Living in San Miguel
Today: an homage to my wife’s blog and our life in Mexico.
If you were not aware that I had pulled up stakes after living 37 years in Northern California and moved to Central Mexico in the spring of 2008, this post will put you in touch with much that delights and informs my life and work. I love being here; and happily put up with the extra travel time and expense to make it possible.
But first, meet Suzanne da Rosa, the Pepys diarist of expat experience in San Miguel. She captures the unvarnished, de-romanticized, day to day stories of what it is to live here. She has a gift for getting involved with local folks. They trust her instantly. Her posts are a treat that get beneath the naive gloss that tourists and new residents see.
We live in a working class neighborhood, Colonia Santa Julia. There are only a few gringos over here on the hill opposite the Parochia cathedral that dominates Colonia Centro, a 20 minute walk away. If you want to know what it’s really like to live here, her blog: www.LivinginSanMiguel.wordpress.com will put you in touch.
Centro from our rooftop palapa. (spring when the Jacarandas bloom)
We followed Suzanne’s daughter Georgia here 12 years ago. She did not want to go to Berkeley. She wanted to live in another culture and soak up their customs. She lived here 11 years, then left with Brian her new beau from Texas just as we moved in. Most people who visit San Miguel are swept up in its classical charm, the warmth of its people, the music and good food that are everywhere. We fell for all of that. But it was the presence of a genuine craft culture that completely seduced us.
Many people here really work with their hands and take great delight in it. Our next door neighbors Oscar and Aron (above) paint retablos that Suzanne sells in her store. Their work is a part of nearly everyone’s lives. It’s not a sideline or something that only the wealthy can afford as it is in the US. Suzanne and Georgia started importing local folk art in year two. I cheered them on. They were on the internet before anyone else – check out www.MexicanFolkArt.com
On every visit we roamed the country, buying chewy crafts and photographing the artists and their work. Even a street vendor selling avocados arranges them in a little pyramid. When pomegranates are in season they are sectioned and displayed just so…
We bought a fixer upper. Our craft experience deepened. For a year we worked closely with the albaniles (stone masons). There are almost no carpenters in Mexico. The kind of woodwork I did in Sonoma hardly exists here. Stone and metal and paint reign. The style tends toward zany. Tradition and economy come first. In those days we were spending half our year here. I would leave California to work in DC for a week, then drop down to San Miguel for two or three weeks, then back to DC and back to Sonoma. I didn’t feel like I lived anywhere.
In December of 2007 I had worked for the week just before Christmas in Seattle with HP and one of their clients. It was as cold and dark and wet as it can be without being ice and snow. When I got back to San Miguel it took me two days to crawl out from under the experience into the Mexican sunshine. For the entire week between Christmas and New Years I thought to myself, “Why don’t we live here?” On New Years Day 2008 I said it to Suzanne. In four months the house, cars and most of our belongings in Glen Ellen were gone. We shipped the things we most treasured to Mexico. I embarked on a one month business trip. Suzanne walked the 500 mile Camino de Santiago in Spain for the second time. The picture of Suzanne at the top of this post was taken May 26th 2008, the day she returned home – to San Miguel. The one below, New Years day 2009. We had just drawn a picture map of the 15 years we have spent together.
Oh yeah, that thing around my neck. It’s the bluetooth gizmo that connects my phone to my hearing aid. Never thought it would be cool to wear such a thing. Now, when you call, you will be part of the ringing in my ears.
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