Monthly Archives: February 2012

An Unexpected Afternoon

Mexico City is chaotic, crowded, and confusing. The traffic is so congested that it can take hours to travel just a few kilometers by car. Frenetic drivers weave in and out, horns blare, and red lights are ignored in a desperate attempt to reach one’s destination.

But nonetheless I absolutely love this city. The energy is infectious and although I often think that I’m totally lost, I find myself swept along with the throng. Sooner or later I know I’ll get to wherever I need to be.

But yesterday I needed to be somewhere special and crawling through the traffic had my nerves on edge. My determined driver did his best, and finally delivered me to my destination just ten minutes late. My feet hurried over the cobblestones and I stood before a charming entranceway in Colonia Chimalistac. As soon as I rang the bell, the door opened and an energetic young dog rushed up. He gave me a good sniff, and then excitedly nosed me forward into a room filled with framed family photographs, Talavera vases, memorabilia and music.

I looked to my right and down the stairway came my hostess.  She had dressed in a comfortable pink and mauve ensemble that set off her fluffy cap of silver hair, sparkling blue eyes and broad smile. Taking my hand, she ushered me into her living room. Hand-embroidered cushions and sunshine-yellow covered chairs invited me, artwork hung everywhere… “Sit over here so you can see the garden,” she said.

The view through a large bay window delighted me: orchids, hibiscus, green vines and blossom of all kinds. Truly, it looked lovely, and I wanted to pinch myself… sharing an afternoon with Elena Poniatowska is not something I ever dreamed I’d do. “Una tequilita?” she asked as she poured from a decorated bottle into a faceted shot glass. How could I say no? I sipped on the smooth fire and we talked about the “San Miguel Writers’ Conference.”

Elena had enjoyed it immensely, and seemed to be particularly impressed with the organization and quality of the event. She takes pleasure in the opportunity to meet other writers – the famous and the unknown… Elena is interested in what everyone has to say, and this quality sets her apart.

We moved into a sunroom for lunch, where we were served a wonderful creamy soup, picadillo with dried fruit and rice and an apple torte for dessert. Everything tasted delicious and I had fun talking about recipes with the accomplished home cook who had prepared the meal. She said she wanted me to send her my recipe for Pork Chops with Figs and Chipotle.

I told Elena about an unusual photograph I took at the conference…

Several people had gathered ‘round for her autograph. One of the kitchen workers also wanted a remembrance of her visit but because he was working, he had no paper or pen…

Not wanting to miss his opportunity, the enterprising young fellow took a plate from the pile beside the buffet, and then borrowed a Sharpie pen. He passed both to Elena and she wrote a special message for him on the plate.

The preceding vignette perfectly illustrates why she is not only Mexico’s premier journalist, but also the most beloved. She cares about everyone and does her utmost to make them feel at ease.

Tomorrow I will write more about my memorable afternoon with Elena Poniatowska…

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San Miguel and Mérida

When I travel, I always find it interesting to compare the place I am visiting to the place where I live… The first time I visited San Miguel in 2007, I felt that I had found a completely different city to Mérida and I still feel that way.

Starting with the climate; San Miguel’s is temperate. The winters are a little cold for my taste and the night-time single Centigrade digits had my bones aching, my feet and the tip of my nose feeling numb, and my teeth chattering. This of course rarely occurs in Mérida where a slight sheen of perspiration is almost always present under one’s upper lip and “older adult” joints don’t get all seized-up in the warm, humid air.

In San Miguel, a pool is a yard accent rather than an integral part of     one’s lifestyle.

The economy: In San Miguel you need a restaurant reservation – even on a Tuesday night. The quality, service and selection are excellent and many places are in close proximity of one another. I did not see any “Fridays” “Bennigans” or the like. In Merida, except for the chains, the eateries suffer terribly from lack of regular patronage and they lack a consistency of quality. Merida’s international community does a lot of home entertaining outdoors on their patios in the balmy Yucatecan evenings.

Shopping in San Miguel is a delight if you love handcrafts. There is a rich choice of tinwork, blown glass, Talavera, textiles and so on. I wished I’d had a truck to cart it all home. In Merida, the selection is limited… enough said.

The tourism infrastructure in San Miguel and Mérida is of similar quality. Good organization and frequent departures to multiple places of interest is common to both cities,

Mérida is flat as a pancake… San Miguel cannot claim very many level streets. The gardens in both cities are fabulous but I know Mérida citizens spend a lot more time watering.

The local San Miguel population is very used to foreigners and they seem to go out of   their way to be helpful. In Mérida they are somewhat stand-offish at first but once they get to know you, they are very friendly. It is up to the new resident to make the first move…

San Miguel abounds with groups of volunteers helping the community and in Mérida there is also a spirit of giving. The Library in San Miguel is thriving… whereas it’s best not to dredge up Mérida’s current issues.

The preceding account might lead you to suspect that I am all set to convince Jorge to put our García Ginerés home on the market and move to San Miguel. The way I have described it, one would deduce that the mountainous enclave is a pretty fine prospect for permanent residence … and indeed it is.

But the place where one chooses to live is a very individual – sometimes inexplicable choice. I love Mérida. It is my home. I feel so lucky to be able to visit other destinations but my roots have dug deep into the peninsula’s limestone. I am an urbanite, and Mérida is a much larger city than San Miguel. Although there are many amenities in the central Mexican town, they are not big-city. There are no Mayan ruins nearby and no white sand and pounding surf lies less than an hour away.

And so it is in México… many of those who live abroad think of México as a single entity… but it is so much MORE! The diversity of this large country is amazing. I thank my lucky stars that I have the opportunity to travel and enjoy much of it.

Today, I am headed for México DF… the capital of the nation. Just 4 hours from San Miguel, I will once again be immersed in an altogether different environment.  ¡Viva!

Photos: Orchids from my garden , swimming in the pool , Chichen Itza , Yucatecan children , Poster of “Lost and Found in Mexico” – an excellent film!

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Here in San Miguel de Allende this week many questions have been asked about the place of writers in our society.

We are meant to tell stories, report facts and record history. But in doing so, many other issues come into play. Are our facts undisputable and fairly presented?

It has been pointed out that once an idea is written down, it becomes an opinion, and that can be a dicey thing.

Elena Poniatowska urged us to be more aware… At her keynote Margaret Atwood prompted us to be advocates for change…  We were also asked to use our voices effectively by Naomi Wolf.

These concepts swirled through my head: awareness, advocacy, effectiveness As a writer … how should I meet these challenges?

(Patience Little Grasshopper… put a query out to the Universe and an answer will soon come your way…)

Anyway our group of four dined at a popular restaurant and to my amazement, the party sitting next to us gave me a living example of what I pondered.

The adjacent foursome was discussing abortion (yes over dinner…) their comments were graphic, strongly right-wing and very loud. I wanted to turn around and tell them to pipe down. But in the spirit of “open mindedness,” I tolerated their behavior and “took it”… but really, what they did was equal to bullying… and I concluded that I should not write like that that group behaved.

I need to be aware … to observe reality and form an opinion.

I need to advocate for change when I feel it is needed

But I need to be effective… by writing with respect.

In this year of political importance, and in these times of insecurity, we need to think, not jump to emotional conclusions… our opinions will influence others, but if we are not judicious about how we express them, the effect will not be what we’re after!

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