Books on my desk checked out from the public library to prepare for my travels to Peru, include the following:
Pizarro and the Conquest of the Incan Empire in World History, by Richard Worth, 2000.
I read this one cover to cover, but it was a short history book with 120 pages. I recognized the storyline from North American history – colonization, conquest, and capture. Same story, different names.
Between the Lines: The Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawaing of Ancient Nasca, Peru by Anthony F. Aveni, 2000.
I read parts of this one, studied the photos and captions that told the story without details. At least I will know about Nasca when I get there.
The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes, by Johan Reinhard (National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence), 2005.
I had not heard of the Ice Maiden before and found the story fascinating, especially through the eyes and hands of an archeologist and explorer. With only a limited time, I skimmed this for the gist of the discovery and recovery of the Ice Maiden. Fascinating. I’ll be pulling this from the library shelves when I get back. Again, I’ll know what folks are talking about when they reference the Ice Maiden.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, by Mark Adams, 2011.
I never got to this one, but because I will not see Machu Picchu, I decided I could read it in the future.
Genesis, first volume in Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, 1982 in Spain and the translation copyright is 1985 by Cedric Belgrage.
A non-traditional book, it is “both a meditation on the clashes between the Old World and the New, and in the author’s words, an attempt to ‘rescue the kidnapped memory of all America’.” (from the back cover) Each entry was less than half a page typically and observational in retrospect. I hunted to find entries on Peru, so gave up quickly, because of time.
Often my preparation for a trip is to 1) read about the place (see the list of books above I checked out to review), 2) become familiar with a map of the city or region, 3) digest some cultural literature, and 4) purchase gifts for hosts and people along the way. I took these steps in preparation for visiting friends in Lima, Peru.
A refresher on the Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell introduced the world to The Hero’s Journey. He discovered similarities of what happened in stories, fables, and fairy tales after years of study. He called these similar steps The Hero’s Journey. There are many ways to explain this layered epic journey; one way is to outline five stages:
the call to journey;
preparation for the journey;
the path and encounter;
and finally reflection in telling the tale to others at home.
HERO is meant, not as a male model, but an inclusive, universal archetype.
Archetype = a classic prototype
(Months ago I blogged about The Call (Step #1). My blog went down and I did not follow-up right away.)
Now below, I continue the series on the Hero’s Journey, Part #2 The Preparation.
First step, I bought the ONLY travel book in my local Hastings on Peru. I read all the parts that would apply to my trip and some others of interest to me, so I could discuss these things while there and wouldn’t seem uninformed about their country. Next step, I studied the map of Lima to have a sense of the city before arriving. I tore out pages that referred to the city and packed them.
Third step, I bought a classic Peruvian novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller from our local library’s weekly used book sale. This would be more of a challenge than I thought. I completed the book while in Lima, but found reading a summary prior to tackling the book would have helped. I easily confused the two main characters. Latino literature is full of mysterious, symbolic or fantastical imagery, which further mangled my understanding. But when I learned that Latino writers often had to write in “code” or were shot of truth telling, it made more sense. That lesson alone taught me about the restrictive governments or military powers that long held sway in south American countries.
And the final step, I emailed Patricia with ideas I had thought of for Mariana’s confirmation gift. I asked Patricia, Mariana’s mom, to give me guidance so I could please her. Patricia sent me a picture of a pencil case Mariana wanted (item number and color) and could not get in Lima. It arrived the day before we left. Whew!
I travel with these items and carefully packed clothes for everyday and professional presentation attire that can be combined and worn interchangeably. Our hosts advised us to bring warm clothes. We underestimated how warm, but would manage by borrowing jackets from Raul and Patricia.
In addition for our volunteer task, Lynn and I prepared a two-hour presentation on “Experiential Learning Beyond the Classroom.” We selected a few PowerPoint visuals to guide the facilitation with faculty at Raul’s university where he works, Científica Universidad del Sur. We divided up parts according to our experience and knowledge base. We were ready.
We packed lightly for an easy trip from San Antonio to Mexico City to Lima. Though traveling far, we stayed within the same time zone, except the US was on daylight-savings time, making the time difference only one hour.
Now, I have illustrated how I use the the Call and the Preparation steps of the Hero’s Journey to get ready for a trip.
For travelers: Can you relate to either of these passages that ready us for a journey to either see the relatives across town, or a journey around the world to explore another culture? Will you share an example of either or both steps in the Hero’s Journey and how important they were to your travel?
For writers: Can you use the Hero’s Journey to write a memoir of a time in your life? Can you find ways to weave the Hero’s Journey into your fiction stories? How can you make use of the Hero’s Journey to enrich your writing?
