May 082017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Apr 242017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Apr 182017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments:

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

Sources:

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

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

Apr 112017
 

Dorothy Hosmer, born in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, in 1910, spent much of her life combining adventure and photography. She visited Ajijic with her mother for a short time in 1945, where she met, among others, artists Otto Butterlin and Sylvia Fein. Fein recalls that Hosmer was planning to write an article about the area, with the intention of submitting it to National Geographic.

Hosmer completed primary school in Wilmette, Illinois, and high school in Sarasota, Florida, before taking a year of college at Rice Institute in Houston, Texas, followed by a one year secretarial course at Scudder School, New York. She then started to work for National City Bank of New York.

Otto Butterlin and Dorothy Hosmer, ca 1945. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Otto Butterlin and Dorothy Hosmer, ca 1945. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Hosmer first received public attention in November 1938, when the National Geographic published her article, “An American Girl Cycles Across Romania: Two-wheel Pilgrim Pedals the Land of Castles and Gypsies, Where Roman Empire Traces Mingle With Remnants of Oriental Migration” (National Geographic, November 1938, 557-588).  The article was illustrated by photographs Hosmer had taken during a solo bicycling ride in Europe.

Her initial break-through came about only because Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the National Geographic editor at the time, overruled an associate editor who claimed that respectable “girls” didn’t take foreign trips alone! Hosmer had written to the magazine from Florence in 1937 asking them if they would care to publish an “account of her trip with illustrative photographs.” She was paid a miserly $300 for each article, well below the rates normally offered to male contributors. (Hosmer had given up her secretarial job at National City Bank and splashed out $89 for a third-class steamer ticket in order to reach Europe.)

Hosmer was one of the first female photographers to have her work published in the National Geographic, and wrote three more articles for the magazine, also illustrated with her own photos, over the next few years.

  • “Pedaling Through Poland: An American Girl Free-wheels Alone from Kraków, and Its Medieval Byways, Toward Ukraine’s Restive Borderland” (National Geographic, June 1939, 739-775)
  • “Caviar Fishermen of Romania: From Vâlcov, “Little Venice” of the Danube Delta, Bearded Russian Exiles Go Down to the Sea”, (National Geographic, March 1940, 407-434)
  • “Rhodes & Italy’s Aegean Islands” (National Geographic, April 1941)

Having traveled for more than four years, she returned to the U.S. in July 1940, on the death of her father. In June 1943, she moved to Mexico, where she lived until December 1945. She worked for a time in Mexico City as the motion picture traveling supervisor for the office of Inter-American Affairs. She traveled widely, and collected textiles as she went, a collection that is now at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California.

Hosmer spent the summer of 1945 in Guatemala, before briefly returning to Mexico (and Ajijic) en route back to the U.S., where she arrived in December 1945. The following year she studied children’s book writing at Columbia University while marketing her travel photos. In the summer of 1946, she organized a 60-day tour of Central America for Pan Pacific Good Neighbor Tours Inc.

In addition to National Geographic, Hosmer’s photos were published in numerous major newspapers and journals, ranging from the New York Times, Asia Travel, Business Week, and the United Nations World to the Geographical Magazine (UK), Pictorial Review, Seattle Times and the Toronto Star Weekly.

Hosmer married Frederick Lee in Puerto Rico in 1949. Lee was either a Wall Street banker (the National Geographic version) or a New York pulp fiction writer. The couple had a son, Kerry (1950-1982). After her husband’s death from cancer, Dorothy Hosmer-Lee moved back to Redlands, California, where she served as an Educational Advisor for the U.S. Civil Service Commission at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino until 1971, after which she started traveling again.

Her love of travel and the outdoors was recognized in 1992 by the Los Angeles Council of American Youth Hostels who awarded her their “Spirit of Adventure Award”.

In 2000, Hosmer was featured in the National Geographic book Women Photographers at National Geographic. The National Geographic magazine issue of November 2000 includes two pictures of Hosmer. The first (from the March 1940 issue) shows her lunching with Romanian caviar fishermen, the second shows Hosmer in later life, aged 89.

Hosmer spoke several European languages fluently, as well as the international language, Esperanto.

Following Hosmer’s death in 2008, friends and executors of her estate donated a substantial collection of her photographs and negatives to the Sweeney Art Gallery. The collection includes more than 40 publications and 6000 photos and negatives. It is unclear whether or not any these items relate directly to Hosmer’s visit to Lake Chapala.

One additional curiosity about Hosmer is that in 1960 she copyrighted words and music for an English-Spanish piece entitled “Tampoco”. If anyone knows this work, please let us know the details!

Acknowledgment

This post, which remains a work in progress, was originally published 14 April 2016 and has been significantly updated. I am very grateful to Emily Papavero, Associate Director, ARTSblock, at the University of California, Riverside, for so generously sharing her wealth of knowledge about Dorothy Hosmer’s life and work. 

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.

Mar 202017
 

Peter Frederick Egerton Elstob (1915-2002) was a British author, adventurer and entrepreneur who lived in Ajijic from late 1949 until 1952.

Peter Elstob was born in London on 22 December 1915. The family lived in various places during Peter’s childhood, and his early education was in the U.S. where he graduated from Summit High School in New Jersey in 1934. He retained a mid-Atlantic accent throughout his life.

He ran away to sea and had reached Rio de Janeiro (and become engaged) before his father found him and persuaded him to attend the University of Michigan. When that failed to work out (Elstob failed the first year), his father then sent him to England to join the Royal Air Force. Some unauthorized stunt flying over the Queen Mary on its maiden voyage (to impress a girlfriend) soon put paid to that plan and Elstob was dismissed from the RAF.

Peter Elstob, ca 1968

Peter Elstob, ca 1968

Soon afterwards, he volunteered to fly with the Republican forces in Spain, but his intentions were thwarted when he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy and imprisoned for several months. His release from the Castle of Montjuïc prison in Barcelona, and expulsion to France, were due to the intervention of Medora Leigh-Smith, who subsequently became his first wife in Nice in 1937. Elstob’s experiences were the subject matter for his first novel, Spanish Prisoner (1939).

