Friday, September 29, 2006

One More Complaint, and Then I'll Shut-up

Today I was sitting on a park bench in El Jardin, the zocalo in San Miguel de Allende. A middle-aged Gringo couple was sitting next to me, having a great time choosing paint colors for the house they were remodeling. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day. Our bench was in the shade, and nothing could have been better.

Then, up walks another Gringo, a man they didn't appear to know. He strolled up, commented on their paint chips, and said something I didn't hear. I was having a lovely time waiting for my walking tour of the Centro area to start, and reading an old New Yorker. But I did hear the defensive tone of the woman's voice after the stranger. Then I heard him say something like, "So, how long had you been in San Miguel before you decided to buy here?"

The woman said they had been coming to SMA for twenty years, and moved here a year ago. They had to do some remodeling because of some safety issues. The stranger, literally, a strange Gringo, made some snotty remark about people coming to down to visit, and falling in love with San Miguel. And then making an instant decision to change their lives and move here. And it was clear that's what was he was "accusing" this couple of. Like there's something wrong with that. And who was he to judge total strangers about their life decisions.

And to think I was feeling bad yesterday because people like him chose not to make eye-contact with me. I was kind of proud of my bench-neighbors. I think they just tried to ignore him, and get back into the happy space they had been in until he dumped his arrogant, "I've been here longer than you" attitude on them. I was impressed by their not seeming to get hooked into his bullsh**.

I don't get why some people who move to Mexico seem to be so competitive about how long they've been here. There is always going to be someone that's been here longer. Besides, what does how long you have been in SMA, or wherever, prove anyway? I can only think that man's intention was to make himself feel like he was cooler than someone else. How lovely.

One a cheerier note. On the Walking Tour we went into this church. Of course, I can't remember which one it was. There was no one praying there so it seemed as though it was okay to take these pictures of the ceiling. That's a crystal chandelier in the middle of the circle. And the circle is a dome over the Cross made by the two wings on the church.
The lower picture is taken at an angle, so you can see the dome, and the chandelier more clearly. It was amazing and beautiful. Sometime I think we humans are fading away, and no longer seem to have the capacity to design and buuild such incredible building

An Opinion from Chacala, on Moving to Mexico

I have gotten a number of emails lately from people who seem to be thinking seriously about moving to Mexico. This is the gist of what I wrote one of them a few days ago. I hope it doesn't sound too........., too something.

Learning to speak Spanish, at least minimally, will make all the difference in how easy or hard it can be to set-up a new life here. If you are serious about trying out Mexico, I hope you are taking Spanish classes and looking for a Spanish-speaking person to practice talking with. It really gives you a lot for flexibiity, and makes things a lot easier. There are really good CD lessons too. And books. And visit as many different towns as possible, all over Mexico, to see what's available. Mexico is huge, and there are many different climates and geographies. Mountains, oceans, deserts, the jungle. Hot,humid, dry, cool, cold in winter, unbearable (for some) in summer. Look before you leap.

When people ask about what kind of income you need to live here, I can't answer the question. There are too many variables. Lifestyle variables, health issues, whether or not you you want a vehicle down here. How you feel about health insurance. If you are planning to buy, build, or rent. If you want to live in Mexico or in Gringolandia. If you have some kind of business you can do from here. If you want to go to the US for vacation every year. Whatever. I think the biggest expense, after renting, building or building a house, is having a vehicle. . Parking and security for your car can be a big problem if you live in a regular, not-made-for-gringos neighborhood. So far, everywhere I have been in Mexico, the public transportation is excellent in Mexico.

It is not cheap to build here. Especially for gringos. If you did it the traditional Mexican way, one room at the time, maybe you could build inexpensively. But building permits have arrived in Mexico. Things are changing all the time in the real estate and construction arena. The cheapest lot for a gringo I have heard of in Chacala lately is about $40,000 US. For a 30x60 foot lot.

I think one of the problems with living in a Gringolandia, like Aiijic, San Miguel de Allende, and Puerto Vallarta, is you are always paying gringo prices for services. In addition to living the same old lifestyle. And big bucks for housing. I personally, believe in idea people charging higher "gringo" prices for goods and services. Why not? Gringos take more time to deal with (generally not speaking Spanish or knowing the names for things), are often (knowingly or not) rude and disrespectful, and almost always have more money.

