Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas in Mexico: Feliz Navidad

The last three months have been a blur of activity, getting settled into our casa in San Miguel de Allende, re-connecting with friends here and my working on my goal to get my novel published by Christmas. Well, I’m close. The book will be up on Amazon in about a week. Hope you will consider taking a peek and be sure and write a review please. Like the old saying goes, “if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say it at all, but if you have something good, do tell!”  By the way the title is Under the Salvadoran Sun and do check out my new website for more details:https://sherdavidson.com

 Christmas in Mexico: ah, how sweet. We loved watching the decorations going up all over our town, of San Miguel de Allende, then hearing the music at night as people gathered at the local churches. Posada is a big thing in Mexico,  between December 16-24. The tradition is that people gather in their neighborhoods and walk from house to house. One house serves as the host house. At each casa the group asks if they can come in, taking on the symbolic role of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter the night that the holy child, Jesus was born. They sing some traditional songs but are turned away until they arrive at the host house where they are welcomed and everyone celebrates with tamales, hot chocolate. The children gather around the piñata, hitting it with a long stick until it breaks open and dulces (sweets) pour out; everyone rushes to gather the goodies up. Unfortunately we did not participate in Posada this year as we were busy  preparing for our departure to the beach.

Scroll down and read about our holiday in Mexico below the photos! 

Here I am with my husband, Gary sitting on our La Manzanilla patio right off the beach!

Piñatas are a popular part of the holiday festivities

Relaxing on the beach after three months of editing and proofing my first novel. Needed this R & R. 

This is the beautiful entranceway to our casita on the beach, Allegre Mar, owned by our friend, Kate.  

Sunsets here are gorgeous and we love strolling the beach at this time of day

Not a bad life!

The setting sun from Allegre Mar

 On Friday , the 19th, we left for the long drive (about 11 hours  via Guadalajara) to La Manzanilla on the coast, about 2 hours south of Puerta Villarta.  We came here last year with our dear friends, Penny and Jim. This year, we are so happy our daughter, Tiffany and family will be joining us, arriving on Christmas Day. 

La Manzanilla, formerly a modest little fishing village, is still small, and picturesque with a gorgeous beach on a bay, gentle sea and lots of fun things to do, like kayaking, snorkeling, and just “hanging out” with long leisurely days, slow walks into the small town and beautiful sunsets.  See our photos.
We’ll leave here on Sunday and drive the family to our casa in San Miguel de Allende where we’ll participate in the New Year’s celebrations.  We’re looking forward to sharing our Mexican village with our family and are sure they will love it.  We do miss other family members and friends at this holiday time and send our merry wishes to all for a Feliz Navidad and a Propero Nuevo Año! 

I'll write about other adventures in Mexico after the new year!  Coming up: our trip to Chiapas with friends in March. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Back in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Hope you enjoy reading about my most recent adventure: driving with my husband, Gary, all the way to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from Oregon, USA.

After spending two fun months, July to September, at our new cottage on the Oregon Coast, we packed up the car, (check it out here)full to the brim and headed to south of the border.  We left  on September 16th planning on taking ten days to make the 2,700 mile journey.

The trip was long but made shorter by the various stops we made with friends and family along the way in California. Once south of LA it began to take on a more boring texture. Though the weather was not as unbearably hot as we had expected, averaging between 80-90 degrees, the days of driving on I-10E  seemed long and sometimes uninteresting. Listening to an audio taped story helped pass the time. We made picnic stops each day to stretch out legs and fill our stomachs with some good food, resisting the junk food one finds everywhere.  The Arizona scenery was quite beautiful in places with tall flat mesas, red rock and unusual geological formations from Parker on I-10 E  by Phoenix and then through Tempe. We spent the night in at a small inexpensive motel  in Tempe near Arizona State University. 
Arizona scenery on our way  to Phoenix 
Our long highway East 

The next day we continued, crossing into New Mexico and stopping that night at one of our  favorite spots along the way, Las Cruces on the NM and Texas border. We checked into a La Quinta Inn and had time to check out the old historical section, called Mesilla, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner in an old west inn with a lot of history behind it's beautiful adobe architecture.  We strolled the streets at dusk and enjoyed the local sites which surrounded a small square with a gazebo, like we see in Mexico, in front of the typical church. Small adobe shops, taverns and cafes surrounded the central plaza and there was even a shop named after the legendary Billy the Kid.  Supposedly he was tried and sentenced to hang here. 

