Archive for July, 2014

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Five

26227819-raw-pinapple-on-black-plate-isolated-over-white-backgroundThree a.m. The barking dogs and I are up for an hour. They allow me to sleep again between four and six-thirty. Maybe six hours total when all is said and done. I push myself through a DVD-assisted two-mile indoor “walk,” then a quick shower completes the process of propelling me into the morning.

Finally, a day when the schedule allows for a bowl of oatmeal. Topped with whole milk and generously polka-dotted with the luscious, purple-brown chopped fresh figs from yesterday’s trip to the open air market, this is a genuine treat. I fill a small plastic bowl twice, digging into the fruity grains with a flimsy spoon from the small kitchen of our rental casa. Real “silverware” doesn’t exist too many places anymore. Besides, a landlord wouldn’t want to risk having such valuable goods stashed into a renter’s suitcase, never to be seen again.

The assortment in these drawers is interesting in other ways as well. What looks like a funky potato masher, daughter-in-law Esther tells me, is actually meant for smooshing beans into a paste. And there are duplicates of some esoteric utensils, while other everyday essentials are missing. Loads of woven baskets and dozens of small bowls – for all the condiments that accompany traditional Mexican meal service? – but no large spoons for cooking and serving.

Our landlord lives in an attached property with a separate entrance, so some of these kitchen mysteries we chalk up to cultural differences, and some to the whims of a property owner looking for a place to stow her own kitchen’s extras.

This morning, a short walk to the Instituto de Allende – a must-see for art lovers, by all recommendations. Here we see vast murals depicting the struggles of Ignacio Allende to gain independence from Spain, as well as folk art in many different mediums, and displays of gems and metals. But it is first and foremost a gallery, selling the works of local artists.

Unable to even consider coughing up the asking price for these contemporary pieces, and feeling awkwardly trapped when Jason enmeshes himself in conversation with a guitar-playing resident artiste, I slink into the shadows, and hide behind my lack of Spanish fluency. After much pacing and waiting, I rescue my stepson with the announcement that his father needs to takes his insulin and find a meal.

According to the site, “San Miguel de Allende is a museum in itself. The mix of indigenous cultures (toltecas, guamares, pames, chichimecas and otomies) and the Spanish who arrived in the 16th century is reflected in the architecture, where the colonial style is blended with ancestral and indigenous features.” This is true, yet the poetic description wraps itself around one of the reasons for my discomfiture here: Like viewing the ruins of ancient Rome and Athens, a visitor is fascinated for a time, bored after a while, and ultimately cannot imagine living among them. At least this visitor can’t.

By 1:30, we are back in the serene, well-kept coziness of our cool adobe casa, enjoying a lunch we could only imitate poorly back in Minnesota. I fry two fresh-from-the-farm eggs to basted perfection – a feat I can never seem to accomplish in non-vacation mode – and nestle them atop a split, toasted and buttered, slightly sweet multigrain disc of bread Esther picked up from a home baker during our trip to la Placita. Next to this I plop a small mound of homemade refried beans and a generous portion of cubed avocado, onion, and tomato salad. For dessert, one whole, fresh, sweet, perfect peeled and cubed mango. Ambrosial.

My stomach well satisfied and my thoughts floating on a cloud of postprandial drowsiness, I calmly dissect the growing uneasiness I feel whenever I set foot onto the street beyond our courtyard gate.

My aversion to this place is hard to quantify. There is an indescribable sense of the ambient odor of the city being odd, like the conglomerate scent of cooked cabbage, furniture polish, dankness, and Lysol haunting a gloomy fourth-floor aging apartment building hallway I once marched down as a child.

And walking the streets, I worry. Worry about the homeless animals and the hopeless beggars; about the patient but frightening drivers as they insinuate themselves into the flow of traffic with no yield signs to assist them. Worry about the pedestrians blithely trusting in the solid crosswalks of white paint, absent stop signs or semaphores to secure their right of way.

Then there was that breath-robbing realization that the cousins of Esther’s, whom we encounter as we walk in the dark from her place to our rental, actually live in the furniture-sparse, bare-floored hovel that I mistook for a storage unit. Or the tension-inducing thought that the frenzied, snarling mongrel who charges madly around the flat roof abutting her family compound might at any time misjudge and hurl himself off the unfenced second story surface onto an innocent passerby below.

A guilt-tinged refuge presents itself in the form of our own serene and cozy home base; the physical proximity of loved ones; and the gustatory delights of spit-barbecued chicken, garlic-roasted potatoes, fresh steamed broccoli, and succulent pineapple.

Is this perhaps the greatest threat posed by the prospect of living in San Miguel, that my lingering sense of being undeservedly blessed would become a constant niggling companion if I were to step permanently into a setting like the ones depicted on Child Fund International mailings? It doesn’t seem to bother the rich Canadians living above it all in gated hillside communities, or Johnny Depp, who is rumored to be building a grand home here.

But no. I inevitably return to the hard fact that being here, in general, makes me feel sad. Sad and isolated. It always comes back to that.

July 21, 2014 at 10:40 pm 2 comments

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