Sunday, November 21, 2010

We have changed the house we'll live in

I know I said there wouldn't be any more posts, but life has few absolutes and I guess this wasn't one of them.

We have grown increasingly dubious about our choice of rental house for next year (see the blog from September 10).  This is the view that so captivated us, despite all the stairs.

As time has passed, the 8 or 10 flights of stairs up and down the hillside have loomed larger, not smaller.  We have become concerned that friends would find visiting us daunting, and that some friends would not physically be able to at all.  Rick says that his enthusiasm ran away with him (I guess I was an enabler ...).

I know we have told you about three or four houses we would be renting next year, but this is absolutely the final choice!

With the help of friends in San Miguel, we have been able to find a different house that is very lovely.  Because it has been listed for sale (the housing problem in the US has spilled over down there, so the owner has decided to rent it out instead) there are 360-degree rotation photos of the house on the realtor's website, and our friends also sent pictures from their visit.  We couldn't be more familiar with how it looks if we had been there ourselves.

For those of you familiar with San Miguel, the house is in the Colonia San Rafael and only six blocks from the Biblioteca and a couple more to the Jardin.  Here are some pictures, which I copied from the realtor's website. First, the living room and beyond it the dining room.

Here's the kitchen, to the left of the living room.

Here is your room when you come to visit.  It's on the first floor and has its own private full bath.

Upstairs, this is the solarium where we'll have our computers and a futon for overflow company.  It has a half bath.

This is our room upstairs, with its own private bath.

And here is the courtyard, with a fountain in the middle.  There is a covered area where we will put a table for eating outside and comfortable patio furniture.

The house has parking inside the walls, a washer and dryer on the rooftop terrace, comes with the services of a maid and a gardener (uncomfortably like the British Raj) and is absolutely huge at 3,000 square feet.  All this for $950 a month.

So we are vastly relieved that we won't have to schlep to the Mountainside Trek House, as our San Miguel friends Harry and Megan call it, and so delighted with the house we have now arranged to rent.

The moving truck comes on Monday, November 29; I am sure the mover is even more relieved about the change of destination than we are!  We will start the drive to San Miguel the following day, with Mela, our dog, and Lila Tov, our cat.

The adventure continues!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The last Mexico blog post

October 3, 2010.

We have been home for five days and are trying to entice our cat, Lila Tov, to come into the house -- she's had her affections alienated for three months by the house-sitter's dog.  Mela the dog was beside herself with joy to find us, as we were to find her.  The moving truck comes on November 29, and our To Do and To Get lists are long, long, long.

It will feel odd living in San Miguel and not writing this blog, but with it you have lived our delighted discovery of San Miguel and our gradual decision to move there permanently.  From now on it will be everyday life, not a new adventure.

Thank you for sharing our San Miguel adventure this summer with us.  I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog even half as much as I've enjoyed writing it for you.  Rick and I will have a guest room and look forward to showing you around our new home town.

Signing off,


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sept. 25: Benson, AZ

Hello, everyone

We left San Miguel at 4:00 on Thursday afternoon, after finally receiving our "no-immigrante" visas an hour earlier.  We left more possessions in the new house than we are taking back with us:  less to move in December.  The car is working well, even if the air conditioner occasionally leaves something to be desired -- it needs a rest every now and then.  Thank goodness, no tour of the Dodge dealers in Mexico this time!

We took a different route back than the one we took down.  We drove up the center of Mexico, which is very beautiful country.  Last night at dinner Rick took a big bite of a chili pepper they brought to the table -- he's tough, he can take it! -- and discovered that its kick spread throughout his mouth and onto his lips.  Here he is, trying to put out the fire.

Today we were stopped at three military checkpoints in Mexico as we neared the border.  One of them involved a wait of a full hour (in the Sonoran Desert heat), but when we finally got to the head of the line we were waved through.

In Aqua Prieta, the Mexican town across the border from Douglas, AZ, we saw the anti-immigrant fence we've read so much about.  It's enormous:  tall iron bars backed by thick wire, with another imposing line of fencing 20 feet behind that.  Once in Arizona, there was another checkpoint about 30 miles into the state.  The guard took one look at us, asked no questions, and waved us through.  I am sure that we benefited from Arizona's stringent racial profiling, which did not feel good at all.

Very tired, mucho driving today, now about halfway to Camano Island, and all is well.  Goodnight!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21

I'm so sorry it's been so long since I last wrote to you!  I've been having too much fun and not doing enough writing about it.  And what's more, I didn't notice a tiny control on my iPhone camera that screwed up most of the photos I thought I was taking, so I don't have enough pictures for you today.  Well, actually, it turns out I was taking video without realizing it:  useless if I wanted still pictures.  A very inadequate performance all around -- deep apologies.

Last Friday night Rick and I attended Kol Nidrei services for the beginning of Yom Kippur.  This is something I essentially can't do in the US without being a member of a synagogue, but here the services were open to all.  The music, which was the reason I wanted to go, was beautiful, and as expected I had trouble with the words.  Talking about God's love for the children of Israel is an obscenity after the Holocaust, in my opinion.  I'm glad I went, but won't feel the need to go again in future years.

Saturday we had friends here for the evening, all of whom we met through house-hunting for next year.  You may recall -- okay, you probably won't -- Liliane (Swiss) and Alfredo (American but living in Mexico for 50 years), who, after they showed us a house they owned which we didn't like, invited us back to their house where we had a wonderful conversation all afternoon.  Not long after that we saw a house owned by their friends Carmen and Abel (Mexican), and I remember writing that I thought these people too would become friends.  Well, it's been hard to schedule but we finally did and the conversation was stimulating, in both English and Spanish.

I continue to be astonished at how easy it is here to have wonderful talks with people, as opposed to the routine social pleasantries (usually, with one or two exceptions) on Camano Island.

Sunday evening Rick wasn't feeling well so I went alone to Gigi and Ken's house -- the house we will be living in next year.  They also invited a friend who will be acting essentially as the local property manager, since the owners live in Hawaii.  Perhaps it was the tail end of Hurricane Karl, but there was a storm going on with lots of brilliant lightning and dramatic thunder.  It was a spectacular sight to see all that spread out before me, for miles and miles.

Yesterday, in addition to my chorus rehearsal, I attended a meeting of the San Miguel Mac Users' Group.  This was the first such meeting I've attended anywhere, and had to laugh at some of the really geeky talk:  You take an SR12X cable and attach it through your router and modem to the Packet8 line next to the ethernet port, and such nonsense.  The session was on how to see movies and TV streamed from your computer but on your TV.  I learned that you can't (legally) get streamed Netflix movies in Mexico, so there are thriving businesses that hide your computer location to make it look like you're in the US.  This group means that I have found a source of technical help for when we move here in December.  It will be hard to replace Peter Dahl, who has been my computer savior since 1996, but we'll have to.

