24 February 2012

San Miguel de Allende: Reflections Year II

John Gardner wrote of fiction as a vivid and continuous dream. Poet/musician Joy Harjo, at the writers conference, called language the response to destruction. One might describe San Miguel de Allende in the same contradictory terms: a dreamlike response to other ways of life that no longer please. 15,000 expats might agree.

Daily life in this overgrown pueblo is languorous, residents and tourists like fish swimming contentedly in a bubbling tank. No one rushes anything. Even I walk slower here.

It was the rhythm of the city I remembered from my first visit and what I suspect keeps people here. Rather than reactive, the pace is a steady easy ebb and flow, and it is this pace, the simple dignity of the good Mexican people, and the hybrid surprisingly sophisticated culture that has evolved, that is truly like nowhere else, surely nowhere I’ve been.

The days do not pass here on their way to the next. They are inhabited, much as I’ve tried to do in SoCal but, as they say, life there too often gets in the way. I think only surfers are able to completely stay in their moments, although they too are expecting the next.

I arrived early one evening at a rooftop bar to await my daughter and a new friend. For roughly 40 minutes, instead of reading [of course I had Kindle with me] I sipped a glass of wine, watched the sun set behind the giant elegant church spire that marks El Centro, and people wandering through the plaza. The sound of children's laughter filled the air. One of those rare moments when I had no book nor computer screen in my face, nor intensive thoughts on my mind. Nearly meditative. My daughter has urged me to do more of this and she is so right. Soothes the soul.

Only church bells mark the time here – and roosters, who contrary to myth, start early and keep on crowing. Sometimes they battle the bells at day's end. No fog horns, no trains or factories, and rarely a siren. One hears the breeze. Even the hummingbirds can be heard. And the "primavera" bird whose contralto starts high and diminishes as if a reverse musical scale. Beautiful sound.

At the writers conference I was taken with young Mexican women, sitting oh so straight and proud in their chairs, notebooks open in their laps, pens in hand, awaiting instruction as if from the Gods.

"Buenos dias" is more than said, it is sung, and at a favorite café they brew my “te helado” fresh and always add more ice because of course I am American; they accept my strange ways.

People passing on the sidewalk never fail to cross themselves as they pass a church – they do not halt in conversation or step, but never fail to fulfill their obligation, for better or worse.

Young men step aside on the narrow sidewalks to let me pass and almost always smile. This is after all a matriarchal society.

The Mexicanos with whom I’ve spoken are pained by the drug culture that is polluting their country and hopeful for better lives. One tells me she does not understand why Americans hate her people. Enough said.

The genius and genial professor-artist whose seminar on Zola I so enjoyed, said, after all, all the amenities we rejoice in come from somewhere. Sadly, we forget; we take for granted our blessings. Not so much here. She also spoke of the spiral as intellectual and spiritual metaphor, related to Proust and Kabbalah [never thought I’d put those two words together] as the spiral is open on both ends: wisdom accumulating over time, without end. Love this image.

A sweet Spanish teacher corrects every mistake I make [many] with a nod and a smile of genuine appreciation for the effort. Within moments, we were more than maestra and estudiante, we were friends. This happens a lot here.

The waiters at restaurants everywhere who delight in Dana’s fluency indulge my efforts to hablar Espanol and do not mock me when one night I order pescador, the fisherman, instead of pescado. Although, maybe I’d like to meet the fisherman!

“Nothing lasts in life, not even death,” Proust said.

“All the body wants to do is heal,” says Dana Kraft, Naturopath.

In the end, that is what might be the secret to San Miguel – a place to more fully inhabit the moment, thus to heal from whatever it is that ails us. Or simply to refresh. 

Se le recommiendo.

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