located under the lake, and that studies are being undertaken to see if the deposits are large enough to be worth exploiting.

Gibbon stayed in a simple hotel; this was at least five years before the famous Arzapalo hotel opened. The author also described the chalet built on the shore by an Englishman (possibly Septimus Crowe), and clearly recognized the tourist potential of the area. This is how he described the then-village of Chapala:

We entered along a straight and long road, like those that form the main street of every village. The houses were of a single story, with white or colored facades. The doors and windows of wood; the latter without bars or glass, showing that in the honored home of the fisherman, they are safe even without these luxuries. So it is just as easy to enter one of the homes here, through the windows, often obstructed by the pots full of flowers or the large cages of melodious birds, as it is through the doorway. A soporific silence, that in this village of fishermen! So quiet that, at mid-day, only the buzz of the clouds of gnats, and the beating wings of the gulls crossing the sky can be heard.

But the great luminous place was at the end of this street: Lake Chapala. A fishing boat, with its lateen sail, was approaching the port. Apart from that, nothing was in sight on the immense surface of the water, on which the afternoon sun shone, producing lights and shadows like those made by marcasite….

The bells of the poetic parish church that rang on the shores of the lake-sea, brought all the village’s inhabitants to their feet. On the rustic wharf, very close to the hotel, one of those regular-sized vessels, called here canoes, but which are really flat-bottomed launches, was already anchored. The unloading of the domestic merchandise that had been brought for sale, had begun; later these would be sold in the Sunday tianguis, [street market] so common in these villages. With a slight following wind, three canoes came through the small waves, which, with sails slightly filled, came towards the beach. The rowers were working to propel the slow advance of these such primitive vessels, which, in rough waters would tip over very easily, and which only progress in their race when the wind is really strong and favorable….”

Source:

This post is based on chapter 37 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

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.

Aug 292016
 

The multi-talented African American poet, novelist and artist Clarence Major spent some time at Lake Chapala in 1968.

Major was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936 and grew up in Chicago. In the early 1950s, Major studied drawing and painting under painter Gus Nall (1919–1995) and attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers included Addis Osborne (1914–2011). Coincidentally, the enigmatic African American artist Ernest Alexander, who lived for several years in Ajijic in the early 1950s, had also studied in Chicago and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago shortly before Major took classes there.

In 1966, after two marriages which both ended in divorce, Major moved to New York to begin a distinguished teaching career. Over the next 30 years, he taught creative writing and/or literature classes at Brooklyn College, Queens College, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Washington, Howard University, University of Maryland, University of Colorado, Temple University, and the State University of New York (Binghamton). In 1989, Major moved to California, where he taught until his retirement in 2007 at the University of California at Davis.

In 1968, Major left New York and visited Mexico for several months in the company of his then girlfriend Sheila Silverstone. During the trip, Major was revising his first novel, All Night Visitors, published in 1969. Major’s first collection of poems, Swallow the Lake, was published the following year and won a National Council on the Arts Award.

Clarence Major. Self-portrait. Image reproduced from wikimedia (Creative Commons license)

Clarence Major. Self-portrait. Image reproduced from wikimedia (Creative Commons license)

In Mexico, the couple spent some time in Puerto Vallarta but also visited Lake Chapala, which became the basis for at least two poems published in Symptoms & madness: poems (1971).

The first poem is entitled “IN CHAPALA, JAL” and describes them sitting, reading, in “a red mud / colored 30 pesos per day hotel room”.

The second poem, entitled “EIGHTEEN-DOLLAR TAXI TRIP TO TIZAPAN AND BACK TO CHAPALA” was later included in the collection Configurations: New & Selected Poems, 1958-1998, published in 1999 and a finalist for a 1999 National Book Award. This poem tells how their taxi driver (“with a good life / who has four children, / a pregnant wife, / and who lives in Guadalajara”) drives them, “radio going / cha-cha-cha” through a storm around the south side of the lake.

Major’s poetry and short stories have been published in dozens of literary magazines and anthologies. Major has won dozens of major awards and served as a judge for many important literary contests including the the PEN/Faulkner Award (1997-1998), the National Endowment for the Arts Awards (1987) and the National Book Awards (1991). Major helped edit several literary periodicals, including Caw! and The Journal of Black Poetry. He was a regular columnist for American Poetry Review and the first editor of American Book Review.

In 2015, Major was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award in the Fine Arts,” by The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Major’s novels include All-Night Visitors (1969); No (1973); Reflex and Bone Structure (1975; Emergency Exit (1979); My Amputations (1986); Such Was The Season (1987); Painted Turtle: Woman With Guitar (1988); Dirty Bird Blues (1996); and One Flesh (2003).

His poetry works include Swallow The Lake (1970); Symptoms & Madness (1971); Private Line (1971); The Cotton Club (1972); The Syncopated Cakewalk (1974); Inside Diameter: The France Poems (1985); Surfaces and Masks (1988); Some Observations of a Stranger at Zuni in The Latter Part of The Century (1989); Parking Lots (1992); Configurations: New and Selected Poems 1958–1998 (1999); Waiting for Sweet Betty (2002); Myself Painting (2008); Down and Up (2013); and From Now On: New and Selected Poems 1970–2015 (2015).

His nonfiction books include Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970); The Dark and Feeling: Black American Writers and Their Work (1974); Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang (1994); Necessary Distance: Essays and Criticism (2000); Come by Here: My Mother’s Life (2002); Configurations (2010) and Myself Painting (2011).

In his parallel career as a visual artist, Major’s first solo exhibition of paintings was at Sarah Lawrence College in 1974. Other galleries that have hosted one-person shows of Major’s art include First National Bank Gallery, Boulder, Colorad (1986); Kresge Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan (2001); Schacknow Museum of Fine Art, Plantation, Florida (2003); Exploding Head Gallery, Sacramento CA (2003, 2004, 2006); Blue Hills Gallery, Winters, CA (2005); Phoenix Gallery, Sacramento CA (2006); Hamilton Club Gallery, Paterson, New Jersey (2007); Pierre Menard Gallery, Harvard Square, Cambridge (2010); and University Art Gallery, Indiana State University, Terre Haute (2011). His work has also featured in numerous group shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Davis, California.

His paintings now hang in many private and public collections, including those at Indiana State University, Terre Haute; Passaic County Community College Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art; the Schacknow Museum of Fine Art, Plantation, Florida; and The Linda Matthews MARBL Collection at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

The covers of several of Major’s books, including Myself Painting, Waiting for Sweet Betty, and Down and Up feature his own paintings.

Works about Clarence Major

His life, art and literature are described by Bernard Bell in Clarence Major and His Art: Portraits of an African-American Postmodernist (1998), by Nancy Bunge in Conversations with Clarence Major (2002) and by Keith Eldon Byerman in The Art and Life of Clarence Major (2016).

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.

Aug 222016
 

Blair Niles (1880-1959), as she is best known, was formerly Mary Blair Rice, the first wife of naturalist and oceanographer Charles Beebe. The Beebes visited Mexico (and Lake Chapala) over the winter of 1903-1904. As Mary Blair Rice, she contributed the cover design to Beebe’s book Two Bird Lovers in Mexico (which is dedicated to her) and wrote the chapter entitled “How We Did It”. As they camped their way across Mexico, she also wrote several articles about the trip for the New York Post and Harper’s.

In “How We Did It”, she offered the following advice for future female explorers in Mexico:

“To the woman who is courageous enough to defy the expostulations of her friends and to undertake a camping trip to Mexico, let me say that I congratulate her on having before her one of the most unique and fascinating experiences of her life; that is if she goes in the proper spirit. And the proper spirit is to be interested in everything and to have one’s mind firmly made up to ignore small discomforts.”

niles-blairBlair divorced Beebe in 1913, marrying architect Robin Niles (Beebe’s next door neighbor) the very next day. She subsequently changed her name to Blair Niles, and had a distinguished career as a travel writer and novelist, as well as being one of the four founding members of the Society of Women Geographers.

In addition to travel books on Ecuador, Columbia, and Haiti, she also wrote Strange Brother, a novel with a homosexual hero, and Condemned to Devil’s Island: the Biography of an Unknown Convict, which was turned into one of the first talking movies of all time.

Blair Niles’s books include Casual Wanderings in Ecuador (1923); Columbia: Land of Miracles (1924); Black Haiti (A Biography of Africa’s Eldest Daughter) (1926); Free (1930); Strange Brother (1931); Light Again (1933); Maria Paluna (1934); Day of Immense Sun (1936); Peruvian Pageant (1937); Journeys in Time (1946) and Passengers to Mexico: The Last Invasion of the Americas (1943).

An ardent traveler, Blair Niles died in 1959, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of books, and having had a significant impact on 20th century feminism.

Source:

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.

Aug 082016
 

Charles Beebe (1877-1962) and his wife, Mary Blair Rice (the subject of a future post) visited Lake Chapala in the latter half of March 1904.

