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New rules in a strange land...

Last week’s blog listed the major factors that weighed in our decision to spend a year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. As part of my research into the country, I came across this quote, attributed to an anonymous source. Since the credibility of any anonymous source is suspect, I’m not sure why this one stuck with me as it did, but it proved to be the truest thing I read about Mexico in all my study in advance of actually going there: “If you arrive in Mexico without patience, you will learn it. If you arrive with patience, you will lose it.” This sums up Mexico’s manana mentality.

We found a house to rent that had no phone. Our landlord, who turned out to be a gringo jerk, said one was on order from Telmex, the country’s telephone monopoly. The house was on the Telmex list, we were told. Remember, this was 1993, before cell phones were available here. If the house came to the top of the list, Telmex showed up to install the phone after giving you precisely zero notice they were coming. But what if you happened not to be at home that day? You guessed it. They moved to the next name on the list, and your house went to the bottom.

In the six months we lived without a phone, we relied on a small tienda down the street for communications with the U.S. The tienda sold used auto parts and rented X-rated soft porn videos. I suppose it was soft porn--I never rented one. The tienda had a fax machine, and every few days a little Mexican boy or girl would knock on our door with a fax from my office in Virginia. We gave them a few pesos and they went happily away.

A major adjustment was to roosters and roof dogs. The town was full of both, and anyone who tells you roosters crow at sunrise has never spent time around Mexican roosters. They crowed whenever they got the urge, and often that urge was just as likely to strike at 3 p.m., siesta time, as at dawn. And one rooster woke his neighbor, and that rooster, not to be outdone, crowed ever louder. And the roof dogs woke everything. The poor animals lived their entire lives on the roof, so it is small wonder they were in a perpetual bad mood. Owners of the houses whose roofs they occupy wanted it that way as a deterrent to thieves.

Hot water depended on gas, supplied by either stationary or portable tanks. Ours was a stationary one on the roof, and it required close monitoring because running out of gas was an epic pain. Calling the gas company (the phone issue again?) was a waste of time, so we walked to the gas company’s offices, from which the trucks were dispatched. In his best Spanish, the guy on duty assured us gas would be delivered “pronto, en la manana.”

And if it was delivered in the morning, it was certainly not the following morning, or the one after that. The best assurance of getting your hot water back was to go out into the street to flag down a passing gas truck, realizing full well that because it responded to your tears and pleas, someone on that truck’s schedule would be without gas for another day, but it’s a dog-eat-taco world out there.

And finally, the lawyer in me has to say something about risk. Most Americans are familiar with the phrase caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware.” Over the decades, this legal principle has been pretty much turned on its head in the U.S., so we see TV commercials that warn us not to put chainsaws within easy reach of toddlers etc. In Mexico, you get zero warning of any of the multiplicity of hazards, and if you are so unfortunate as to be victimized by one of those hazards, guess who is going to make it up to you: nobody! On a street where I frequently walked, there was a hole in the sidewalk the size of a large garbage can lid. And the hole was deep, maybe two feet. And there were no streetlights nearby, so that at night anyone not familiar with this particular invitation to disaster stood a real risk of a broken leg or worse. It remained in that condition for MONTHS. Here, you and only you are responsible for your personal safety, and pointing the finger at the city, at another driver, at a careless workman, is an exercise in futility. Caveat emptor, baby.

Next week, I want to talk about the writing group I joined because it was that group that really got me going on the manuscript that became A Southern Girl.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexican jewel

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