Hometown Girl

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Morganna Love was born in San Miguel de Allende. I wish I knew more about her story, as what I do know fascinates me. At some point Morganna, who was born male, fully transitioned to female, and became the beautiful woman in these pictures. As a young man, the person who became Morganna also was training in classical opera. There is a documentary film, which I haven’t seen, about her transition, “Made in Bangkok.”

Last night this hometown girl came back to San Miguel, and a reception was held for her at Plata, a new club on Zacateros. This club is the brainchild of a couple of very interesting women, Lady Zen and her partner Lilia Garcelon. I met Lady Zen and Lilia recently at brunch at Aguamiel. I had been curious about their new venture and when I was invited to this reception I decided it would be a good night to check out the scene there. It was a lovely evening. Morganna talked and answered questions. She also sang. It was hard to believe the size of the voice that came out of such a petite woman. I was completely taken by her talent, beauty, and poise. She will be singing at the Angela Peralta Theatre, in concert with Xavier Gibler and the Choir of the Opera, here in San Miguel on June 9. I have been told that the town loves her, and that was pretty evident by last night’s attendance. It was a large crowd in a fairly small room and she held everyone spellbound.

Having been visiting San Miguel for a few years before we decided to live here, I had often wondered why there wasn’t a place here that catered to the LGBT audience. I think that Plata has filled that need. And, it is pretty obvious that there is a need for just such a place. But, Plata felt like much more than a bar. It seemed like a community. The crowd was mixed, in all the ways I could name. I would say that most of the people there were young, and Mexican, but I also felt that any like-minded person would be welcomed there. I certainly felt welcomed. The mood was very sophisticated. This club isn’t just about entertainment, it is also about education. They present many different art forms, and give the performers an opportunity to interact with the audience. I think some evenings just involve a DJ, and dancing.

The room is on the ground floor of a Lebanese restaurant, and you enter by walking down some stairs. It truly does have a bit of an “underground mystique.” They have done a very good job of putting the space together in an artful way. There were beautiful flowers in the room, lots of little treats being passed around for the reception, and Lady Zen and Lilia were the perfect hostesses. It was a event befitting a diva, and the diva held up her end of the deal. She was charming throughout the questions and answers, and her singing was compelling. I hope to go to her concert tomorrow night. I am sure it will be an evening to remember.

Plata. I am glad to find such a place in San Miguel, and I will definitely visit again.  It isn’t just another new bar in a town that is quickly exploding with new bars and restaurants that have a big city feeling. It is place that is filling a genuine need, and seems to be off to a very good start.

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Lilia Garcelon, one of the masterminds behind Plata. She is a performance artist, dancer, and describes herself as a “nightlife personality.” Not to mention she is extremely photogenic.

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Lady Zen. The other half of the energy behind Plata. She is a wonderfully outgoing personality, and quite a singer herself. I saw her perform last fall and I haven’t forgotten how impressed I was.

 

Women of a Certain Age. Part 4.

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This woman has appeared in my blog before. The story behind these photos is fascinating to me. And, I hope I have my facts straight. I don’t know the women’s names in these photos, but I do know a little about the older one. I put this info together from talking to a few people, doing a little internet research, and actually meeting her son.

The story goes that this woman started in business by selling scarves that she had woven. She took her very young son with her when she went to sell them. She was not only a weaver, she is also a businesswoman. When she saw that she couldn’t get a fair price for her labor and materials, she decided to cut some corners. Many craftspeople in Mexico have done that. The major work, the real quality pieces, can take days or weeks to complete. I don’t fault them for earning a living, and I have some pieces that I really love that I’m sure were done by machine.

Her son, Remigio Maestas Revilla, took a different route. He has devoted his life to changing the economics of weaving. He now has many weavers he works with throughout the small villages of Oaxaca and he presents and sells their work at a price that is fair to them. In his own way, he is keeping alive a vibrant craft tradition. He has a few stores around Mexico, among them, two in San Miguel de Allende. (One is on Correo, just off the square…Los Baules de Remigio. The other is on Recreo…Juana Cata.) The work he carries is extremely high quality, and exquisite. It is all done completely by hand, and uses natural dyes. His main store is in Oaxaca City is Los Baules de Juana Cata.

