Sunday, January 25, 2015

Toller Cranston

A serendipitous happening on  Friday and Saturday has given me pause for reflection.  On Friday, while waiting for the group of coffee klatch people to arrive for lunch at Hecho en Mexico, I took photos of the
magnificent light fixture designed by Toller along with a couple of his art works that adorn the walls.

Now, I've eaten in that restaurant so many times and never had the urge to take photos.  I've always enjoyed the art work but still, I never photographed them










When the group arrived, one of the people asked me what "style" was that work.  In my opinion it has a Russian feel and that is what I answered.  Then a conversation ensued about the man, the myth and his home and gardens here in San Miguel.

I regaled the group with a memory that is firmly implanted in my mind's eye.  A birthday celebration for a friend in Toller's studio one night is one of my favorite memories of all my forty years in Mexico.

We met in the main house.  The gardens were lit with candles and lights, as was the house.  After drinks, we wandered down the path to the studio.  Up the stairs we all went.  What awaited us was a surreal and exquisite scene of tiny votive candles and other candles along with the floor being covered in blood red rose petals.  In the midst of this were skirted tables ready to serve an outstandingly delicious dinner with music.

Toller had cleared the space of his easels but pots of brushes and supplies were still to be seen.  After dinner there was dancing.  Rose petals flew!  It truly was a surreal scene that I will never forget.  I wish I had a photograph of that room to share with you.

Other times there were Sunday afternoon soirees of unique, eccentric individuals.  It was so delightful to meet these people and to sit for scintillating conversations.  While helping in the kitchen once, I asked where he had gotten so much roasted chicken.  I laughed when he said, "Why I called Pollo Feliz".   He said I want to be able to talk with the people and not have to be in the kitchen.  Wise man.

The gardens always reminded me of Xilitla and Las Pozas, Edward James' sculpture gardens about six hours from here.  James was a wealthy Englishman.  The English would call both James' gardens and many of Toller's, a folly.  Indeed, always a surprise around the bend.

Toller Cranston in his former life was an acclaimed figure skater.  There are many accolades about him on the internet today from the CBC and others.

Toller Cranston died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 65.  We will never see the likes of this man again on this earth.  He was one of a kind - witty, talented beyond words, and helpful behind the scenes to many.  He walked the streets of San Miguel in a big brimmed hat.  Eccentric, yes - talented, indeed.

Gone but never forgotten.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If you don't get out of town, you forget!

Making the drive to Celaya yesterday, about 45 minutes and about 1500 ft lower then San Miguel, I was
reminded that I live in an agricultural   area.  A beautiful one.

If you don't get out of town, you forget.  You forget about the oxen being used, still, in the fields.  Or the man and his dog using their horse to pull a wooden cart.  People picking crops of jicama in the fields.

 The old aqueduct has now been refitted with piping that runs along the top of it for irrigating the crops.
This photo was taken heading back to San Miguel just after the exit to Comonfort.  All the different shades of green with different crops is so pleasing to the eye.  Isn't it?
Another view of another field with another crop.  Probably cauliflower or broccoli or cabbage.  I don't know which.

These photos are always taken as I'm driving.  Since I'm driving alone and seldom have someone else driving there are so many things, because of traffic, that I don't get to photograph.

There is a shrine to St. Jude Tadeo at an intersection that always has traffic.  So, I never get a chance, unless of course, I pulled over and parked.  There is always something going on at this shrine.  Yesterday, it was a
young teenager kneeling in front of the shrine praying.  Quite moving.

Except for the irrigated crops that are green, the mountains and countryside is dusty and brown.  Our rainy season ended in September.  I was thinking as I was driving about what a surprise it is after a couple of weeks of the rainy season to see how everything returns to life.  Things you would never imagine would return, do and bloom and grow.  Quite unbelievable.

There were stands along the roads in both directions selling jicama, watermelons, honeydew melons and assorted items.  This obviously is the season to harvest the jicama.  There were bushels and bushels and more bushels yesterday.  Jicama is served as a botana with chili pepper prior to a meal in many restaurants in San Miguel.  To me, without some kind of sauce or pepper or something, it is a tasteless root vegetable.
Obviously it is loved by many or there would not be so many fields of it being  used  both in Mexico and exported to the USA.

As I realized yesterday, there is ALWAYS something to see on the roads of Mexico.  Always.