Bar in 0ld Hotel in La Mesilla 

The old Mesilla Church 

Modern day cowboy with a leaf blower 
Typical NM scenery 

From Las Cruses we crossed into West Texas, expecting the worst part of the journey to ensue. Surprisingly we found much of the scenery quite interesting; the long dry stretches were dotted with some high, rolling plateaus, even some green vegetation from recent rains. Our goal was to get to Marfa, a town which was put on the map when the movie "Giant" was filmed there in 1956, starring Rock Hudson, Liz Taylor and my teenage heartthrob, James Dean. We stayed at the legendary old hotel where the cast stayed while filming, Hotel Paisano. It's been beautifully renovated and created a gentle repast from our last eight eight days of driving.  We enjoyed the quiet broad open streets, no parking meters and a charming bar/cafe where we had drinks on a patio and a delicious dinner. The next day we visited the galleries, and the site of artist Donald Judd's installations. He came to Marfa, escaping the East Coast, NY art scene,and the commercialism, which he hated in the seventies. He  made his mark on this town as well as a number of amazing outdoor and indoor installations. It was fascinating visiting the old Military Fort Russell which he purchased and where his art is displayed with other 20th century installation artists. 

Driving into Marfa, Texas---not too busy!

This is cowgirl country and I enjoyed this poster in the Ladies room at the Gage Hotel in Marathon on Hwy. 90
We had breakfast at this small cafe up the street from the Gage Hotel after we left Marfa and enjoyed talking to a couple who love living in this small town. 

 Couldn't resist incluing this photo of James Dean, which hangs large and prominent in the  small room off the lobby of the Paisano Hotel, where we could sit in big, comfy leather armchairs and watcht the four hour movie, "Giant"--needless to say we only watched a mall portion, but it did bring back memories 
Hotel Paisano  in Marfa, TX, where the cast for "Giant" once stayed 
 From Marfa we took the locals' suggestions and continued our journey southeast by Hwy. 90, a two lane good road through the West Texas pecan growing area, and small rural towns like Marathon, and Alpine. We loved stopping at the old Gage Hotel, in Marathon, now totally renovated and quite posh with it's beautiful collection of western memorabilia. The owner wanted one piece in a museum that was closing and when they said he would have to buy the whole collection, he did, and installed it in the Gage.  Everywhere, we looked there were interesting old artifacts of the West, including several original Remington prints an drawings. Alpine too provided photo ops with its beautiful large murals in the center of this small town, once known for it's minor league baseball team and stadium.  Some of the major leagues even played there.  

The mural in Alpine welcoming to this charming little West Texas town

One of Alpine's beautiful new murals.
From Alpine we drove on to Del Rio right on the border with Mexico, a not very picturesque town. We arrived when it was still light and checked into a La Quinta Inn. We were tired and not hungry, so just fixed a "picnic dinner" in our room. It was important to get up early to cross the border. We were getting a bit nervous about the whole thing. Fortunately, getting a very early start the next morning to cross the border, all went well. We didn't have any glitches and the much feared inspections we were warned by friends we may have where everything can be taken out of our car and placed on the roadside for us to re-pack after inspections, didn't occur.  After an hour and half stop to get our automobile permits and visas, we were off.
Beautiful scenery along the highway just after crossing the border into Mexico

Along the road we often saws goats and their herders, heads covered with old serapes in the heat of the day

We knew we were in Mexico when we saw this at our first small town
The highways in Mexico are very good and we whizzed through small towns with their colorful hot pink, green and yellow stucco buildings, PEMEX gas stations and roadside stands selling junk food. The toll roads were intermittant but the best we could ask for. Few cars traveled  along them  (cost being a factor); we paid anywhere from 90 pesos ($8 US) down to 25 pesos ($2) expensive by Mexico standards.  We made great time on these roads and ended up reaching our goal, arriving at the town of  Matehuela before sundown. Though not fancy, it provided shelter for our car and a good bed to sleep on with bath and shower

