I wonder what a library cataloguer will make of Jerry Hesser’s book. Is it biography? Autobiography? Is it concerned with travel? Is it history? Is it a description of modern day Mexico? Is it an attempt at a cultural commentary on this country? Or is it simply a record of one man’s efforts to cope with a new environment. All I know is it’s easier to say what it isn’t rather than what it is. It’s not quite any of those things. But, on the other hand, in its 258 pages you’ll find elements of all those categories.
Personally I don’t think I’ve come across anything quite like Las Cucarachas’ Tails. And I should also quickly add that I found it to be an interesting and enjoyable read.
I rather liked the quote that’s part of the Foreword: “Tourists see the world. Travellers experience it.” And I think Mr. Hesser can lay claim to a varied bunch of experiences, many of which are covered here.
He and his wife are Minnesotans who have been coming to Mexico for 23 years and who now spend time in Ajijic each year. They’ve traveled widely in Mexico. That’s clearly reflected here. The book consists of some 120 mini-essays that Hesser has obviously been putting together over a period of many years. Some are less than a page in length. The longer ones cover barely two or slightly more pages. The subject matter couldn’t be more broad or varied.
Thus we get dissertations on many things Mexican – such as praise for the marvelous toll roads and a pretty good telephone system, along with low marks for the terrible postal system.
A variety of well known towns and areas are covered, such as Guanajuato, Melaque, Jiquilpan and Puerto Vallarta. We visit Cuernavaca, famous for its flowers. We visit Paracho, known for guitar manufacture. Then there’s Magdalena and its opals. And Atlixco which modestly advertises the best climate in the world. We go, too, to Taxco, the silver town and Santa Clara del Cobre, with its copper products and Crater Lake, near Santa Maria del Oro, renowned for its tranquil scenery. Then we drop in on Tequila for… what else?
Along the way Hesser has dealings with Mexican cops and experiences with the mordida (bribery). He has an appreciative piece on Mexican children… and a less than appreciative item on cockroaches. The Green Angels, Mexico’s mobile highway mechanics, also come in for a mention. And Hesser and his wife even spent a night in a whorehouse – and didn’t find out what the place was until the next morning.
I liked the quote that Hesser gives us on page 94. It’s by Alan Riding, author of Distant Neighbors. As Riding states, “Nowhere in the world do two countries as different as Mexico and the United States live side by side.” I was reading this book at Easter, a time when the truth of Riding’s observation is most obvious. It’s the occasion when Mexicans seem to throw themselves into fervent and colorful celebrations and it’s well worth taking it all in. We northerners don’t come anywhere near the fervor with which Mexicans celebrate that particular season. It’s one of those times when the differences between the two neighboring societies are really underlined. But there are many such occasions throughout a typical year.
I think one of the facets I most enjoyed about Las Cucarachas’ Tails was that it brought back so many memories of the travels and explorations my wife and I made in our early days in Mexico. We’ve been here just on 12 years and we had our share of experiences, too – both expected and unexpected – in those open-minded days. And we even spent a night in a whorehouse, too, near Monterey although we went there innocently thinking it was a motel. Being asked how many hours we expected to be there should have made us suspicious. However, we were too attracted by the private garages attached to each room. So reading someone else’s adventures really provoked a lot of memories. I’m sure, too, it would do the same for other readers, making them recall their days of initial discovery in this unique and colorful country.
Jerry Hesser should be commended for doing a first-rate job of putting his experiences and observations into such a neat and attractive package. Yes, there are some lightweight passages in those 120 or so mini-essays but the cumulative effect is what counts here – and, in total, it works very nicely.
As a matter of fact, I think it might be the sheer brevity of some of these items that makes them more approachable and attractive to a reader. Heaven knows! We’re not short of long and windy texts these days.
The other facet that ought to be underlined is that Hesser has tremendous affection for Mexico and its people. It shines through on almost every page. He really likes it here and he’s more than delighted to tell us about it. This, too, makes his book a pleasant diversion.
In my humble O: Well worth looking for. All those short passages make it the perfect bedside book. Come to think of it, they make it the perfect bathroom book, too.
P.S. Las Curarachas, as a self-published book, isn’t generally available in bookstores outside Mexico. However, it can be obtained from www.Xlibris.com. It is also available thru www.barnes&noble.com/ and www.borders.com/ and www.amazon.com/.
Las Cucarachas’ Tails
By Jerry Hesser
Xlibris Corporation, 2004
Available from Amazon Books: Paperback