Sunday, May 10, 2009
When people ask me what my favorite Mexico guidebook is, I don’t come back with the latest edition of Lonely Planet or Frommer’s (although both have their merits), but rather a book that has been out of print for almost two decades, Mexico Places and Pleasures by Kate Simon.The first edition of Mexico Places and Pleasures was published in 1962, and the last one appeared in 1988, two years before its author died of cancer at the age of 77. Kate Simon, whose real name was Kaila Grobsmith, was a Polish immigrant who grew up in New York City. Cosmopolitan and well traveled, she penned a number of literate and popular guidebooks, including ones on Italy, Paris, London and Rome.
What make Mexico Places and Pleasures so special are its unrepentant subjectivity plus the fact that it is as much a travel memoir as it is a guidebook. Unlike most of today’s travel guides, which tend be long on practicalities and short on fun, Kate Simon’s book is full of vivid descriptions of places that she clearly loves, colorful vignettes of daily life, humorous insights into the Mexican character, and judgments that are usually -- but not always -- kind. Information about hotels, restaurants, transportation and the like is given, but it always takes the back seat (best to consult Lonely Planet for this). Finding a copy of Mexican Places and Pleasures could be difficult these days, and I’m not about to sell mine. However, if you can track down a salsa-stained used copy, scoop it up. It just might prove to be worth its weight in Aztec gold.