Martín Solares – No Manden Flores (Don’t Send Flowers)

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What do you do when you’re rich, your daughter has been kidnapped, and you live in a city on the gulf coast of Mexico? You can’t go to the police or the army, because they may actually be the kidnappers. Anyway, they’ll milk you for cash, regardless of whether they lift a finger to help. You can’t ask any of the 3 gangs that control the region, because if you ask the wrong one, you’ve just made yourself a target to them. And you can’t trust your personal security staff, because they may have facilitated the kidnapping by selling their inside knowledge of your activities.

Martín Solares’ excellent novel, No Manden Flores, takes place in an unnamed city in Southern Tamaulipas that has been devastated by gang wars and corruption. It’s a place where you can’t go out for dinner, because the restaurants close in the evenings due to the gang violence. It’s a place where you can’t get medical assistance after a beating because the medical staff deserts the clinic in fear that the gangsters will come to finish the job. And if you take the wrong bus, you might find yourself hijacked and pressed into slave labor in a criminal compound guarded by a virtual army of thugs.

The answer to the kidnapping question is that you hire a smart, street-wise detective, a former cop who solved a high-profile murder case a few years ago. And you hope to heck he doesn’t cross paths with the city’s police chief who framed a suspect to collect the reward for that murder case – and has been trying to kill your detective ever since.

The focus of the book is divided equally between the detective and the chief of police, and the irrational, apocalyptic challenges they both face in accomplishing their radically opposite goals and intentions. The author treats us to an abrupt surprise with the structure of the book, which led one reviewer to describe it as 2 books. I’m not convinced. Despite the richly drawn characters and tight plotting, it seems to me that the book is not about the detective and the police chief, or about the kidnapping, as much as it is about the time and place in which the story is set.

The book’s title happens to be the same title as a famous article by author Jorge Ibargüengoitia, written as a bittersweet remembrance of his mother at the time of her passing. I read the book as a commentary on the direction of the gulf Coast, and Mexico itself. Don’t Send Flowers is a stern warning… and a great book.

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Desde Amazon:

No manden flores cuenta la historia de Carlos Treviño, un ex policía que se ve obligado a volver al Golfo de México a fin de investigar la desaparición de una rica heredera.

Partiendo del sur de Tamaulipas, cerca de Paracuán, y viajando hasta el centro de la violencia en la frontera norte, Treviño deberá seguir el rastro de la mujer, e indagar entre los grupos criminales que se disputan el control de ciudades y carreteras. En la misma medida, evade la persecución del tenebroso Comandante Margarito, jefe de policía de La Eternidad, que lo busca para matarlo. La rivalidad entre estos dos personajes con perfil de tiburones elevará la tensión durante siete días a niveles nada recomendables.

La crítica ha opinado:

“Una radiografía seca, aguda, del horror en el que vive el Golfo, la red de complicidades, los alcances de la tragedia. Una novela ruda, directa, emocionante, que será de lectura obligada para quien quiera asomarse al infierno en que se ha convertido el Golfo (y México a la vez)” -Antonio Ortuño-

Los Portales – Culiacán – Tampiqueña

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It was a hot afternoon, and Los Portales felt like an oasis. Not a cool oasis, as the air conditioning consisted of gently blowing fans in an open courtyard, but rather a welcoming, relaxing place to recover from a hard morning of tourism, and to have a lovely meal. Located in an old building in the Centro Histórico, across from the cathedral, the location was perfect.

I was in the mood for meat, so I ordered the Tampiqueña, a common dish in upscale Mexican restaurants that can take many forms, in my experience. Here, it was a lovely piece of thin-cut marinated steak, cooked medium, with all the expected accompaniments… a grilled green onion, guacamole, refried beans with crumbled cheese, and a baked potato. I couldn’t have been happier.

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Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars – Mezcal Ice Cream

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Whenever I’m in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles, I try to make a stop at Mateo’s. It’s a colorful, friendly place that makes me feel happy the moment I walk in, and they have the most interesting assortment of ice cream flavors I’ve ever seen.

There are all sorts of exotic flavors I’ve only encountered in Mexico, including Mamey, Passion Fruit (called Granadilla here), Guayaba, Guanabana, etc. I recently tried the Mezcal flavor, something I expected to be a weird novelty, but was delighted with the flavor. I was feeling adventurous, so I tried it with a scoop of Rompope flavor, the Mexican version of eggnog. Again, I thought it was going to be a bizarre combination, but the flavors blended perfectly.

I’m reluctant to admit that I’ve been so involved with trying all the ice cream flavors that I have never tasted the beautiful selection of paletas, or popsicles. The good news is that I find myself in the area regularly, and will certainly get around to them.

They have various locations, but this one is at 1250 South Vermont, in a shopping center at the corner of Pico.

