The sun was just rising as we rumbled over dusty desert roads, finally pulling into the historic town of San Miguel de Allende. Uniformed children stood in the hazy fog of dawn, huddled along deserted roadsides, as they waited for the schoolbus.
The desires of my heart had brought us here. Amy and I had the good fortune to be on staff for the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, teaching writing workshops throughout the week- something I had always loved to do, something I knew I would come back to one day. And now, I felt I was home.
The van rattled down a narrow lane, coming to a stop in front of a rustic wooden door. We rang the bell, having no idea what to expect. When the door opened, we had to catch our breath. This palace would be our home for the next seven days, and Troy and I would have our own four-bedroom, two-bath guesthouse.
After unpacking, I stepped out onto our second story terrace just as a brightly colored hot air balloon floated overhead. The sky above was pinkish, dotted with gray clouds. The air was cool and balmy. I surveyed the magnificent courtyard below.
Every morning in San Miguel de Allende, Troy and I awoke to the soft, resonant chiming of church bells. We met our host, Leslie, in her cozy kitchen, where she served us hot coffee and fresh Mexican papaya with yogurt and honey, her dog Hector snoozing nearby. We’d chat over breakfast and plan our day, while hummingbirds and a particularly industrious vermillion flycatcher flitted about in the garden.
We walked to “work” every day. The cobblestone streets were so narrow you brushed shoulders with people you passed – not like Los Angeles or Manhattan, where you avoid eye contact at all cost. In San Miguel, everyone smiles and says Buenos Dias. I have never been in a place that felt happier. All the locals told me, “San Miguel is magic.” I believe them.
The days were spent swimming in a sea of brilliance. Amy and I taught workshops in the early part of the day, then were free to attend the classes and workshops of our colleagues, or perhaps attend a lecture with Naomi Wolf, Margaret Atwood or Joy Harjo. In the evening we were treated to a play (That Dorothy Parker, written by and starring my new friend Carol Lempert) or comedy with Second City’s Scotty Watkins, or Naomi’s film Protest 101. The conference was awash with opportunities to nourish my mind.
Everyone I met in San Miguel was a writer, artist, philanthropist, musician, therapist, filmmaker, winemaker, wine-drinker – the point is, all following their calling in life. The energy is palpable in a town filled with happy people. It is alive, sparkling, vibrant.
As faculty, we were hosted at lavish brunches, nightly fiestas, and an enchanted cocktail party that I will always remember. Walking up the long candle-lit staircase of the historic Sierra Nevada Hotel, my knees buckled when we got to the top. The rooftop was lit by hundreds of candles, and overlooked the soft yellow light of the twinkling town. The gleaming spires of La Parrochia stretched upward like a beacon into the inky black sky. A sultry seniorita sang passionate Spanish lovesongs accompanied by flamenco guitar. I danced under the stars with my husband, deliriously happy. And just when I thought it couldn’t be any more perfect, fireworks spontaneously lit up the sky.
Other nights were spent at Jody’s table. Jody Faegan first envisioned this writer’s conference years ago, and brought her dream to life (Later, she moved back to the states, turning it over to the very lovely and capable Susan Page). Each evening, Jody extended us the invitation for margaritas and home cooking in her beautiful historic house, which 400 years before, had been the town orphanage. There was a group of 10-12 of us who’d gather each night, to fill our bellies and replenish our souls with great food, sweet wine, and the world’s finest tequila.
Around Jody’s table, you’d hear laughter, stories, confessions, political discussion, music, hopes, plans for the future. Souls were bared, dreams were encouraged, even a few tears were shed here and there.
Late at night, Troy and I would walk hand-in-hand back to our palace along the glistening cobblestone streets, through the Jardin, past the softly glowing spires of La Parrochia. True San-Miguelians now, we smiled, saying Buenos Noches to all the people we passed along the way.
On the eighth day, we loaded our baggage in a van and headed for the airport. As if on cue, the skies over San Miguel flushed a dramatic blood-orange red over heather grey clouds. How appropriate, that we would be ushered in by dawn, and carried home under this magnificent sunset.
My week in San Miguel was filled with synchronicities and tiny miracles. Life changing events occurred that may take me some time to unravel. My soul was replenished, my heart transformed by the people I met, and every experience I had.
Troy and I will be counting the days until we return again to this beautiful treasure- this jewel in the crown of Mexico. Until then, I carry a piece of it with me – en mi Corazon.