Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Holá from San Miguel!

It feels forever since I've written to you.  We weren't set up yet in the house, we were too pooped, or we had busted internet equipment that is now fixed.  There is so much to tell you!

We left Guadalajara early Sunday afternoon, and that's when we started using the GPS system we brought with us (thank you again and again, David, for that!)  To get a sense of how essential that gadget is, imagine you're somewhere in New York City, you're not sure where, and you need to get to someplace out of town.  Guadalajara, after all, has 8 million people.  Without a GPS we would still be there, forlornly wandering the streets.  The voice on the GPS is very funny, however:  speaking the Spanish street names not just with an American accent but with a machine accent makes the words totally incomprehensible.  To use the GPS in Mexico, one must follow the picture on the screen.  Driving here, we saw evidence of plenty of water everywhere.  The green of the trees and the grass and crops was simply luminous.  Cows here don't have countable ribs, as they did farther north.

We arrived in San Miguel at around 5:30 PM, having driven 3,100 miles.  After some hassle contacting the real estate agent for the key to let us in, we unloaded the car and started unpacking.  How much can a Dodge Caravan contain?  An awful lot, it turns out.  Rick did the heavy moving from the car to the house, and we spent the rest of the evening unpacking.  We wound up exhausted, and are continually surprised at how tired we get from what doesn't seem (at least to our younger selves, which of course is what we are in our heads) to be so much activity.  Our friend Marja reminds me that we are at a high altitude -- 6,100 feet, although I don't feel out of breath.  It would be lovely if that's just temporary and not age, but if not we'll manage fine.

This house is wonderful!  You may have seen the photos of it at http://www.tirkot.com/sanmiguelrental.htm -- the Casa d'Avignon.  It's called that because when the house was built 75-100 years ago an artist named Sue d'Avignon lived here.  Her paintings are all over the house, which is now owned by her grandson in New York.  Luckily for us, we like the paintings very much!

You can see what our house looks like, with a 360 degree view of our street, by putting Calle del Codo 10, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico into Google Maps, and then under More clicking Street View.  Our house is the reddish one on the left.  How lucky that we are doing this at a time with all this superb technology!

The house has three stories, with a full bedroom and bathroom on the 2nd and the 3rd floors.  Also on the 3rd floor is a rooftop patio which you can see on the Google Maps page.  I have set my office up in the sala (living room) where there is superb light from many skylights in the two-story high ceiling.  Of course, this means that when we have company for dinner I'll have to dismantle everything from the table, but it's worth it.  And the house is NOT all pink, thank goodness:  the bedrooms are blue and blue-green; the downstairs is pink.  There are fireplaces and electric heaters on every floor for wintertime, which is not very cold.

Very important is that we now have our telephone set up.  Call us at (206) 414-3290 -- Central Time Zone -- and it's just like calling the U.S.  The Magic Jack is an astonishing gadget!

Yesterday we went to do the big initial shopping trip to the market.  The closest big store to us is called Mega, and it's huge, a food market and a small department store.  I was able to get a USB hub for my computer -- Peter, only about $9 US! -- and it works fine.  We also helped make Carlos Slim even richer than he already is by buying two cheap cell phones with Mexican numbers, which we'll use to call each other when we're out and about. The two phones, each pre-loaded with 100 minutes of calling time, cost about $88 US!  And we did all that in Spanish, which was a serious undertaking!  One of the landlines in the house is the US number (the Magic Jack phone) and the other is a Mexican landline.  So with two different landlines, the two Mexican cell phones, my US iPhone, two email accounts, and Skype, we are all communicated up.  It seems that most people around here put locks on their wireless systems, so it's hard to wander around town and pick up a signal.  No signal, no working iPhone.  Nothing is perfect.

Rick took our 10 days' worth of dirty laundry -- it is so good not to be living out of a suitcase any more! -- to a lavanderia where for about $7 US they washed, dried, and folded all the clothes:  how luxurious!  At the Mega we bought Microdyne, something you put a few drops of into water and then put your fruits and vegetables in there to get the nasty germs off them.  In the kitchen we have a garrafón, which contains about 5 gallons of purified water.  We use that for drinking and cooking water.

Our Spanish is getting a workout.  We have been surprised at how many people in this town known for its expats don't speak English, and that makes us very happy.  It doesn't feel like we're getting appreciably better but we must be, and eventually we'll realize we are.  Actually, Rick says he feel more fluent than I do.  It floors me that I am able to say complete, although simple, sentences in Spanish when five or six months ago I didn't know one word of it.  All thanks and congratulations to our brilliant Spanish teacher, Lisa Engle!

