Adios, San Miguel de Allende

Tomorrow we have to leave our August home. We knew before we got here we would love it. Friends who have been before us told us so. One of our East Tennessee friends calls San Miguel the Asheville (NC) of Mexico. If you are from them thar hills, you recognize that’s very high praise indeed.

We weren’t disappointed. The city exceeded the hype. Joy and I voted the people’s friendliness as San Miguel’s top virtue. In spite of the spoken language barrier, which is actually not a barrier if you don’t mind making a fool of yourself with creative hand gestures and body language, these kind Mexicans have treated us with patience, tolerance, and genuine good will. That’s true of the gringos in the place, also.

We didn’t know about the rainy season (a little more research would have been in order), but we soon found ourselves looking forward as the world got scrubbed late in the afternoon. Sometimes the scrubbing lasted most of the night, but mornings were clear and clean. Days were moderately warm (high in the upper 70s to low 80s); nights cooled to the comfortable 50s. At 7,000 feet, San Miguel offers all the meteorological variety you could hope for: sunshine, breezes (OK, sometimes wind), hot, cool, rain, more rain, a generous modicum of lightening and thunder.

Sunset clouds!
Sunset clouds of indescribable beauty.

We didn’t get to do everything we wanted. We passed on using the city buses, for example, thanks again to our uncertain mastery (make that our certain unmastery) of Spanish, but we compensated by tramping over the uneven roads and walkways,hailing the inexpensive taxis and Ubers (the Uber option was introduced to the town at about the same time we arrived), and, as noted in an earlier post, getting acquainted with the helpful residents who gladly “rescued the perishing.”

Hailing a cab!
Hailing a cab!

 

What else did we like? The food. In America Mexican cuisine has long been among our favorites. Here we couldn’t get enough of it. We’re grateful not to have any scales with us to prove how much we have enjoyed it. I suppose you would expect me to say this: we like the churches, from

Parroquia de San Miguel_edited-1

 

 

the famous Parroquia De San Miguel Arcángel in the center of town

 

 

 

 

View from our Casa window!
View from our Casa window!

 

 

to the many neighborhood churches like                             our Parroquia de San Antonio de Padua

 

 

and not far from us the Anglican Church of St. Paul (Iglesia Anglicana de San Pablo)—and there are many more.              .

Church on the Hill

Their presence is not only visual. It’s audible.

Throughout the day and too early in the morning their bells are pealing, and they are close enough to each other that they raise a great cacophony of praise. Religion is not an afterthought in this town.

 

 

And you may be surprised when I add, especially if you’ve read some of my previous posts,

Stairways take priority!
Stairways take priority!

 

the sidewalks–the uneven, unpredictable, unsafe, uninviting constructions you get when you let each resident be lord over the walkway in front of his domicile without regard to harmonious joinings or matched abutments.

 

I have never paid such particular attention to what my feet were doing when I’ve been out for a walk. You look at the sites only at your peril. You ignore these sidewalks and you pay the price; they demand your undivided attention. And they get it. They make the smooth concrete paths back in the States seem rather incidental things, a mere means of getting from here to there. In San Miguel, you pay the homage due to something that can do you damage if you are disrespectful.

As an artist Joy found a second home in San Miguel. She has had to put aside her favorite medium, encaustics (painting with hot wax), for a more portable one, painting with cold wax. She hasn’t been any less disciplined with this one, though and has turned out some quality work.

Joy’s at play in her outdoor studio!
Joy’s at play in her outdoor studio!

I suspect (“Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise,” as they say where we come from) another visit to this extraordinary place is in the offing. We came because it was on our bucket list. We checked it off. I notice it’s right back on the list, awaiting our return.

What I Think about Dogs–Now

What I Think about Dogs–Now.

Only once has our family had a dog. For years I had to stay away from them because of allergies. Not that dogs were special: I was also allergic to cats, grass, dust, nuts, horses, buckwheat, work. Most of these I could do without, if necessary, but dogs?

