Let’s face it, there are a lot of painting and other art classes available in San Miguel, and up until January of 2014, I had never taken any of them. Most are catered to visitors, and when you live in a city, you tend to overlook things targeted to tourists. However, I met Cristi of CristiFer Art Studios in December at the Instituto Allende‘s art fair, and her painting style really spoke to me. Cristi is an artist from Romania and her partner Fernando is an artist from Mexico City. They create paintings together (can you imagine?) and their use of colors & styles really delighted me. I signed up for their “One Painting in One Day” class, which happened to be on January 1, 2014. What a perfect way to usher in the new year.
One of Cristi’s painting in their home/studio in Colonia Independencia she shares with partner Fernando:
I arrived at CristiFer’s studio about 1pm and met the 5 other people who were there for the class; a couple from San Antonio and a mother & her two daughters from Portland. We were split into two groups and we each had our own table and painting supplies.
We first did some warm-ups, like shaking out our hands. I started jumping up & down in true qi gong style, because I knew I had to wake up the chi in order to get over the apprehension of putting paint to the paper. I would have loved to do more physical exercises, but that’s me and what I need to be doing. Cristi led us through some exercises which helped us break down the fear — and not only did it break down the fear, it got us laughing. “Grab your pencil in your non-dominant hand, cover that hand with a piece of paper and draw these objects from your memory” sorta of a thing. Loved it!
Cristi then led us through her teaching steps to paint a picture; a San Miguel street scene. This was a perfect way to whet my chops and feel the love for painting again — something I had not done in about 15 years. The day was fun, lively and very educational; both Cristi and Fernando were helpful with suggestions on what to do next, without ever grabbing control of our paintings. I enjoyed the day tremendously and was hungry for more!
At some point during the day, Cristi said to me, “if you had just three drawing classes, it would change your life.” I thought about this for a day and said BINGO. I took those three drawing classes with Cristi and they DID change my life. I lost my fear of drawing poorly and just started drawing. It’s amazing how just a few hours of instruction really helped me to get over the fear of making a mistake. Who cares if it’s not perfectly correct and out of perspective. WHO CARES???
And by stepping through that fear, my drawings and paintings were starting to come to life. And that made me happy =)
Soon after this New Year’s Day art class, I started Julia Cameron‘s 12-week spiritually based program, The Artist’s Way. Through reading exercises, daily journal writing, group discussions and weekly artist dates, I am starting to melt. And I mean that in a good way. I have art projects going all over the house and say to Reed, “it’s like kindergarten here every day!”
Buenas Dias from Mexico; I wish I had this office space in Chicago! But no, this is the house I used to live in, when I was a married woman living in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, with my Texan then-husband, Reed Burns. It is a glorious gift to be back here after all this time and I am grateful for each day here as I not only do my part to heal this once-rocky relationship, but also take time to explore the things I never made time for when I lived here all those years.
This town is a wild explosion of colors, culture and people and it really is a wonderful haven for artists and those you prefer to live outside the American box. I first came here 1999 to explore the scene after a friend of mine that I had met during my two months at Escalen came down here to teach yoga. I was working a big corporate gig for AT&T at the time in Chicago, so I could only visit for five days, but that was enough for me to decide I wanted to spend more time here. When I returned to Chicago, I focused my time and efforts on taking a two month sabbatical in San Miguel de Allende to teach Gabrielle Roth’s Five Rhythms dance class; a style of dance I had been studying for a few years in Chicago and had taken a two-month workshop at The Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Little did I know this two-month sabbatical would become my life for the next several years. Still to this day, my heart and thoughts are a part of this magical, colorful town.
I arrived in San Miguel for my sabbatical in June of 2001. I rented a house with my friend who was teaching yoga and soon after, I began teaching the dance class at Bellas Artes and had such an incredible time; I was living the dream! About one week later, I met the most crazy and hilarious Mexican named Juan Nieto and decided I didn’t want to go home. 9/11 hit and my fate was decided; I did not want to return to America.
I flew to Chicago in October, flew to New York to see my friend Andrew and to see how he was doing; I even walked as close as I could to Ground Zero; a very solemn and moving experience. Even now it seems like it was just a dream, to be that close to such massive destruction and radical emptiness. I’m not sure it was such a great idea to get that close, but what did I know? I still have the cross I bought at one of the only stores that seemed to be open so soon after the attacks. I returned home to Chicago, put my stuff in a storage unit and off I drove to Mexico all by myself, with my zippy Honda Civic jammed to the gills with what I thought would be important to me in Mexico.
It took me 3.5 days to drive from Chicago to San Miguel. It was….. in a word…. SCARY. Crossing the border is scary. Driving through the mountains of Mexico is scary. Stopping at the very few gas stations is SCARY; I even once had to stop at a hand-drawn sign gas station because I was out of gas. A gaggle of boys walked up to my car and started looking in it as some kids used a funnel to pour gas in my tank; I looked up and said, “please help me get out of here.” I handed one of the kids some pesos, got in my car, sped off like a BAT OUT OF HELL.