Charles William Beebe (Will Beebe, as he preferred) was an American ornithologist, naturalist, explorer and author, born in Brooklyn, New York. He never completed a college degree, but undertook pioneering studies in various fields of ecology, in habitats ranging from high altitude forests (in search of pheasants) to tropical rain forests, coral reefs and the ocean depths.

beebe-title-pageBeebe married his first wife, Mary Blair Rice, in 1902. Two Bird Lovers in Mexico describes their first trip overseas in the winter of 1903-1904, when Beebe was curator of ornithology at the New York Zoological Society.

Beebe went on to become director of the Society’s Department of Tropical Research, undertaking work in dozens of countries, including extended stays in British Guiana (now Guyana), the Galapagos Islands, Bermuda and Trinidad. He inspired an entire generation of naturalists to explore the connections between animals, plants and their environment.

Beebe wrote dozens of books, and hundreds of magazine articles during a prolific career. His nonacademic books (such as Two Bird Lovers in Mexico) popularized natural history, while simultaneously promoting the need for conservation. They brought the sights, sounds, thrills, and perils, of remote places into the homes of armchair travelers everywhere. Among his best-known works are Galapagos (1923), Half Mile Down (1934), and Unseen Life of New York (1953).

beebe_-public-domainAmong Beebe’s many extraordinary achievements was a record descent (with Otis Barton) to 3028 feet (914 meters) below the ocean surface in a bathysphere off Bermuda in 1934.

He also seems to have been the first person to identify the temperature anomalies that are now known as El Niño. More than 88 animal species had been named after him by the time of his death, in Trinidad, on 4 June 1962.

Armed with a shotgun, rifle, and two revolvers, the Beebes arrived in Veracruz in December 1903 and immediately took the train across the country to Guadalajara. They set off to camp on the slopes of Colima volcano, witnessing an eruption there the following January.

The following extracts from Two Bird Lovers in Mexico come from Chapter VI, “The Marshes of Chapala”:

. . . When the marvel of the bird-life of Lake Chapala and its marshes revealed itself to us, the feelings we experienced cannot be put into words; such one feels at a first glance through a great telescope, or perhaps when one gazes in wonder upon the distant earth from a balloon. At these times, one is for an an instant outside of his petty personality and a part of, a realizer of, the cosmos. Here on these waters and marshes we saw, not individuals or flocks, but a world of birds! Never before had a realization of the untold solid bulk in numbers of the birds of our continent been impressed so vividly upon us. And the marvel of it all was the more impressive because of its unexpectedness.

A hot, breathless day found our little cavalcade passing the picturesque old cathedral of La Barca, our horses’ hoofs stirring up a cloud of the omnipresent adobe dust. A New England housewife who spends her life in banishing dust from her home could exist in the houses of Mexicans only in a state of insanity. The unfinished adobe walls being nothing but dust in a slightly hardened state, the least touch inside or out removes a film of the earth powder.

. . . We crossed a stream by a rickety wooden bridge, and learned that its waters were the same as those flowing at the bottom of the barranca, crossing the mesquite wilderness. Here we were near the source of the Rio Santiago, where it flows from Lake Chapala. At one side was moored the little stern-wheeler which every other day carries a few passengers down to the lake and through its entire length of fifty miles to the several hotels at the western end.

Along the muddy shallows of the lake can be found numbers of quaint relics of a by-gone race of people. Strange dishes and three-legged bowls, sinkers and buttons, charms and amulets, objects of unknown use, and now and then little smiling idols of stone, whose cheerful expression, perhaps, gave hope to earnest worshippers hundreds of years before the first Spanish priest placed foot upon the shores of the New World.

. . . We in the North have neglected the egrets until well-nigh the last survivor has been murdered; but here in this wild place, where, outside of the towns, a man’s best law and safeguard is in his holster, these birds have already found champions. Short tolerance had the first plume-hunter — an American — who began his nefarious work in the Chapala marshes. The rough but beauty-loving caballeros who owned the haciendas surrounding the lake talked it over, formed — to all intents and purposes — an Audubon Society, ran the millinery agent off, and forbade the shooting of these birds. There was no fine or imprisonment for shooting egrets, — only a widespread verbal “revolver law,” more significant and potent than many of our inscribed legislative enactments.

. . . The air was filled with a multitude of sweet notes, — half strange, half familiar, — and the sight of scores of brilliant yellow breasts, crescent marked, turned toward us, told us that it was a hint of well-known Meadowlark music which puzzled our memory. But this melody was very unlike the sharp, steel tones which ring so true across the frost-gemmed fields of our Northland in early spring. The larks looked very little different from our Northern birds; their backs perhaps darker and their breasts of a warmer, more orange yellow. This genial, tropical air has thawed their voices and softened their tones, and the sweetest of choruses came from the throats of these Mexican Meadowlarks. We passed hundreds upon hundreds of blackbirds, evenly divided between golden-headed beauties and others whose trim ebony forms were richly marked with scarlet and white shoulders — the Bicoloured Blackbirds. Their clucks were continuous, as they walked and hopped about, searching and finding. The half-sodden meadows must indeed have been a limitless storehouse for insects and seeds, since they afforded food for so great a number of birds.

. . . We now came to occasional swampy places with small patches of open water surrounded by higher ground. Blackbirds, and Cowbirds with red eyes, chased grasshoppers and other insects. When an occasional hopper of unusually large size sprang up, a fluttering mass of feathers, scarlet, white, golden, and black would set upon him. But often a low-browed Caracara galloped up, scattering the lesser birds and appropriating the remains of the insect for himself. It was amusing to see how these curious birds seized their small prey in the talons of one foot and lifted it toward their beak, nibbling at it from between their toes, like a cockatoo with a piece of bread.

. . .  Chapala honours us with a final farewell. The sun is sinking in a cloudless sky, a wind rises from somewhere, ruffles the face of the pools and brings the scent of the marsh blooms to us. A small flock of White-fronted Geese passes rapidly overhead, not very high up, when all at once there floats into view cloud after cloud of purest white, stained on one edge by the gold of the setting sun. We dismount and look up until our bodies ache, and still they come, silently driving into the darkening north. The great imperative call of the year has sounded; the drawing which brooks no refusal…

During their trip to Mexico, Beebe and his wife observed and collected hundreds of birds, flowers, grasshoppers and lizards, but seem to have encountered remarkably few Mexicans, except for the ones who piled stones on their railway tracks for a prank. Beebe and Mary Blair Rice divorced in 1913.

Source:

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 252016
 

Barbara Moore (1934-2002), the second wife of prolific author John Lee (1931-2013), worked as a reporter for most of her career and published several novels.

The couple married in 1957 and then lived for a year in Spain, before spending time in various places in the U.S. prior to visiting Mexico in 1962. They lived for a year in Ajijic in 1962-63, fell in love with Mexico, and subsequently returned for three months almost every summer for the next decade.

moore-barbara-moore-lee-novels-

Moore had a masters degree in creative writing and anthropology, and taught journalism at the American University in Washington D.C., and later at California State University in Northridge.

Barbara Moore Lee, Mexico

Barbara Moore Lee, Mexico

Barbara and John Lee co-wrote two non-fiction works: Monsters Among Us: Journey to the Unexplained (1975) and Learning to Judge the Doberman Pinscher (1982).

Moore’s novels include Hard On The Road (1974), an unconventional coming-of-age novel in which two young men and a camera meet the grand old West; The Fever Called Living (1976), a biographical novel about the last five years of the life of Edgar Allen Poe, based on research conducted by her husband towards a PhD; Something on the Wind (1978); The Doberman Wore Black (1984); and The Wolf Whispered Death (1986).

According to John Lee, The Fever Called Living won his wife a Mark Twain award, though I have been unable to find any independent verification of this.

Barbara Moore predeceased her husband in Texas in 2002.

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 182016
 

John Lee (1931-2013) and his second wife, novelist Barbara Moore, spent a freelance year in Ajijic in 1962-63 and then returned for three months almost every summer for the next decade.

Lee was a prolific writer, photographer and educator who penned thousands of newspaper articles, several non-fiction books and a dozen novels, including two NY Times best-sellers, and a Book-of-the-Month Club choice. During the 1950s, his award-winning photographs were published in most of the major newspapers and magazines of the time. The portrait of Willard Marsh on the dust jacket of his novel Week with No Friday, set at Lake Chapala, was taken by Lee.

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

Lee and his wife thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Lake Chapala. In retirement, using the name Bestjonbon, he compiled several YouTube videos about his trips to Mexico, the most interesting of which, for our purposes, is Ajijic Artists 50 years ago, a video which includes photographs related to the life and work of the following authors and/or artists: Gina Dessart Hildreth, Willard Marsh, James Kelly, Tink Strother, Carlos López-Ruíz, Ernesto Linares [Ernesto Butterlin], Eric ____, a former USAF pilot, John Lee, and Barbara Moore.

