French Press

jacaranda1The past few mornings have been such that there’s been no need to first race to the east-facing window coverings and draw them apart, letting the sun’s rays take the chill off the walls  Nor has it been necessary to heat water and pour it into a cup to warm it before pouring my tea or coffee into it. Nor have I needed to cradle a morning cup of hot chocolate with my hands to warm them.

When warm weather and the sun’s stronger rays arrive I may regret having numerous windows, but for now I am happy to have my big windows and glass doors. I have visited San Miguel apartments that do not warm because they are dark, located inside courtyards or adjacent to other buildings. I was in such an apartment a few days ago and noticed the many electrical fans and thought not only was the apartment cold now, but it must get little ventilation, so it’s stuffy during the summer. Another woman complained that the temperature has never risen above 13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit) in her apartment this winter.

The French Press

I’m fairly certain that it is neither Mexican time nor my retired status that contributes to my taking twice as long to shop for half the items on my list. It has to be due to living in a country where one isn’t familiar with the contents of a store or whether the building at which one stares actually houses a shop or even if one is on the correct street. However, I like being in a downtown that does not feature a mall-like directory to the same stores as every other mall.

When searching for an item one learns that well-intentioned folks who give straight-forward answers with unwavering belief in their unerring accuracy sometimes pass on information that, to be charitable, may have been current any number of years ago. A small shop in San Miguel, for example, might have been a source for some product, and was fortunate to have sold three of them over the course of six years, but probably no longer stocks the item. It’s really no different than shopping Trader Joe’s in the States, where once you’ve come to like a product, you learn the shelf space has been given to something else; it’s just that it takes longer here for the old to disappear. So maybe Mexican time does have something to do with this phenomenon.

Yesterday was a day of spending money, releasing pent-up demand and completing tasks that were conceived weeks or months ago, but due to lethargy, melancholia, procrastination, reclusiveness, depression, not being able to find the source or through some other form of indecision, I just hadn’t fulfilled. Sometimes it was simply el codo duro – I couldn’t part with the money. For whatever reason, yesterday I was able to get out and about and from that shopping spree I’ve created my “best of” or “only known source of” list, mostly so I can pat myself on the back for having accomplished something with the day.

But first I have to state that this activity would not have been possible without the French press coffee maker that I purchased last week, after a long search based on misinformation. Early in my San Miguel stay I had purchased pre-ground supermarket coffee, which I’ve somehow been brewing using paper filters that I hold by hand; notwithstanding my brewing method, the coffee itself isn’t very good to my taste, but it got me through mornings when I had tired of the prebagged black teas available from the supermercados and tiendas here. I’ve recently learned that there are now (just since I arrived a few months ago) some tea shops that sell good-quality loose black tea, but that’s very far down on my present to-do list. The essential component to all my subsequent activity, after the false starts, was a shopon Mesones, near Teatro Angela Peralta where I found the over-priced but very well-made French press. You are forewarned: I purchased the only 4-cup model; all that is left are 1- and 2-cup models (one of each).

Val’s Guide to shopping San Miguel

With the French press safely at home, I felt ready to search for good, freshly ground coffee beans, dark roasted. I learned of several sources, but chose La Ventana (The Window). On the day I ventured mapless in search of the shop, I couldn’t find its street (not that it’s difficult, it’s just another example of my inability to deal with former burro paths that change name every few blocks). Then two days ago I found the street and the small shop that sells coffee through a – you guessed it – window at (Diez de) Sollano, 11. Customers were queued at the window as La Ventana has a reputation for making the best cappuccino in San Miguel. There is an interior to the shop but, overjoyed at my success and under the influence of that emotional high, I was incapable of further thought and couldn’t find the entrance to La Ventana.

My retreat was temporary and yesterday I went back. Surprisingly the shop wasn’t busy and I learned the secret of entering the tienda:  I was told to go esquina (around the corner) where one passes through either a clothing shop or a small cafe, parts open chains of beads suspended from the door frame, and makes a left at the baño (bathroom). So I sampled a coffee and bought un medio kilo de francés, a French-style dark roast, which, I think is terrific as I drink it this morning.

Back to yesterday:  with the aroma of freshly ground coffee emanating from mi bolso, I then went to the Bibilioteca where I bought a copy of Luis Urrea’s book Into the Beautiful North, a ticket to Urrea’a keynote talk at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, and a ticket to the Pro Musica of San Miguel benefit gala that is part of the opera festivities. Attending the Gala is both atypical and typical of me: (1) I expect to be terribly out of place there, a wallflower among rich Texans and Californians; (2) it is a splurge that I can’t truly afford, and that makes it all the more appealing, as if I’m doing something naughty; (3) it is so in keeping with my mother’s behavior (which I’ve adopted) of being unprepared for a social event and then figuring out how to “wing it”; AND (4) I am a pushover for any organization that teaches music to children. I believe in supporting programs such as these.

From there it was on to Teatro Angela Peralta where a woman in line before me tried to determine the absolute best seats for the closing night’s performance based on the money she wanted to spend. Somehow, she seemed surprised that the best seats were also the most expensive ($600 MX), which she did not want to pay. I sensed that status was somehow wrapped in her decision-making and she could not afford to be seen anywhere but in the “best” seats. She bought good seats, not in the most-expensive section, and I’m sure she and her husband will talk about how great the acoustics are from their seats – and the acoustics do seem to be good from everywhere in the hall. There were plenty of seats available for Friday night in the galeria (the upper balcony, $100 MX), so I purchased one of those.

My body, by then quite jittery from the strong coffee and not having eaten lunch, wobbled to El Tecolote (Jesús, 11), a small primarily Spanish language bookstore where I paid much too much for a 2013 wall calendar (México Antiguo, Ancient Mexico) and much too little for a small book of traditional Mexican food recipes.

Pocket Theater

The final stop of the day was Pocket Theater (Hernandez Macias, 95) to see De rouille et d’os (Rust and Bone). The movie, directed by Jacques Audiard, was both difficult to watch – especially the fighting/boxing scenes – and a feat of film-making. I thought the performance of Marion Cotillard – who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose – was as amazing and powerful as was Mathieu Amalric’s in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The theater’s first showings of the day are at 11:30 a.m. and its selection of films, many of which are French, is just my thing. I have yet to find much “magic” in San Miguel, but I doubt I could find anything like this theater anywhere else:  this two-screen theater with a bar is the kind of sleight-of-hand that could keep me here.


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