Book Report

Sliced Iguana

Sliced Iguana, Travels in Unknown Mexico. By Isabella Tree. Penguin Group. Hamish Hamilton London. 2001. 34.99. 317 pp.

"And to me the men in Mexico are like trees, forests that the white men felled in their coming. But the roots of the trees are deep and alive and forever sending up new roots," D.H. Lawrence: Mornings in Mexico. 1927.

This quote in the front of this book is a perfect introduction to the information found in the chapters that follow it. There's detailed preparation for the astute reader, with a pronunciation guide, a list of indigenous words, and a two page map of Mexico that follows the quote. My only problem with the book's map in the front pages of this book, is that our Baja is portrayed as just an empty peninsula, with only La Paz noted, as a small identified dot. (Of course, I was offended, believing our Baja peninsula also has quite a fascinating history that needs to be told, perhaps with some good information in a future book report.)

Six chapters and an epilogue covers mainland Mexico well. The first chapter, "Urban Leviathan", gives us a bird's eye view of Mexico City, with detailed descriptions, and a brief history.

Sharing a 2000 mile border with the U.S. has been said to be like "...a mouse sharing a bed with an elephant..every time the elephant sneezed, the mouse got blown out of the room." (Page 5). Mexico, a large country in its own right, once was almost twice its present size, before losing California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, in 1848. (Mexico still considers some of this land as a true part of Mexico).

On pages 54-58, I read the legend of Guadalupe, in an account much fuller than anything I've read on her before. If you do not know the tale of Juan Diego and the appearance of the Virgin to him, this is an excellent account of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint who cares for Mexico's downtrodden, all native Indians, and the mestizos. This book narrates her full story, and also tells us why she is so important to Mexico.

To give others equal time, pages 201 and 202, give us information about Dona Marina, known now as La Malinche, the mistress and interpreter for Cortez and the conquistadors. The author says that Marina, a slave, was given to Cortez, and supported Cortez as a rebellion against the cruelty of the Aztecs, but of course, history has also rewritten her role, and made her the "ultimate national whore" (Page 202).

The vast contrast between the life stories of these two very different historical personalities, has gradually become a part of the Mexican "cult of machismo!"  Page 202 ends with a common (?) according to this book, Mexican saying....".... a woman's place is in the home...with a broken leg!"

Reading even further, I realize again and again, how large and powerful this colorful country of Mexico is, and how many cultures, mestizos (mixed blood), descendants of Spanish, French, and English explorers, (and of course, the diverse cultures and characteristics of the original indigenous peoples) have helped shape and enrich Mexican history. I have only touched on basic information briefly here, writing of the historical facts and stories found within a few chapters in this book. There are many more interesting historical stories.  Page 203 tells us of Comandante Ramona, and the Zapatistas, and on page 257, we visit Huichol country. There are many different stories to be found in the book.

I concentrated on a few chapters that intrigue me. Read the other chapters, each with a description of another possible Mainland Mexico vacation destination, and also with stories of historical personages: San Miguel de Allende, the Chiapas, Lake Tzcuaro, Huichol Country, and finally, there is the `Epilogue on Mexican Miracles', with another quote, "All miracles are magical mirrors; never can we see our faces in them". (page 309).

I do love reading the inconsistencies in different accounts of history, "I did not arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind." Albert Einstein.

You can find this travel book and other books telling more of Mexico’s colorful geography and history at my book store, El Caballo Blanco in Loreto. Come by and see me.