Tequila, Lemon and Salt: From Baja - Tales of Love, Faith and Magic by Daniel Reveles
The location for these nine stories is the town of Tecate in the Baja. I must admit I'd never heard of it until I came across this book.
It sounds like a mildly attractive place, located 34 miles east of Tijuana. Tucked away in the extreme northwest of Mexico, it couldn't possibly be any closer to the U.S. border. One of my guide books describes it as "famed for its wine and beer, its lack of crowds going through U.S. Customs, and its health resort, Rancho La Puerta. An interesting spectacle staged each year in Tecate is the running of the bulls, a local version of the event made famous by Pamplona, Spain."
The town can also boast that it is the home of Daniel Reveles, author of three attractive collections of novellas. The latest of these is the one reviewed here. The others are Enchiladas, Rice and Beans, published in 1994 and Salsa and Chips, circa 1996.
According to the short bio on the back cover, Daniel Reveles was born in Los Angeles of Mexican parents. Since his youth he's been involved in some aspect of the entertainment industry, as a disc jockey, recording artist, songwriter and television producer. He fell in love with Tecate twenty five years ago and has remained there ever since, living and writing, as he says, in the company of coyotes in a remote ranch on the outskirts of town.
Not much happens in Tecate. As Reveles explains in his aperitivo: "Last year the town had its first bank holdup. Now that was exciting. I remember the bank robbers had to push start the getaway car. It almost didn't matter because the police car was in the garage getting new brakes." And there aren't too many visitors in town, except for the occasional trainload of carefree Americans from San Diego eager for frosty margaritas and mariachis.
"I don't really write my stories - I see them," Reveles explains. "All the characters are real. I have baptized them with new names of my own invention so that I may continue to enjoy an uncomplicated life in Tecate."
In the first tale, "Dear God," for example, we meet Esperanza and Salvador. Esperanza is a beautiful girl who is horribly crippled and cannot walk properly. Consequently she is lonely and doesn't enjoy any kind of love life. Salvador is a widower who lives alone and avoids people for ten years after his wife dies. He first sees Esperanza under circumstances where he doesn't know that she is crippled and he is instantly attracted to her. What follows is a complex series of events where Esperanza actually manages via many devious ploys to conceal her terrible affliction from her pursuer. These ploys make up the narrative of the story. Salvador eventually finds out, of course, and we're left to wonder what arrangement the pair came to. However, as Reveles explains in his afterword, the romance was, in real life, eventually resolved because Esperanza delivered an adorable baby girl to her husband. In the afterword we are brought up to date with the real life outcomes of several of the characters we encounter in the book.
In "The Onion Man," Nino - a legless man with a rather distinguished appearance - sits out in the marketplace peeling and selling fresh onions. His story involves himself and a friend, Rigo, who were both involved in a terrible auto accident following a youthful drinking bout. Nino lived, but lost both legs. Rigo, the driver, escaped injury but was mortally injured in his soul because of the injuries he had caused to be inflicted on his friend. Rigo operates a successful tourist gift shop in town and tries to atone by helping Nino become a painter and selling his paintings to the tourists. Even though Nino is without artistic talent, his pictures do find customers and he is able to survive. Rigo later dies of a heart attack. Following his death, Nino makes a shocking discovery. You would hate me if I gave away any more of the plot and how come Nino ends up eking out a living selling onions in the market place. It's quite an ending.
In "Big Caca's Revenge" you will meet the worst cop you can imagine. He is the commander at the local border and he alone can declare who and what comes into Mexico from the U.S. As you might expect, bribery and corruption are a big part of his program.
He is universally detested. As Reveles describes him: "Big Caca weighed more than a small car. Inside that enormous exterior we knew there was a small man waiting to get out. When you looked into his face you would logically conclude that you were looking at an eggplant with a mustache and a wart on the left nostril. In short, Big Caca was a frontal assault on the optic nerve."
On a visit to the U.S., Big Caca is given a very hard time by a U.S. border patrol officer. He is thoroughly embarrassed by this man in front of the girl he has taken with him. In fact, the U.S. officer simply sends the girl unceremoniously packing back to Mexico. Big Caca can't wait to get back to Tecate where he sets about punishing and expelling every last U.S. citizen he finds there. Something has to be done about him and finally the citizens find the way to deal with him. It's worth a read. For the reader, it's almost as satisfying as it is to the characters in the story when Big Caca finally gets his commupance.
Then there's Lyle in "An Undocumented Wedding." He lives in San Diego with his boring middle class family. When he falls in love with a beautiful girl, Blanca Cecilia, who lives with her family in Tecate, his family reveal themselves as complete bigots. When Lyle becomes engaged to Blanca Cecilia, he tries to get his parents to come to Mexico to meet his future in-laws. Those in-laws are an attractive lot who all seem to enjoy a close knit relationship with each other. Lyle fits right in and is welcomed by them. But his father is adamant. I've never set foot outside the forty-eight and I'm not about to do it now. All that crime," he adds, "and all those drugs sneakin' in across our border, uh, uh. Mexicans can't hold their liquor and they end up in the pokey." Lyle's mother isn't any more sympathetic or encouraging.
All I'm going to say on that one is that Lyle solves his problem in a unique and imaginative way. The wedding actually takes place and both families attend. It's a ceremony that could only happen in that particular part of the world. You simply have to read it for yourself.
These are just a few of the people you'll encounter in Tequila, Lemon and Salt. It's an easy and pleasant read. I noticed that one of the reviewers quoted on the book's cover compares Reveles to O. Henry and I must say there's a similarity, especially with the twisty plots and surprise endings. As an added bonus, Daniel Reveles is perhaps the better prose stylist of the two. I found his descriptions of people particularly pleasing, especially his word pictures of good-looking young girls.
Tequila, Lemon, and Salt:
From Baja - tales of love, faith - and magic
By Daniel Reveles
Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California. 2005
Available from Amazon Books: Paperback