8.2 x 5.5
pub date March 2007
Journey of a Thousand Miles Through Baja California, the Other Mexico
by C.M. Mayo [bio]
Paulino Pérez, an artist I would later meet in La Paz, painted a picture of a woman floating in that jewel-like yellow-green water [of the Sea of Cortés]. Her face, which emerges like a mask, is fine-featured, even beautiful but for the grayish blooms (of decomposition?) at her nostril and her lip. From a distance, she seems to be sleeping, dreaming as she floats. When I first saw the painting at the Galería de Todos Santos, I turned it sideways, then upside down. I wasn’t sure which way it was supposed to hang.
Neither is Paulino Pérez. “I like to turn my paintings around,” he told me. He laid his ear on his shoulder. Then he laid his other ear on his other shoulder.
“Is the woman rising or is she drowning?"
Baja California. “The very air here,” wrote John Steinbeck, “is miraculous.”
Was it the air, or was it something else that attracted C. M. Mayo to the Baja peninsula? Whatever it was, Mayo has devoted years to traversing this land, researching it, inhaling it. The result is Miraculous Air, a travelogue that takes the reader on a remarkable journey through history, economics, literature, and politics, from mountaintop missions to beachside tourist towns. Along the way she introduces a stellar cast of intriguing characters including daredevil aviators, sea turtle researches, starving Jesuit missionaries, hawkers of plastic virgins, and many more.
Mayo beautifully, sometimes heartbreakingly, captures candid moments of a place and its people. Sometimes awash in tackiness and poverty, often lifted by the richness of its heritage and natural beauty, Baja California is a world of contrasts. Is it rising or drowning? As Paulino Pérez might say, “Todo depende. It all depends on what you want to see.”
“A magnificent, comprehending portrait of a far-flung, fascinating finger of the world.” —Sara Mansfield Taber, author of Dusk on the Campo: A Journey in Patagonia
“Ay, if only I had been at C.M. Mayo’s side in her rendezvous through Baja California. My recourse is her joyful, intellectually sparkling chronicle, which makes life a bit less monochromatic.” —Ilan Stavans, Amherst College
"A luminous exploration of Baja California, from its southern tip at Cabo San Lucas to its "lost city" of Tijuana... [Mayo] takes the fiction writer's impulse and blends it with the instincts of a journalist to create a work of nonfiction that elides i —Los Angeles Times Book Review