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.