He looks like a character straight out of a smoky blues club. His hat, a cross between a fedora and a panama, dark, perches on his head with the slightest tilt in the direction of bitchin’. A worn suit-like jacket, more like an army coat without the camouflage, completes his attire of loose pants and worn shoes. Square rimmed glasses and a badass horseshoe mustache and goatee line his perfectly symmetrical face. An aura of age with an ambling, sober, gait contradict his youthful skin and face. He wears bling that contrasts brightly against his black shirt. The look on his face, it’s either sour or pensive.
Hola. Buenos Dias, say I, in passing.
Hola Baaabeee he responds in his best Elvis impersonation.
He is long gone down the alley, his voice lingering at our door. This is Callejón Suspiros.
Blues Guy is one of the many characters we cross on the Callejón Suspiros. This alley of sighs at our front door is frequented by children, teens, young adults, middle age, the elderly and numerous mascotas (pets, in this case, dogs).
A large window in our living room affords us a sort of reversed voyeurism with passersby. I hear people burping and even caught someone picking her nose. We hear flashes of conversations in English, Spanish, and sometimes French. Twice in one morning, people sneezed while walking by. I wondered how many microbes blew in our open window?
Already, sidewalks here are narrow, but with convex bars on that window, there is an even greater reduction of sidewalk space. Daily, we witness people holding onto those blue bars to leverage themselves as they walk nearly on the edge of the sidewalk trying not to fall off and into the alligator infested waters…or cobblestone street. Facing forward, we can see every detail of their faces encroaching our private space. But they cannot see us. We like this. And those who are carrying objects – plastic bottles, keys, small children – cannot resist running that thing in hand along the bars. rthrthrthrthrthrthrth.
One day before we leave, I will sit at that window and photograph or video these curious conversers and noise makers as they pass by.
We’ve had tremendous amounts of rain since I last wrote. I mean, so much rain that roads get flooded in what appears to be a flash of time. I finally get what they mean by flash floods. I think. We saw a truck stranded in water up to the hood. And on a road that is well traveled. I didn’t have my camera otherwise you would be looking at a photo of it right now.
I LOVE everything about the rain with the exception of these two points: 1) 2/3 of the drivers (this is after a precise method of measurement) do not slow down rendering those of us walking the recipients of a splash fest, and 2) While it’s still easy enough to wash clothes in the rain (with the minor hassle of walking to the roof and getting drenched), hanging wet clothes (no dryer) on the clothesline outside does not make them dry very efficiently.
Interesting Tidbits and Updates
This town is chock full of talented folks – writers, painters, and the like. While I’m remaining relatively unsocial so that I can focus on my own writing and painting, I have taken the opportunity to meet a few folks. One in particular, Donna Meyer, who is not only a novelist but who also has a fabulous website about all things San Miguel.
We recently had lunch with our fabulous landlady, Aurora, at our favorite eating place, Via Organica, in Col. Guadalupe. Via Organica has kick-ass sopa de lentejas (lentil soup) and salads to live for. Given it’s a bit of a hike from our casa, we maximize on the trip by doubling up – eating and produce shopping.
Teaching English? Teaching Spanish? Teaching Spanglish.
The first afternoon that I went to the Centro Mexicana de Lengua y Cultura to assist the English teacher, I was met with a most curious surprise. The teacher was unavailable. Josefina gently lead me by the arm to the classroom, and as she walked off, leaving me there, stranded, she told me to do whatever I wanted with the students. I taught two classes by myself ON MY FIRST day volunteering. The first class comprised of tweens, and the second full-blown adolescents. I actually had more fun with the second class and essentially improvised my way through it. The second week I spent time with the littlest students of English. Sonia, the teacher was present, so I was simply assisting her. Aye Dios Mio they are so cute. I love being called teacher. We had a question period in which they could ask me questions, and I could return the favor. They were so eager to ask – much more so than the older kids. Little hands shot up: “What is jor favorite colore?” “What is jor favorite food?” “What is jor favorite animale?” “How old are jou?” Their mouths dropped with my response, for to them, I am very very ancient. “What is jor favorite game?” “Who is jor favorite princess?”