Today for the first time since I've been here I went with Rick to the Tuesday Market, held every Tuesday on the outskirts of town.  Rick has been there multiple times, though, when I've been working or sick or doing something else.  Vendors and merchants come from all over and set up temporary stalls selling everything.  And I do mean everything.  Clothes, produce, chickens (whole, gizzards, feet, and every other part piled up), makeup, rabbits and even an iguana, birds, fish that swim in tanks and fish that are ready to be eaten, tools, furniture, toys, blenders, gas heater parts, bicycle wheels, hair ribbons and barrettes and headbands, shoes, kitchen supplies (we bought a lime squeezer), belts, pet supplies (we bought a harness-type leash for our cat Lila Tov for the trip down here), and honestly, everything else.  Many of the clothing stalls had new clothes but a good number had used clothes piled up in huge heaps with signs that they were 20 or 10 or even 5 pesos apiece.  Many people, gringos and Mexicans, were going through the piles with great determination.  None of the clothes were the traditional Mexican style, but rather the same things one sees in the U.S.  This being Mexico, there were also many stalls that prepared food for people to buy and eat; the tables were always full and it was only 11:30 AM, after breakfast and before the day's main meal in early afternoon.  How can they eat so much?  And the market was HUGE, going on for aisle after aisle after aisle.  I am so sorry that I can't show you pictures of it.  The rabbits were especially cute.

This evening, to mark the occasion of our imminent departure from San Miguel -- which fills us both with sadness -- we had dinner with a couple of friends at a Spanish restaurant that featured paella, one of Rick's favorite dishes.  Fortunately, earlier today I figured out why I wasn't able to take pictures at the Tuesday Market, so at least I have one photo for you today.  The man on the left is Louis, who invited us a week ago to his house for the evening.  On the right is Stephen, the brilliant artist-lecturer whose talks on artists we have loved so much every week.

And of course, in the background on the left you'll see the guitarist.

Rick picked up the car today from the mechanic.  It's supposedly fixed, and we will find out soon if it is. Another scheduling hassle is our non-immigrant resident visas (as opposed to tourist visas), which we have applied for and which so far are not ready.  We just learned that because we must pick them up in person they can't be mailed to us, and hope they'll be ready tomorrow or Thursday, the day we planned to leave.  If not, we'll just have to hang around somehow until they are ready.  Well, as our friend Paul Petroff used to say, the important thing in life is to "ride the waves."

And we've chosen a mover.  The costs quoted to me varied enormously, from $5,600 to $15,400.  After checking references, we chose the second-lowest at $6,000.  We now have an official moving date:  November 29!  This move is getting realer and realer every day!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 16: Happy Mexican Independence!

Well, we're in the count-down now:  we leave San Miguel for Camano Island exactly a week from today, on September 23.  Not a good feeling!  And of course as usual, the car is in the shop.  Since we've been in San Miguel Rick has taken it to the Dodge dealer here in town four times (in addition to three Dodge dealers in towns on the way down), plus a car electrico place, plus now the most highly recommended mechanic in town.  I think the car has lived in repair shops more days than we've had it to use!  We are keeping our fingers crossed that this mechanic can fix the electrical problems that cause the dashboard lights to go out, the air conditioner to flip on and off, and most seriously the car to stall.  One time Rick drove it back from the Dodge dealer and the car stalled when he was driving down a steep hill.  Very scary stuff.

Next I'll let Rick tell you the bad part:  he went to a bullfight today.  I had gone to one in my 20s, so you can be sure I didn't go with him:  one is a lifetime is plenty for me.  But he had never been to one.

Hi from the gallery.  Today I went to the bullfight.  I was invited, otherwise I might have missed it.

First five junior matadors, called banderilleros, go to the five areas where they can hide behind a wooden shield.  Then the bull comes out, already with one pick in his shoulder.  He is grand and fierce and huge, at least 2,500 pounds of excitement and menace.

Then all five banderilleros challenge the bull with their capes, either running behind the barriers or distracting him from a potential victim.  This goes on for maybe ten minutes, tiring the bull and letting the crowd see his greatness.

Then the picadores come out, two of them, on large heavily padded horses.  They are carrying long pikes and when the bull attacks they stick him, drawing blood.  The other banderilleros draw the bull off with their capes if the picadores get in a jam.

After sticking the bull and drawing blood numerous times, two of the banderilleros with double picks show their great courage by further puncturing the bull with two picks that remain in his shoulders.  The bull is now bleeding, confused and tired.  Before the principal matador appeared, it was seven to one against the bull — a betting man's odds for sure.

I would like to be able to tell you how the "featured matador" then demonstrated his cape work and courage before issuing the coup de grâce on this bewildered beast, to the cheers of all the aficionados present, but this lily-livered gringo was long gone by that time.

I understand this event once tested man's courage against the ferocity of the powerful beast, but this had all the drama of the bull being shot by a high-powered rifle from the cheap seats — with none of the mercy that that shot would have given.

I know it's a culture thing, but where is the "sport" in confusing, tiring, and then causing this noble beast to bleed out BEFORE the fight begins?  I guess if I end up doing more writing, I will not be emulating Hemingway, at least in this respect.

Here's Jo back again.

A couple of days ago I went to a lecture at the Biblioteca (60 pesos, about $5!) on the history of Mexican independence, September 15, 1810.  It was a fascinating story.  After the conquest of the Aztecs in 1521, New Spain was inhabited by four classes.  The Spaniards, born in Spain, had the best positions, meaning lucrative and powerful.  Next were the Creoles, people born here to Spanish parents and not permitted to occupy the best positions.  Next were the various "mixed-blood" combinations among Spaniards, Creoles, Indians, and Africans.  Like slavery America, there were specific names for the various combinations and the lecturer showed us pictures of paintings of parents and children that were carefully labeled.  Last of course were the Indians, the indigenous peoples, who were 60% of the population in 1810.

Because Spain used New Spain exclusively to enrich its coffers for the monarchy and to fight futile wars, people here were bled dry financially and negative feelings rose high.  The insurrection in 1810 was led by the Creole class, supposedly because they were miffed at being excluded from the perks the native-born Spaniards enjoyed.  I haven't done any reading about it, but I suspect it was also the pattern we've seen in other revolutions where someone with education, i.e. a higher class, identifies with those lower down and is in a position to lead a movement.  That was true in America, true in Russia, true in France, and probably other places I don't know as much about.  But it was wonderful to know all this just before the celebration yesterday.

