Upon first glance, Guanajuato (the state) is not very impressive. The rolling hills are pleasant, but are not as breathtaking as other parts of Mexico. The food is good, but not exceptional and does not rank among the best in the country (though I had the best steak quesadilla ever in a no-name shack along the highway). The towns are pretty, in a typical colonial way, but at first glance do not stand out. The people are calm which helps Guanajuato have the least amount of violence of any place in Mexico. The weather does not swing wildly, and mostly stays around a comfortable medium in the 70’s and 80’s. It sounds like the perfect place for retired expats to come – and they do! San Miguel de Allende, a town in Guanajuato, is more than 30% expat, and is accordingly 30% more expensive than the rest of the country.
Upon closer inspection Guanajuato (the city), is quite a feat of engineering, with lovely, bright colored buildings, a good University, café’s, bars, clubs, theaters and museums. It seems unprepossessing, but in the end it is a beautiful town build on, in and around mountains. It was also the place of one of my warmest memories from Mexico:
I was walking by one of the churches when an old woman called to me from the front seat of a pickup. She asked me whether I could help her out of the truck. There was a man in the driver’s seat, but for some reason he did not want to get out. After I helped her down to the curb I proceeded to walk down the street, but as I turned to look at the church I saw the woman was still standing where I left her. I came back to her and asked whether she wanted to go to the church (which meant some steep steps, crossing the street in traffic, then more steps). She said yes, and so we slowly made our way down, across, down, and into the church. She kept thanking me profusely, but I kept saying that it was nothing. But that was a lie. The little time and trouble to help her was nothing indeed, but the effect it had on me was priceless. There are few things I enjoy more, or which make me feel as good, as helping an elderly woman. Every time I feel like it is my grandmother (long since passed) – that by helping the stranger I am somehow helping her, spending a few more moments with her. And inevitably I am drawn to tears (though I shed none). I wrote a poem the other day called “Abuelas”. It is about almost every old woman I know – particularly Russians, and what I have seen so far of those from non first-world countries. It is about my grandmother, and the woman I saw in the street selling nuts, about the woman in the market who clutched at her cane with a gnarled hand, the one less gnarled than the other, but walked on, and worked her day somehow. It is about the women I see with bent back carrying loads that few men would undertake to carry, with baskets as big as themselves resting atop their heads. Women who do not give up, survive the impossible, who work until their dying day – not only because they have to, but also because they would never allow themselves to earn money by beginning. They inspired me to write, and I hope for many more opportunities to do what I can to them.
Before heading for Mexico City I decided to stop by San Miguel de Allende. I normally avoid tourist towns like the plague, particularly the thought of being in a place with so many ex-pats where prices are significantly higher, usually makes me go the other way. But I heard so many great things about the place I could not just skip over it – excellent decision! The town was incredibly beautiful – a perfect picture of colonialism. Though typical in many way, it was excellent in each of those ways: the streets were clean; trees, flowers and bougainvillea everywhere; the houses freshly painted; stone fountains and sculptures everywhere; the churches small but surprisingly beautiful. The town just did everything right – it got better around every corner I turned. A magical place indeed.
My host welcomed me into her beautiful home overlooking the whole town, and to the most comfortable bed and hottest shower I’ve had since leaving California. It was Thanksgiving, and instead of tortillas, tacos, quesadillas and the like, I had a traditional Thanksgiving meal – replete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and pie! The 7 bottles of wine helped bring that old, familiar feeling of coziness and satisfaction.
The seven bottles were an avenue to yet another situation in which I found myself at the threshold of an encounter with an older woman. Had I pursued it I would have found myself knee deep in a Daniele Steele novel: the exotic, Mediterranean looking, setting; a young lover come to quell the passions of a woman who never stopped being consumed by the fire of carnal passion; fine foods and excellent wines to lure him in, dancing provocatively to Latin rhythms… The presence of her young nephews helped me make the right decision though.
It was a place I where I could have easily stayed to write for a while. But the more perfect it was, the more I felt the itch to keep moving. I was slowly starting to see the fallacy of my decision to travel in order to have the time to write.