I found a slew of old emails recently on my early days in Mexico, when pre-blog I inundated friends with emails on my adventures and the fantastically interesting people who would never have crossed my path in Dallas, Texas. That was 2008-09 and I still can’t believe my good fortune in falling down the rabbit hole that has been my life in Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende, home of many would-be and actually famous people
Leonard Rosen Salsa Dancing at the Orphanage – and Pat the Kind Lawyer
Someone told me early on, back when airlines allowed two checked bags for free, that a good way to use the second bag was to bring down clothes and supplies for the orphanages in San Miguel de Allende. I came the first time on my own and again with my son David when he visited me in Guanajuato and we went to San Miguel for the weekend.
Volunteer Leonard Rosen, originally from New York and a union member-paper pusher in social services, has volunteered weekly at the orphanage for years. We had brought down a big bag of used clothing – ropa de segunda mano – from friends and collected money to buy wish list of things e-mailed by Leonardo asking Madre Guadelupe, a mountain of a woman in a nun’s habit. I was humbled that their list included things the girls just couldn’t afford, like make-up, sanitary products and blue jeans.
Leonard teaches the girls to salsa dance with music from a crummy CD player, teaching them self-respect on the side as he shows them how to gently stiff-arm an over-eager boy. Not one of the 28 girls here is a real orphan; their parents can’t feed them, or there is sexual abuse or alcoholism in the home. Eso me mata; that kills me.
My new friend Pat from Colorado in my language school – who holds the distinction of being my first post-divorce male friend and who turned out to be impossibly, a kind, and sensitive lawyer — buys them a new CD player at the Mega and I cry as Leonardo teaches the girls life lessons through salsa steps.
Update 2017: At 71, Pat can’t quite retire from being a public defender in Denver, but started a Spanish-language continuing ed seminar for attorneys in our former language school in Guanajuato, Escuela Mexicana. The school split into factions with differences in how to run it and teach classes, Pat continues to travel around Spanish-speaking countries working on the language, and he may be the only other person I’ve ever met who can recite Lewis Carroll’s “Jaberwocky.” Leonard, God bless him – I hope he’s still dancing with the girls at the orphanage.
Art and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence
Art, a dead ringer for Willie Nelson – gray braid, motorcycle and all — was one of my first friends in San Miguel. He actually lives there but hadn’t gotten around to learning much Spanish in his very happy retirement, so he enrolled in a couple of weeks of language school while his wife Carol was on a long business back to the states. He turns out to be the fun older brother I never had, who in a previous life was a welder from Macon, Georgia, who read Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” biked off to California and didn’t return to Georgia for some 20 years. He’s a big kid who loves being retired in Mexico and can’t believe his good fortune at having found a place with such a perfect climate where he can indulge in passion for riding and maintaining motorcycles and just plain having fun.
When he takes an epic road trip from San Miguel to Newfoundland and has a bad skid somewhere in south Texas, he calls to ask if he can stay at my house in Dallas while the bike’s being fixed. I tell the neighbors that Willie’s coming to visit and not to make a big deal of it. That was probably the best use of the big house with the two-car garage before I sold it. Plus I got to meet a bunch of Art’s motorcycle pals in Dallas.
Update 2017: Art and Carol still live in San Miguel, in their fantastic colorful house with cactus gardens featuring Art’s metal garden sculpture, and mosaics by Anado (see below), plus Art’s bike shop just down the street. He has a new knee but at 75 is still riding bikes, bless his Willie Nelson soul (and braid).
Maggie is a friend of Art’s, an Amazonian redhead who learned Spanish in the Peace Corps in Honduras and French from a lover in Paris and has, as they say, been around the block a few times but without ever having gotten married at 60-something.
A former city planner in Denver, she’s almost blind and her volunteer work includes getting vision testing equipment and volunteer doctors for the hospital and clean water gathering systems for local villages. Her name’s not really Maggie May, but I can’t get the Rod Stewart song out of my head because that’s the kind of broad she is.
Update 2017: Don’t really know. Hope she’s still her sassy self.
Anado the mosaic artist, aka Jimmy Ray from Oklahoma
So Art and Carol had all this great mosaic art at their house, and took me and Pat to the artist’s house, Casa de Colores. After I heard the famous Anado say something about “warshing” the patio, I asked him where he was from. So Anado McLauchlin the famous mosaic artist used to be just Jimmy Ray from Oklahoma, where he didn’t exactly fit in.
San Miguel is full of the almost and actually famous — the running joke is that most everyone used to be an art director in Santa Fe. Casa de Colores is fantastically outré with its glass-bottle walls, crazy staircase, the original mosaic of Tom Robbins that was the logo for San Miguel’s famous artists’ conference a few years ago, altar art and a fantastic Virgin of Guadalupe in which her light rays are Coke bottles inside of a porcelain bathtub turned on its end in the garden.
Anado was described as looking like “Santa Claus after several highly revelatory LSD experiences during the Summer of Love, a child of the sixties who has long since turned his sack of presents inside out, his art works displaying the hallucinogenic core of existence which the survival-oriented mind, like Ronald Reagan, tries to convince us never really happened.” The New York Times did an article on him in October 2008 right after my visit there.
Update 2017: the gallery that was in progress during my visit, plaster walls studded with embedded glass bottles, is the Chapel of Jimmy Ray. Anado, aka Jimmy Ray himself, recently celebrated his 70th birthday.
Magic Musicos: Doc Severinson with Gil and Cartas I grew up with Doc Severinson on the Johnny Carson show, never imagining I’d meet up with him some 50 years later still playing the trumpet and living in San Miguel, where he retired.
He plays with Gil and Cartas – Gil Gutiérrez, a Mexican guitarist and Cuban violinist Pedro Cartas. I get photos, of course.
Update 2017: Doc and Gil played together at NYC’s Carnegie Hall accompanied by the New York Pops, and as far as I know, Doc’s still performing at the age of 90. I paid for a ticket to see him in Fort Worth a few years ago and he was rocking pink leather pants.
Tony Cohan and Reinventing Myself on Mexican Time
Many of the expats I first met came here after reading Tony Cohan’s “On Mexican Time,” his account of moving to San Miguel and renovating a house a la “A Year in Provence.”
When I decided to settle in Guanajuato, a university town a lot less gringo-saturated than San Miguel and surfed the internet for a place to rent, I somehow ended up renting a little rooftop apartment from Tony Cohan. It was plain and tiny, with the “couch” a mattress on the floor and a roof that leaked horribly in the first downpours of rainy season – but it had a magical terrace with a view of Guanajuato’s ice-cream-colored city that I couldn’t get enough of. I hosted parties with my school friends and once, a book signing of “On Mexican Time” with Tony himself.
Update 2017: “On Mexican Time” was published in 2001 and its sequel “Mexican Days” in 2007. Tony’s most recent novel is Valparaiso. I unashamedly borrowed from him to name my blog “Embracing the Chaos: Reinventing Myself on Mexican Time.”
Yes, I’ve embraced the chaos in Mexico. But most of all, I’ve embraced the crazy, wonderful people that fortune has put in my path.
— Susan Bean Aycock, embracingthechaos.org