We passed under this arch to get from the Plaza Principal to our hotel.
ind Chapter 1 HERE Chapter 2 HERE Chapter 3 HERE Chapter 4 HERE Chapter 5 HERE Chapter 6 HERE Chapter 7 HERE
Innocents in Mexico
Today we met several interesting people and reconnected with the young woman we’d met our first morning in the bank. All of these connections led to houses to look at. Clello, the woman who owned the shop where we posted an ad for a house, sent us first to look at an apartment, which was nice but much too small. Then she sent us to a house. Its entrance proved to be too low for the van, but she assured us we could park at her sister’s hotel a half block away. We went to the hotel and found what the fee would be, then ambled through the artisan’s market and the food market, which were a stone’s throw from the house we considered renting.
It was interesting that all of the homes of foreigners seem to be decorated in the best colonial or traditional Mexican style with massive furniture and folk art, whereas the Mexican owned houses and apartments were furnished with western furniture. Having looked at pictures in the windows of several (closed) real estate offices, we found this house plain in comparison with the pictures of houses that resembled movie sets with lush gardens, art, rugs and furniture. Today Bob was off to immigration and I was to meet Ernesto to look at still another house. Then I would make more calls and visit hopefully open real estate offices, renew our car insurance, collect our e-mail, send e-mail. Bob thought we could get out of our present hotel (which in the states would have been called a motel) by tonight, but I didn’t think so. He also thought he was going to meet me back there at noon, but I thought he was naive about the length of lines he would encounter at immigration.
The night before, we had eaten at Ziwok, a delightful restaurant operated by Juan Pablo, a half Mexican/Spanish, half Swedish man with a passion for Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo. The front room of his perfectly decorated cafe was devoted to Frida––her self-portraits, photographs and a massive shrine assembled in a niche along one wall. Basket chandeliers and neatly potted plants accented the walls, which were beautifully faux painted in light and dark terracotta. Tablecloths, cloth napkins and napkin rings were all in yellow and green. The back room was a dark green and was totally devoted to the work of Remedios Varo, a French surrealist who moved to Mexico during the second world war. Frida, who thought one female surrealist was enough in Mexico, saw her as a rival and hated her, Juan Pablo told us. Along with Varo’s exquisite bizarre prints he had displayed his own work: elaborate constructions of parts of animal skeletons, plants, sea life, seeds––any natural object he could find––which he had assembled into fantasy animals and covered with sand cemented in place with cyanoacrylate glue. The effect was surreal, but although the assemblage animals seemed to come out of a nightmare (a winged frog, a blowfish with snout, legs and an armadillo tail) they were curiously believable, thanks to his meticulous craftsmanship.
After a close inspection of the art in both rooms, we went back to our table and watched him in his small open kitchen, cooking our meal in four woks. Bob had tempura shrimp and vegetables, I had vegetables and rice. Our plates arrived, along with a cruet of mango sauce and another of ginger. The food was as different and delicious as the decor. Prior to leaving, we had spent a half hour or so poring over his book of the work of Remedios Varo and listened to the story of first her life, then his. Every detail here was perfect and immaculate, down to the decoupaged menus and the hand-fashioned box of matches he gave me as we left.
This night at Ziwok was another flower plucked from the bouquet of San Miguel. We had found a new favorite restaurant––our most recent favorite having been the outside terrace where we had breakfasted that morning on frittata of eggs, potato and bacon with black bean sauce, fresh baked rolls with butter and jam or a delicious white cheese, pepper and avocado sauce in oil. Every restaurant we had been to here we had wanted to go back to, but there was always a new one to try and we always liked it better than the last. I had been amazed that in our hour in the restaurant, we were the only customers, but someone had told us that in San Miguel, there were 7,000 restaurant seats and on any given night, an average of 500 diners to fill them. With odds like this, the restaurant market was a competitive one. We didn’t think we would find one we liked better than Ziwok, but part of the pleasure was variety, so we would try others on our list before returning. As we left, a young couple and child made their way to the back room. “More customers,” I said. “No, they are my friends,” he said. “She plays the accordion in Mama Mia’s.” It was another restaurant that would come to be a favorite.
