Chico & Mia

Kelly Karger with Save a Mexican Mutt asked us to care for the most adorable little pup while she’s out of town for a few days.  Meet Chico:

CIMG2302This little guy is only about 3 months old and was scared out of his wits when he first met me, much less Mia.  She must look huge to him.

Mia spent two and a half relentless hours trying to get him to play, but he kept his distance.  She was gentle, but merciless. I of course used the old food trick to get him to come to me.  He is all ABOUT food.

Please, please, please play with me.  Pleeeeese.

Please, please, please play with me. Pleeeeese.

Outside or inside, no matter how many times she nudged him, got down on her stomach to make  herself smaller, nipped at his legs or pushed him nearly over with her nose, Chico put himself into a corner or flatly laid down in refusal.

Oh, COME ON, I not gonna hurt you.  No.  I 'fraid.

Oh, COME ON, I not gonna hurt you. No. I afraid.

Then, after another half hour of her pleading, old as I am, I got down on the floor with both of them. Bingo! Chico wanted to play with me, and if Mia was in the middle of that he’d play with her too!

Uh huh.  You asked for it, Mia.  Welcome to boy puppydom!

Uh huh. You asked for it, Mia. Welcome to boy puppydom!

CIMG2299

So, at 3.5 hours I have two tired dogs sleeping the first play session off.

And look forward to the next couple of days watching them get their game on.

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Both Mia and Chico are up for permanent adoption through SAMM and Adopciones de Animales. I just love ’em while I keep them safe for their second chance.

 

 

 

 

The temperament I see

parthenonOf course, living somewhere is vastly different from vacationing anywhere – nonetheless, I’m going to take a flyer here and say that if there is a culture in which I experienced a joyous compatibility, it was with the people of Greece. What was it I found so compelling there? So profoundly immediate, as if I’d lived there in another life and had returned home?

Greek hospitality is [literally] legendary; after all, they’ve been at it for more than 3,000 years. Yet for me, it went beyond the little kindnesses that put a traveler at ease, for I’ve found that wherever I’ve been lucky enough to travel.  Yes.  I am talking about a passion for life – the dancing, ‘Whoopa!’ shouting, Ouzo drinking, bouzouki playing, plate breaking kind of passion found in the poorest taverna in Athens, a village wedding on a decidingly not popular island (since I avoided the well traveled path), and in Greek-American nightclubs in Anywhere U.S.A.

greek_money_danceGreeks are not quiet people.  Despite their reputation for introducing rational thought to the Western Hemisphere – and god knows they’re rational, supremely political people – when their happiness breaks out it smashes the dishes. Somewhere in those twirling, stomping, dancing nights, in the wicked smiles at the grocery store during the day, in the winks and shrugs and world-weary sighs during long political discussions, I found souls unafraid to explode with joy.

I’m like that.  I’m not quiet when I’m happy. I whoop.  I dance.  I pray the night will never end and if it must that I can go out of it like a roman candle.  I’m loud and wild, Dionysian if you will, and I’ve always been that way.

So, it’s pretty much about temperament.  That’s why I feel like I’ve come home when I’m in the company of Greeks – and, to each her own.

Mexican woman dancingMexican people, at least here in San Miguel de Allende, are a very different kettle of fish. Undoubtedly their expressions of joy are more colorful, in the literal sense of the word, than many nations, but their temperament, at least in public, is, in a sense, much more dignified. It is if they are aware that the eyes of the community are upon them. Even the teenagers, in my experience, hew to unspoken rules of propriety.  The children do not run and shriek in public places. There is a distinctive gentleness in civic exchanges. There seems to me to be a sense of repression in the individual in favor of the community. And there is something a little dark.

I know I’m painting with a very broad brush but this is a blog, not an essay.  If you’d like, continue with me.

Many, many expats express a love for Mexico’s spiritual and physical beauty. I’ve no reason to disbelieve them and it is above all in the surprising gentleness of the people here with which I agree with their affections.  Yet, for me, there is such a religious overlay on the culture, which as a rationalist I cannot and do not appreciate, that I frequently find the people repressed, engaged as they are with endless religious celebrations which are, in essence, mournful.

religious procession

Yes, there’s a beauty in them.  Particularly when the kids take on the roles.

posadakidsRitual and tradition, almost everywhere, can be engaging for the sheer gravitas, so there’s an inherent beauty there. Mexico’s Day of the Dead contains that beauty.

