By Dr. Michael Hogan
Reviewed by Mark Sconce
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference betweenlightning and a lightning bug.— Mark Twain Wordsmiths appreciate and know to be true Mark Twain’s words. So when I run into a writer who unerringly chooses the right word, I spark, I fizz, and I read on expectantly as though settling into a summer hammock of language.
Meet Dr. Michael Hogan, former Head of the English and Humanities Department at the American School of Guadalajara and, concurrently, adjunct professor of U.S. Foreign Relations at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara. This writer, teacher, poet, raconteur, and lecturer illuminates Mexican Mornings with Essays South of the Border, available now in the LCS Library. In the Introduction by Danny Root, Former U.S. Consul General in Guadalajara, we are assured that the 25 essays are as good a bird’s-eye view of life in Guadalajara and Jalisco as one is likely to find. “Jalisco IS Mexico” seems as apt a slogan for the author as for Tapatios.
He begins with Mexican insects, The Crawling Things of Paradise—the ants, praying mantises, mosquitoes, tics, fleas, weevils, crickets, earwigs, fruit flies, and lady bugs we expats have come to know and love, not to mention slugs, corn earworms, night flying moths, grasshoppers, and cicadas, too. Appreciate the “ubiquitous daddy longlegs” who eat flies and gnats, but beware the “brown recluse, deadly and silent” and other feared arachnids—scorpions and black widows. But on the lighter side:
“Delicate and lighter than dandelion puffs, the phosphorescent dragonflies swoop through bees, gnats, mosquitoes, wasps and assorted bichos. Angelic and rainbow-hued in the sun, they are neither negligible nor demure. They make love on the wing: joining bodies firmly, doing an aerial arabesque, and then swooping off together like perfectly matched figure skaters, or a pair of Blue Angels over the Nevada desert.”
And where you find insects, you find birds. The white and cattle egrets, “small Sinaloan crows and large Chihuahuan ravens that caw raucously in the rain,” barn swallows, yellow tanagers, starlings, palomas “cooing and rooing,” and oh, those magnificent hummingbirds, “ruby throated, bright and quick as summer lightning, glittering like shards of colored glass. Sometimes, too, broad-billed (hummers) that come with glittering blue gorgets and dark green wings like bright clear messengers from an old Inca god.”
Another of my favorite essays describes the Street People of Jalisco. Dr. Hogan is quick to point out that this generic name Street People is “demeaning” and hurries on to properly name each group beginning with the Vendedores de Chicle (Chewing gum Sellers), “usually young Indian children who sell Adams Chiclets to the people in cars stopped at traffic lights.” Children with large black doe eyes who “could be the subject of a UNESCO poster (Save The Children) which could melt the hardest heart.”
While stopped at traffic lights, you might have enjoyed watching Los Payasos (The Clowns) costumed and miming, hand standing, tumbling and cart wheeling. You might tip those boys as much as you would the Lavaparabrisas (Windshield Washers) who actually wash your windows whether they need it or not, just like the mime…
Dr. Hogan takes special interest in Los Tragafuegos (Fire Eaters) whose displays, while fascinating, are extremely dangerous and ultimately lethal. “Literally a dying breed. He is fairly cocky; a bit like a prize fighter. After he finishes his performance, he struts up to each car and collects a handful of coins. On a good day he can average about $20, which is the salary of a grammar school teacher here.”
So, these are some of the street people of Guadalajara, along with Los Cantantes (The Singers) and Los Transitos (Traffic Police). “A colorful lot and mostly hard-working. They are generally good-natured and they are unfailingly polite. Their contribution to the ambience of Guadalajara makes it unlike any other city of comparable size north of the border. Too bad it is not an exportable commodity.”
Get to know Dr. Michael Hogan: www.drmichaelhogan.com
(Ed. Note: Go to amazon.com to check out Michael’s many fine books, including his celebrated The Irish Soldiers of Mexico.)