Thursday, January 21, 2010

Writing book reviews

I'm working my way through Barnaby Rogerson's The Last Crusaders, about the century-long clash between Christendom and Islam that lasted into the 16th century. My assignment is to review it for the February issue of the Internet Review of Books, so I need to finish soon, even though it's not a speedy read. When I come across a passage that might be worth referring to, I write the page number and the first few words of a sentence on a piece of paper. When I've finished reading the book, I'll open a Word file and start writing notes--initial impressions, then perhaps quotes or ideas from the list I've compiled. That's generally enough to get me started on writing the review.

That sounds straightforward enough, but what do others do? If you write book reviews, how do you approach the task?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A book unfit for review?

A book reviewer I know recently refused to review a self-published book on the grounds that it was so sloppily written and edited. The book review editor tactfully explained to the author that the reviewer preferred not reviewing it at all to writing a scathing review.

The author blithely responded that since his manuscript had been edited by an English teacher and a grammar-checking program, he felt perfectly comfortable with the book the way it was, and that the reviewer must simply be judging by her own unique standards that were of no concern to the author.

I haven't seen the book in question, but it's hard to imagine a writer with such a cavalier attitude having any success.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gringos in Mazatlán

Here in Mazatlán we are yards away from both a busy street and the ocean. As I listen to the mixture of sounds, I sometimes find it hard to distinguish between traffic and surf. Perhaps two-thirds of the RVs here in Mar Rosa RV Park are from Canada, including every U.S.-bordering province except for the Maritimes. License plates abound from British Columbia, and these people are here for multi-month stays. With the exception of someone from Ohio, the U.S. visitors are all from west of the Mississippi.

If you can tear yourself away from the lovely beach, getting around the city is easy and inexpensive. Yesterday we rode a bus into downtown for nine pesos each, which amounts to a little over a half dollar. The bus had a hand-printed destination on its cracked windshield, and a little girl who was maybe four or five years old sat on the driver's knee. Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, I suppose.

We rode a pulmonia to an indoor shopping area with dozens of vendors selling clothing, arts, crafts, food, and such. Vendors tend be assertive and friendly, and to an extent you can haggle on prices. Nancy and I must have Gringo emblazoned on our foreheads, because the vendors immediately try out their English on us. For regular shopping, the big chains like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stand ready to take your pesos. We've been buying groceries at a nearby Mega super market, which is as modern and well-stocked as any in the States.

One night this week we attended an excellent flamenco performance in the historical part of the city. You can see a YouTube video of the dance troupe on their website.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Mexico trip, day 7: Celestino Gasca

Empty beach, Celestino Gasca

At 4 p.m. I walked the long beach at Celestino Gasca and looked around to find that I was the only person in sight. The water is warm, and young men swim out beyond the surf with flippers and mesh-covered inner tubes, apparently diving for oysters. We’re in a tiny RV park built for eight occupants, with a couple of small buildings, a pool that I’m told is called an “infinity pool,” and some colorful flowers. Oddly, at least to me, two sides of the property are fenced off with chain link and barbed wire, even though any unlikely trespassers could easily walk around it. Near the pool is a covered patio area for lounging and dining; they serve excellent seafood dishes.

As nice as this place is, it’s not near anything else as far as I can tell. I’m eager to move on to Mazatlán and, I hope, leave the sand fleas and godawful Internet connection behind.

By the way, my experience so far is that a great many places accept only cash instead of credit cards. That seems to go for gasoline, RV fees, and many restaurants, although my Visa worked for a couple of lunches.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Mexico trip, day 6: Celestino Gasca

RV park at Celestino Gasca,
on Mexico's west coast

Yesterday was no more than an overnight stay in Los Mochis, a good-sized city with just one RV park. Roosters do live there, and the place lived down to our expectations in every way.

Today we stopped at Celestino Gasca, an hour outside of Mazatlán, where we plan to stay a couple of nights. The beach on the Pacific Ocean is utterly gorgeous here, and the place advertised free Internet. That turns out to mean that they have one 3G modem that they lend out on request. I have it now and can’t get it to work. Maybe the owner will help me out tomorrow, or maybe I will be posting this from Mazatlán.

The highway through Los Mochis and Culiacán is mostly a four-lane, divided road that’s in good shape. We passed any number of cornfields and tomato plantings, with mountains in the distance. We crossed from the state of Sonora into Sinaloa, which sports a license plate with a bright red tomato. At one rest stop a fellow approached me, holding up a plastic bag with what looked like garbage in it. I thought he was trying to sell it to me, so I gave him a couple of pesos and waved him off.