Other short YouTube videos compiled by Lee include Ajijic 50 years ago; Small Town Bullfight I; Small Town Bullfight II; and Fiesta Ajijic – 45 Years Ago.

Born in Oklahoma on 12 March 1931, Lee was raised and educated in Brownsville, Texas. After earning a B.A. at Texas Tech in 1952, he immediately began work as a journalist. While at Texas Tech, he married fellow student Jeane Womack; the couple had a daughter, but the marriage ended in 1956.

The following year, Lee married a fellow reporter, Barbara Moore, who later became a novelist. The couple lived in Spain for a year, and then worked in Denver and Ohio before moving to Mexico in 1962 to focus on writing fiction. Lee earned a masters in Journalism at West Virginia University with a thesis about English-language newspapers around the world.

John Lee at a book-signing

John Lee at a book-signing

Lee’s teaching career included stints at West Virginia University; the American University in Washington, D.C., where his students included Tom Shales, who later won a Pulitzer for TV criticism; the University of Arizona (1968-1972); New York University; California State University in Long Beach (where he undertook work towards a PhD); the University of Idaho; and at the University of Memphis (then known as Memphis State). He retired from teaching in 1997.

Lee wrote or co-wrote several non-fiction books including two for journalism students: Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines (1988) and Modern Mass Media (1990). Both books enjoyed several editions, and the latter was translated into Spanish in 1993.

Earlier works include The Diplomatic Persuaders: New Role of the Mass Media in International Relations (1968); and (with wife Barbara Moore Lee) Monsters Among Us: Journey to the Unexplained (1975) and Learning to Judge the Doberman Pinscher (1982).

John Lee’s first novel was Caught in the Act (1968) set in Spain. He followed this with Assignation in Algeria (1971); The Ninth Man (1976); The Thirteenth Hour (1979); Lago (1980); Stalag Texas (1990); Olympia ’36 (2011); and Old Spies Never Die (2011).

In The Ninth Man, his best-known book, a Nazi spy enters the White House and attempts to assassinate President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lee also used the pen names of “James Lake” for stories in men’s magazines and “Joy Beverlin” for two romance novels: Whisper the Wind (Createspace 2011) and Bells of San Blas, which was never published. In later life, Lee also dabbled in art, and held several one-man shows in Texas.

Following the death in 2002 of Barbara Moore, Lee married Shirley Miller in 2004. The couple lived on a ranch in Texas, painting, writing and raising racehorses, until Lee’s own death in 2013.

Sources and acknowledgment:

  • John Lee’s website
  • I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to talk and correspond with John Lee several times in his final years. He was an enthusiastic supporter of this project to document the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala.

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 112016
 

William R. (“Bill”) Evans was born on 10 April 1923 in Oak Park, Illinois and had a distinguished military career and life in public service. He and his wife Irene lived for several years in Chapala in the 1960s. According to their long-time friend Bill Atkinson, Evans had already written his first book Kora! before arriving in Chapala in 1963, and then wrote his second book Soochow and the 4th Marines during his time at Lake Chapala. Both books were memoirs and were eventually published in the 1980s.

Portrait of Bill Evans by Charlotte Hoepner (back cover of Soochow and the 4th Marines)

Portrait of Bill Evans by Charlotte Hoepner (back cover of Soochow and the 4th Marines)

Evans served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1963. During the second world war he was a survivor of the Bataan Death March (the subject of Kora!) after the Japanese took the Philippines. Evans spent 42 months in Japanese prison camps until liberated in 1945.

Atkinson recalls Evans as having a wonderful sense of humor, and accustomed to labeling his three and half years hard labor in the coal mines of Japan as his “four years as a guest in the Orient”.

Following the war, Evans remained in the army. He worked as chief warrant officer in the criminal investigation division of the office of provost marshal general, and at the time he retired from the army in 1963, he was commanding officer of the 16th CID in Paris.

Evans won many military awards including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, Army Commendation Medal and three Presidential Unit Citations.

Evans’ second book Soochow and the 4th Marines (Atwood Publications, 1987) tells the true story of the 4th Marines in parallel with the dog Soochow, a Chinese mongrel they adopted as their mascot in Shanghai in 1937. The book describes how Soochow had become accustomed to a pampered life, riding around Shanghai wearing one of three tailor-made uniforms in rickshaws pulled by coolies, eating sirloin steaks and drinking beer with fellow Marines. Then, things changed.

Soochow was a prisoner of war from May 1942 to February 1945 but managed to survive, living off scraps since he was not entitled to his own rations. While he survived, many of his fellow marines did not. After the war, Soochow was taken back to the U.S. where he served as the mascot of the U.S. Marine Corps in San Diego until his death in 1948.

After leaving the service in 1963, Evans spent several years in Mexico, but later took a post with the American Automobile Association (AAA) in San Antonio, Texas.

Evans finally retired in November 1985, after working for the AAA for about seven years, and moved to Rogue River, Oregon. In Rogue River, he was president of the Rogue River Kiwanis Club, lieutenant governor for Division 82 of the Kiwanis, served on the Rogue River Planning Commission (and its chairman from 1995-1996), police commissioner and was a member of the Rogue River City Council.

Bill Evans died at his home in Rogue River on 2 December 2001, at the age of 78.

Acknowledgment:

My sincere thanks to Bill Atkinson for sharing some of his memories of Bill Evans with me in April 2016.

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Jun 062016
 

Witold, later Vitold, de Szyszlo (1881-1965), was born in Warsaw but lived part of his early life in Paris, where he studied natural sciences and became a member of the Paris Society of Geography.

His first visit to the U.S. is recorded as taking place in 1904. The passenger list says he was 23 years old, single, of “Polish-Russian” nationality, and a book-writer. He lived in Mexico for almost twelve months, from 1909 to 1910, making astute observations on the eve of the Mexican Revolution.

szyszlo-a-travers-le-mexique-1909-1910-vitold-de-szyszloShortly after the Revolution began, he moved to Peru. By 1925, he was married to Rosa Valdelomar; had a young son, Fernando; and was functioning as the Polish Consul in Lima. Rosa came from a distinguished Peruvian family. Her brother Abraham Valdelomar (1888-1919) was, briefly, a Peruvian diplomat in Italy, besides being one of his country’s most famous authors, crafting everything from short stories and novels to poetry, essays and theater plays.

De Szyszlo’s son, Fernando, clearly inherited some of the family’s artistic genius since he has become one of Peru’s best known modern artists. In an interview in 2005, Fernando attributed his success to the inspiration of Picasso and Mexico’s Rufino Tamayo. He recalled that his father considered painters to be drunks and impoverished, and had been disillusioned when he had abandoned formal studies of architecture to dedicate himself to painting. Fernando’s recognition by the art world came too late to be appreciated by his father, who died in Lima in 1965. (Some sources suggest 1963.)

Besides Dix mille kilomètres a travers le Mexique, 1909-1910, Vitold de Szyszlo also wrote La Naturaleza en América Ecuatorial (1955), a book based on forty years of research and exploration in the Amazon rainforest. He was a remarkable man, described in promotional material as a “geographer, biologist, zoologist and pioneer.”

Dix mille kilomètres a travers le Mexique, 1909-1910 contains excellent descriptions of some parts of Mexico, such as Chiapas, Oaxaca and Baja California, which were decidedly lesser-known at the time Vitold de Szyszlo was writing.

Despite including some poetic descriptions of Lake Chapala and towns like Ocotlán, de Szyszlo was somewhat disappointed with the reality of the lake, since he felt that the available maps had made the surrounding scenery seem much more Alpine. Vitold de Szyszlo reported on the progress of the major drainage scheme at the eastern end of Lake Chapala, and had first-hand experience of the party scene at Lake Chapala during Holy Week:

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

After commenting on the various attractions of Chapala, including its hot springs and the opportunities that Lake Chapala offered for bird-hunting, he describes his return visit in 1909 to Chapala for Holy Week, only a few months before the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution:

I returned to Chapala in April to attend the Holy Week festivities. While all the other Mexican towns are absorbed by Lent, a large number of visitors flock to Chapala for that period. Under the auspices of President Diaz, then in power, regattas were organized in small canoes reserved for the young ladies of the best society.

The president, in a navy blue suit and wearing a panama hat, was accompanied by his wife, dressed all in black, and his daughter Luz, in an elegant outfit. Among the other representatives of the smart set, come to Chapala for the occasion, were: the eminent finance minister Mr. Yves Limantour, to whom the country owes the consolidation of its foreign credit; Mr. Braniff, a railroad king, of working class origins, and Sr. Moreno, whose revenue reached a fabulous figure. It is said, not without malice, that just the wool from his sheep’s tails could be worth one million piastres. Also present were Mr. Landa, governor of the state of Mexico, Mr. Ahumada, governor of the state of Jalisco, Mr. Escaudon, governor of the state of Morelos, Messrs. Corcuera, Cuesta, Cosio, Hermosillo, Malo, Del Valle, etc.