One time when the children were young, their parents decided that it was unfair to let my allergic reactions deprive them of a pet. So we brought a little puppy home (Friday, by name), to the delight of us all. That jubilation was followed within days by a deep sadness. The dog had to go. Two of us (one father, one daughter) were reacting. Negatively and vociferously.

Since then ours has been a dogfree household, even after it became childfree.

But time changes things. It even changes allergies. At least, in my case, to dogs (but not to cats, let the record show!). And not all dogs, mind you,

but I seem to have developed a tolerance for some very special ones, like Ellie and Timber and Dexter and Agape and a growing list of others.

Ellie in repose Don’t let her fool you!
Ellie in repose:  Don’t let her fool you!

 

I talk a lot about Ellie,

 

 

 

 

an exceptionally bright, vivacious Schnoodle (half Schnauzer, half Poodle).

She’s my favorite example of my late-developing fondness for these creatures. Ellie lives with Jeff and Joan Terrill, Velcro family for years now. Like them, she’s no longer young, although she’s retained some of the coquettishness of her youth, flirting shamelessly with the men of the household (Jeff, the Lord and Master, and Roy, the elderly occasional visitor). Ellie’s a house dog, with curly white non-allergenic hair, small enough to curl up on your lap (facing away, rear end in the near position, not the best view of her) or snuggled beside you on the couch, cocking her head to be certain you’re still paying attention. She has a way of making an old man feel very special.

Ellie asking for attention_edited-1

 

Not that she’s perfect. Perfection would be dull, anyway. We all need some idiosyncrasy to make us interesting.  Hers, and it can be a scary one, is her nosiness. This intelligent, curious near-person is downright snoopy. That’s what has precipitated this tale. Joy and I were staying a couple of days with Jeff and Joan in the early days of our Next Phase. We do this so often when we’re in Oregon that we have squatter’s rights to the upstairs bedroom.  The Terrills thoughtfully put up a little gate at the foot of the staircase to encourage Ellie to stay downstairs. They’ve had experience. In addition to that precaution, they always ask us keep our door closed, just in case.

Well—you know where this story is going—we were all out one afternoon. We had left Ellie to guard the place in our absence. She’s nothing if not thorough. While we were away she cased the joint, including in her rounds our bedroom, where she found the door ajar and our suitcases on the floor. Open. These careless people could use a good lesson, she must have thought.

Imagine our surprise when we returned. Among other discoveries Ellie had found Joy’s pills (she had them in little plastic sacks, a good way for medications to travel, but not, unfortunately, dog-proof). So there they were, brightly colored capsules scattered all over the floor. We could tell she had bit into at least one of them; we didn’t know how many more. We immediately called downstairs to Jeff and Joan and began picking up the pills. Ellie look on from a safe distance. I thought she looked guilty. Joan vacuumed the floor. We examined Ellie. No great damage done, we thought. Eyes were clear, nothing strange about her demeanor or mobility. Satisfied (well, almost satisfied), Joy and I left for a scheduled visit to Portland’s Pearl District to check up on some galleries. Jeff and Joan were also scheduled to attend granddaughter Madi’s high school baccalaureate program.

We had looked forward to the evening, because we were experimenting with the Orange Max line, metropolitan Portland’s lite rail from the suburb of Milwaukee to downtown. We didn’t plan to drive in our Next Phase. We would rely instead on public transportation, about which we know almost nothing. This was our maiden voyage. The trial run was a total success. We enjoyed the train ride and not having to find a place to park in the crowded city. We talked about Ellie from time to time, trying to persuade ourselves there was nothing to worry about. But you never know.

When we returned we discovered Jeff had not gone to baccalaureate. Instead he had taken Ellie to a veterinarian’s emergency room. He watched her closely after we left. When he detected a change in her eyes, he called his friend the vet, who ordered them to the hospital for observation. She’s a small dog, he said. It wouldn’t take much medicine to do her in.