Every state has it's welcome sign

The bright yellow flowers gracing the sides of the roads coming into San Miguel de Allende

The next day we made the quick three hour ride into San Miguel de Allende, enjoying the lush green and bright yellow flowers edging the roads. Arriving in our colonial town, rumbling along on the cobblestone and familiar streets to our casa was a good ending to our long journey. We were happy to be back and mostly to find everything intact at our house, thanks to the efforts of our property manager, Benjamin Martinez. Save for a couple of roof leeks that developed during the rainy season all was in order and our pretty patio garden looked well cared for.  We'll stay here until next March when we have to leave the country to return our car. One is not allowed to keep a US licensed vehicle in Mexico beyond a tourist visa of six months. We'll stay back in Oregon for the summer and fall and return late next year by plane.  Living in two countries is fun and stimulating, though sometimes a challenge, remembering what we have left where.

When we saw these signs we knew we were getting close to our destination 


 We were glad to drive up to the gates to our little community of six houses, Villas del Tesoro, where we have wonderful Mexican and Gringo neighbors. We were happy to learn that the two houses across the street from us each just recently sold, one to a Mexican family from Leon and the other to an American woman. So we will have new neighbors. Always something new going on in San Miguel.

 For now, I am concentrating on getting my novel published by December. I encourage you all to check out my new website and blog in about a month. This will be my final post on this site. I will let you know when you can visit my blog and hear about my book at my new site, WordPress.org. There you will learn more about the book, launching parties and how you can get it on Amazon.  Hasta luego!

Please Note: this will be my last post at this site. Watch for my new website with the same name. I'll let you know when it's up and running on WordPress.org. I will have an announcement about my novel's publication and plug-in's where you can order it through Amazon, hopefully by December, in time for the holidays.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Journey Continues: Traveling in France, Summer 2013

After saying good-bye to "my girls," Zoë and Maya, I enjoyed a couple of days on my own visiting my  favorite spots, the Place Vosges, on the right bank, the small Museum Carnevelet, with it's fascinating story of Paris and lunching in a small cafe, sipping my wine and relaxing after my heady days with two teens!
On Monday, my girlfriend and college roommate from the sixties, joined me for a much dreamed about trip to France together. We took off the next day by train to Tours, in the Loire Valley, where we planned on visiting some of the many chateaux there. I had seen them fifty years hence but Farrel had never been to the region: it was a great review for me and fun for her, too.

We took a tour to four chateaux on our second day in the Loire Valley:  Chenonceau, Amboise, Chatigny and Chambord. What a wonderful day it was exploring these enchanting abodes of Kings and Queens, and their lovely gardens as well. For a little history of each check out the internet. My favorite was Chenonceau built in the 16th century on the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire, by Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet on the site of a demolished fortified castle and mill belonging to the Marques family. After its former owner the keep was named the Marques Tower (you will see it in the photos). It was restored in the Renaissance style. The layout of the forecourt is a copy of the former medieval fortress surrounded by moats. Walking down the long pathway towards the Châtaux we came to the impressive main door. (unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this wood door decorated with the symbols of its former owners and the salamander, symbol of Francois 1, who later inhabited it and installed his wife, Catherine de Medici and his mistress, Diane of Poitiers in its gracious rooms.  One of my favorite was the Chapel, with its lofty windows and serene feeling lighted by the stained glass.  The gallery too, with it's black and white checkered floor and many windows looking out on the river Cher was impressive but Farrel and I loved best the kitchen with its many copper pots and utensils of the time. Beautiful flower and fruits arrangements adorned the decor of today, all taken we supposed from the surrounding flower gardens and potagers (vegetable gardens).