If you’d like to see the beautiful art this class of little ones created after I read Well Earth Well Me to them, click here.
Last week I helped teach a Spanish/English class. They were little ones again. Half learning English, half learning Spanish. I read Well Earth Well Me, and the teacher translated it. At one point, we were talking about different fruits and vegetables, and the teacher departed leaving me solo to figure it all out on my own – working with both languages. This experience is forcing me to learn important words like frutas y verduras. I also led a game of kid bingo and now know how to say Yellow Circle, Purple Rectangle, Blue Square, and Pink Triangle in Spanish: Círculo Amarillo, Rectángulo Morado, Cuadrado Azul, Triángulo Rosa.
A five year old, possibly the most precioso child I’ve ever seen in my life, answered the question, For what reason is litter harmful to the earth? She responded (after eagerly raising her hand): Se contamina el planeta. It contaminates the planet. How a 5-year old knows the word contaminate or even the concept astounded me. This bonita, pequena, niña was a joy to have in class. She was right there, I mean, right there. Her attention was not diverted for one second, and she was soaking it all in, wide, doe eyes, and raising her hand at every opportunity.
I’ve noticed some distinct cultural differences between the Mexican and American students (ages 5-late teens). While the American students seem to generally be more gregarious and assertive, sometimes verging on too much energy and not enough listening, the Mexican students are quite respectful and more timid, sometimes to the point of needing persuading and encouragement to speak up. But clearly, they listen to their teachers. And when Luis (another teacher) tells them no cell phone or it will be taken away and kept for a week, there is no push-back and there are no cell phones.
Getting our Health On
Scott and I joined a gym. The story we’ve been telling ourselves, the one about how we will start running, has been fiction. Given the cobblestone roads and the difficulty to find long stretches of open spaces here, we decided the only way to get serious was to pay. We now go four times a week. Surrounded by old(er) gringos and young, studly, Mexicans, we fit right in. Gimnasio Fitness International is a 25-minute walk from home. We are well warmed up by the time we arrive.
Operated by downright caring people, there is always food and water outside for the local, homeless, dogs. Last week I was hanging out with one of these dogs. He was sleeping on his side at the front stoop. When he awoke to receive some lovin’ from me, his raised head produced a most hideous gouge in his left eye. Instantly, I started brainstorming ways to get him to the vet (without a vehicle this is a challenge). I spoke with Beatrice inside and was told this is how he came to them, with an old injury. Another case of an untreated, injured dog left to fend for himself. Sometimes crying simply doesn’t solve the problem. He is too gentle and beautiful to not have a comfortable home and a bed to sleep in. They call him Pirata (Pirate). Clearly these stray dogs are cared for by the folks at el Gimnasio, still, some are not spayed and neutered (saw a female recently who looked like she had a litter not long ago) and like all of us, they deserve the comforts of a loving home. A big hand to Beatrice y Susana for helping these pups, not just with food and water but also helping to find them homes. Susy connected me via FB to a group Activistas San Miguel de Allende – worth a look and a like.
I do have a shout-out for those who frequent gyms and insist on wearing strong synthetic scents on their persons. Please, for the love of God, STOP. I’m truckin’ on the treadmill, lungs as open as FAO Schwartz the day before Christmas and those little cilia in full operation, flapping about and swaying back and forth and up and down n’ all, trying to capture every molecule of oxygen; do not come in my space with your cologne. This assault, the most offensive in a sacred place of physical exaltation, brings my oxygenation experience to a screeching halt. And you, chain smoker, 80’s headphones, guy, dousing your clothes with a most repugnant version of what can only be called Musk Hell topped off by stale-puke-scented-chewing gum. Your attempts do not mitigate the offense to my nasal cavities.