And what a celebration that was!  The insurrection of 1810, when New Spain forced Spain to agree to its independence, plus the revolution of 1910 (which gets short shrift in comparison) is celebrated in every town square in Mexico.  I had read in the local paper that we could expect 10,000 people in the Jardin and the four streets surrounding it.  That's not a big area but there had to be at least that number of people.  I'll try to describe what I saw.

Trees in the Jardin impeccably trimmed for the occasion.
People with little Mexican flags painted on their faces:  old and young, Mexican and American.
People waving Mexican flags of all sizes, from tiny to HUGE.
People wearing clothes in red, white and green, and wigs ditto.  I especially loved the little girls dressed in flouncy white dresses trimmed in red and green.
Everyone making noise!  Horns, groggers (like we have at Hanukkah), whistles, plus lots of yelling and whistling.  Mexicans love noise.
People with glue-on Sancho Panza black handlebar mustaches.
A teenage couple passionately and obliviously making out in the middle of the crowd.
Men with exaggeratedly big sombreros.
Babies gurgling, staring, crying, or sleeping.

And of course, entertainment up on the stage from 8 PM on.  There was Mexican rock music with deafening bass from the speakers set up everywhere.  There were folk dancers.  There was a drum corps that circled the square, accompanied by people holding flaming torches.  Of course at 9 PM there was a showing of the sound and light show on the Parroquia, the second time we've seen/heard that.

Rick had managed to snag a seat on a bench in front of the Parroquia, facing the stage, and he and I took turns sitting there.  That was prime real estate!  There were so many people in front of me that after a while the lines of people wanting to go left or go right were barely able to move, and I sat down in order to have some breathing space in front of my face, created by the distance from my knees to my body.  Eventually the bench got too uncomfortable and with much difficulty we pushed our way to another part of the square.

At around 10:30 the drum corps, torch-bearers, and people dressed up as the poor, badly dressed insurgents of 1810 accompanied the mayor, a woman named Lucy Nunez, to the Casa de Allende (Miguel Allende, one of the leaders of the movement) at one of the corners of the square for the "ceremonio del grito," the ceremony of the shout, at 11 PM.  The grito commemorates the beginning of the insurrection, when Father Hidaldo in the nearby town of Dolores issued a call to arms and people responded in droves.  The reading of the grito happens all over Mexico at 11 PM on the 15th and this is what it is.  After each phrase, imagine thousands upon thousands of people yelling "Viva!"  Yours truly included.

Long live the heroes that gave us our Fatherland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Moreles!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long live Allende! (that got an especially big response)
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live national independence!
Long live the independence bicentennial! (for this year only)
Long live the centennial of the revolution (ditto)
Long live Mexico!
Long live Mexico!
Long live Mexico!

With all the Vivas! after each phrase, it felt just like Dayenu at a Passover seder, when the leader says each thing God did for us when he led us out of Egypt and everyone enthusiastically responds "Dayenu!" — it would have been enough.

And the crowd was simply astonishing.  Here are only a few of them.  The stick in front had a big flag; you can see another in the center farther back.

Screaming, yelling, singing, blowing horns, waving flags, all in utter joy.  People with means had rented hotel rooms on the square and from their balconies had a great view of the pandemonium.

By now the crowd was at its thickest.  Everyone was jammed up against everyone else.  If you wanted to go somewhere else there was absolutely no way to do it:  picture a totally gridlocked traffic jam.  In fact, if you lost your balance you could not fall.  You grinned at people pushing into you because they were being pushed themselves.  Only once in my life have I been in a crowd like that:  when I was 17 at Times Square on New Year's Eve.  Unlike that evening, here in San Miguel I felt (and was) utterly safe and surrounded by happy people of good will.

Immediately after the grito was called out and all the Vivas! were yelled, there was an enormous fireworks display, accompanied by the frenzied clanging of church bells.  Mexicans must be the world leader in fireworks.

Not only were there fireworks right above our heads — it was really hard to turn in the crush to see them! — but two fireworks towers had been built in front of the Parroquia.  They were lit in sections, so that the impetus created by the momentum of burning powder caused lit-up wheels to turn and circles and spirals to spin.  The grand finale was "1810 - 2010" and "Viva Mexico!" in fireworks at the top of the two towers.

It was a spectacle I will remember for the rest of my life.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 13

On Saturday we went to the weekly Mercado Organico in Parque Juarez, a nearby and very beautiful park.  (And damn, I forgot my iPhone at home so I couldn't take pictures for you.)  There were many booths of gorgeous produce, including huge yellow squash blossoms.  When we had dinner last week at Natalie's house, she made squash blossom soup:  wonderful!  There were booths selling all sorts of vegetables and fruits, baked goods, cheese, coffee, and honey and jams, as well as clothing and ceramic things.  One thing that impressed me was a terracotta container -- picture a bulbous bottom maybe 6" in diameter and a tall neck.  You plant it up to the neck in soil, say in a large planter, and plant your flowers or strawberries or whatever around it.  Then you fill the terracotta container with water, which seeps out slowly over a few days to keep your plants moist.  Is that not ingenious?  And as always, happy people in a beautiful setting.

I have an update on the awful news I gave you a month or so ago from an article I read in the local paper, about the six young and uneducated women who were in prison from 19 to 25 years for abortions or in one case a miscarriage.  I am happy to tell you that all six have been released.  I'm sure the publicity is what did the trick.  But what about all the others about whom there is no publicity?

Other good news is that on Saturday really for the first time I've been here I was able to walk smoothly and with no pain in my hips.  Maybe it was all the time I was flat on my back when I was sick?  I don't know what the difference was, but it felt like I was flying!

Saturday evening were invited to the house of a friend of Rick's from his writing group, a man named Louis.  I mentioned him before -- he's the man who manages to live here on $595 a month, including two trips to the Boston VA hospital every year for medical services.  He has a wonderful house!  Four stories, including the rooftop garden that most houses here have, of small but perfect rooms.  Lots of art and many beautiful things.  We sat on his patio and happily talked for over four hours.  I honestly don't think that we had any conversations as stimulating as this at any time in the almost five years we lived on Camano Island, and here we've had a number of them.  This is a magical place.

Yesterday we saw something special in the early evening in the Jardin.  A small orchestra was playing dance music in the gazebo in the middle of the Jardin, and all sorts of couples -- old and young, Mexican and expats -- were dancing to the music.  There were just four couples dancing a tango, some of them quite good, too, and many more couples dancing a salsa.  The area around where they were dancing was thronged with onlookers like us.

