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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkTravel & Outdoors | December 2008 

Mexican Milagros in San Miguel de Allende
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A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a freelance writer dividing her time between surviving in Maine and living in Mexico.
In "Mexican Milagros" Jan Baumgartner, a freelance writer living in San Miguel de Allende, tells us about a barking man, a parrot who thinks it's a rooster, drama cat, origins of laughter, beginnings and endings and marking time by church bells.

A Barking Man and a Parrot who Thinks it's a Rooster

Dog barking in San Miguel de Allende is as incessant as the church bells. The town is known for its abundance of perros, both rib-bare street waifs and those lovingly pampered and dressed in the latest fashions. It is a barking free-for-all most hours of the day and night. So I was surprised when I saw a man walking up my street barking. He only barked twice. Did he think the day had scored low on number of barks? Or was it the Tequila barking? He was good. If I hadn't seen him I would have believed he was a dog.

On the opposite side of the street, tucked two buildings in from a bright lemon yellow casa and a sunset coral casa, is a large pomegranate-colored casa. Actually, it looks more like a big bowl of salsa. Its grand arched terrace faces my diminutive bird's nest. The terrace is always in the shadows. I hear things from those shadows. A friend told me that the elderly woman "keeps" animals, exotic birds, parrots, macaws, even monkeys. I think I hear the parrot.

In the distance near San Juan de Dios church, a rooster caws each morning and early evening. It is a soft, non-abrasive cawing that lilts on the shifting breeze and mixes with cooking smells and flowers. The parrot mimics the rooster. He, like the barking man, is very convincing. The parrot sounds more like a rooster than the rooster. The Barking Man and the Rooster Parrot could have a show in the jardin. But the real star would be...

Drama Cat

I heard her first. I say "her" because no male cat could swing such a drama queen performance and get away with it. And she's Siamese. Female Siamese are known for their over the top performances and piss poor attitudes. I've known a few.

Her guttural howling went from sheer annoyance at the imperfection and mediocrity of the world below, to the pleading, gasping rants and moans of a cat ready to jump. It startled me. She seemed to be bemoaning, "donde esta de agua! mi leche! mi pollo! mi pastel de chocolate!"

The white and shadow-tinged minx paced back and forth on the narrow ledge of the casa across the street, at times, placing her tiny, fragile, razor-sharp claws so close to edge I wanted to yell, "Stop! Don't jump!" but in her disdain and contempt, she'd move back an inch, tease then howl, teeter at the brink again, only to retreat, swinging her bony bottom back into the cover of potted plants where she was probably drooling on a rubber toy or swatting at ants. Did I really think that a cat jumping from the lip of a roof terrace and some ten feet below would be catastrophic? Or was her performance just that convincing? She shall now be referred to as Meryl. Or Merylita.

A few days into her theatrics I caught her napping. One late afternoon from my sun drenched terrace I caught her in full repose, and for what and who she really is. Her terrace (I say hers because I'm pretty sure she owns the place and rents out rooms) was thick with drying clothes, a white load, socks, panties, and t-shirts all dangling in the breeze like miniature underwear piñatas.

On the terrace table was a large Coca Cola crate on wheels. It was upside down. She was splayed, unaware, on top of the crate - day dreaming, maybe flat out snoring. To her right were two empty soda bottles. They looked like Fanta. I'm not suggesting she had drunk the sodas, she is more a Tequila cat, only that they added to her stripped down Academy Award performance. She was sleeping, fat and happy. This was as close to a nude scene as she was going to get.

Next time I see her teetering on the edge, howling and threatening to jump, demanding chicken and chocolate cake, I will look her squarely in the eyes and say, "Merylita, I saw you on your back, spread-eagled and snoring. Honey, gig's up. I know you're not jumpin' but I won't tell." It's good to have friends in the neighborhood.

Speaking of Laundry

I've always been amazed if not perplexed by the separation of whites and darks when washing. I don't believe in laundry segregation. People get scared. "You can't throw the whites in with the coloreds! What if something happens? What if something gets hurt, something bleeds!" I've always mixed the two, thrown everything of every color in together - one big happy load. They've never fought. Nothing has ever bled. Somehow, they've all just gotten along.

Origins of Laughter

Mexicans and Gringos laugh differently. If I'm writing from the terrace and hear laughter echoing on the cobbled street below, I can see the color of the laughter. Gringos sound lighter. Their color of laughter is of a higher pitch - it flies - it has wings: It is borne of the sky. It is Crimson Yellow. It sounds more carefree. It has the sound and innocence of a child. It is the sound and color of a goldfinch.

Mexicans laugh with a deeper resonance. It is hearty and real and closer to the bone, of the soil. It is richer and feels as if it is harvested from the earth, has roots. I hear it reverberating from the land, deep and earthy and from the heart. It sounds heavier and seems to carry with it history, an ancient wisdom. To me, Mexican laughter sounds like a spirit bird - a raven or crow. It is the color of coffee.

All laughter has wings.

Beginnings and Endings

I have made new friends here. Some are here to stay, others are fleeting, what they are or need to be for the moment, sweet but temporary, like the instant gratification of chocolate cake. You could argue that friendships formed from batter have no real footing, no foundation. But, I will not short-change nor dismiss the power of chocolate. The cocoa bean was once more valuable than gold.

Others, like small milagros, happen upon you when you least expect them, good luck charms found in once empty pockets, and surprise you with their depth of meaning and forever after.

Friendships should have a beginning. Some, though, begin at the end; an ending in progress. If you meet someone and it begins at the end, backwards, can you start over, at the beginning, knowing how the story ends? Or do second chances not exist if there never was a start?

Marking Time by Church Bells

There is no clock in my apartment. In fact, it is short on many things but I make do just fine. My first day I complained to a friend that there was no cutting knife, only butter knives, and only three forks. "How many forks do you need?" He asked.

I have an old watch that I wear only when traveling. It sits upstairs wheezing away the seconds of its ten dollar price tag. But I always know the time, or close to it, by the church bells, and without the added weight of the world strapped around my wrist.

The church bells ring on the hour and the half. So I am always within 30 minutes of the correct time. Whatever that is. Not knowing the exact time is like laughter - it too has wings - it's sweeter than cake.

A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a freelance writer dividing her time between surviving in Maine and living in Mexico. Her background includes scriptwriting, comedy writing for the Northern California Emmy Awards, and travel writing for The New York Times. She has worked as a grant writer for the non-profit sector in the fields of academia, AIDS, and wildlife conservation and anti-poaching for NGO's in the U.S. and Africa. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous online and print publications including the NYT, Bangor Daily News, SCOOP New Zealand, Wolf Moon Journal, Media for Freedom Nepal, and BanderasNews in Mexico. She's finishing a memoir about her husband's death from ALS and how travels in Africa became one of her greatest sources of inspiration. She is a Managing Editor for OpEdNews. She is lavender scented and printer friendly.



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