I found an awesome seamstress on Zacateros, one block past Pila Seca. Her name is Pilar (sp) Godínez. Should anyone need her number: 415-104-0652 (this, of course, being a Mexican number). Pilar sent me to a dingy bathroom that resembled those I saw in the small towns of Italy many years ago – closet-like, where the shower is hovering over the toilet. So awestruck by my environment, I forgot to hurry. It was pouring rain (again), and the bottom of my pants were soaked. I was chilled in this space.
I emerged from that dank place in my pretty, new, organic cotton, dress that Scott gave me nearly two months ago now, and back to her workshop, which is a garage transformed. The seamstress was awesome and repeatedly told me with great enthusiasm that my dress was “muy hermosa”. She reminded me of someone very special – my exmother-in-law from France. A young boy was sitting on a sofa that looked like it might have been picked up on the street. I figured he was her son. He waited patiently as she assisted me onto a chair. Sign language and Spanglish got me through the essence of my expectations as she pinned the dress, but eventually she knocked on a door (other side of the garage) and collected a young woman who completed the translation. I changed back into my wet clothes and waited as she finished sewing the seam of a pair of jeans. By Jorge, the young boy was a customer! They exchanged coins, he collected his jeans and departed. That poor kid sat quietly without even a tint (yes, I used that word intentionally) of frustration on his face, waiting for her to finish with me. All the while, she was in the middle of his work.
It was quite an auspicious encounter, really, meeting this seamstress. I had been searching for one since we arrived. I wrote to the Civil List and got two recommendations, both of which fell through. And she did a fabulous job (two layers of delicate cotton, one with an intricate design), also fixing another torn dress (this one 15 years old but still VERY much in style) all for 115 pesos or $9.00 US. Given her modest setup in the garage and the 40 year old Singer, I assumed this gem of a woman is not rolling in the dinero. I gave her a sizable tip knowing that still I was paying about one fourth of what I would have paid in Santa Cruz. Maybe even one fifth.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Scott went to two markets to buy an avocado for our typical beans and rice dinner, but both were closed. He remembered the muy pequeño market just around the corner from us. The short, curly-headed guy there didn’t have any (they don’t stock much of anything that has nutritional value), but he told Scott he would be right back. He left. He went over to his sister’s house and took one out of her kitchen and brought it down for Scott. Scott asked, cuanto cuesta? The guy had no idea, so Scott gave him 10 pesos ($.80) and called it a done deal.
Black Beans Discovery
Black beans are actually purple before they are cooked but after they are rinsed. Am I the only person on this planet that never noticed that? Granted, I am not the one in charge of bean production at our casa, but sheesh, I’ve been with the bean maker for nine years already. Time to get my observation skills honed.
Okay, not really, but since I was transitioning to rain from the purple bean thing, Purple Rain popped into my head. Just thought I’d share my flashback. I LOVE the rain especially if we don’t have to go out. Wearing pants (sometimes Scott’s sweats if they’re not being occupied) and a long sleeve shirt, the echo of rain on tin and surges spilling from the spouts sounding like tropical waterfalls. Soothing. I do not yet appreciate the sound of fireworks during a rainstorm. Fireworks are annoying and certainly not comforting like thunder. Stella is getting accustomed to the thunder, yet she still jumps at the onset of a firework series. And the 6:00 AM cannons – not sure any of us will grow accustomed to that.
With the rains come the bugs – inside the casa. The bathroom seems to be a meeting place for the critters – in one night Scott removed a scorpion, a cricket, and a giant spider. He has a special place several feet away from the house and across the road where he releases them. I think they march right back in.
The other day, after a rainstorm, I found myself puddle jumping near El Jardin. I stopped and noticed my surroundings – as clear and crisp as a Fall day in the Northeast US. That scent, the one I so savor, a mix of earth and freshly washed skies. I felt transported, and that moment could have been anywhere – old world Europe or rural Pennsylvania. Great joy sprung from within me along with the gratitude of how very fortunate I am to have this opportunity. And on my way I went, hopping from one puddle to the next.