Soon after his marriage, Elstob became partners with Arnold “Bushy” Eiloart and his wife, Mary, in marketing Yeast Pac, a beauty mask product they had devised. The product was a success and gave both families financial security.

When the second world war broke out, Elstob’s application to rejoin the RAF was turned down, so he volunteered with the Royal Tank Regiment. He served in India, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Normandy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. This gave him material for several later books, including the novel Warriors for the Working Day (1960) which was widely translated and used in military classes to illustrate war-time life in a tank.

Following Elstob’s death, his former tank gunnery instructor, Chapman Pincher (long-time journalist and novelist) recalled one particularly memorable incident in Elstob’s “colorful career”:

“When I was his tank gunnery instructor at Catterick, Trooper Elstob always had money, a car and the necessary petrol. It transpired that all this derived from a chicken food that he was marketing. The packet admitted that the main ingredient was sawdust, but explained that this was to serve as a “filler” to offset the remainder, which, allegedly, consisted of high protein. Whether by accident or design, some of the packets eventually contained sawdust and little else and a court case ensued.
As the newspapers joyfully reported, the judge remarked that, perhaps, the real purpose of the product was to induce the chickens to lay eggs already packed in wooden boxes. Because Trooper Elstob was doing his military duty and looked like being a brave soldier, which he certainly became, he escaped with a fine.”

It is unclear how Elstob, back in civvy street after the war, first heard about Ajijic, and the attractions of living there, but it is possible that this was from the London literary and theater circles in which he moved.

In 1946, Elstob and his business partner Arnold Eiloart teamed up with actor Alec Clunes to raise £20,000 for the lease on the Arts Theatre in London. After buying the lease there was only enough money for one production: Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets. Fortunately, this was a financial success, and enabled them to finance several other plays, including the first production of The Lady’s Not For Burning by Christopher Fry. Elstob managed the theater single-handedly for three years.

The London theater and writing set at this time would have included friends of Nigel Millet and  Peter Lilley who had teamed up as “Dane Chandos” to write Village in the Sun (first published in the U.K. in 1945), their month-by-month account of building a home in San Antonio Tlayacapan, just to the east of Ajijic.

Millet lived in Ajijic from 1937 to his death in 1946. Prior to moving to Mexico, he had written (as “Richard Oke”) a biography, and several plays and novels, including Frolic wind (1929), a satirical gay comedy novel that was turned into a West End stage production in 1935. A revived run of Frolic wind began on 10 November 1948 at Boltons Theatre, Kensington.

In Ajijic, Elstob partnered Eiloart to form “Peter Arnold”, a joint venture that promoted Ajijic as a vacation and retirement destination. Participants were housed in the Posada Ajijic and other rental properties as needed. For much of Peter’s time in Ajijic, his first wife, Medora Leigh-Smith, remained in the U.K., looking after the couple’s first four children and preparing for the arrival of their fifth.

It was in Ajijic that Elstob met a young artist, Barbara Jean Zacheisz. Following his divorce from Medora, Elstob married Barbara in 1953. The couple had two children: Peter Mayo Elstob, born in Mexico City in 1951, and Sukey, born in the U.K. in 1957.

Elstob and Zacheisz left Ajijic for the U.K. in April 1952, traveling with their infant son and Estob’s business partner Arnold Eiloart on board the Queen Elizabeth.

The two men’s next joint venture came in 1958, when Eiloart attempted a trans-Atlantic balloon flight, with Elstob managing publicity. The attempt ultimately failed, but set a record for a gas-powered balloon flight that stood for decades. The story of this adventure is told in their joint book, The Flight of the Small World (1959).

Elstob’s other books included The Armed Rehearsal (1960); Warriors For the Working Day (1960); Bastogne: the road block (1968); Battle of the Reichswald (1970); Hitler’s Last Offensive (1971); The Condor Legion (1973); and Scoundrel (1986). The last-named is at least partly autobiographical according to Elstob’s family and friends.

In 1962, Elstob joined the writers’ organization PEN International, and later served (unpaid) as its general secretary and vice-president, during which time he was able to put the organization on a sound financial footing. He retired from this position in 1981.

Barbara suffered a severe stroke in 1973, from which she never fully recovered. Elstob remained devoted to his wife throughout the remaining twenty years of her life. The couple were able to enjoy trips together and revisited Ajijic on at least one occasion.

Elstob seems to have attracted adventures, danger and drama wherever he went. On a trip to Kenya in 1980, he and his wife were stripped and robbed while strolling on a secluded beach. Only days later, they were dining in the restaurant of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi when a bomb exploded, killing 20 people and injuring 80 others.

Barbara died in 1992. Elstob’s own life – adventurous, unconventional and incredible – ended in Burley, Hampshire, at the age of 86, on 21 July 2002.

Acknowledgments

  • Sincere thanks to Sukey Elstob for her help with compiling this profile of her father.

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.

Mar 062017
 

The Jesuit philosopher and author José Sánchez Villaseñor was born in Sahuayo, Michoacán, on 6 September 1911 and died on 18 June 1961, shortly before what would have been his fiftieth birthday.

José was the fifth child in a large and very religious family, whose home in Sahuayo was at Madero #60, one block north of the town’s plaza. The family moved away before José’s third birthday when revolutionaries took Sahuayo and caused massive disruption, closing schools and businesses.

The family moved to Guadalajara. In 1914, this involved a long, arduous, full day of travel. First, they rode on horseback for four hours from Sahuayo across the marshes bordering the lake to reach the small fishing village of La Palma. At 1 pm, the steamboat, “The Maid of Honor”, left La Palma on its regular one-hour crossing of the lake to Ocotlán. From Ocotlán it was a four-hour train ride to Guadalajara.

[This family relocation via La Palma is very similar to that undertaken in about 1897 by the family of José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) and described in detail in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (1932). The relevant extract, with commentary, is included in my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales.]

José Sánchez Villaseñor completed his primary school education in 1925. There was no secondary school at that time, so he immediately started classes at the Instituto de Ciencias, a Jesuit-run preparatoria.