As I reentered San Miguel and was at a stop sign, I was able to get a photo of a vertical garden that has been added on the front of the Pollo Feliz restaurant.  It is fascinating.  Next time I go by, I'm going to stop and see what is anchoring that on the wall.  Who knows I might end up with a vertical garden somewhere here.  Life is full of surprises and delights, isn't it?





Sunday, January 18, 2015

Planning your 2015 Vacations?

Since it was not possible for me to go to the beach for January, I'm looking forward to a week in Chiapas in March.

March in San Miguel is dazzling.  The lavender  jacaranda trees all over town are in bloom.  The monarchs are migrating through San Miguel and stopping to feed on the jacarandas.  It is an exquisite sight. The weather is delightful - in the low to mid 80's with very low humidity. 

This is the jacaranda tree in front of my house.  As you can see, to the right is the roof terrace which is partly shaded by the tree.  It is also a great place to dine or drink coffee and watch the birds and butterflies.

I am offering my house for a week in March while I am traveling.  The dates would be Monday, March 9 through Monday March 16.  The cost for a week would be $600USD with a security deposit of $300USD.

Here are a few photos of the interior.  The bed is a comfortable king size.  In the bedroom is a TV, DVD and stereo.  There is also a TV in the living room. Both provide satellite service.  There is wifi as well.  Maid service is provided once a week.  In addition it is simple to send out laundry as it is picked up and redelivered.  There is a landline phone in the house for local calls as well as Vonage for those who have to stay connected to the USA.  The sectional sofa in the living room opens out into a queen bed as well.  There is one bathroom. The sink and dressing area are outside the bathroom.

                                                                        Kitchen
                                                                          Dining room
                                                                          Living room
                                                        Living room - Great views
                                                              Roof terrace - More great views
                                                                   An oasis


                                                                     Comfortable bedroom
                                                                      Bath room with shower

If you are interested, please contact me at babsofsanmiguel@yahoo.com     This house is seldom offered
for rent.  Hopefully you will want to come and enjoy it and San Miguel.


By the way, looking at www.kayak.com there are some great fares now from Houston to Leon (BJX)....some under $300USD round trip............it's time..........see you soon.

PS.  The house comes with Velcro, the Guard Cat, at no extra charge...........

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Twenty Four Hours in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

This is often the title of articles written by free-lance writers who have been attracted to San Miguel by public relations firms who are representing hotels, restaurants and resorts in town.

It is almost predictable which hotels and restaurants and shops will be featured in each and every article.

Now for those that do not see each article, it is interesting.  But for us here who do see each and every article because someone sends the newspaper clipping or magazine page, it is redundant.

It is apparent that the people are on a mission.  Often it seems that they ARE only here for twenty-four hours. By their comments it is somewhat apparent.

Let me share with you a typical twenty-four hours in San Miguel de Allende.

It starts in the morning with a horn honking next door.  That is the pickup truck that goes through the colonias selling unpasturized milk to families by the ladle full. The women come out of their house with a small container for the day's supply and then scurry back into their homes.

Next is the door bell with the water man who sells the very large bottles of water for use inside the home for drinking.  Mine lasts me about a week.  Always, a backup bottle is stored under the counter, just in case.

He leaves.  Next is the laundry lady coming to pick up the clothes and assorted items to launder.  Returning the next morning with all clean and folded for a minimal cost.

That's about it for doorbell ringers or horns honking until around 12:30 when the kids get out of school.

Carts of refreshments along with the ice cream truck are set up right outside of my house to supply the kids and parents with homemade ice cream.  The ice cream truck plays music that has the sound, with a horn, of the kind Clarabelle the Clown used to honk.  I'm always glad when the hour is over and the ice cream truck goes somewhere else to drive someone else crazy.

This past Monday a couple of other things happened to make that twenty-four hours somewhat unique.

Upon returning home that afternoon, I discovered that I had lost my cellphone.  Now the cellphone cost me nothing so it wasn't a big deal money wise, but I wanted it back, if possible, because I have had it for a long time.

It occurred to me that the last time I had used it was the previous Friday night to call for a taxi to pick me up at a specific address where I had enjoyed the enchanted evening of music and poetry.