Mexican cemetariesAnd there’s the other river of culture that runs beneath Catholicism here.  It’s celebrated in the light of day,

Aztec dancer from Tales of Mexicobut even a cursory knowledge of history shows it as a religious system no less repressive toward the individual. There were few more orderly societies in which the individual remained in his or her place than the Aztecs.  In my opinion it is one of the reasons the conquistadores were able to organize the colonized as quickly as they did.  They killed the lords who weren’t up for sale and bought off the rest of the aristocracy, keeping the plantation system as it currently operated.

Perhaps you don’t find organized religion to be a repressive force. But god knows the Mexican nation has disagreed.  Few countries have struggled as mightily to separate church and state.  At least, on paper.

So, perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe what I find to be so curiously solemn about the Mexican people is that old plantation system. For as sure as I’m an irreligious gringa, the caste system is alive and well in Mexico and the jobless, vastly over represented by the landless indigenous, struggle to eat. In that struggle they coalesce in community groups, fight desperately for change, and yes … pray to god their children will make it.

jesus

 

In the last year I’ve heard many reports that Mexico is one of the happiest nations on earth.  These are studies that severed the linkage between income and contentment, allowing Mexico to rise based on its commitment to family and culture.  I have no doubt that Mexicans are happy – how else to explain their gentleness (and forbearance for foreigners like me who really don’t speak their language!)

Yet, for me, their happiness remains opaque.  I have no doubt this is a failure in my character … still, I have some suspicions about other conditions that might contribute to what I see, in general, as a somber character.  They’ll have to wait for my next entry.

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PS – In case you’re wondering, I didn’t retire in Greece because I couldn’t afford it.  Just. That. Simple.

And after all, this blog is a whole lot more about me than it is about either country.

 

 

How my affair with Mexico began

I was raised on the East Coast.  As a kid, I lived close to Seabrook Farms in New Jersey.  The children I went to school with were white like me, Black, Lithuanian, Polish, Italian, Japanese and, if Latino, they came from Puerto Rico.

Seabrook-Farms

Seabrook has an interesting history. The company sought cheap labor from Eastern Europe after WWII, and invited Japanese-Americans interned during the war to a new start in Jersey.  Thus I grew up in what was probably the only multi-cultural part of south Jersey – not that I knew it at the time. If there were Mexican kids there I didn’t know them, and they would have been vastly outnumbered by the other ethnicities.

My introduction to Mexico came during the 10 years I lived in Los Angeles – beginning in 1967, the Summer of Love.

summer of love music postersSuffice it to say that I was neck-deep in work, “sex, drugs & rock n’ roll”, and that there were good times and bad times.  During the good times we used to visit

Olvera Street

a Mexican crafts market that provided an exotic break from my bumpy career in the entertainment business.

Capitol RecordsAs secretary to a television agent or a young PR flack or the ‘first woman bartender in Los Angeles’ (so I’ve been told), I went to a LOT of industry parties.  And that’s when I began to meet people from Mexico.

Hollywood houseIn retrospect, I must have been an insufferable 21 y.o. snob.  I was certainly a budding intellectual, achingly sincere, a passionate music lover, and simply appalled by conspicuous consumption – so the lawyers and agents, the PR giants and the television bookers, the promoters, the glamorous people, and the talented musicians who sucked up to all of them bored me no end.

At some point during a party I would wind up in the kitchen talking with an endless round of Mexican women who were either cooking, cleaning, or tending to the host’s children.  I quickly realized what they were sacrificing to work  in – as I saw it – the epicenter of hedonism, and I’d try to wheedle what they thought about the goings-on out of them. Of course they never told me,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

but they frequently evaded my questions with such good humor that I found myself asking them about their home towns and the children they’d left behind and in a weird Spanglish we would talk – woman to woman.  Unfailingly I would find their quiet dignity and easy smiles inspirational, but maybe that was in comparison to the drunken party going on in the living room.