Family summer holidays (July and August) in José’s childhood years were spent at the Las Gallinas ranch in Michoacán, south of Cojumatlán. Situated some 600 m above Lake Chapala, it afforded commanding views over the new recently-reclaimed farmland  and across the lake to the northern shore, from San Juan Cosalá in the west to La Barca in the east.

Sánchez Villaseñor left Guadalajara in 1927, a year before his mother’s death, and, at the age of sixteen, joined the Jesuits. He spent most of the next nine years studying at Ysleta College in El Paso, Texas, where the classes ranged from theology and ancient languages to science and philosophy.

He then returned to the Instituto de Ciencias in Guadalajara, where he taught for a few years, before being sent to Italy in 1939 to continue his education at the Universidad Gregoriana in Rome. Two months after he arrived, the second world war began. In 1941, Sánchez Villaseñor was hospitalized with pneumonia. He returned to Mexico, still very ill, on a Venezuelan ship and received treatment in the Sanatorio Español in Mexico City.

Once recovered, he studied for a doctorate in philosophy at the National University (UNAM) in Mexico City, completing a thesis on the work of José Gaos. According to his contemporaries, he saw philosophy as an experimental activity, one that was based on non-transferable experiences and was both subjective and dependent on the historical moment when they occurred.

After Mexico City, he was then sent to West Baden College, Indiana, to complete his theological studies. He was ordained on 13 June 1946, and gave his first mass in Mexico the following year when he returned to teach briefly in Mexico City before being sent to Montevideo, Uruguay, for a year (1948-1949).

In the 1950s, and despite suffering from ill health, Sánchez Villaseñor was active in the foundation of Mexico City’s Ibero-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana de la ciudad de México). At that institution, he established the career paths of Industrial Relations (1953), Business Administration (1957) and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences (1960), the earliest such program in Mexico.

As a multilingual Jesuit philosopher, he published several books, including El sistema filosófico de Vasconcelos: ensayo de crítica filosófica (1939); Pensamiento y trayectoria de José Ortega y Gasset (1943); Gaos en Mascarones: La crisis del historicismo y otras ensayos (1945); and Introducción al pensamiento de Jean-Paul Sartre (1950). An English edition of his work on José Ortega y Gasset, translated by Joseph Small, was published in 1949 by the Henry Regnery Company, New York, as Ortega y Gasset Existentialist – A Critical Study of His Thought and Its Sources.

In addition to his academic works, he also wrote poetry, including one entitled “Tristezas y recuerdos” which recalls his youthful summer vacations overlooking Lake Chapala. The poem, roughly translated, opens as follows:

I would like the beauty of the Michoacán woods,
And the perfume of her lilies, which in my childhood hours
I gathered in her fields when the sun was already declining,
And its dying rays reflecting in the waters
Of the great Lake Chapala with gold and purple iridescence.
I would like that sky to show signs of scarlet,
The silence of its valleys, and the blue of its mountains.
I would like from her woods, the weeping of the waterfall,
The bleating of sheep, and the lowing of the cattle.
In short, I would like to see the summits of oaks crowned,
The daring silhouettes that rise into the sky
And weave with her fond memories a garland . . .

This profile relies heavily on the extended biography of José Sánchez Villaseñor written by his brother Luis, a fellow Jesuit priest.

Source:

  • Luis Sánchez-Villaseñor. 1997. José Sánchez Villaseñor, S.J: 1911-1961. Notas biográficas. (Tlaquepaque, Jalisco: ITESO.) (Editorial Conexión Gráfica, June 1997,)

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 062017
 

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

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

The author is traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle.

They meet up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey.

1. TRIP ONE  (March 21, 1946)

“We had arrived in Guadalajara ready to spend a week with Nadeyne. We had never heard of Chapala, but we were willing to take her word that it was worth visiting, especially when we learned it was on a lake.” (82)

– – –

[After a day in Chapala] We drove out past the villas of the wealthier residents and found the smooth gravel ended at the outskirts of the town. The road proved even worse than I anticipated. It was dirt all the way and in very poor repair. To minimize the jolts it was necessary to go so slowly that most of the time I had to drive in second gear.

The road paralleled the shore of the lake. There were fields on either side and the mountains rose on our right. Actually, it was very pretty, with the picturesqueness being heightened by the cattle grazing in the fields and by the peasant people we passed, some riding donkeys, some herding goats, others carrying baskets. But, Lord, the going was bumpy! Trying to find the least broken surfaces occupied most of my attention.

As we rounded the first mountain headland, where the hills came close, I saw that a flood-stream, in racing down the slopes to reach the lake, had cut a ravine across the dirt tracks that comprised the road. The gully was narrow, but it was a good four feet deep and it was bridged only by two thick planks which were set a car’s width apart. As we crept over the planks, I thought, with a shudder, of the danger if one had to come back over them at night when it was hard to see.

After jolting along for about four miles we came to a pretty village called San Antonio. The road took several jogs to get through it and at the far end the General asked us to stop. She had some business to transact at a friend’s house. We offered to wait, but she announced she would walk the rest of the way. She needed the exercise. Mrs. Beyer would show us where to go, so we would not get lost. Once in Ajijic we were to visit the authoress, Neill James. We were to wait there and she would join us later.