I called the dispatcher of ServiTaxi, gave him the address and approximate time.  He said of course, he has a log and would call the driver, for me to hold on.  In a couple of minutes he came back on the line, said the man had the phone and would return it to me within three hours!  I was amazed even though this company has in the past had drivers return prescription eyeglasses and an expensive camera.

Lo and behold, at about 7PM there was a knock on the gate.  Opening it, there he was, the driver from that Friday night.  Of course I thanked him multiple times and he could tell from my expression how happy I was at the return.  When I attempted to give him a nice tip, he refused.  Aaaah.  He was the same driver who waited for me that Friday night, to make sure that I got inside the gate before he left.  What a thoughtful and polite man.

This has always been my history with this company.  I was referred to them by a local who has lived here since the 50's.  The drivers are always courteous, professional and caring.

Add to that event, earlier in the day the fuse in the breaker box flipped.  I wasn't turning anything on or off.  It was an unusual occurrence and surprising.  But, I flipped it back on and everything came on.........except one thing.  The computer did come back on but, for some reason, the internet did not.  I tried everything. Checked all the connections, turned the computer on and off.  Well, to be truthful, I really don't know much to do without venturing into territories that I know nothing about.  So I didn't.

Hence the need to call the computer man, Rodrigo.  He had not been here in many, many months but we set up for him to come the next day about 4PM.  He arrived at 3:30PM, fixed the modem and some other things as well.

What was so delightful about this interaction was that he remember all kinds of information about my grandchildren and my family that we had shared probably six months ago.  Then he showed me a photograph of his sixteen year old daughter and we talked about her and her education.  Afterwards, I smiled at the fact that always and forever, Mexico is all about relationships.  It is heartwarming for me.

That's a typical twenty-four hours in Mexico.  It is not about shopping, eating in expensive restaurants or drinking on rooftop terraces at sunset, although there is nothing wrong with that.

But when people ask me what I do in Mexico, I say, the same thing that you do in the USA.  But, in fact, in many ways, it is totally different...........more personal............more meaningful.........and certainly unique! 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

An Evening of Poetry and Music.........Oh My!

A spontaneous decision by a dear friend to invite a group to her home to hear poetry and music was intriguing, to put it mildly.

In Houston, we, a long time ago, had Sunday soirees where various artists of a creative ilk, would come to share with us their creativity.  It was always the highlight of my week.  It was interesting to experience the flood of emotions on Friday evening, when those memories returned.

Having never heard of the poet or the musicians, I couldn't wait to see and hear the creative endeavors of both. Little did I know what an enchanting evening it would be.

With many people there I did not know, it was also interesting to meet new faces and hear about others lives as we munched on a light repast.

Then Moira Egan was introduced by our hostess.  Moira is a resident of Rome, Italy with her husband Damian Abeni who is an Italian translator among other things.  Moira read from three different published books of hers.  Bar Napkin Sonnets won the 2008 Ledge Chapbook Competition.  Many other awards and degrees from Bryn Mawr,  John Hopkins University and Columbia have given Moira's talent a good background for all the accolades she has and will receive.  Sorry to admit that I cannot remember the name of where she is going in Connecticut as part of a program or fellowship in the next month or so.  Hers is a name that will be heard from over and over in the future, I"m sure.  Her reading definitely set the mood for the evening.  Sadly, I did not get a photo of Moira and her husband.




Then, as a change of pace, Rosa Guadalupe and her son played guitars in the music of Mexico and Cuba, along with Rosa Guadalupe singing in the most beautiful voice.  Most songs were in Spanish with a couple of surprise songs in English as well.  Melodious and memorable.

Being lulled by the music and the readings, when all was over and it was time to leave, it was not easy to brave the cold outside after having felt so warm and comfortable inside.

The marvelous evening remained with me for many hours, even after returning home.  It was a delightful surprise.  Thanks so much to the host and hostess for including me.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Miracle on Cuahtemoc

For the last three months I have fumed, muttered under my breath and looked out the living and dining room windows in despair.

The left over boulders, rubble, dirt and assorted debris was still there.  I kept hoping  I would look out some day and it would be gone.  No such luck. It was the leftovers from when the water company laid the water line down Cuitlahuac.  The dozer guy used the side of the house as his dumping ground......aaargh.

When the owners of this property came over a couple of months ago, I expressed my displeasure.  Obviously, not strong enough.  Nothing happened.