When times were bad and I’d quit some entertainment job in a moral huff – or been fired for not being obsequious enough – I’d pick up a quick restaurant gig. [Honestly, I don’t know where this snobby attitude of mine came from, unless it was a working class radicalism I wasn’t yet aware of, but I simply couldn’t take shit from anybody, including Frank Sinatra who got me fired from a job.]

In restaurants I met the Mexican maids’ male counterparts.

Mexican restaurant workerAt that point in the game the Mexican guys were either working in the kitchen or busing tables. Both roles demanded that we work together closely.  You don’t make any money in the food biz if the cook is mad at you, and you make even less if you can’t turn your tables because the bus boy is pissed. On the other hand, if everybody is happy, everybody makes money, particularly the bus boy who’s working for a share of your tips.

In fact, I was gloriously happy working with Mexican guys. They were indefatigable! If we got in the weeds they would joke their way out of it with the blackest humor I’d yet been exposed to. There was something so comical in their Sisyphean shrugs, something so ancient in their patient encouragement, something so determined in our common pursuit of the dollar that even if we had a slow night we would emerge victorious in the kitchen – shared Coronas held high and laughing hysterically. My feet would hurt less just for being with them.

Of course I didn’t really know them.  I didn’t hang out with them, or the Mexican maids, outside of work or those awful parties. But I liked them, and because of that I looked at Mexican textiles and iron work differently.  I heard Mexican music differently.  I gained enormous respect for their work ethic. I understood their struggles more clearly and paid closer attention to the troubled history between their country and mine. In my mind, the humanity of the bus boys, cooks and maids spilled directly into the people working in California’s fields. I became an advocate for fair immigration. From that time until now I have fiercely defended the Mexican people whenever I’m among the stupidly prejudiced.

In so many ways, exactly as it was when I worked with Mexicans in Los Angeles, we are an entangled people sharing a common destiny.

Yet, I have had so much more to learn ….

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Bobby/LINCOLN update

Just heard from Bella.  She’s mad about him.

Lincoln side saddleWhat a gorgeous couple, eh?  Bella calls this one “Side Saddle”.  She says he’ll stay in just about any position without squirming.  Yes, I know.  He’s perfect. <grin>

This one is titled “Orange Monkey.”

Lincoln orange monkeyShe writes that Orange Monkey felt used after this, but Lincoln didn’t seem to care.

I’m going to call this one “Wild Man Hair”:

Lincoln hairNo, I don’t think Bella put gel on him.

Last but not least, here’s Lincoln on The Mighty Texas Dog Walk.

Lincoln Mighty Texas Dog WalkBella said he made an ass of himself on this walk.  In other words, he had his nose up the butt of every dog he could get near.

All together now: “Getting to know you ….. getting to know all about uuuuuuuu”

Oh, o.k.  one more.

Let’s call it “Lincoln Super-Duper Content and Happy”:

Lincoln super duper contentAwwwwwwwww.

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From foster mom to Forever Mom, Bella: I LOVE that you LOVE him! I’m also fairly sure you two were made for each other, and even though I’ll always think about him, I’m beyond glad that he’s in your loving Austin, TX. arms!

I Stand Corrected

One of my readers thought I was being unfair to San Miguel de Allende on my previous post, specifically when I posted a photograph of an “average neighborhood” in SMA.  Insofar as I put up a picture taken in San Luis Rey, which is on the outskirts of the city proper, I thought I’d make that right.  Here is a picture of an “average street” in San Miguel:

My street, Calle Las Flores

My street, Calle Las Flores

Here is a picture of where some of the wealthier among us live:

Guadiana SMAAnd here is a picture of my across the street neighbors’ upstairs windows.  They can’t afford to put glass in the frames because they have three children in school – which is by no means free in Mexico. But, that’s another story.

CIMG2272

Like the rest of the world, there are two San Miguels.  One holds the charms of “storybook lanes and rooftop cocktails”, the other is the place where the dust blows in and the vast majority of Mexicans hold their breath waiting for the next bill to drop in the slot.

I’ve been reminded that the article that I ranted against was written for tourists. I think these people are more precisely called consumers.