Joy and I felt terrible, of course. It was our fault. We left the door open. But then Jeff and Joan eased our bad consciences when they told us this is the third such crisis they’ve had with Ellie. As I said, she’s nosy. Once she got into a batch of chocolates and had to be rushed to the emergency room to have her stomach pumped. Chocolates and dogs don’t mix, I’m told. The other time was when she helped herself to a batch of slug bait. Not a such a good choice, either.

The next morning the vet reported she had never been in any real danger. Talk about relief! She could come home. Crisis averted.

Ellie: guilty as charged
Ellie: guilty as charged

 

Ellie didn’t assume any responsibility for the crisis, by the way.

 

 

The Terrills did. (“We should have put up the stairway gate”) and the Lawsons did (“We knew better than to leave our door open”). But Ellie exhibited no serious remorse. Well, as the picture shows, maybe a little.

Here’s the point of this story. For many years I’ve thought some of our friends were over the top in their affection for their pets. Some even talk baby talk to them. Some sleep with them. Some have been seen kissing them (and who knows where that snout has been?) I didn’t understand how they could feel, as they apparently did, such—well, there’s no other word for it—such love for their dogs.

But when we thought Ellie was in serious trouble, we got it. She’s not even our dog. But she is our grand-dog.

And we love her.

 

A Week with the Boys

We expected Brian and Mike on Saturday evening, but they didn’t arrive until Sunday morning. That’s the trouble with the airlines these days. If you arrive at LAX  just five minutes late, your plane takes off without you. Then it’s another ten hours to the next flight. No grace in the operation.

Anyway, they got here and we are glad. It’s been fun showing them the sights.

Mike, Roy & Brian need money!
Mike, Roy & Brian need money!

By Thursday I realized I had adopted a pretty proprietary attitude, doing my best to impress our guests with “our city.” We’d only been here three weeks when they came, but we already feel like natives.

Unfortunately, Brian showed up with the hint of a cold which pretty quickly became an infectious fact. I am the only one he shared with, but for a couple of days we became an antiphonal chorus of sneezes and coughs and complaints. Mike and Joy didn’t seem grateful for the entertainment.

All of us, though, did enjoy the treasures of this remarkable town.

We dined at some of San Miguel’s finest Lunch with Brian & Mike(Tio Lucas, Hank’s New Orleans Café and Oyster Bar, La Azotea, etc.), but we also took full advantage of little taco shops and even street vendors.

 

 

 

We made sure they saw the major sites:

the town center

Sam Miguel Oldest Cathedral

 

the art galleries, the remarkable churches, and so on—and they had to endure our (my) constant chattering about the virtues of the place.

Mike Prior listening to second floor music!
Mike Prior listening to second floor music!

And of course we took them to the market (Tiaguis de los Martes). After going our separate ways for awhile in the maze of stalls, we met for lunch at one of the many prepared food stands.

Brian ordering lunch

 

This time we had Brian’s Spanish to help us.

 

He did the ordering: tacos and tostadas, quesadillas, chips, horchata (rice milk and cinnamon) and agua de tuna (a prickly pear cactus beverage). Delicious food and drink. And cheap. I blanched for a moment when the drinks were delivered with ice cubes (“Don’t drink the water” was ringing in my ears), but not wanting to disappoint either our orderer or the helpful vendors, we indulged anyway. We got away with it. It must have been bottled-water ice.

The week with these longtime Velcro family members passed quickly. Mike and Brian and I have traveled to the far corners of the world in days gone by, so when we get together we quickly fall into a familiar routine.

Having Joy join “the boys” introduced the artist’s eye into the mix. She took us to Eucled Moore’s studio to see his beautiful wood vessels. (You can check these out at http://www.kazistudio.com.) We had been encouraged to get acquainted with Eucled when we got to San Miguel. It was good advice. Eucled proved not only to be an excellent artist but a new friend who took pains to be sure we would have a good experience in our adopted town.

