“En San Miguel cada uno y su vecino es un artista,” Louis said–in San Miguel everyone and his neighbor is an artist.
It was my third day in this colonial town and I had already grasped the San Miguelean spirit: drink mezcal, party hard, and make art. Hung-over from the wedding I had crashed the night before, I managed to drag my cruda self from my bed to attend my Airbnb host Crystal’s birthday BBQ in the garden. Herself a jewelry maker, among Crystal’s guests were a painter, a pianist, a graphic designer, and a gallery owner. I felt as if I had found myself in the 21st-century version of Paris in the 1920s.
As Gerardo the painter poured me another shot of mezcal, the group began to speak about secrets: how they were different than lies and why we loved our secrets so much… I wondered whether a secret had to involve two or more parties; was a secret an interactive concept by its very nature or could it also be internal?
“Everybody has their internal demons,” Gerardo dismissed my musings, “that’s different.”
The topic of secrets was not random—Isabella and Alfredo, the couple who owns Zaguan B&B and the adjacent art gallery were preparing to host an artistic exposition entitled Secretos, which was to include paintings, jewelry, photography, and literature. Both Crystal and Gerardo were participating with their respective art projects.
San Miguel is not exactly a hidden place—I had stumbled upon the town by typing “best cities for writers” into Google while chilling in San Diego undecided about my next destination. An abundance of international and American expats has made it one of the most expensive places in Mexico. The bohemian hippie artists of the 60s and 70s has given way to an international population of expats and retirees, particularly many Americans, who for one reason or another prefer to live south of the border.
For those with a sensitive enough ear to catch the whispers, however, San Miguel is full of mysteries, its inhabitants full of secrets they reveal on canvases or behind the swinging doors of cantinas. It is a town full of artists who spend their days intoxicated, drowning their internal demons in one liter bottles of Victoria beer by night, and if inspiration hits, in tubs of paint by day.
“This town actually mellowed down. It used to be like Sodom and Gomorrah, a town with a never ending party,” the pianist in the group said when I asked about how all these artists get any work done with all the partying that seemed to go on.
“Be careful, you might just never leave San Miguel,” Crystal said with a wink.
That Sunday night, as I tried to cure my cruda with guacamole and ceviche de nopal (prickly pear cactus) I had no idea that I would live in that very house for the coming six weeks, have many more conversations either while consuming or recovering from mezcal. Neither did I know that I would also participate in the very exposition on secrets with a poem of my own.
On the contrary, I was still intimidated about this town of drunken artists, unsure about whether I belonged in that garden surrounded by Mexicans. It hadn’t even been two full days since I arrived in town. Crystal had greeted me at the gate to her garden with her three dogs and two cats hanging off her long skirt. She looked like a messy, tattooed version of Snow White with her animal posse.
My first scene of the house that became my home was of a black cat watching two Chihuahuas bite the legs of an uncoordinated golden dog, which in turn was either fighting or kissing a Burmese-looking cat. Since I was aware that the house came with the pets when I booked the room, I took a deep breath and followed my host’s jumping animals into the house. Experiencing different styles of living was one of my intentions on this journey, I reminded myself. The only pet I ever had was a gold fish which lived a total of 12 hours before it probably committed suicide for having me as its owner.
A few minutes after I entered Crystal’s colorful house, it started raining cats and dogs. (The cliché given the circumstances is too amusing not to use.) As I unpacked my clothes, I began noticing drops of rain landing on my head from a ceiling window. That flat roofs sporting ceiling windows are characteristic of traditional Mexican buildings is something I discovered at that moment while staring at the gentle rain sprinkling into my tiny, otherwise windowless room.
“I’ll just sleep on the dry side of the bed,” I told myself out loud, trying not to be too nit-picky over a couple of drops of rain. That was another thing I was working on: not to complain about imperfect living conditions. In other words, to stop being such a princess.
As the rain continued to pound on the flat roof of the old house, however, it was getting more and more difficult to hear my thoughts, which had already switched from positive reinforcement to screaming at me to bolt from this pet infested house.
Thankfully, Crystal had another bedroom, which happened to be much larger and with windows on its sidewalls. This room’s main problem was that it had nothing but a bed and a couch that the cats enjoyed hiding under. While the room also featured a leaking problem, it was nothing that couldn’t be managed with a towel.
“Perfect,” I said. “I can sleep here.”
As Crystal fussed about the room, changing the sheets, I tried to flatten my lips that had crunched towards my nose in sight of the dusty corners of the empty room.
“Oh, I’m not picky,” I said in response to her apology of the situation, hoping that my new host would not discover my secret: that all I wanted to do was run away to a five-star hotel, but wouldn’t dare plunge into the monsoon going on outside.
In the coming days I perused AirBnB listings to find a place better suited for my needs. Yet with each passing day I grew fonder of my leaky room whose walls I decorated by hanging notes and postcards. Meanwhile, Babadook the cat was showing me an insane amount of love, following me around the house. The two Chihuahuas—Nacho and Tomas—provided daily entertainment humping one another. By the time I realized that Babadook probably had an eating disorder and tended to express his affection only when I was eating, I was already feeling too comfortable to move. Besides, Crystal and I had become “besties” in true grunge Disney spirit.
So on another rainy afternoon, carrying a different cruda brought on by the previous night’s convocation with demos internal and external, we cleaned off the slugs off a plastic folding table left in the garden and drove to office depot. My “needs” as it turned out consisted of good company, a dry bed, and a printer.
That is the story of how I established myself in my new home-office as a writer with and of secrets in San Miguel de Allende—the town of artists, expats, and locos.
Here is a gallery of pictures as a tribute to all the late nights and the good friends — and a testament to me as officially the worst photographer ever.