As we resumed our way over the rutted washboard, I could see why the General preferred to walk. From here on the road had the appearance of a country lane, for it was shaded by gnarled trees that resembled mimosas. And besides being cooler and lovelier for walking, it was, if possible, even rougher for riding. Once in Ajijic the bumps came like bullets from a machine gun. The streets were cobbled. (85)

– – –

There was a resplendent purple and gold sunset. Sometimes unusual lighting effects can illumine a scene in an odd way, opening its whole significance, as it were. But this sunset did not have this effect on me. Principally, I saw it as a reminder of how late it was. I even resented the vividness. It seemed too flagrantly showy to be beautiful, and it heightened my sense of not belonging to Mexico. (90)

How could anyone ever feel at home in a land of such overpowering and excessive color? I asked myself. And as the question presented itself I felt as if all the alien features of the country—the heat, the tropical vegetation, the primitiveness, the throbbing colors— had gathered themselves together to oppress my northern spirit. (90)

Ross Parmenter: Aggie the Car[They had trouble starting the car and only left Ajijic as the sun was going down]

We were only a little way beyond Ajijic when I had to turn on the lights to see the ruts of the awful road. At first I doubted if the bulbs were burning, but as the dusk deepened I could see they were making a faint orange impression on the air in front of them. The glow dimmed and brightened according to our speed. I saw the generator was operating a bit, for when the motor turned faster the lights shone brighter. The trouble was that the road was so bad I had to go very slowly. It meant we had very little light. (91)
– – –
The intervening town of San Antonio, where the General had stopped on business on the way out, proved the greatest hazard. Not being electrified, there were no street lights and one turn looked very much like another. But we got safely through the dark village. [and eventually safely back to Chapala]. (91)

The illustration in this post is by Ross Parmenter.

Source:

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

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

Jan 302017
 

Given that Canadian Ross Parmenter (1912-1999) only ever spent a few days at Lake Chapala, his inclusion in this series of profiles of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala may seem surprising. However, his detailed accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – first by car and then by boat – on two consecutive days in March 1946, are compelling reading, affording us a glimpse into several aspects of lakeside life at the time. [We look at these accounts in future posts]

And the 1940s was certainly an important time in the literary history of Ajijic. The author duo writing as Dane Chandos had just published Village in the Sun, while Neill James’s book Dust on my Heart, which also includes an interesting account of life in the village, was just about to be published in New York.

Parmenter’s travel account, published in Stages in a Journey, coincided with a time when more and more Americans (and to a lesser extent other foreigners) were traveling south to explore Mexico. Parmenter, though, was not your average tourist. He had a an artist’s eye but remained anxious about the difficulties and rewards of observing things in great detail. He was also an experienced writer. This somewhat unlikely combination gave Parmenter not only keen powers of observation but also an almost-obsessive attention to recording as many pertinent details as possible.

Even if the detailed accounts of his trip were not enough, Parmenter is one of the relatively small number of Canadians who have ever written about the area, quite possibly the first of any note.

Charles Ross Parmenter was born on 30 May 1912 in Toronto, Canada. At the University of Toronto he majored in modern history and reviewed art for the undergraduate newspaper. After gaining his BA degree in 1933 he worked briefly for the Toronto Evening Telegram before moving to New York in 1934 to work as a general reporter on the New York Times. In 1940 he joined the New York Times‘ music department as a reviewer, and was appointed the paper’s music news editor in 1955, a position he held until his retirement in 1964.

This lengthy career at the New York Times was punctuated by the second world war, during which Parmenter served for three years as a medical technician. Discharge from the armed services did not immediately alleviate his troubled soul and he set off to Mexico, hoping to find his bearings.

His traveling companion on this first trip – Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher – was more than twice his age. The two friends drove down from California in “Aggie”, her 1932 Plymouth four-door sedan. Parmenter later wrote that whereas he had gone to learn about Mexico, he had actually learned from Mexico, a sentiment subsequently echoed by many other authors and artists.

Parmenter’s Chapala-Ajijic trips comprise chapter 3 of his Stages in a Journey, which was not published until 1983. Stages in a Journey is an unusual book, part travel writing, part travelogue and part “an account of personal growth”, but still well worth reading.

The same volume has descriptions of several major 16th century monasteries in Mexico, including the Church of San Miguel Arcangel in Ixmiquilpan (Hidalgo); the Monastery of San Miguel Arcángel in Huejotzingo (Puebla); and the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapan (Oaxaca). Parmenter’s long-time friend Dick Perry, who has himself written several seminal works about Mexico’s colonial religious architecture, has stressed the importance of these accounts from the 1940s:

“His descriptions of these early colonial monuments, then virtually unknown to American art historians or travelers, remain among the earliest accounts in English and can claim considerable historic interest.”

Parmenter loved Mexico. After he retired in 1964, he divided his time between New York and Oaxaca. Over the years, he published several books related to Mexico and to his specialist interests in archaeology, Mixtec documents and colonial architecture.

For Lake Chapalaphiles, the most interesting of other Parmenter books about Mexico is Lawrence in Oaxaca: A Quest for the Novelist in Mexico (1984), in which he looks in minute detail at D. H. Lawrence’s stay in Oaxaca over the winter of 1924-25. It was a productive stay, during which Lawrence wrote four of the pieces in Mornings in Mexico and rewrote The Plumed Serpent which he had drafted in Chapala the year before.

Other books written by Parmenter include The Plant in my window (1949); Week in Yanhuitlan (1964); Explorer, Linguist and Ethnologist (1966) [Alphonse Louis Pinart]; The Awakened Eye (1968); School of the Soldier (1980); Lienzo of Tulancingo, Oaxaca (1993); and A House for Buddha: A Memoir with Drawings (1994). Parmenter fans will be disappointed to learn that another work – Zelia Nuttall and the recovery of Mexico’s past – remained unpublished at the time of his death, though copies of the manuscript are held by Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Ross Parmenter died at his Manhattan home on 18 October 1999 at the age of 87.

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 email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jan 022017
 

Victoriano Roa wrote a post-Independence statistical account of Jalisco which includes descriptions and data pertaining to Lake Chapala in 1821-1822.

Relatively little is known about Roa, a politician and writer. It is likely that he was a native of Jalisco, given that the surname is common there. He held various state government posts in the period immediately following Independence, and it was at the behest of the state government that he wrote his Estadística del Estado Libre de Jalisco (Statistics of the Free State of Jalisco).

After being turned down for the post of Secretary to the state Congress in 1830, he moved to Mexico City as director of the Banco de Avío, founded in 1830 to promote the development of the wool, cotton and silk industries. This marked the beginning of modern industrial development in Mexico. The Banco de Avío, founded by Lucas Alemán (Foreign Relations Secretary in one of Bustamante’s governments), is recognized as the main precursor of Mexico’s modern commercial banks. The bank was closed by presidential decree of Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1842.

