La clima

Lord, my friends in the southeastern U.S. are suffering this week and my heart goes out to them.  Here in San Miguel de Allende though, the rains have come.  Our weather has settled into its summer pattern – highs in the low 80’s during the day and dry as a bone – lows in the 60’s at night, with an evening potential of thunder storms.  With the fan blowing, I sleep under a (very light) blanket.

The idea of living in San Miguel de Allende came to me unformed and inchoate on a typical August day in Louisville, Kentucky.  I was walking Asher in the afternoon when a question leapt into my mind:  “Do you want to live (and die) in this climate?”  Like a guitar chord sounding pure as heaven the “NO!” roared into my consciousness.

When I began searching for a climate I could live with, San Miguel de Allende wasn’t on my radar.   During weeks of research on the Internet, slowly a constellation of needs began to build. Climate remained number one, but soon I realized that the presence of the arts, the opportunity for intellectual stimulation, and the opportunity for involvement in my community was running an almost indistinguishable second.

I looked at (the highlands) of Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Panama, Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala. Despite the fact that I lived in L.A. for ten years and San Francisco for nearly 15, met wonderful Mexicans in both places, and traveled to the border areas of Mexico for fun & exploration during those years , I didn’t look at the country for nearly six months.

Like many Americans with even the slightest interest in international affairs, I knew about the violence and concomitant lawlessness bleeding the country and, as sad as it is to admit it, I was afraid.  But one day a dear friend asked, “Why not Mexico?” in  general terms, and a flood gate opened.

Why not Mexico, indeed?  It’s such a big, fascinating country.  All of the other places I’d been researching felt like island nations somehow, but Mexico was entangled with the U.S., had more than enough room to roam, distinctive regions, a glorious geography, international cities, a wealth of different cultures, and a lovely town called San Miguel de Allende where most of my bleeding left sympathies could find an outlet.  Not to mention, despite the awful heat in April and May, perhaps the most perfect year-round climate on earth.  “Tuscany in the new hemisphere”, indeed!

I’m under no illusion as to how the accident of birth has blessed my life.  As an American with a small stipend through Social Security, I’ve had the chance to choose. The only proper response is to be grateful and to try to spread some of my ‘blessing’ around.

Viva Mexico!

PS – Like every other place on earth, San Miguel de Allende is not without its problems.  Water resources are scarce.  Poverty and lack of health care & education scar its landscape. Pollution and environmental degradation exact their toll, and the rich and the poor, living distinctly separate lives, experience all of this quite differently. Despite the siren calls of the realtors here, I don’t think anyone who isn’t willing to roll up their sleeves and engage in this community could be truly happy in their isolated mansion no matter how great the weather – because this is decidedly not paradise.

But, maybe that’s just me.







If I had a totem, it would be the wolf

Back on the block in Loo’vulle, I was known as “Aunt Cookie” to the dogs in my neighborhood.  Here in San Miguel de Allende, I usually don’t go out without broken up cookies in my pocket.  Call me Tia Galleta.

My two great passions have long been feminism and animal welfare, hence my visit to CASA Tuesday.  It turns out that I won’t be conducting English classes for the kids there – for kind of a stupid reason:  the only time slot available is 10:00 a.m.  I can barely slide out of the apartment by noon, so there’s no sense kidding myself. (Damn you, Socrates, and that whole “know thyself” thingy!)

In terms of CASA and my language deficit, the only program that’s bi-lingual is Development & Fundraising.  Well, I know a little something about that.  I await information about CASA’s needs, and how I might fill in some of the gaps.

Thus I turn to my second love, El Lobo’s descendants – the canine. This morning I met with volunteers for “Adopciones de Animales” at the (delicious) Bagel Cafe on Correo.

There are several animal welfare nonprofits in San Miguel (though Adopciones, just started in January of this year, isn’t yet incorporated) who have been working for decades to ease the plight of neglected animals (whose ‘plight’ remains deplorable nearly everywhere due to our primate behavior.)  Sociedad Protectua de Animales, is a no-kill shelter working to place companion animals. Yeah!

SAMM, or “Save a Mexican Mutt“,, places some dogs in homes here, but the majority go to the U.S. Yeah, redux!

