November 2009

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2009.

Aldama seemed noisier than usual this morning. Small groups of teenagers, mostly girls, were giggling and shrieking as they passed quickly past my door towards Parque Juarez. Which is in the opposite direction of where they should have been headed, which is to school. I grabbed my coffee and stuck my head out the door to see what the commotion was about.

A film crew was set up on the corner, across from my neighbor, La Mansion del Bosque. They were shooting a scene from a telenovela, those Mexican soap operas that seem to be on every blue screen in every house in San Miguel and elsewhere in Mexico. Personally, I couldn’t tell you Gabriela Spanic from Alicia Machado if my life depended on it, but evidently the young girls twittering around the park like juvenile gackles, all with cell phones they were using to either take photos or send text messages to their friends as to what was going on, knew exactly who the young actor and actress were in this scene.

Not that it was much of a scene. A young actor with long, wavy black hair stood by the entrance of the park holding a bouquet of red roses, waiting for a slender young woman to arrive. He then kissed her on the cheek and handed her the roses before suggesting that they go for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage that just happened to be coming down the cobblestone street. The driver of the carriage, wearing a floppy straw hat, would stop, the young couple would get into the carriage, and it would proceed for 10 or 15 feet before the director would yell “Alto!” and they’d do it again.

Shooting a telenovela scene in Parque Juarez. Photo by David Lansing.

Shooting a telenovela scene in Parque Juarez. Photo by David Lansing.

That was it. But they did the scene over and over, mostly because neither the driver of the carriage nor his horse was particularly happy coming down the slight slope of the cobblestone street. And I don’t blame them. This is a rough section of road. Pitted and uneven. The carriage did not like it, the driver did not like it, but most of all, the horse did not like it. Which is probably why, in real life, there are no horse-drawn carriages in the Parque Juarez. But why should that matter?

Tags: ,

I’m having dinner tonight at La Puertecita with its owner, Claudia Kay. She and her husband, John, were the ones who first invited me to San Miguel de Allende back in 1997 so I am particularly fond of this little hotel which Claudia has run by herself ever since John died on August 7, 2002.

I remember how in the mornings at La Puertecita I would sleep late, partially because of the fireworks that boomed over the town well past midnight every evening and partially because La Puertecita was perched on a hillside and the sun did not fall on it until almost noon. Every morning, while falling in and out of sleep, I’d hear the gardeners out on the patio and around the grounds watering the vibrant red and orange and yellow canna lilies, removing the fine white dust raised by the campesinos who moved their stock up and down the dry seco below the hotel.

Photo by David Lansing.

Photo by David Lansing.

Eventually I’d get up and order a pot of Guadalupe’s Mexican coffee, with its sweet smoky taste, and a basket of toasted bodillos and perhaps some tortillas coated with cinnamon and sugar. I’d sit at one of the white wrought iron garden tables with the tile top of blue flowers and drink my coffee and listen to the gardeners call to each other as they moved through the grounds. I’d watch the wild green parrots fly overhead and the pea hens that roosted on low branches of the trees and the birds with yellow plumage that I’d never seen before.

And always there were the cooing love doves making their soft, comforting noises. I’d drink my coffee and look around me and feel as if I was in a rarified garden. A garden of Eden. It was heaven on earth and I knew that it couldn’t possibly last.

Tags: ,

On a Wednesday night, when the flag is up behind the bar at Harry’s, signaling happy hour, you’ll hear more Texas twang than at a Cowboys game. The center of the bar, last night, was dominated by a woman about sixty, named JJ, with masses of platinum hair wearing scarlet capris and a matching halter top. She was holding a little chihuahua in her lap that she called Bebe. The dog was wearing a red bow around its neck to go with its owner’s outfit.

Across from her was a man in jeans and cowboy boots smoking a Cohiba he’d undoubtedly picked up at the Cuban cigar shop next door. His massive belly was being constrained by a leather belt with an oversized rodeo buckle. He had shots of Don Julio silver with sangrita backs in front of him; JJ sipped a Cosmopolitan and had another waiting for her.

Shortly after I arrived, another couple came in and joined JJ and her husband, whose name I never heard. The woman, wearing dangling earrings and heavy pieces of jewelry around her neck, was smoking a filtered cigarette. She also carried a chihuahua. The women sipped their drinks and talked loudly while slipping their dogs bites of the appetizers called salvividas—calamari, little hamburgers, po’boys.