By 1836, Roa was in charge of El Mosaico Mexicano, a journal covering the whole country in which several important articles relating to Lake Chapala were subsequently published, including the lengthy and fascinating piece by Henri Galeotti that forms the basis for this Geo-Mexico post.

Roa died in Mexico City sometime in the middle of the 19th century.

The details, provided by Roa, in his Estadística del Estado Libre de Jalisco, for Chapala – the “Third District” – which stretched from Jocotepec in the west to Poncitlán and Cuitzeo in the east, covered most places on the northern shore. Very few details were provided for places on the south shore.

Following Independence and this account by Roa, published in 1825, several further efforts were made in the 19th century by officials of the state of Jalisco to gather relevant information, primarily in order to better monitor the state’s development. These include studies by Manuel López Cotilla (1843), Longinus Banda (1873) and Mariano Bárcena (1888). While these statistical reports are not as much fun to read as conventional travel accounts, they are a veritable gold mine of useful information.

These short extracts come from the post-Independence statistical account by Victoriano Roa, describing the Chapala region in 1821-1822:

Water

In part of the area of this district is the large lake called Chapala, or sometimes the Mar Chapálico [Chapala Sea]… In its interior is a small island, called Mezcala, which served as an invincible fortress for the old patriots, and afterwards was converted into a prison for the convicts sentenced by the courts of Guadalajara. The Grande river, which will flow into the same lake of Chapala flows by the edge of Poncitlán. In the village of Chapala are several fresh water springs and their currents also end in the lake. There is another in Ixtlahuacán, whose water is sufficient to water the orchards; there are some in the Jocotepec area though not very abundant, and in the Huejotitán hacienda is a very noteworthy dam, because, with only the seasonal rains that it receives, it is sufficient for watering all the area sown in wheat and even for turning the mill. In Atotonilco el Bajo is another dam, whose water is taken from the Grande river, and used to water the fields sown by the village and those of the Atequiza hacienda.

Industry

The majority of the inhabitants are dedicated to agriculture, others to the weaving of ordinary lengths of wool and cotton, and some to the cultivation of the orchards and fishing in the rivers and the lake. This produces an abundance of the fish known as whitefish, catfish, sardines, bocudos, popocha [Algansea popoche, endemic] and charales [Chirostoma spp., also endemics], which results in a profitable trade for the villages found on its shores.

Livestock

Cattle and pigs, although not in abundance; horses, only on the haciendas. The population of the Third District consisted of 4925 married men, 4927 married women. 3062 single males of all ages, 3632 single females and 7 clergymen, making subtotals of 7994 males and 8559 females, for a total population of 16,553.

Note: For the full extract from Roa pertaining to Lake Chapala, see chapter 15 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Original source:

  • Victoriano Roa. 1825. Estadística del Estado Libre de Jalisco. (All translations by Tony Burton).

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.

 

Nov 282016
 

Travel writer and novelist David Dodge lived in Ajijic for several  months in 1966. He had traveled throughout the country and subsequently published a popular motoring guide covering all of Mexico. The book, Fly Down, Drive Mexico: A Practical Motorist’s Handbook For Travel South of the Border, was published by Macmillan in 1968, together with a Special Guide to the XIX Olympic Games that were held in October of that year in Mexico City.

dodge-david-cover

The book was revised and reissued the following year (1969) as The Best of Mexico by Car: a Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border, from which these extracts are taken:

Except for the pescado blanco and pleasant scenery, there is no real reason to make the drive [from Guadalajara to Chapala] unless you have leisure for it and want to see how the other half lives. No tourist “musts” lie along the road to Chapala, and not much in the way of maybes. The lake’s north shore, like Cuernavaca, is simply an American retirement colony; sprawled out more, less expensive to live in and with fewer swimming pools, otherwise much the same.” . . .

“If you do make Lake Chapala an overnight side trip, taking the time to loiter along the way, a good place to spend a night is Chapala town. It’s the first community you come to on the lake shore, a pretty place remindful of Riva on Lake Garda, relatively un-Pepsi-Coked except for two enormous eye-popping billboards that challenge each other for maximum offensiveness to the eye as you come back to dock from what would otherwise be a very pleasant boat ride on the water. Chapala town is as popular with tapatíos, Guadalajarans, on weekend family outings as it is with semipermanent gringo residents enjoying a year-round climate even better than Guadalajara’s own, so best call ahead to make a reservation on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

The first motel you come to conspicuously by the side of the road where the road begins to wind down out of the hills toward the lake shore is both phoneless and unrecommendable. No problem here. Best place, a good one, to spend the night in Chapala town is the Hotel Nido, tel. 38, $7. It’s right on the (quiet) main stem a few steps from the lake. The Nido, essentially an American-plan hotel but not one liable to insist of American plan except possibly on weekends, serves one of the best inexpensive cubiertos in the whole countryside, with pescado blanco a specialty, and even better pescado blanco a la carta. Its chief rival in this specialized field is the Restaurant El Mirador, with a pleasant view overlooking the water. Incidentally, you may hear much of Chapala as a fishing resort. It isn’t one, for you. The lake does contain catfish, and a species of sunfish that can be taken by hook and line, with patience. The pez blanco, which becomes pescado blanco after it has been caught, is taken in nets, by professionals.

At Chapala town, Highway 35 becomes 94 and bears westward, right, along the lake shore, ann attractive drive. Two or three miles on, an almost exclusively gringo-built and gringo-occupied, brand-new retirement center, Chula Vista, offers the Motel Chula Vista, tel. 69 (Chapala), $12. This, cocktail bar and all, is as familiarly American as the rest of its community. It offers, besides the usual pool, a tennis court, golf privileges at a course next door and a coffeeshop serving hamburgers, pies, ice cream, sandwiches, all the familiar short orders. Many Americans would prefer Chula Vista to the Hotel Nido for these reasons.

