San Miguel de Allende | May 5, 2016
The trip from León to San Miguel didn’t take as long as I remember and we seemed to go through more towns than we did the last time. It’s not really a beautiful ride. You only hit the outskirts of Guanajuato so you don’t get to experience any of the beauty of its colonial center, and you pass through a handful of poor smaller communities. The area is very dry and there we could see the black evidence of recent forest (brush?) fires everywhere.
Señor López, our driver, was a font of information about the area and about Mexico in general. I learned anew how ignorant I am about this country’s history and its people. We were talking about ancestry and I mentioned that my father, who was born in San Luís Potosí, claimed to be a Chichimeca Indian but that I don’t know if there was any truth to that. Señor López quickly informed us that the overwhelming majority of Mexico’s indigenous people – Aztecas included – were Chichimeca. The only ones who aren’t are those in the southern part of the country, the Mayans near the Guatemalan border, the Zapotecs and Mixtecs near Oaxaca, and others. So my father was right, I guess.
He also had something to offer about the U.S. political picture, saying at one point that if Trump should win, he is ready. He’s got a pick and a shovel ready to go so he can head north to build Trump’s wall. “Then I have to figure out how to pay for it,” he said.
Blanca, our hostess, was waiting for us in the beautiful, lush patio of her home on a hillside above the city. Her husband, Cavanaugh, soon joined us. A late al fresco lunch was ready to be served, Blanca said, as soon as her other guests arrived.
The soon did. There was an expat from Houston who came here more than 10 years ago, fell in love with it and never went back to Texas. There was her companion who, among other things, conducts tours of various sites in San Miguel and the region for tourist and others. He knows a lot about the city and its history, and that seemed to delight the other guest, a writer named Sandra, who moved here three years ago after having lived in San Antonio for a number of years.
If you’re wondering whether Sandra The Writer is that Sandra, you’re right. I knew I would get to meet Cisneros during my visit because Blanca had talked about it. But I didn’t think it would be that soon. I was a bit nervous about the prospect about spending time in her presence because I’m always leery of being around famous people. They spend so much time being nice to ordinary people – because they have to; it’s their job – and my tendency is to think that they get very tired of having to be nice to strangers, of having to pretend they care about them when they’re probably never going to see them again.
So I didn’t know how I’d react to Sandra, and how she’d react to us. I needn’t have worried. The woman is delightful. She is full of energy and her words, both in Spanish and in English, exit her mouth with a spark and a tingle. In her animated style of speaking, she reminded me of mi Tía Pancha, one of my mother’s younger sister, whose eyes always sparkled when she spoke.
She lives in a magical world, surrounded by spirits, welcoming some and shunning others. She talked about how she “cleanses” her home after every visitor departs, to shoo away any nasty spirits they may have left behind. This aspect was a surprise for me but, thinking back on her last book, it probably shouldn’t because she talks about that some. Listening to her, I could easily place her in the magical realistic world of Gabriel García Márquez.
She is as curious about other people’s stories as she is eager to share her stories. And boy, does she have stories. I became a fan of hers the day I began to read “The House on Mango Street,” and my admiration for her increased with “Woman Hollering Creek” and her subsequent works. (I reviewed “Woman Hollering” for The Houston Post and I’m so glad now that I didn’t say anything negative about it!)
I’ve always known she’s a great story teller, but listening to her stories while sitting around drinking fresh lemonade and eating tortilla soup, with only a few friends around the table is far, far more rewarding than reading them in print or listening to her address a group from behind a lectern. The intimacy makes the difference.
I wish I could share some of those stories with you, but I can’t. First of all, she told too many of them and I can’t remember them that well; I can’t remember the details. Secondly, I could never do those stories justice. And, finally, they are her stories to share, not mine.
It was a wonderful, long and leisurely lunch and I was sorry that it had to end. I kind of think she did too, that if she hadn’t had to go home to pack for her trip tomorrow, she would have gladly stayed here all afternoon.
This trip into Mexico is still in its infancy. I have a long way to go, but I really doubt that anything I do or see over the next eight days will top today’s experience.
The guests have been gone for a while. I retreated to my room for a much-needed nap and I’m now back in the patio, writing this. I am surrounded by the sound of leaves rustling in the winds, and doves cooing. A while ago I heard some beautiful bells marking the hour, and a while before that I heard the faint distant tinny sounds of a military brass band somewhere in the city. A Cinco de Mayo observance? Maybe. That holiday is not as big deal here as it is in the United States. Whatever it was, it was nice.
Now my hosts and the others are back and the conversation has started. Soon we will eat. Tandoori chicken, I understand. And that is how this first day in this beautiful country will end.