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Mexicasa: The Enchanting Inns and Haciendas of Mexico by Gina Hyams and Melba Levick

Reviewed by Allan Cogan

I've been heard a couple of times lately saying out loud: "What an absolutely amazing country this is!" We were in Patzcuaro a short time ago one Sunday morning when the town's market was in full swing. An incredible variety of goods were on display. And with all that colorful activity around us, amidst all those ancient buildings and with that wonderful architecture and the mountains not too far away, I gave way to one of my spontaneous moments of admiration. After all, there's just nothing like it in any of our cities up north.

And a few days later I had occasion to take a visitor to Tlaquepaque, where I hadn't been for several months and, again, I was blown away by the variety and creativity and colorful Mexican whimsy on display everywhere one looked.

And now, days later, someone loaned me this wonderful book of photographs and text - Mexicasa - and here I am once again saying, "What an amazing country this is!"

I suppose, strictly speaking, it's a coffee table book although there always seems to be a slightly derogatory aspect to that term. But, if it is a coffee table book, it's the most readable and enjoyable one I've ever encountered.

What Gina Hyams and Melba Levick have created here is a wonderful compilation of photographs of twenty-one of Mexico's most spectacular and beautiful inns and bed & breakfast establishments. It's frankly not the kind of thing I usually spend time reading but this one is a real winner.

Melba Levick must have had a ball taking these photos. There's hardly a shot that isn't beautiful in its own right - and there must be at least 300 of them in the book. For this observer, the Mexican talent for blending and matching and mixing colors is the highlight of page after page. We see gardens and patios and pool areas and bedrooms and dining areas and a host of living spaces where the eye is simply enchanted by the way the owners of these homes have decorated their various spaces. My own personal favorite is, of all things, a bathroom wall composed of talavera tile where almost no two tiles on the wall match each other.

All the houses are fully described by author Gina Hyams. But rather than giving us a straightforward "House & Gardens" description of what we can already see she gives us stories and anecdotes about how the various places came about. Thus, for instance, in Hacienda Katanchel in the Yucatan, we read that the present owners discovered the property in 1996. It had been abandoned for some 35 years although it originally dated back to the 17th century. So what they acquired were 740 acres of dense jungle vegetation in which were buried many crumbling buildings with trees actually, in some cases, growing through walls and ceilings. They gradually cleared the mess away and started building and renovating in a blend of Mexican, Mayan and Spanish styles. And you should see the place now.

On a less ambitious scale, we read about Mesón Sacristía de la Compañia in Puebla. This began as a family-run antique store which the owners turned into a restaurant and then an inn. It has one extra little twist for people who stay there - everything in the place is for sale. The owners are continually having to replace dishes and furniture.

Las Mañanitas in Cuernavaca also found new life as a restaurant. It was formerly the home of an Englishman who retired in Mexico back in the 1930's. A lawyer from Oregon fell in love with the place and moved there in 1955. He quit law and opened a restaurant, frankly admitting he knew nothing about that business. "It was such a shoestring operation," author Hyams writes, "that they had to discretely remove cups and saucers from the tables as soon as they were empty and then hurriedly wash and dry them to serve new customers." Now, however, things have grown and developed and the business now employs some 140 persons. The décor is simply stunning and the grounds, complete with strutting peacocks, are quite gorgeous.

And so the stories and histories unfold for another dozen and a half spectacular and beautiful establishments.

I would have loved to see a few room rates quoted to learn what it would cost to spend a weekend in each place. However, that just isn't there and perhaps it's not an appropriate place for such information. In the back of the book we are given a list of phone numbers and addresses, as well as e-mail addresses for each establishment. So we can have whatever information we need quickly enough.

Anyway, here I am, happily browsing through this handsome volume and exclaiming once again: "What an amazing country this is!"

In my humble O: If you have any interest in Mexico (and after all, you are reading Mexico Connect) go and treat yourself and your coffee table to a copy of Mexicasa. It's a large-size paperback and it's quite reasonably priced at Amazon.com.

 

Book Cover

mexicasa - The Enchanting Inns and Haciendas of Mexico
Photos by Melba Levick
Text by Gina Hyams

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2001

Available from Amazon Books: Paperback

 

Published or Updated on: February 15, 2002 by Allan Cogan © 2008
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