Two or three miles beyond Chula Vista, 94 touches the fringes of Ajijic, a four-century old stone-and-adobe fishing village that is just beginning to suffer the onslaughts of Pepsi-Coke. Luck, relative isolation by bad roads until a few years ago and the determination of a fair-sized American colony to preserve its native Mexican ambiente have permitted the village to survive so far, much as San Miguel de Allende and Taxco have survived under the protection of Federal law and Guanajuato because of one man’s dictatorial determination. Ajijic has no motels, but a very attractive hotel on the lake shore, Posada Ajijic, tel. 25, $12. (The Monte Carlo, another good lakeshore stop-off on the road out of Chapala town, has still to open for business at this writing.) The Posada welcomes a drop-in trade for lunch or dinner at the family board, which serves a regular house cubierto. The only place in town serving a la carta meals (good) that are consistently acceptable by gringo standards is the Villa del Lago, no phone yet, write A.P. 81, Ajijic, Jal., $7, a nice small hotel in the middle of town one street west of the little central plaza. Other places on the lake or in the village offer mainly housekeeping accommodations.

Ten or eleven miles beyond Ajijic, 94 runs through Jocotepec, another fishing-village-turned-retirement-colony….

Source: Pages 137-138 of The Best of Mexico by Car: A Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border. (1969)

Related posts:

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Nov 212016
 

Barbara Strong used her maiden name of Barbara Nolen professionally, as an author and editor of children’s books. Strong was born on 19 December 1902 and died at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on 13 December 2002, less than a week shy of her 100th birthday.

She and her husband David Strong lived in Morris, Connecticut, and in Washington D.C. (where they lived in “an old, antique-furnished eight-room house” in American University Park), but also kept a weekend home in West Virginia. In their retirement years, they regularly wintered at Lake Chapala, where Barbara became especially active in supporting the Niños y Jovenes children’s home in San Juan Cosalá.

Barbara Strong graduated from Smith College in 1924, studied at Columbia School of Journalism in the summer of 1924, and received her MA from Stanford University in California in 1925.

She first met her husband, David Fales Strong, at the Grand Canyon in 1924, when they were both on their way to do graduate work at Stanford. They married on 14 June 1927 in Vienna, Austria, and had a year-long honeymoon traveling around Europe. The couple had two children: Stephen Lewis Strong and Deborah Louisa Strong MacKnight. David Fales Strong (1899-1987) was the author of Austria (October 1918-March 1919): Transition from empire to republic, published by Columbia University Press in 1939.

Barbara Strong had a long and successful career in children’s publishing. From 1925 to 1944, she was an editor of children’s books for Macmillan, Century Publishers and several other publishers. In total, she edited more than 500 books ranging from fiction to biography and animal stories and was a regular contributor of book reviews to the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Washington Star and several other papers.

nolen-barbara-portraitBetween 1935 and 1954, she was the Editor of Story Parade, a children’s magazine with a circulation of more than 60,000. Interviewed by a local journalist in 1951, Strong said that she reviewed about 300 new books a year and read between 100 and 200 manuscripts a month looking for stories that would hold real interest to children. She noted that, “Today’s kids just eat up books on science and biography, books that a generation ago they just wouldn’t be interested in” before suggesting that, “Maybe it’s because we live more completely in the whole world and our children are exposed to more and varied interests.”

In the 1930s and 1940s, Strong was a consultant to the CBS Radio program, “The American School of the Air”. She taught workshops in Children’s Literature at George Washington University and the American University in Washington D.C., and gave seminars on “Writing for Children” for teachers from overseas. Strong co-founded the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C. and was actively involved in lobbying for special legislation to be passed creating school libraries for Washington D.C. schools.

After retirement, Barbara traveled frequently to Mexico and became an early member of the Asociación de Amigos de Ninos y Jovenes, which provided local support for a children’s home in San Juan Cosalá. Strong established a U.S. and Canadian fund-raising group called Friends of Ninos y Jovenes to help the home.

Barbara Strong’s first trip to Lake Chapala seems to have been in about 1971. The Guadalajara Reporter for 6 March 1971 reported that “Mr and Mrs David Strong, who write juvenile books” were visiting Chapala while undertaking research for a Mexican anthology, before continuing on to Guanajuato and Mexico City. This anthology was Mexico is people : land of three cultures (1973), for which Concha Romero James wrote the introduction. James, also an author, was head of the division of cultural relations of the Pan-American Union (later the Organization of American States) and responsible for the formation of its visual arts program.

The book was generally well received by reviewers. For example the Kirkus Review observed that the editor had produced a lively anthology, choosing “primary over secondary sources whenever possible” and including “many pleasant surprises” such as Octavio Paz celebrating the “Art of the Fiesta”, D. H. Lawrence‘s description of an “Indian Market”, and Michael Scully on the Little League “Wonder Kids of Monterrey.” The reviewer concluded that this was “a varied, often sparkling collection — though somewhat lacking in the common touch.”

In addition to her book about Mexico, Strong compiled or edited numerous books, including Children of America (1939); The Brave and Free (1942); Merry Hearts and Bold (1942); Fun and Frolic (1947); Luck And Pluck (1950); Do and Dare (1951); What Next? Adventure and Surprise (1957); Spies, spies, spies (1965); Africa is people : firsthand accounts from contemporary Africa (1967); Ethiopia (1971); Africa Is Thunder and Wonder: Contemporary Voices from African Literature (1972); Voices of Africa (Fontana modern novels, 1974); The Morris Academy – Pioneer in Co-education (1976).

Documents and papers relating to the life and work of Barbara Nolen Strong reside in the Special Collections of the University of Oregon (Barbara Nolen papers, 1937-1974) and in the Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.

Sources:

  • Anon. 2002. “Barbara Nolen Strong, 99, W. Yarmouth resident, editor, consultant, library advocate.” Cape Cod Times. 20 December, 2002.
  • Jane Eads. 1951. “Young Readers Lean to Books on Science”. Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), 12 November 1951, p 16:
  • The Evening Sun. 1951. The Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania). 18 October 1951, p 18
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 6 March 1971

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Nov 032016
 

David Dodge was already a successful author of plays, novels and travel books when he and his wife Elva settled in Ajijic in 1966.

