The People's Guide To Mexico

Oaxaca Crafts and Sightseeing

Review by Carl Franz

 Oaxaca Crafts and Sightseeing by Barbara Hopkins, drawings by Alberto Beltrán, 1992, Editorial Minutiae Mexicana, México, D.F. Distributed in the U.S. by Jean Stenzel, MEX/ICS, 124 Av. Cota, San Clemente, CA 92672.

Guidebooks that attempt to describe entire countries are often superficial and all-too predictable. Worse yet, publishers who can't raise their sights above the infamous "bottom line" tend to produce mass market, team-written books with no particular appeal or personality. The resulting publications aren't really "guides" at all but bland, recycled versions of the local Yellow Pages. In many guidebooks to Mexico, for example, the bulk of the information is nothing more than thumbnail descriptions of hotels, restaurants and 'must see' sights. Rather than educating travellers or challenging them to broaden their knowledge and experience, these books channel us along the safest and most obvious itineraries -- the well-worn ruts of the 'tourist circuit' and the 'gringo trail.'

Fortunately, alternatives to generic guidebooks can be found in the lists of small publishers and university presses. Although relatively few and far between, these sources offer some of the best writing and most rewarding information on Mexico and Latin America.

Among the most consistent of these publishers is Editorial Minutiae Mexicana, a Mexican press known for its small, attractive specialty books and regional guides. Minutiae Mexicana's books are sold in almost every large Mexican bookstore, airport gift shop and museum. Some of their titles are minor classics -- A Guide To Mexican Witchcraft and several others have been sold in Mexico for decades.

Recently I was very pleased to receive a copy of Oaxaca Crafts and Sightseeing , a compact yet thorough guide to an exceptionally interesting region. Unlike writers-for-hire who crank out serial guidebooks like loaves of whitebread, author Barbara Hopkins shares an intimate, expert knowledge of Oaxaca City and its environs. Treating the reader like an intelligent and favored out-of-town guest rather than just another tourist, the author offers us everything from detailed shopping suggestions for crafts and folk art to fascinating historical tidbits, fiesta dates (and background), local foods and delicacies, costumes, and nearby side trips.

Oaxaqueños know that their city was designed for horse-drawn coaches and pedestrians, not automobile traffic. In a walking tour that takes in the city's most interesting streets and byways, Barbara sets a steady pace among markets, museums and colonial monuments.

In combining exacting research with considerable personal experience, Oaxaca Crafts and Sightseeing sets an excellent example for other regional guidebooks on Mexico. Who knows?, this book might also remind a few publish-and-run travel writers of our craft's Golden Rule: when an author addresses a subject she obviously loves, even a relatively limited one, audiences will perk up and listen. Let's hope that Oaxaca Crafts and Sightseeing is followed by similar regional guidebooks from this publisher.

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