Our RV park is small, with perhaps a half dozen RVs here now. Two are from British Columbia and one is from Saskatchewan, all retirees here for extended winter stays. One of the Canadian women had a deep bronze sun tan making her look like a roasted chicken. She also had a big smile as she sat back into her lawn chair to soak up more bright afternoon sun. It seems that Canadians are less spooked by news accounts of Mexican crime than Americans are.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Mexico trip, day 4

We're staying in San Carlos an extra night and leave for Los Mochis, Sinaloa, tomorrow. Our friends tell us not to expect television or Internet there, but we'll have electricity and probably water and roosters. So Thursday will be a day off from email and blogging. Then Friday we'll skirt Culiacán and arrive in Mazatlán, our primary destination. Whenever I find a decent Internet connection, I will upload more photos.

Everything is quiet here in San Carlos, except for the John Deere power shovel chugging and banging almost next door. We see American and Canadian tourists here and there, but the beaches are almost empty except for gulls and pelicans. It feels abnormal for such a nice area.

Meanwhile, our son arrived safely in San Francisco to start his new software job this week.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mexico trip, day 3

This is one of the worst Internet connections we've come across in a while. Lots of time to daydream and chat while mysterious cyber forces do their slow dance. Aren't electrons supposed to be, like, fast? And the pix aren't loading. Oh, here we go:

Our day here in San Carlos got off to an inauspicious start, as we had little cash, our debit card wouldn't work, and not many places seem to take credit cards. It took us a good deal of the morning to straighten matters out with our bank back in Las Cruces—they had blocked use of the card as a security measure since attempted transactions started happening in Mexico. They told us we should have let them know our travel plans in advance. One fellow RVer told us he advises his bank anytime he's going to travel out of his home state. So Nancy and I stewed a lot, but all was well by noon.

Next door to our RV park, heavy equipment is loudly at work at 8:30 p.m. Apparently a recent hurricane destroyed a bridge so that the road ends suddenly, no doubt harming a lot of businesses. Now there is a giant hole where a steam shovel works on the once and future bridge.

We haven't seen much of San Carlos, but the beach is the big draw anyway. Temps are in the 70s and the water is pleasantly cool to wade in.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Mexico trip, days 1-2

Our first day was okay but not notable. We stopped for the night north of Tubac, Arizona, and will write no epic ballads about it.

Today we drove from Amado, Arizona, roughly 300 miles to San Carlos, Sonora today and arrived tired, cranky, and unfit to be near. It was a long drive down Mexico Route 15, following our friends in their RV--not bad except for the narrow driving lanes. We were on a four-lane divided highway, but the lanes seemed barely wide enough for the trucks and buses that frequently blew by us in the passing lane. Really the driving felt safe except when I'd get tired and bored. We'd bought a walkie-talkie to communicate with our friends, who took the lead because they knew what they were doing. Notable are the topes, or speed bumps, for which signs give ample warning. We went over the first one carefully, but it turned out to be the mujer de todos topes--the mother of all speed bumps, and everything fell out of our cabinets, including a bottle of olive oil. (Tip: Would you like your floors to be shiny and slippery? Coat them with olive oil.)

On a couple of stops we learned that our debit card doesn't work down here--argh--and we have to resolve that pdq. It could be a security measure, as we live near the border and perhaps the assumption is that the card could have been stolen and smuggled across the border. We'll call the bank tomorrow and hope we can straighten things out. Also, we were surprised to find that so few places accepted credit cards.

By the time we arrived in San Carlos, Nancy and I were pretty much at each other's throats--you can get away with that when you've been married as long as we have--but our friends suggested we all hie ourselves over to the next-door restaurant where they offered a free margarita to each RV customer. The first one was good, so I ordered a second, which for some reason filled up a much bigger glass. Well, let me tell you, it figuratively knocked me on my butt. A couple hours and a plancha mexicana (flounder dinner) later, I am still a few degrees off level. But it was just a minute's walk back to the RV, and the restaurant accepted my Visa card, so all's well.

We are yards from the ocean and arrived too late for me to take photos--and I was in no mood anyway--but we'll be staying here at least another night, so I will have pix to post tomorrow. The coast is gorgeous.