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 Travel Review    



Dancing Alone in Mexico
by Ron Butler
University of Arizona Press, 2000
Trade paper, $17.95 (203 pages)
ISBN 0-8165-2022-4
If you travel to Mexico, you will love this new edition of Ron Butler’s Dancing Alone in Mexico. If you want to know where to go and who to see in Mexico, Dancing Alone in Mexico is well worth the price. Ron Butler is a man who loves, enjoys, understands and knows the country better than most norte Americanos who have lived and traveled in the country. I have traveled to many of the places that Ron Butler writes about, and I can tell you he has walked the walk and knows the smells and writes about his experiences with great authority.

When he describes huevos rancheros -- two fried eggs on a tortilla, bathed in hot sauce, with refried beans, a slice of tomato with fiery jalapeno peppers as “a meal calculated for get up and go,” he knows the scene. He’s been there. Butler explains chiles, a great Mexican delight that are filled with vitamin C and many minerals and may be prepared in various ways.

A short but brilliant chapter portrays Cantinflas, Mexico’s famed movie star who had a vacation home in San Miguel (the Hotel Posada Ermita on Salida Queretaro). He was known to American audiences for his portrayal of David Nevin’s funny little companion in “Around the World in 80 Days.” It tells about the author’s short but poignant meeting with the great comedian. Each word vibrates with life, saying far more than the simple scene.

Like a moment of truth, the final chapter of “Dancing Alone in Mexico” tells of “the last American matador,” Diego O’Bolger and his visit to the bullring at Nogales, where John Wayne and Ward Bond, writer Barnaby Conrad and others came to experience the drama of man against animal. Ron Butler is an aficionado who displays perfect sensibilities to the art, the sport, the life.

With deft short thrusts of his verbal sword, Butler proves again and again that he is far more than a travel writer. Like the power and sharp eye of Paul Theroux writing about a train ride through South America, Butler delves into Mexican life, its people and their mores.

In a chapter about Zacatecas, an ancient town with baroque churches and colonial buildings, cobblestone streets and the aroma of baking tortillas in the air, Butler describes not only the unique architecture of the old bullring turned into a classic hotel but moves among the artists who have translated the vibrance and rhythm of the place. Here, where Pancho Villa defeated 12,000 federales during the 20th century Revolution and where the movie “The Old Gringo” was filmed, is also “a royal smorgasbord of treasures.” Butler does not merely describe. A simple experience of sitting in a sidewalk cafe provides a picture of now and yesterday, the whispered remembrance of an old love and a time of romance that is still felt.

Butler begins his story with a personal vision of the place, remembered beautifully and
sadly, when he and his wife enjoyed a simpatico time together in the hills of Acapulco
overlooking the Pacific. It is a time broken in memory, a time and a place that resonates
for him, and the reader is brought into his world and is shown how he becomes a man left
to dance alone in Mexico.

The author sings a song that, like an old-time ballad, leaves the reader to remember bits and pieces, looking back over the words, reading them again and again, feeling the place while seeing it, knowing that after reading Dancing Alone in Mexico, the place is more memorable than it ever was before.


Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

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