We were on our way to a restaurant that was highly recommended on the San Miguel listserv for a traditional Mexican dish we learned about at the Erev Roshashah dinner we went to last week (I think I forgot to tell you about that -- about 50 people there!) called chiles en nogado.  I looked up "nogado" and couldn't find a translation -- does anyone out there know what "nogado" means?  An amazing dish!  Roasted sweet bell peppers stuffed with a mixture of chopped beef, nuts, fruits, and seasoning, baked, and topped with a creamed walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.  Very patriotic and often eaten on Independence Day:  green chiles, white sauce, and red pomegranate seeds!  So delicious!  The restaurant, of course, is all decked out for the bicentennial and like many, is in the courtyard of a colonial building a couple of hundred years old.

We have learned the trick of eating out here.  We split an appetizer -- imagine, last night it was cold cream of avocado soup! -- and the main course.  Even with drinks and a tip the entire wonderful dinner came to $22 and it's easily possible to have dinner for less.  This town must have a thousand restaurants:  eating is a big-deal pastime here, and many of the restaurants are very, very good. Of course, many visitors to San Miguel have plenty of money and go from one restaurant to the next.  I have rarely had to resort to tortilla food, thank goodness.

This week San Miguel is THE place to be in the entire country.  The Bicentennial of independence from Spain started here in San Miguel and in a town about 15 miles away, Dolores Hidalgo, on September 15 and 16, 1810, by two men whose names, you will not be surprised to learn, were Allende and Hidalgo.  I have read that Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico, will be in Dolores to commemorate it.  An American told me that our Barack Obama will also be here, but I don't know if that's true.  Rick just called me to tell me that a regiment of dozens of men on horseback were parading around the Jardin in full costumed regalia to cries of "Viva Mexico!" from the crowd.

Moving here is starting to take on a new reality:  I am calling movers.  I have learned that unlike the US where moving costs are tightly regulated and there's basically no cost variation, there's plenty of cost variation here.  So we're comparison shopping.  I'll tell you more about this as I learn more.  It's exciting!

Friday, September 10, 2010

BIG NEWS! (September 10)

As many of you know, Rick and I came here with a careful decision-making plan about whether to move here.  We very much wanted to avoid any decision that we would regret:  67 is just too old for a big mistake like that.  The first part of our plan has been to live here this summer, and if we liked it to live here for an entire year before making a final decision (well, to the extent that any such decision can be final:  the best-laid plans, and so forth).  The summer is almost up -- we'll be leaving two weeks from yesterday -- and have rented a house for next year.  So far, all is according to plan.

This week we realized that there is honestly no point in putting off the decision any longer.  If you have been reading this blog even just occasionally, you will know how much we love it here.  Rick had no hesitation whatsoever, but I did and had to think it through.  We have agreed we each have veto power on all major decisions, the only fair way to go about it, I think.

A couple of considerations entered into my thinking.  As you may know, we have rented a wonderful house with a spectacular view over San Miguel.  The downside is that the "street" consists of stairs up the hillside.  It is possible that we will find that the stairs are just too hard (most likely it would be I and not Rick who would), in which case we would have to find another house to rent on a real street.  Moving again would cost money and hassle, but it's do-able.  We were at the house this morning, and here's a photo of the front of the house, with Rick and the landlady.

They are standing on the bottom (garden) terrace.  Above them you can see the terrace off the two top bedrooms.  Above that, not visible here, is the rooftop terrace.  I wish I could have gotten a photo of the full width of the house, more than 40 feet wide, but I would have had to back up so much the garden would have gotten in the way.  The round purple thing is a sculpture, by the way -- the owners had a gallery here in San Miguel.  And look at the masonry!  Do you remember I posted a photo of masonry in that style in July?  I think it's so beautiful.

The second consideration was harder.  I have been sick quite a bit this summer, which is very unlike me. I had some kind of flu-type thing and later parasites.  Each lasted quite a while.  Although I suspect the illnesses were coincidental, I thought about whether I would want to live here if I am not as healthy as I normally am back home.  I gave it a lot of thought.  I finally decided that the life here is so wonderful that I would rather be well part-time in San Miguel than well full-time back home.  Although frankly I think it's unlikely that I'll be sick as much here in the future, it's best to take a worst-case scenario as the basis for a big decision.

You are probably thinking about health care.  We have Medicare in the US, of course.  We will maintain our Medicare supplement insurance and will go to the US for any big procedure that is foreseeable.  For routine and emergency care, both of which are available at high quality here, we will pay out of pocket (and it's cheaper here).  Of course it's emergency care that's the issue.  We're aware that it's a gamble but it's one we're willing to take in exchange for the benefits of living here.

So we are in the process of changing our tourist visa to a "long-term, non-immigrant" visa, called an FM3.  Instead of our previous plan to pack up all our furniture and store it in the garage to rent out the house, we will hire a mover and move it all here in December, and rent out the house.  The FM3 will allow us to bring in household possessions tax-free one time, so it's best to do it all at once.

We are very excited and very happy to be moving here for good.  Now you have an even BIGGER reason to come visit us here!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

September 9

Today I think I may have more photos than news.

I have been enthralled by all the national flagwaving here.  You can't go down a street without seeing red, white, and green flags or bunting or other sorts of decorations hanging from balconies or strung up over the streets.  As I mentioned the other day, the sellers of these patriotic materials are out in full force.  This is what they look like.

I even saw a woman on the street wearing a red, white and green wig, like in the middle picture.  I love it all:  it's so exuberant!

I'm happy to report that I continue to feel well.  This morning I drank my first batch of kefir (pronounced KEEfer), the souped-up yogurt stuff I'm making every day from starter "grains" (clumped milk micro-organisms, looks like popcorn kernels), and intend never to have parasites again.  The grains take about a day to ferment the lactose in the milk; it tastes like buttermilk and has the texture of thin yogurt.  I got the grains yesterday morning from a woman here who generously gave me her extras and even came to my house to show me how to make it.  If you're curious about kefir -- I knew absolutely nothing about it -- here's the Wikipedia entry:  It's also interesting to look up kefir vs. yogurt.

Today I walked to the Biblioteca, probably half a mile or so and much of it uphill.  This was my longest walk in probably three weeks because I was feeling so lousy.  My path takes me through the Jardin, which is wonderful because there's always something new to see no matter the time of day.  It's been raining in the evening lately, and today I watched a bunch of guys erecting an enormous tent over the place where the spectators sit to watch whatever show is going on.

The man tying the tent to the bars at the left, and there's another at the right, is maneuvering himself along at the top of a ladder, wiggling his hips to move the ladder legs like stilts!  The steps in the background are the main entrance to the Parroquia.

At the Biblioteca I found Rick at a table in conversation with a woman who's lived in Mexico for many years.  Befor we knew it, we'd been talking for two hours and have made a new friend.  I can't get over this.  And unlike Camano Island, people here don't just accept our invitations, they invite us back!  Even first!

