Thursday evening I went to the house of a woman I had met at the Biblioteca — Rick was under the weather so I went alone. Fran and Mike, who obviously have a lot of money despite the fact that they are only in their early 50s, have a maid/cook every day and gardeners, and live in an enormous house with a huge courtyard garden, a back garden, several patios, including a rooftop patio from which you could see the entire town. Their house is on such a steep hill that from the rooftop I was on a level with the top of the Parroquia, several hundred feet up. Lovely people, and they were very kind about giving me all sorts of advice on renting and moving. We will have them here after a while.
What is interesting is that the luxury in which they lived cost them all of $2,400 per month. This must be why the British wanted to go to India -- now I understand the Raj in a way I didn't before. But even we have a maid who comes in once a week. Her salary is included in the rent we pay, although we give her a tip each time she comes. A Mexican maid, and if you have a garden, a Mexican gardener, are routinely included in rents here. As you can imagine, I have mixed feelings about this, and you can imagine what the feelings are. By the way, I looked up the minimum wage in Mexico. It's about 56 pesos a day, about $5. It must be even harder for poor people to live in San Miguel, where the presence of so many gringos has inevitably raised the cost of living.
On Friday we found a parking ticket on our car: we had misinterpreted the meaning of the parking sign. So Rick found out where to pay it -- a Public Security office at the Jardin -- and how much: all of 109 pesos, maybe $8.50. At the Public Security office he met a man who told him the tickets are so cheap, and so rarely given, that he parks illegally on a regular basis. Not a very good attitude for a guest in the country, it seems to me.
Having in effect made the easiest possible decision to carry out Part 2 of our plan -- to spend an entire year here starting in December or January -- we have begun our search for a house that will be more comfortable than this one for a whole year, and quite possibly for longer. We called someone advertising a house to rent. They picked us up in their car and drove us to a gated "hacienda" (= estate) where the developer had built town houses (some lived in by owners, some rented out) around the central garden, which was stunning. The town house, unfortunately, was not: cramped and dark. However, the owners, Alfredo and Liliane, turned out to be wonderful. By coincidence we had met Liliane at Mega, the big supermarket/department store here, the very first day we were here. She is Swiss from Lausanne and Alfredo is American but has lived in Mexico for more than 50 years. We had such a good time talking that they invited us, on the spot, to their house for a drink and an impromptu lunch. They live not far from us in a gated community of obviously wealthy homes; their house was the most modest one. We had a marvelous time for several hours, and will definitely see them again.
In the evening we saw an excellent play at the theater at the Biblioteca, "Miss Margarida's Way," about a dictatorial teacher who teaches dominance more than biology; we the audience were her class. Our main lesson was the importance of obedience. It was written in the 70s by a Brazilian playwright, and initially the play was banned because the authorities rightly interpreted it as political. In 1978 it won a Drama Desk award in New York. It was essentially a one-woman play, and the actress, Debi Kierst from Albuquerque, gave a bravura performance.
Lucky us, the Jardin is smack on our way between the Bibioteca, where as you know we often go, and our house. The bicentennial celebration has started here in San Miguel, and Friday night a stage was set up with a couple hundred folding chairs, all of which were occupied. On stage there were a series of performers making patriotic speeches, singing patriotic songs, and reciting patriotic poetry. This man had a big schmaltzy tenor voice, and the crowd loved it.
(My iPhone camera is amazing, isn't it? Too bad it doesn't have a zoom lens.) The musicians on the stage and their audience weren't bothered at all by the numerous competing mariachi bands in the Jardin and in the cafés that faced it. I've always hated conflicting musics — one music in the restaurant, rock from the kitchen — but not here. There were vast crowds of people at 10 o'clock at night, including small children. Teenagers, parents, little kids, old people, vendors, beggars, people-watchers, everyone all together, an age-mixing that you rarely see in the US. People were together and laughing and clapping and dancing to the music. I wish I could describe better the joyousness of the crowd -- it just bubbles up. No crowd I've ever seen at home comes anywhere near it.
As I'm writing this I hear the sound of fireworks: happy Mexican bicentennial of the Revolution to you!
At the Jardin I decided I was hungry and had something delicious. It was a plastic cup filled with cooked corn kernels. Into that is added some sort of granulated cheese (the consistency of parmesan but it tasted milder than that), the juice of a fresh lime, and chili powder sprinkled on top. You eat it with a plastic spoon. I highly recommend corn flavored with lime juice!
