My partner and I left Canada last week in a flurry of cold weather, snow and minor roadblocks (a flat tire on the morning of our departure, a train that was more than two hours late, no cabs available to get us to the train station, and more of the same). All first world problems, as my daughter would put it. And all quickly erased from our memories (other than an ongoing irritation with VIA Rail’s seeming inability to understand how to run an efficient passenger train system in a country that has long, cold, snowy winters) the minute we stepped onto the ground in Mexico City a week ago today.
Within minutes of making our way through immigration and collecting our bags, we were on the bus to Queretaro. Buses in Mexico are a treat, with comfortable seats and lots of legroom, wifi and TV, washrooms and, best of all, a small bagged lunch consisting of a sandwich, a sweet of some kind and a drink, so we settled back and relaxed for the three-plus hour journey.
The final leg of our trip was a cab ride – at speeds so high I did not want to even look at the speedometer – to San Miguel de Allende, where we happily, if somewhat wearily, lugged our baggage for the last time until we come home in six weeks.
We are now fully settled into our digs; a charming and comfortable apartment on the ground floor of a house in the Guadalupe neighbourhood. This is new turf for us, having spent our SMA time in Colonia San Antonio in past years, and we are looking forward to getting to know it. Guadalupe is known for its murals – it’s rare to walk more than a block without seeing at least one beautiful and colourful painting on the wall of a building. With an organic grocery as well as a small but well-supplied grocery store, a liquor store and a few small restaurants nearby, we should be able to meet most of our needs without having to venture too far.
I am still getting my SMA legs in full working order. The altitude here is just shy of 2,000 metres, which takes a day or two of acclimating. SMA is built on a hill, so almost any trip involves at least one major up and down (fortunately, the walk home is downhill). Most of the streets are cobblestoned, which are beautiful but hard to navigate, and the attitude to sidewalks is casual by Canadian standards: numerous potholes and missing chunks of sidewalk require an “eyes down” approach if sprained ankles are to be avoided.
Of course, the fact that I almost never walk and have fallen out of my usual several-times-a-week trip to the gym adds to my walking challenges. I won’t be running any marathons while I am here, but I hope that my daily walks combined with a three-times-a-week tai chi class in one of the parks will improve my stamina to some extent.
What’s to do?
Finding things to do in SMA is never a challenge. With a large ex-pat population, there is a plethora of cultural, political and social activities. This week, my partner attended a talk by John Perkins, a senior international economist turned anti-corporate activist, while I went to one by former U.S./Mexico border guard Francisco Cantu, whose book The Line Becomes a River examines the human cost of the present U.S. border policy.
Candelaria, a festival to welcome the arrival of spring, has been in full swing since we arrived. One of the most beautiful events is a huge plant sale held all week in the park where my tai chi classes take place.
There are musical events almost every evening of the week, ranging from symphonies to small ensembles to traditional music. Dance – ballet, Flamenco, traditional – is never hard to find. New film releases are shown at a tiny movie theatre that seats just a couple of dozen people.
In less than two weeks, the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival begins, where we will be able to hear from such writers as Paul Theroux, Adam Gopnik, Cristina Rivera Garza, Jennifer Clement and many more.
SMA is a stopping point for the ongoing caravans of Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemala migrants making their way to the U.S. border, so there are activities to support them on their way. International Women’s Day in SMA is a month-long extravaganza of events planned by Ser Mujer, a women’s rights organization of Mexican, American and Canadian women.
And then there’s work
Technology makes it possible for me to spend this time in SMA, because I bring my work with me. Already, I have participated in a half-day meeting via Skype and had several telephone meetings via Zoom. I have some major writing projects, which I can do just as easily here, in the warmth and sunshine, as I can at my home office, where it is cold and snowy.
At home, my work requires me to travel, usually several days a week. I love the opportunities that gives me to get to know so many women doing such important work to end violence; but I also relish the break from it that my winter sojourn in SMA provides.
Even with the conveniences brought to us by technological communication, I am out of the direct loop while I am here, which means I can get more work done in less time. As a result, I feel less stretched and stressed.
I benefit enormously from my time in this beautiful place and never forget for a minute how privileged I am to be able to have it. While I use it to restore myself, I do my best to use it also to recharge my passion for and commitment to social justice issues beyond the world of violence against women; passion and commitment that I will bring home with me.