Tonight we met our friends Megan and Harry for an evening that was superb.  To celebrate Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year -- L'Shana Tova, everyone! -- there was a concert of Sephardic Jewish music in a totally gorgeous courtyard at the Instituto Allende.  I had never been in this courtyard.  There was no way to take a photo that would give you a good idea of it, so I'll try to describe it.  Imagine a huge space covered by a white canvas roof against the sun and rain.  Open on one end, there is a spectacular view out over the center of town, with the Parroquia in the middle.  Along the walls are trees and plants, and there's stone art hanging on the stone walls of the courtyard.  Whatever my eyes fell upon was lovely.  Honestly, it was so beautiful I found myself breathless and teary-eyed.  It is such a privilege to live in this town!

There was a huge turnout, something like a hundred people, many of whom stood at the back and around the sides.  The music was sung in Ladino, the language of Sephardic Jews originally from Spain and Portugal.  Some of the music sounded Hebrew to me and some sounded Hispanic.  It was a wonderful New Year's present.  Then in a gallery opening off the courtyard there was an art exhibit of photographs I loved but the other three weren't so impressed with.  The four of us went out to dinner and once again, the talk never flagged.  I keep being astonished at this.

As your last blog present, I give you a photo of my favorite tree in San Miguel.

You have to love a town that loves trees this much.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September 7

It feels so good to feel good again!  I don't have all my energy back yet -- long walks in town are still a problem -- but I feel like myself again, finally, and am once again living the wonderful life here.  How terrific it is to be healthy!  And I have had some superb days since I last wrote to you.

By the way, the technology gods are smiling upon me today.  Here's the picture Rick took of me getting the IV fluids at La Clinica on Friday.

On Saturday Rick and I had breakfast with our friend Natalie at Café Monet, our favorite local restaurant, and then he and I took a long drive, a way to get out in the world without much exertion given my low energy level.  We went to Atotonilco, a nearby historic town, and found it preparing for a religious festival later that day.  There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls selling religious items -- rosaries, crucifixes, crosses, holy statues and bric-a-brac, and all manner of stuff I didn't recognize.  Most of it was cheap plastic and plaster.

The church itself dates from the mid 1700s and from the outside is beautiful and huge.  I loved the windows in the shape of crosses.

Much of the inside, however, is off limits, so the church and its side chapels were rather small.

As you can see, every possible surface is either painted or gilded.  In a side chapel there were many paintings of various religious subjects, and every one had an enormous gilded frame.  Rick and I debated whether that could possibly be real gold, and decided that it really could be.  Folks here take their religion mighty seriously and money is definitely a religious currency.

What is odder, to me, is that blood is too.  There was a statue of Jesus that is the bloodiest one I have ever seen anywhere.

Blood dripping on his forehead from the crown of thorns.  Blood covering his back from whipping.  Blood sliding down his legs.  Blood soaking his hands as well as his feet.  Can any of you explain this bloody predilection to me?  I just don't understand it.

(By the way, I recently finished a fascinating book about the cultural collision between colonizing and missionarizing whites and tribal Africans, The Lonely African by Colin Turnbull.  One African was quoted as being puzzled by the missionaries' horror at cannibalism:  how can that be when they themselves drink the blood and eat the body of their god?)

After stopping for dinner at a superb hamburger restaurant 7 km. out of town, one that I'd heard about on the San Miguel listserv -- when you visit we must take you there -- we went to the Jardin for the evening's festivities.  Remember, we're in full Bicentennial hoopla now.  The main event was the crowning of the Bicentennial Queen from contestants representing nearby towns.  The gowns were gorgeous!  They walked up on the stage with all the ceremony of a Miss America pageant, and the stage was something to behold.  Tall white columns topped with big bouquets of white Diego Rivera calla lilies, and backdrops of flowing gauzy white fabric.  Each contestant sat demurely in an upholstered armchair while the ceremony droned on endlessly.   I am sorry that I couldn't take a picture for you, but there were about a hundred million people there and damned if I was going to jeopardize my bench seat.  At the conclusion there were fireworks right smack overhead.  Natalie and her friend Carl, with whom we spent the evening, said fireworks like that are a mixed blessing:  gorgeous but there's a risk of burning cinders settling in your hair.

Then there was a fire dance performance by several young men with flaming bars, not flaming torches.  And finally there was the sound and light show on the Parroquia, a Bicentennial event being shown every weekend for the next couple of years.  It's been going on most of the time we've been here but this is the first time we've been able to see it.  Designed by a French designer of sound and light shows on historic buildings ("Mommy, when I grow up I want to be a sound and light show designer!") it was something to stir the national pride of every Mexican there.  And I'm not being snooty, either:  I loved it too.  We left when the next act of the evening was a band of Mexican rock music with speakers that projected sound, especially bass, to be heard 200 miles away.  That plus the rain cleared out the plaza in a hurry.

It did make me wonder, though, what proportion of the municipal budget is allocated to fiestas.

Yesterday we met Megan and Harry, a couple who were here for dinner a few weeks ago, for breakfast at 9:30 at Café Monet.  After talking there for a couple of hours they invited us to walk to their house and continue our visit there.  A beautiful house, small but perfect, with art that's been collected for years.  We sat on the roof terrace under a palapa (a small roof on a terrace for shade, either of palm fronds or something more durable, pronounced paLApa) and talked some more.  We only left because I was feeling pretty tired sitting up all this time, and were astonished to realize that the conversation had flowed effortlessly for over six hours.  Now, how special is that???

In the early evening I had my chorus rehearsal at the Biblioteca and noticed, towards the end of it, Rick in the café outside the rehearsal room (the Sala Quetzal, with the astonishing murals I posted pictures of on August 5) with a woman I didn't recognize.  Theresa is a gynecologist visiting from Vera Cruz, frankly the first educated Mexican with dark skin I've spoken with, visiting in San Miguel and determined to learn English.  Rick told me he was reading and she approached him:  "I talk with you?"  I joined them after rehearsal.  Her English is a little worse than our Spanish, and it was dueling languages as each of us tried to practice the other's language.  Lovely woman, bubbling away like an uncorked bottle of champagne.  We'll see her again later this week.

And tonight Natalie invited us to her house for dinner, along with Carl and another friend, Richard.  She is a gourmet cook and dinner was an utter delight, for the food, the company, and the beautiful house.  She will give me her recipe for carrots (yes, carrots!) soon, and if you like I'll pass it along to you -- you wouldn't believe carrots could be so spectacular.  She also made risotto, a treat for me and for Rick since that is something I will not make married to a diabetic.  Naturally I brought a cobbler for dessert, but since mango season has pretty much drawn to a close I put other fruit in it this time.  I keep making cobblers because they're easy and I don't trust this oven, with good reason, but soon I must start making other things to take to dinner.