Rick just came back from a walk, where he bought a copy of Atención, the bilingual weekly paper that lists local events  He says:  "There's all kinds of things do do here.  Here's what's listed for today, Tuesday.  At the Humanitarian and Health Center, there's free therapy.  Personal Philosophy of Life dialogue.  Vision Quest:  our souls' wild adventure.  The Rotary Club.  A lecture:  Myths and Rituals of Ancient Mexico and Mesoamerica.  A bereavement support group.  An Audubon lecture.  A dream interpretation class.  Painting classes.  Bilingual conversation language practice.  Life drawing sessions.  Women's Night Out.  Danzón:  dance classes.  The Social and Newcomers' Club.  An accordion concert.  A classical guitar concert.

"Here are some highlights of the next few days.  An outdoor art show.  A walking tour of San Miguel.  A Global Justice lecture.  A Dharma talk (Vipassana) on universal compassion.  A jazz fusion concert.  A community choir.  So Others May Eat:  a benefit for food for the elderly.  Ancient cultures, part 1.  A social group at the sushi bar.  A talent show for kids and another for grownups.  A French conversation group.  Song circle:  bring your voice or instrument.  Bastille Day celebration.  A lecture on Chagall.  A Buddhist meditation group.  Wine Lovers' Night.  The Theater Players' Workshop:  The Art of Murder.  The International Short Film Festival (all month).  Writers' Group Night.  A flamenco show at one of the local theaters.  A puppet festival over the next 3 days to benefit poor children.  An art and garden meeting.  Lots of fitness events.  Piano concert, string quartet concerts, jazz and blues concerts, lots of live music everywhere."

This is looking to be terrific!!!

This morning we went out to the Jardin (pronounced harDEEN), meaning garden, meaning the central square in town.  Having a cup of coffee we got into conversation with a couple of artists who moved here from Charleston SC three years ago.  We walked back with them to their house/studio, and saw about 20,000 paintings by both of them.  Many were quite good, too.  She, by the way, turns out to be the lecturer of the Chagall talk tomorrow night, which was something I was planning to attend anyway.  And she's French so we spoke some French.  And she's Jewish and is involved in starting up a group for secular Jews like me!  So Béa and Stephan are our first San Miguel friends.  Stephan told us that San Miguel at 6,100 feet of altitude is unusual in having a micro-climate that permits the kind of trees and plants only seen at lower tropical altitudes -- palms and palmettos, jacarandas, cactus, fruit trees, melons.  Cypresses like in Italy.  Natural hot springs with no sulphur, within half an hour of town.  They love this place with a frenzy of loving and raved about everything, including a cost of living that permits them to live comfortably on $1,000 or so a month and the fact that within a year they had made many close friends, both expats and Mexicans.  For their huge house in easy walking distance of the center of town,  with room for studio for each of them, they pay less than $650 a month.

San Miguel was founded by the Spanish in 1542.  In the Mexican revolution of 1810 -- the bicentennial is this year, a big deal throughout the country -- General Ignazio Allende was captured here and taken to Spain where he was beheaded, but that didn't stop the revolution.  Some years later the government renamed the town San Miguel de Allende, to commemorate the fact that the revolution started here.

Rick was out earlier this afternoon and met another painter, a Mexican man named Chi Kaplan, who as he was leaving, said "Shalom."  We have lived in Seattle for 9 years and Camano Island for 5 years, and no one has ever said Shalom to us!  Then Rick went to a local fancy hotel, sat by the pool, ordered a diet coke with tortilla chips and the best guacamole he's ever had in his life, for 65 pesos -- around $5.   (Rick says:  "Pardon me, Clara -- yours is runner-up!")

We found a parking spot a few doors down from our casa Sunday night and it hasn't moved since.  Until we take an excursion out of town, this car will gather dust:  we've had enough of it.  We're having a hell of a good time, and wish you all were here.


Jo and Rick

PS  I have no idea why the photos I took today with the iPhone and emailed to myself are not showing up in my email, but when and if they do I'll post them here.


  1. How wonderful it all sounds! And I'm sure you will find increased energy as your bodies adapt to the altitude. Remember cakes take longer to bake :) Amazing to open a new tab in my browser and, a minute later, be looking at the front of your house! Hasta pronto! -Marc

  2. Wow, that really does sound fabulous. And the altitude is not a minor thing. No wonder you are tired! But you will adapt, especially if you are walking out and about. The google maps thing is totally amazing.

  3. So, have room for 6 weary American travelers?? Looks like this place was made for you. Muy Bien!