Sunday, August 05, 2018

why san miguel de allende?

Choosing a place to live in Mexico is as tricky as choosing a spouse.

My original plan on moving to Mexico was to find a permanent retirement spot by staying in each potential candidate town for 6 months and then moving on to the next. Something like speed dating.

I had read every book I could find on retirement in Mexico. And, using other people's ideas, I compiled a list of six or seven places to audition. You would think I would remember the towns after all that research. But I don't.

I know Melaque, by sheer accident, topped the list. I am certain Pátzcuaro was there. And maybe Morelia. But I am not certain. I do know that Chapala and San Miguel de Allende did not even make the first cut.

My friend Jennifer Rose disabused me of my six-moth rotation plan. She wisely pointed out that no one is going to waste time getting to know me if they know I am going to be gone in six months.

She was correct. It has taken me a decade of living permanently in my area of Mexico to start understanding why I chose to live there.

I was so anal about the process that I compiled a list of thirteen factors to help me choose a finalist. If you have been around Mexpatriate very long, you have seen them before.

  • university nearby
  • archaeological sites within driving distance
  • central location for other archaeological sites
  • warm, sunny days; cool nights
  • new acquaintances -- some with a love of food
  • the challenge of a new language
  • time to read; time to learn; time to rest
  • daily learning to survive
  • facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed
  • long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset
  • living outside of a car
  • offering help to others
  • graciously accepting help from others
And if you have seen the list before, you know that Melaque and Barra de Navidad do not even come close to meeting a majority of those factors.

Just like choosing a spouse, though, I fell in love -- admittedly, very slowly -- with that part of Mexico's Pacific coast. As a result, I bought a home there.

I have blogger friends who are dumbfounded that I live in the tropics. And the type of tropics that are devoid of the high arts. They occasionally ask why I do not move to San Miguel de Allende. I am never certain of the sincerity of the suggestion because none of them would be caught living here -- dead or alive.

San Miguel de Allende has never appealed to me as a tourist destination. I will write about that later on this visit.

I no longer come as a tourist. I come to have fellowship with friends and to trip the light fantastic of high culture.

San Miguel de Allende presents one of the best chamber music festivals in the world. It is so prestigious that it attracts some of the world's best players.

2018 is a special year for the festival; it is its 40th anniversary. So, the artist list is even more special than usual.

The Miro Quartet -- whose two performances I have seen. The American String Quartet. Amit Pelud and the Peabody Peled Cello Gang. Horszowski Trio with Masumi Per Rostad. Fine Arts Quartet.

They are first rate performers. Their connections include: Austin. New York City. Chicago. Baltimore. University of Texas. Aspen Music Festival.  Manhattan School of Music. Columbia University. University of Wisconsin. Peabody Institute.

I like listening to serious music at home. But it is recorded. Not many string quartets stop by my library these days.

To truly enjoy music, it must be live. The personal connection between performer and artist cannot be replicated digitally. It is the same difference between an actual painting and a reproduction on the internet.

And, in person, it is simpler to apply Aaron Copland's three categories of how we listen to music:

  • the sensuous plane -- our emotional response to music where we let it wash over us (often while we are engaged in other pursuits; the way everyone experiences music at a rather basic level)
  • the expressive plane -- where we try to determine what the composer's music means
  • the sheerly musical plane -- where we listen to the music as an abstract art form; or, in Copland's words: "the notes themselves and of their manipulation"
Interestingly, Copland believed that many orchestra members do not listen to music at the third plane. They are too interested in their own part in the greater whole. Of course,that may have just been a composer's lament that his work was not fully unappreciated by the people who performed it.

I doubt Copland would have made the same complaint about string quartets, That is one aspect of chamber music played in a small unamplified theater that I truly enjoy in San Miguel de Allende. You can see the performers playing off of one another and inviting the audience into their joy.

Giamandrdea Noseda, the newish musical director of Washington's National Symphony orchestra, recently said something similar. "I try to create an atmosphere of chamber music. I want the members of the orchestra to listen to one another."

The chamber music festival is a special draw for me. But the town regularly offers other attractions. Films and musical performances at the library. Live theater. Writer's workshops. Lectures.

It was in San Miguel where I saw a documentary on the surrealist painter Rene Magritte that changed my concept of painting as an art form, and helped me to better understand some of the abstract expressionist paintings I have collected.

It was also here that I developed a better understanding of the modern, post-modern, and post-post-modern categories of art during a master class lecture by writer-director Paul Schrader.

Would I enjoy having all this on offer every week? Of course. Would I live here to get it? No.

I suspect like my friends in London who seldom visit the Tate Gallery or my friends in New York who never go to Broadway or even my friends in San Miguel de Allende who do not attend most pf these events, I would eventually take it all for granted.

That is why I visit San Miguel de Allende. Its high culture is an alluring mistress.

But I have a wife in Barra de Navidad. And I am content with her.

As long as I can visit my mistress once a year.

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