In Baja, if you see something remotely unusual in the stores that you might want or need, you buy it and take it with you. Chances are it won’t be there when you decide you need it. For instance, I can’t buy a kite this year in Baja. I’ve even learned two Spanish words: Cometa es correcto pero Papalote es mas … common. Neither is available.
Anyway, same thing with delightful people. Everyone is moving and everyone is on a different schedule, so when you meet compatible people you become friends much more quickly than in real life.
We met one such couple just north of La Paz and had a great afternoon and evening getting acquainted and learning about each other (as usual, I’ll let them decide if they want their names on the internet). When we next met back in town (where they keep their boat and we had returned for internet access and parts) they solidified our friendship by giving me a perfect book and leads to other perfect books.
A boating couple in the marina had suddenly stopped boating because of inevitability, and their boat was being prepared for sale. The ship’s library was removed and spread in the cruising clubhouse. Boaters sifted through the pile. The collection of books was impressive, both in quantity and quality. Many of the titles were familiar (often by reputation) touchstones of cultural and spiritual growth.
My new best friend harvested a particularly rare and great book for me. Almost an Island, by Bruce Berger, is a collection of essays surrounding the opening and development of the Baja California peninsula – sometimes historical and sometimes first-person accounts of events and behaviors that shaped the area. His writing and his behavior is unabashed voyeurism. He stays above the fray, even when discussing his own actions and motivations. The effect is delightful.
The essays inform, expand and correct my own understandings. For instance, the original “landowners” in Baja were the soldiers sent by Spanish kings to guard the Missions. Poetic and vague property descriptions were degraded by overlapping rounds of landgrabs, mineral grants and claims, sundry administrative agencies, protogovernmental programs, and mis-deeds. Property ownership seems to be a vague concept here anyway, and the property wars and skirmishes are evident everywhere. I would be very interested to see another book contrasting the way that Arizona, NM, and California have or have not cleared up the same ownership issues. Mexico’s official limbo is obviously not a good solution.
Almost an Island also does a good job highlighting, without explaining or detailing, the paradox that is Baja. Baja’s primary function is it’s dysfunction, to us Norteamericanos (Gringos). It’s heartbreakingly common to hear beach campers and boaters alike slander property owner’s plans to develop the uplands on particularly beautiful beaches (that they visit for free in their unimaginably well-equipped spaceships), then, after a quick sip of a cold cocktail, discuss plans to return to the States and their Muy Rico livelihood. They (we) live where you can, do, have, and will profit from private ownership of property, but they see no irony in complaining that some Mexican wants to do the same with land they’re pretty sure but can’t prove they own.
Almost an Island is a fantastic account of change. Baja has flipped almost completely since the mid-1990’s when Nancy and I first went to Cabo San Pit of Dispair (and the book mostly skips that particular cesspool, except to note that it diverts the woo-crowd away from the civilized remainder of the peninsula). La Paz now has a Walmart and a Home Depot, as well as Mexican department stores with shelves full of stuff. You can almost count on being able to find an appropriate bolt or computer part in town. That was certainly not true ten years ago. Mexico still has lots of opportunities to grow. For instance, a functioning postal system would be cool. FedEx, UPS, and Amazon are working to give them something. We’ll see.
When I was handed Almost an Island, I was just finishing The Baroque Series by Neil Stephenson. Although historical fiction, these thick and wordy books are remarkably similar to Almost an Island – a look into a time of great change. Stephenson’s book covers the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and England. Great Stuff! I can’t recommend it enough. If you want to know why I’m doing what I’m doing with Jimi & Isaac Books, read The Diamond Age by Stephenson. He explains it better than I.
Since Almost an Island, I started The Map That Changed the World, by Simon Winchester. I pulled this book from the huge book pile in the clubhouse. It is, indeed, a great work of non-fiction describing the creation of the science of geology at the start of the industrial age in England. Unfortunately, Winchester hates all the central characters, hates society and humanity in general, and probably hates his parents and himself. It’s an incredibly well-researched, well-written, and dreary book that I don’t know if I can finish. (Edit: Winchester gives it away at page 150: He grew up in English Catholic parochial schools. He still hates the penguins that called him by number instead of name, rapped his knuckles, and make him drink cod liver oil. Perhaps a worthy grudge to hold, but not particularly relevant to the history of the science of geology.)
They’re called farolitos here. I learned that in a book.