There’s also the city’s dog pound, Ecologia, with a mandate to put homeless animals down in 5 days.  Amigos de Animales, whose mission is to provide low to no-cost spaying & neutering, works out of the pound, and right now Adopciones works under their umbrella. The group is trying to place animals in homes before their time is up.

Sounds like a Herculean task.

Count me in.

I don’t know the rate of dogs and cats rotating in and out [in a body bag] from Ecologia, and I probably don’t want to.  But, in answer to author Matthew Scully’s wonderful book,


The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (It’s probably in your local library),

animal welfare will always be a place where I’ll volunteer.

In fact, I don’t think the social issues that CASA addresses with at-risk adolescents – particularly in terms of domestic violence – are at all far removed from the neglect and abuse of animals.  Power over is power over, and abusive people frequently work up the scale from crushing bugs to crushing “the other”, usually for the same insipid reasons.

Ha!  I’d really like to explore the nexus between violence against people with violence against animals with CASA.  We’ll see what comes of my desire. Oh! Quel horreur, huh?  But honestly, what’s the use of being here if we can’t soften the blow?

Back in Loo’vulle I had Asher and Foosie to soften the blow.

Otherwise known as Sir Asher of Alta (inside joke)

Miss Foosie Mae Belle

Who’s t-shirt will read “I’m with the band.”

I left Asher with Foosie and my dear friend Peggy who loves them both absolutely.  He’s in Louisville for twenty-five reasons, not the least of which is that he’s terrified of fireworks.  But, because Foosie is the Hedy Lamar of cocker spaniels, and Asher is a Lothario who absolutely adores her, (O.K., AKC registered sire – he’s had 92 children – though he’s retired now and won’t be having a family with Hedy), I know he’s o.k.  Doesn’t mean I don’t miss him ….

So many in need.  People and animals.

Move over, Sisyphus, we’ve got some rocks to push!

Volunteering, Learning Spanish at Mach 5

I’m in overdrive on my quest to anchor myself in San Miguel de Allende and truly excited about the possibilities.  This afternoon I visited CASA, the Centro Para Los Adolescentes in the working class neighborhood of Santa Julia.  I came away so impressed with the work they’ve been doing for thirty years that I wound up a bit stunned.

The vision of my generation of women activists has been given flesh and bone in San Miguel de Allende more concretely than any place I’ve known in the states.  Maybe it’s because I’m seeing actions through the lens of a different culture where simple needs like nutrition, reproductive freedom, and education are so great in proportion to back home.

I don’t yet fully understand why I’m so impressed.  But, I’ll give you a little:

CASA has nine different programs, the majority of which are youth driven.  There are peer counselors going into the campo to teach what they’ve learned about nutrition, health, reproductive freedom, and family planning.  There is a theater group writing its own material and performing in the streets.  There is a radio program produced in telenovela style with PSA’s and guest speakers sandwiched in between the drama.  There is a lending library now building libraries in small towns.  A school for the children of single women and families under stress where the kids get two nutritious meals a day along with their lessons.

What truly set me ablaze is CASA’s accredited school for midwifery. In small towns in Mexico, and all emerging nations, there is little access to healthcare, resulting in an unacceptable rate of infant and maternal mortality.  The CASA Midwifery Model, with preference for the daughters of midwives, provides a technical and professional education for women who want to return to their rural communities as health care providers.

In San Miguel de Allende there’s a maternal hospital connected with the Midwifery program where statistics tell part of the tale – “CASA’s Hospital’s low birth weight rate has been 4.6% compared to Mexico’s 10.9%. CASA’s Caesarian rate is 13% – Guanajuato state (where I live) has a rate of 35%. CASA teaches 89% of the 233 skills identified by WHO as indispensable for birthing.  Mexico’s largest medical school teaches 45% and its largest nursing school teaches 54%.”

The truer part of the tale is the impact that each individual graduated midwife must have on the multiple hundreds of people she will help throughout her lifetime. Truly, it blows me away.

My language deficit makes me of little use to CASA or anyone else. I’m a child when it comes to Spanish, so I plan to sit in on an English class for los ninos at CASA so I can marvel at how this can be done without being able to translate. If it’s feasible, and I can figure out ESL quickly enough, I’ll volunteer to teach a weekly class.  After all, I will learn much more from the children than they will ever learn from me.