At the moment I can see several ways for expats live in Mexico.

Transplanting your Gringo lifestyle to Mexico
I think there are a number of people who come here (particularly to the Gringolandia areas) with the goal of replicating the lives they led in the US. Same social activities, values, etc. Feeling they need all the trapping of a (at least) upper-middle class US life-style.

Living a middle-class life, Mexican-style
But if you come here looking for a different way of living, it can be much more affordable. It's a lot cheaper if you want to live a life with a different way of relating to people, and a different kind of friendships, and a different kind of relationship with your neighbors, and the local business people. I mean different than the lives most of us led/lead in the US. And a different level of consuming.

And taking the time to know an area, and meet people, gives you a good chance at finding a more affordable place to buy, or rent. And to have cheaper construction costs. Getting to know people and how things work can make everything more affordable here. If you best friend in Mexico is your realtor, good luck. You will probably get screwed and not even know it.

Being comfortable with basic housing, minimal furniture, no shopping addictions. Eating out at gringo-type restaurants,and trying to continue to eat your old US diet can be expensive. American-type food, even made in Mexico, is about the same price as food in the US. But regular food, fruits and vegetables and meat and ordinary food IS cheaper. Building a large, extravagant house and furnishing with expensive stuff, and continuing your shopping addiction (if you have one) doesn't work on a limited income. There are smaller and medium-sized towns, really lovely Colonial towns, for example, all over Mexico. Towns where there maybe a small gringo population, which is nice because most of us need some support from people with the same background and language. Someone to show you the ropes. All different sizes too. Merida, Colima, Patzucuaro, Morelia, Querterero, and so on. Even Alamos and San Luis Potosi.

Living a low budget life-style in a poor neighborhood or small village
I guess it's obvious this was, and is, my choice. I like being in a small poor town, partly because it fits my personal lifestyle and my minimal budget. I lived in the country with no electricity, and no running water in the winter for years. Lived pretty low on the hog, and liked that life. I like not worrying about having the right clothes, or needing a car, or spending money for entertainment. There's plenty of entertainment right here for me. I have very entertaining neighbors. But I know my lifestyle probably wouldn't work for most people. There are now a few gringos moving to Chacala. They, and the upscale Mexicans who are coming here, all seem to want the high-end lifestyle with all the newest/latest/best stuff. That just doesn't appeal to me, personally. Good thing, because I couldn't afford it without going back to the US, or working my really really hard to start a business here. Which appeals to me even less.

Dropping the "keeping up with whoevers (the Jones, the people in magazines and on TV, and your friends and family) lifestyle, and just do things you enjoy doing can be pretty nice. Waking up in the morning, without any definite plans, and just following your heart and your instincts, and doing whatever you feel like doing at the moment is a pretty nice life. I think this is when people's artistic and creative side starts to come out, for many people. Once your life, and responsibilities, and activity level has slowed down, you have time to pay attention to what's going on around you. And I have noticed a lot of people find start to find creative outlets, often ones they never considered before.

I think it is not un-common for people to or buy or build a house in Mexico, and then, in about three to five years, go back to the States, or Canada or wherever. I think that for the first two or three years they are here, they are so busy trying to buy, build, decorate a place to live, and to learn the in-and-outs of dealing with life in Mexico (banking, bills, visas, taxes, medical care, care ownership,etc) they don't have time to notice that this might not be the place for them. Soon the thrill is gone, and off they go. I like living on "Mexican time". Not having a schedule. Rarely having an "appointment". And never wearing a watch, or looking at a clock can be pretty relaxing. There is hardly anything that HAS to be done right this minute. It's nice to be able to visit with people, and to be able do whatever comes up, without feeling pressured to get somewhere else. You get a chance to see what life brings your way. It feels to me like you end up being more "in synch" with the universe sometimes. You get more attuned to what's going on around you. Seeing someone's body language. Hearing the sound of children playing, and cars moving around.

