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Postcard from an Expatriate: San Miguel, Mexico

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Dear Rudy,

I remember so clearly standing on my front stoop in Buda, Texas, saying to myself, "You've got to get out of here." Imagining myself flying off to San Francisco or Santa Fe...imagining flowers and rain, and coffee shops with wet green awnings

It was, as usual, a hundred degrees out with no sign of rain in months. All my petunias and nasturtiums had turned to ash and my car was dead as a pile of bones. I didn't have enough money to buy myself a Dr. Pepper, let alone a beer. What would you have done?

Well, I took my last quarter, walked down to the pay phone and called two antique dealers I knew who came out to buy my old pin cushion collection and an old pine chest of drawers I had. They gave me six hundred dollars. And there's only one place you can go with six hundred dollars and stay: Mexico.

It wasn't hard to figure out how to get there from Buda. I had been seeing the El Conejo Express stop every day in front of the Pak 'n Sak on I-35 to pick up folks headed for Laredo and points south.

Forgive me if I glamorize myself standing by highway in my red rayon dress with an old brown suitcase. But it's been an image etched in my brain by Hollywood since I was five. I was running away from it all -- talk shows, truck stops, boyfriend -- oh, and English. I forgot to mention that I knew only enough Spanish in those days to say "beer" and "how much." But that seemed to cover most situations I encountered in the early days.

postcard 2 I don't remember how I heard about San Miguel, but ever since I lived in California in the 70's there had been buzz about it being a cool place to smoke dope and hang out with other Bohemian types. I'd also heard that you could live off nothing and that's about what I had.

When I first got there I wasn't prepared for the contrast between the rich and famous Americans who lived there and the extreme poverty of their servants and laborers who barely survived in makeshift shacks on the edge of town.

But for a forty-five year old woman who just split up with her boyfriend, there really weren't many options.

Where else could I rent an apartment for less than the cost of storage unit in Texas, or eat breakfast in a flower-filled Spanish courtyard for less than the cost of a burger and biggie fries at Wendy's?

In a way San Miguel has become a haven for middle aged women who no longer feel appreciated in the land of television bombs and fast-track career girls.

It's the only place I know in Mexico where you can take yoga and aerobics, eat in vegetarian restaurants, learn silversmithing, dance the salsa till dawn and feel perfectly safe walking home alone.

I stayed there for three years living in a tree house overlooking the city and making altars which I sold for enough to live on for a week. About thirty dollars. I used to take my tape recorder and sit out on the front porch, recording the sounds of the birds and the chickens and not much else.

It was a small gossipy town and I soon knew most of the artists and weirdos who congregated in the park at sunset. But I never really got to know the ladies who lunched at the Buen Cafe.

San Miguel is an easy town to live in. The weather is usually spring-like and never gets too hot. There are lots of art openings, bars, and A.A. meetings in English. Every week a new crop of tourists arrive to keep life interesting. Eventually I got sick of it and moved on to another town.

There's a bus heading north every night at seven o'clock. When I took it, it was about forty bucks.

Hasta luego,

Carmen Delzell's "Letters from Mexico" come to us care of producer Jay Allison as part of his ongoing series "Life Stories," which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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