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BOOK REVIEW - Dancing Alone in Mexico--From the Border to Baja and Beyond

Taking yet another unique trip in early January of this year, up and down the Copper Canyon (Barranca de Cobre) on a fancy train called the Sierra Madre Express proved no exception. One goes to Tucson, boards a bus for Nogales, crosses the Border into Mexico and takes this spectacular train trip up into a canyon deeper than our Grand Canyon on a train with liveried men ready to meet your every need for food and drink. The best part is that you only sleep on the train one night going and one night returning. The other nights are spent in quaint posadas, enjoying excellent food and real Mexican countryside ambiance, not the noxious fumes of Mexico City. But I digress.

We joined some 30 well traveled, mostly older folks, all calm and congenial, each with his or her own fascinating life experiences, . One fellow traveler proved particularly interesting. Ron Butler, a Tucson based veteran travel writer, has successfully sold stuff over a long career to Fodor, Ladies Home Journal, Travel and Leisure, etc. This avuncular, white haired sometime raconteur brought along his attractive thirtyish daughter, Alexandra, and a copy of his recent book, his life story, which those suffering from marital malaise will especially relish. With over half of American marriages ending in divorce, he has a large de facto audience! While this book was just recently written, it comes out of a long incubation: Divorce many years before, then potential loss of children, job and self worth, recovered by only by his inner strength.

Years ago now, his beautiful but footloose (spoiled with her public success as a model) wife left him and abruptly drove from New York City with their 2 children, a son and a daughter, then 6 and 12 respectively, to Guadalajara, Mexico to live. To keep in touch with his children, Butler is initially forced to commute from Manhattan, where he had just quit his job at Esquire Magazine. As time passes however, he moves to Tucson.

He starts to come to Mexico frequently, but not wanting to stay in or near the ex wife's home in Guadalajara, the way he "wins" quality time with his children is to take them traveling around Mexico. The process is nurturing and ultimately bonding with them. Travel in those years in Mexico was cheap, even for first class accommodations, and the 3 travelers soon found the ambience of Mexican travel enchanting.

Unlike your typical travel article, this book is about a real life saga, an author in pain, letting his hair down, but professionally most capable of giving you a sweeping, opinionated account of
atmosphere, the details of a place which exude authenticity. "The world's best cup of coffee ....can be found in right here in Veracruz....Vienna coffeehouses, so pretentious and dainty, are for sissies." Butler treats each Mexican city are if it were a separate country, which is fair, as Mexico is indeed a land of contrasts, each place with its own personality. Examples of his deft summaries: Mexico City: fine art, elegance; Morella: approachable, the "candy capital of Mexico", or Veracruz: la musica.

In light of the current hit movie, "Frida", about the stormy Khalo's life and relationship with Diego Rivera, his in-depth exploration of that tangled relationship of these two world famous artists should intrigue all readers.

His Mexican travel log gives delightful cultural insights for would be visitors. At one point he finds Christmas decorations still up in March. How long do they stay? His daughter says, "As long as they enjoy them."

The title is after all only partially accurate. He is of course "dancing alone in Mexico" without a wife, but certainly at times his children keep him far from being alone. His recent trip on the Sierra Madre Express up and down the Barranca de Cobre with his daughter, now over 25 years later, proves his earlier fatherly fealty was the real thing. Also real is his pain, even perhaps now. You people who have experienced divorce will find his account helpful. As one reviewer notes, "Butler gives of himself in these pages. His sentiments are fiercely expressed--often as veracious loneliness or estrangement." Butler writes, "The trip seemed incomplete somehow; I was sorry it was over. I imagined that, meanwhile out at sea, deep below the water's surface, a bearded figure with ghostly flowing hair paused briefly and then continued on, content in the knowledge, for the moment at least, that someone, somehow, shared his ceaseless wandering." Dancing Alone in Mexico is as alluring and sweet as cajeta, the caramelized Mexican candy, and will draw any reader into reveries of this magical land."

To write fiction and bare the soul of fictional characters is one thing, but to actually expose your inner self to such scrutiny as Butler has done so fully takes bravery beyond most of us. Try this man's personal path of travel writing, a path not often taken, and you will be pleased you did.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Collins, who often travels to less developed countries to observe family planning programs, was especially pleased on this non business lark to find such a delightful, interesting author with whom to share this awesome Mexican railroad tri