Attitde is a strange thing. It can change my hopes, fears, anxieties. The first time I came to San Miguel ( this is my third time) I was terrified to walk around the streets at night. Even jumping into a cab was a scary thing. I fumbled with my keys and it seemed to take an excruciating time to unlock the door. Nothing scary ever happened to me. Last year I even walked home from a concert after dark. I couldn’t get a cab and the closer I got to home the sillier it seemed to hail one. I remained cautious and once again I never had a problem. This year I find the broken bottles and barrbed wire strips on top of walls and the barred windows everywhere rather oppressive. When I was in Canada the only thing I heard on the news about Mexico were stories of killings by drug war lords. Here I never hear any such thing. Is San Miguel sitting in some sort of magic bubble? There are many very interesting lectures, lessons, programs, volunteer opportunities geared to every interest. The level of intellectual and cultural activity is astonishingly high. Almost all English speakers at least greet each other and very often they strike up,a conversation. There’s an easy openness on the street in the day.
Now what are the Mexicans doing? Many are working in service industries in hotels, restaurants, as cleaners, taxi drivers catering to these nice liberal Gringos and Gringas. I only get glimpses of the ordinary life of school teachers, bank employees, craftspeople as they drive around or buy vegetables in the big Tuesday market.
There is a lot of money in San Miguel, both Mexican and foreign. There is poverty too. There are enough begging children and grandmothers to make me get a handful of change to dip into when my “Northern Guilt” gets to me.
Is is this the reason for the fortress mentality? Are we afraid that poor people will steal from us? Strange that the easy openness of the day disappears at night. Well, we have bars and barbed wire, broken bottles on top of walls. Of course, bars keep people out, but they keep others in too. All a question of attitude, I guess.
It is winter in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The smell of this lemon when I scratched the peel was remarkable. There were a few sweet smelling blossoms down at the base of this rather neglected plant. What fragrance when I picked one. I have a lemon tree in a pot at home and someone is coming in twice a week to check on my house, be sure the alarm is working and water my little lemon tree and my other plants. They sit patiently in my kitchen waiting for our few months of intense, hot and humid summer.
The plants you see live on a terrace on a little street in the town. If it gets chilly at night in ” winter” at least they have almost constant sunshine during the day. How extreme our climate is in Montreal. When I took a taxi to the airport on Tuesday morning at the ungodly hour of 4 am, a bitter wind shrieked a spiteful goodbye. Our climate in my beloved hometown is so hostile that it affects our freedom to stroll around the streets as I did today in San Miguel. There is no struggle here to overcome snow, ice, fatigue from trudging through slushy streets.
I know I’m in my honeymoon period now. This town that is full of artists and writers has a sort of magic atmosphere. There is a house in this town that is for sale. My prudent self tells me to be careful. After all, I love my hometown and write poems about it. I love people who live in my hometown. Only trouble is, I write poems about San Miguel too. Love, stay away from me so I don’t do something rash!
Funny how that phrase can feel heavy, onerous, and yet this time, it doesn’t. I have lots of writing, organizing and preparation to do. It feels like diving into something welcome, something exciting. I am so aware of how lucky I have been to have been in a warm and beautiful environment for the whole of February. San Miguel in Mexico is a wonderful place with a near perfect climate and stimulating company. Every day I saw color, beauty, outdoor life in plants, birds and animals. Coming back I notice how people seem tired, strung out, sometimes even frantic with the strain of managing cold, snow and all that brings to daily life. Just managing the car is tiresome and requires a lot of planning in a long winter like the one we seem to be emerging from. I know just how lucky I have been to have avoided it.
And now it is time to do the work inspired by my stay in Mexico. Time for “wild writing” . Time for revision, for choosing pieces and for polishing poetry. Lots of work to do and plenty of energy to do it in! Finish up that second coffee and . . .let’s begin!
Hot air balloons love early morning.
They love the cool clouds.
The still air
of early morning.
Hot air balloons love the jet
The basket below
hangs in early morning.
Hot air balloons love pearl dawning.
Carried up by flame
and flame-clouded dawn
of early morning.j
Hot air balloons love gliding up and away
The faith, the joy
in the basket below.
Hot air balloons love to fly in early morning?
This conference is very intense. The calibre of the presenters is very high and the workshops are productive and pertinent. I get a bit exhausted and so this afternoon I went on an excursion to a nearby town justly famous for its church. This is the Church of Atotonilco. This is the site of the beginning of the Mexican uprising against the Spanish by the great hero Hidalgo. The ceilings and walls are covered in biblical scenes and texts. It happens to be the start of lent so there were groups of men attending retreats. They approached the church in procession with banners representing their communities and singing. I was very happy to see the church actively in use. Some things are nonsensical, as with many religious rituals but people’s faith is touching too. In the church yard were a couple of signs of spring – a flowering almond and a few little green plants pushing up through the ever-present cobblestones. It has been very rainy and cold over four days and attending the sessions in tents was very damp. I was glad of a good pair of thick shoes and a wooly poncho my kind landlady left for me. Some participants from Texas and Louisianna were up in arms but I thought of shovelling my steps and kept silent.
