Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles Through Baja California, the Other Mexico
by C.M. Mayo. The University of Utah Press, 2002. ISBN: 0-87480-740-9.
Reviewed by Robert B. Simmonds, Ph.D.
We published an excerpt from C.M. Mayo’s Miraculous Air in the recent December/January issue of Mexico File, our first and only “literary” issue. The excerpt, an essay on her visit with Baja legend Bob Van Wormer, was included in our last issue for good reason. I read this book as I would any excellent piece of travel writing – that is, quickly and fully absorbed. This isn’t just an everyday type of travel monologue. Mayo is a writer in every elevated sense of the word. She won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for her previous collection, Sky Over El Nido. Her recently published Miraculous Air may be the best contemporary travel book on Baja California around.
C.M. Mayo is from El Paso, Texas, and grew up in Palo Alto, California. She was educated at the University of Chicago. For several years she was a professor of economics and international finance at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City, but her literary pursuits have now overtaken her previous academic interests. She is the recipient of numerous literary awards and is the founding editor of Tameme, a bilingual literary journal. She now lives both in Mexico City and Washington, DC. (For more information on her work, go to her website: www.cmmayo.com.) We don’t learn much about her life in this book. She approaches her work with both a journalistic and historical bent, and it’s mostly, but not exclusively, third-person writing. Her writer’s voice reflects a bright, aware, and gentle soul, someone with a good heart whom you feel easy trusting.
She has an interesting format for the chapters of her book. She goes somewhere in Baja (and she covers nearly the whole peninsula, going light, however, on Ensenada with its vineyards and Hussong’s), meets a variety of interesting people at her destinations, and then links them to an historical event – which she then proceeds to describe in fascinating detail. So what we end up with is not only an engrossing description of her various adventures during her travels, but a nice history of the Baja peninsula.
She covers the growth of Cabo, how it grew in twenty years from a “desert shore of thorn and scrub” to “rolling green carpets of golf courses and landscaped drives.” We read about Hernán Cortés, after whom the Sea of Cortez is named. And she provides a history of the growth of Todos Santos as an artist’s community through interviews with the principles. She travels to the missions which line the map up the Baja peninsula and describes the efforts of the Jesuits to convert the hunter-gatherer natives. In Mulegé she recounts the legacy of Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the Perry Mason television series. She describes the cave paintings of Baja, as well as the agricultural growth of areas with water, the discovery of gold in the 1880's, the impact of the Transpeninsular Highway, the salt company, Exportadora de Sal, which is owned by both the Mexican government and the Japanese Mitsubishi firm, Scammon’s Lagoon and the gray whales, the Escalera Náutica proposal, and the shocking assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio.
Mayo packs a world of information into her book in a format that’s personalized and captivating to the reader. Miraculous Air is essential reading for anyone planning a driving trip down the length of the peninsula – and, in fact, it inspires one to take the trip into one of the world’s most scenically beautiful and fascinating locales. This is one book that truly deserves the “highly recommended” label for us Mexicophiles.