LEAVE YOUR ANSWERS BELOW. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Let me introduce the blog and my intentions for writing it.
I am blogging publicly instead of keeping a personal journal, because I believe I have ideas, past experience and current learning to share with you and others, on topics such as 1) travel, 2) practical and spiritual matters, and 3) the writing and publishing process.
WHAT AM I BLOGGING?
I hope to write about my travel experiences, general benefits of travel for all of us and how to make it easier. As a writer and professionally an educator, I expect to draft blog posts about the craft and process of writing. I plan to share some of my own writing (published and unpublished) with you over time, as well. As a Christian and spiritual seeker in the Quaker tradition, I won’t be able to NOT write about spiritual matters, even the practical side of spiritual things.
WHAT AM I WRITING?
Blogging gives me a chance to connect to people (young and old) around these topics, which leads to the introduction of my coming-of-age, travel and spiritual memoir entitled, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, published in 2014. The book tells the story of my life and travels from age 10 to 27, guided by a mother wise beyond her own experience; journeys provided by my church or because of my association with my church, including two mission projects (one, ten weeks; the other, an academic year of college); and the final trip abroad as an act of progressive independence as a young professional woman in graduate school. Each excursion offers growth and personal insight.
I’m currently writing an historical fiction of an early 1900s unconventional horsewoman who travels with her younger brother to India to sell horses. During her journey she loses her brother, encounters two men who help her discover more about herself, chooses one who will aid in her learning to live and love without regret.
HOW COME THE TITLE OF THE WEBSITE?
As a take-off from the title of my memoir, I felt like “Finding Ourselves at Home in the World” would be inclusive and inviting. I hope that works out to be accurate. I also view my protagonist in the historical fiction as finding her way in the world.
My taglines, Travel – Travel Writing – Writing, offer a quick description of what reader will find on my website and blog.
WHY DO I WRITE?
Both books reveal my interest and passion in young men and particularly young women growing up independent, strong, and resilient.
WHO SHOULD READ MY BLOG?
I believe many folk interested in travel will pursue this blog and it topics. I anticipate writers will be energized by travel writing and posts about the craft of writing and travel writing. I hope single women (college age through young 30s) will read my books to produce their own thought-provoking self-introspection. I believe young women (in their 30s and 40s) raising children will find food for thought about parenting to help their own offspring grow up ready to take their place in the world. And I suspect that many older women in their 50s, 60s and older will seek to reminisce about their own experiences of being who they are.
Joseph Campbell introduced the world to The Hero’s Journey in a book entitled, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. After years of study he discovered similar storylines in stories, fables, and fairy tales. He called these similar steps, The Hero’s Journey. Though there are many ways to explain this layered epic journey, one simple way is to outline the five stages:
the call to journey;
preparation for the journey;
the path and encounter;
the return; and finally
reflection in telling the tale to others at home.
HERO is meant, not as a male model, but an inclusive, universal archetype.
Archetype = a classic prototype
As a traveler, an adult educator, writer and blogger, I believe I should not only write about the Hero’s Journey, but I should model what it is and how we can use this ideal in our own lives. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to share how I use these steps as I get ready to travel to Lima, Peru for a visit with friends. This week I’ll write about THE CALL.
I will not be touring Machu Picchu (one of the wonders of the world), which would make this an epic spiritual experience—a true Hero’s Journey. However, The Hero’s Journey, as an outline or model, helps us see and realize travel as a practical AND spiritual experience, regardless the weight of the travel or the experience.
Joseph Dispenza in his book, The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self-Discoverysays the call to journey is a request of our inner self. Often we are ready for a shift, change or perhaps even a transformation in our lives. When we answer the call, our intention sets something in motion—whether you call it God’s hand, the universe, or spirit.
My husband Lynn and I try to make a trip (just the two of us) each year, in addition to visiting family. In recent years we have traveled within the U.S. borders. In the past however, we have journeyed to such exotic places as Japan, South Africa and most recently in 2008 to Turkey. It has been a long time since we have been out of the country, except for our annual month-long stay on a Mexican island.
Lynn and I are both adventuresome, but in different ways. He is more physical in his need to step into the world and explore; while, I am more intellectual or interested in exploring ideas and relationships.
For the last year or so, Lynn has been talking about going to see our friends, Raul and Patricia in Lima, Peru, where they grew up and currently live and work. (They and their children are bilingual by living in English-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries since we last saw them.) Raul had been Lynn’s graduate student decades ago. We have had them in our home many times in the States and know their kids, Daniella and Ian. But have not met their youngest, Mariana, born since we last saw them.