After visiting the church we went to a wonderful art studio. It was born of a collector’s interest in the artists of Mexico. Mayer Shacter was a renown ceramicist for decades. When his wife Susan Page went on a book tour to promote her self help book he took some time off to accompany her. Ms. Page is the executive director of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Mr. Shacter became interested in the many wonderful Mexican artists and out of his enthusiasm for collecting beautiful pieces his studio and shop developed. Our group spent a long time admiring the very interesting pieces, both contemporary and antique. As a museum guide, I can sincerely say this is one of the most impressive collections I have ever seen. The variety and quality of the carvings, ceramics, fabrics and antiques is stunning. I did a little modest shopping for my friends and family at home. Perhaps the photos are the greatest treasure. The name is the gallery is Galeria Atotonilco. Don’t hesitate to google it and if ever you are in San Miguel, it is a must.
We we are still celebrating the feast of Candalaria or Candlemas Day. There is a big component of buying and planting flowers, trees and bushes. The open air market is a temporary home to at least one hundred stalls. People come in covered trucks from far away and they sleep in the trucks or in pup tents set up in the park. The park has a basketball court where chairs are set up and various bands and dance troupes perform. As you can see from the picture there is a big element of revering nature that goes with this feast. The slogans on the cross as the entry-way encourage us to respect insects, water and plants. People sell pots and garden decorations too. These things can get pretty heavy so the solution is to have a fleet of wheelbarrows and the bigger orders can be transported to the car or home of the buyer. I noticed quite a few kids doing this work and felt sorry they were not in school. I was shy to ask them to pose for a photo and admit to being ashamed to have snapped this one secretly. I certainly did not have the heart to take a picture of the three year old who begged me to buy sunflower seeds in the square a little later. She was trailing after her sister who was about ten years old. This was a school day. There is not much begging. People want to sell dolls or hats or shawls but they are easily discouraged with a simple no thanks or shake of the head.
The other fellow pictured was an adult walking eight huge dogs ranging from Dalmatians to mastiffs. I guess this is a pretty good gig. After all it’s the same walk for all eight but I wondered who wanted such monsters. Who wanted them but had no time to walk them? Funny world. I am including a really nice architectural one of a very fancy hotel.
I received a notice by email that Toller Cranston would be laid to rest in the cemetery in San Miguel on Saturday, January 31, 2015. I have made friends with another Canadian woman here and we decided to go. I was interested in Toller Cranston as an artist and I had fond memories of him as a champion skater. I am also very interested in cemeteries and I thought this would be a good chance to see what the one in this town looked like. This is the second year I have spent some winter time in San Miguel. I have come to the conclusion that it is a place that most North Americans would like to believe is Mexico. It is warm in winter. It is a beautifully preserved colonial town. It has church bells, roosters, barking dogs enough to help you believe you are in another country. It can be relatively inexpensive if you are careful. It can be luxurious if you don’t have to care. The flowers, the festivals, the beautiful children are a treat. When you are bored there are a thousand things to occupy your time. You can find many foreign artists and artisans and writers and yoga experts and chakra masagers and fortune tellers and herbal medicine experts and podiatrists and . . . well, you get the picture. . . .All these “imported” people vary in skill in charm and in honesty. Many talented people both Mexican and foreign live, work, visit San Miguel. Toller Cranston was one of those talented, exceptional people who lived here. Upon reflection it seems to have been the perfect place for him to have lived.
My friend and I arrived a little early at the cemetery. Like cemeteries in most countries that enjoy a reasonable climate, flower sellers were at the gate. There was a Mexican funeral taking place just ahead of the crowd of people who had obviously gathered to pay respects to TC. (This is how I will refer to him from now on as I did not know him and so cannot call him Toller and it seems odd to write Mr. Cranston. I mean no disrespect. ) The Mexican mourners were many, they were in black, they were mourning. The traditional huge floral tributes, like round shields fixed high on poles were carried in. Our group of easily distinguished North Americans followed. It was very interesting to see the raised white tombs, the colorful crosses and statues, the toys on children’s’ graves. It was a sort of sturdy chaos of the dead. To my surprise, there was a segregated section for non Mexicans. Here the scene was very different. The same tall cyprus trees but here were sober stones or flat plots covered with some sort of ground cover and bordered with gravel. We were about 100 to pay respects and to my surprise and joy an eight-piece Mariachi band struck up and played some lively music while the Unitarian minister prepared and greeted visitors. My friend and I were there purely as respectful and interested fellow country-women of a significant artist so we remained firmly in the background. People were dressed in a sort of mourning garb. Some black, lots of red jackets, some purely flamboyant outfits. TC’s staff were dressed in black and were obviously very sad. The Unitarian minister did his Unitarian thing. I did catch a line of St. Paul in there somewhere. TC’s sister spoke very movingly as did his brother. People were called to speak and they reminisced about this “Renaissance Man” but to me the most touching tribute was by a member of his staff. Quiet, brief, obviously touched by the personal loss, it brought the reality of death to the fore. That what funerals are all about, after all. There is no re-naissance from this moment, at least not in the world we think we know. Other worlds are for other moments. As we left we heard a rousing round of applause. I later learned someone thought it would be fitting since “Toller loved applause”. I wonder, I wonder about that well meant gesture. Rest in peace and memory eternal.
