January . . . February

8 Feb


I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions since it has generally been my tendency to give them up for Lent.  Nonetheless I do tend to pause as each year begins anew and muse, however briefly, on ways in which I might improve.  There are many, of course, like standing up straight but at the top of the current list is my tendency to take short cuts, to not read directions.  For example, I have an idea for a couple of slideshows to accompany future posts; one of doorways and the other of local signage.   I thought I had mastered the slideshow challenge but then the technology changed, no doubt an upgrade, but one that has left me clueless.  I’m relatively confident I could successfully attain this knowledge if only I would take the time to study the on-line tutorial.   Although my powers of self-dicipline have improved with age, they remain less than stellar; it’s February and I still haven’t done it.

Our first Christmas in San Miguel (our second holiday season as expats) was simple and lovely.  When last I checked in, we were anticipating its aftermath: first came Los Santos Inocentes, Day of the Holy Innocents, on December 28th.  Although a religious holiday commemorating the slaughter of all male infants by King Herod, in Mexico it is celebrated as a kind of April Fool’s day, an occasion for jokes and pranks.

Epiphany, or Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) is another important day in the Mexican holiday tradition.  Echoing the Three Wise Men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus, Mexican children awaken early on January 6th to find toys and gifts left by the Three Kings.  Traditionally it is customary for children to leave out shoes so that the visiting Wise Men have a place in which to deposit their gifts.  A special treat served on this day is the Rosca de Reyes — a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel-like candied fruits. Tiny figures of babies are hidden in the dough before baking and, as tradition dictates, whomever gets a piece containing a baby is obliged to host another party on or before Candelaria or Candlemas, February 2nd, when Mexico’s holiday season officially ends.  Candlemas is described in the Bible as the day on which Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth, as required by law.  It’s also Ground Hog Day and represents the half way point between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.  Here in San Miguel the event is marked by the transformation of the park into an overwhelming display and sale of all manner of trees, plants, flowers, herbs, vegetables, etc., a sign of the coming Spring.  I’ve taken a number of photos of the event, none of which remotely suggest its scope.


The offerings are vast and in addition to buyers and sellers, the park is peopled with young men and women with wheelbarrows who, for a few pesos, will happily follow you around as you select various items.  So far I’ve managed to fill three wheelbarrows and anticipate at least one more before the event winds down later today.

Speaking of the changing seasons, this is our first winter in San Miguel.  While January afternoons almost always warmed into the mid 70s, once the sun set the air cooled quickly; we had some mornings with temperatures in the low 30s, a temperature swing of  40 plus degrees in a single day, causing us to utilize our various fireplaces.  February has brought warmer temperatures ranging between the 40s and the 80s, as well as fragrant warm breezes that hint of jasmine.

My Spanish school went on hiatus in the month of December and the next class for which I am enrolled is called Storytelling, due to start later this month.  In spite of prior warnings that Level 2 would be difficult, I was surprised (and humbled) by how hard it was and at its conclusion some of us were left more discouraged than before.  Allegedly all the pieces will fall into place in the next round and I’m ready to dust myself off and dig in once again.  One of the things that fascinates me is how much of the culture is embedded in the structure of the language.  For example, in Spanish one does not wash one’s own hands; one washes the hands; body parts are not considered to “belong” to one’s self.   I of course immediately hypothesized some underlying spiritual explanation, i.e., we are not our physical bodies.  My teacher smiled — and moved on, without comment, except to say that the same is true in all of the romance languages.  We also learned about what are called the “Mexican verbs” or the “accidental verbs.”  Mexican history is replete with long periods of oppression of its populace and there were centuries when to admit to a mistake could easily result in one’s immediate execution.  Hence the advent of the accidental verb indicating an unintentional action, as in “my toy broke,” or “the bus went away from me.”   There are also a myriad of idiomatic expressions that in translation make no sense — one just has to memorize them — such as “menos mal” which means “it’s a good thing” but translates as “less bad”; when one is cold one says “tengo frio” which translate “I have cold.”  My greatest challenge continues to be direct and indirect pronouns and word order.  There’s a lot more to the language than I had originally envisioned and vocabulary is the least of it.  I have also learned that correct pronunciation requires the utilization of facial muscles that are not required when speaking English.

Although my attendance was brief, New Year’s Eve afternoon found me at my first bullfight.  Operating under the principle that one should not have “contempt prior to investigation,” a concept usually attributed to the 19th Century British philosopher Herbert Spencer, I elected to go.  I truly attempted an open mind, having talked to many Mexicans who view the spectacle as a fine art.  In spite of all this talk about the nobility of the bull, I had to leave early on.  I must say, however, the pagentry which is integral to the event was most impressive and the horses were spectacular.

We’ve had some wonderful musical interludes, taking in a violin concert, finding a 40s-style supper club with a great singer doing Cole Porter, and last night attending a production of La Boheme.

As I write this we are between house guests.   Former neighbors Dan and Suzanne who lived across the road from us in Panama were here for a week and it was great fun to see them and catch up on all the news from the old “hood.”  They were here to check out San Miguel and I believe they found it as beautiful and charming as I had described.   Now we eagerly await the arrival of our friends of 20 years, Bill and Carmelita, whom we haven’t seen in over two years; we are quite excited.

Our enthusiasm for San Miguel continues unabated.  Wherever I turn, my ceaselessly hungry eye always seems to find that which is aesthetically pleasing, be it a flower or a wedding,


or shadows on a wall cast by the setting sun.


There is some ineffable quality about life here that fosters a kind of daily pinching oneself, i.e., are we really lucky enough to live here?   The world changes, places change, but for the moment there is no where else we would rather be.

5 Responses to “January . . . February”

  1. Kim Cross February 11, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Thank you Lynne. I enjoy your posts so much.

  2. fsloan21@aol.com February 11, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    enjoyed your latest post ! i was interested in your thoughts on Corridas.. In 1954 while attending school in Mexico city after graduation from The U Of Pa, waiting to become an officer and gentleman courtesy ROTC, i became fascinated with los toros.. Took lessons caping little bulls, really little, read all the books and for the next 40 years or so attended many major ” fights “. About 10 years ago i changed, stopped following the bulls and became a vegetarian. Manolete was my favorite and a San Franciscan wrote ” La fiesta Bravo “. He opened a bar there and became somewhat famous..Can t remember his name.. Now being an animal lover don t think i could attend another event.. Always hated it when the gringo s in the crowd cheered for the bull. As i m sure y know it was an Opera in three acts with the death of the bull the final scene, bravely and with one thrust, something, sadly that rarely happened.. F

  3. Cristi February 11, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    That was really lovely. I most liked the paragraph about the Spanish language and its underpinnings, and your analyses of them.

  4. Celeste Basuino February 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Beautiful! I’ve been waiting for you to send an update! Can’t wait for more pictures! Enjoy you visit with you friends.

  5. Penny Short February 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    It’s wonderful to be broght into your world there so eloquently! Dave and I send our love —

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