My work is fun!
My new artist friend, Eucled Moore

Speaking of Joy’s artistic eye. Her cataract surgery was only partially successful. Images are brighter and contrasts more distinct, but her brain has had trouble adjusting. Having one eye seeing up close and the other farther away didn’t work for her. So, she sought an optometrist in San Miguel. He did her a favor. On Tuesday Mike drove us to his office to pick up her new glasses, which gave us another chance to see the doctor’s beautiful children again.

Can I believe you?
Can I believe you?

With her new glasses Joy’s eyes are still less than perfect, but she is quickly adjusting to the new prescription.

Early Friday afternoon the boys left us.

Farewell to Mike & Brian From San Miguel Casa
Farewell to Mike & Brian From San Miguel Casa

 

 

They only had to return once to retrieve a power cord they left behind.

 

 

Discretion forbids me to say which of them forgot the cord. Just let me say it’s part of that travel rhythm I mentioned above.

Their return was serendipitous, though. As I waited for them at the gate our next door neighbor drove up in his four-wheel ATV. (These are popular vehicles for negotiating our cobblestone streets.) We saw him when we moved in but haven’t laid eyes on him since. That’s our loss. Joe’s a full-of-life 65-year-old Italian ex-pat from New York by way of Louisiana. He and his wife were forced off their farm there when Katrina struck her blow in 2005, burying it beneath more than a foot of “the most disgusting water I’ve ever seen.” He cleaned the place up well enough to sell it and two years later they settled permanently in San Miguel. Like so many other ex-pats we’ve met, he luxuriates in this slower-paced way of life, where taking time to live has replaced living at the mercy of time. It’s a lesson I’m learning to take to heart as well.

August 16, 2016 A Day at the Market

Well, today was just plain fun. It didn’t turn out as we expected, but better. We walked to the town center, shopping bags in hand, because we thought the Tuesday farmer’s market was there. It wasn’t. We learned that the market, Tianguis del Martes, is situated out on the edge of town. We’d walked enough, so we taxied there. Acres of stalls—and not just fruits and vegetables but everything: shoes, underwear, outerwear, wooden furniture, tools, eateries, etc. And noisy! Piped-in music, hawkers, aisles crowded with good-natured and quite vocal shoppers. I think I counted only six other gringos. Buying our small items was a challenge, since we didn’t know the currency well and couldn’t understand the language. But all the vendors we dealt with were gracious and honest. If we had any doubts about what they were charging us, it was because the amounts seemed so small.

Joy wants you to know that we bought some prickly pear fruit and some pomegranate seeds—not her normal shopping list in America. And finally she was able to get some bulk popcorn (“Two kilos is a lot of popcorn!”) We ate lunch at a food stall. We ordered quesadillas. Joy insisted ‘no heat.’ Then, when they arrived she declared, “Pretty bland.” She has agreed that next time we can have “some heat.”

I should point out, by the way, that we don’t have a picture here of the market. That’s because Joy is our photographer, and in a market she’s too busy shopping to be bothered with recording the experience. So–no pictures. It’s a matter of priorities for her.

Velcro sons Brian and Mike arrive Saturday evening to spend a week with us. As much as I don’t like markets in general (because I’m afraid Joy will spend too much money, which she never does but I feel the necessity to worry anyway), I think we have to bring them back to this market so they’ll experience this nearly overwhelming taste of the real Mexico. And with Brian’s facility in Spanish, we might even understand what we’re doing.

