BY JOHN SIMONDS
Like a summer love affair, after three months, the thrill begins to wear off, and so it has with San Miguel de Allende, where we come each year to escape the ravages of winter. But as April approaches, that old girlfriend Chicago is beginning to look pretty good.
I confess that my New England palate is beginning to crave the meatloaf and mash potatoes at the Kinzie Chop House, while the Pollo con Mole at La Parada has lost it charm, at least until my return to paradise next season. And so it goes for many of the nearly 10,000 “snowbirds” that flocked here for el sol and other compelling reasons like a world-class writer’s conference or the consummate appeal of its exotic foods.
But those are not the real reasons I have this heart-thumping love affair with San Miguel. Sure, they are part of the reason, but only a small part. I am thinking about all this as I pull the big suitcase out from under the bed and start to think about what I can ship ahead to avoid too much hassle at the airport. Dragging Carlotta, our new puppy, in her travelling cage will probably give me apoplexy without a cavalcade of luggage to leave me panting from exhaustion.
For me, San Miguel is like Club Med for old people: you arrive and get swept up in a revolving swirl of social engagements with people offering infinite warmth and friendship, only in this version the clothes stay on. There is a magnetic field around San Miguel that draws you in—even if you are a certified introvert like me, you find people reaching out to embrace you. I am not quite ready to leave. The tug on my heart is too strong.
Last week the Jacaranda trees came in bloom. From the roof of the Rosewood Hotel you can see their magnificence, their violet blooms in profusion in every part of the city. It is best to order a margarita to enhance the experience. Children are visiting the newly erected shrines to weeping Jesus as we enter Easter Week. Purple bunting around the windows signify a shrine awaits inside.
A few weeks ago, the Yale Glee Club came to serenade the local niños in an ancient community in front of a chapel built in the 16th century outside San Miguel. The Yale students most spoke Spanish. During a break they got down to the level of the children and taught them to sing, “Eli, Eli, Eli Yale.” I sat on a folded chair close to the front so I could hear.
The Cubs’ season opens on April 9th and Lawry’s is featuring medium rare roast beef next week. I am a man walking a tight rope, my loyalty torn between the two cities I love most of all in this world. My inner voice keeps telling me I should finish the Pulitzer Prize-winning book I started that was recommended by Bill Gates. I am trying in retirement to ignore that old mantra “you should.” I am trying to replace it with “I think I would enjoy.” But it is hard after all these years.
It is hot on our roof garden where I go for a siesta. A well-placed umbrella provides some shade, and Carlotta has taken up residence beside me on an adjoining chaise lounge. She does not have a sombrero to shade her eyes like I do. Learning to simply relax does not come naturally; I come from puritanical stock in New England where relaxing is considered the eighth deadly sin, right up there with lust and envy.
Thus, I have found the perfect antidote to turning into a complete sloth. It is the Men’s Discussion Group of San Miguel. Eight old white men of some privilege meet each week to discuss the affairs of the day in a commodious venue where each session begins with a copa de vino blanco, just to set a congenial mood for the more serious discussion to follow.
I have been a part of this august group since its beginning about nine years ago. We alternate between topics that draw on our intellects and topics that draw on our personal emotions, like what is on our bucket list and what are our greatest disappointments. We did discuss topics like the dangers of artificial intelligence and globalization and then flipped to discussing what is left to be accomplished in our lives. We represent the older generation with lots of fire left in our bellies.
Almost like osmosis, several of us have grown close. We have gone from colleagues to friends and, oh my, do I appreciate that. Having this group of friends helps sustain me; it supports me emotionally. My health is good. Most of us are in our eighties, striving for ninety. San Miguel is where all this happened.
On Monday this week, we held our last session of the season. Next week we scatter to the four winds and Godspeed.