I feel exceedingly constrained by my Manglish.  This evening I joined “Conversaciones con Amigos” at La Biblioteca.  What delightful and interesting people!  Mexicans and English speaking, we traded opinions on the topic of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona’s proposed laws. Mexico’s presidential and local elections are on Sunday, so we traded some opinions on ‘the state of the nation’ as well.

It’s exhausting to truly listen in a foreign language.  After two hours I came away with brain freeze and muscle fatigue!  But, it was so enjoyable, and so absolutely necessary for me, that I’m determined to return Thursday night and each Tuesday and Thursday after that.  I’ll continue to work on Spanish over the Internet [god, I need verbs and tenses!], but there is absolutely nothing like speaking and hearing the language in real time. And, as my friends already know, I consider learning a new subject a way to beat back Alzheimer’s.

You know, anyone can donate to CASA over the Internet.

I know.  I know!  After my education in philanthropy in Maine, probably no one knows better than me how great the need in the States, and in your own community.  (It’s been said in the states that if all philanthropic dollars were spent out immediately, it would equal less than 1% of the federal government’s budget for Health & Human Services.)

Still, I can’t help myself.  A donation, no matter how small, would help CASA establish three more Schools of Midwifery in Mexico and one in Guatemala, as well as support the other programs.

Here’s that link again, and Google will translate the page for you:

Forgive me, but I just have to ask you.





Tormenta Tropicale Debby

I just love that the Spanish word for storm is ‘tormenta.’  As I write, tropical storm Debby is spinning over western Florida.  There’s some worry that it may change track and aim for Mexico’s east coast, but that looks more and more remote.  Basically, I just really like the word

I’ve been having a few tormentas, myself.  The last few days have been full of self-doubt and restlessness. I’ve been rattling around my sweet little apartment feeling lonely, disconnected, doubtful, and un-moored.

Natural enough, eh? But, in the process I’ve discovered that [another] fantasy has disappeared: I’d thought that retirement might mean that I’d laze around for a few months without a care (other than groceries and electric bills, that sort of thing), indulging my frugal whims. Instead, tomorrow I’ll visit CASA, a nonprofit assisting girls and young women, to learn how I might be useful.  At the same time I’ll have a way to improve my Spanish.

Mary and I went to La Pulga yesterday.  It’s a flea market without all the Chinese crap that clutters up the flea markets in the U.S. We didn’t buy anything primarily because I’m looking for specific items and they weren’t there. But, it’s held monthly and I’ll go again because it’s a bit of cheap fun.  And, OMG, a Mexican woman brought flan to sell.  Yum!



I sat down with visiting artist Jaime Adan this afternoon to talk about his art, drawing, the difficulties with drawing perspective, and the life of an artist.  I know that sounds like an E! interview, but I sat down on a curb on calle Correo after seeing his works on board lined up along a wall.  What impressed me first was his talent for drawing. Many painters can’t draw at all, but looking at Jaime’s hand is like looking at sketches from some medieval artist – timeless in technique.

The second thing I noticed was his subjects.  Jaime admits he’s been a gypsy traveling around Spain (where he’s from) and Latin America, mostly in the campo but sometimes in large cities, and chooses the marginalized, attempting to illuminate their dignity and in some way restore them to their own culture.

Through our conversation, I learned that he is totally in love with the spontaneity of plein air, and captures his subjects quickly. I love the wit in this painting titled “El Violin.”

I also learned that Jaime is self-taught!

Married, 35, and the father of two young children, Jaime is struggling to realize his own vision – and make a living. His work isn’t in a San Miguel de Allende gallery now, but may be in November. [There’s the possibility of a show in Boston in the fall as well.] As far as I’m concerned of course, he should be in a gallery now.

Those of us who love the visual arts and have tried our hand know the difficulties of giving our subjects gravity on the paper. Upon critical viewing, some of the (amatuerish) people or buildings I’ve painted look like they’re floating in air.  It’s hard to ground the subject in a flat representation, much less follow architectural geometry, but look what Jaime can do  with buildings:

To my eye, I can see that these buildings are made of concrete not just because of the textural work, but because they are “pressing” down into the earth.  The three women walk on solid ground.