August 12, 2016 A Little Night Music

Concert Hall, San Miguel

This evening we attended a segment of the Festival Internacional de Musica of San Miguel de Allende. The fare was provided by the Hermitage Piano Trio (and friends–there were five musicians). I had purchased moderately priced (OK, the next to cheapest) tickets, which turned out to be perfect: first balcony, almost dead center, with an excellent view of the piano keyboard on which we witnessed as well as heard exceptional artistry. Turns out that four of the five performers are Russian-born but now live in the US. All five have toured as soloists, have captured prestigious awards, and have earned accolades everywhere.Trio Concert, San Miguel

We understood why. We were almost breathless as we listened to their renditions of Rachmaninoff’s Trio elegiaque N. 1 in G minor, Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor K. 478 (for piano, violin, viola, and cello), and Shostakovich’s Piano quintet in G minor, Op. 57. The surprise for me was this last number, which was rich in variety and atonal experimentation. I loved it. For years I had ignorantly dismissed Shostakovich as a stooge of Russian communism. Only recently did I learn the extent of his struggle to maintain artistic and personal integrity in the face of Stalin’s hatred. That he escaped with his life is remarkable; probably his immense popularity and incredible genius saved him, making him too big even for Stalin to take down. Anyway, to survive he turned from huge compositions (symphonies, operas) to chamber music, as it “flew under the radar” of Stalin’s culture police. I want to hear more from this man.

August 8, 2016 When the rains came down and the lights went off

(Written after a couple of days of hard rains—we didn’t realize when we signed up for this segment of our Next Phase that it’s the rainy season here.)

The rain started in late afternoon and kept on falling after we went to bed. Sometime during the night the storm stole our electricity. When we got up this AM, we had several puddles of water in the house and no lights. Biggest concern: the security gate which allows us into the long lane to the house from the street operates with electricity. Period.

Our casa entry gate
                     Our casa entry gate

There is no manual alternative. So not only are the bad people locked out, the “good” people are locked in. I began to check off the necessities if we were to be imprisoned here for a long time until the power was restored: water, yes; food, yes; candles—no; use of our computers, iPhones, iPad—no. (This last one caused a pause, since I don’t carry even a single book to read when otherwise bored, so once the battery in my e-reader is used up—well, I don’t even want to think about it!)  You see how it went. Another good example of the painful truth that the measures we take to protect ourselves and our goods also rob us of our own freedoms.

It didn’t last long. Within an hour after we rose the power returned. When Amada, the lovely Mexican maid who comes with the house, arrived promptly at 9:30 for her work day, I made a fool of myself trying to explain what had happened. Finally, with my trusty translation app (Google Translate) I patched together enough words—in undoubtedly the wrong gender, number, case, tense—that I think she understood I was telling her how the power went out and the rains came down.

August 7, 2016 Lost again, serendipitously

Lost again. This time I wasn’t alone. Joy and I decided to walk (well, I decided and my loyal wife agreed to come along) to Fabrica de la Aurora, the premier collection of art galleries in San Miguel. It’s actually an old textile mill which operated until about 1991, when competition from outside the country introduced cheaper cotton goods. The factory closed.  Then the buildings were refurbished for these art galleries. Happily, some of the machinery is still on display and the sense of history adds to the place’s charm.

Back to our lost condition. It’s a 30-40 minute walk across town, according to the propaganda. For us, it was closer to two hours and still we found ourselves at least another 30-40 minute trek across the city’s cobblestone pavement (bordered by those treacherous sidewalks). We hailed a cab. Cost us 40 pesos. $2.12 cents. As I recall, Joy might have had something to say on the subject.

Actually, it was a good adventure, taking us into a part of the city –a lower socioeconomic section–which we needed to see in order to have a more inclusive view of San Miguel. More litter, older cars, working class people, fewer ex-pats. A huge contrast between what we saw in our lostness and what we discovered in our true destination (almost a sermon here!), where we saw magnificent antique pieces and a wide variety of offerings by contemporary artists who do very good work. We devoted at least a couple of hours, not nearly enough, to examining them, eating an excellent lunch (enchiladas for me, ensalada for Joy), and becoming engaged in an animated exchange with a couple of New Yorkers who run a shop—James does the painting and his partner of 30 years Frank does the metal work. Frank did the talking; he allowed James to interject an occasional word. (Frank observed he detected a similar relationship between Joy and me. It didn’t have to be said.)

