When I first lived in San Miguel, I taught at the bilingual school, Jose Vasconcelos. Most people today don't realize that the American school was originally located in el Centro on Juarez Street . Vasconcelos was so small that I taught third and fourth grades in the morning, and fifth and sixth grades in the afternoon. It was 1981, I was 28 years old, and absolutely delighted to be living in San Miguel. My apartment was a block away, situated on the roof of the San Sebastian Hotel. My floors were tiled aqua blue and I had a bath tub, as well as a pecan tree waving at my kitchen window. When school ended at three o'clock, I trotted home, fixed my comida and walked three blocks to the Bellas Artes to continue my studies in ceramics with Blanca Garcia. This was the year of purple corn, for I met the King of Sweden at the Bellas Artes one afternoon (and appeared on TV), sold all my ceramic pieces in a group show at the Bellas Artes, and fell in and out of love with Jose Luis. Toward the end of the school year I traveled to the exotic pueblo of Xichu with Blanca and rode twelve hours on a mule to Ojo de Agua, a virginal hot springs secluded in the recesses of Guanajuato. I returned to the village of Xichu with Wally, and we camped near tall boulders in the charmed hills, unable to return to the hot springs because of the rains.
Twice I week I walked the half-block to the market and returned laden with fruits, flowers, and vegetables. The butcher chopped my meat into thin slices and hammered it down with a metal mallet. He sliced my smoked bacon into thick, delicious slabs, and I bought my milk off the streets when the burrows came into town with large tin cans roped to their skinny backs. Sometimes when I returned to my rooftop haven I would find a note pinned to the wooden door.
There were very few cars in San Miguel during the Eighties and hardly a residential phone to be found. The jardin or plaza was a cordial nest for gossip and paseos on Sunday evenings, when the muchachos from the ranchos spruced up in clean jeans and plaid shirts and strutted around the jardin in search of a novia. If you sat on one of the metal benches, you were fair game for an impromptu language class, or an invitation to dance at Mama Mia's. In the wee hours of the morning, nortena bands and hamburger stands peppered the plaza's streets, and no one was afraid of being attacked or robbed. You could walk home at 4 a.m., look up into the glittering sky, and inhale the magic of the yet-to-be discovered paradise of San Miguel de Allende.
Is it any wonder that the return journey paled in comparison? Can gated communities and fancy restaurants compete with such memories?