Apartment hunting continued to fill our days. Meanwhile, we were piling up hotel bills at the rate of $100 every two days. We began to think we might be ahead just getting a $1000 apartment. At this rate, our hotel bills would mount up to the difference, anyway. A few days before, we had run into Lisa, our former acquaintance from the bank, while checking out a bulletin board in a small cafe. She was sitting with the owner of the cafe.
“Wine?” he urged, “Something to eat?” When we said no, we had just eaten, he insisted, “It’s free.” A large table in the back room was spread with food. People moved around it, filling their plates. A few more people moved around the small room, examining paintings on the wall.
“It’s an opening. See the woman with the large flower in her hair? She is the painter.”
When he urged wine on us once more, I asked for white and we sat down to talk. Bob, impatient to read the bulletin board and be on to apartment hunting, seemed a bit exasperated. At this rate we would never find an apartment, he insisted, but in the end, this is how we found one. Lisa’s friend Pancho, the owner of the bar attached to the gallery, insisted that we must see Susan, the woman who ran a mail agency and internet service, at the front of the cafe and gallery. “She knows many good apartments. She knows everyone,” he told us. We sat and talked for a short time while I finished my wine. The waiter urged more wine on Lisa. “He’s trying to get me drunk so I’ll be a bad girl,” she laughed.
The next day, we called Susan and made an appointment to meet her later in the day. She took us in her car to see the house of a friend, but the inhabitant did not answer the door. Then we went on to see a house which she assured us was a steal at $85,000. Although we were not in the market to buy a house, Bob was sold by the huge studio. I didn’t like the location or the house. The owner had built it in an area quite far from town––an area chosen because it was far from the foreign enclave, where people might find objection to the large jewelry production studio which was attached. Here, 15 employees made jewelry which she wholesaled in the States. Because she had built her house in a poorer neighborhood, she had no problem finding workers who could actually walk to her studio to work for four dollars a day. As we went into her patio, a huge Doberman rushed up. All of the doors and windows were locked, even though the house was surrounded by a tall wall. I didn’t think I would like to live in a house this luxurious in comparison with the neighborhood around it. If real estate was location, location, location, then this seemed to be a poor choice for real estate investment. Susan assured us that in 5 years this house will have tripled in value, but the spirit of the house seemed wrong to me.
Later in the day, we went to see the house of Dirk, the man I’d met through Ernesto. He had plans to spend a year in the States, and wanted to rent us his house. It was in an enclave of extremely large and expensive homes, but it was equally as far out from the center. I liked the house, which was esthetically more pleasant than the last house, with arched brick ceilings and tile more to my taste. It was surrounded by patios and plants and had a large rooftop patio where Bob could work, but now that he had seen the house with the large studio, nothing could rival it. He found this house too small.
When we had moved to Central California from L.A. fourteen years ago, it had taken us a year of driving back and forth each weekend to find the right house; but we had neither the time nor the energy to do so now. The double task of finding a place to live for a month and a place to return to for a year was wearing us down. I just wanted to try to get into the swing of life here––to see what it would be like to live and work in San Miguel. But all we were doing was business–– like at home. Visas, permits, money changing, setting up accounts, looking for houses, finding internet servers, finding personal mailboxes––these details ate up our days. Bob had predicted that the annoying minutiae of dealing with the details of living would follow us here, and he was right, but I hoped that after this interim period we could settle into a simpler life.
See Chapter 9 HERE.
Again, fine attention to detail, and a real advocacy for the country
I’m really enjoying these. I think they’d make a great book.
Thanks, Patti. Have you read them before?
I am riveted to your saga.
Thanks, Dolly. I respect your opinion!!
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Who am I to express opinions! I am only expressing my own interest.
You are a friend, and as such, I appreciate hearing your opinions.. especially when they coincide with mine! ;o)
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You are adorable, my friend 😻
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