August 6, 2016 Lost in San Miguel de Allende

One of the blogs we read before embarking on our Next Phase advised us—along with some other very good suggestions—to be certain to get lost. The blogger said that half the fun in this kind of travel is striking out in a new town or city. “Keep going,” he said, ” until you’re hopelessly lost. Then find your way back home.”

Well, I’ve had more than half the fun. Here’s the report of my first venture out on my own: “My half-hour morning walk was about 75 minutes long. I didn’t intend it to be, but I got lost. I learned I couldn’t rely on my iPhone GPS app and I didn’t have a paper map with me. That probably wouldn’t have helped anyway, since most of the streets have no identifying signs at the corners. The Mexicans I asked for direction were polite, friendly, and helpful. Unfortunately, not wanting to disappoint, more than one sent me in exactly the wrong direction. Finally I bumped into an elderly American walking her dogs. She’s lived here 21 years, obviously loves it. She led me until she thought we were at a safe place to turn me loose, and I eventually made my way home, a little worried that Joy would be fretting because I was gone so long.

The truth is, of course, she had hardly missed me. I suggested that in her obvious (not!) relief at my return she could fix a big breakfast of eggs and bacon. Which she did, though without any evidence of excitement that her long-lost husband had returned.

I’m going to keep going out on these excursions until I learn my way around. If I’m not going to be missed when I’m gone, I might as well not get lost.

July 25, 2016 A night with the wrestlers

OH! NO!!!
OH! NO!!!
IS HE OUT?
IS HE OUT?

Cholula, Puebla.

I never expected to be reporting on fake wrestling (called luche libre). This is not my favorite sport. But it was on the program for the Globalscope conference, so we signed up for the event as a token of our solidarity.

It was a delightful evening, even though we have never seen anything quite so phony. This isn’t wrestling. It’s acting and choreography and fantasy. The repertoire is limited: hits and kicks and holds and body slams and playing to the jammed galleries. It’s repetition and feigned hurts and pains. It’s fancy costumes and frightening gestures and grunts and making like male gorillas or tribal warriors huffing and puffing to scare away the bad guys. It’s exhausting for anyone who desires the real thing. BUT—it is hugely popular in this town. (For more information and to get a sense of what we experienced, Google or Wikipedia “luche libre.”) The large arena is packed to standing room only and the din is deafening. When Nathan McDade invited some of us older gringos to leave with him and his little daughters and father-in-law, we jumped at the chance to escape.

We’ll remember the pageantry and the crowd’s involvement, we’ll brag that we attended once, but we won’t look for a second opportunity. Funny, though—we’re still talking about it.

July 24, 2016 Welcome to Mexico City

Joy and I have been traveling together most for most of our long marriage—and almost from the beginning I have told myself to journal. “Otherwise you’ll forget too much,” I said to me. And then faithful didn’t journal. And forgot too much.

            So I promised this Next Phase would be different. And it has been. Since leaving the States July 24 I have written something every day. Most of it is pretty boring. Sometimes, though, I think you might be interested in what happened. So on this page I’ll reprint some of our experiences—or my thoughts about our experiences. In making these selections I’m aware of the many other adventures I could have included—but if I included them all, this would grow to be far too big.

 

We arrived in Mexico City slightly behind schedule, then sat on the tarmac for another half hour or so waiting for an open gate. We were delayed again, for the first time in years, because when we hit the customs button we got RED, so our luggage had to be searched—by a very friendly agent who, upon learning we were going to Puebla, called over a colleague from this town. We had a delightful chat with them, including a couple of “must see” recommendations, which of course I forgot soon after. They made our entry into the country a welcoming one. That was on top of the kind Mexican gentleman on the row behind us on the plane who leaned over our seats to help us fill out the entry card, which was in Spanish. A good beginning.