Lynn and I asked them early this year when would be a good time for us to visit, April or September. They opted for September, so when Lynn went to purchase airline tickets, he asked Raul, “early or late September?” Because Mariana experiences her first communion in late September, Raul asked if we could come then. How special to get to celebrate this milestone in her life.
Dispenza writes in his book at length about The Call and our reaction to it. We choose to see friends, who happen to live in Lima, the City of Kings, so we can see the city as well. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have fears about going. Dispenza suggest we identify our fears (hesitations, reluctances), write them down. Next, decide which ones are irrational and which ones are realistic. For the fears that are left, write them on a piece of paper and place them in box, so you don’t take them with you.
Here are some of my fears. I’m afraid…
That I won’t have the stamina to keep up with our hosts and their younger family. (Realistic)
That I will be intimidated visiting our bilingual friends. (Irrational)
That we will impose too much on a family, which is still working. (Realistic)
That we will not get to explore and feel adventureous, because we are staying with locals. (Maybe, maybe not)
That I won’t be able to look and act as cosmopolitan as Raul and Patricia, who have grown up in the city. (Realistic, but irrelevant.)
Dispenza suggests that we take the realistic fears and see what we can do about them. Lynn and I have offered to take off on our own to tour the city while they are at work. This addresses fears #3 and #4. Fear #1 requires that I get plenty of rest while away, I don’t let myself get dehydrated, and I stay active, but not to the point of exhaustion. These things mean I must communicate with our friends how much is enough or too much.
In answering The Call to this place, Lynn and I also offered our services to Raul’s university to do a workshop or seminar with our extensive university backgrounds. This idea grew out of an experience years ago in which Lynn and I conducted a week-long in-service training for Mangosuthu Technikan in South Africa. We found we got to know locals in a more real and personal way. We got to learn what their higher education problems were as compared to ours in the U.S., which often were more similar than different. And three cultures in the training workshop, African tribal, Indian, and Afrikaans, shared their separate stories as they related them to the issues of higher education in South Africa, their challenges as faculty and as South Africans post-Apartheid.
Raul and we have come up with a plan to share our experience in experiential learning that augments the standard classroom learning. We hope this sharing will be a two-way street between us and the faculty, and will be useful to the university, students, and faculty in implementing new learning opportunities for students.
Lynn also asked Raul to attend an English-speaking Toast Master International club while there. He will offer an extemporaneous speech, if the two of them can manage a time to go together.
MEANING OF PLACE
Again, Dispenza offers guidance on how to think of The Call in allegorical ways. He suggests we list the different meanings the PLACE can be for us, both literally and metaphorically.
Lima, the City of Kings, associations:
Wealth, whether I’m talking about money and jewels, or conversation and friendship
Silver and gold, whether learning their history or shopping for jewelry
Incas, learning about a culture that vanished years ago and experiencing the current cityscape of Lima
Treasures of friendship long-ago, treasured time together now, what we have to share today
Opportunity to be part of a major family tradition, Mariana’s first communion, and the chance to meet with her extended family members who will attend also
Glittery society of a metropolitan city versus a small-town atmosphere, simply the lights of the city will be a sight for us
Spanish language, a romance language, the language of today, most likely not of the Inca’s
Latin America, different from Mexico and Costa Rica, central American countries with which I’m acquainted
Spiritual, the Peruvian history has an aura of spirituality, especially Macho Picchu; our contribution through volunteering can be a spiritual experience
With these associations in mind, here are some possible ways our travel can create meaning for me.
We get to explore and discover a Latin American culture that provides some adventure in our routine lives. By experiencing city life in a Latin American country, which I have not visited before, this may be a glittering example of riches of a culture I have not participated in before.
We have the opportunity to participate in the spiritual lives of our friends by attending Mariana’s first communion.
The primary reason for the trip is to become reacquainted and spend time with our friends. This visit will be special, because they will be sharing their hometown and their culture, unlike it has been in the past in our country, when we shared ours with them.
Our volunteer work at the university might open some doors of new friendships and international cooperation and/or research. It is possible this seminar might develop into future consulting that might bring us back.
As I consider what this place can mean to me, I realize that these ideas are pure conjecture on my part.
BUILDING A SHRINE
Dispenza suggests we build a small shrine to present what is going on in the outer world that represents what is going on inside of us. He considers a travel shrine, as a “tangible expression of the journey in all its many manifestations, including your excitement, your hesitations, your preparations, and your expectations.” (p. 46-47)
Right now I have a stack of books about Peru: its history, its landscape, its significant people and locations. I have the days marked off my calendar and reservation filed. I will have to think about shrine building some more. But the call to journey demands preparation next.
