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Displaced in San Miguel

"San Miguel is not Mexico," is how I say it for maximum impact. Slightly less outrageous, I continue, "San Miguel is not Mexican." Then masterfully and indisputably I contend, "San Miguel is not Mexican the way, say, nearby Dolores Hidalgo is Mexican."

San Miguel has been strongly influenced by extranjeros ("foreigners," the polite way to say "gringos") for almost a century. So much so that it doesn't seem like the rest of Mexico, not for us foreigners and not for many Mexicans either.

Case in point: food availability. A recent question from a friend of mine up north about Puerto Escondido got me thinking about moving to the coast of Oaxaca. I snapped out of it when I realized the improbability of finding tofu, miso or tahini there like you can here. (Almond butter you can get at Costco and there must be a Costco near Puerto Escondido.)

Then, how many places in Mexico can an Anglo live for many years and not learn Spanish? If my anecdotal experience is correct, most extranjeros in San Miguel hardly speak Spanish. And if you don't speak Spanish, even if you are physically in Mexico, even if you are a fan of Mexican culture, you are not really in it.

We all agree that there are a lot of gringos in San Miguel. We all exist within our own hybrid cultural bubble.

I am not being critical. Some of my best friends hardly speak Spanish. I have my own hybrid cultural bubble.

Though it was a little shocking when, a couple of years ago, I realized that many (most?) extranjeros spend a good part of their day watching American television. This was confirmed for me last night when I took my coworkers out for (great, thin-crust) pizza at Cent'anni. I brought up the subject and my programmer agreed. He told us that his first work here in SMA was helping extranjeros get all the technologies of home (for example, American Netflix) supposedly blocked for use in Mexico.

I do have Netflix (the Mexican version), but I haven't watched television since I left the States. Still, I'm not prejudiced; spend your time as you like. I would just like to point out that that right there, American TV, is another strongly un-Mexican influence here.

Speaking Spanish (some days I speak nothing else) and avoiding television, still, only once in a while do I feel like I'm in Mexico. Now and then the feeling of being in an exotic, foreign country, the sense of place, comes rushing in on me.

Usually it arrives unsuspectedly, but there are triggers. I can count on it when I am up here at my girlfriend's house in, very Mexican Colonia Allende, especially when I am in her front patio or coming down the exterior stairway from the third floor. Escondido Place, where we take the hot waters each week, is also a reliably Mexican atmosphere for me, from the moment we pass the first pool and palm.

But mostly, I am a little divorced from my surroundings. My office/studio, where I work, long hours, writing and publishing, except for the ranchero music now drifting in from the construction workers across the alley, could be anywhere.

I cannot blame my displacement on San Miguel's un-Mexican influences. It has a deeper root. The phenomenon of my lack of place is more fundamental. The problem is my not feeling present in my own life.

Part of this I can blame on neurology. There is an evolutionary advantage to staying focused. The survival brain dampes down the wonder of it all so that we can keep on putting one foot in front of the other.

Maimonides, advises us that every moment of existence is miraculous. But becoming absorbed in the splendor of existence while you are crossing the road makes it harder to get out of the way of the bus.

We like drugs because they counter the survival focus of our brains. Marijuana reveals the extraordinariness of the ordinary. Common things, the tiles on the wall, the weave of a fabric, music... seem fantastic. Life seems full and justified just as it is. Everything is ok. (That's why, they correctly observe, pot lowers drive.)

Microdoses of psychedelic drugs make you sit up and take notice of things in a new, open-minded way. Escaping from the dampening effect of the survival brain you experience novel neurological connections. Parts of your brain normally separate, start communicating directly with each other, absorbing you in the splendor of existence.

But you don´t need drugs. (For all I write about them, I use them infrequently.) There are a lot of ways to open your mind. (See final note.) Focusing your attention (a meditative state) or using your mind in a new way usually does the trick.

But my mind is not the problem. Mine is a problem of the heart. I have difficulty accepting how wonderful my life is.

photo: John Bohnel

Presenting myself, I say, "Some people paint, I publish." I know that words are my art, but it's hard to see myself as an artist. After so many years of "not enough," so many decades of emotional deprivation (Bullies and the Abandoned Child), it is hard for me to accept the fullness that now characterizes my existence, gracias a dios.

It's a little like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; the war is over, but I'm still struggling. I've been traveling so long that it's hard to realize that I've arrived.

I'm getting better at being present, perceiving the wonder, receiving the abundance. Admitting the problem, being friendlier and less hostile to the dis-ease helps. (The Poetry of Disease). Writing articles like this is part of my therapy.

I could go on about how super my life is, but, despite recent articles to the contrary (Bloomberg's Fake News), we extranjeros know how lucky we are to be here in San Miguel, here in Mexico with many of the comforts of home. Still, let me offer one epiphany.

Veronica's friend, Katy, from Chile is living at Vero's, in the newly renovated second floor apartment. (I wrote the first draft of this article in Veronica's newly finished third floor studio, while she wove the exquisite wool she brought back from Chile into an divine shawl. Come by the Saturday Market and see it.)

Katy, Katy Campos sings tango (Tuesday nights at La Tratorria; Saturdays at La Garufa...) Last Saturday night we stopped in and listened. The place was moderately full. Everyone was enchanted by her performance, her singing and her banter. People were turned in their chairs listening and watching, absorbed in the splendor of the moment.

Then and there it came rushing in on me. I felt I was in Mexico, deep in the heart of this marvellous country and deep in my own.

photo: John Bohnel


Dr. David:

My Open Mind Project

Buddhists masters insist that "Normal reality is enlightenment." So, if we are not okay with normal reality, if we have a problem with how things are going, then we are somehow missing the point. Our experience has a point, a point of view, and we are missing it. What we need is a new, more inclusive perspective.

Normal reality is enlightening. As I quoted above, "As long as you don't know how to be people in the midst of enlightening realities, you only exercise your minds in the mundane world." We have been conditioned to interpret our experience in certain narrow ways. We suffer because we rely on those faulty interpretations.

We shouldn't blame others for our experience: feelings, emotions, hurt... We shouldn't blame our experience, judging it as wrong or bad. We need to see things in a new light. We need an open mind to learn the lessons of our experience. Then we can graduate to other experiences, or become more comfortable, friendly, positive, enlightened with reality as it is.

That's what my Open Mind project is about.

The website is coming soon.
To learn more now write me at:

events @ sanmiguelevents.com

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