Thursday, July 12, 2007

In a Valley, Far From Home, and NOT Chacala

Here in Chacala I often run out of books in English. That’s something I really used to dread. Going to the used book-exchange bookstore in P.V. is expensive and so I almost always run out of bedtime reading material before I am ready to make the trip.

It’s probably not such a bad thing to run out of reading material. I get a lot more done when I don’t have books to get lost in. Many of the books I have reading in Mexico are just kind of mindless and entertaining books. English mysteries, etc.

If someone asked me what I missed the most from the U.S., I guess it would the library system, and bookstores. Of course, certain foods and restaurants are probably what I really miss the most, but books come in as a close second.

But this time, when I was looking thru my little stash of “Book to Keep” I found a book I ordered from Amazon last year. Someone had mentioned this book to me, and I looked for it on Amazon, and found a used copy for $3US. I had them ship it to my son’s house in the U.S., and he brought it down when he came to Chacala last Fall.

He and the book arrived during a pretty intense hurricane alert in early September. We didn’t get a hurricane, but the lights went out during rainstorms most nights, and reading was difficult. I liked the book, but usually I was reading it at breakneck speed, before the lights went out again.

The book is called “In a Valley, Far From Home”, by Catherine Palmer Finerty, published by the University of Arizona Press, in 2000.

It’s the autobiographical story of a woman about my age, who, after a very successful career, came to Guadalajara in retirement. It sounded as though she wasn’t up for the “Wealthy-Gringa-Social-Butterfly” boogie that her friends enjoyed. She ended up living most of the time in a mountain village with Cora Indians and mestizos. She did some medical volunteering, and made a place for herself. She also took photos, which sadly weren’t included in the book.

I love her writing style, and her observations. I especially enjoyed it when she wrote about something she discovered or observed that sounded a lot like life here in Chacala.

This was a very different kind of village than Chacala though. At that time there were no roads. She flew in on small commercial planes, or those owned by the Church. Landing on a river bed or pasture five miles from the town. Very primitive and poor. No electricity, clean water, ice, but lots of life in a beautiful, religious, and often dangerous setting.

I found her attitude and fortitude very inspiring. At least part of the time she seemed to be getting by on their diet. Beans and tortillas and an occasional piece of meat. And some greens or fruit sometimes. And cinnamon tea. And warm sodas. Her comments were never judgmental, and almost always reflected her curiosity about the culture and the history of the people living in her village, Jesus Maria, in the mountains above Tepic.

I think that what I resonated most with was her sense of never quite being sure what was going on. And always finding out the missing pieces of information much later. During her whole time in at Jesus Maria she was searching for a curando, a natural healer, to work with. And she thought she never found one. But right at the end of her more than seven years is Jesus Maria, she found that a man, Pancho, who often brought her to the homes of sick people, was a curando. She knew nothing about him. His home, his family, nothing. Finally, one time she arrived at the home of a very ill person she had been treating, and a curando was there. She was amazed to see it was Pancho. He said to her “How did you think I always knew who was sick?”

Anyway, I am appreciating this books even more the second time around. That’s one good part about having a weak memory. I can re-read a book within a year, and a lot of it seems brand new to me. I had the impression she flew out to her home in Guadalajara for a week every month, to check on her house, and her renters. And then returned. I can appreciate wanting a break from a pretty primitive lifestyle in the mountains.

I looked at my new map, and there is now a road to Jesus Maria. So, of course, I am plotting a trip to that area. According to the author, the Cora Indians are very religious and traditional. No druggies there, except visiting gringo youth looking for the Huitchols.

I would love to meet her. The book says she lives in Pomona now. I wonder if she is still alive. I think I will Google her tomorrow.

I often think that because I have internet access here in Chacala, with email, and Google that I am kind of cheating. If I had been living here ten years ago, with no internet, no phones, and a really crappy Mexican mail system, my life in Chacala would have been a lot different. I am so lucky, in so many ways.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why not read in Spanish? I learned a ton of Spanish from reading the various "Harry Potter" books in Spanish. Sure, it's a slog, but you can learn more Spanish reading one book than having a million conversations.

If I lived in Mexico, I'd try to read as much in Spanish as in English.


Kim G
Boston, MA

P.D. Paso mucho tiempo en el distrito federal. Un día espero que pueda ir a Chacala y conocerte. Mi amigo Francisco y yo queremos pasar unas vacaciones a la playa.