Our next visit was to Amboise, heart of royal power in the Renaissance, built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the high promatory on what was once a  protective fortress above the town. Protected once by Charles VII's archers, later to be succeeded by Louis XI whose son and heir Charles VIII was born there. Charles later married Anne of Brittany (all this history you may or may not find as interesting as I do).  Perhaps the most interesting fact about Amboise is the presence in the chapel of Leonardo DaVinci's final resting place as he was one of many Italian artists commissioned by Charles VIII in 1496 to create the Lodge's interiors and gardens after the style of the Italian villas.  Leonardo, the great Italian master, left his mark on the Château and King Francois I granted him the privilege of being buried here in 1519.  He was named the Kings "first painter, engineer and architect" and was provided with a  place to live which one can visit in the town, where there is also a small museum of DaVinci drawings and inventions.  His house was called Clos Lucé, formerly the Manoir de Cloux. We went on the visit two other Châteaux, the last being the large, ostentacious 440 room hunting lodge, built to impress France's aristocracy. We found it cold and unimviting and were glad when the day ended with a degustacion at a lovely little wine shop on the grounds where we met a charming man, widowed husband of the former female vintner whose memory he honored with a bottle of wine named "Emotion"---how French! We bought a bottle of this rose to bring as a gift to our hosts we were visiting in the next days. Hope you enjoy some photos of the Chateaux!

From Tours we took the train to Poitiers, just one hour away where my French girlfriend, who I call my sister (soeur), Michelle, met us. This was a special visit as this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of our friendship and we had the good fortune of first eelebrating that in Mexico city during her visit along with a mutual friend, Mauricette, in February (see the former blog).  Michelle welcomed Farrel and the three of us had a wonderful time for the next two days visiting Mauricette, and Michelle's family as well as  the island of the ÎLE-DE-RÉ, on the Pacific coast just a few miles across a bridge from La Rochelle. My mmories of visiting there in the past run deep. Farrel was delighted and especially enjoyed, as I did, staying at the beautiful island summer house of Michelle's brother, Claude and his wife Aline.  We partook of their gracious hospitality and loved the cuisine of their kithen. You will see mouthwatering photos of a few of the delectables Aline served, always accompanied by wines from Claude's cave.  We walked in the small fishing villages, visited art openings, strolled the beach, perused the open markets and basked in the warm attention of our friends. I had told Farrel about the beautiful hollyhocks which grace every street in the Ile and she didn't believe me until she saw them with her own eyes. I've included some photos of those and a few of the picturesque cottages and doors. Enjoy.

After three days, we left the island and headed south to Rochefort, a charming town, once the seat of ship builders where the Hermione was built for Lafayette to sail in to America. Imagine! Before the Revolution.  For the past three years a replica of the Hermione has been in construction and the unveiling ceremonies are planned for July of next year---will you be there? I may be!  Rochefort is a very pretty and interesting town with other things besides the Hermione to its credit: namely, an annual International Film Festival, which had just finished (see my photos), a replica of the arc de Triomphe, and a wonderful museum where we were to visit the collection of photos taken by Pierre Loti, a famous writer and photographer. I was particularly interested to learn that Loti was born here as I visited a small place in his memory in Istanbul, Turkey in 2010. He had a famous love affair with one of the Sultan's Harem which ended tragically (I won't go into detail; you can read about it and him on the internet).
From our day's visit to Rochefort we continued on to St. Emillion where we were to spend two days and nights visiting its lush wine country. My friend, Farrel, lives in Sonoma, California and is a wine connoisseur and enthusiast. She runs a B & B there and often hosts guests from France. Last year one of her guests, his wife and small daughter shared with her the fact that François' father lived in Et. Emillion and was the owner of a Chateau and vinyards there. Continuing their correspondence for the past year, Farrel had occasion to mention we would be in France and François wrote with an invitation to visit his father and attend a private wine tasting at his Chateau, truly a pleasure. From St. Emilion we continued our journey east of Bordeaux to the region known as the Perigord and the Dordogne river valley. On our way we stopped at Caudoine, a lovely town known for its famous Abbey with its beautiful cloisters, representing three different styles of architecture, Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque. The heavily timbered cover of the open market was particularly interesting as were the small boutiques surrounding the central square. Back on the road we were exhilerated by our first view of the picturesque Dordogne River as we crossed a bridge and halted the car to photograph it and several dozen swans swimming there. We knew we would soon arrive at the small village in the Dordogne where Michelle's niece, Patricia,  lived and where we would spend the next four nights.  It would be another reunion for me as I met Patty, nineteen years ago when Gary and I along with our dear California friends, Peggy and Roger, rented a house in the Dordogne for a month and enjoyed biking and exploring the valley and it's many fortified castles and small villages.