How lucky we are to be here, with such wonderful people, in such beautiful surroundings, and in such good health!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September 4

Hello, everyone

I'm slithering my way back to the land of the living.  It's been quite a week!  I don't know if the parasites -- in my case, the lab said, immature amoebas (!) -- were worse or the medicine was, but between the two of them I was a basket case for most of the week.  Yesterday Rick and I went to the doctor in the morning, and he decided I was dehydrated and needed to go back to La Clinica. While Rick was getting cash for that the doctor drove me to the clinic, which is about a mile or two from his "consultorio."  He hooked up my IV line -- no latex gloves -- and looked in on me three more times during the day.  The clinic itself was again nearly deserted, the same as it was last Saturday.  They put me in a very basic room, painted yellow, high ceiling, a window that opened wide, with a private bathroom.  The IV pole was so old the wheels had a hard time turning, and to raise the head end of the bed one turned a crank at the foot end.  I am only 5'3",  and that bed was short!

Rick took a great photo of me lying on the bed in the cliic with my IV line, but for some weird technological reason it won't load.  You'll have to make your own picture from my words.

I now have two liters of Mexican saline solution and glucose in me, and feel a lot better.  This morning Rick and I met a friend at a local cafe for breakfast, and made it through an hour and a quarter before the need to lie down became irresistible.  We've made a date to go out tonight with the same friend to the Jardin -- Bicentennial celebrations are everyplace now in September, especially the Jardin -- and hope I won't have to lie down on the pavement because all the benches will be taken.  Well, that little boy could, the one in the photo I showed you here a few weeks ago, so I guess I can ...

On Monday evening, before I was feeling too crummy to leave the sofa, I went to chorus rehearsal and found they are restructuring the chorus to a much better form.  Now it will be composed of several smaller groups and is to be known as El Coro de San Miguel de Allende, rehearsing and performing choral works from the classical repertoire.  Now the chorus has 20 or 25 people, including six men.  Oddly enough, five of them were tenors:  in the US, tenors are rarer than hen's teeth.  Fortunately the one bass was very good.

That evening we worked on a short but heavenly piece I already knew by Mozart, Ave Verum Corpus.  This is so much more to my liking!  And as luck would have it, the conductor said that we would all be grandfathered in -- in my case, grandmothered in -- but new members will have to audition.  As some of you know I've flunked every chorus audition I've ever tried, so this is a huge stroke of luck for me.  What's more, since I sang soprano in the old chorus because they had more than enough altos and needed sopranos, I'm singing soprano now and can finally sing the melody line after all these years of singing first alto.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we won't be doing very many Es or higher.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September1, 2010

The voice you hear is not that of your usual congenial blog host- but that of her compeer and partner in all things joyous.

However, there is little joy in mudville at this moment, actually for past 3 days as the amoebas done grabbed Jo by the tush and will not let go.  Compound this with the fact that the medicines she is taking- 5 days of a double dose 3 times each day- make her nauseous and unable to stand except to get to the toilet.

The positive side of all this is the weight loss- but Jo won't like me bringing that up.  All this is to say we love you all, and Jo will survive this turmoil- hopefully before it's my turn to melt into the couch.

The blog will return asap- and so will we, three weeks from tomorrow. We shall be heading home Sept.23.  Where all hugging and kissing will be much more than figurative.  Jo will return to the intrnet waves in a couple of days.

ciao bambini

Sunday, August 29, 2010

August 29: clarification

I have confused you -- I am sorry.

On August 25 I wrote that we had found a house and posted some pictures.  The house manager, however, told us that we had to wait until this coming week to make final arrangements with the owner, including writing a check to hold the house.  We figured that in that case, just to protect ourselves, we should keep looking.  In the meantime we saw the house that we wound up renting yesterday, and have told the house manager of the first house that we would not be renting that one.  So the August 25 picture of your room when you visit is now null and void:  you'll have a different room in another house.

I haven't posted pictures of the inside of the house we've rented because frankly it looks really funky in there.  I wrote to my friend Joan that it looks like a graduate student's house, and honestly, I don't want to live in a graduate student's house at this stage of my life.  It's distressingly cluttered, what with all the art and so many things left out because of a lack of storage space.  So we'll be fixing it up:  removing most of the paintings, adding lamps and maybe carpets, possibly changing some furniture, and fixing up the kitchen.  There is now, for example, very little in the way of kitchen storage space for dishes, pots and pans, silverware, and pantry supplies.  We'll want to add that.

Joan wrote that it wasn't clear how one could always walk downhill.  But one can!  To arrive at the house you take a taxi (25 pesos, around $2.10 or so) to the upper street and walk down to the house.  To leave the house, you walk down to the lower street and from there either walk to Centro or take a taxi.

And I agree, a blood pressure of 167/80 for this 67-year-old is really bad news.  No way.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

August 28

BIG NEWS:  we have rented a house for next year!  It's owned by someone who until recently owned a gallery in San Miguel so it's full of about a million paintings, few of which are actually to our taste but we'll move them.  It's got three bedrooms (room for you to visit!), two baths, an alcove big enough for a computer and associated stuff, a spectacular garden, several terraces, and a view of San Miguel that is simply breathtaking.

You can see the Parroquia in the middle of the picture, which gives you an idea of how high up this house is.

One of the owners used to be a landscape gardener in Aspen CO, and when he moved to this house there was nothing but concrete on the main terrace.  He created this garden.

It's got what is now an empty pool-type thing, which will be easy to fill.  We'll hire someone to make a fountain in it for the beautiful sound, and it's big enough for us to jump into on hot days.

Because nothing is perfect, there are of course some downsides.  First, there's no street.  Callejon Chorro consists of steps, about a dozen flights' worth up the steep hillside.  It will be good exercise but a challenge to bring in groceries and whatnot.  Because there are streets above and below, though, it's always possible to walk only downhill.  Second, the kitchen is pretty stripped.  We're considering having cabinets made.  Third, we had to rent it starting December 1, not January 1 as we had hoped.  And fourth, it's a little more money than we were planning to spend but the house is so gorgeous it will be worth it.

All in all, we are thrilled!

The other thing I wanted to tell you about today is medical.  I saw a doctor earlier this week who suggested that my low energy level might be due to parasites, and to have myself tested.  When the test did indeed indicate amoebas, I tried to call the doctor back, twice, but she didn't call back either time.  This morning we went to a pharmacy, showed them the lab report, and asked what medicine I needed.  Nope:  a prescription is required.  For a prescription one needs a doctor.  My doctor is unreachable.

