It can be a daunting thing to see beauty when one is alone. Late yesterday afternoon I sat in the square in front of the parochia of San Miguel and watched the sun turn the pink stone into a spun sugar wedding cake.  After 25 years of living alone, travelling alone, one would think I would be immune to the little jump of surprise at the beauty of the world.  You know, the one that makes you turn and smile at the person next to you …

So instead I empty my purse of the coins I have and give them to a grandmother who holds out a brown and very hard hand.  She is wearing an apron pieced together of many fabrics: plaids, stripes and flowers and a brilliant pink pocket.  She looks into my eyes for a shy moment, dark eyes surrounded by a sea of wrinkles.  Are you older than I am, I think.

I slip past a large group of young school children, first or second graders.  I wonder why they are lined up two by two at the church door. But I have my own preoccupations.

As soon as I sit to calm myself for a moment of quiet reflection, the children burst into the church, singing, waving their arms, clapping.  Someone up front is playing a guitar and I notice a priest standing down close to the front pews.  All the children come and sit up front and their parents, grandparents and siblings sit back with me.

There is a lot of enthusiastic singing  by the whole congregation and the priest speaks a few words, quietly and then he leads  us in the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.  He blesses the children and sends them off to find their families and in turn bless them.  A little boy comes to his grandmother and tries to trace the sign of the cross on her.  He makes a mistake and covers his face with his hands, giggling softly. It is a little hard as it is a mirror gesture of what the children usually do when they make the sign of the cross.  She kisses his hands, chubby and innocent and sends him off to sit with his companions.

It is the second Wednesday of Lent and I suddenly realize that this must be the Communion Class.  These children will receive first Communion around Easter time.  Much as I rebel against bowing to pictures or statues, I think teaching children to bless others is a good lesson.  This morning I showed, LIlly, the lady who cleans my apartment a video of the children singing and she confirmed that yes, it’s the preparation class. She blessed my sign language and crippled Spanish with her laughter.  Doubly blessed.

Reflections on Valentin’s Day



Mexicans love celebrations.  Now that Canadalaria is over ( the old Candlemas, or Presentation) it was time to turn to Valentine’s Day.  I saw many people walking around with bouquets of flowers, modest or extravagant and everywhere in the town were huge bunches of helium balloons, most sold by youngsters.  I read somewhere that over half the Mexican economy is ” informal”. What an innocent word for child exploitation, poor wages, lack of security or rights.  St. Valentine had nothing to do with bouquets of flowers or chocolates but with blood and martyrdom.  You could call it ful-on love…total sacrifice for the other.  Mexicans with their unflinching celebration of death add a new layer to a consideration of love.  Love is exhilarating, joyful, warm, of course, but tears have watered many a bouquet.  Longing, heartbreak loss are part of it….despite what Hallmark would like us to believe.  That red heart has to be strong and never falter.  Mexicans have Frida Kahlo for that…so I declare myself her disciple.  Let love spread out like a drop of blood in a glass of water.

Sigh! The Life of a Writer


So, here at the Writers’. Conference in San Miguel when we don’t have a workshop or keynote speaker or open mic ( gulp, I,have it tomorrow!) we lie down for a little nap on the lawn as the fountains play and eager writers have pitches with agents.  Oh, no, they sit in chairs at a table for that!  And what do we see as we take off our sneakers?  Why fluffy clouds and green leaves!  And we hear minah birds and turtle doves and the grass tickles out feet.  This gives us inspiration to write the great Canadian novel.  And that’s why we come here.

Jasmine Stars




This jasmine vine blooms over a bridge.  The bridge spans a dried up ravine full of stones, weeds and rubbish.  Does it ever fill with water, I wonder?  In my home I have a pot with exactly the same plant.  Rarely, it puts out a tiny white flower.  On those days as soon as I wake up I can smell the scent of that one flower.

It is quite cold here at night now, almost dipping to freezing point.  I wonder if the threat of frost makes this plant so prolific.  My plant that is coddled and brought into the house in early autumn for fear of killing it off is a prima donna.  Of course, I’m very happy to have the few precious blooms, but I wonder if it’s not a little complacent with its safe, beloved status.

Writing is like that.  As soon as I step into the fear zone, it gets better.  Oh, botany turned into philosophy.

Roll Over and Write



I am taking lessons from my favourite teacher, Judyth Hill.  Look her up.  Buy her books.  Know that she is a wonderful teacher of poetry.  Don’t ask me how she does it, but she’s got it.  One of the techniques she taught us yesterday was this idea of opening your eyes and in the first moment of consciousness writing whatever comes.  People scoff at this …” I have to go pee…..I need my coffee…..I can’t think at that moment.”  One of the most important ideas in this technique is that, yes, you are not ” thinking” in your everyday, logical way.  That’s the soul of poetry though.  To blend the real and the dreamlike state makes a poem and I would say, good fiction too.

Things have to be set up.  You need a clean page in your journal, a pen that writes well, maybe a lamp if you don’t have natural light and a bit of a prompt to set you off.  Ours was the scent of any flower we liked.  I chose daffodil because even though it is not sweet like a rose or jasmine, I love its sappy promise of spring.  We also were given some excerpts from a poet called Mirabai, a 15 th century writer….oh well you can look her up. We had to chose one line, write it on the top of the page and then…off to sleep.  The journal is right on the night table beside you.

Trust me, after a day of writing workshop, I was wiped and fell asleep like a stone thrown down the well.  Early in the still-dark morning a church bell clanged and woke me up.  Roll over and write, I thought.  I did, in spite of not being able to find my glasses ( they were later found in the tangle of the bed-clothes. ) I wrote in large messy letters and I have not even read what I wrote but I know it was something about a garden.

More surprises from Judyth today.  Daffodil kisses…sort of soft and cool and smelling that spring smell…you know… you who read this.

What is the difference?



This is my third visit to San Miguel in Mexico.  Now I know where to get what I need.  I know how to walk to my friend’s house without getting hopelessly lost in narrow streets.  I know how to sit in the main square, to buy stamps, which is the best bakery.  I am accepted as one of the regular Gringas and certain things about San Miguel have become routine for me.  When I was first encouraged to visit, I was told it was a ” magical” town.  I was sceptical about that term.  Certainly on my first visit I thought it beautiful and full of interesting people.  It still is but I have been able to look at this little town with some new insights.  I have many questions about it still and those questions are part of the attraction of the place.

There are two communities that live side by side here.  First are the Mexicans who claim this town as the cradle of the revolution  and a beautifully preserved colonial town ( some contradiction there?).  They take pride in the tradition of art and writing that flourishes here.  It is home to people who have nothing to do with art or music or writing too. They lie on the ground and fix cRs.  They drive the busses out of town.  One cleans my room once a week.

The other community is the ex-pat English speaking one.  Red necks don’t come to San Miguel.  I’ve never met anyone who makes his or her winter home here who was ‘t absolutely liberal in social attitudes and politics.  It’s interesting to see how these communities interact in sometimes uneasy ways.  The gulf between these communities is both gouged out and spanned by money.  I am considered rich by many of the people who pass me on the street.  Yet, if I were to lose my cash or my credit card it would be a catastrophe.  I am only rich here where others are poor.

A complicated situation that requires more thought.  In the meantime, let’s get that poem right.