Time to check the Ole Piehole, the Chompers, the Pearly Whites
By means of another auspicious encounter, Scott and I found a highly recommended dentist, Dra. Laura Elias located on the corner of San Elias y San Jorge in Colonial San Antonia. Her family settled the colonia which accounts for her having the same name as her street address. Dra. Laura is simply awesome.
Our appointment was on July 4. Yes, this is how we celebrated our Independence from England – teeth torture. We were the only people there come 4:00 PM. Never ever ever in my life have I had such a thorough cleaning and never before by the dentist, herself. Dra. Laura worked on my teeth for 90 minutes. She dug in under my gums scraping scraping scraping away those nasty plaque particles. The work was so intense that she gave me an intermission. Same with Scott too. And then the mouth check-up, rolling her fingers around my gums, under my tongue, looking down my throat for anything out of place like bumps or acorns that had been stored there since last Fall. She is very thorough. And all for 730 pesos or under $60.00 US. Add to it, she is an utter delight. Talking, laughing, telling jokes, humming, singing. And her assistant, Veronica, I think was her name, was a sweetheart.
There was a torrential downpour by the time Scott was finished (after 7:00 PM at this point), and Dra. Laura drove us back to our part of town – just one block from home. She is someone I would very much enjoy hanging out with. I imagine having a friend who is also a dentist subconsciously plants the reminder to floss daily. Friends with dental benefits.
With so many beautiful barrios in San Miguel, one can find herself walking every day and nary running out of new places to discover.
Going Nowhere Slowly and Other Curious Excursions
A weekend-long artisan faire was held at the Instituto de Allende. While it rained most of the weekend, spirits were high and vibrant colors illuminated the gray days.
Colonia San Antonio
We were hanging out at the plaza of Parroquia de San Antonio de Padua – people watching. I saw two heads pop out of a tree. I went over and sure enough three little boys were playing within the canopy of a tree. When their heads popped out again, I asked if I could take a photograph. They, all three, ducked and scurried down. Maybe they thought I would tell their mother?
La Biblioteca Publica
We really haven’t ventured far from town since we’ve arrived. This isn’t because we’re lazy so much as there is a LOT to do right here in San Miguel. La Biblioteca Publica offers regular activities including book readings and well, books. There are often groups of both Spanish and English speakers sitting together conversing and practicing the other’s language. Supposedly, the Biblioteca, which has a fascinating history, also has the largest selection of books in English in Latin America. We attended one by a South African author, Donvé Lee, on her latest book, An Intimate War. I am working to arrange a book reading at La Biblioteca of Well Earth Well Me!
This is a spot we take Stella almost every day for her morning business and a ball chase. It’s an exclusive neighborhood, but so far we haven’t been kicked out. The groundskeeper, Celestino, initially kept a close eye on us. I reckon now he feels confident that we clean up after our dog as well as other dogs. It’s a lovely park inspired and founded by a local gringo, George. He wanted a place for dogs to run given there are very few of those here. He funded most of the work and now enjoys the spot with his yellow lab, Crissy.
I think this is Celestino’s sign and despite the misspellings, his message about unauthorized persons on this private property is clear notwithstanding the fact we’re unauthorized persons (Stella included since she’s a person) standing on the private property as we were reading the sign.
Leaving the park and heading out of Barrio Aldeo another beautiful, well-groomed park affords us, one more pee opportunity before arrive back at the homestead. And sometimes Stella likes to do her business here too. *smiley face*
En El Jardin
So many weddings – not a surprise given the stunning venue. I much prefer to see a wedding than a funeral. But given the funeral we witnessed the other day with hundreds of people streaming down the street and a brass band playing “My Way”, I would’ve liked to have participated in that too – as an attendee not as the guest of honor. btw: I cringe every time I see a woman walking in high heels on the slippery sidewalks and cobblestone roads.
Mojigangas are giant paper maché puppets that can be found in every parade here in San Miguel. We often see them at El Jardin on the weekends or special occasions (which is practically every day in Mexico) as well. Legend has it that many Mojigangas are inspired by San Miguel ex-pats. To learn more about the Mojiganga Puppets, click here.
