My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
A few days ago the Unitarian Universalist discussion group took on the topic of The Road Not Taken using the Robert Frost poem as its inspiration (I chose the road of not attending – I started to clean the bath room and the kitchen, began dusting, then sat to write – looking for anything to postpone showering, making up, figuring out what to wear, walking to town, dealing with people who are still strangers and talking about a topic that could take me hours [days?] in which to delve because there have been so many roads, so many choices – it would have been impossible for me to discuss “roads” as a concept without getting into very involved personal history).
To read Frost is to travel back to junior and senior high school, of attempting to learn to read poetry (which I never succeeded at) and to teachers of such importance in my life (for example, Mr. Ralph Pettie, author of The Farnum Brothers of Bucksport [asides: (1) the Farnum brothers were important actors and directors in the early days of the U.S.A. film industry, (2) William Farnum acted onstage with Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, and (3) the actor Dustin Hoffman is named for Dustin Farnham]). I am indebted to teachers such as Mr. Pettie for opening so many worlds to me. To read Frost now is to invoke photographic-like images formed in the brain at the midpoint in history between Frost’s writing and the current day. I can look out my window here in San Miguel yet see barely trodden grass on an almost unused road in the woods or snow gathering on branches while the breath from a horse escapes into the air of Vermont. Those images still surface after 50 years: such is the power of words to evoke, words brought to life by an outstanding, caring teacher.
I have digressed.
Why México? Why Now?
Money. Actually, the lack thereof.
It continued to be difficult to land projects in my field despite the economic recovery (I worked as an independent consultant) and realized I might just as well retire. I hoped that I’d be able to pick up some part-time work and make a go of it in the Bay Area so I could be closer to my family. If I couldn’t land work, I’d have to move on. I didn’t and so I did.
My rental in Oakland was $750 for a bedroom in a shared apartment + access to the common areas and use of the kitchen and other equipment. I couldn’t afford that anymore, either monetarily or psychologically. In San Miguel I have an entire floor – furnished – to myself for much, much less than what I paid in Oakland (or prior to Oakland, my one bedroom apartment in Chicago).
For a number of years I had investigated destinations outside the U.S.A. for retirement, knowing that my meager resources would be stretched thin by the cost of living in the states. I had initially hoped – thinly hoped, in fact – that I’d land in Europe, preferably France. But the years 2008-2010 did me in financially as I was forced to sell securities into a falling market and I couldn’t obtain any new work projects. I was knocked from the position of being able to survive the requirements of the Shengen Agreement and the financial requirements (such as €2,000 income per month) for long-term visas for various countries.
So I set my sights on being nearer the U.S.A. I had looked into Montréal as it’s one of my favorite cities, but the Canadian and Quebec hurdles were too high (Canada did away with its retirement visa a few years back). So while I lived in Chicago and Oakland, I continued my research of México, which I’d been doing for about a year.
Why San Miguel de Allende?
If money was a concern, why choose the place that – outside of México City – is perhaps the most expensive Méxican locale?
When I was ready to leave Chicago I had a strong inkling to make the move to Mexico, but I wasn’t sure where. Would I be able to take my furnishings? If not, did I want to leave them in Chicago? I wasn’t quite ready to make the move.
Being a water baby (Pisces) I first considered Puerto Vallarta (ocean), Lake Chapala (lake), and then Guadalajara (ease of transportation to the Bay Area and family). Secondary options were Morélia (closer proximity to México City, smaller anglo influence), Oaxaca (culture and food), and Mérida (proximity to ocean, its colonial architecture, culture, and food). I was aware of San Miguel de Allende, but it was high, dry, and far (in time) from inexpensive flights.
After three months in the Bay Area I had decided that it would be Guadalajara or Lake Chapala and began looking (from a distance via the internet) at apartments. The day of my scheduled flight to Guadalajara, I couldn’t pull the plug on the Bay Area.
So, how did I end up in San Miguel? Basically by eliminating the other options.
- I’d been to Puerto Vallarta several times and I knew it wouldn’t keep my interest, and it is just too much of a beach party town for what I wanted.
- The Lake Chapala towns were just too small a community to be of interest for the long-term. Although Guadalajara is not far away, for someone without a car it can be complicated to arrange a day’s outing.
- Guadalajara just seemed too overwhelming (although it holds promise as a final Mexican destination).
- Mérida (Yucatán humidity) and Morélia (just a lack of something) began to fade
- Oaxaca seemed too far from family.
Then the pros of San Miguel began to appear
- I could ease into the culture
- I could improve my language skills over time
- There was enough culture (in the form of music, art, readings, lectures)to keep me entertained – I don’t need a lot, but I need something perhaps once a month
- There were enough other activities to make it of interest
- It is very pretty with its colonial architecture and colors
- It seemed possible to live in a Mexican neighborhood and not have to live among the ex-pats, yet the ex-pats were there to prevent loneliness, if necessary
- There is a lot of information readily available about San Miguel on the internet
My fears were
- My language skills just wouldn’t improve – I can speak the language well enough, but my comprehension suffers
- I’m not rich, and I had heard many ex-pats were quite comfortable there, so I might not fit in
- That San Miguel was too norteamericanized, that it would be a Latin version of Santa Fe/Austin/San Francisco/Los Angeles/San Diego
- That Baby Boomer social and economic pressure to alter everything in its self-image would be at work
So three months after the abandoned flight, I am in San Miguel and thus far the pros have carried me along nicely, although some of the fears are beginning to prove themselves.
México’s Lack of Violence
This from Cathy Brown.
Of México’s 2,500 municipalities, only 18 have been considered to be a security problem. Please read that sentence again…
Let’s look at some actual statistics from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime: In drug offenses, México recently ranked 12th in the world, and the US 4th. When it came to homocides [sic] with firearms, the US ranked 7thand México 17th, (39.56 per 100,000 vs. México’s 20.6). Yes, that means the US has 92% more homicides with guns than [does] México. So all of those people in the US telling you that you will get shot and killed in México should be more worried about themselves.
Recent FBI statistics show the murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants in Baltimore is 43.3, Washington D.C. is 29.1 and Detroit is 47. México, however, which suffered an especially violent year in 2008, recorded a murder rate of about 10 per 100,000. You do the math…