It’s not scary like this anymore to drive though Mexico, but there are different scares; the drug wars and their escalating violence have dumped out into the highways and public venues. I would not drive through Mexico today but back then I did it about three times by myself. Never again. The scariest incident was probably when crossing the border at Laredo, a bunch of guys ambushed my Nissan Pathfinder and dumped black oil on the windshield and then all jumped on my truck to rock it — and they ROCKED it. I screamed as I peaked through a tiny portion of the windshield and hit the gas. They eventually jumped off and I drove with the black oil on my windshield for about 20 miles; until I felt I would actually take my foot off the gas pedal and stop to wash the window. Terrifying. What was I thinking?
The San Miguel de Allende I live in now and over the past few years was very different from my beginning years here. The relationship with Juan lasted about two years and then I was a starving artist. Mostly starving. I then met a big laughing Texan who I found sitting in the streets one day, and his name was Reed. I had no idea who he was or what he was all about, but I immediately loved his kind eyes.
And now here I am visiting him as his ex-wife but one of his closest friends. My life has changed drastically since we parted ways in Corpus Christi, Texas in 2008; I’ve often wondered who that girl was that was unable to accept happiness in any form. It is only now that it is starting to make sense to me and if possible, I want to make amends for that girl and her short-comings. I was not a bad person; I was just messed up and unable to be at peace in the world — no matter what I had in front of me. I believe I always preferred the struggle — but had I been told that, I would have flown off the handle in rebuttal.
This is the most non-crazy I have ever felt in my life — and I like it. Being back here in San Miguel has given me a chance to make amends and how wonderful is that? I have been punishing myself for years for being a lousy wife and now I can do my part to be a better person to myself and those who love me. I don’t know that there will be a next time for me to see Reed, so I am making the most of this time here with him, in his home, in San Miguel de Allende.
When I first arrived in November, I celebrated with him and our friends and made a glorious Thanksgiving feast, but soon after I realized this was not who I am anymore, and so I have resumed my search and exploration of the higher vibrational side of life. Reed looks at me funny now, but I suppose he always has. I am peaceful and enjoy creating a peaceful environment — even in the middle of his outrageous chaos.
I am going to stay a while longer. It’s 25 degrees in Chicago and 75 degress here in Central Mexico. I’ve done the math and decided to stay, xoxo.
In 2001, before 9/11, I set off on a 2-month sabbatical to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, to teach a dance class and take a well deserved break after completing a project on a global business theater in New Jersey. I chose San Miguel because I had taken a Gabrielle Roth workshop at Escalon in Big Sur the year prior and wanted to further my studies. One of my friends from Escalon had already moved to SMA and was teaching yoga. She called me one day and said, “Hey Meags! The dance teacher here is about to leave because she’s having a baby, why don’t you get your butt down here and teach for a while?”
After planning and whatnot, I arrived in San Miguel on June 29, 2001, ready to begin my two-month sabbatical and to get to know Mexico, a place I had not yet seen before. It’s a beautiful mountainous town, not desert-ee or covered with cacti and lazy donkeys, but rather it’s considered to be the San Francisco of Mexico; it never gets too hot or too cold (well, not for too long because I certainly was hot and cold), has a bustling international artist community and has a big gay community. Oh and Texans, plenty of Texans. Gay and straight.
I was not afraid of anything about this Mexican town yet had I listened to my mother, I would have never gone, which is why I have never listened to my mother. Oh wait, there was one thing I was terrified of and that was scorpions. My roommate didn’t even think of them; I looked for them all the time and guess what? I found them all the time! And usually in my bedroom! On the wall above me! In the middle of the night! I can still literally hear them stitching across the walls… even today the thought of it gives me shivers. Blaaaaah scorpions. And fuzzy spiders. Ok I’ll stop! But other that insect fears, I was totally at peace with this little town and all the new sights and sounds it offered. I adored it.
Today there is a much bigger community of younger people as well, involved in all sorts of digital and technological art projects, but this community has dwindled compared to about 5 years ago. When I arrived for the first time in my mid-thirties, I was considered one of the younger ones, but that would not have been the case had I arrived 10 years later at that age. I was there this past March and saw how the town has exploded with people and construction, yet had also crumbled. When the US has an economic sniffle, Mexico has full-blown pneumonia. And the US had much worse a sniffle. So many businesses have shuttered their doors, much like here, and people have packed up and returned to their homelands, including the people of Mexico. When jobs are scarce here, the Mexican men cannot send money home so it’s a quadruple whammy of hardships in Mexico.
I’m not going to pretend to be educated on the exact reasons why the business of drug cartelling has exploded in Mexico, nor am I going to get into the stats of it, but it’s fairly obvious that this is where the money is in Mexico, if you can stay alive. To read any mainstream news you would think that they are all killing each other throughout the entire country and hanging the bodies over highways so the public can see them die as they shoot them from hidden hillsides. The stories of heads rolling into a night club or even night clubs being set on fire — now these stories make it to our media and it sends a chilling message that all of Mexico is completely corrupt and extremely dangerous.