Fortunately we went to a presentation a couple of days ago on health care at the Biblioteca, and learned about a clinic.  It was open on a Saturday morning, but pretty deserted.  An employee called a doctor and said we should wait for half an hour.  Fifteen minutes later the sweetest doctor arrived and introduced himself by his first name, Faustino, which of course I loved.  He gave me a physical examination and positively beamed at me for my good blood pressure, heartsounds, and pulse:  I felt like such a good girl!  Interestingly enough, he said that in Mexico there's a formula for blood pressure for adults:  100 plus age.  He therefore felt my blood pressure of 140/80 was excellent, while to me it seems high.  Then he wrote a prescription and explained everything very carefully, which was useful since he spoke no English.  I may have found a new doctor, Spanish or no Spanish.

And by the way, I'm feeling much better.

After we gave the owners of Callejon Chorro 5A a check, we walked back through the Jardin.  The bicentennial celebration is starting to get underway big time -- they are celebrating independence on September 16.  Houses are starting to sprout Mexican flags and vendors are selling all sorts of stuff in green, white and red.  There was a stage set up right in front of the Parroquia, not off to the side as usual, and the "entertainment" was almost as loud as a jet engine.  The speakers sent the bass notes through my chest and just about pulverized my bones.

But sitting there on the bench at about 5 PM for a rest (it was a long walk) gave me a great opportunity to people-watch.  It occurred to me that while few people were smoking, thank goodness, many were eating.  And they were eating Mexican junk food, high carbs and high sugar, from the many food carts ringing the Jardin.  Comida, the main meal of the day, is early- to mid-afternoon:  they could not have been hungry!  It is perhaps not a coincidence that so many people are overweight and that there are so many diabetics in this country.  It is so bad that diabetes is the primary cause of death here.  Well, I confess:  we succumbed and had a couple of chorros.  A guilty pleasure but at least we're careful to keep it rare.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 25

Our 11th anniversary dinner on Sunday was marvelous.  There is a San Miguel listserv which many expats use, and it's invaluable for suggestions of where to go for what.  I put a request on it for restaurant recommendations, and the "winner" was a place called Jackie's.  Here's Rick with his blue-tequila margarita:

And me, dressed up in my pink feather boa for the occasion.

It was an elegant and delicious (and expensive!) meal:  a tiny cream of broccoli soup (pureed broccoli with a butter-and-flour roux), cold watermelon gazpacho with grilled shrimp, filet mignon for Rick and duck breast for me, amaretto ice cream, and coffee.  I had a wine I'd never had before, a Torrontes from Argentina, which was excellent. The gazpacho -- watermelon balls, shrimp, and sour cream garnished with a mint leaf -- will give you an idea of how beautifully the meal was served.

After we finished eating, Jackie, the owner, came and talked with us for close to an hour.  She has such an interesting history!  She was born extremely poor a couple of years after the war in a village near Goettingen, Germany.  Growing up quite beautiful and apparently with a strong aesthetic sense, she married a US ambassador to Iran and sold jewelry to wealthy people.  When that marriage ended she married another wealthy man.  Arriving divorced in San Miguel 10 years ago, she bought a lot of property and built herself a big house.  A year ago she opened her very upscale restaurant, and it's been a great hit.  She raved about how much she loves her life here in a way I've heard others do, but have never heard anywhere else I've ever been.

More about food.  Last night we had dinner at a much cheaper restaurant called Hecho en Mexico (made in Mexico).  I had grilled cactus leaves and jicama salad!  I love the food adventures -- a welcome relief from the endless tortilla-based things.

And after two months of enthusiasm, I want to write to you about the other side of Mexico.  Here in San Miguel it's all too easy to forget that this is a developing country.  For example, public education is provided only up to the 6th grade, not even totally free because families must buy school uniforms.   (The new school year started yesterday, and the streets are now full of children with backpacks and school uniforms.)  I find it shocking that in 2010, with steadily increasing literacy and technology requirements, the majority of Mexican children have only a 6th-grade education.  One of the many nonprofits here in town is called Mujeres en Cambio, Women in the process of Change, which pays for high school and college for poor girls with good grades and even better ambitions.

And this week there was an article in Atención, the local bilingual newspaper, that is headlined "Six young women jailed in Guanajuato [State] for 'infanticide.'"  It has haunted both Rick and me.  According to the article, although abortion is legal in Mexico City it is considered a crime in Guanajuato State, where San Miguel is located.  All six of the emprisoned women are young, uneducated, and from the countryside.  One of them didn't even know she was pregnant, didn't understand that the bleeding meant a miscarriage, and was nevertheless sentenced, like the others, to 19 to 25 years in prison.  The state governor insists that all six were convicted of "infanticide" -- "homicide at the family level."  Even at the worst of pre-Roe v. Wade times in the United States, we didn't jail people for abortions, especially not for such a large portion of their lives.  And I strongly suspect that rich women in Guanajuato State don't go to jail for abortions.  That's for the poor ones with no resources or connections.

Tonight after a wonderful talk about Louise Labé, a 16th century French poet whom I learned about (and forgot about!) in graduate school 40 years ago, we went out for a drink with three people:  Béa Aaronson (the lecturer), her partner and fellow artist Stephen Eaker -- I've mentioned them both before -- and a friend of Rick's from his writers' group, Louis Cargill.  It was the heady kind of conversation we all have much too rarely after college, about art and writing and the creative process.  Louis, a gentle and thoughtful man who is 76 and a former English teacher, told us about how he bought a little house here in 1985 which enables him to live, very carefully, on his Social Security of about $575 a month.  Imagine, that such a thing is possible!

We have finally found a house to rent for next year, although I'd feel a little better if we had been able to give the house manager a deposit -- there's some question about whether it should be in dollars, check or cash, or in pesos.  Here is your room when you visit us (sorry it's a little blurry), and your bathroom with its painted sink and its skylight.

The house has a sala (living room), dining room, bright kitchen, king-sized bedroom for us and bath, a good enclosed patio with a table and umbrella, and a little room off the patio that I'll use as a study, sharing it with the washing machine.  I know, unorthodox, but I'll make it work.  It's right on a bus line to the center of town and is moreover the only one-story house we've seen:  not essential but nice.  This house felt warm and welcoming and happy-making.  It will cost us $800 per month plus electricity (about $25) and Internet (about $50).  And a garage, an extra $20 a month.   We are hoping to break even from the rental of our house on Camano Island.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

August 21

We've been spending more time in the Jardin lately.  It's an amazing place:  there is some of everything and everyone there.  There are very poor people, like old women begging and small children selling chiclets, out at 10 o'clock at night.  This child, with no parent around, was sleeping on the ground in front of a man selling jewelry, his chiclet box tucked firmly beneath him.  A young woman reached right over him to pick up a necklace.

And of course it's the place for Mexicans of all ages to see whatever is going on.  They are there in family groups with lots of small children as well as elderly parents.  They mingle easily with the expats in the crowd.