Travelers: Can you identify with any of these actions I took as a result of trying to follow the Hero’s Journey? Was building a shrine easier for you than me?
Writers: Do you see the value of viewing your protagonist as a sojourner? Can you craft the “call” of your main character in your next story? Does this add an element of intrigue, depth, or richness? How did you do it?
SHARE YOUR ANSWERS BELOW. I look forward to hearing from you!
We rallied the next morning (Wednesday, our third and last day there) over breakfast and agreed to set off to the gallery recommended by Muriel. We trekked the short distance, taking our time and stopping at intriguing little shops as we slowly made our way to the Fabrica la Aurora Gallery. An old manufacturing plant housed the galleries of contemporary furniture, glass, metal art, and mixed media art; along with the traditional arts of Mexico, like painting, weaving, and doll making.
Just as Muriel had suggested that we see all we could, we wandered around, got separated, ran into each other and headed off in different directions again. Tilly and I sauntered into one gallery together, rounded a corner and came face to face with a stampeding white stallion forging toward us.
We stopped stone-still, held our breaths, stared straight into the eyes of the charging stallion, and then looked at each other. Tilly exhaled, “Wow! If I took home a piece of art that would be it.”
I said, “Me, too. I can almost feel its breath on us.”
We stood our ground against that stallion. Each muscle, tendon, and ligament felt like it was bearing down on us. This beauty was located in one of the galleries, but I am unsure of the actual artist.*
Later as we left the gallery, Tilly and I sadly reminisced about our favorite piece of art that we could not take home with us. Cost and especially transportation would keep us from competing for the stallion. Neither of us could carry a life-size painting back to Cancun, the island, and then back to our respective homes in Canada or Texas.
When we all gather at the café in the back corner, as Muriel had explained, we visited with a man sitting next to us. He introduced himself as the dad of the woman who writes the content for the tourist information office about San Miguel.
Intrigued with Mexican nature, design, color, and graphics in general, I took more photos here than anywhere. See my collection of “Mexican Graphics,” taken from the galleries and other places around the city.
Muriel, Leslie and other women mentioned San Miguel shoes, as if they were a certain brand of shoe designed for walking the cobblestoned streets.
“What’s with these San Miguel shoes you mention? Is that just heavy soled shoes or is it a distinct shoe?”
“No, no, it is a real brand, a certain style that is designed to walk in this city.”
“No joke, where would we find them? We have to see them?”
“There is one shoe store that carries them close to your place. The shoes are really different; everyone who lives here wears them.”
“We will have to check them out.”
As we wandered the city without thinking about shoes, we came across a tiny sign that indicated a shoe store. We thought it worth asking. Oh yes, they carried San Miguel shoes. Last year’s design was on sale: this year’s new design, more expensive. They were different alright. I had to try them on. I almost bought them; but thought, Better not. Cash is low.
The first evening we arrived at the HotelQuinta Loreta, we carefully climbed the irregular and crumbling stone and mortar steps that had over time been patched. They were dangerous by day, more so at night; but repairs took place over the days we were there.
One to two workers each day took time to knock down the crumbling material and haul it away, select just the right stones for each next installment and rebuild with new stone and mortar, all the while keeping a path open to the reception office. When we would leave in the morning or return in the afternoon, they smiled, stopped their work, stepped aside, and motioned us to use the available portion. We were amazed by their fine craft, but more so, by how long it took them to get the steps completed. So as not to interrupt their work, we found another route.
Another gentleman sat across from the masonry men and worked on two ancient, Queen Ann upholstered chairs. He sanded, buffed, polished, and brought the wood back to life the week we were there. We shared few words with these artisans during our short stay, but felt a sense of knowing them by the end of our visit.
Around town we noticed posters, announcements, and advertisements of different sorts about events at the It seemed to be the happening place. The public library sat one block from our hotel, so we checked it out. Surprised, we found the open gate to the library with an uncovered courtyard, surrounded by rooms that housed their bookshelves.
In the open patio tables supplied places for people to read or more often, it appeared that people were tutoring or practicing their English or Spanish with each other. The place bustled with teens filling a computer room, and children with parents in the children’s reading room. A small book store featured local writers’ work. We never expected to find a closed thrift shop at the back of the library with stacks of used clothing piled chest-high.
We learned the next day was their weekly half-price day. We returned the following day to rummage their goods. One could not pass another person without touching them, body to body. We shopped until we tasted grit in our teeth and sneezed from the dust that had accumulated. Cathy, again, came away the winner with the most “stuff.” I bought three pairs of shorts, each for ten pesos or about eighty cents. In addition, the library held their weekly book sale. I, of course, found two I could not live without. They were far more expensive than the clothes.