Or so it seems. I was invited to a lovely dinner party yesterday. San Miguel is that kind of town. I have never been in a place where people were so eager to know me, eat with me, drink with me, invite me to groups. Really it is quite amazing! I attended the funeral of Toller Cranston yesterday in the morning – more about that in another post. It really deserves its own thoughts.
I stayed for three nights at the home of a friend, Lindy while waiting to get into my own rental. Lindy and I have not shared a long friendship but I feel somehow that we are on the same wavelength. She has a practical, down -to- earth streak that resonates with me. Some of the people I have met in San Miguel, while kind and most interesting seem to be out on a cloud to which I cannot aspire. Here the words of an old nun resonate. “Can’t means . . .I won’t” Perhaps true in this case. Anyway, my dinner company yesterday was far from that. Such charming people! The host was a gentleman who lived across the street from Lindy and two other ladies, both of whom speak wonderful Spanish and live in San Miguel. It is always such a surprise to have the doors or gates that face the streets in San Miguel opened and to sitep into a hidden world. In this case, my host had a large and beautiful courtyard full of many plants and flowers. The streets themselves are often not beautiful, lined as they are with blank walls and high gates. It is a little frustrating to know that something interesting lies beyond the doors, but it is very rewarding when one is let in. My own little rental has a small courtyard and a fountain with the restful sound of trickling water whenever I want it. So, last night I made the acquaintance of my host Bobby and the charming lady who also lives on the property, Van. I also met Charlie, Clara and Peluchita (I think!) These were three very sweet dogs who live with Bobby. Charlie is a pug who has delusions of grandeur. He sits on his own miniature chair and eyed us with rather an aloof air. Clara is a beautiful hound – a rescue dog – who instantly developed a deep affection for me and spent a good part of the evening licking exposed parts of my body. Peluchita – her name means plush toy animal and I wonder if I have spelled it right, is one of those white fluffy lively little dogs who love to play. All three doggies were quite interested in our delicious hors d’oeuvres but we managed to keep them to ourselves, selfish humans that we are. Our last arrival was Jane who was accompanied by Kiko. How to describe Kiko? He is a beautiful cream color with faint traces of caramel on his face and back. His ears are like those of a fox and his look is alert and intelligent. He is about the size of a coyote and has something of that look about him. He is adorable. He is young. He is vocal. He is a lively dinner companion to say the least. I was odd man out as I do not own a dog but the pooches all seemed to accept me very well. The only missing muzzle was Barkley, Lindy’s dog who stayed at home to catch up on his tennis watching. We had wonderful conversation – Bobby is a writer as is Jane and Van works in a book store and teaches part time and, of course, Lindy and I know each other and enjoy each others company. Dogs and humans learned about each other, enjoyed laughing and playing together and . . . .the food. . . was delicious. What a privilege to be welcomed into another San Miguel home and to make new friends – both two and four-legged.
I promised my my readers graffiti for the month of January but it was so dreadfully cold that I posted precious little. Now, I find myself surrounded by some pretty spectacular examples and I will try to give you a sample in the next few days. This one, beautifully accessorized with bougainvillea is at the end of my street where my friend is kindly putting me up until my rental is vacant. Yesterday was was a long day of travelling and it was bure bliss to sink into her preternaturally soft pillows and fall, fall like a stone into dark water and sleep until 8 o’clock. I am relearning the San Miguel walk which consists of keeping your eyes on the ground and gauging whether you or the person approaching in the other direction will step off into the road. If there is something of interest I stop walking for fear of a tumble over the cobblestones. Last year I saw quite a few gringos and gringas getting about on crutches or with casts. I am trying to avoid that fate. The other picture I am posting is of Toller Cranston’s door. You may have heard that he died a few days ago. On Monday it will be Candalaria ( Candlemas Day) and the flower merchants have their festival. Everyone buys plants and the growing season begins.