I like it when there is time for things to just sort of work out. Like deciding in the middle of one morning that this is the day to go into PV, to get my Diabetes meds, and some books for my trip. And walking down to the road, and hey, here's a ride, all the way to San Pancho. And then, all day, never having to wait more than a minute or two for the bus. Or collectivo. Friendships can just develop in your day-to-day life when you aren't rushing around, doing all these really "important" errands. You have time to let life happen to you, and to notice what's happening around you. And to experience things you never knew were available to you. Like a trip to the hot springs, spur of the moment.

I think one of the nicest things about my having a limited ability to communicate in Spanish is that I can't use all my old ways of interacting with people. I can't play my old games. At least not quite as much. I have to pay much more attention to how my words are impacting the person I am speaking too. My non-verbal skills were never very good, but I am getting more sensitive to other people's reactions to me. And I like how it feels, and how people respond to me.

Anyway, I guess the gist of this long epistle, is my suggestion that you really tthink about what you need in your life to be comfortable, contented, and to feel safe. What you need to be able to do the things you like to do. What your bottom line is for your standard of living, and how you want to spend your days, and what kind of people you want to spend your time with. I would imagine that's what you are already doing if you are thinking about moving to Mexico. I hope so anyway. I came to Mexico with a couple of roll-on suitcases and a little backpack. I brought stuff that was special and important to me. Stuff that I thought would help me feel at home. here Little things, like pieces of fabric, and photos, and four books, and some little boxes, art supplies, and a place setting of special silver, and a nice plate. And my Mom's locket. You can buy anything here. You don't need to bring all the stuff that support your old life. You don't need to hold onto all the objects in your old life. I can't speak for you, of course.

One last thought. One problem with spending months and years in the US dreaming and planning about your move to Mexico, is you arrive with your head full of have-to-do things based on the "American" way, and your old life. Which is usually just what most people are trying to get away from when they come to Mexico.

If you decide what you are going to do, and how you are going to live in Mexico, while you are in the US, you may just be bringing your U.S. lifestyle to Mexico. I think that would be a shame, because what usually draws people to Mexico is having a different lifestyle in a different culture.

If you decide how you are going to live here, and make long-term commitments like buying or building, before you actually have time to absorb some of Mexican culture into your thinking, and to understand more about how things work here, you are just going to be living in Gringolandia, in Mexico. Which is obviously fine for some people. PV and Baja and SMA all seem to be full of them. At least that's how it looks to me.
There are a number of message boards about living in Mexico that can be very helpful for getting information about different towns, and the rules for moving to Mexico, and all kinds of things. Most boards have very helpful and knowledgeable posters. JR in Puerto Vallarta is one, and the Lonely Plant, Mexico board is another. And

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kids are so Precious, Especially These Kids in SMA

There are posts about the plants and gardens in San Miguel Allende at Gardener in Mexico.

This morning I went back up to the plant nursery near Gigante to get a plant I saw on my first visit, and still wanted, even thought I thought it cost too much. But before I went to the nursery, I got some groceries, including a snack.

Then I sat on one of the benches in the rotunda, or whatever they can it in Spanish, in the middle of the "mall" outside the Gigante store. I love ithow in Mexico, especially SMA, there are benches everywhere, and almost always in the shade. Very user-friendly. Anway, I was reading the English language newspaper, the Miami Times-Herald, and eating. And then watching this little boy on the coin-operated kiddy car ride. Could have been in any Mall in the world
This is Santdiego, (don't think I spelled that right) and his Dad, Ricardo, after his ride. Of course he wanted another ride and his Dad let me treat him.Ricardo wanted his picture taken too, so here it is.
I took a taxi ride home from Gigante. The driver took the long way home, showing me some sights, including a building above the Parque Juarez and the clothes washing place I visited yesterday. I hadn't even noticed it yesterday, and thought it looked very interesting. It's on El Chorro. The driver said it was an art and music school for kids. At least I think that's what he said. Later this afternoon, after my siesta, I walked back up to the building to take a closer look. It has very large terraced garden in front of it, and other buildings too. A very impressive complex.I had been telling the driver about liking the shrines and gardens for Guadalupe that seem to be all around SMA, and he told me there was a shrine for Guadalupe in the garden there. And there was.And this little girl was there too. I was sitting on one of the benches of the building, listening to someone lay the piano from one of the studios. It was a lovely moment, relaxing and special. This little girl and a woman, maybe her grandmother, were sitting next to me. It turned out they were waiting for her son, who was playing the piano. She was so proud of him. Other people were sitting around the doorway of the studio too, just listening.
When I was walking home from the School, sort of thru the Parque Juarez, and then thru an alley, I totally disoriented and lost. Again. It's fun to be lost in San Miguel. There's always a taxi, if necessary. Then I saw the sign for the name of the beauty parlor that I recognized. It was the name of the place where a lady I met on the bus a few days ago worked. I took some pictures of her on the bus that day, and then we walked together to my bus stop.