These purchases drew down my stash of pesos. Tomorrow, I must find someplace to take my dollars or accept a credit card—both hard to do in Mexico. I avoided going to the bank by paying for the return transport for all of us with my credit card and had mi amigas paid me in pesos. I felt like the American TV ad where one friend insinuates to another that her date may always be willing to pay with his credit card, not because he is a gentleman, but because he gets the cash rewards.
We bought a bottle of wine to take to Bill and Howard’s. Leslie met us at the door; Harley and Muriel had not yet returned from their day-long cooking class. When they did, we hurriedly caught a taxi. The taxi climbed and climbed, shifted, revved the motor, and made a turn or two and climbed higher yet up the hill. The streets narrowed and we recognized parts of the city we had seen on the trolley tour.
The taxi pulled up to a plain white wall, a sage green gate and cacti on either side. Howard emerged from their gate to greet us.
His welcome filled up the street as he met us spilling out of two cabs. Howard’s attention turned immediately to showing us their place. The front garden area was grassy green and lush with tropical plants and a sculpture of naked men hanging off the wall—he pointed it out in case we were to miss it for all the foliage.
Leslie and Muriel had jewelry business with Bill at his shop, Pietras, attached to his house. Our disappointment that we would not see his studio and his work dissipated quickly when we entered his sanctuary. The four of us visually gobbled up as much as we could lay eyes on in a matter of minutes. From the simple to the sublime, the designs were one-of-a-kind; the price, reasonable for a statement piece one could own. Tilly honed in on a pair of lovely baroque fresh water pearl earrings for her daughter. When we were sufficiently overwhelmed, Howard scooted us out of the shop, outside again and into the house from the front door, so we could see it proper like. Tilly hung back and bought the pearl earrings from Bill.
Howard and Bill, permanent residents in San Miguel eighteen years, owned the house for about four years in a noticeably up-scale neighborhood with both Mexicans and expats. They conducted a major renovation in three months when they moved in—a story of its own. Bill and Howard entertained and hosted galas and fundraisers at their place. Art is prominent in every room, especially the entryway, throughout the lovely, more modern house, including the garage.
The entryway is full of Indian art and artifacts that Howard collected when he served as board president of the Wheelwright Museum of Santa Fe years ago. When we moved into the living room, he pointed to one wall of art that was representative of his hometown Kansas City artists from 1900 to 1950.
He proudly walked us through each bedroom and in his room was an award plaque, honoring his years of philanthropy. I paraphrase Howard’s motto, “invest where you live; give back to your community.” He recently received a surprise honorary doctorate. Learn more about his history of philanthropy—example, he and Bill started the first hospice in Mexico in San Miguel—and his mantra of life.
I love all things copper. My house in Texas is filled with copper items, especially the kitchen, so a unique application of copper in their kitchen renovation captivated me.
They painted one side of glass a shimmering copper color, placed two panes of glass together and inserted them back-to-back into distressed frames for each cabinet door. This stunning application ensured that the color would never fade or need to be repainted. Brilliant!
The bedrooms appeared that Ralph Lauren had dressed each uniquely with panache. Each bedroom told a guest more about the men who lived there—for Howard, horses and riding; for Bill, gems and design; for both, art and artists. Bathrooms displayed art work featuring the eloquence of the human nude.
Howard led the four of us female guests around the house like the pied piper, while the rest of the entourage relaxed on the patio with drinks in conversation. Howard joked that the key to the French Doors in his room worked only after midnight.
Jenn said, “So what’s the key?”
“It’s a knock, a secret knock. If you tap softly,” he rapped out the cadence on a door pane (knock,knock,knock,…knock), “then I will let you in.”
Cathy said, “Oh, I can do that.” She replicated the secret knock.
Jenn said, “Unless I get here before you do.”
Howard relished the jealous competition between Cathy and Jenn for his attention.
Finally, we arrived to the backyard, but the stories did not end at the exterior of the house. The extra acreage they didn’t know was theirs when they bought the property turned out to be where they built a home for Bill’s business partner, who is a jewelry designer, Luis.
Howard did not want us to overlook the garage for family lore.
Their five rescue dogs slept on two huge pallets made for the mutts that live like kings.
The wall of fame with photographs of the rich and famous overlooked the car in the garage and served as reminders of another time, when glamor reigned in Hollywood. His favorite, Ethyl Merman. Howard’s riding trophies and snapshots of those achievements must have outgrown the house, so they lined the garage walls. For me the most fascinating item that reigned in the garage stood in the front corner, guarding the dogs and memories—a larger than life, elaborated decorated papier-mâché knight.
This caballero was the last one standing of sixteen, made by a local artist and auctioned off in a fundraiser at their home last year. This one didn’t sell.
“Just as well,” Howard said, “I rather like the gentleman myself. I’m sure I will find many ways and places for him to have other lives.”
As we followed the pied piper throughout the property we came across topics of conversation that ranged from visiting and living abroad to which generations are more likely to give back to their communities to microcredit lending. And of course, the secret knock on Howard’s door at midnight that would serve as a key to his heart. Harley and Muriel; Chip and Leslie; Bill, Jim and Damon; and two other new-to-us women leisurely relaxed with a drink on the patio.
One of the women happened to be Tammy, who wrote the tourist information brochure on what to do and see in San Miguel.
“We met your dad this morning having coffee at the café at the Galleries.”
“Yes, he gets around. And he is so proud of me.”
We sat on the patio with the rest for a while. Cathy (who is married) leaned toward Bill, Howard’s partner for 44 years, and said “Can I marry Howard?”
“Well, I would consider it, but we’ve gotten along so well together for so long.” He thought about it for seconds and said, “It would be hard to give him up.”
“Oh, please, let me marry him.”
Jenn chimed in, “No, I want to marry him.”
Bill conceded. “I’ll think about it,” while Howard looked on smirking over his good fortune.
All in good fun, we teased, bemoaned the next day being our last, and thanked them all for inviting us into their lives, if only for a few moments.
We left Isla Mujeres four days ago without an itinerary, as adventurers.The four of us were a keenly knitted, resourceful band of explorers.Though my friend back home in Texas experienced the city as inaccessible, on the other hand, we did not. We searched out and snooped behind the gates of San Miguel, but gates were also opened to us. People invited us into their homes and the intimacy of their lives. We found the magic of the city in the people we met behind the gates of San Miguel.
* I would like to give credit to the artist of the white stallion. If you know the artist, please let me know.
The tourist information officer yesterday encouraged us to take a cab to the weekly market, so after breakfast we taxied to the remote location. We found acres and acres of open-air market. We spilt up, went our separate ways and agreed to meet back in about an hour.
I strolled, wandered and realized soon that their market was like a county fair in some ways back home. People brought their homemade goods, food vendors cooked on site, vegetable growers brought in the morning harvest. One vendor had built a ninety-degree wall of red strawberries on two sides of his table about eighteen inches high—perfection in every berry. When I later decided I wanted a photo of the red cornered-wall of berries, I could not find it. It pays to be impetuous at times.
No livestock, but I did run into a stately rooster strutting in a wire dog-kennel for sale.
The market was part bazaar or flea market. Some stalls held new and top labeled clothes, while others housed stacks of outgrown or unneeded clothes and personal items from fancy panties and bras to purses. There were the usual Mexican “knick-knacky” items (woven blankets, pottery, and leather goods) that I have outgrown the need for, since traveling to Mexico for twenty-five years now.
I saw two policemen at different times in full uniform with AK-47s slung across their chests, hands loosely sitting on the grip with a ski mask on and eyes roaming the crowd. Serious security. One of the uniformed men looked the opposite way and I pointed my tablet’s camera at him for a picture. Before I could focus, he turned back in my direction.
I said, “May I?” He shook his head slowly, waved a finger “no” from the hand siting on the rifle, and I quietly put my tablet back in my purse, feeling naughty for having tried.
Jenn and particularly Cathy had made out like bandits with the tenacity and patience to ply the stacks of used clothes for little to nothing. Dusty and dirty items, but steals nonetheless. Cathy had already bought so many items she had to purchase a larger bag to serve as her “personal item” on the plane back to Cancún to carry all her goods.
On this expedition in San Miguel de Allende we were about to strike gold behind a gate.
Serendipitously, the autumn before our trip in February a couple, Harley and Muriel Mimura, from Dallas visited my Kerrville, Texas, Quaker Meeting. After silent worship we were visiting with them and Harley revealed that they spend February each year in San Miguel. I told them that friends and I had a trip planned in the city during February.
Muriel leaned toward me and insisted, “You’ll have to come see us and have drinks at our place when you come.”
“We would love that.”
Excitedly, I informed my fellow travelers via email later that day, who seemed equally pleased to have a personal invitation in a city we did not know.
I stayed in touch with Muriel at Christmas and again in late January. She insisted again they wanted us to come for drinks at sunset and sent a map via email from our hotel to their place, only six blocks away.
On Tuesday, our second full day in the city, we purchased flowers from the Artisan Market next door to our hotel and I had brought a daily devotional book as gifts for the Harley and Muriel. We arrived at their massive wooden door, unadorned and unremarkable, rang the bell, and waited anxiously. I was the only one who had met Harley and Muriel and I barely recalled what they looked like, now six months later.
Muriel and Harley guided us to the living and dining room combination. The scent of lilies greeted us from three vases the height of most table lamps; Cava (a white sparkling wine) waited to tickle our taste buds. We met the couple they rented and shared the house with each February, Chip and Leslie. Harley opened the door with Muriel’s head peaking over his shoulder to welcome us in. We walked into the dark entrance, strode up several steps into light, flooding the central patio with a three-tiered fountain filled with fresh flowers. With no ceiling overhead we were exposed to the elements of nature. We stood stunned byprofuse fresh flowers, the openness in the middle of a house, and the elegant garden and patio. A bit in awe of our circumstances, like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, we stood gaping at the interior of a house in which the exterior from the street gave no foreshadowing of what was to come.
Muriel, the impeccable hostess said, “We like to start here with a drink in hand as Harley provides a tour of the house, which will simply spiral up the house, until you get to the roof top where we will have hor d’oevers as the sun sets. Take your time, we have other friends who will join us and they have company, so we will be meeting them as well.”
Harley said, “This house is not a typical rental, but a home designed for the owners themselves. We met them several years ago and they are gone this time each year, so we with Leslie and Chip worked a deal. It’s full of Mexican antiques and is not what you will find as a long-term rental here in San Miguel.”
The ceiling soared about fifteen feet, so we were gazing up and around as Harley talked, staring at the sets of art on the walls, pottery on the shelves, memorizing the fabric patterns on the furniture, running our fingers over the wood table that was bigger than most eat-in kitchens, trying to absorb as much as possible before we left the room. I felt rude, but we were busy—all ears, eyes, nose, and fingers busy.
Harley gave us a quick architectural history lesson, “This house was built in the old Colonial Mexican style with the open-air courtyard in the center and the house built around it. Some houses of this style have coverings that help the residents get from one part of the house to the other. But this is the original concept, open to the elements.”
“What do you do on rainy days?”
“Use an umbrella,” he said deadpan. Then he smiled. “We keep one in every room in the place.” He went on to explain. “Most houses like this come with a staff. That took some getting used to.”
“I could use get used to that.” We each agreed.
“The first time I dropped my drawers for a shower and came out to find them gone, I was startled. They were already in the laundry. I learned to take a robe to the shower.”
“So what kind of staff do you have?”
“Two, a maid and cook. We don’t do anything while here.” He laughed, “We are spoiled by the time we get home and have to do those things for ourselves again. It takes some adjustment.”
Harley, using his cane, to steady himself showed us the first floor with what appeared to me more characteristically a French country kitchen.
Blue, yellow and white tiles covered the floors and back splashes, yellow cabinetry brightened the work space. The room was oddly shaped, like a squared-off S if you can imagine that. Though larger than kitchens in Mexico, it was smaller than kitchens in French homes.
The flowers we brought were lying in the sink in a container of water to keep them fresh. No time to arrange them. We felt like we had brought a small bouquet of dandelions to a florist store owner, because of the profusion of flowers throughout the house. We reminded ourselves, it is the thought that counts.
The first of five bedrooms had its own private bath, as would each of the following, and the two on the first floor had a fireplace. Each was differently decorated, but ready for an “Elle Décor,” “Veranda” or “Architectural Digest” photo shoot.
The four of us gawked, “ooo-ed and aah-ed,” took photos of rich antiques in rare settings and small bathrooms designed for luxury. I tried to act sophisticated about the style, color, or fixtures that combined to put a boutique-style B&B out of any competition for best-dressed rooms.
By the time we got to the second floor to compare a third and fourth bedroom, we were asking questions about artwork, age of furniture, or who gets which rooms when they are there. And of course, we each picked our favorite. I almost flopped on a bed to claim the one I wanted; but I caught myself. The bathrooms were so tiny that two of us could not stand in one together. We certainly could not take a photo and capture the essence of the room.
The stairs to the third floor narrowed. As we came out of the last room, we had to take turns going out and around the door one-by-one, then snake our way single-file to the next floor, as the hand-carved stone steps narrowed.
We learned that the highest and last bedroom would be Harley and Muriel’s. How does Harley navigate his way up and down using a cane several times a day?
Harley offered an architectural design lesson that he as an engineer found captivating.
“Look at the shapes in the brick ceiling and how they come together in this formation.” Our eyes followed his pointing finger. “That’s known as bóveda, a construction term for any arched brickwork. Not sure how they do it, but I know structurally that any archway when completed is stronger because of the tension it holds. Bold design, isn’t it?”
