Archive | July, 2012

Speechless in San Miguel

24 Jul

Much time has passed since I have written much of anything — nary a post, and hardly an e-mail; I seem to have been rendered mute or nearly so.  It is not the first time this has happened to me so I feel no sense of panic.   Writer’s Block, a condition first described in 1947 by Edmund Berger, a psychoanalyst, is apparently a common affliction with a variety of causes, none of which seem to fit my particular circumstance.   Among the more common explanations are a lack of inspiration, depression and audience awareness.  It seems counter-intuitive that this affliction would befall me here, in San Miguel, a place so rich in creativity that others reach eagerly for pen and paintbrush.  Might contentment not also be a cause?  For whatever reason my creative processes, as least as they relate to my ability to write, seem to be on sabbatical.  I was, however, drawn to that blank canvas in the art supply store the other day . . . .

I can conjure up many a reason not to write since the charm of the city lies just beyond our doorway.  At every turn there is much to delight the eye and a simple walk is never without interest.  Now that we are fully ensconced we have begun to expand our “reach” and, for example, have attended a concert at the Teatro Angela Peralta, a theater built in 1851 that looks similar to the renderings I have seen of the theater in which Lincoln was assasinated.

We were there to hear madrigal singers, 32 in all, performing choral music, mostly Baroque.  The voices were fabulous, an excellent concert, and free as well!  We also hosted our first dinner party, on the 4th of July, complete with potato salad and grilled steaks, and as I was making my way about town gathering various ingredients, several of the shopkeepers seemed to know that it was a special day for Americans — “dia de la independencia” they would say, nodding and smiling.  Last week we discovered a “pocket theater” just a few blocks away, where we saw the first movie we have seen in nearly two years, the Exotic Marigold Hotel, a delightful British film with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.  The theater is in a room off of a courtyard bar with 21 seats and a price tag of 80 pesos ($6) which includes a bag of popcorn and a drink of one’s choice (including beer or wine).  On another day we  hired a taxi to drive us to the neighboring town of Celaya (52 kilometers) to visit Costco where we stocked up on items not readily available locally, like USDA beef.  The drive through the countryside was pleasant, similar to the landscape between here and Mexico City.  The driver had been instructed to wait for us; yet when we emerged an hour later (with two shopping carts) he was no where in sight nor was his taxi anywhere in the parking lot.  Fortunately our consternation was short-lived since he pulled up about ten minutes later, explaining in rapid Spanish and lots of sign language that he had had a flat tire and had gone to have it repaired.

We went to church on a recent Sunday morning, Saint Paul’s Church, Iglesia de San Pablo, the Anglican church of Mexico.  It turned out to be the Sunday on which the pre-school had its graduation (the five year olds part of the processional attired in white caps and gowns).  In addition, it was also the Sunday on which the congregation bid farewell to its minister, now retiring after 15 years; they called it “The Ending of a Pastoral Relationship.”  Many parts of the service were read first in English, and then in Spanish, but the part I liked best was when some of the prayers (such as the Lord’s Prayer) were read simultaneously in both languages.  It gave me goose bumps — not on any religious basis but around the idea that we really are just one people, struggling to figure it out.

On another day we found ourselves among the first patrons of a new restaurant called Calenda, which offers fine dining at its finest, in a charming courtyard in a hacienda-style home that had been left by the original owner to his gardener.  The restauranteur, a woman from Mexico City, was delightful and the food was beyond compare with each course more amazing than the last (i.e., seabass with pineapple and avocado, gazpacho made with cherries rather than tomatoes).  There are photos of us dining on their Facebook page — check it out at

As I write this it occurs to me that perhaps one reason I have not been writing is because I’ve been living!!!  I feel much more engaged here than in Panama and the weather is such that the outdoors beckon seductively.  As the hot season has faded (May and early June), the weather continues to delight; it’s hard to imagine a more perfect climate.  The mornings are always cool, the afternoons warm, and the evenings sometimes chilly; highs in the 70s or low 80s, lows in the 50s, with occasional afternoon thunderstorms.  Oliver and I continue our daily explorations and it’s not unusual for us to be out and about for a few hours a day.  We continue to spend a lot of time in the park where tree stumps are turned into sculpture and amaryllis now thrive.  The trees are filled with white herons and the sky wonderfully blue.

San Miguel is such a fabulous walking town and the streets are kept nearly immaculate. There’s always new things to see.  In the garden, Jardine Principal, men sell balloons, newspapers and straw hats while women sell baskets, flowers and silver jewelry.  Dogs wander among the children while others get their shoes shined.  Walking down the hill recently I witnessed a funeral procession with the casket followed by musicians and then several dozen mourners.  Nearly everyday I see something I had not seen before.

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Although Oliver and I spend a lot of time negotiating the cobblestones, he has a dog walker three mornings a week which coincides with my new Spanish class, 9 to noon, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Although I enjoyed the Spanish class I took in June at the Instituto, this new class is a better fit for me and has about 20 students. It comes complete with serious homework and study groups.  The teacher, el professor, is a man who came here 22 years ago on his honeymoon and never left (fortunately his wife stayed as well).   I’ve met lots of expats with similar stories; folks seem to fall in love with San Miguel with alarming speed.  I spoke with one man who was here for a week’s holiday and bought a house on the third day!

Many of you have inquired as to my sense of safety.  It’s a reasonable question, especially with all the negative press in the United States about the drug cartels, kidnappings, etc.  No doubt Mexico has enormous challenges about which I read in the newspapers.  San Miguel, on the other hand, is off the beaten track and has a crime rate in keeping with the size of its population.  The weekly “Police Blotter” has been consistently unremarkable, last week reporting 5 burglaries, 3 muggings, 3 vehicle thefts, and 4 street fights.  The population of the larger municipality is upwards of 120,000 but the city has around 80,000 of which nearly ten percent are expats.  We live in “Centro,” an area about 20 square blocks, and it feels like a small town.  I rarely go out without seeing somewhat whom I have met.  San Miguel hosts the largest expat community in Mexico, large enough to warrant our own U.S. Consulate.  In addition to over 125 non-profit organizations, all of which are run by Americans, San Miguel has a chapter of the Lion’s Club, a post of The American Legion and The Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as Mexico’s only Audubon Society chapter.

The economy, however, has suffered from the absence of American tourists as well as the global economic woes; real estate prices continue to be 30 to 40 percent off their highs.  There are two tourists seasons in San Miguel, the primary one commencing in December and lasting through the middle of April.  We arrived on the 10th of April, just as the high season was winding down and I confess I enjoyed the laziness of May and June when there seemed to be few tourists and the town was left to those of us who live here.  But it was clear that the economy was suffering and some shops and restaurants began to close.  July has brought an influx of tourists, mostly from other parts of Mexico, and once again the streets are alive with activity, pedestrians, and so many cars it creates periodic traffic jams.  [In an earlier post I mentioned that there were no traffic signals in San Miguel; at the time I did not realize there are also no stop signs.  At the outskirts of town, where city streets converge on major highways, one finds traffic circles.]  I sometimes stand on a busy corner and watch in wonder; somehow it all works and I’ve yet to witness so much as a fender-bender.  We continue to walk or taxi wherever we need to go and are enjoying not owning a car.
Having just been told by my computer that I have written in excess of 1500 words, perhaps my muteness is abating.  Time will tell . . . .