For example, years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to make a detour from a business trip to Geneva, Switzerland to stay for two weeks in Granada, Spain because (a) I hated the glossiness of Geneva, and (b) wanted to see the Alhambra (and hear authentic flamenco.) I also wanted to learn something about Granada.

Granada

It didn’t escape my notice that the Roma people, segregated to their own ghetto called El Albicin, were treated abominably by the Spanish. Much like the indigenous kids in San Miguel, the Roma children sold kleenex and chiclets in the public squares while their mothers extended the arm not holding a baby in an open plea.  Roma who tried to enter a restaurant were treated as if they’d already stolen the silverware before they got over the threshold. It was ugly and enlightening. No, it is not all tapas and castenets in Spain.

Had I written about that trip I would have sung about the glories of the Alhambra – oh what a lacey meditation reared in stone! – and the obvious rifts in a stratified society which reached far beyond the Roma. Perhaps a reader following in my footsteps might have actually learned something about the place she was about to visit.

Props here for the Alhambra:

AlhambraMakes you breathless, doesn’t it.

Consumers of places and people on the other hand don’t want to know about the layers of the societies they’re going to visit. Evidently, for them it must be all hushed twilights, reasonable accomodations, and lunch in a hidden garden. Sorry, but these breathless paens to San Miguel – the “most interesting town in the world”indeed!, make me gag.

I am not picking on San Miguel.  It is an interesting small town full of color.

Day of the Dead altar

Day of the Dead altar

I’ve found its Mexican residents to be almost uniformly gentle and quick to smile. Their patience living in a society which, as one home-boy described it to me, is “broken”, is breathtaking. That they can raise families on average wages that are now officially lower than China’s is astounding.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2013/04/05/mexican-wages-chinese/2058081/

What will come for Mexico in the future because of this grinding down of labor remains to be seen…

… and, did I say that it has a reasonably temperate dry climate for most of the year?

I’m not picking on San Miguel – I’m picking on the INSIPID BALLOON HEADS WHO WRITE STUPID ARTICLES ENTICING THE CONSUMING CLASS TO COME “ENGAGE INTELLECTUALLY”.

As if.

In  many ways I will be sorry to leave San Miguel de Allende.

But leave I must, and probably by the end of May, marking one full year of living in “the most interesting town in the world.”

Long story short:

shock from medical costs

 

We’ve already had this discussion.  Quality medical care is on a self-pay basis in Mexico unless you can afford the outrageous fees for expat insurance. There is no billing. The cost of prescriptions is over the moon.  As a life-long member of the toiling class, at least I have some protection in the U.S. with Medicare (which I continue to pay for but cannot use in Mexico.) And, while this could just be me, over the year I’ve been here I’ve become scared out of my wits of a disastrous health scare in San Miguel.

You should know that there’s an argument to be made about the quality of healthcare in Mexico vs. the U.S.  It is undoubtedly true that doctors in Mexico take more time with their patients, and seem to look at them less like a cash machine than whole persons.  Nurses and aids show the humanity of Mexico’s people, a place not yet fully monetized where every exchange is dollar-tallied. For expats with a budget just * * much larger than mine, Mexico is a reasonable choice.

If only the shills at International Living and Treats Magazine would leave it alone!

PS

BTW, this is the UN Building in Geneva, Switzerland.  I could no more imagine a Somalian refugee walking across the spacious green lawns flanking this edifice than I could a frog playing Bach on the violin.

Ecce homo.  How self-important must we actually be?

geneva_UN

“Makes me wanna holler … throw up both my hands”

 

 

As the jacaranda bloom, we reach new heights of hyperbole

God knows the Jacaranda is a beautiful color, somewhere between lavender and periwinkle blue. Shaken by the breeze, literally hundreds of blossoms fall to the ground each hour laying a carpet of dazzle over my patio stones, the plastic chairs, the table and the rest of the plants. And with the individual blossoms, which look a little like short, stubby-stemmed champagne flutes, comes a carpet of BEES.

bees in jacaranda

[It’s interesting that the bees never approach the flower from its wide fluted mouth.  It is always from the stem.  I suppose they’ve been living together for a very long time.]  So, if I want to sit on the patio I must sweep out a wide space around my chair, sending the flute flowers and a passel of angry bees away from my feet.  I like the look of Jacarandas, but so far they have dropped something on the patio – seeds, pods, blossoms – all day every day for the last six months. Were I a landscaper, I would plant them at the far end of a garden.