David Francis Dodge was born in Berkeley, California, on 18 August 1910. When his father, an architect, was killed in an auto accident, the family moved to Southern California. After attending Lincoln High School (and leaving before he graduated), Dodge had a succession of jobs, as a bank messenger, marine fireman, stevedore, night watchman and in an accounting firm. He became a C.P.A. in 1937, a year after marrying Elva Keith who had worked as a publishing company representative. Their daughter, Kendal, was born in 1940.

dodge-david-coverDodge’s career as a writer dates back to 1936 when his play A Certain Man Had Two Sons, won the Northern California Drama Association’s Third Annual One Act Play Tournament. The play was later published by the Banner Play Bureau in San Francisco. Dodge co-wrote (with Loyall McLaren) a second play, Christmas Eve at the Mermaid, which was first performed as the Bohemian Club’s Christmas play of 1940.

Drawing on his experiences as a CPA, he then wrote Death and Taxes (1941), the happy result of a $5 bet with his wife that he could write a better detective story than the one she was reading. Death and Taxes introduced readers to James “Whit” Whitney, a San Francisco tax expert turned amateur detective. Whitney continued his investigations in Shear the Black Sheep (1942), Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944) and It Ain’t Hay (1946). These books were completed despite Dodge joining the U.S. Naval Reserve during the second world war, and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander by the end of his active service three years later.

Following his navy service, Dodge and Elva decided to drive to Guatemala. The family’s adventures in Mexico, Guatemala, and then in South America, became the subject matter for several travel books. They also provided Dodge with the raw material for another fictional tough-guy private investigator, Al Colby, who first appeared in The Long Escape (1948).

The novel Dodge completed the following year, Plunder of the Sun (1949), was turned by Warner Bros. in 1953 into the movie of the same name.

However, Dodge’s greatest success, beyond any doubt, was the novel To Catch a Thief (1952). In the Guadalajara Reporter in 1966, Anita Lomax explained that,

The way David came to write “To Catch a Thief” is a thriller in itself… the Dodges were living on the Riviera when the house next door was robbed of a fortune in jewels – they left early the next morning, before the robbery was discovered for a trip to the Far East and they were in Cambodia when they learned that they were the chief suspects and were being “hunted” by the French police! Fortunately, the real thief was caught by the time they returned to France to clear themselves.”

To Catch a Thief was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1955 Paramount film starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

His career established, Dodge spent the next decade alternating between novels and lighthearted travel books. His Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953) was revised annually and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. He also wrote travel articles for several magazines, and was a regular contributor to Holiday Magazine from 1948 to 1968.

dodge-hooliganIn 1966, David Dodge and his wife settled in Ajijic for a few months, while David worked on a travel article for Holiday and on his next novel. The novel is presumed to be Hooligan (1969), which features a Treasury Department agent named John Abraham Lincoln who “is sent to Hong Kong to investigate a series of insurance claims for U.S. dollars following a devastating typhoon.”

A reference in 1966 to the couple taking “their former home in the Neill James’ compound” suggests that they were already very familiar with Ajijic prior to this, though the precise timing and length of any previous visits is unclear.

During their stay in Ajijic, Elva (“Elvita”) Dodge took part in at least one group art show, held in the Posada Ajijic for Easter. The exhibition was held in the first half of April, and included works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Allyn Hunt; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge; Mr and Mrs Moriaty; and Marigold Wandell.

While David and Elva Dodge were in Ajijic in 1966, their daughter, Kendal, flew down from her job in New York with CBS to visit them. Within a few weeks, she had met and married a Guadalajara portrait photographer named Joaquin Reynoso Escatell. They lived in Guadalajara, where Kendal worked in Joaquin’s studio and taught languages and American History part-time at The Butler Institute. Their daughter, “Kendalita”, was born in 1967. In order to be closer to their daughter and granddaughter, David and Elva “retired” to San Miguel de Allende in 1968, the last major move in their global wanderings. When Kendal and Joaquin separated a few years later, Kendal and her daughter returned to the U.S. More than a decade later, in December 1983, Kendal married Frank Butler, the founder of The Butler Institute and her former boss; the couple settled in California. The early years of the life of Kendal Dodge Butler (1940-2007) were portrayed by her father with great  charm, humor and sensitivity in How Green Was My Father (1947) and the subsequent travel accounts of the family’s adventures through Central and South America.

Dodge’s travel writing is exemplified by his Fly Down, Drive Mexico: A Practical Motorist’s Handbook For Travel South of the Border, published by Macmillan in 1968 with a Special Guide to the XIX Olympic Games in Mexico City (held 12-27 October 1968), which was reissued the following year as The Best of Mexico by Car. Dodge’s passion was travel and he viewed writing as a means to an end: he did not travel in order to write but wrote in order to travel.

Elva Dodge died on 17 October 1973; David’s own travels came to an end less than a year later on 8 August 1974. Both Elva and David Dodge are buried in San Miguel de Allende.

Dodge’s extensive bibliography includes fourteen novels published in his life time, with another novel published after his death, as well as several plays and nine travel books.

His novels are Death and Taxes (1941); Shear the Black Sheep (1943); Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944); It Ain’t Hay (1946); The Long Escape (1948); Plunder of the Sun (1949); The Red Tassel (1950); To Catch a Thief (1952); The Lights of Skaro (1954); Angel’s Ransom (1956); Loo Loo’s Legacy (1960); Carambola (1961); Hooligan (1969;) Troubleshooter (1971).

Dodge’s travel books are How Green Was My Father (1947); How Lost Was My Weekend (1948); The Crazy Glasspecker (1949); 20,000 Leagues Behind the 8-Ball (1951); The Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953); Time Out for Turkey (1955); The Rich Man’s Guide to the Riviera (1962); The Poor Man’s Guide to the Orient (1965); Fly Down, Drive Mexico (1968), revised as The Best of Mexico by Car (1969).

Several of Dodge’s books have been reissued in recent years, including Plunder of the Sun (2005), Death and Taxes (2010),  To Catch a Thief (2010) and The Long Escape (2011). In addition, a previously unpublished novel, The Last Match, was published posthumously in 2006.