More about our travels in the Dordogne in my next blog. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Paris with Teens

When they were six and seven I promised my niece, Maya and granddaughter, Zoë I would someday take them to Paris. Well, the time had come: now 17 and nearly 18, the two were ready.  So for the past year I poured myself into preparing for this adventure: Paris with Teens.  What fun, a chance to see Paris again through young and fresh eyes!  Well, I had a lot to learn and that I did, mostly fun, all enlightening on the world of today's teens, and some frustrating moments, but not enough to ruin what turned out to be a "formidable" (French word for wonderful, not formidable) adventure.

The trip started out with some trepedations as I learned the week before that my granddaughter Zoë had come down with a bad sore throat, passed off by an Urgent Care doctor as just a slight throat infection which could be treated with a simple antibiotic and surely be cleared up by our departure date a week later. We were to fly to Pennsylvania first to pick up her cousin, my niece, Maya and after three days there we would make the big "puddle jump" over the Atlantic and wing our way to Paris. Well, the best laid plans----A day before departure, I got a call that Maya had stepped on glass and couldn't walk very well. I was beginning to think our trip was jinxed but my positive nature, told me to ignore any trepidations and continue as planned---until the second day in Harrisburg when Zoë awoke with her throat nearly closed off it was so swollen. My sister-in-law, Cindy and I rushed her to Urgent Care and the throat culture proved she had mononucleosis---oh, dear, what to do now. With hasty calls back and forth to Dawn, my daughter, Zoë's mother, we began to think of cancelling the trip. I had luckily secured trip insurance just a couple weeks prior and tried to assure the girls we would be able to do it next summer. The doctor said Zoë's throat would be better in three days once the prescribed Prednisone kicked in.  She would be tired and need rest periods.  Cindy took Maya into her podiatrist and after some minor surgery, the glass was removed from her heel and Maya learned how to change the dressings. With the girls upbeat spirit I couldn't bear to disappoint them and so on June 13th, my brother drove us to Dulles airport in Virginia and we departed on our much awaited Parisian holiday.

Click on the slideshow of our trip to Paris:

All went well on the airplane:  Zoë slept through much of it and both girls spent time on their ipods. Note: I had asked that they not bring any "devices" and the parents backed me up on this. It seems we overlooked something and both girls had their ipods. This proved to be a distraction. I had tried to rev them up for studying some French on the flight, a word list I had prepared ahead of time and to look over the itinerary.  My thought had been to make it fun and prep them for what was ahead. Both girls had taken French in school but admitted not to being able to remember much or speak the language, not unusual.  I hoped the trip would give them new incentive to continue their studies of the language, and open the door to the wonders of foreign travel, something I knew both sets of parents supported.

We arrived early the following day and managed to get a taxi at the airport, too tired to try going by the local RER( a suburban train that takes passengers into the city from the airport).  We arrived at the door of our rented apartment in the 11th arrondissement (neighborhood), and excitedly climbed the circular staircase to the third level (the girls loved the staircase though we all whined about carrying our suitcases after a sleepless night).  We opened the door to our Paris Pad---a charming, newly remodeled and cozy apartment with bright colors, a clever pull down bed ( a modern version of a Murphy bed) in the living room and a futon couch bed in the small bedroom, plenty of room for the three of us. The kichenette was well equipped and came with a bottle of wine on the counter,which Maya eyed. She   asked "Aunt Sherry could I just have a sip for dinner---Daddy lets me." We had a discussion about the merits of being allowed a little wine with the family from time to time so that it would not be forbidden thus tempting to overindulge with friends before legal drinking age. Though this had been Gary's and my policy when raising our teen daughters, also,  I wanted to respect both sets of parents' rules. It was clear Zoë didn't feel comfortable with this, so we adopted a "maybe the last night policy" with a sip or two for Maya with dinner.  If that sounds contradictory just trust me and the girls: no one got  drunk and we had a fun and interesting conversation discussing  boundaries.