Ever watch the 10pm Sunday night news in Chicago? It’s a death toll of how many were shot or wounded in the city in the past few days; how many children were injured, buried, mourned. It is perhaps the saddest time slot on TV, which is one of the reasons I don’t watch TV anymore. The killings in Chicago are completely out of control; in a city that claims guns are illegal. Does this news stop people from visiting Navy Pier? Water Tower Place? Wrigley Field? No. No it does not. It may stop some people from getting on a train to come to the City, but for the most part tourism is loud & lively in Chicago. So while there are certainly precautions that need to be taken when heading off to Central Mexico, by no means is it a 24/7 blood bath. Like it is on the South Side of Chicago.
The places that I would avoid in Mexico right now are the border towns and the main highways to move north/south through the country. Although the violence is rather widespread yet focused on the northern part of the country, because this is the main and final push to get the drugs into our country and some would say it’s an all out war zone at the borders. So avoid the border towns. I wouldn’t even do a day trip there as many people used to so, it’s just not worth it.
I would no longer take a bus to Central Mexico as I have many times in the past, because of the growing presence of the Mexican Army and Mexico Federal Police on the highways. And the growing number of rogue police, army or cartels who impersonate these groups so you can never be sure who or what you are looking at — or dealing with.
Once on a bus to Phoenix in 2003, I was awakened in the middle of the night somewhere in the State of Chihuahua, by a machine gun nudging my shoulder, asking for my passport. I did not flinch, I simply reached for my passport and handed it to the soldier. After checking everyone’s passport, the soldiers hauled four Guatamalian immigrants off the bus and then we were on our way. Looking back, I wonder why I wasn’t more freaked out. I had never seen a machine gun before let alone be awakened by one. But when I traveled the buses throughout Mexico, I always went into some sort of altered state, knowing that you have to roll with the punches becasue weird things happen out there in the middle of nowhere. I have also driven through the country a number of times by myself and suffice to say nothing majorly scary or even close to heart breaking happened. Today I would never drive through the country I once called home.
The buses and trucks that travel through Mexico are always being stopped and searched for drugs and immigrants, but these days you can’t be sure if the Mexican solider who is pointing a gun at you and asking to see your passport is an actual Govenrment official, a cartel dressed as a Government official or a Government official who has been paid off to act on behalf of the cartel. Which is why it’s best to avoid busing around Mexico, a once very popular and economical way to travel the country, ever since the train lines were discontinued. These days I would fly directly to the city I am headed for, and for San Miguel de Allende’s it’s Leon/Guanajuato Del Bajio or BJX. Then take a taxi directly to your destination, because no one picks you up from an airport in Mexico, even if they are crazy head over heels love with you!
This past week, I learned of an incident of a Canadian couple that was severely beaten and robbed in their homes in San Miguel. These incidents happen here and there and are never a story we want to hear but it’s especially sensitive when it happens to ex-Pats living in a foreign city. One thing Mexico has always known is that you DO NOT MESS with the foreigners that are visiting or who have chosen to live in Mexico. They are putting money into the country and economy and again you DO NOT MESS WITH THE TURISTAS. But it happens, unfortunately. There is speculation — and only speculation at this time — that it is a small group of disenchanted policemen that committed the crime. So another couple has now returned to their homeland and the stories will be shared, as they should.
Would I go to Mexico today? Yes. If I had the sufficient funds to get me from Point A to Point B directly, and had a secure and safe place to stay. Do I want to go to Mexico right now? No. I think I’ll wait until things start to turn around.
I love Mexico and think it takes a LOT of hits for being a reckless, careless and violent country, but it is a big country, full of many people, places and things and you simply cannot place a generic label on a country of its size. It’s complicated. It’s gorgeous. It’s ugly, It’s rich and it’s poor. And unfortunately there are places in the country where violence is out of control, so just like the South Side of Chicago, I will avoid it for now. But not forever!
“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Amen Burnsie!
But this is not that type of love story rather a story of me getting back to what it is I am supposed to be doing with my life. Writing and travelling. But wait, what’s that you say, “you haven’t traveled much at ALL in the past few years, let alone write!” True. I stopped travelling in 2010 after returning home from living in Mexico and Texas and the only writing I’ve done has been in my Diary. I mean journal! But I used to travel A LOT and I’ve lived in seven America cities and three international cities and I look forward to getting back to travelling, because it does make my heart go-a-flutter and this time I’ll blog about it. Yes #BLOGaboudit.
Things are very different now as we are all very well aware. Economic hardships have forever changed our landscapes and I realize I may have to work harder to get where I want to go, and the many rapid-fire fears are screaming at me; but I have been wanting to do this ever since I grew feet. So if I don’t do it now, when do I do it?
Here I place the metaphorical cart before the literary horse. I am also spending my days consulting for small business who need help with their marketing efforts so at first this may be a slow moving horse, but this pony is definitely saddled up and is hankering to get out there and see the world. ANDALE