The old saying that “all artists stand on the shoulders of giants” is true of Jaime Adan’s work.  I could see his influences immediately – Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin – stellar teachers! – and because he has a web site at, I can see those influences over a number of years of his work.  If you’d like to see more of his work, I encourage you to visit.

You might be interested in the category of commissions, work Jaime says he does to keep the wolf from the door.  Any artist would be thrilled to have this technique and feeling:

The world is so abundant with artistic talent that it’s tempting to let history sort it all out for us. If the critics judge them still good after 100 years, then we know we made a good investment.  Yet, here is an opportunity to support a self-taught ‘street artist’ in his living work and struggle. For readers who are in San Miguel de Allende, his shop is on the curb on Correo outside the Parroquia.  I encourage you to visit him before he leaves us to paint feverishly somewhere else, because he is doing gorgeous work of San Miguel de Allende right here, right now.

Viva Jaime Adan!

Jaime Adan

Mercado de Artesanías

Not wanting to do anything taxing today, I headed off for the Artisan’s Market to purchase a ‘ceramica por garrafon.’  Unless you own your own home in San Miguel de Allende, or have big bucks for a purification system in your rental, the drinking water isn’t purified.  A lot of us wind up purchasing pure water in huge plastic bottles, called a garrafon. They go for roughly $2.50 a pop, hold a lot of gallons that I can’t pick up, (I’m finding I’ll probably need two of these a month), and look like this:

Not very attractive, eh?  So if you want – and I wanted – you can purchase a ceramic ‘barrel’ with a spigot to hold the water jug upside down.  Here’s what that looks like, though most people have it on a metal stand instead of a table:

Of course you can buy them (for under $18.00 US) in any pattern you like.  I favor the blue and white – this one isn’t mine, but it’s close to the one I chose:

There are probably more than 100 stores in Zona Centro where you could purchase one of these babies.  All for pretty much the same price, and not too far from the vendors’ pricing at the Artisans’ Market.  But, committed to being frugal and looking for my best buy, I rarely feel that I can bargain with the stand alone shop owners.  Trust me, they’ve seen it all, and the Artisans’ Market is fun.

At the market, stretching several blocks with crafts under tents on both sides of the aisle, the competition is stiff.  Among the star lamps, the embroidered blouses, and the shoe stalls there are three ceramic vendors almost in a row.  Each of them needs your business.  Besides, if you don’t spend your money with them you may wander off and spend it on some gorgeous hand embroidered bed spread.

Some folks who’ve lived in Mexico a long time tell me they’re tired of decorating in ‘Mexicana.’ I might get tired of it too, but I don’t think so. Since I first saw Mexican ceramics around the age of 20 I’ve continued to enjoy the vibrant color and pattern put into simple housewares, clothing, and the decorative arts.  The problem in much of the States is that Mexican items are relatively rare, so you’re off to Pier I or Word Market – and that gets expensive.  Here one can indulge in these beautiful crafts for a fairly low price.

But, what I really, truly, always coveted [as unseemly as that sounds] is the budget-busting black pottery from Oaxaca:

 I find it hauntingly beautiful.

Intercam Part III, La Biblioteca, Restaurant reccs

No pictures of Dia el Los Locos because I was just too lazy to attend. I spent Sunday bumping around, fixing little things around the apartment, and learning how to watch movies through my lap top on t.v.  Wound up watching “The Grey” with Liam Neeson, though I wouldn’t particularly recommend it.  The writer had wolves coming into a camp site with fires lit.  Don’t they know anything about wolves? AND – they used an animatronic wolf to scare the humans, as if a real pack of wolves wasn’t enough.  Don’t get me started.

I am a bona fide Intercam customer.  As Dev Patel says in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, “It will all work out in the end.  And if it isn’t working out, it’s not the end.”  I signed my contract today, and it’s the end.

