Here’s an unusual volume with ten individual authors, each of whom is independent of the other nine except for the fact they all reside – either full or part-time – in the Lake Chapala area of Mexico. Their book consists of some 45 or more pieces of fiction and non-fiction plus a poem or three. The non-fiction includes travel tales, accounts of significant events in the authors’ past lives, recollections of interesting people and other offbeat memoirs and anecdotes.
I loved, for example, Gloria Marthai’s hair-raising story, “First Flight.” It’s an account of Marthai’s flight in a small aircraft, from Guadalajara to a site on the Pacific Coast with an unbelievably negligent pilot. For example, when they are airborne, he finds that he forgot his charts marking the route. All he has is a road map. And that’s just the start. When he lands at an abandoned airstrip, he blows a tire and has no spare. When he finally does get someone to help him, he finds he forgot to bring any money. Try starting that story and not finishing it.
I also got a kick out of Dory Jones’ hilarious poem, “They.” I’ve read that one aloud to a couple of mixed groups of people who all completely broke up at the poem’s ending.
But those are just two of the items in this entertaining compilation. Others include “God’s Orchestra,” Amelia Stevens’ heartfelt memoir of her sister who was murdered in Clearwater, Florida, a decade ago and the events that followed her sister’s passing. Or “Whetting the Muse” by Susan Q. Miller, a meditation on art and life. Or “Redeeming Lucy” by Judy Dykstra-Brown, an amusing tale in which a young girl discovers sin at first hand on her way to work at a church mission in Paris. And there are many, many more.
I should mention the names of the ten writers and give credit where it’s due. They are Zofia D. Barisas; Nina Discombe, Judy Dykstra-Brown, Harriet Hart, Dory Jones, Teresa Kendrick, Gloria Marthai, Susan Q. Miller, Gloria Palazzo and Amelia Stevens. They are all either from the U.S. or Canada, now resident in Mexico.
And while we’re dealing in numbers I should explain that there are six sections to the overall collection, which helps give it some thematic shape. The first section is “Fish Out of Water,” which offers items about foreigners who have chosen to live in a different culture. Second is “Portraits,” which consists of word pictures either of the authors themselves, or their parents, children, friends and neighbors. “Local Color” is about people and past events here in Mexico. “In Full Bloom” refers to contributors of a certain age who also choose to live in Mexico, far from old friends and family. “The Blue Dog” is a half dozen selections about “those we have lost and the emptiness they have left behind.” (It’s okay – I didn’t understand the title either.) And finally we have “Baring Our Breasts” where the ladies tell secrets and share a few intimacies.
A key component of Agave Marias is the book’s striking and colorful cover. It’s by Ute Hagen, an impressionist and another well known resident of the Lake Chapala area, whose subjects are usually fiestas, people and Mexican street scenes. There’s a close connection between the cover, which is a portrait titled Woman in Full Bloom, and the six prose sections. Each of the components of the portrait relate to each of the six sections of the total text. Look closely, for example and you’ll see the blue dog and the fish out of water and the headgear which is “in full bloom.” Also, the overall appearance of the portrait fits in neatly with the slightly irreverent title of the book, Agave Marias. Agave, for those who don’t know, is the plant from which tequila is produced.
There’s another offbeat feature of Agave Marias that I enjoyed. It’s called “Border Crossers and Boundary Breakers.” It’s a collection of informal biographies of the ten “Marias.” Among other features, the bios tell how each of the ladies came to live in Mexico together with their experiences over the years and their impressions of life in this country. They also explain how the book came together and eventually managed to achieve publication.
It struck me that there was a good deal here about life in the Lake Chapala area. For anyone interested in making the transition to a life in Mexico, it’s another good source of useful information. My own emails – having written for Mexico Connect for the past decade – indicate there’s a lot of curiosity out there on that subject. Here’s a book that, in its offbeat way, tells something of other people’s experiences in making the leap to a life south of the border.