Day one was wonderful, as we three stolled down the Paris streets, discovering our local boulangerie (French bakery) where we would buy our daily baguettes and croissants, sometimes a fluffy pastry and macaroons(the newly fashionable and multi-flavored ones).  I taught the girls the French word for "to stroll,"  flaner,  and they more than once told me that  to flaner was one of their favorite things to do. They quickly picked up how the Metro (the underground subway)worked and maneuvered very well in and out of Paris street traffic (tourist season had begun). We visited the Notre Dame but avoided the long lines to go inside and the girls decided seeing it from the outside, especially the beautiful flying buttresses in the rear, was satisfactory. Though I had a detailed itinerary for each day, I told them ahead of time that it was up to them what we did and didn't do---that I would only guide them when I felt they might miss some highlight they would regret later. I had purchased Paris Pass tickets, which allowed us to avoid museum lines, gave us free entry or discounts at most sites, the a boat trip on the Seine and the big Red Bus that traverses the city showing off the main points of interest.  I regretted this purchase as I learned that being 17 or younger allows free entrance to most sights anyway and, also the limitation of having to use our tickets in 4 consecutive days put too much pressure on us. Oh, well, live and learn. Each night after dinner which we had fun preparing in our Paris pad kitchen, the girls would pour over the guidebook and my pre-made itinerary telling me what their priorities were. With some minor adjustments due to times various museums and sites were closed and open and transportation considerations, I was able to honor most of their wishes.

With Zoë's tiredness due to Mono the Red bus tour was a blessing. We could get off and on when we wanted. One of our first stops was the Arc de Triomphe (Etoile). From there we strolled the Champs Elysees to the Place de Concorde with its huge Egyptian obelisk. Seeing the Louvre at the end of the Tuileries gardens, with it's so often photographed I.M. Pei glass pyramid was a reward after the long walk.  Both girls liked the picnics we prepared each day, allowing us to save time and money we would waste in restaurants, to eat when and where we wanted and  to have more time outdoors observing people, watching the street performers and taking the Paris "scene." Another favorite was stopping for a dessert crèpe at the numerous concessions (this became an obsession for Maya who loved her crèpe spread with gooey Nutella chocalate sauce---Zoë and I teased her about her needing her daily crèpe fix once she tasted her first one).

The third day proved to be one of the most challenging: Zoe awoke covered in a red rash all over her body and face. Both Maya and I were aghast and of course, worried. I immediately was able to get an appointment with a local doctor through the pharmacy just a block from our apartment. It turned out she had a drug reaction: one is never to mix amoxycillin, the anti-biotic she was on for the sore throat, with Prednisone prescribed for the Mono.  I had asked about this at the Urgent Care facility in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and was told she should continue both prescriptions. I'll leave it to readers to decide  whether or not to always question Urgent Care recommendations when in doubt.  Poor Zoë ---she was a trooper and though humiliated to wear her cute parisian wardrobe of skirts and dresses and choosing instead to cover her rash infested body with pants and long sleeve shirts, she didn't give up but continued to walk the streets of Paris, take the metro and generally push herself to soak up all of the amazing city. I admired her forbearance.

Visiting the Louvre was eye-opening---its huge galleries and hundreds of works of art overwhelmed the girls as I worned them it would and they agreed later that the smaller Musée D'Orsay with its vast impressionist collection was more pleasureable, though in the end they chose stolling the streets over museum hopping.  They loved stopping at local street markets and purveying the beautiful displays of fresh veggies and fruits, stopping occasionally at a small street side cafe for citron pressé (the French version of fresh lemonade), stepping into cute boutiques to browse or occasionally shop for shoes or a  dress. They were good about not making "shopping" their main goal each day and happy that we could fit it in around other sights---mostly enjoying picking up gifts for family and friends. For the most part they were very selective and chose to stay away from things that were tourist "junk". One of our most fun shopping experiences was visiting the famous English book store, librarie in French, Shakespeare and Company, on the Left Bank opened by Sylvia Beach, an impassioned reader and free thinker, for the  post WWI Lost Generation. We had a mission, to find Maya's dad, my brother, Todd, a copy of one of Hemingway's famous novels. This led to our exploration of the shelves packed with stimulating books (both girls love to read for which I am so happy ) and Zoë searched for an appropriate book for her mother.  It was touching for me to be a part of Zoë's thoughtful decision: an original rendition of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare; she knew her mother loved this play in her days as a drama major at the Uof O.  

