book review

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  • Book Review: Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path

    John Scherber has lived in San Miguel de Allende since 2007. He has written 17 fiction books, and this is his third non-fiction. This book is a series of interviews of extranjeros who have settled permanently in Mexico. Scherber asked a lot of good questions, and got a lot of good answers.

    At first glance, the “off the beaten path” in the title might seem misleading, unless your idea of “off the beaten path” is “outside of Puerta Vallarta, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas”. Two of Scherber's destinations, Mineral de Pozos and San Luis de la Paz, are only a few kilometers away from San Miguel de Allende, a major Gringo colony. Morelia, Puebla, and Oaxaca are big cities that attract a lot of tourists, and Pátzcuaro is also a major tourist destination. Zacatecas is off the beaten path, however, and also included in this book are Erongarícuaro (usually shortened to Eronga) near Pátzcuaro, and Tlacolula de Matamoros in the State of Oaxaca. I thought that these three places were the most interesting parts of the book.

     Scherber has several common topics, such as, “how often do you get visits from family members?” and “why did you choose this town?” The cost of living comes up in some interviews, and not in others. Health care, an important topic for retirees, didn't come up very often. The interviewees come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but there are several common threads in their testimonies. One is that they don't want to alter the culture of the place that they have moved into. (I feel the same way.) When Scherber asks, “do you feel safe here?” the response was always “yes”, except for one incident where an interviewee was chased out of San Pedro Chenalho in Chiapas by a group of people with two-by-fours. Well, after all, there was a civil war going on in Chiapas at the time. Another common thread is, the interviewees hang out mostly with Mexicans, instead of other expatriates, and this is the case even in Oaxaca, which has an English-language library that serves as a gathering place.

  • Book review: Overlook: A Rock and Roll Fable, by Paul Smart

    Overlook book coverThis is a story of two men on road trips toward Woodstock, New York in 1986. This is not the Woodstock made famous by a music festival; that was actually near Bethel, 90 km. away. This Woodstock, including nearby towns Bearsville and Saugerties, was the sometime home of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Todd Rundgren, and Albert Grossman. Also located there is the Big Pink house, which served from 1967 to 1973 as a home and rehearsal space for The Band.

    One of these two men, Klokko, is fictional. He is directionless, except that he loves music and Beatrice, his cat. He drives a 1971 Oldsmobile Delta 88. It has an old eight-track tape player (if you’re under the age of 60, Google this), and his tape collection of excellent music is a big part of his life. He especially likes the ones by The Band. He would like to have been a musician, but he never got the opportunity, or perhaps didn’t have the talent.

    The other man is Richard Manuel, pianist, sometime drummer, and singer with The Band; one of the highlights of his career was “I Shall Be Released”. He had very serious drug and alcohol problems, was in several serious car accidents, and made several suicide attempts. The last one, in 1986, was successful.

  • Book Review: The Darien Gap

    In the 21st Century, we have maps of the Moon and Mars, with names assigned to mountains and canyons. In this era of Google Maps and GPS's, I find it refreshing that there are still areas of this planet that are as terra incognita now as before Columbus' voyages.

    The Darién Gap is the area of Panama adjacent to the border with Colombia, and it is called a "gap" because of a 100-km. gap in the Pan-American Highway. Completion of the Pan-American Highway was a goal of the Kennedy Administration's Alliance for Progress, but construction stalled in the 1970's, due to escalating costs. The last extension in the 1990's caused severe environmental damage.

    I first became aware of the Darién Gap at about the same time as my first visit to Peru in 1986. I read an account in the South American Explorers Club magazine by a person when went through the Darién Gap by bicycle, which was possible because he was able to use dugout canoes as ferries. During my travels, I have met many people who want to ride their motorcycle or drive their camper van to Tierra del Fuego, and I get a mild sadistic pleasure from telling them about the absence of a road. There has been on-again, off-again ferry service between Colon, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia. (Currently on; see Expedition Portal.)

  • How "Peter Gunn" influenced Steely Dan

    Lola AlbrightI recently read Eminent Hipsters, and autobiography by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of his music.

    Like any music biography, it goes into musical influences. In Fagen's case, there was a major surprise; one of his major influences was the black-and-white TV series Peter Gunn.

    "Peter Gunn" aired from 1958 to 1961, and the episodes were a half hour. It was created and partially written by Blake Edwards, who later became famous for the Pink Panther films. It starred Craig Stevens as Peter Gunn, a private detective. The co-star was Lola Albright, who played Edie Hart, a singer in Mother's, a cabaret frequently visited by Gunn. Gunn and Hart had a sexual relationship, unusual for television is those days. Gunn also visited an underground club frequented by beatniks.

    Albright was beautiful, and a good actress, but most of all, she was an excellent singer, and that's what takes me to the point of this article. There's music all the way through the series. There would be a band playing whenever Gunn visited Mother's, and Hart often got to do a song. (This was not unusual ca. 1960; for an example, read up on Dorothy Provine.)

    All of the original music in the series was composed by Henry Mancini, and performed by the Henry Mancini Orchestra. If you're familiar with Mancini, the first tunes you would probably think of are "The Pink Panther Theme", "Moon River", and "Days of Wine and Roses". Good ones, of course, but Mancini had a jazz background with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and jazz was a good fit for the film noir atmosphere of "Peter Gunn". One especially remarkable tune that Mancini came up with was the theme music: