THE MOSQUITO BITES OF SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
Recently I had a quintessential “San Miguel moment.” Sitting with friends for dinner at a restaurant, I spotted a lone woman at a table next to us, studying a map of the city.
“You must be visiting,” I said. “Is there anything I can direct you to?”
She smiled, and said yes, she was looking for a particular art gallery recommended by a friend from the US. I stepped up to her table and showed her the exact location of the establishment—a place where a friend exhibits his works of art. The woman, her name was Amber, told me she had come to see if this would be a place for her to live. That deserves a long discourse, I told her, and we made a date for lunch.
Two days later we sat in one of the terrace restaurants overlooking Centro as I waxed poetic about the lovely qualities and benefits of our city. Then Amber said “Are there any negatives?” I stopped for a moment thinking what to say. Then I told her that of course, there are. No place on earth is paradise, one needs to weigh the good and the bad and see which way the scales tip. The minuses of San Miguel are minor in relation to all the wonderful things we have. As far as I’m concerned, the scales definitely tip in the direction of good.
Perhaps the only major issue that I can foresee is medical care. I must immediately explain that it has nothing to do with “lesser care,” it has to do with costs. The doctors in town and in the nearby city are excellent clinicians and surgeons and their care is exactly that, “care.” Think back of the old docs who were truly involved with their patients, who never made you feel pressured for time during a consultation, who actually made house-calls, who laid their hands on your shoulder to offer comfort and the human touch. This is what you can expect to find here, and your cost will be a fraction of what you would pay in the US; usually less out of pocket than your co-pay. But, if you need major surgery such as open heart or an organ transplant, although the cost here will be much less, it will still be many, many thousands of dollars. In those cases your best option might be to return to the US for those procedures where you might have Medicare coverage. And if there is anything that would cause many of us to regretfully abandon San Miguel, it could be that.
This is the only issue that would fall into the “slings and arrows,” category. The rest are certain aspects of living that can be irritating or frustrating—they are, in my eyes, the mosquito bites that annoy but don’t kill.
What you need to know about San Miguel de Allende is that it’s a noisy city. First of all are the fireworks—the louder the better. This is a city filled with festivals accompanied by loud fireworks, tolling of bells, loud singing and loud prayers. Certain months are noisier than others—the entire month of September, for example, is dedicated to celebrating Mexico’s independence and revolutionary war. So is December, which begins with the festivities of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the dawn of December 12—with fireworks. This is followed by Christmas celebrations that go on through the entire month and into January. There are many other festivities, celebrations of neighborhood saints and their particular day, announced with—you guessed it—fireworks! To those who first hear these pyrotechnic explosions it might sound like gunshots and it can be very disturbing. But, believe me, you eventually adjust and learn how to live with it. And best of all, you get to witness the colorful traditions that accompany them.
Then there are the dogs. If you wish to place a curse on someone, say that you hope they live next door to a family with a “rooftop dog.” Many such dogs are left outside all night long and they bark all night long. There is no solution other than “get used to it.”
There is the famous “habit” which simply means that when a worker tells you he will come “mañana al mediodia”—tomorrow at noon—it’s no guarantee he will. He might appear at 5pm instead, or the day after. This is not just a Mexican habit, this is a Latin American trait that I am quite familiar with since I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina! Punctuality is not as greatly valued as it is in the US, or in some European nations. Here, as in the rest of Latin America, time is much more fluid, and so are appointments. Of course, this is not across the board. Business appointments are much more strictly respected, in general. What’s the advice? Learn to be flexible and relax, you’ll probably live longer.
Internet, phone, and other utilities. Get used to intermittent Wi-Fi connections, phones that sometimes don’t seem to work as you are used to, electricity that may occasionally blink on and off. One of the most essential kitchen appliances is the oven, and in San Miguel the most likely brand is the Mexican-made Mabe and its most reliable attribute is that it’s unreliable. For those who have tested this brand there is a saying: Mabe is actually “Maybe—maybe it will work, maybe not.” When these things come up they can be quite annoying, but they are not so major as to interrupt the flow of life.
What else? Well, get used to the fact that you will never be able to get every product you may be used to up north. How about good old baking potatoes which appear with in some markets here when the blue moon arrives, if you are lucky. And whipping cream. Until recently we did not have a decent whipping cream that could be whipped to the proper consistency. Now, with a new major grocery store that product is available. A god-send to those of us who love to bake! Or, buttermilk. Again, for those who love to cook and bake this might be an essential ingredient, and no, you will not find it here. You either look for substitutes or you learn how to make your own from scratch. I have.
So these are the negatives that come to mind, what you need to understand and accept if you are to live here. Other than the medical issues, I believe all of them can all be classified as minor irritations. Mosquito bites.