I had one free day in San Miguel before my writing workshop started, and I wanted to make the most of it. I decided to first locate where the workshop would be held, so I made my way down Calle Hidalgo to the Centro Historico. With no set schedule, I bought a cup of coffee and settled onto a bench on the perimeter of a small park. People watching has always been a favorite activity of mine, and today was no exception.
I eavesdropped on a phone conversation of a man on the other end of my bench, curious to see how much of his Spanish I could understand. I was startled out of this reverie by a jovial man who reached out with an identical coffee cup and chirped, “Salud!” I repeated the toast (a little strange considering we weren’t holding glasses of wine or another alcoholic beverage) and then he asked if he could sit down. I responded in the affirmative, figuring if nothing else it would give me an opportunity to practice my Spanish.
I quickly discovered that Rafael was born and raised in San Miguel, and that he was an artist and retired art professor who had taught at the Instituto Allende, one of the prestigious art schools in town. He told me that when he was a child there were only two cars in San Miguel– one for the police and the other for the paramedics. We discussed how the city had grown and the eventual infiltration of Americans and expatriates from other countries. I asked him his thoughts about this, and he basically summed it up by saying “that’s life,” although it didn’t seem to bother him. I was surprised by how much I could understand, all of the words and phrases that my Spanish tutor had drilled me with were now being put to good use.
I was enjoying our conversation so much that I lost track of time. He asked if I’d yet visited the Jardin (the city center and location of the famous Parroquia Church) and I responded no, so he invited me to join him. Along the way, he was stopped periodically by random people who wanted to shake his hand or just greet him. I also met a couple of his nephews, who he introduced me to with pride. I felt like I was hanging out with a local celebrity, and told him as such, teasing that I was going to start referring to him as “el maestro famoso,” the famous professor. He seemed to get a kick out of that.
We then made our way down Calle San Francisco, to the Iglesia de la Concepcion, where I stopped for more photos. He kept warning me that it was going to rain any minute, and he was right– the sky opened up and rain poured down in sheets. We took shelter in one of his favorite restaurants and he ordered us two tequilas as we settled in and waited for the rain to pass.
An hour or so later, we continued our walking tour. He took me to the Instituto Allende, where he used to teach. One again we were greeted by his compadres, and then he casually mentioned that he had created a mini-replica of the Parroquia Church, which was displayed in the courtyard. Of course I had to take a photo of him with his artwork.
During lunch I had told him that I needed to get to the grocery store to pick up some items for my apartment and he graciously offered to accompany me on this mundane errand. So of course I obliged. We took the bus to the outskirts of town, and I was immediately glad that he was with me, as the store was huge and a bit overwhelming, kind of like a Mexican version of Costco. We picked up all of the items I needed, and then took a taxi back to my apartment, where I invited him to join me on the terrace for a glass of wine. It was the least I could do to thank him for taking me under his wing and showing me his town. I’m not normally one to invite a relative stranger into my home, but I followed my instinct that he was someone who could be trusted.
We enjoyed a bottle of Malbec and I put on my favorite Celia Cruz album. We both agreed that it was “un buen dia,” one that could not have been planned or even replicated. As we neared the end of the bottle, he used one of my favorite phrases of the day, one that I immediately had to write down so that I would remember it later. He referred to the last drops of wine as “las gotas de la felicidad,” or the drops of happiness. I almost had to shake my head at the fact that I had spent the whole day speaking Spanish, completely immersed in the language to the point that I was starting to think in it.
I bid farewell to Rafael, and then got ready for a night of salsa dancing. Our workshop leader had arranged for a private salsa lesson and then a foray to a local nightclub with a live salsa band. I was very excited about this as I have been taking salsa lessons at Arthur Murray and was anxious to practice my moves. Alberto, our salsa teacher, taught us a couple of basic steps and we all laughed at ourselves as we imagined how we would fumble on the dance floor once we got to the club. Once we arrived, Alberto took turns spinning all of the women around. And I must admit that he made us all look good, although we occasionally spotted the bartender and other staff members (even the band!) laughing at our salsa antics. It was all in good fun, though, and we took it in stride.
My hair wet and my body soaked with sweat, I caught a cab and made my way back to the apartment. I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face and the pulsating beats of salsa still ringing in my ears. This was the San Miguel that I was hoping to encounter, filled with magic and promise. I couldn’t wait to see what the next day held in store.