I continued to fume, to myself.  Then I had an "aha" moment last week and told myself that no one can read my mind so I needed to express my displeasure in writing - with photos.

Last Friday off went a letter to the property owners, who I rent these houses from, to let them know of my disgust from the dust, the thrown rocks at the windows and the two men on the top of the dirt pile looking in the windows of my house.  I let them know I wanted something done, in a polite manner.  And, I sent these pictures.

Next I wrote a letter to the Mayor of San Miguel and to the International Relations department of the city.

 Yes, there is such a thing.  I sent these pictures.  I reiterated the above comments along with the fact that this was a safety hazard for the children both in the primary school and the kindergarten as while cars are trying to get around this dirt pile, the children are in danger of being hit as they leave both schools in large groups both in the morning and afternoon.  I also let them know it had been here for three months.  Along with the fact that the water company would take no responsibility for the mess (which is true).  I mentioned the fact that possibly it was just a forgotten mess that had not been cleaned up due to oversight.

Believe it or not, this morning at 8:30AM I heard it!  OMG!  A bulldozer outside my bedroom wall.  Then I heard the dump truck stop too.  Hastily, I dashed up two flights of stairs and here is what I saw.........







I was giggling with glee.  Never did I expect action this fast.  And so it began.  The bulldozer loading dirt and rubble into the truck.  Then the truck would leave and return, SIX times.  At 1:30 today, it was all gone.
Truly an amazing sight.

After all the teachers and students had left the primary school, I went out to take a photo of what is left......
Not much.

A little rock raking should clean up the little bit that is left.  Now the children won't have to walk in the middle of the road.  The parents will again have a place to park to wait for their children.  And I, in my all encompassing attempt at beautification, will attempt, again, to plant something along the side of the house that is green.  There used to be grass and bushes there. 


I'm dubbing this episode "The Miracle on Cuahtemoc"............street that is!   Who ever would have imagined it would happen this fast?  I, of course, will never know if my letters were the cause of this event or if it was just a coincidence.  It doesn't really matter, at all.

I'm just happy to see it done.  Onward.









Tuesday, January 06, 2015

How Do I Say It? Mexico is not for Everyone.

Nor is San Miguel de Allende, Mexico........I started thinking about how to write this over two months ago. 




A new person to San Miguel moved into Casita Tranquilo, sight unseen, and never having been to San Miguel. This person had not been to Mexico in 37 years!  To be honest, when contacted, I was quite surprised that someone who had never been here would make the leap of faith to move here, sight unseen, with the thought of forever.

But, after saying that they had been reading the blog for several years and that they understood it wasn't the USA, I relented and rented to the person.

The first few days were quiet and tranquil.  But, in the end and after day twenty-two, the renter left San Miguel and Mexico forever.  All of the things that did not bring happiness are permanently embedded in my brain, still.

It caused me to question what I write on the blog.  It caused me to question how I could have helped to prevent this person from making this costly error in some way.  I am still questioning the whole situation even though I've only had this happen with three people in fourteen years.  It is still disconcerting.

In addition, a few other things have happened to cause me to write this post.  First, another person said basically the same thing.  "I've been reading your blog for years and I'm ready to move to Mexico and San Miguel.  It seems like paradise"  Uh oh. 

Then just the other day someone wrote and said, "In the last few years, it appears that the costs of everything have gone up in San Miguel with the fancy hotels and restaurants that are so expensive.  Can I afford to live there if I move down there?"

So, here goes - I'm going to attempt to give you the nitty-gritty.  DON'T shoot the messenger!

In my humble opinion, no where is paradise unless you're there for a short period of time and never see the other side.  Whatever the other side is.  In other words, no place is perfect!

Here are some of the things that make San Miguel NOT perfect, but, nearly perfect. They are:

Weather - Living in the USA, with central heat and/or air conditioning, you are mostly in conditioned space.  One is definitely not aware of the weather on a daily basis as one is here.

Here, without central heat and only  space heaters, fireplaces and gas heaters, we are very aware of the weather when the day starts out at 38 or ten degrees colder then that.  The months of November through January can be dicey, to put it mildly. I say that as I sit here writing in multiple layers of clothing with pillows propped against the doors and windows to attempt to keep the cold out.