Mexican millionaires make up the so called national aristocracy, but their doors are little accessible to strangers or even to their less fortunate compatriots. It is a very vain and proud circle where no one will speak to you without inquiring about your personal situation. The ladies, who make generous use of makeup, are rarely beautiful. Their annual budget for jewellery, toiletries, trinkets and trips to Europe amounts to hundreds of thousands of piastres. Some families own private hotels on the Champs Elysées, villas in Switzerland, on the Côte d’Azur, and at popular beaches and the fancy resorts of the good life.”

Source:

This post is based on chapter 55 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

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May 302016
 

Tom Carmichael was a U.S. Army veteran who lived and wrote in Ajijic for six years in the late 1960s. When he first arrived at Lake Chapala, Carmichael, accompanied by his wife Marcelle and their 10-year-old son, stayed in the Posada Ajijic. The family later made its home on Calle Guadalupe Victoria.

Thomas Carmichael. Credit: Life magazine, 1953

Thomas Carmichael. Credit: Life magazine, 1953

During his time in Ajijic, Carmichael wrote The Ninety Days (Bernard Geis, 1971) which detailed how five battles in a three-month period turned the tide of the second world war. The book was highly acclaimed by historians, became deservedly popular, and remains in print today.

Thomas Nicholas Carmichael was born in about 1920 and grew up in a family where military service was a given. His father had been an officer in the Canadian Grenadier Guards in the first world war and then served in the U.S. Air Corps, reaching the rank of colonel, during the second world war.

Tom Carmichael graduated from Princeton University in 1942, and immediately entered the U.S. Army. He served in North Africa and then Italy. While rescuing a colleague at Anzio, he took machine gun fire in his leg but was unable to be evacuated for another three days. He lost his leg but gained a wife – it was during his rehabilitation in an Atlanta hospital that he first met Marcelle Tessendorf, a hospital nurse.

carmichael-tom-ninety-days-book-coverIn 1946, after retiring from the Army, Carmichael started work for Life Magazine. He remained 22 years at Life, becoming its military affairs editor during the Korean War and one of the magazine’s senior administrators.

Among the pieces he wrote for Life is a feature article in its 11 June 1965 edition commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The introduction says that,  “Tom had 4,500 toy soldiers by the time he was 10, got tangled up in his father’s Napoleon books when he was 12, and that was that… His knowledge of the art and science of war is extensive. He gave us a fine report on Assyrian tactics for our special Bible issue, and he is the co-inventor of a strategic war game in our Civil War series in 1961 (if North plays it wrong, General Lee wins)…”

In Ajijic, Carmichael not only wrote but also pursued his passion for soccer. He loved to watch the local Ajijic “Union” soccer team, and even went so far as to pen a heartfelt tribute to them in the Guadalajara Reporter in October 1967 for their “Cinderella” success. After playing mostly local teams and thrashing them, Union had stepped up into a higher and much more competitive league, and were playing, and often beating, teams from much larger cities, including Zapotlanejo, Cd. Guzmán and Guadalajara.

At the time of his death, from a heart attack at his home in Ajijic on 24 October 1972, Carmichael was writing a definitive biography of Napoleon. His obituary in the Princeton Alumni Weekly described him as a “distinguished scholar, author, wit, soldier, intellect, [and] trenchant observer of the human scene.”

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May 262016
 

Catalan artist and writer Avel-lí Artís-Gener, who often signed his art simply “Tisner”, left Spain for exile in Mexico following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). He lived in Mexico for 25 years, and visited and painted Lake Chapala in the early 1940s.

Tisner was born in Barcelona, Spain, on 28 May 1912 and died in that city on 7 May 2000.

Tisner. 1953.

Tisner. Untitled. 1953.

Artís-Gener exhibited numerous times in Mexico City. His work was included in a group show for the 4th National Floriculture Exhibition in May 1945, and a painting entitled “Chapala” featured in his third solo exhibit in Mexico City in the first half of September 1946, in the vestibule of the Cine Mageriti.

Artís-Gener has another interesting link to Chapala. One of his students for watercolor classes was Conrado Contreras, who has since produced, among other works of art, numerous fine watercolors of the Lake Chapala area. Contreras and his wife (poet, writer and educator Zaida Cristina Reynoso) moved to Chapala with their two young children in 1975, and have lived here ever since.

As a young man in Spain, Tisner had articles and cartoons published in a variety of media, including El Be Negre, Mercantil, l’Opinió, La Rambla, Esport i ciutadania and La Publicitat.

At the start of the Spanish Civil War, Tisner received death threats and fled to Paris. Soon after, he joined the Republican Army and returned to fight. During the war, Tisner edited Meridià, Amic and Vèncer, magazines written for the combatants.

During his time in Mexico (from 1940), Tisner worked as a journalist, cartoonist and scenery designer for Mexico City’s Channel 4, as well as working in publicity and as an editor. He retained close links with other exiles from the Catalan community. His cartoons appeared in Full Català, Quaderns de l’Exili, Revista de Refugiats d’Amèrica, Lletres, Pont Blau, Tele-revista, La Nostra Revista (founded by his father), and its successor La Nova Revista, founded by the artist himself.

Tisner took particular interest in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past, which was the motivation behind his best known book, Paraules d’Opòton el Vell (1968). Other works written by Tisner (he almost always wrote in Catalan), include 556 Brigada Mixta (1945); Prohibida l’evasió (1969); L’Enquesta del Canal 4 (1973); Les nostres coses (1978); Els gossos d’Acteó (1983); and Ciris trencats (La Campana.

tisner-portraitIn 1965, Tisner returned to Catalonia, where he worked initially as a journalist for the daily El Correo Catalán, and later became deputy director of the Catalan weekly Tele/Estel. In 1970 he translated Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad into Catalan. During his later years, he worked for a large number of different newspapers and magazines, including Avui, El Periódico, Catalunya Informació, L’Avenç, Serra d’Or, Canigó, Cultura, El Triangle, El Món, Presència, and Espais mediterranis.

Tisner was politically active in the 1980s, and in 1988 received the Creu de Sant Jordi, one of the highest civil distinctions awarded in Catalonia. He also won a City of Barcelona prize for Catalan prose. He was a founding member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers, and the group’s president from 1990 to 1994.

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Apr 252016
 

Diego José Abad (1727-1779) was a Mexican poet and author, born in Jiquilpan, Michoacán (then on the shores of Lake Chapala). His birthplace appears to be the only direct connection that he has to Lake Chapala.

abad-diego-joseAbad, born on 1 June 1727, was the eldest son in a wealthy ranch-owning family. At twelve years of age, he entered the Colegio de San Idelfonso in Mexico City, where he took classes in grammar, poetry, rhetoric and philosophy, before joining the Jesuit order two years later in 1741. After ordination in 1751, Abad taught rhetoric, philosophy, canon law and civil law in Jesuit seminaries in Mexico City, Zacatecas and Querétaro. He was in poor health for much of his life and spent his free time translating Virgil into Spanish.

In 1767, when King Charles III of Spain ordered all Jesuits out of New Spain, Abad entered exile in Italy, where he died twelve years later. Abad wrote many works, some in Latin, others in Spanish, including: El más embrollado problema de las matemáticas resuelto; De deo deoque homine heroica (1769; the 2nd edition of which was published under the pseudonym of Jacobus Josephus Labbè); El cursus philosophicus (1775); Disertación cómico seria acerca de la cultura latina de los extranjeros (1778); Geografía hidrográfica general, a work about the world’s major rivers.

Abad died in Bologna, Italy, on 30 September 1779.

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Apr 182016
 

Ruth Ross-Merrimer and her husband Robert Merrimer first lived in Ajijic in 1986 and she returned there in 1999, shortly after her husband’s death in Tucson, Arizona. In 2004, she moved to Palm Springs, California, where she died on 6 June 2011, at the age of 86.

While living in Ajijic, Ross-Merrimer wrote and self-published Champagne & Tortillas (2001) which is set in a retirement community that seems surprisingly like Lake Chapala and Ajijic, despite the disclaimer at the start that:

Champagne & Tortillas  is not a roman a clef. To all who may believe they recognize one or more of its characters, I can only say that your imaginations are working overtime. This is a work of fiction, and the characters who cavort through its pages are figments of my own imagination.

Just as the place called Lake Azul will not be found on any map of Mexico, the characters in Champagne & Tortillas were conceived from bits and pieces of all the people I have ever known..”

The back cover blurb for Champagne & Tortillas describes it thus:

“In a blend of fiction and historical fact, the novel chronicles the lives of a tightknit group of mainly U.S. expatriates, living in a town in Mexico called Lake Azul. They spend lazy days loving, hating and backbiting; their passion for one-upmanship exceeded only by their unrelenting interest in each other and each other’s lives. But when one of them is mysteriously murdered by two others in the colony, it becomes a recipe for the perfect crime.”

ross-merrimer-ruth-coverRuth Ross (later Ross-Merrimer) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 26 May 1925. She studied at St. Louis University and worked as a professional singer on tourist boats on the Mississippi River.