Her name was Mari, and as I walked by the beauty parlor, haircutting place, I heard someone calling out. I turned back, and it was Mari. She was all dressed up and looking wonderful. She was on her way back to work after her lunch break. I remembered her named was Mari, but I didn't think she would remember mine. But she remembered my middle name is Marie, and that was good enough.

I was waiting around for the San Antonio bus, for at least 10 minutes, at the most, when this little girl and sat down next to me. She was watching the world from the safety of her mother knee. She was very observant, and serious, but didn't appear to be unhappy. Her aunt was there too, selling the cloth dolls they seem to sell all over town.

Several large groups of school kids, all in red and white, came into El Jardin, on their way to the big church, La Parroquia. They all were very well behaved, and seemed to be following their teacher's directions. Except for these two, who seemed to be happily looking for trouble, or adventure.
This little pair, in their cute little red hats, were about six years old, and precious. Their teacher was standing right behind them, with the teal colored notebook in her hand. They stayed right with her, like little ducklings.

A Woman on the Streets of San Miguel

This woman sort of broke my heart. Her name is Maria .I kept imaging her as a lost little girl.
She had a little flower plant in a little plastic cup on the sidewalk next to her.
Maria told me she is sixty-one years old.
Seeing her brought out every fear I have ever had about being a "bag lady".
She was telling me she has a son.
I wonder if she will be in the same place tomorrow.
I try to tell myself she is some kind of con-woman, but I don't believe it.She thanked me. It makes me cry to look at her in these pictures.

If you read this morning's post and didn't like it,
I added a comment at the bottom of the post that you might like even less.

Some Things are the Same in SMA and Chacala

This morning I heard the sound of the garbage truck bell. I was still in bed. The maid had asked me to watch/listen for the garbage truck because it didn't come on Tuesday, when she was here. When I asked, she said I didn't need to tip the driver. I ran outside to make sure it was the garbage truck, opening the house door, and then the locked patio door. And it was.

The maid next door was bringing her bags out, and she said to carry the bag down to the corner. I ran back inside for flip-flops, and the house key, and dragged the bag out the patio door. Some animal had been at the bag, and it was dripping some liquid. Dragged it up to the corner and waited with the other people. There was a gringo man and a woman waiting too. The woman helped me lift my leaking, over-full bag into the truck. Very nice of her. But it turned out people were tipping the driver. Very embarassing. Went home and hosed the walkway and sidewalk off and came back inside. Didn't realize I was still wearing the white cotton tee-shirt and boxes I sleep in until I was back in the house.

When I got home the cat had gotten on of her claws stuck in the screen door and was not a happy little camper. Unhooked her, fed the dog, and cleaned the cat box. Kind of an energetic start to the day.

Casa en la Colonia de San Antonio
The garbage truck boogie in SMA is similar to how it used to be in Chacala, including the boy with the bell, and tipping. Except the trucks came right to your house, and the boys lifted your bags in for you. Now, in Chacala, using the truck and MX$10,000 the school kids won for the town in a trash collection, uses a local driver (rather than County truck). He comes every other day, and also drives right to you door also, and lifts the bag. I drag my trash can down the bumpy driveway to the road once a week ( I don't have much trash) and leave the tip on top, under a rock.

There's another similarity between SMA and Chacala. In Chacala, the local people are very polite and friendly, and would never pass you on the road without making eye contact and saying "Buenas dias" or Buenas tardes". Never. And often we make conversation. Same in San Miguel. Mexican people here make eye contact on the street, and chat with me on the bus, in the park, wherever.