Yesterday we checked out a crafts fair at the Instituto Allende, a place down the street from our house that gives language courses. I was honestly most fascinated by the masonry! Look at this:
I've seen the little decorative stones in other walls like this one, although this one is the best, as well as in paved walks. To me it seems exuberant; to other eyes maybe not.
And the fountains in this town! There are many, but the jug pouring water into cupped hands is one of my favorites, and it's right near our house.
This morning we arranged with Carmen, a friend of Liliane's, to see the house she had for rent -- Liliane had told her that we were looking, and she called us yesterday. We took a taxi to this house, a good thing too because it was on a very steep hill. Actually, she had two houses for rent in a gated compound of several apartments and houses. Either one would do, although Rick was more thrilled with them than I was. She will let us know if one of them is empty when late fall rolls around, but in the meantime we will keep looking. And then of course she invited us into her house and we spent an hour talking. When we left she promised us that she and her husband Abel would invite us and Liliane and Alfredo over for wine soon. I bet you she will, too.
Not far from Carmen's house was a Mercado, a huge market. One area was for produce, one for meat, one for beans and rice and grains, one for housewares, one for crafts, etc. I stopped at what we'd call a Food Court -- tiny kitchen areas lined up one by one, each of which had set up a table and two benches. For 45 pesos -- about $4 -- I had chicken Milanese, a salad of avocados, tomatoes (not the barely pink sorry excuse for a tomato in the US, either) and lettuce, rice, beans with cheese, tortillas, and mineral water. There was no way I could eat all that, so Rick helped. We were the only gringos there, and this is what it looked like:
In case you're wondering, that was hours ago and I feel just fine. So does Rick.
Something I've been meaning to tell you about is the experience of walking on the sidewalks in San Miguel de Allende. They are unfailingly immaculate, but they're very narrow, less than two feet wide. Naturally, there is no room for trash cans, so do you know how trash is collected? A garbage truck parks at one end of the block. A man with a thick bar of metal, maybe 8" long, that is hanging on a loop, bangs the metal with a stick, clang clang clang, as he walks down the block. At this signal people come outside, walk to the garbage truck, and hand their trash up to one of the men sitting on the rim. At our house this occurs around 11:30 AM every day except Sunday.
But back to sidewalks. It would be an interesting sociological study to watch people approaching each other. Who hugs the wall and who passes by on the outside? Who stays on the sidewalk and who steps into the street? But these narrow sidewalks with their uneven paving-stone-and-mortar surfaces aren't the only issue. Not only do I have to keep my eyes glued to where I'm stepping, but I also have to watch out for window sills jutting out, which make the narrow walking area even narrower.
The windowsills are treacherous. Some are right at forehead height, not like the lower ones shown above. Although the other day we were home and we heard a child crying loudly right outside our window. Sure enough, a little girl, maybe 5, had bumped her head on our windowsill — her forehead height, which looks much like the ones above. She was bleeding onto her dress. She was with her parents and her little brother, and we brought them all inside and gave antiseptic to her mother to clean the wound with. As the little girl cried the mother murmured to her, "Mi preciosa, mi preciosa." Poor little kid. We gave cookies to both kids, which helped.
We stopped for a café helado (iced coffee) at one of our favorite cafés, and ran into BC (he doesn't like his real name) who's a serious film buff and has directed plays -- I think all community theater plays. Despite the fact that he was leaving when we arrived, he and Rick spent the next couple of hours gleefully comparing notes on actors, directors, films, Oscars, and Tonys. So gleefully that they would have continued for hours more if I hadn't insisted on going home.
We had to go home because Fabiola, the woman from Tampico, Mexico, whom I met in the Jardin a few days ago, was coming over at 5:00 with her family: her husband, her daughter, her son, and three of her children's friends who have come along for their three-week vacation -- nine of us in our sala! Rick had prepared everything -- drinks, food of all sorts, even guacamole. This was the first time we have had company in Mexico, so we were very excited about it. We all had such a good time, but at 7:30 I had enough — it's hard trying to speak Spanish for that long! Before they left they invited us to the house they are renting next Sunday afternoon for the main meal of the day at 2:00. When I said I had never eaten carnitas, Fabiola was delighted and said that's what we'll have. Here are Fabiola and Hector Garza of Tampico a few hours ago. By the way, I was wrong about the location of Tampico: it's not on the Texas border but five hours south of that on the Gulf of Mexico. Even so, there are kidnappings and car thefts and occasional gunfire by dueling drug cartels in their town. Fabiola's and Hector's daughter Liccy is on the right; their son Hector Jr. is second from left.
As I said at the beginning, I know it's hard to believe, but it's all true.