Sunday, October 6, 2013
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The idea for the book came when the bakery down the street exploded. I wondered what if someone had deliberately done it. Then I filled in all the imagined details, nothing to do with the real bakery but it felt real to me. It will be real for you too, when you read Oaxaca Chocolate.
From Oaxaca Chocolate:
Flames spiraled out widows and cracks in the bakery. It was my pastelería, my bakery, the big pink building, where I had bought my donuts a few minutes before. I could have been as deep fried as my chocolate-covered babies, but something must have been watching out for me that morning.
The bakery was a mess. Stonework had fallen. Concrete beams cracked all the way from the roof two stories up, down to the street. Flames were on the roof too. The building was standing, but leaning a little. The explosion was not big enough to knock it down, but it was close and glass was everywhere.
In the middle of the street, in front of the broken building, the propane gas truck looked normal, except its right front tire was burning away. Flames and smoke twisted out the wheel well, like during one of the really bad protests when trucks and buses were torched and the crowd threw rocks, and the police used sticks to hit everyone and chase the street clear. Luckily, Oaxaca had been at peace for a while, ever since the old governor left, so we tried to forget this sort of thing.
The driver had been pumping propane out of one of those big tank trucks. A hose wound from the back of the truck towards the bakery but ended abruptly in the street, chopped off, twisting and jumping like some crazed fire-snake. Flames shot out its frayed end. Cell phones were already pulled out to take pictures. “What a video,” shouted a student from the local university standing with his friends in the street. “What a great hellish video.”
It was hell. It looked like the devil spraying fire, like in the paintings that Catholics conjured up when they were really bad and had nightmares. I figured I would see this all again when my Mexican retirement ended and I could not make the grade for Saint Peter.
I was thinking, maybe I should move back a little, too. God and his Virgin can only protect the crowd and me so much. I knew that from my Protestant physics.
The man who drove the gas tank truck normally did nothing more dangerous than smoke a couple of cigarettes when he was pumping propane. But this time, he was holding on to the valve in back of the tank, shielded partly from the flames by a thousand kilos of pressurized gas ready to blow. He had wrapped his hands in rags to keep from burning them too much as he held the valve, heated by the flames ten feet away. He turned it as quickly as he could. The loose hose slowed its wild jumping. The fire shooting out its end stopped. The valve was closed. The hose looked dead lying there after all that work dancing in the street.
It was different in the bakery. Flames had gotten bigger and heat was hitting my face even here half a block away.
People in the street talked as they watched. Everyone had something to say, but they all understood that the gas truck was filling the propane tanks in the bakery when something went wrong. Maybe the hose was old. Maybe a connection failed. No one knew. Most would say God willed it. No one knew it was deliberate, a crime. They never would, but I would find out soon.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Before the story ends Santo Gordo investigates a California startup, tries a new breakfast cafe, samples a lot of chocolate and explores the wrong side of the tracks in Oaxaca.
Oaxaca Chocolate, looks into the lives, foods and architecture of this colonial Mexican city with a little crime on the side.
The book will be available in late September. Watch here for discount codes
Monday, June 3, 2013
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Sunday, September 23, 2012
From Chapter 2 of Santo Gordo, after the murder:
"Arturo had ordered mole for us both. The smell helped me not think of the body and the boy. I thought of mole. It was a reason to live.
Tourist foodies had found it too, and felt the same way. They put their slogan, “Mole, say it like olé!–a sauce to die for!” in the tourist brochures. I was a little jealous, like a lover who found his food had been unfaithful.
I did not care so much about the chicken that was with it but, oh, I fell in love again when I saw that thick brown mole sauce that started with chilies and chocolate ground together sometime yesterday and cooked and cooked until they poured it over my rice and brought it to the table. Yes, it was comida time and I saw Arturo’s point. Be happy you are alive."
Friday, September 21, 2012
"...Charles's novel is, on its face, a sort of political thriller and murder mystery--but not only! It's also an appreciative (and deliciously foodie) travelogue through the streets of Oaxaca, and a savvy portrait of ex-pat life there. Even more remarkably, Charles's sensitive portrayal of Oaxacans from an array of political and social classes reveals some of the intense beauty and searing tragedy of contemporary Mexico, and of its deeply interconnected neighbor to the north (that would, of course, be us)..." by Glen Worthey in Stanford Library News
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Santo Gordo: a Killing in Oaxaca
Order at the publisher Create Space
use the code UDJAJV69 for $2 off
(or go to Amazon and pay full price
they make the list price high and take most of it )
A quick overview:
Santo Gordo is a mystery novel about Oaxaca, Mexico: its food, streets, families, expats and a political murder.
Robert Evans, a retired American, walks out of his neighborhood marketplace finishing his morning churro. Then in the street, he witnesses an assassination. He tries to continue his leisurely expat life, but finds he must deal with the aftermath of the murder.
He gets help from his friends. Arturo, the city engineer who has learned to watch out for himself and his family, gives Robert information from the inside. Efraím, the worldly taxi driver who has returned with his wife after many years in el Norte, explains real life on the street and in the villages.
Señora Concepción, Robert's older landlady, gives him shelter with her family but asks him to find a missing young woman. Randy, his activist daughter, acts as a no-nonsense problem solver and sometimes conscience. The expat community gives him advice, hugs and an evening mescal or two.
Robert works his way through the foods of Oaxaca as he discovers another body, a river of dead fish and a gold mine.
Read Chapter 1. Just scroll down a little and look for Churro.