And his mother, the older woman in these pictures, also has a large store in Oaxaca City, a few blocks from her son’s store. After inspiring her son to preserve the old, tradition methods, she is still motivated to give the customer a bang for her buck. She carries room after room of Mexcan clothing that may not be made in the traditional ways, but is still very appealing. The stitching is done by machine, and the price is not enough to worry about. You can put together a completely wonderful look for not many pesos. Personally, I love these clothes. I think this woman has a real eye for fashion, and knows how to put the inexpensive pieces together for a real statement look. She is a real success story, whose  legacy will be carried on by her son and his children. I visited her store several times while we were in Oaxaca. She is quite a salesperson as well. She greets you at the door and starts to show you things in rapid order. You find yourself trying things on right in the store. If you buy several pieces you will probably get a little discount, and the colors are so bright and the prices so low…..you will leave with a full bolsa.

Then you might find yourself in one of Remigio’s stores. All the merchandise is in impeccable order. Each piece is a unique work of traditional craftsmanship. The colors are from natural dyes. They are beautiful, but much more subtle. No one rushes to show you things. You browse around and think about which piece you would buy if you wanted a splurge. One night Fred and I were there and he bought a scarf for me. The shopping experience was very delightful. The scarf came with a little tag about where it was made and who made it. Remigio, his wife and two children, were in the store. I was somehow able to communicate how I appreciate the work he does. And, that I am familiar with his mother, a true example of a Mexican woman entrepreneur.

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This is a link to a post about this same subject.

Women of a Certain Age, Part 3.

This lady is one I see frequently on the street in San Miguel de Allende, usually helping out a flower seller who works near a sidewalk cafe. There is something compelling about her. I was pleased and rather surprised when she agreed to let me take her photo. She doesn’t have the strong, outgoing personality of the woman in the first of these posts, and she doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the woman in the second post of this series. In fact, in this woman I  always sense a feeling of vulnerability and shyness. I always say hello to her. Sometimes she holds out her hand to me, sometimes she doesn’t. When she does, I always find some pesos for her.

As a woman growing up in the USA I have certainly dealt with issues of strength and vulnerability. I have always thought that a woman could be one or the other…strong or vulnerable…but not both at the same time. My life in Mexico has taught me that only when we realize our vulnerability can we really find our strength. As a child growing up in a fairly dysfunctional situation I always felt vulnerable. The same vulnerability carried over into my first marriage. I was always expecting someone to come in the door in a really hostile mood, and even if it had nothing to do with me, I always felt it was my job to fix it. At around age 35 I managed to see that I could also be strong, and I saw being strong as the key to my survival. I saw strong as good, and vulnerable as not so good.  My experiences in Mexico have helped me to see that I can actually be strong even when I am most vulnerable. In fact, the only way to be truly strong is to be able to accept my vulnerabilities, love that scared child within me, and then to find my strength. I now see that we cannot really know our strengths until we also see our vulnerabilities. It is the ability to see both these sides of ourselves that matters most. So many women, especially women like me (old enough to have been strongly affected by the Feminist Movement..and to know what life was like before it), are not willing to see how vulnerable they really are. It’s always got to be Wonder Woman, all the time.

I don’t know the difficulties that some of the women I see here experience every day. I don’t know their joys. But, what I see is their magnificent survival. It is a simpler life here, and people aren’t all worked up about impressing each other. There is a kindness of spirit that I see in the faces I meet on the street. There is a shyness, just waiting for me to make the first move and say hello. I suspect they wonder about me sometimes, too. While I know that our lives have been very different, I also see more each day how similar we are.

One of the most important things I have learned about living in Mexico is that I simply cannot judge the lives of others. Many people come to a country like this and think that somehow the people’s lives are inferior because of the standard of living that they see. But, wait. Stop and look. This is not inferior, it’s just different. If you can put aside your own standards and expectations you can find a world very different from what you have ever experienced, but a beautiful world, nonetheless. And, you can look inside yourself and find strengths you didn’t know you had. And, when you need to feel vulnerable, you can just do that, too…without judging yourself at all.