Our summer, surprisingly is mid-April to mid-June when the summer rains come.  We can have 100 degree temps in mid-May in the middle of the day.  Now, it's not like 100 in Houston where the humidity is 98% because our humidity in that season is around 20%.

Just to let you know.

 Sunshine and Rain - To me, one of the great things is the almost perpetual sunshine and lack of humidity.

 But, we are in an arid climate here in San Miguel.  So, dirt and dust fly from April til the rainy season begins in June.  If you don't like dust and dirt (and who does) especially inside your house,  then San Miguel is not for you.  Or, you learn to ignore it.

Third World Country  - Although many, many of the infrastructure items are so much better now from when I came 14 years ago, the lights still do dim from time to time.  They even go out once in a while, but, not for hours at a time or days at a time, like they used to.

It's easy to get a land line phone now.  It used to take two years. We have real internet.  No longer dial up!

Not all the streets are paved.  There is paper and sometimes garbage on the streets.  It is a law that each person and business is supposed to keep the property in front of their home or business clean, but that doesn't always happen.  If that kind of stuff bothers you more then the overall beauty of the place, then Mexico isn't for you.

 Graffiti Although there is a program in place in San Miguel to paint over tagging and graffiti as soon as it happens, it doesn't always get covered over in all areas of the town.  Most of us keep a can of exterior paint ready to cover over our walls ourselves and not wait for others to do so.  Some of the outlying colonias are covered in graffiti.  I admit that this does bother me to see, but again, I move on and think of my life as a whole.....


Animals  - I remember as a girl that animals and pets were supposed to be outside animals.  I'm talking sixty years ago.  Well, that is very common in some parts of Mexico, including here.  Dogs are let out to roam and be free, as well as cats, burros, donkeys, pigs in the campo, goats etc.  Dogs also live on rooftops as their job is to be a watchdog.  Many US citizens are highly incensed by this custom.  I've had goats eat my plants that were passing through.  Heck, some friends of mine who planted flower beds outside looked out to see cattle munching on whatever they attempted to plant.  If you fail to see the humor in that, Mexico is not for you.

Specialty Food Items -  The overall variety of items that people like such as specialty cheeses, meats, condiments has grown.  However, if not being able to find that one special item that you crave would make you crazy, then either bring it with you...........or don't come to Mexico.  Of all places, San Miguel has a wide
variety, but for instance, you don't find many American brands in the stores.  We find substitutes.

Laws and Customs - They are totally different here.  IMHO, better, but then that's me.  It takes time to find out what they are and to understand them.  Often they are not logical, but only to those of us who come from somewhere else.  It can be intriguing to try to figure out where the laws and customs came from, not how can they be changed.  For example, there are newcomers here who complain about the church bells and fireworks.  They have petitioned the mayor, the government, written letters to the editor of the weekly paper.
I say, buy earplugs, jokingly.

About the laws, such as immigration or whatever, there is always a translator or facilitator to utilize to get anyone through a process.  But, it is assumed in Mexico, that it is YOUR responsibility to figure this out and take care of it.

And, back to the question about the fancy hotels and expensive restaurants.  Well, this is how that works.
The fancy hotels have the marketing budget to invite travel writers to San Miguel.  That is nothing new.  They provide them with accommodations and meals at their properties.  They show them around to other expensive and tasty places.  Hence, it appears that San Miguel no longer has tacos for a dollar or a hotel room for $35 or less. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

So, the bottom line of all this is, Is San Miguel and Mexico paradise or not?  Let me put it this way....."if you come and bring a sack lunch and your own happiness it will be"*.  If not, you'll probably be disappointed.
Then you will be one of those that leaves in the first year or you might last til year seven when it appears to many of us that people leave, for one reason or the other.  Those of us that are long timers do feel it IS close to being paradise.  BUT, please don't move here because I said that.  Do your homework, which means, spend at least a few months here or somewhere and then make a decision about whether you would want to be here as a resident. 

I'm open to any and all comments.  I hope this opens up to a discussion.  I've probably missed some categories. 

*The quote about bring your own sack lunch and your own happiness is used by a tour operator in Mexico.
  The first time I read that on his itinerary of the trip, I knew I wanted to travel with him.  Many, many, many
 trips later, I will tell you that the groups that travel with him are the most compatible people that I've ever 
met.  Just thought I'd share his philosophy.