Ninos a la tianuis circa Gigante

Parque de Guadalupe

This morning, at the garbage truck, was the first time a gringo has spoken to me here, in San Miguel de Allende. Except for another gringa who was visiting SMA, and seriously lost out near the Botanical Garden. I am pretty friendly, and Mexican people approach me and talk to me all the time.

My current interpretation of this rude behavior runs along these lines:
1) they only acknowledge those they see as being in their social class,
2) they are too disinterested or busy to be polite to strangers,
3) they don't like the looks of me
4) they have poor social skills,
5) they believe there are too many gringos in SMA
6) they are just oblivious to their surrounding.

Maybe it's nothing personal and maybe it is. Who knows? Actually, I was going to say, "who cares", but I do care a little. It feels funny to be totally and deliberately ignored by gringos, when Mexicans are generally friendly, and always acknowledge you if you make eye contact. And chat with me on the bus, the bus stops, and in stores and restaurants.

Oh well. The truth of this situation is that I probably have very little in common with most of those folks anyway. I don't own a house in Mexico, drive an SUV, buy art and antiques to decorate my house, have a large bank account, or even health insurance.

Escuela circa la iglesia de San Antonio

I guess I woke up on the wrong side of bed this morning, because this is certainly a negative post. I'll probably delete it tomorrow. And, actually, I have gotten four nice notes from SMA people who apparently read this blog, commenting nicely on my posts, and one invitation to met at the Jardin for a visit.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Walking around San Miguel de Allende on a Sunny Afteroon

I just realized today how wonderful it is to sleep under a blanket again, with no ceiling fan humming thru the night. And how nice it is to spend my day in dry clothes, instead of shirts and shorts wet with prespiration. And not having to wipe the sweat from the palm of my hands and my forearms off the computer every few minutes. The weather has been wonderful here. Very comfortable. I am wearing long pants every day, which feels strange But you hardly ever see people in SMA wearing shorts. At least, not Mexicans.

I went for a walk this afternoon, about 4pm, and went to three parks, one of which was a very beautiful park. Parque Benito Juarez. I already wrote about it in my Gardening blog, if you are interested in seeing photos.

But my first stop was the church for the San Antonio neighborhood, Colonia. It's not spectacular, like some of the churches in SMA, but it looked very large and old from the outside.
The churchyard, or patio, was nice and shady and green, with a fountain in the middle.
I got seriously lost heading from the church to my next destination. I have learned it's not a good idea to show local people a map of their town. Not in any country, not just Mexico. Nobody every looks at a map of their own town, and you can count on them being embarassed, and giving you bad directions. But of course, I did ask people, and eventually made it to Parque Juarez. I will just show one photo, of the clothes washing area. I am not sure, but it's in the middle of what looks like a very up-scale neighborhood, where the maids most likely use washing machines and dryers. I think I will go back in the morning and see if anyone actually uses the washing basins. It's a great setting for washing clothes though.
I have been struggling with wanting to take pictures of older women and babies.
It's not a problem with babies, because everyone wants to see photos of their children. But it's be hard with older women. Sometimes they will let me take their photos, sometimes not. Or they will say "yes" in words, and "no" with their body language. So yesterday I decided to drop the issue, and just let the Senoras approach me. And if they seem comfortable with me, then ask about taking a picture.

Well, I really must have put it out of my mind, taking pictures of old ladies, I mean. Because it wasn't until I had left the Parque that I thought about it. And that was because a very old looking woman, but probably younger than me, fell into my arms as she missed a step walking out of a little tienda. I caught her, and then helped her walk along the sidewalk. And carried her shopping bag, which weighed about 8 ounces, because there was hardly anything in it.
She was talking pretty fast, mostly about her knee and taking pills for her knee. I finally got it that she was asking me for money for her medication, or whatever. So I gave her some, and we kept walking down the block. She was wearing nicely embroidered apron, and I asked if I could take a picture. I asked about the apron, I thought I was just thinking she would like to see it on the LCD screen. She was very proud of it. My subconscious must have been hard at work though, because after I showed her how nice her apron looked in the camera screen, I asked if I could take her picture. I showed her the first one, and she really liked it. So she let me take some more. You can see in the pictures that she gradually got more relaxed with me. She insisted we go back to the tienda to show the couple there her pictures. She was very excited, and they were happy for her. Maybe they were family.
AAt least that's how it looks to me. Maybe I am kidding myself. Between pictures brushed her back with her hand. The same gesture every woman in the world makes when someone looks at them in a nice way, I think. I said how beautiful her hair looked, and she got the biggest smile on her face, but I missed it.

