John Wilcock,
Kal Müller, Editors

Well, they certainly do it up brown: Insight Guides take the cake for pocket-sized lushness. Full-color photographs (with a most artful reproduction) seem to run all over the place, leap up and bite one on the nose. All the great and garish sights of Mexico are pictured here: Guerrero masks, Aztec monuments, the river at Múlege, Popocatépetl Volcano, beaches at Quintana Roo, the Pyramid of the Moon, fish sellers in Vera Cruz, Atzompa pottery, Orozco's portrait of the storming Fr. Hidalgo (in the midst of his great cry), the Virgin of Guadalupe in holy parade, conchero dancers.

And all along, we have to-the-point commentary on musical instruments, the cathedrals, the muralists, the people, the hot tourist spots, the fisherfolk, the dancers, the statues, the dolls.

But be warned. It's a pretty view of Mexico. Very, very pretty --- dolled up to the nines, as my sweet Mumsie would say. You won't see (or smell) any Mexico-grit reality: beggars, dead dogs, smog, litter on the beach, carbodies in the arroyos, beefy policemen asking for their mordida, kids --- especially in the south --- emaciated with their tortilla-and-salt diets, buses and trucks spewing out mountains of cancerous black fumes, traffic backed up twenty miles on the Mexico City Pefericos, land wasted and pitted by four centuries of looting by poor peasants and rich corporations.

In addition, Insight's listing (in the yellow pages at the back) of hotels and restaurants leaves much to be desired. The clean, small businessmen's hotels and many fine small restaurants are ignored. For instance, one would have to be crazy to eat at the vastly overrated Tia Juana Tilly's in Tijuana; right across the street you can find the small but excellent Basque restaurant --- Chiki Lai --- but it's not mentioned.

Still, for colorful pictures of a colorful land, you can't go wrong. In fact, maybe you can go wrong for all the right reasons; once you're there, perhaps the true ambiance --- dead dogs and all --- will catch you up, and not let you go.

--- Carlos Amantea

Memoirs of a

From Merrill Lynch to
Patty Hearst to Poetry

Robin Magowan
(Story Line Press)
My god, he's had a fascinating life. Born into the Merrill (of Merrill Lynch) fortune, his father the man who invented Safeway Stores --- and he was an intimate and devoted friend to (and cousin of) the poet Jimmy Merrill. Visse d'amore, vissi del vaggio --- a quote from Jimmy --- is the theme: love to travel, travel to love.

But, as Dick Gregory says, we all have problems. Along with the freedom to do as he pleased, where he pleased, how he pleased, there was, too, a slight speech defect, an overbearing, impatient --- often brutal --- father, and an openness that got him enmeshed in the Patty Hearst/SLA imbroglio (in fact, he and his father were targeted as ones on the list to be kidnapped before the SLA lit on Patty.)

The best parts of the book are the tales of revolutionary fervor and interracial love while going nuts on mescaline; in fact, Magowan --- a poet in his own right --- creates prose-poetry as his carefully nurtured, ivy-league, once straight-laced mind is blown apart by the staggering insights that psychedelics lay on us, whether we want them or not:

    From edge to edge we rolled, edge of sword, mouth, precipice, star, as one, then another dive-bombing phaeton of light unloaded directly over us its green, dizzy, screaming SUN-ABYSS. Electrons the size of golfballs bounded and diffracted against my eyes as I wriggled over to where my Circe sprawled, elbows over eyes, paint-splotched, black-jeaned belly rotating sunwards at a washing-machine frenzy. Before this person who, it seemed, had deliberately poisoned me, I felt both afraid and vengeful...

And then comes the fear --- who hasn't known it? on mescaline or in mere day-to-day living --- of permanent madness:

    The danger lay in the growing likelihood of being permanently disabled. Hard to stretch forth a fraternal hand when all you've got left is a stump. As the rush increased, my fears of the revelations paled before the more imminent prospect of the madhouse....My fears kept expanding. If I dodged one, then its big brother slam-banged in all the harder.

And what saves one from madness? The presence of another --- in this case, his loose-hipped revolutionary-loving Ling (who was later to be burnt to ashes in the SLA Waco-style fire):

    I lay twined around her, letting only the most necessary Alahhhh's shower forth their groaning sparks. I saw myself returning to that mother island where, what my heart once knew, my tongue gave out: the words, beast, breast, the meadow's ring, Ling herself, found.

Some may feel a bit impatient at the references to all things Greek and Good (the Minotaur, for one, is a monster with a bull's head on the human body: Magowan is obviously telling us much about his own psychic split) --- but all this is overweighed by a revealing picture of a protected child growing to manhood in the mad light of the culture of the sixties.

--- L. Milam

Recipes from the Vineyards
Of Northern California

Leslie Mansfield
(Celestial Arts)
he flood of summer visitors has receded, leaving us awash in thank-you gifts. A bread knife, a pencil case. A running-nose toy.  A box of salami, cheese and mustard. A ceramic cookie jar filled with biscotti and a pot of dancing flowers that plays In the Mood upon sensing the least movement. A portrait, not unflattering, of the author, her honey, and their 1952 Chevy truck. Two calendars for the year 2K.

So when I see a worthless piece of crap like this book, obviously intended for a gift, along with a nice Merlot, for one's hosts, I say right on. Slim, easily disposable, it neither makes noise nor clogs the arteries. It doesn't have to hang on the wall for the next visit. You can just flip through the pages, determine that never in your precious, crowded, fleeting lifetime would you spend half a day making these absurd dishes, and toss the sucker.

Any host will appreciate such a thoughtful gift.

--- Cese McGowan

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