Dennis Moore is the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago.” He has been a freelance contributor to the San Diego Union-Tribune Newspaper, EURweb, the Baja Times and the Baja News. Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.
Book Review by Dennis Moore
May 12, 2012 (Baja)--Greg Niemann, author of Baja Fever, and life-long Baja Buff who has traveled all over the peninsula known as Baja California in Mexico, has written a well-researched and easy-to-read history of the people and resorts that make Baja what it is today.
What is Baja anyway? “Baja,” which means “Lower” in Spanish, refers to an 800-mile long peninsula separated from Mexico’s mainland by the Gulf of California – or the Sea of Cortez, if you prefer. The peninsula is comprised of two Mexican states, Baja California (Norte), with Mexicali as capital, and Baja California Sur, whose capital city is La Paz. To make it easy Norte means “North” and Sur means “South.”
The author points out in Baja Legends that one of the oldest and longest-enduring legends about the land called California is that (Baja) California was an island. Niemann states in his well documented and researched book that mostly it was a case of wishful thinking and people ignoring facts that ran counter to accepted beliefs. When you consider that the entire American continent was but a “speed bump” to those Europeans who wanted to sail to the Orient and back with ships laden with riches, you understand. For years mariners and explorers searched in vain for a “Northwest Passage” or the fabled “Strait of Anian” to bypass North America. California was actually believed to have been an island for over 200 years, according to the author.
Baja Legends is chockfull of anecdotes, historical facts and tales of Hollywood actors and actresses vacationing in this legendary paradise – Clark Gable, Eva Gabor, Kirk Douglas and Marilyn Monroe come to mind. The fact that the Caesar Salad actually originated in Tijuana, adds a bit of mystique to Niemann’s book. It also helps that the movie Titanic, directed by James Cameron, was actually made at the Fox Studios Baja just south of Rosarito Beach. When Titanic Director Cameron accepted the Motion Picture Academy’s Oscar for best picture of the year he threw out his arms and proudly said, “I’m King of the World.” A lot of people in Baja shared his excitement.
The legendary Rosarito Beach Hotel, owned by former Rosarito Beach mayor Hugo ores, is a centerpiece of Niemann’s book. The author refers to this hotel as “The Legendary Queen of the Coast, “ having welcomed more than 4,000,000 guests over the years – which includes the singing group “The Temptations,” movie stars Joan Bennett, Rita Hayworth, Vincent Price, Gregory Peck, Orson Welles and Lana Turner. The four million guests since 1926 have entered the curved portal above which is inscribed in Spanish, “Through These Doors Pass the Most Beautiful Women in the World,” alluding to the in-crowd that’s romped through the place for years. I can actually attest to that, for in a recent visit to the hotel and passing under this same curved portal, I too saw some of the most beautiful women in the world!
In Baja Legends we’ve been introduced to many of the characters of Baja. There was naturalist Janos Xantus, who discovered 100 new species, but claimed thousands. There was William Walker, who with his band of outlaws tried to “take over” Baja California. There was Doc McKinnon, who traveled the countryside performing rudimentary dentistry. We’ve met the “Clam Man of San Felipe” and Francisco Munoz, the best bush pilot the peninsula has ever known, and we’ve been introduced to some of the writers like John Steinbeck and Erle Stanley Gardner, who have told about this wondrous land called Baja. This book is rich in legend and lore!
The author sums up this fascinating book, by stating: “I’ve been fortunate to have traveled the world, yet I’ve found the friendliest, most gentle, most giving people right in my own backyard, right in the remote areas of Baja California. The people of Baja California are themselves the greatest legends of all.” I echo those sentiments, and highly recommend this book.