It’s two-for-one at happy hour so everyone downs their first drink quickly and then starts to attack the second so they can order uno mas—which is really dos—before the bartender with the ponytail rings the bell signifying the end of happy hour.

The bar at Harry's. Photo by David Lansing.

The bar at Harry's. Photo by David Lansing.

Everyone smokes. Everyone kisses. And all the women seem to have lap dogs named Coco or Mima. The men, who often times wear more jewelry than the women, seem so ineffectual that they compete for the attention of women who’ve had so much plastic surgery their faces are as taut as snare drums.

There are a thousand bars just like this in the States. The only difference is that, for the most part, the crowd is younger and tends to stay on their best behavior. Here—because it is Mexico, because their friends back home will never know—they drink twice as much, talk twice as loud, and do whatever they please. Like the middle-aged woman at the bar taking the hand of the man sitting next to her, someone she met perhaps 20 minutes ago, and placing it under her blouse and up to her breasts.

It sounds like I don’t like Harry’s, I know, but I do. I’m here, aren’t I? It’s just that it’s nothing like Mexico, which, I suppose, is why everyone ends up here on Wednesday night.

The bar itself is beautiful. Deeply varnished hardwood with drop halogen spots tethered to an arbor covered by a flowering indoor bougainvillea. The back bar is mirrored, running twelve feet high, with smoky glass shelves showcasing well-lit bottles of single-malt whiskies, flavored vodkas, and French aperitifs.

There are delicate vases of bird-of-paradise on the white linen tables and lithographs of famous New Orleans restaurants. And the music, which is never over-powering, tends towards George Benson or Michael Brecker—stylish mood music popular 25 or 30 years ago.

I sit alone in the corner, finishing my second shot of Don Julio like everyone else, trying to make eye-contact with the waitress, Daniella, hoping to get uno mas before the bell goes off and the bartender chimes, “Es tiempo, mis amigos. Es tiempo.”

Tags: ,

I don’t know where Alfred sleeps but it seems no matter how early in the morning I get to the Jardín, he’s already there, picking up trash, dipping a tin can into the fountain to water the pots of bougainvillea, feeding the street dogs scraps. Sometimes he moves around from bench to bench offering to read your cards.

“You’re no angel, no saint,” he told me the first time he examined the tarot cards from his ratty pack.

I gave him a look.

“It’s not coming from me, you understand,” he said. “I’m just the angel’s messenger.”

He was sweating, his brow moist like a sponge, flipping the cards rapidly, as if turning over stones concealing snakes.

“The angels have their rules,” he said. “Don’t ask me about it.”

Alfred, the tarot card reader. Photo by David Lansing.

Alfred, the tarot card reader. Photo by David Lansing.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the Jardín, listening to the gackles in the trees and the ringing of the bells of the Parroquia when I spotted Alfred sitting on the bench next to me talking to himself in a low whisper. His eyes were red and moist. I went over and asked him what was the matter.

“The light against the Parroquia,” he said, nodding towards the church looming in front of us. “It hurts me.”

I patted his leg and he smiled at me. “Sadness sharpens the senses,” he said. “It’s the heaviness that makes you feel closer to god.”

And then he wandered off to go tell someone else’s fortune.

Tags: ,

Two views of Aldama

A woman across the way from Carol’s was having a yard sale yesterday. She had recently sold her place on Aldama and was moving back to Atlanta to be closer to her children. She said she and her husband had lived in San Miguel for 18 years—right after he’d retired—and loved it but then he passed away of pancreatic cancer in the spring. So she was going home.

She had a lot of Talavera pottery. The good stuff. Large serving plates and beautiful pitchers, the sort of stuff that costs hundreds of dollars. She said they’d been collecting it for over 20 years, long before they moved to San Miguel, and she didn’t want to sell it piece by piece. “I’m looking for someone to take the entire collection,” she said.

She also had some nice watercolors. They weren’t very sophisticated, which was fine, but whoever had done them—they were in different styles so I’m guessing there was more than one artist—had done a fine job of capturing the neighborhood scene. I particularly liked one showing Aldama street towards La Parroquia. It was almost identical to a photo I’d taken last week during the Day of the Dead festivities.

The watercolor of Aldama Street.

