Of tai chi and tortillas

There is a smooth flow to life in San Miguel, at least for those of us here as visitors. Somehow, no matter how much I fill up my calendar, there is an ease to all of it that I never feel as I dash from activity to activity at home.

 Perhaps this is, in part, because we walk to everything, which creates a built-in buffer between activities; a time to think, to watch, to slow down. There is always a courtyard to glance at; a street vendor to politely rebuff; a hot air balloon to gaze at; the aroma from a food stall to inhale. 

Tai chi in the park

I am very self-conscious when it comes to any kind of physical activity, so it is a tribute to our tai chi instructor that I have not missed one of our three-times-a-week hour-long classes in the park. The class is a half-hour up-and- down-hill walk from our house, so the entire outing is a healthy two-hour workout.

As for the tai chi itself: I realize my right and left brains don’t work together very well, so I spend much of each class half a position behind Lydia, often with my right leg doing what the left is supposed to and sometimes wobbling madly on one leg. I won’t even describe what happens when I try to combine arm and leg movements. But, by the end of each class, my body feels a little more flexible and my soul feels calm and ready for whatever may lie ahead.

Private dancers

Music and dancing is everywhere in San Miguel, some of it public and some of it less so. The first few times my partner and I walked to tai chi, we heard pounding music accompanied by loud shouts and what sounded like instructions – all in Spanish, of course — coming from inside a building at the end of our street.

Last week, I decided to peer inside the door where, based on the music and shouting,  I expected to see lithe, lissome bodies clothed in skintight lycra exercise clothing. Instead, my eyes fell on a group of middle-aged and older Mexican women, most wearing their aprons; some of them, no doubt, on their way to clean house for the privileged likes of me. But, first, there was some time of Zumba!

Writers with courage

This year, I was only able to attend a couple of events at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. One of them was a talk by Jennifer Clement, an American-Mexican writer who is the President of PEN International. (Although founded by a woman in 1921, Jennifer is the first woman to head up the organization.)

She spoke about the research she did for her novel, Prayers for the Stolen, which included speaking with the wives and girlfriends of key men in Mexico’s notorious drug cartels, most of whom were in hiding with serious security, as well as women in Mexico City’s jail. She painted a stunning picture of the harms done to this wonderful country by the drug trade. In the Q&A that followed her talk, she was praised for her courage.

Her simple response has stayed with me all week:

“I don’t know that I am courageous. It is just that my indignation is greater than my fear.”

Cocina Savaje

As many of you know, food is one of my passions. When we are here, I bask in the wealth of produce on display daily at San Miguel’s markets. Avocados, oranges, mangos, pineapple, tomatoes, tomatillos and chiles of every kind provide an endless source of inspiration for cooking. My partner makes orange juice every morning, and I make up a batch of agua de pina every few days. We make and eat tacos, black bean chili, gazpacho and tortilla soup. When we have people over, we add dessert – rice pudding made with dulce de leche, coconut flan or paletas –  to the menu.

Last week, we attended an event called Cocina Savaje (the wild kitchen). It was a fundraiser to support the development of a composting and recycling program for San Miguel and also a delicious opportunity to eat locally grown or gathered food prepared in traditional, pre-conquest style.

The setting was beautiful – we were outside on the grounds of an old stone ruin, with sunlight dappling through the trees. The tables were elegantly set and all faced the food preparation area, where we could watch the head chef, also a researcher, work with her team that included Consuelo, the keeper of the ceremonial tortilla for her Indigenous community. We devoured an amazing meal of many courses, that included one of the hottest salsas I have ever tasted, tortillas sweetened with chopped hibiscus flowers, organic mole turkey, a salad filled with ingredients I could not identify, and a mouth-watering dessert of grilled pineapple, topped with ice cream and a warm, very sweet honey and cinnamon sauce. Accompanying the meal was mezcal made by a friend of the event organizer.

As my partner and I headed for home in the dusk, almost too full to walk, we watched the young organizers of the composting/recycling campaign dancing in the smoke of the open fires on which our entire meal had been cooked.

A perfect end to another wonderful week in San Miguel.

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