A highlight was the night we took the boat up the Seine, observing the city from its famous river, watching the people stroll the quais and the lights go on around the various sites ending at the Tour Eiffel, aglow in sparking luminescense. The girls were delighted and I was, too, as I listened to the accompanying music of old songs by Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier---Voila, I was still in love with Paris!

Noteworthy, too was our day in Giverny visiting Monet's Garden. We awoke early, made our way to Gare St. Lazare and took the 45 minute train ride to the small town of Vernon where we boarded a navette, a bus for the gardens and small village of Giverny.  Walking amongst the gorgeous array of flowers and following the paths to the waterlilly pond and overhanging Japanese bridge, the girls and I grew heady with the beauty of it all. Maya and Zoë later said this was one of their favorite days as we sleepily descended the train and etro to walk back to our apartment.

The grand finale, the night before the girls' departure, we went to dinner at a charming Parisian restaurant and started with an aperitif followed by a three course French meal. The girls ordered French onion soup with it's guyere cheese and bread topping and we all had a delicious fish dish for our main course. We toasted Maya as it was her birthday the next day.  I felt a bittersweetness of having to send them home but looking forward to the next leg of my trip back to France, on the 50th anniversary of my original arrival there right after college: it was 1963 and I had my first job at an American Military base in Poitiers, in the southwest of France, as a civilian employee. It was to be a major turning point in my life and one for which I am forever grateful. The next blog will be about my reunion with my French girlfriend along with an old college roommate and our adventures in other regions of France. Join me.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Adventures of Home Ownership in San Miguel

Entrance to our barrio

Si, it's true---es verdad!  We bought a casa in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The house was completely furnished and this provided a great deal of incentive, as well as its very reasonable price; it's a buyers' market now in San Miguel where tourism has dropped due to negative reports of drug wars and violence in Mexico.

While that certainly exists in other parts of the country it is not at all evident here; we read the crime reports in our local San Miguel paper weekly. Most consists of petty thefts, domestic violence (not good but rampant in Mexico) and recently a kidnapping, not a gringo, but a young Mexican girl, which had a sad ending. Crime here is no more, and  less than in our city of Portland. In fact, I might say I feel safer on the streets of San Miguel at night than I often did in the US urban areas.

Another incentive for home ownership here is the very low cost of utilities and property taxes. Our charming 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath home, with modern appliances and two lovely patio gardens plus an upstairs terrace with a view costs us only about $140 a year in taxes. Can't beat that. Fortunately, also, we love the furnishing choices of the former owner, an eclectic mix of rustic Mexican and contemporary. I've included a few photos. 
Here's Gary and I on our front porch, relaxing after a busy day in town. 

This is our dining room which looks out on our back patio. We often open the French doors and just let the outside-in.  the table on the right is on the patio---an antique cafe table with a Corona beer add on its enamel surface. Great place to sit and have a beer or a sip of margarita or wine.
This is our upstairs terrace. We love sistting out here and looking at the view of the moon coming up. It's on the East side of the house just off the master bedroom so we get a beautiful bright good morning sun every morning.

This is our cozy living room where we like to sit facing the gas log fireplace on chilly nights and read or entertain our guests. 
We have fruit trees (lemons, oranges and pomegranates) and lots of light throughout the house with it's front and back patios with french doors to each area. We've named the house "Casa de los Colibres" after the many hummingbirds that fly in and out of our garden and even one day, into the kitchen greeting me as I was cooking in my pretty green and white tiled kitchen.

 It's been quite an adventure. Our purchase took place in early December and we moved into the casa one week before we left to meet our friends, Penny and Jim Ferry, at La Manzanilla on the Pacific coast for five wonderful days at the beach.  We closed the deal, packed up the few things we had here at the casa on La Palma, our friend's house we were sitting and moved in. The real adventure began when we got back from the playa and realized all the little ins and outs of home ownership in Mexico: like getting a Mexican will drawn up so our kids would be sure and get the house in the event of our demise (Mexico doesn't accept US wills). Another chore was getting our name on all the utilities, and recently hiring a house manager to take care of the house while we are in the States.  He's a jewel and we really appreciate all that Benjamin has taught us about the language and the culture.