After Intercam I joined La Biblioteca as a “visitor.”  $100.00 MX for a year’s membership and $100 MX as a deposit returned when one checks out of San Miguel.  La Biblioteca is a large lending library with books in English [three books for two weeks] , a small theater, cafe, consignment shop with clothing, and a store with hot books on SMA for sale along with some jewelry and assorted.  They also hold classes in Spanish/English language exchange from 5 – 6 Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  I’ll be there, but I think I’ll be … quiet. [The parenthesis here would be a clue for most of you to stop laughing.]

I checked out a 1941 copy of  “The Berlitz Self-Teacher Spanish” and “Survivors in Mexico” by Rebecca West.  I’ve heard about this English traveler for most of my adult life.  She’s most famous for “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”, her 1941 book on Yugoslavia, which I’ve yet to read and definitely want to.  The genesis for “Survivors in Mexico” was her desire to interview Leon Trotsky’s last surviving relative living in Mexico.  My kind of girl!

I ate a fine lunch across the street from La Biblioteca’s theater entrance at Juan’s Cafe ETC., 67 Relox.  A filling Emplijaladas (soft tacos filled with chicken and drenched in a creamy bean sauce) and a humongous cappuccino (yum!) for roughly $5.90 US including tip.  And, they serve American style breakfast from 9 – 4:40 for the same price. Evidently it’s a gringo hang-out, small, intimate, with copies of “The New Yorker” hanging around. Fine with moi.

Talking about restaurants, here’s a shout out to Torta Munda on Umuran just off Quebrada.  I had an excellent ham & cheese sandwich with a coke there yesterday for $2.75 US.  Can’t beat the price, can’t beat the sandwich.  Plus, the owners are a joy.

Walked in and out of shops carrying my books on the way home which, excluding sit down time for lunch, put me on my feet in the heat for about three and a half hours.  Thus I’m too tired to attend the *free* performance of the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir tonight at the Angela Peralta Theater.

HOWEVER, I will not tire myself out Friday when the *free* International Mexican Violin (and cello) Festival at Teatro Santa Ana in the Biblioteca takes place at 8:00.  I love violin, but lord, I surely love the cello. I’m excited just writing about this.

I write *free* like this to let you know just how much quality music, theater and assorted goes on in San Miguel de Allende at no or low cost.

Pueblo Magico, indeed!

“It’s saturday night & I ain’t got nobody …”

But!  The fireworks, ah, more like concussion bombs, are on riot alert in the Centro.  The town’s gearing up for tomorrow’s “Dia de el Locos”, the mid-June parade to which, as we say in show biz, “The people are coming from far and wide.”

As far as I can make out, “Day of the Crazy People” is a lot like Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade, but probably without the extravagant choreography.  I love the Mummer’s Parade!  It’s totally without religion or politics, with its roots in medieval mummery – the one day out of the year when we serfs could turn the world upside down with no consequences.  Back in that day the poor dressed up as the rich, or a dog, or a clown, and the rich dressed up as the poor, or an elk, or a pig, or a (cough, cough, actor) and everybody made fun of every body else.

I hear that in San Miguel men dress up as women and women dress up as Teletubbies.  Still, they and we all owe a great debt to those crazy kids from the 13th century, doncha think?

I may wander out to the madness tomorrow for a look-see.  If I do, I’ll post pictures.

Intercam, Part II

Sadly, my contract didn’t make it back from Mexico City on Wednesday.  Facing the prospect of possessing only dollars in San Miguel, I hyper-ventilated for a moment and then reminded myself that I’m not completely without resources.  I agreed to call the charming Nora Friday morning.

When I called yesterday Nora gaily told me that my contract was there.  I was to come up to the mall after 2:00 because it’s a Friday and people are withdrawing for the weekend.  At 2:00 I sat at Nora’s desk while she retreived my contract.  Ooops.  There’s a glitch.  It seems someone at another Intercam (who shall remain nameless) typed the contract with my bank account number on it, but with another expat’s name.  A guy with an English sounding moniker straight out of Dickens.  Hmmmm ….

But I got my card – with the right number.  Step one achieved. (Evidently he has his very own numbered card, but his contract is under my name.)  What to do, what to do?

Monday I go to Intercam in centro to sign a corrected contract.