For quite some time, years, really, I’ve wanted to take a photography class. This one was worth the wait and definitely worth the reasonable cost. I learned more about my camera and photography during that week than years of reading on my own and picking the brains of friends with photography skills. What an amazing week I had taking Jo Brenzo’s fotografia class!
The Academia de Fotografia, located at Mesones 57 (interior #B) at Zona Central is a gallery/classroom combined. It’s well designed and a beautiful, well-lit venue. Jo, la maestra, is amazing. She limits attendance to four students. I had awesome, fun, and collaborative classmates, supposedly one of the best groups yet. It was good energy.
Below, I’ll share some of what I shot and later my partner’s photos of me.
This is a sampling of over 200 photos I shot of various circles I found while out and about. Circles circles everywhere, and not a stop to think!
Assignment: Portraits etc
One of our assignments was to take creative portraits. My partner was Ismael Franqui, a Spanish teacher from Puerto Rico living in Connecticut. Ismael helped me with some Spanish phrases such as Would you allow me to take your photo, please?
Me dejas tomarte una photo por favor? (if asking a younger person)
Me déjà tomarle una photo por favor? (if asking an older person – usted)
A Selection of Photos I shot of Ismael
He was a natural and a good sport as you can see the various set-ups he had to endure. This is a sampling of over 450 photos I took. We had an absolute blast exploring San Miguel for the perfect venue. We were like two kids released in a giant candy store. Or as Ismael puts it: It was like being kids again in a huge beautiful playground with no worries or concerns but to discover and play.
A Selection of Photos Ismael shot of Me
Admittedly, it felt odd be the central focus of Ismael’s session, but he was such a sweetie about it I felt increasingly comfortable.
This was taken at a super chido pub we discovered while looking for a venue – Las Cuatro Milpas at Barranca (Montes de Oca). Ismael ordered a water, and the woman behind the bar departed and returned several minutes later with…a bottle of water.
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
~ Ansel Adams
“Since I’m inarticulate, I express myself with images.”
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”
“I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them.
“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”
As street photographers, we are constantly trying to chase “The Decisive Moment”. It is part instinct, intuition, preparation, luck, and skill. However I would argue that the most important part is preparation. As Woody Allen once said, ”80 percent of success is just showing up”. Therefore in order to capture the decisive moment, you must always carry your camera with you everywhere you go and shoot constantly. If you have ever accidentally left your camera at home, you know how painful it is to miss the decisive moment and bash yourself in the head.
~Eric Kim Street Photographer
“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept”
~ H. Cartier-Bresson
“Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph
*Photos and stuff* Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use.
This is Mexico Post #17, to see the other Mexico posts, click click click away
Mexico Post #1, Me and My Trimalleolar go to Mexico with my Husband and our Pooch
Mexico Post #2, Dos Americanos y Su Perro en Mexico
Mexico Post #3, Feliz Ano Nuevo 2013
Mexico Post #4, Ballenas, Ballenas Hermosas
Mexico Post #5, Una Visita Morelia
Mexico Post #6, Mariposas Monarcas!
Mexico Post #7, Los Pueblos de Patzcuaro, Paracho, y Tzintzuntzan
Mexico Post #8, La pintoresca ciudad de San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #9, Guanajuato, Guanajuato
Mexico Post #10, Back to Sayulita and Jaime Visits!
Mexico Post #11, Semana Santa y Semana Pasqua
Mexico Post #12, Semana de Animales
Mexico Post #13, Semana de Amigos y Amigas
Mexico Post #14, Frida y Diego
Mexico Post #15, Adiós Sayulita
Mexico Post #16, Living and Grinning in San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #17, Puddle Jumping in San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #18, Guanajuato International Film Festival
Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul
Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico
Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor
Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia!
Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel
Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán
Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca
Mexico Post #27, 50 Shades of Green: On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas
Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas
Mexico Post #29, Almost Halloween Ed.: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles & Shamans
Mexico Post #30, Veracruz, Tampico y Estados Unidos