For the second week in February I volunteered for this year's San Michel International Literary Conference and hosted a NY agent and his wife and thirteen year old. It was great we had enough space to welcome them. They were wonderful guests and I even had a chance to discuss my novel with agent Jeff Kleinman. More about that in my next blog.  The conference was awesome, very stimulating with keynote speakers Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, Luis Urrea, author of many notable books such as my favorite, Hummingbird's Daughter, and its sequel, Queen of America.  Urrea was the star with his amazing stories and wonderful sense of humor. Lawrence Hill, Canadian literary genius and author of The Negro, known in the US as Someone Knows My Name also delivered an impassioned keynote address, and last but not least was Mexico's famous journalist and writer Juan Villoro. Workshops were stimulating and I learned a lot. We also had a lovely evening out with April Eberhardt, California agent and her very nice husband. April and I have been building a rapport since I first met her at the Willamette Writers Conference two years ago.This was her first visit to San Miguel.  I appreciated her encouragement and advice on the publishing of my novel. More news about that later!

Two days after the conference, I headed by bus to Mexico City to meet my two French girlfriends who were coming for a three week visit. It was their first trip to Mexico. Michelle and I were celebrating our 50th anniversary of our friendship. I first met her when I worked in France right out of college. We have so many shared memories and their visit was wonderful. I must admit my head was spinning being chief translator for them from French to Spanish and then English for Gary. We had many fun times discovering together Mexico City's wonders. After a week there they returned with me to San Miguel and were delighted to discover our new casa. We showed them the town,  including the Aztec dancers in the main square, the market and the wonderful botanic garden, El Charco de Ingenio.

My French girlfriend, Michelle, Gary and me sipping and snacking on our upstairs terrace with a view. 

We also took them on a day trip to one of our favorite places, Mineral de Pozos, the old mining town about an hour from here. We spent a wonderful day exploring and taking photos as you can see. We visited the pretty town square with it's large organos cactus, and had lunch there before driving out to the famous Pozos landmark, the three towers built over the smelting ovens.

This is where the Spaniards melted down the gold and silver they extracted into ingots to send back to Spain.

Michelle enjoying the horse in front of the old Spanish estates at the mine 

We also visited a small Pozos music center, where a Chimimeca Indian played his beautiful hand carved flute for us. What a treat.  When we got back to San Miguel, Michelle and Mauricette loved discovering the many different delicacies of the Mexican cuisine like the nopales pictured here. Preparing Mexican meals together in my new kitchen was fun. 

Just before their departure, I took Michelle and Mauricette to meet my dear Mexican friends, with whom I lived thirteen years ago while studying Spanish in San Miguel de Allende. Francisca and her daughter Marie Alena and their dog Azul greeted us warmly and invited us to go up on the deck to show Michelle and Mauricette the view. Being here always brings back many wonderful memories. The Vasquez family continues to be an important part of our experience here. We have celebrated holiday fiestas with them, had them to dinner at our new house and enjoy keeping up on their family's news. 

Living in this Mexican city with its mixed population of ex-pats from Canada and the US as well as some Europeans makes this a stimulating place to be, offering a wealth of activities from which we learn something new everyday. For example, a few days ago some gringo friends called and invited us to join them up at Laneta park, near the Charco, to witness an annual phenomenon just before the cowbirds migrate north.  They gather in flocks at sunset, much like Portland's Vaux Swifts do at Chapman School over the chimneys. These birds swoop and swirl in the painted sky---we could actually hear the swooshing sound of their wings overhead. Then suddenly they dropped into the clumps of bamboo-like shrubs that dot the dry cracked landscape which turns into wetland later during the rainy season in July. It was amazing. Take a look at our photos. 

Now we are winding down and getting ready to wing our way back to Portland for some quality time with our daughters and grand kids  for the summer. We'll drive back to Mexico in September hauling some of our paintings, my art materials and Gary's tools, as well as books and other personal items. We're looking forward now to catching up with our family and many friends in Portland. We plan on spending late fall, winter and spring in San Miguel and will come home each June and stay through September or October for the Northwest beautiful summers and fall. Our small beach cottage on the Nehalem river near the Oregon coastal town of Manzanita will provide a quiet retreat for my writing and Gary's projects. We hope over the next couple of years our friends and family will join us in our magical puebla of San Miguel de Allende.