San Miguel has been one surprise, one coincidence after the other. When Jack and I first considered moving to San Miguel de Allende we thought we’d take an exploratory week here to scout out the city to see for ourselves if this really was the magical place that we’d read and heard, and if so, where we might want to rent a house during the coming year. I booked a reservation at La Casa de la Noche, a well-known boutique B and B in the center of town. There were many appealing choices of hotels on the web, with lovely photos of bedrooms and public areas and rooms and affordable prices, but Casa de la Noche fascinated me. Built from adobe in the 1930’s, the house became a bothel in the 40’s, which eventually the authorities closed down, or so the authorities thought. But privately the house continued to operate where ladies of the night entertained politicians and welathy customers for money. In the 60’s the business ended for real and the house was given to a woman who had been a servant there. In 2002, Californian Barbara bought the house and opened it as a bed and breakfast three years later, naming it Casa de la Noche, House of the Night. Some of the rooms are named after the women who worked there. Reading that history I thought that anyone who had the vision to turn the house into the visual feast that it now is must be an artist herself, and a gutsy, fascinating woman. Maybe she’ll still be around when we go there and I can meet her, I hoped.
But our plans to visit San Miguel de Allende for a scouting mission were waylaid by the pandemic, along with everyone else’s travel plans. We bit the bullet and rented a house without having visited, sight unseen, in an area of town that sounded like a place I’d like to be. a colonia, or neighborhood, called San Antonio. It has a mixed population of foreigners and Mexicans, many artists and creative types, somewhat bohemian, away from the noise of downtown but a mile away.
Our second Saturday in town we went back to Casa Contenta, the little coffee house around the corner from our house that we discovered had opened the previous week. Mercedes, the woman who had been trying to keep a baby bird alive by feeding it sugar water was working there again that day. Remembering us, she greeted us warmly, took our order and said she wanted to introduce us to her boss, Barbara Poole. Barbara was the very same woman who had bought and opened Casa de la Noche and is still its proprietor! She came over to meet us and when I told her we had had resdrvations at her hotel before we were forced to cance them, she told us about her first trip to San Miguel de Allende. Twenty years ago she arrived having scraped together her life savings, intending to buy a building in town. Seeing the old brothel building for sale, she bought it immediately. Only once she signed the papers did she learn that if she left Mexico during her first five years there and went back to the states, 1/3 of the sale of the property would go to the government. “I had no choice. I stayed. And I’ve been here ever since.”
Her work on the property is never done. “I am an artist myself, she said,” which did not surprise me at all to hear. “I am completely dedicated to sponsoring all the arts. We host art openings, magic shows, concerts, plays. Everyone is welcome. And we have just signed a ten year contract with Blackbox Company, the most professional production company in the city. They are going to retrofit our space for theater performances. Everything they do is fantastic. I do hope you come and we see you there.”
If she knew me better, she wouldn’t have to wonder if we’d show up. It is as if we have been drawn here by design, as if our life here is something that was always meant to be.