By Alice Caldwell
I owned few books as a child, but one I treasured was a battered Atlas of the World, a hand-me-down from my Uncle Harry. When I’d read all the library books I was allowed to take out in a week, when it was too cold to swim or there was no snow for sledding, it was cozy to sit near the floor radiator and pore over the Atlas’s wonderful pages, giving rein to wonder and curiosity. The book had long since lost its cover, but pages and pages of colored maps remained: countries were depicted in bright pink, green or yellow, all of which shaded to tan to indicate mountains. The continents were circled by vast areas of ocean in shades of blue. Boundaries were printed in black.
A word-person even then, the names of what surely were exotic places furnished my impressionable mind: Samarkand, London, Tierra del Fuego, (I was given to reading sea stories), Egypt, Tangier, Khartoum, the Sahara Desert and its surprising oases. Some favorite words seemed to embody the epitome of foreignness -to my mind, glamour the Mountains of the Moon, the South China Sea, and, imagination fortified by three-dimensional photos on the classroom stereopticon, the French Riviera, with its towering palms, tall pointed cypresses, and cascades of flowers beside the glittering sea.
Since those childhood days, I have traveled over many of those pink, green and yellow countries, and even lived up in the tan mountains. Most places are vastly different from my early imaginings.
But one day as I drove toward Chapala on the highway, I raised my eyes to really see. Here were the cascades of flowers, the silvery sheen of water backed by morning-blue mountains, houses mysteriously hidden behind sheltering walls, the brilliant sun.
Just as in that other remote and glamorous Riviera, pointed cypresses and tall, frond-crowned royal palms punctuate the landscape. The palms pronounce this place as beyond the frost. Alas, some of the tallest ones, I noted, are looking a little frazzled, and too alone.
You hoped there was a point to this, didn’t you. Here it is: I suggest we preserve the glamour, accentuate the exotic: plant a palm, raise a palm, here, on our own Mexican Ribera.