The Jardin isn't the only happening place at night.  San Miguel has a booming nightlife:  there are dozens of restaurants and bars, many of which have live music.  People cruise from one to the other, laughing and talking.  On Friday and Saturday nights the entire town bursts with life and activity.  I can't tell you how infectious the happiness is.

Tonight in the Jardin there were performances lasting several hours.  Between dance acts, which looked like community amateurs performing enthusiastically but who will never make the big time, the emcee handed out coupons for a raffle to people, preferably children, who could answer various historical questions.  What was Ignacio de Allende's birthdate?  What was the name of the priest from Dolores Hidalgo who started the insurrection?  (By the way, there's a great article, with pictures, on San Miguel, Dolores Hidalgo, and Guanajuato and their role in the Mexican independence movement in tomorrow's New York Times travel section:  This is definitely the place to be in Mexico this year, as the independence movement started right here 200 years ago next month.  The revolution also took place here 100 years ago next month.  As you can imagine, there is a huge amount of national commemoration going on.

Then there were several groups of folkloric dancers, women with full skirts and men with big sombreros.  There were other performers as well, including this man who demonstrated a huge live snake (which he wouldn't let me touch:  I asked).

To his left I seem to have captured a part of a person in a giraffe suit.  I saw a couple on stilts and two men head to foot in the same brilliant pink or blue, even their faces, hair and shoes.  Endless entertainment!  In fact, as I write this I hear fireworks outside.  We hear them every few days.

As we sat on the folding chairs watching the dancers, there was a shy little boy who kept playing peekaboo with us.  To entertain him I gave him my little notebook and a pen.

Now when I make notes in the notebook for this blog, I'll see his drawings and smile.

There was a wedding tonight in the Parroquia, the big church at the Jardin.  I had not realized before how big an issue class is here.  The guests entered the church dressed up in the kind of evening gowns one sees in Academy Awards broadcasts — obviously very haute couture and very expensive.  I am no fashion expert, but the bride wore an elaborate, elegant ivory gown that must have cost thousands of dollars.  

I noticed that all the women attending the wedding were slender and light-skinned, as were all the men accompanying them in tuxedos.  Many if not most of the Mexicans we see here are overweight.  Even young girls are stocky.  Thinking about that wedding, I am realizing that a stocky body correlates with darker skin.  It's hard to be slender here:  carbohydrates, which are cheap, are everywhere in the tortillas, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, rice, beans, and potatoes.  We have been told that there are more diabetics in Mexico per capita than in any other country.  Some of the Mexicans we have had extended conversations with, such as Fabiola and her family several weeks ago, are light-skinned, slender, educated, and well to do.  It still matters in 2010 in Mexico if you are descended from Spaniards or Indians.

There are many thermal springs in the area around San Miguel, and today we went to one of them.  It was a good day for it, nice and cloudy:  the sun this far south can be brutal.  El Escondido consists of ten pools that capture the warm water.  Here are a couple of them.

The temperature of the water in these outdoor pools was like a tepid bath but other pools were entirely enclosed, like grottos, and in those the water was much warmer and the air felt like a steam bath.  After going in the pools we lay on the grass and read or just loafed.  Look at the grin on Rick's face!

Right near where we spread the blanket I saw a mushroom-looking thing growing in the grass, but it was like no mushroom I ever saw.  Ottie the mycologist, do you know what it is?  It's about 2 or 3 inches high and grows on a thin stalk beneath the bulbous part you see here.

To get into the Aguas Thermales it costs 90 pesos a person, about $8.  The psychology of money, we find, is important.  Because there are about 12.5 pesos per dollar, 90 pesos sounds much more expensive than $8.  This is so helpful because it keeps our spending down.  On the other hand, all the entertainment in the Jardin is absolutely free.  This place is an economic treasure.

The only blight on our happiness these past few days is that the house we hoped to rent next year evaporated today.  Far from being an inducement as I thought, the prospect of a minimum one year rental proved to be a discouragement to the owners, who decided to keep their options open for moving here themselves.  But as I said earlier, we have a couple of other possibilities and we'll check out other places too.  We have another month here, and surely we'll find a house we like before then.

But really, everything is good.  Walking home tonight we passed the fountain I love, which is especially beautiful at night.

Tomorrow is our 11th anniversary.  We will treat ourselves to a fine meal, in this town of fine restaurants which until now we've pretty much ignored.  Good night, everyone.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19: Guanajuato

Today you're going to be treated to a photo show!

We got in the car and drove, for no particular reason, to Guanajuato, which is about 100 km. west of San Miguel and is about twice the size.  I remember from my Antioch days that it's a university town.  Knowing nothing, we didn't realize that one has to cross a mountain range to get there.  If San Miguel is about 6,100 feet up, the mountain passes must have been 3,000 feet higher.  Now I understand much better why they say San Miguel is on a high plateau -- as compared with the mountains!

The mountains are heavily wooded and the underlying rock -- granite?  something else? -- was clearly visible.  Keep this rock in mind:  it will be relevant to Guanajuato.

Cresting a final hill, we saw Guanajuato spread out in the valley below and creeping up all the hillsides surrounding it.

All the right angles of all the buildings make this town a cubist's dream.  Even more striking is the colors people paint their houses:  all sorts of colors, and many of them saturated.

It's impossible to feel anything but exhilarated seeing these colors.  We drove a bit more and followed the signs to the Centro Historico.  I've never seen a town like this.  It is built on such steep hillsides that they have tunneled out a honeycomb of roads for buses and cars under the center of town.  Mostly the tunnels, one narrow lane, were too dark to photograph well.  In some places they were constructed of stones with mortar, but in others they were simply hacked out of solid rock like the rock we saw driving in.  The walls were so high in some places there were bracing arches built as well.

Every now and then we drove out of the dark tunnels, as above, and saw dwellings projecting out from the side walls.

Even some of the structures constructed right over the road tunnels had dwellings, although from the looks of it this one might have been a jail.

We also drove around the streets outside of the center of town, and saw many houses covered in potted plants like this one.

On the way back home I was fascinated by the prickly pear cactuses, which grow huge, maybe 20 feet high, and of which the fruit was in various stages of ripeness.  We stopped at a big one.

Up close the fruit is even more interesting.  When they're red like this, they're ripe.

Rick broke one off and peeled it.

I tasted it:  sweet, with hard seeds in the middle.  Rick tasted more of it than I did, and what with the peeling and the tasting the point of the name of the plant became all too apparent:  tiny sharp needle-like things that he felt in his fingers, his tongue, his lips, and even his hard palate.  He has experience with prickly pear cactus -- although I guess not enough experience -- and says it will take a few days for them all to disappear.  The fruit isn't that good!

It was a photographer's dream today.  It was very hard to choose these pictures from the many I took.  I hope you enjoyed them.