The watercolor of Aldama Street.

I asked the woman about it but she said that particular painting wasn’t for sale. Her husband had painted it. There wasn’t much else I was interested in. It was mostly old household items—pots and pans, some small chairs, a dusty lamp or two.

A photograph of the same view. Photo by David Lansing.

A photograph of the same view. Photo by David Lansing.

Just as I was about to leave a middle-aged couple came in. The woman headed straight for the watercolor of Aldama that I had been admiring.

“Y’all sellin’ this painting?” said the woman. She had a thick Texas drawl.

“I’m sorry no.”

The woman’s husband, whose face was raw and red looking, as if he’d been out playing golf all day, came over to take a look.

“That is nice,” he said. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of Winstons and lit one. “It’s not all bright and garish like so much of the Mexican crap you see down here,” he said after blowing a puff of smoke sideways.

“Darryle, you ninny, did you even think to ask the lady here if you could smoke in her house?” his wife said, swatting him on the arm.

He held the cigarette out in front of him with his thumb and index finger, like he’d just picked a bug up off the floor. “Damn,” he said, as if he had no idea how it had gotten into his hand.

“It’s quite alright,” said the older woman. “I used to smoke myself.”

The red-faced man smiled. “Leila here says I’ve lost all my manners down here and I reckon she’s right.” He stepped outside and tossed the cigarette onto the cobblestones.

“His wife shook her head in mock disgust. “Men?” she said, as if it were a question. Then she gave the elderly woman a conspiratorial smile. “Y’all certain you don’t want to sell that painting?” Her drawl seemed to be getting thicker.

Her husband chuckled. “I know where this is going,” he said. He dipped a fat hand into his pants pocket and pulled out a folded wad of pesos. I don’t know why it is, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Texan use a wallet in San Miguel. Hell, maybe they don’t use them in Texas either.

He flipped through a stack of one-hundred peso notes and said, “Just tell me when to stop.”

The elderly woman shot me a glance and I raised an eyebrow. I think she knew they were going to keep on until they got what they wanted. They just seemed like the type.

“She can’t sell you that painting because I already bought it,” I said.

That did nothing to slow down the husband. “Then how much do you want for it?” he said, still flipping bills.

“You know what?” said the elderly woman. “Why don’t you just take it.”

The husband stopped flipping through his money and gave his wife a look of surprise. “Hold on there,” he said. “We mean to pay for it. Just tell me how much.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said the elderly woman. “Please. Just take it.”

Telling them they could have the painting took all the fun out of it for them, of course. They looked at each other, confused, and then the woman reminded Darryl that they were late for a lunch engagement at Villa Jacaranda and they hurried out into the late afternoon glare of Aldama without looking back.

When they were gone, I apologized to the elderly woman. I don’t know why. I guess I just felt bad that this Texan couple had been so unpleasant. She asked me if I’d like a cup of tea and I didn’t but I told her that would be lovely. We sat in her living room, with most of her possessions spilling out of cardboard boxes, and she told me about her husband working for the military and then being posted in Mexico City—“This was way back during Eisenhower,” she said, “when living in Mexico was quite an adventure.” Then she mentioned again how much they’d both loved San Miguel.

I asked her if her husband was buried in the panteon outside of town. “No,” she said. “Neither one of us ever liked that place. Too sterile. At least the American section.” Then she pointed towards one of the beautiful Talavera vases. “He’s in that,” she said. “I had him cremated. Don’t know what I’ll do with him when I get home.” She was silent for a moment and then said, “Too much to think about.”

I smiled and thanked her for the tea and told her I had to be going.

“Would you do me a favor?” she asked as I stood up.

“Of course.”

“Would you take that painting with you?” It was the watercolor her husband had painted.

“I really couldn’t,” I said. “Now that I know what it means to you.”

“But that’s just it,” she said. “I somehow feel like that Texan couple were giving me a message to find a better home for that painting. And I don’t know why, but I just feel certain that you’re the one who should have it.”

I tried to pay her for it but she refused my money. “It’s a gift,” she said. “Take care of it and maybe down the line you can give it to someone else sometime. My husband would like that.”

I carefully pried the painting off the wall and carried it under my arm down Aldama street. In the evening I hung it on the pale blue wall of my living room, facing the Parroquia.

Tags: ,

« Older entries § Newer entries »