She moved to Southern California in 1962 where she was invited to record a song for a documentary film being made by Robert Merrimer (1908-1999) of Keystone Productions. She and Bob married and first visited Ajijic in 1966 after the film company was asked to produce seven documentary publicity films for the Mexican National Tourist Department, ahead of the Mexico Olympics of 1968.

The couple traveled all over Mexico shooting the Tourist Department movies, with Ruth working as a researcher and scriptwriter, and from 1968, established their home in Puerto Vallarta, where they lived for about a decade.

After her return to Ajijic in 1999, Ross-Merrimer reported on local news for the Guadalajara Reporter (1999-2003) and other English language publications, including El Ojo del Lago. She was a founder member of the Ajijic Writers Group.

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Apr 112016
 

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis (1894-1966) was a sports writer, publicist and painter who lived in Ajijic during the early 1960s and penned an article about the area entitled “Lotus Land”.

mcginnis-lotus-land-s“Lotus Land” was written initially in 1964 as an open letter to friends in the U.S., but McGinnis subsequently sold copies in the Lake Chapala area in 1965, and it was published, much later, as a series of nine article, in El Ojo del Lago, from June 1994 to February 1995 inclusive.

The original typescript had 21 pages and was priced at 10 pesos (then about US$0.12).

“Lotus Land” was subtitled: “Being a faithful, factual and informative account of life among the American Colony on Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, with some comments on the way of life of our Mexican friends and neighbors, and a description of some of the amazing phenomena on this Costa Brava of Mexico. Designed to entertain the local residents, or to be used as an open letter to friends in the United States.”

The following brief extracts will give readers some idea of the style and range of material included in “Lotus Land”:

This is Lotus Land, the land of the colonels and the afternoon cocktail, the land of the mozo and the extra maid and rum at a dollar a bottle. This is the Costa Brava of Mexico, where Mexicano and Americano meet and mix, like oil and water. And it is the land of un momento.

This is Ajijic, Chapala, Chula Vista and their environs where some hundreds of American families have built their luxurious lairs among the adobe houses of the Mexicans. The three pueblos nestle between the shore of lake Chapala and the mountains. Chapala is built on a spit of land projecting from the north shore of the lake, and was a famous watering place for the rich and poor of Guadalajara long before the gringos came….

Chula Vista sprawls on the slopes of a crescent of mountain about two miles west of Chapala on the lake shore. Chula Vista, with one or two exceptions, is exclusively Americano. Its luxury homes make a slight and condescending bow to the Mexican way of life by adding patios and walls, but it is essentially transplanted California. It is said that its inhabitants look down their noses at their unfortunate compatriots living in Chapala and Ajijic, albeit it is all in fun. Chula Vista sports a nifty golf club and most of the homes have pools, electric kitchens, and poodles.

Ajijic, a mile and a half west of Chula Vista along the lake, is the den mother of the three communities. Discovered by a group of impecunious artists soon after World War II, It was then a sleepy Indian village given over to the pursuit of Lake Chapala sardines and the bucolic crafts of animal husbandry, maize cultivation, and wood cutting. The artists fell among the natives like a drop of water in a mill pond – there was a slight ripple and the two became one – frijoles, no bathrooms, tacos, no sewers and no barbers.

Then the States-side newspapers and magazines, on a wave of nostalgia, began to thump the tub for the Shangri-la aspect of this Mexican paradise. Soldiers retiring after the war got wind of it, and the invasion was on. The adobe houses were bought and leased, white washed, a shower and bath added. The newcomers clamored for light and water, and the Mexican government, awakening after four hundred years of somnolence, tapped a mountain spring and brought the water into the pueblo….

The more affluent of the invaders built new homes or made elaborate changes in the old houses. They hired the women and girls as cooks and maids, the men as gardeners and handy men. Wages, from thirty pesos a week at the beginning, climbed to fifty, sixty, and on up to ninety and a hundred….

The typical Lakeside male awakens just before nine o’clock, yawns, stretches, sneezes and goes to the bathroom, where he finds that the toilet doesn’t work. He cusses the Mexican plumbing and his arthritis and has his breakfast served in the patio by the maid. He them bedecks himself for the golf course, and joins a trio of his friends for nine holes, winning a peso by a stroke of good luck. He will then repair to the game room at the club, and may win another peso at gin. It is now one o’clock, he has had three rums and feels prepared for the steak (at 60 cents per T-bone) which will be served at home. He has his comida, yawns, stretches, and seeks a quiet, dark corner for a siesta.

At five or thereabouts comes the cocktail hour….

The housewife is the chief exponent of the vocal arts in Mexico. Whereas the men rarely sing except when stimulated by tequila, in love or for a living, the housewives sing all day long. The chorus is well under way by five o’clock in the morning, and continues far into the night. One gets accustomed to these symphonic decibels and after a while they go in one ear and out again.

Under fine arts must come acting and entertaining. Frustrated actors and entertainers, as well as retired professionals, could not be held in check forever. Under the able direction of Mrs. Betty Kuzell, a theatre group suddenly blossomed into a lively and amazing organization. Musicals, burlesque, light drama, and variations of old-time vaudeville draw crowds to the redecorated waiting room of the old railroad station. Latent talent has been developed and the old pros leaven the amateur efforts. While there has been the customary pulling-and-hauling and displays of artistic temperament and professional jealousy, everybody is having a good time. Many people are keeping out of mischief as their energies are dissipated on the Thespian boards….

The Lakeside has had bad press in the States, bad because it has exaggerated conditions, especially the cost of living. While it is true that one can get a haircut for twenty-five cents and a good bottle of rum, gin or brandy for a dollar, a can of corned beef costs $1.25 US. Cranberry sauce and canned asparagus are equally high, and Campbell’s soup, made in Mexico, is 32 to 45 cents a can. Tailoring is cheap but the cloth is expensive. The fruits of the country, citrus, melons, mangos, avocados, bananas, pineapples are cheap and good. There are no frozen foods, no TV dinners for the quick snack, and only a limited and inferior variety of canned fruits and vegetables. Residents who go to the border load up with US goodies to tide them through.

The family budget is stretched by the absence of the monthly telephone bill. There is one telephone in Ajijic, two available in Chapala and one in Chula Vista. This is both a blessing and a curse. You save money, but should an important guest be lost at the airport, there is no way to catch up with him until he arrives by taxi some hours later….

One saves on gas and wear-and-tear by shunning night driving. Unless its an emergency, only the daring drive at night. The highways are open range, and cattle, horses, burros and other livestock wander at will, blend into the pavement, and won’t budge. Many of the trucks, of ancient US vintage, have no tail lights, and when there is a breakdown it remains where it stops, with a fine disregard for life and limb. It is a serious offense to kill an animal and if caught you may expect a turn in jail. This encourages a hit-and-run policy on the part of both the foreigners and the Mexicans….

Many of the Mexican elite of Guadalajara maintain elaborate summer or weekend homes in Lakeside. These people are seldom seen in public, do not cotton to the foreigners and could teach anybody in the world how to live in the grand manner. A poor Mexican is generous, a rich Mexican is unbelievable. He knows how to spend money and keeps in practice both in his home, at his club and where ever his well shod, perfectly tailored persona happens to be. Should you be invited to his home you will be entertained within an inch of your life and if he calls you “friend” a host of his connections are at your service.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Mr. Bill Atkinson of Chapala for graciously giving me a copy of “Lotus Land” as originally published in 1964.

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 042016
 

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis (1894-1966) was a sports writer, publicist and painter who lived in Ajijic during the early 1960s and penned an article about the area entitled “Lotus Land”. “Lotus Land” was written initially in 1964 as an open letter to friends in the U.S., but McGinnis subsequently sold copies in the Lake Chapala area in 1965, and it was published, much later, as a series of nine article, in El Ojo del Lago, from June 1994 to February 1995 inclusive.

We will take a closer look at “Lotus Land”, a tongue in cheek account of the area, in a separate post.

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis was born in Kingston, Ohio, on 13 November 1894 and died in Ajijic on 4 June 1966. He grew up in an artistic family; his brother was the famous artist and illustrator Robert E. McGinnis.

mcginnis-gold-old-daysRalph McGinnis was the author of many articles and at least two books. His articles included “The Wimodausians”, in Farm Quarterly 6 (1951), while his books included The History of Oxford, Ohio, from the earliest days to the present, 1930 (Stewart Press, 1930) and The good old days: An invitation to memory (F. & W. Publishing Company, 1960). The latter book is about farming life and includes photos and some “primitive-style watercolors” by the author.

McGinnis is also credited with having come up with the nickname “Redskins” for the Miami University (Ohio) sports teams previously known as the Big Reds. McGinnis had been a star halfback and track athlete in the class of 1921 at Miami University in Ohio. At university, he was associate editor of the student magazine Recensio, and athletic editor and eventually editor of The Miami Student. In articles dating from 1919 and 1920, McGinnis used phrases such as, “sturdy warriors,” “pow wow on the commons,” and “Big Red Warriors Go on Warpath.”

