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A Mexico many of us have never seen

One writer's trek beyond the quaint villages and glitzy beaches of tourism.

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It was during my first stint reporting on the US-Mexico border that another proposed immigration reform - President Reagan's 1986 Immigration Reform & Control Act - took me to Zacatecas, the capital of a Mexico state by the same name that was sending many of its sons to El Norte.

I had never been deeper into Mexico than some grinding border towns and a couple of gringo-favored beaches. What I encountered in Zacatecas stunned me - a colonial city whose cobblestoned streets, gold-leaf churches, and cool, flowering courtyards inspired by distant conquistadors hinted at something much more complex and mystifying than the gritty streets and palapa-studded beaches I had known.

It is this ability of Mexico to surprise, to intrigue, and to enchant that Tony Cohan captures so well in his new book, Mexican Days: Journeys into the Heart of Mexico.

Mr. Cohan is known to enthusiasts of travel writing for "On Mexican Time," his earlier book that chronicles his move from California to San Miguel de Allende, a jewel of a Mexican colonial town favored by foreign artists. In fact, the combination of Cohan's Pagnolesque style in describing his adopted home, and similar affinities that colonies of Americans have with San Miguel and Provence, France, have earned him a reputation as something of the Peter Mayles of Mexico.

But Mayles enthusiasts beware: "Mexican Days" is nothing of a sequel to Cohan's introduction to San Miguel, no light-hearted romp through Mexican villages and valleys.

Cohan's new book is written in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and with America's march to a new war as a backdrop.

Unable to forget that, Cohan suffuses his visits to remote towns and encounters with Mexican (and expatriate) eccentrics with broodings over everything from American bellicosity and globalization to fading love and the conflict between travel and a sense of place.


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