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A pinch of this, a pinch of that: witchcraft in Mexico, magic in the kitchen

By Carole Schor

Margaret Tallis

Do you believe in magic? What if everything you know to be true and right is really wrong? White becomes black and good becomes evil? When the person you love turns into someone else–do you dare believe it? Do you think you are going crazy? Or maybe, just maybe, the other person is really going crazy – but why?

The San Miguel Literary Sala presents
Arlene Krasner’s Kosher Sutra and Margaret Tallis’ The Known
Thu, Jun 13, 5pm
Hotel Posada del Aldea
Ancha de San Antonio 15
70 pesos (50 pesos for Literary Sala members)
Complimentary wine reception

Margaret Tallis, author of The Known, came to Mexico in the early 1980s and began a wonderful life filled with the horses she trained and loved, and a man she met, loved and eventually married. It all seemed so perfect – the handsome Mexican architect and his family, the insider’s Mexico most foreigners don’t get to enjoy. Her husband was filled with joy to have this accomplished American woman as his lover and companion by his side. He introduced her to his friends, to the boys in the choir he helped to coach, and to the mother of one of the boys who graciously sent over plates of delicious Mexican food. As this magical life progressed, Margaret’s husband started acting strangely. He’d spend more time away from home, coming home to sleep and to bring more plates of the delicious food from this other woman. Margaret and “Javier” ate–and suddenly, things began to change. Strange noises on the roof, the dogs barking at something (or nothing), Javier stopped coming home, the plates of food kept coming, life became weirder and weirder until Margaret had become so ill and Javier had become so crazy that she had to find out what was going on.

Witchcraft and poisoning are very common here in Mexico, as she learned; and the use of plants for good and bad magic is a widespread practice. Margaret finally went to a shaman in San Luis Potosi who told her to find a priest–and find a policeman–her life was in serious danger. Margaret did this, but she also found help at La Victoriana where the owner immediately knew she had been poisoned with Datura, a white trumpet flower that grows all over Mexico and is extremely poisonous. After a long and difficult detoxification process, Margaret got well. But “Javier” didn’t. The other woman who had so generously provided food to him had also provided poison, enough to make Margaret ill, and more than enough to affect Javier’s brain, liver and life. To this day, he has never recovered. When Margaret chances upon him on the streets of San Miguel, he cannot recognize her any more and runs away in crazy fright.

Arlene Krasner

While Margaret Tallis was eating food and going crazy dealing with datura poisoning, our other reader, Arlene Krasner, was in the kitchen making her own kind of magic. Arlene’s magic was the good kind, the delicious kind, the kind of food she had learned from her mother which had been nourishing people for generations and bringing happiness to all who eat it, especially her husband Mark.

In Kosher Sutra, Arlene recounts a life of odd and humorous twists and turns laced with knishes and paella, frat boys and chimpanzees. Arlene has cooked her way through life, no matter what it brought or where she went, from Long Beach to Reno to Portland and Mexico, back to Portland and back to Mexico. Everywhere she went, she cooked. And now she writes. And like Arlene herself, her writing is funny, cute and spicy!

Arlene and Margaret have both learned that telling the stories of their lives is what gives them pleasure and gives their lives meaning. Margaret never wanted to write a book, but how could she not tell the story of Mexican witchcraft? Her writing coach, Eva Hunter, encouraged her to write the story of her life, to put the pieces of this bizarre tale together so she could see it as a whole. She learned how to write a scene and a description, how to incorporate dialogue and beats, how to put emotions into words, and make characters interesting and readers interested.

Arlene, on the other hand, always wanted to write a book, always knew she would, and that it would be about food and it would be funny. Although she claims to have no writing discipline, she believes that writing is just “putting your butt in the chair,” setting a goal, and writing until it’s done. Her biggest surprise was not that she wrote a book, but that people actually like it! Her next book, Entertaining Food, will be about the trials and successes she’s had over the years of making party food for people who not only like her writing, but also like her food (she swears she’s never used datura as an ingredient). Arlene will also be presenting a food writing workshop at the 2014 San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference entitled “Write What You Eat: A Workshop for Food Lovers.”

Join us for an evening of magic – the delicious kind and the devilish kind, as these two readers share their very different stories. The event will take place on Thursday, June 13 at 5pm at the Aldea Hotel, Ancha de San Antonio 15. The 70 pesos admission includes a wine reception.


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