In 1928, McGinnis joined the staff of Miami University as a publicity advisor, and later as a teacher of English and journalism. By 1930 the tagline Redskins was being regularly used for university teams. According to McGinnis, he first came up with the attention-grabbing name in 1928.

Ralph McGinnis married twice. His first wife was a fellow student Erma Kőenig, born in Kentucky; they had two children, Albert and Marsue. After a divorce, McGinnis married Edith R. Matthew.

McGinnis and his second wife were living in Ajijic in the summer of 1965, as evidenced by a mention in the Guadalajara Colony Reporter for 19 Aug 1965. Edith McGinnis was an author, whose pen name was Edith Shepherd, and apparently the author of several crime stories and articles, though I have no further details of these. In August 1965, she was working on a commissioned travel article. (There is an Edith Shepherd who wrote Geography for Beginners (Rand McNally, 1924) but it is unclear whether or not this is McGinnis’s wife).

McGinnis’s daughter Marsue has her own claim to fame, dating back to when she was teaching as a 21-year-old on the island of Hawaii in 1946. On 1 April 1946, she was swept out to sea by a massive tidal wave, along with several fellow teachers and many of their students. She clung on to a piece of driftwood for an amazing nine hours prior to being plucked to safety by her fiancé who had borrowed a motorboat to help find survivors. Her first-person account of that harrowing day won a major Reader’s Digest prize in 1959. Her astonishing story is one of those retold by Rita Beamish in Perils of Paradise (Bess Press, Inc., 2004). Marsue also retold the story in this oral history interview.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Mr. Bill Atkinson of Chapala for graciously giving me a copy of “Lotus Land” as originally published in 1964.

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.

Mar 282016
 

Stephen Schneck was born 2 January 1933 in New York and died on 26 November 1996 in Palm Springs, California. He led a varied life, including stints as a novelist, author, actor and screenwriter, among other pursuits.

schneck-nightclerkSchneck studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then spent several years traveling around Mexico, where he lived in the Lake Chapala area from about 1954 to 1957) and Central America. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Schneck claimed “to have written some of his best short stories and spent the better days of his youth while there”.

In 1960, Schneck apparently founded the American Beauty Studios, on 42nd Street, New York. It was during the 1960s that Schneck worked as a reporter for such “underground” periodicals as Ramparts and Mother Jones.

He subsequently moved to San Francisco, where he wrote his first, and best known, novel, “The Nightclerk” (Grove Press, 1965). The novel’s hero is an overweight hotel clerk (weighing 600 lbs), described by one reviewer as “the fattest man in American literature”. The hotel is a seedy San Francisco establishment. The clerk whiles away the long night hours reading erotic paperbacks, cutting up old magazines, and reminiscing about his beautiful and corrupt wife, Katy. The clerk’s real life lies in his “erotic, pornographic, sado-masochistic, orgiastic, unnameable” fantasies. This somewhat surrealistic novel became an international counterculture favorite, and won the $10,000 Formentor Novel Prize.

schneck-nocturnal-vaudevilleSchneck followed this with a second novel, Nocturnal Vaudeville (E. P. Dutton, 1971), but then turned to non-fiction works and screenplays.

In the second half of the 1970s, he wrote several non-fiction books for pet lovers, including The complete home medical guide for cats (Stein and Day, 1976) and, with Nigel Norris, The complete home medical guide for dogs (Stein and Day, 1976). The two authors co-wrote A. to Z. of Cat Care (Fontana Press, 1979) and A-Z of Dog Care (Fontana, 1979).

By that time, Schneck was gaining success as a screenwriter. He wrote or co-wrote Inside Out (1975); Welcome to Blood City (1977), which won first prize at the 1976 Paris Science Fiction Film Festival; High-Ballin’ (1978), which starred Peter Fonda; and Across the Moon (1995), in which he also played the part of a prison chaplain.

TV credits included two episodes of The Paper Chase (1985-1986), an episode of In the Heat of the Night (1992), as well as episodes of All in the Family, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Cheers.

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.

Feb 152016
 

Mary Blanche Starr MacNicol was the fourth wife of Roy MacNicol, an American artist who in 1954 bought and remodeled the D. H. Lawrence house in Chapala. From spending time in Mexico, she became interested in local Mexican cuisine, especially that involving flowers, and later wrote Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967).

macnicol-mary-flower-cookeryMary Starr was born in Georgia in about 1896. According to a post on a genealogy site, she graduated from the University of Georgia and then taught for some years in Hartwell, Georgia, where she became close friends with Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, before moving to Florida.

Her first marriage, in 1935, to Bassett Washington Mitchell, a real estate investor of Palm Beach, Florida, ended on his death in September 1946. The following year, on 27 March, she married artist-writer Roy MacNicol, who had been married twice previously, in Palm Beach. MacNicol had been a Palm Beach regular since at least the mid-1920s.

In 1949 Mary Starr MacNicol requested Federal Court help with paying her debts, presumably in order to wind up her husband’s estate. She told the Court that she had assets of $371,580 but was unable to pay her debts as they matured. She listed debts of $224,346 and asked the Court to make arrangements for her creditors to be paid.

In 1954, Roy MacNicol bought, and began to remodel, the historic house in Chapala which D. H. Lawrence had rented in 1923. After this point, Mary and Roy MacNicol seem to have divided their time between Chapala and New York, with occasional trips elsewhere, including to Europe. (In November 1956, for example, the couple arrived back in Palm Beach, from Europe, aboard the Queen Mary.) Their New York home, from 1956 (possibly earlier) until Mary MacNicol’s death in about 1970, was at 100 Sullivan Street.

A short piece about Mary MacNicol’s book Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967) in the San Antonio Express and News in 1973 mentions that,

“Mrs. MacNicol began exploring the possibilities of cooking with flowers when she was the lessee of D. H. Lawrence’s house at Lake Chapala.”, adding that “Mrs. MacNicol researched Aztec methods of flower cookery and once attended a six-course flower supper in Morelia. Lilies, yucca, roses and jasmine are ingredients in Mrs. MacNicol’s recipes. So are clove-carnations or gilly flowers and marigolds the flavor provider for Dutch soups.

Mrs. MacNicol tells of Dwight Eisenhower’s custom of adding nasturtium blossoms during Ihe last minutes of vegetable soup cookery, She also gives Queen Victoria’s mother’s formula for violet tea: 1 cup of boiling water 1 tsp. of fresh violets Steep ten minutes, then sweeten with honey.”

Here is a Chapala-related recipe from that book:

Chapala Cheer

  • 10-12 squash blossoms
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 tbsp. water
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup oil

Wash blossoms and remove stems. Drain dry on paper towels. Mix other ingredients to make a smooth batter. Dip blossoms in batter and fry in oil until brown. Serve hot.

Enjoy!

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.

Feb 082016
 

Elsie Worthington Clews Parsons (1875-1941) was a woman way ahead of her time. Variously described as a “relentlessly modern woman”, “a pioneering feminist” and “eminent anthropologist”, she was all of these and so much more.

parsons-elsie-clewsParsons, born to a wealthy family in New York City on 27 November 1875, became one of America’s foremost anthropologists, but also made significant contributions as a sociologist and folklorist. She is best known for pioneering work among the Native American tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico, including the Tewa and Hopi.

Parsons visited Mexico numerous times, and had spent extended periods in Mexico prior to her visit to Chapala in December 1932. On that occasion, she spent at least 10 days there; it is unclear if she revisited the lake area at any point after that.

She gained her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in 1896, and then switched to Columbia University to study history and sociology for her master’s degree (1897) and Ph.D. (1899).

The following year, on 1 September 1900, she married lawyer and future Republican congressman Herbert Parsons, a political ally of President Roosevelt, in Newport, Rhode Island. She lectured in sociology at Barnard from 1902 to 1905, resigning to accompany her husband to Washington.

Her first book, The Family (1906) was a feminist tract founded on sociological research and analysis. Its discussion of trial marriage became both popular and notorious, leading Parsons to adopt the pseudonym “John Main” for her next two books: Religious Chastity (1913) and The Old Fashioned Woman (1913). She reverted to her own name for Fear and Conventionality (1914), Social Freedom (1915) and Social Rule (1916).

parsons-elsie-clews-2In 1919, she helped found The New School for Social Research in New York City and became a lecturer there. In that same year, Mabel Dodge Sterne (later Mabel Luhan), a wealthy American patron of the arts, moved to Taos, with her then husband Maurice, to start a literary colony there. Luhan sponsored D.H. Lawrence‘s initial visit to Taos in 1922-23 and helped Parsons with her research into local Native American culture and beliefs.

For more than 25 years, Parsons conducted methodical fieldwork and collected a vast amount of data from the Caribbean, U.S., Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, much of which she would eventually synthesize into major academic works. These include the widely acclaimed works about Zapotec Indians in Mexico: Mitla: Town of the Souls (1936), Native Americans in Pueblo Indian Religion(2 volumes, 1939), and Andean cultures in Peguche, Canton of Otavalo (1945).