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Mamey

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I’ve been fascinated with the Mamey since I first had a mamey milkshake at a Cuban restaurant some years ago. Creamy and sweet, I always look for mamey ice cream when I’m in Mexicao, and have a favorite place in Los Angeles.

It was a long time before I saw the actual fruit in a store, but I finally found it in the fruit section of a Wal-Mart in Campeche, Mexico. About half of the brown torpedo-shaped fruits were soft, like a deflated football, while the rest were as hard as rocks. Being unfamiliar with the fruit, I asked a woman customer, and she said I should get a hard one. I was disappointed to learn that my trusty travel knife couldn’t make a dent in it, so my first mamey experience was delayed.

I was recently at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles, and grabbed a soft mamey that the store owner told me was perfectly ripe. Not surprisingly, it was kind of mushy inside, but what did surprise me was the not-too-sweet carroty taste. I’m going to be tasting my ice cream more critically in the future.

Here’s a nice article in which the writer suggests that a mamey should be somewhere between firm and soft… or juuuuuust riiiiight, I suppose.

http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/3596-mamey-fruit-mexico-s-sweet-winter-treat

Juan Villoro – Arrecife

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My rating: 4 1/2 stars

La Pirámide is the only successful hotel in a resort area that failed disastrously when all the others gave up fighting the engineering catastrophe that required constant import of sand from Cuba to replace the entire beach that washed away on a weekly basis.

The key to the resort’s unique success is “extreme tourism” in which visitors can engage in daredevil sports activities, but can also find themselves kidnapped and beaten by guerillas, or risk encounters with deadly snakes. The genius behind the concept is Mario Muller, but he has to be careful, because the hotel could easily be worth more to the owners as a money-laundering vehicle.

When Mario reaches out to his lifelong friend, ex-rocker Tony Góngora, and brings him to this fantasy land, Tony thinks he has found a safe refuge from reality, much safer than the drugged half-life he had been living for many years. Tony is holding on in the midst of the ruins of his life, much as the hotel is holding on in the midst of the ruined resort area. Even in this unreal environment, he still remains isolated, refusing to become involved, until an act of violence strikes rather close to home. And it turns out Mario has a much grander plan to up the ante, and force Tony into the bright glare of reality and personal engagement.

This is literary writing at its finest, as we have come to expect from Juan Villoro. It is a difficult task to make a story of a failed life in a failing environment interesting, even if the possibility of redemption lies at the end, but Villoro is more than capable of pulling it off. I first discovered him when a reviewer called his novel El Testigo “the great Mexican novel.” I’ve read many Mexican novels since then, and I know I’m not alone in placing Villoro at the very top of his profession.

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Hubo un tiempo en que las playas eran un sitio de descanso. En la época del turismo extremo los viajeros necesitan otras emociones. El ex rockero Mario Müller descubre una visionaria posibilidad en el Caribe: los placeres del miedo. Y a orillas de un inmenso arrecife de coral edifica La Pirámide, resort que ofrece peligros controlados hasta que un buzo muere fuera del agua. Reflexión sobre los daños que elegimos para intensificar la vida, esta apasionante novela describe una nueva ecología: el cambio climático vacía los hoteles y el lavado de dinero los regenera como emporios fantasma. Pero Arrecife también es una historia de amistad, amor y redención. Villoro, uno de los mejores escritores latinoamericanos, otorga realidad a una utopía: los problemas de ese paraíso son las virtudes de una novela excepcional.

«Esas atmósferas ominosas que tanto nos recuerdan por momentos a las ficciones apocalípticas o fantasmagóricas de Ballard. Los diálogos tienen esa sequedad irónica de las mejores respuestas y observaciones psicológicas de un Chandler. Arrecife es una novela perfecta a la hora de sincronizar el desdén por la vida que se inflige el narrador y el esfuerzo casi titánico, agónico, de un moribundo Mario, el amigo capital, por indicarle la ruta de su salvación definitiva. En esta magnífica novela de Juan Villoro no hay tiempos muertos» (J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip, El País).

«Lúcida y poderosa lectura del pasado y presente, donde el terror, el sacrificio de los dioses y el mito se confunden» (J.A. Masoliver Ródenas, La Vanguardia).

«La prueba irrefutable de que uno está ante un escritor de fuste reside en esa envidiable capacidad para cambiar de temas y registros cuando todo parecía dirigido a volver sobre lo mismo» (Ricardo Baixeras, El Periódico).

«Villoro se ha basado, para su libro, en ese fenómeno sadomasoquista de nuestra civilización que lleva a ciertos turistas del mundo desarrollado a disfrutar de un fin de semana en un campo de concentración o en una mazmorra de la Inquisición. Lo que él ha hecho es darle a su ficción unos tintes étnico-mítico-telúricos que la hacen totalmente verosímil… Una magnífica novela» (Iñaki Ezquerra, El Correo Español).