From each corner of the room the brickwork domed and fit together as an undulating ceiling, as if carved instead of bricked. I’d never seen this construction before. It must have required skill and patience, because it was the only bóveda ceiling in the house.
On our way from the last bedroom door, Muriel, Leslie, and other guests were on their way to the rooftops with food and drink. We each offered to lighten the load of the others, who balanced trays, carried pitchers of sloshing liquids, while they navigated uneven steps.
Not only did the steps narrow, the rise in the steps became more shallow, and unevenness resulted from hand-hewn stone. Our reward for the climb was tasty appetizers. My two favorites were the cooked asparagus stalks swirled in bacon and the tiniest, tidiest deviled quail eggs I ever saw to go with our next glass of Cava.
Muriel cooed, “Oh, you ladies have brought the first sunset we have seen in days. Isn’t it lovely up here? Thank you for coming.”
We felt special and each of us couldn’t say fast enough some version of, “No, it is us, who should be thanking you.”
Their invited friends, Bill Harris and Howard Haynes, was a couple who actually had lived in San Miguel for eighteen years of the forty-one years they had been together. They loved their city, their life, the fresh mountain air, the artists and the arts, and especially the blended community of both Mexicans and North Americans.
Howard, a philanthropist, told us of ways he had gone about getting money from people who didn’t have a heart for others, as well as those who enjoyed giving to their community. He held a strong ethic for giving back to the place and people wherever he had lived.
His partner, Bill, a quieter man, but just as convivial, pursued his passion as a gemologist and artisan jeweler. Artist and businessman, he owned a studio in their home. Muriel explained that his studio was not a “drop-by” storefront; one must have an invitation to come to see his artistry. We were deflated that we couldn’t stop and shop the next day.
Howard and Bill brought guests visiting them from Kansas City. Bill and guest Jim roomed together in college decades ago. With Jim’s partner, Damon that made twelve of us who enjoyed each other’s company behind one of the gates of San Miguel, as new and old friendships merged.
The four of us separated and wove our way through the folks scattered on the patio. We teased and laughed, talked and philosophized. We couldn’t have found company more pleasant, more engaging.
Howard asked us before he and his guests left that evening how long we were staying; he wanted to invite us for cocktails at their house. With only one night left in our stay, he was bummed, because they had dinner plans the following night.
He stewed for a moment and said, “Oh heck, just come over about 5:30, we’ll have drinks, just drinks, no appetizers, because we have dinner plans at 7:00. Just come for the hour and a half, so you can see our place. We would love to have you. Muriel will work out the details about how to get there, won’t you, darling?”
“Of course. I’ll take care of it.” Muriel said.
“Of course. We’ll be there,” we agreed. Our second invitation into a home–behind closed gates.
After Bill and Howard and their two guests left, we returned to the living room. Muriel and Leslie set about with a map to highlight spots in town we must not miss. They suggested that we make a point to see.
“The Fabrica La Aurora Gallery is a short hike from your hotel. Not all the galleries will be open tomorrow morning. For those that are in, stop and visit with the artist, browse, and explore. There is a coffee shop in front, but a sandwich shop in the back I recommend. Go to the back corner, just keep going back and to your right and you will find it. They offer coffee, sandwiches, smoothies and the like.”
In conversation we learned that Harley had been born in an internment camp for the Japanese in Arizona. Later when those in the camps were “adopted” by families east of the Mississippi River, his family went to live with a Quaker family in Pennsylvania. He became an aerospace engineer – even worked with NASA for two years – and lived in several locations before retiring from his last job assignment in Dallas. He was widowed with two grown sons when he met Muriel.
Muriel had a story of her own. Married once for fourteen years, her husband died from cancer. Married a second time for less than a year, her spouse was killed in an accident. Now she says, “I make sure Harley gets to the doctor regularly. I feed him right, remind him to take his vitamins, encourage exercise, and give him probiotics—whatever it takes to live my life with him as long as possible.” With no children of her own, she considered herself blessed with stepchildren and scads of step-grandkids. She worked to keep up relationships over time and distance.
While I talked to Harley about Quaker topics we shared in common and his life, Muriel showed the other three women some cards of her art work. I missed getting to see them, so I found some of her art work on-line later. (Google her name, Muriel Mimura, to see her stunning artwork on-line; or go to her Facebook page, Muriel Elliott Mimura.)
On our way back to the hotel that night, the four of us each shared the nuggets of gold we had mined from our new friends. We left their place with stories to tell, memories to treasure, and another invitation to make any tourist envious.