She also published a number of works on West Indian and African American folklore, including Folk-Tales of Andros Island, Bahamas (1918); Folk-Lore from the Cape Verde Islands (1923); Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina (1923); and Folk-Lore of the Antilles, French and English (3 volumes, 1933–43).

Parsons served as associate editor for The Journal of American Folklore (1918-1941), president of the American Folklore Society (1919-1920) and president of the American Ethnological Society (1923-1925). At the time of her death, she had just been elected the first female president of the American Anthropological Association (1941).

Parsons’ visit to Lake Chapala in December 1932 is noteworthy for several reasons.

She was traveling with fellow anthropologist Ralph Beals (1901-1985). They had been working with the Cora and Huichol Indians at Tepic, Nayarit, and were on their way south towards Oaxaca. [Parsons, incidentally, was responsible for introducing Beals, who founded the anthropology and sociology departments at UCLA, to her anthropological fieldwork techniques. He employed similar techniques to great effect when he built on Parsons’ prior work at Mitla, and expanded it into his 1975 work, The Peasant Marketing System of Oaxaca, Mexico.]

Parsons and Beals arrived in Guadalajara by train from Tepic, but Parsons decided that  the city had little to offer ethnologically, so they chartered a car and drove to Chapala.

“There they settled into the inn, where Beals’s room looked out across an arm of the lake to a tree-embowered house where D. H. Lawrence had stayed a few years before.” “I have never been in such an enchanting place in my life,” Beals wrote Dorothy [his wife]. “If I had to pick just one place to go with you I’d certainly pick this.” (quoted in Deacon)

Parsons had heard that the villages around the lake performed an interesting version of the dance called La Conquista (The Conquest) in the multi-day celebrations for 12 December, Guadalupe Day. She and Beals took a boat to Ajijic on 15 December to watch events unfold, discovering that there were so few other spectators that the procession and dances were clearly held for the participants’ own pleasure. Parsons was not favorably impressed by Lake Chapala’s small villages, calling them “unattractive, as squalid as Spanish towns”, and concluding that, “They must have been settled by Spanish fishermen, and god knows what became of the Zacateca population.” [quoted in Deacon]

They spent ten days at Lake Chapala, during which time, according to Zumwalt, Parsons worked on an early draft of Pueblo Indian Religion.

Leaving Chapala, they took a two-hour launch ride to Ocotlán, before catching the train to Mexico City, where they arrived just in time for the social whirlwind of Christmas.

Several years later, Parsons published a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, in the May 1937 issue of The Scientific Monthly. This article included several mentions of Lake Chapala, with Parsons casting doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected there by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers.

Parsons describes how ever since the 1890s, there has been,

“at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. 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.”

While Parsons is not sure what became of Lumholtz’s collection, she says that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr, and which are now in the Peabody Museum in Cambridge (Harvard University), are definitely genuine and not faked.

The “Mr. Crow” referred to by Parsons is Septimus Crowe (1842-1903). [For more about Septimus Crowe and about the Lumholtz and Starr trips to Lake Chapala in the 1890s, see my Lake Chapala Through The Ages, an Anthology of Travellers’ Tales.]

One real mystery stemming from Parsons’ description above is the identity of the “English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago”. Just who was she? Clearly, she must have visited Chapala in the period 1895-1898. There seem to be two likely candidates. The first is The Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, who returned from a trip to Mexico in March 1896, coincidentally on the same train as Lumholtz. The only known article by Pauncefote relating to Chapala is “Chapala the Beautiful”, published in Harper’s Bazar (1900). It is very likely that she may met and knew Crowe, since he had been a British Vice Consul in Norway, though she makes no mention of him in her article. The second candidate is Adela Breton, a British artist who visited (and painted) several archaeological sites in Mexico in the years after 1894, though her connection to Septimus Crowe is less clear.

The bulk of Parsons’ paper is devoted to her argument that the Lake Chapala miniatures are prayer-images, similar to those used in Oaxaca and elsewhere:

“All the Chapala offerings are either perforated or of a form to which string could be tied. They may have been hung on a stick, a prayer-stick, just as the Huichol Indians hang their miniature prayer-images to-day.”

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Parsons describes how some figurines of a dog (she actually had a faked copy of such a dog on her table at Chapala) had something in their mouth and a container on their back. The container, Parsons argues, was to carry humans across the river after death. Pet-lovers everywhere will rejoice to learn that:

“The dog ferryman belief is that if you treat dogs well a dog will carry you across the big river you have to cross in your journey after death… but if you have maltreated dogs, beating them or refusing them food, you will be left stranded on the river. The river dogs are black for an Indian, and the Zapotecs, and white for a Spaniard; white dogs will not carry an Indian lest they soil their coats – unless you have a piece of soap with you and promise to wash your ferryman on the other side. The burden or carrying basket of the Chapala Lake region, the ancient basket carried in the ancient way, by tumpline, is the exact shape of the object on the back of the dog figurine, narrow and deep and flaring toward the top.”

On 19 December 1941, after an amazingly productive and full life, Elsie Crews Parsons left New York City and was ferried across the river into the after-world.

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.

Jan 252016
 

In an earlier post, we looked at the multiple achievements of Emma-Lindsay Squier, an extraordinary woman who visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in 1926.

In this post we take a closer look at just how Squier described her visits to Lake Chapala and Jocotepec in her autobiographical Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934).

squier-emma-lindsay-gringa

Her initial impressions of Lake Chapala were, frankly, not that positive:

“About twenty miles east (sic) of Guadalajara is the famous Lake Chapala. It is by way of being the Mexican Riviera; one which lacks, however, the Continental touch. It tries hard to be sophisticated, but I did not find the purple and pink stucco castles of the millionaires either interesting or in good taste. Mexico is at her best when she caps herself with red tile, bougainvillea vines over her painted adobe panniers, and smilingly challenges the world to produce anything more pictorial.” (Gringa, 145)

However, she was fascinated by the possibility that the Aztecs had lingered at Lake Chapala for several hundreds of years, during their migratory wanderings:

“Today, the blue waters of the lake and burial mounds on the the surrounding hills are constantly yielding up primitive, distorted little clay images that are thought to be mementos of that far-gone time. The Indians say that these small people of barro (clay) are those of the Aztec tribe who would not desert Chapala, and for their disobedience were turned into soulless effigies. They say, too, that the fireflies one sees at night, drifting up from the marshy shores in clouds of golden stars, are the spirits of those repentant ones who are belatedly trying to follow their kinsmen to glories that have long been swallowed up in the tragedies of the past.” (Gringa, 145-146)”

From Chapala, she was then driven by Dr. William Walker to Jocotepec:

“We drove from the village of Chapala along a narrow sandy road that follows the lake. Now and then through the interlaced greenery of trees and shrubbery we could see long primitive fishing boats scooped out of logs propelled by triangular orange-colored sails, skimming across the blue water. The smell of nets drying on the beach mingled with the fragrance of lime blossoms. On the other side of the road, in fields, bounded by fences made of piled stones, small but powerful-looking cattle grazed, and white-garmented peons dozed in the shade of coral-flowered tavachin (sic) trees.”

The farther we drew away from the town of Chapala with its rococo castles and its air of pseudo-sophistication, the closer we came to a Mexico unspoiled, untainted by self-consciousness.

And when we bumped along a cobblestoned road that led to the plaza of Jocotepec, a wave of color and movement and music engulfed us. It was if we stepped out of the twentieth century into the life of a hundred years ago.” (Gringa, 146)

They arrived during a fiesta and she describes the people thronging the plaza:

“… the central square was an almost compact mass of peons in freshly white garments, shirts that were stiff with starch, and long, wide cotton trousers that had been pleated in diagonal lozenges by the patient application of heavy charcoal-heated irons.

The sombreros they wore lacked the high crowns I had seen elsewhere. But the brims made up for the lack of height. They were tremendously wide, curved upward at the edges just the least bit, and two long black cords came down from the shallow-crowned hat and held it under the owner’s chin or dangled down the back of his neck–al gusto.

Few of them wore shoes. Their brown feet were encased in finely woven sandals. But every mother’s son of them in that bobbing, undulating throng was carrying a sarape over his shoulder, the kind you see only in this remote Indian village, one with a dark background of well-carded wool and a woven border of vivid flowers. The boca (mouth) is ornamented thus as well. When the wide opening is slipped over the owner’s head, he is wearing a fringed brown cloak, decorated with flowers, so closely woven that the tropical rain can scarcely seep through.” (Gringa, 147).

Squier goes on to describe the mariachi bands, and being invited to a local bullfight by the mayor – presidente – of the town, an invitation she was unable to pass up. Fortunately, it turned out to be a bloodless bullfight in which the bulls were not killed.