We walked to her door, and I went on to my favorite pizza place in SMA. Actually the only one I have been too. The pizza is delicious and the ambience is wonderful. Partly covered, partly open, sheltered by a huge tree, with very old stone walls, and a big heavy wooden door. Very nice. It's called Al Capricho Italiano Pizzeria, at the corner of 20 de Enero and Orizaba.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In "My" Neighborhood, San Antonio, in San Miguel de Allende

If you live in or visit SMA, remember this name:
Restaurante El Capricho Italiano Pizzeria
Yesterday I noticed a little pizza place as I was walking toward the Instituto Allende. When I was walking home, a gringo man came out the door of the place, carrying a take-out pizzza box. He said "Hi" and I asked himm how the pizza was. He said it was real Italian pizza, and really good. I didn't know what real Italian pizza was, but I have never lived within walking distance of an independent pizza place, and I decided to have my third, and final, meal in San Miguel there.

So I went back today about 4pm. And had a pizza with cheese and ham. The menu was wonderful, with lots of Italian-style options. Plus fancy spaghetti and macaroni choices, and three Italian-style salad options.

The location is on the corner of 20 de Enero and Orizaba, about two blocks away from the Instituto Allende, in Colonia San Antonio. Orizaba is the street that heads almost directly away from the Institute. They deliver, and the phone is 15 2 84 83. Gaetano, an Italian, who has been in Mexico for two years, is a great host, and an excellent pizza cook. And the other menu items might be just as good.

The pizza was delicious, with perfect thin crust and excellent sauce, cheese and ham. My choices of toppings. The choices were much more exotic than my favorites. It's a little semi-outdoor place, but with walls and roof. Every informal with picnic tables. And they serve beer, wine, and refrescos.

There seems to be pretty strong police presence in San Antonio. There is a neighborhood substation that seems to be open alot.
This cop had a paper and seemed to be hunting for this house. His partner stayed in their police pickup truck. They don't seem to have police "cars" in Mexico, at least that I have noticed. Those are two small childrne and the door, and they weren't letting him it.

These soldier, below, were actually near the Gigante superstore, but they are all-round town. These guys were very disapointed that I couldn't give them a print-out of their pictures. I have been told that regular police and soldiers do not have bullets for the guns they carry. Don't know if it's true or not.
A month or so ago I wrote about the concept of "Security Theatre". All show, pointless, security at airports, for example. Well, San Miguel has "Sidewalk Theatre". Where there are asidewalks, a real ones. But they're about 18 inches wide, and every 50 feet or so there is a electric pole or a trees right in the middle of the sidewalk. And it's not as if the tree grew up thru the sidewalk. You can see the tree was there when they built the sidewalk, and they built around it.

So every fifty feet or so, at least in San Antonio, you have to step down unto the street. Same thing when someone comes the other way. There' s not enough room to get around the pole, a tree, or another person. Pointless sidewalk, from my point of view.
This tiny house is a few blocks from where I am staying. It's someone's home, or business. It has electricity, a nice sturdy door, and I have seen it open. It's amazing to see very expensive homes being built within a house or two of homes like this one. It's about 15' feet and 12' deep.
San Antonio seems to be a very mixed neighborhood, with lots of infill building by wealthy people. My guess is some are from the U.S. and some are wealthy Mexicans. There seem to be a number of nice looking mini-complexes, that don't really look like complexes, and some that do. There are also a number of small, older homes. And many of the homes here only show a blank wall with grated windows, a door, and maybe a garage door. So it's hard to imagine what a house is like inside. I know many of them have open interior patios, and I like the look. And many homes here seem to have roof gardens, probably with incredible views of the area.