There is rarely a day here without sunshine. Even in the rainy season, the sun insists on having its moment. It is a kindness that washes over everything. Flowers cling to walls, frame doorways, line walkways. Even the cactus blooms and offers its fruit, which becomes purple flavoring for ice-cream. What matters here isn’t how much money you have or if you own a car or go to the best schools. To be educated means you can talk about art and literature and know how to sing. To Mexicans, family, friends, loyalty, food, tequila, fiestas make life worth living. They don’t want to be poor, but otherwise are satisfied with their lot in life. Greed is not a thing here. Except with politicians, like in every culture.
A woman slightly younger than me walks towards me on the narrow sidewalk. I am in the street below her, trying to step up onto the high curb. The uneven, slippery cobblestones make it difficult. She reaches out to take my elbow and helps me up with a knowing smile, then stands back against the wall to make room for me to pass. “Gracias,” I say. I will never see her again, but I will remember the moment, stranger helping stranger. It is a constant. When the plumber comes to our house, Jack lets him in. It is the first time he’s been here. Jack comes back to the table where I am waiting for him and we start eating the lunch that the doorbell interrupted. The plumber walks past us to go upstairs to go investigate the leak he has come to fix. “Buen provecho,” he says, enjoy your meal. Every moment, every encounter is an opportunity for graciousness, no matter one’s station. A Mexican family a few doors away lives in a shack behind the wall that separates them from the street. Their two plumed chickens run loose and greet us when we go out in the morning, pecking the cobblestones looking for God-knows-what, and then disappear in the evening. They seem to have a good thing going with the family that owns them or else they would run away. One night I heard mariachi music coming from their yard. It was a band playing for maybe 15 guests, most of whom were dancing. When our neighbor saw me looking at the festivities he came out to the street to speak with me. “Do you speak Spanish?” he asked. “Yes, a little,”I answered. He grinned broadly and said “It’s our anniversary. 45 years. Come join us.” He has much to offer. We live side by side, although he lives in a humble dwelling and my house is luxurious, especially in comparision. But he knows he has much to offer. I am his neighbor and he is the host. It is his country, his culture. I am a foreigner and a newcomer. His family has lived on this street for generations, living in the yard of a single landowner who once owned a large hacienda and the entire street.
Art flourishes like the flowers in such a kind environment. I have met visual artists, musicians, writers, directors, photographers for movie companies, chefs, people who have lived in many places all over the world with fascinating histories who have chosen to settle here. Some are world-famous, others have more humble careers. There are no critics here who write reviews and stifle creativity. People here are willing to risk, to dare to try something new. They create because they have the time and the freedom and a supportive, appreciative environment in which to expose their true selves.
The day our plane landed in Leon and Rafa, our driver, picked us up at the airport, he was telling us why we would love San Miguel. “Retirees go to Florida to play golf, to lie in the sun, to relax. People retire to San Miguel to learn and to grow.” Kindness feeds the soul and the soul creates.