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.

Oct 242016
 

Hazel Emma Wilson, a prolific author of children’s books, visited Lake Chapala in 1971, “doing research for a Mexican book”. At that point in her career she had already written 19 books. Unfortunately, it remains maddeningly unclear whether or not any book based on her Mexican research was ever published!

Wilson (née Hutchins) was born in Portland, Maine, on 8 April 1897 (some sources claim 1898). She earned her AB from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, in 1919 and a B.S. in Library Science from Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1920. She worked as a librarian in various educational institutions: Portland High School, Maine; Kirksville State Teacher’s College, Missouri; Bradford Academy, Massachusetts; the American Library in Paris, France (1926-1928); and was supervisor of school libraries in Denver, Colorado.

wilson-hazel-coverShe married Dr. Jerome William Wilson (1884-1963) and settled in Washington D.C. in 1930. Their son, Jerome Linwood Wilson, was born in 1931. He went on to become a member of the New York State Senate (from 1963 to 1966) and the Political Editor of the TV station WCBS-TV.

Hazel Wilson is best known for her series of stories about Herbert, a 10-year-old whose antics were based on the real-life experiences of her son and his friends.

Wilson was also a lecturer at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. (1956-1957) and taught at one time at Georgetown University. For some years, she wrote monthly reviews for the now defunct Washington Evening Star newspaper. She was a founder of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington and a member of the American Newspaper Women’s Club and Women in Communication.

Wilson’s books include The Red Dory (1939)-her first book for children; The Owen Boys (1947); Island Summer (1949); Herbert (1950); Thad Owen (1950); The Story of Lafayette (1952); The Story of Mad Anthony Wayne (1953); More Fun with Herbert (1954); His Indian Brother (1955); The Little Marquise: Madame Lafayette (1957); Tall Ships (1958); Jerry’s Charge Account (1960); Herbert’s Homework (1960); Herbert Again (1962); The Seine River of Paris (1962); The Last Queen of Hawaii: Liliuokalani (1963); The Years Between: Washington at Home at Mount Vernon, 1783-1789 (1969); Herbert’s Stilts (1972); and Herbert’s Space Trip (1973).

Among other honors, Wilson won the Ohioan Award for Island Summer (1949); the Boys’ Clubs of America Junior Book Award for Thad Owen (1950); the Edison Award for His Indian Brother (1955); and the 1955 New York Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Honor Award for Herbert.

Hazel Wilson died in Bethesda, Maryland, on 20 August 1992.

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 email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Oct 172016
 

Howard True Wheeler (ca 1896-1968) wrote Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, a 562-page tome of more than 200 folk tales collected from all over Jalisco, including many from Chapala, published by the The American Folklore Society in 1943. It is clear from the introduction of this book that Wheeler conducted fieldwork in Jalisco “during three months of the summer of 1930”, ignoring the “purely literary tales” in favor of collecting genuine folk tales from all over the state. Wheeler thanks the pioneering feminist Dr. Elsie Crews Parsons “whose assistance made possible the expedition”. Parsons herself definitely visited Chapala in 1932, and it is possible she had been there earlier.

Wheeler was born in California in about 1896 and served, while still a young man, with U.S. forces during the first world war. He gained an A.B. from the University of California and, in 1928, an M.A. from Stanford University. He then taught for a year at Mountain View High School before beginning his doctorate studies, also at Stanford. The 1930 fieldwork in Jalisco, “as a representative of the American Folklore Society”, was intended as the basis for his doctorate dissertation.

At the time of the 1930 U.S. census, Wheeler was living with his wife Geneva in Mountain View, Santa Clara, California. He was appointed to the faculty of the Romanic Languages department at Stanford in October 1930 and was awarded his doctorate in 1935.

Wheeler started work as a language teacher in 1934 at the Santa Rosa Junior College and remained at that institution until 1942 when he was dismissed (or at least his contract was not renewed) as a result of a much-publicized staff-room brawl involving a coffee cup. According to newspaper reports at the time, Wheeler threw a cup of coffee at a fellow instructor, Otto Carl Ross, because Ross referred to President Roosevelt as a communist. Ross denied this and claimed he was only “criticizing the Administration’s farm policy” when “the next thing I knew a coffee cup came flying through the air.” According to Wheeler, the coffee cup missed Ross by four feet; according to Ross, it hit him in the head. News reports said that Wheeler was prepared to go to court to obtain reinstatement, but it is unclear if he ever actually did so.

Wheeler’s summer in Jalisco collecting folk tales in 1930 proved to be a valuable one, not only for Wheeler’s own doctorate studies, but also for a number of other authors. His impressive collection of Jalisco folk tales has been the basis for several works by the children’s author Verna Aardema (1911-2000). Aardema’s stories, based directly on Wheeler’s collection, include The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (1979), the beautifully-illustrated story set on the south side of Lake Chapala, and Borreguita and the Coyote: A Tale from Ayutla, Mexico (1991).

Tales from Wheeler’s book were also woven into Michael Mejia’s short story “Coyote Takes Us Home”, included in Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith’s anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (2010). Mejia teaches creative writing at the University of Utah, is the Editor-in-chief of Western Humanities Review and the author of the novel Forgetfulness. He discussed the genesis of this story in this interview.

Wheeler collected at least 13 folktales in or near Chapala and 11 near Tizapan el Alto. His contribution to documenting and preserving Jalisco’s oral history and folklore deserves to be more widely remembered.

Sources:

  • The Stanford Daily. 1930. Research Worker Back from Mexico to Join Faculty. The Stanford Daily. Volume 78, Issue 2, 2 October 1930.
  • Healdsburg Tribune. 1934. Instructors at Junior College Are Scattered. Healdsburg Tribune, Number 212, 11 July 1934.
  • Oakland Tribune. 1942. “Professor Claims His Victim Called F. R. a Communist.”  Oakland Tribune, May 13, 1942, p 13.
  • Clovis News-Journal, New Mexico. 1942. May 13, 1942.

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 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).

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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