Oh!  Did I tell you it rained yesterday?  I was in the movie theater checking on times for “Snow White & the Huntsman” when I saw the sheets pour out of the heavens.  Really, young Mexicans must think all Americans are nuts because I immediately stepped into the “Happy Dance.”  “I feel good, dadadadada!”

I hope to perform a smaller version of the Happy Dance after my appointment with Intercam Centro on Monday.

Que divertido!

Earlier in the week Mary an I got a heads up on the 4th Annual Blues Festival this Friday and Saturday night.

This is the kind of music we grew up on and, true to form, I’m  shaking my booty as I pay for admission.

The Hotel Sautto on Hernandez Macias is a moderately priced destination with, as the lovely two women taking tickets tell me, three or four hundred rooms.  You can imagine the courtyard – all arched colonnades and flowering trees.

Rooms at the Sautto go for $35.00 US per night.  While the place was obviously once grand, the interior public rooms now have a little chipped plaster and some low-key water stains.  The common room where guests can watch t.v. or read could truly use a woman’s touch.  I looks like … ah … some hostels I stayed at in Europe. I suspect the rooms are spartan though adequate, but this all could be made up for by the gardens on the grounds.

Someone is loving on those flat, fan-shaped cacti, climbing roses, lime trees and huge flowering trees I can’t place.  That person is working every day to smooth the sand around the plants, weeding, watering and sweeping the brick circles that surround different groupings..  The big flowering trees I don’t recognize have small fading paper-thin lavendar blossoms. Though I remember that the Jacarandas flower in April, I wonder if I’m looking at late bloomers?

People enter the grounds from a parking lot in the back and when I ask about the big  trees I’m haughtily informed by four gringo guys that (a) I’ve mispronounced Jacaranda and (b) that it is Bougainvillea so intertwined with the trees that I can’t see where one begins and the other leaves off.  Geesz guys, thanks for the info.

I know a lot about the Sautto’s gardens because the first band wasn’t destined to become my favorite.  While Mary chats with our table mate, a 17 y.o. musician named Joseu, I’ve wandered alone down the brick walk way. In the middle I hear a parrott calling high up in a tree, but I can’t locate him.  ‘What a tiny paradise,’ I think to myself and, like humans do, wish I had this kind of retreat where I live rather than the parade of buses groaning up the hill directly in front of my living room windows.  Are we never satisfied?!

As I study the great big flowering trees, my unpleasant encounter with the gringo males is redeemed by three young Mexican men walking up from the parking lot.  Towards the rear I’ve stopped in my tracks in front of the trunk of a small ‘tree’ so curved and looping back onto itself that its branches look like an Islamic medallion, before its round canopy starts at about 5 and a half feet. I find myself and one of the Mexican kids standing together underneath this wonder and fingering its leaves while his companions go on ahead.  No one can see us and I wonder if I’m doing something stupid.  No.  The axiom that ‘like attracts like’ is true more often than not.  He, smiling at my wonder about this bush/tree, explains that it is the origin of the Bougainvillea vine covering the surrounding trees, and that it had probably originally been trained like a bonzi to form this living arabesque of 6″ round limbs before being allowed to climb.

Mary plays air guitar!  I haven’t met many chicas so unconcerned with how people look at them that they can allow themselves to be transported by runs on the guitar or, in my case, the bass.  In my experience women are usually the first people up to dance, but rarely do you see women so involved with chords and riffs that they almost involuntarily follow the notes in the air. Mary says I’m the first woman she’s met who does it too and, upon recognizing kindred souls, we completely give ourselves to the second band on a James Brown song.

Look at those old gringas grooving on the dance floor!  They’re having (a) time of their life.  They’re chunking and high-steppin’ to the bass line just as if they were 20 and free and wild.  They’re dancing with ten other women who look frighteningly close to a line dance.  (At least, I am!)  The waiters are grinning and running drinks to the tables where people are shouting and waving their arms in the air.  White and red stage lights are dissolving on the band while Bacchus does the shimmy in the corner.  It looks like the Little Dipper is over our heads.  There’s a wind in the tall trees making the branches sweep across the indigo and the lanterns coming on in the plaza swing just a little bit.   The wind makes the scene feel  wild, almost feral, like Dionysus is in the house.

As little Oliver says, “Please, sir.  Can I have some more?”