Some time later, when she was listening to a mariachi band in Mexico City with her husband John Ransome Bransby, Squier was delighted to see that some members of the group were wearing sarapes identical in design to those she had seen in Jocotepec. Sure enough, several of the band’s members were indeed from that village on Lake Chapala.

Source:

  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

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.

Jan 182016
 

Emma-Lindsay Squier (1892-1941) was a nature and travel writer who lived much of her life in California. She visited and wrote about Lake Chapala in the 1920s, while spending several months in Guadalajara.

Known as “Emily” to family and friends, she was born in Marion, Indiana, on 1 Dec 1892. Her father, Russell Lafayette Squier, was a salesman, and her mother, Helen Ada Lindsay (Squier) was a teacher and an elocutionist. The family was not well off but Emily became a significant source of income at a very early age. At four years of age, Emily proved to have a natural talent for reciting poems and readings from memory and began making public appearances on the Chautauqua circuit, promotional materials billing her as “Baby Squier”.

Recalling her first visit to Mexico, at age ten, to give a dramatic recital in English in Ciudad Porfirio Diaz (now Piedras Negras), across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, she later wrote, “I fell in love with Mexico when I was ten years old. It was love at first sight.” (Gringa, 3)

After classes in the Sacred Heart Academy in Salem (Oregon) and Bremerton High School (Washington), Emily studied journalism for two years at the University of Washington. She dropped out of university when the family moved to Glendale (California) in 1915, where she became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She was later appointed an assistant editor of California Life, a monthly periodical published in Pasadena.

She became a prolific writer of short pieces, published in magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Hearst’s and The American Girl. A series of articles about wildlife interacting with people, often with a degree of fantasy, proved especially successful with readers, and a collection of such stories was published as The Wild Heart (1922),with illustrations and decorations by Paul Bransom. The book “captured the imagination of readers from coast to coast…”

Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

Emma-Lindsay Squier (then Mrs George Mark), ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

She spent the latter part of 1919 in Nova Scotia, Canada, collecting stories for a future book, and then in 1920 and 1921, she attended Columbia University in New York, studying drama and literature. She returned to the Seattle area to collect the legends of the Indians of the Puget Sound tribes.

Her writing fame and fortune continued to grow, Emily’s second collected work about animals, On Autumn Trails and Adventures in Captivity (1922) was heralded as “a grown-up book for children and a children’s book for grown-ups”. Squier’s other book-length works included The Red Palanquin (1924); Children of the Twilight: Folk-Tales on Indian Tribes (1926); and The bride of the sacred well, and other tales of Ancient Mexico (1928).

Her first marriage was to a distant cousin George Mark, whom she had met in New York. After their marriage in 1922, they initially lived in New York, but soon relocated to San Diego, where Emily joined the San Diego Players and first met John Bransby. They quickly became a couple and by 1926 Emily had separated from George and decided to fulfill a life-long ambition to travel in Mexico.

In 1926, Squier was offered the opportunity to spend several months in Mexico collecting local folk stories and legends. Her many adventures from this and subsequent trips are told with color and relish in Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). She traveled on a freighter, the S.S. Washington, down the west coast, met and danced with ex-President Obregón in Culiacán, and then spent several months at the Hotel Cosmopolita in Guadalajara. In Guadalajara, she became such good friends with poet Idella Purnell and her father that he lent her his car whenever she wanted.

On one occasion, the car had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and Emily was helped by the unexpected arrival of a man on a black horse:

“He was wearing an elaborate charro suit. The black, tight fitting trousers glinted with silver ornaments from thigh to ankle. His silken blouse was embroidered in festive colors, and his sombrero was the fanciest I had yet seen. It was of white felt, richly embroidered with silver, and had a painted medallion of the Virgin ornamenting the exaggerated crown. A sarape of the diamond-shaped Saltillo pattern was strapped across his saddle”. (Gringa, 131)

Safely back at the Purnells, she discovered his picture was on wanted posters and that she had been helped by the notorious ‘El Catorce’, “the bloodthirsty bandit who had attacked and set fire to a passenger train!” (More than 100 people were killed in this incident which took place in April 1927).

She also relates the story told by Idella’s father, Dr. George Purnell, about being kidnapped by bandits and released only after a ransom of $200 was paid. (This event actually occurred in April 1930).

Squier and Idella Purnell befriended a group of Huichol Indians in Guadalajara and after much confusion successfully bartered some ribbons and jewelry for Huichol arrows and woven bags. In a letter back home to her then fiance John Bransby, Squier wrote,

“We noticed that two of the Indians carried tiny, crudely made violins. The strings were of wire, the bow was of gut. Upon these weird little instruments they sawed with primitive vigor, and drew forth unmusical wailings as of cats on back-yard fences.”

The violins were home-made, but Squier never did find out how the Indians had first come into contact with the instrument. She did, however, have the opportunity to learn more about some of their stories and legends.

Among the legends she collected on this trip was one related to Lake Chapala. Her version, “The Little Lost Stars of Chapala”, was published in the August 1928 issue of Good Housekeeping.

The introduction makes for very interesting reading…

We had spent the day at Lake Chapala, that lovely blue body of water that is set like a jewel into the barren ring of Mexico’s mountains. It is a gay place, a meeting place for the old world as represented by the primitive Indian life about it, and the new world with its motor boats and motor cars and its air of naive sophistication. A curious place in a way, for you will find there that mingling of childlike simplicity and vague menace that is the essence of all things Mexican. Quaint little stucco castles shaded by palms and mangoes dot the shores of the lake, and are pointed out zestfully as being the homes of millionaire, and poets, and artists – this being the order of their importance. There is a plaza where the band plays on Sunday afternoons, and the sophisticates sit at tables and sip “refrescos“, watching with tolerant amusement the paseo of the Indians and humbler folk, who walk round and round in couples, enjoying themselves in solemn, aloof silence. Out upon the blue waters of the lake long black canoes come gliding, their sales huge and square-cut like those of Chinese sampans. Sometimes the sails are made of colored cloth, and make bright patches of blue or red or orange against the vivid background of sky and shore. They thread their way serenely through scattered flotillas of trim white modern craft, and there is always a drifting confusion of laughter and song mingled with the splash of oars and the subdued chugging of motor-boat engines.

In the center of the lake, a long, scorpion-shaped island lies. It is seldom visited, for there is little to be seen upon it, and the menace of the alacran for which it is named, and which it resembles, is not to be lightly disregarded.

Across the lake the mountains rise up sharp and grim, like the upturned teeth of some great prehistoric monster. And in these mountains, only a short journey from civilization as represented by the florid gaiety of Lake Chapala, are tribes of Indians among whom no white man would dare to venture unless under the specific protection of some priest of padre known to them, and capable of speaking their barbarous tongue. It is said that these savage Indios are the remnants of the once powerful Alcohuas, whose king, Cozoc, held in bondage the mighty tribe of Azteca for a long and irksome period.”

Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier

Gordon Coutts: Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1925

In Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934), Squier describes visiting Lake Chapala and, in particular, Jocotepec, an account we will look at in a separate post.

In 1928, Squier divorced George Mark and married John Ransome Bransby (1901-1998), an actor and movie producer, whose fine photos illustrate Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). The couple were living in New York, but within a week of marriage were traveling in opposite directions: Bransby was starting a theatrical tour while his wife was headed to Guatemala to collect legends for a new series. In 1929, Bransby was still touring when Squier was sailing even further south, to Peru.

Squier had taken a movie camera with her during her trip to Mexico in 1926 and the resulting reels helped Squier and Bransby win the opportunity (in 1930) to film an educational travelogue entitled Mexico (finally released in 1937). This trip is described in some detail in the second half of Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico.

The Bransbys spent time in southern Mexico before returning via Veracruz to Mexico City (where they socialized with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Frances Toor, among other notables). They also spent six weeks in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where they filmed a traditional wedding ceremony, before returning to New York by October 1930.

Their resulting 60-minute film was divided into three 20-minute “episodes”: “Modern Mexico,” “Mexico of yesterday” and “Land of chewing gum.” The highlights included Diego Rivera painting murals, the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the Passion Play in Ixtapalapa, and some of the earliest known footage of chewing gum (chicle) production.

Squier and Bransby later spent time touring the Caribbean, and Squier also visited Africa, always looking for more legends and animal stories. Squier’s work became the basis for two motion pictures: the Academy Award-nominated Dancing Pirate (Pioneer Pictures, 1936), based on her story “Glorious Buccaneer” (Colliers, December 1930) and billed as “The first dancing musical in 100% new Technicolor”, and The Angry God (1948), based on a story by Squier about how the god Colima tries to win the love of a beautiful young Indian maiden, who won’t betray the man she loves.

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Emma-Lindsay Squier was forced to slow down in her final years. Her incredibly productive life came to an end on 16 September 1941 in Saranac Lake, New York.

Sources:

  • Aileen Block. 1995. Emma-Lindsay’s Scrapbook: A Biography of Emma-Lindsay Squier (Privately printed)
  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

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.

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