During my recovery from oral surgery we’ve been treated to another breathless article on the charms of San Miguel.  I kid you not, this is the title from Treats Magazine: San Miguel de Allende, The Most Interesting Town in the World. (Link comes later.)

Our author, Kelly Lee, is a “Beverly Hills-based lifestyle, travel, and fashion writer” and, without a hint of irony regarding the hyperbole of her title, gives us the San Miguel of “hidden courtyards”, “storybook lanes”, sensuous sunsets, and “languid ambling.” Ha!  I’d like to see her amble languidly on the uneven cobblestone sidewalks in Centro.

But, this is the San Miguel of the rich.  In this world it is all roof top gardens, tinkling wine glasses, and watching, during the “early-morning silence the light morph from an ombré gradation of inky indigo, turquoise, and periwinkle to amethyst, amber, and blush.”

San Miguel at dawnOh, Kelly!

O.k., fair enough, we all get to see the light in San Miguel.  But, let’s get real.

San Luis Rey 1Outside of Centro – the coveted, cossetted historic district where one bedroom apartments go for $750 USD and up and honestly, are not all that -and excepting a few manicured and gated developments, most people in San Miguel live on a street that looks like this. And most people in San Miguel are struggling to make housing costs and food prices that look a lot more like New Jersey than anywhere else in Mexico.  Repeat after me: San Miguel de Allende is the most expensive town in Mexico.

For example.  A gallon of milk in San Miguel costs 45 pesos.  At today’s exchange rate, that’s USD $3.78.  A loaf of (the most average) bread is $2.14.

Inside the city limits, one would be hard pressed to find a one bedroom apartment under $500 US.  If you did, you will freeze in the winter and bake in the summer because Mexican builders don’t go for insulation.  And if you did, you will probably be in a dicey neighborhood – which is basically all the rest of San Miguel except said cossetted historic Centro and the “developments.”

This blog has always been for the frugal expat – or, the poor Boomer – if you want to call us that. We live in an ordinary town where we can’t afford art lessons that are priced at Marin County levels from gringo artists who more often than not are visiting for the winter cull I guess, or get our chi straightened out while someone does our nails for $2.00 an hour. Combined with our out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions and health-care, outrageous rents for an emerging nation, and fairly average U.S. prices for food, we do NOT live in a bargain paradise.  Though of course the rich never have to think in those terms.

We are obviously not the people who make San Miguel “the most interesting town in the world.” So who the hell are they?

Beats me.  I’ve done the gallery route.  There are some wonderful artists, but most of it is derivative, like any other “arts” town.  You will not find anything that is politically provocative or  even ‘cutting-edge’ in terms of a new way of seeing.  There is a lot of music that comes to San Miguel, most of it very good, but the big acts go to Mexico City. In fact, there’s a huge amount of entertainment that the average Mexican can’t afford to attend.

And there’s a goddamn Christmas drive for the kids who live at the dump.

It is very true that Mexicans and Gringos work together in San Miguel to tackle its myriad of problems constituted by abuse at every level – from the “Disneyfication” of downtown at the expense of the neighborhoods,  to sub par housing for the majority of its citizens, to inadequate nutrition, roaming street dogs, and the ever-present La Grippa which seems to drift on an air composed of dust, feces, and poor waste treatment.  Perhaps the city does its best, though it is rife with rumor regarding disappearing public funds. Nonetheless, unless one is wearing incredibly rose-colored glasses, San Miguel de Allende has enormous public health problems that simply do not make it “the most interesting town in the world” UNLESS YOU’RE LIVING IN A BUBBLE.

Then again, there are those skies …

San Miguel sky

Oh.  Here’s your link from that parallel Universe.

http://treatsmagazine.com/articles/san-miguel-de-allende/

Did I say these articles make me grumpy?