This article is from the July 2001 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Book Review 
Mexican Interlude

by Joseph Henry Jackson. MacMillan and Company, 1936, 232 pages. Available from, out-of-print books.  

Reviewed by Lynne Doyle 

Lynne is a frequent MF contributor from Maine. Her article, “East Coast West Coast,” which appeared in the March 2001 issue, compared Cancún with Puerto Vallarta.  

I read this book during one of the worst and most discouraging of 2001's Nor’easters (the snow already present was over my windowsills), generally not a great time for me to be reading about Mexico. So I don’t know if it was the blizzard or the book itself that had such an impact on me – but impact there was, in spades. 

This is a charming, intensely detailed account of a gringo and his wife who, with spectacular spontaneity and very little Spanish, decide to tackle the newly completed Pan American Highway and see the “real” Mexico. As was common at that time, they crossed to Mexico through Laredo armed only with letters of introduction from friends of friends, a few maps and a lot of camera equipment. Their plan was to travel the new highway to Mexico City and stay there for a month, traveling in and around the city in hopes of finding a deeper understanding of the people and the culture of the country. These people were inveterate travelers, remarkably open to and appreciative of totally alien surroundings, bold in their curiosity and incredibly mellow in their acceptance of all they found.  

Their story begins with the initial encounters with customs agents, described with great humor by Jackson as he depicts his almost total lack of language skills while attempting to present the acceptable paperwork. They continue through Monterrey and several villages I have never heard of, commenting on Mexican kindness and courtesy, but it is not until they attempt to cross the Sierra Madres at Tamazunchale during a rock slide that they finally encounter the Mexico they are seeking. Waylaid at the top of the mountain, Jackson takes note of his fellow travelers, Mexican and American, and with incredible clarity observes and contrasts the most interesting characteristics and anomalies among them.  

Mr. And Mrs. Jackson eventually reach Mexico City, where – in an effort to “get closer to Mexico than we could possibly get in a tourist hotel” – they arrange to board with the Suarez family in Colonia Cuauhtemoc. Once the home of a prosperous lawyer, the house is currently inhabited by the widowed Sra. Suarez and her three grown daughters, who take in recommended boarders to help make ends meet. I found myself consumed by envy reading Jackson’s descriptions of the house and its inhabitants, particularly the multi-tasking butler Julian, who “deserves a book to himself.” I think I was so fascinated because in my mind, this is the best way to visit Mexico, and the way most of us aren’t able to arrange.  

During their stay, the Jacksons spend a magic day at the market in Toluca with John and Carol Steinbeck, and also are entertained, courtesy of one of their letters of introduction, by Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. Jackson devotes one of his most moving chapters to the details of an evening spent – as a result of yet another letter – in the company of the charming, charismatic and very rich Don Antenor, described as a man “of the Mexico of inheritance the Mexico of Maximilian and Carlota, even.” There is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek chapter describing a day in the company of fellow gringos visiting Cuernevaca and Cuautla at which I had to laugh at Jackson’s horror as he travels with these typically “ugly Americans.” His descriptions of the floating gardens at Xochilmilco are so lyrical I could close my eyes and see and smell this most intriguing place, so different to us now than it was in the 1930's.

Jackson and his wife do Mexico City with careful attention. They go anywhere and everywhere that anyone suggests to them, and, as a result, they see it all. They are guests in homes and at social events that no longer exist. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to contrast the city they saw then with the city that we are able to see now, even thought the overall emotion I was left with was great sadness at all that I have missed. Especially gratifying to me is the fact that these people were enthusiastic amateur photographers, and much of the book is filled with their photos and captions describing things and places that are so drastically changed as to be hardly recognizable. However, best of all are the many places and characteristics of Mexico that remained largely unaltered. This books isn’t a remarkable piece of literature that will change your life, but it was without doubt a most pleasant way to spend one of those afternoons so miserable as to threaten your sanity – all in all a sweet, heavily descriptive journal of one couple’s most enviable experience in a Mexico that is sadly no longer available to us.