Women of a Certain Age. Part 2.

This photo will never cease to amaze me. What amazes me is that I got it. This woman walked by me in the twinkle of an eye. We were in a large market in a village in Oaxaca. It was packed with local people, and a beehive of activity. People were selling things, looking for things, buying things…..things including live chickens, all sorts of food, clothing, household goods, motor parts, vats of a nasty local moonshine called pulque….you name it. From the midst of all the confusion, I started to go down a little flight of stairs, from one area to another. At that moment I saw this woman, and she saw my camera, right in her face. Instead of turning away, as many of the women here are likely to do, she gave me a beautiful smile…a little pose. She even found her light. Then she was gone. I got one shot at this one, and it was sheer luck. Or perhaps I should say, a magical blessing.

The feeling I came away with from this instant was the confidence of this woman. She is who she is. I asked Fred last night if that phrase, “Vanity thy name is woman,” came from the Bible or Shakespeare. (It was Shakespeare.) There is something about this woman that has caused me to think about my own vanity. Not to be too hard on myself, because working in the fashion/art business in the USA can sure cause a woman to want to look as young as possible. I certainly did. Almost everyone I hung out with was also concerned with this. And, most of them were a good 15 t0 30 years younger than me.   And, if you want to true confession, I always wondered why anyone who had access to that kind of technology wouldn’t do it if they possibly could.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not at all critical of having a little work done. God knows, I’ve had a bit. I am not sorry for doing any of it. I just wouldn’t do it at this point. I have come to realize that the right people don’t love you or like you because of how you look. They love you because of the way you make them feel. And, in this culture, the attitudes about age seem very different. Elders are respected. The grandmothers are powerful members of the family unit.

I have been away from the assistance of needles, lasers, and all the other wonderful help with this situation since October. It’s definitely available in San Miguel and it’s about time for a fill-up. But, I’m not going to do it. I am becoming happy with my face the way it is. In this culture I feel no real need to look young; I just want to look healthy and happy. And, of course, I’m not “cashing in my chips.” If you know me you know I love make-up and dress-up. I just am starting to feel that I can feel comfortable with the way I actually look and come across as a 73 year old woman at the same time, and that’s ok. In fact, that’s remarkable.

Women of a Certain Age. Part One.

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I am so moved and amazed by the older women I see in Mexico. There is a strength of character in their faces. Some of them have lived hard lives, but they are a true inspiration to me. The lady in these pictures is Publita, I see her occasionally on the streets of San Miguel. I always stop and give her money. She gives me a smile. She has so much personality. She seems like a force of nature. I know very little about her, but I always look for her when I am out and about. What a wonderful face she has. I am going to show you five women in this series. They are just the ones I have been lucky enough to capture. There are many more that got away. All of these faces have made me change some of my ideas about aging. I no longer see it as something to dread. I see it as something to aspire to.

Patzcuaro. Pueblo Magico.

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This past Sunday Fred, Pinky and I drove to Patzcuaro, a town in the state of Michoacan that is about three hours away from San Miguel de Allende. Michoacan is one of the places in Mexico that is famous for all sorts of crafts. It is the birthplace of the decorative skeleton ladies, the Catrinas.  We had an almost life-size one in the courtyard of our charming, dog-friendly hotel, Casa Encantada.We have heard many of our friends in San Miguel speak lovingly of this town, and we were very curious to see it. We stayed until Tuesday, and it was a wonderful adventure. We will definitely go back. Next time we’ll stay longer and visit the many villages that are nearby. But, since pictures speak louder than words, here are some of my favorites from the trip.

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Patzcuaro is about two hundred years older than San Miguel, and about 1,ooo feet higher up in the mountains.

I am starting to see that when I am taking pictures I am much more interested in details than in wide expanses. And people…my favorite part of everywhere we go.

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DSCF8037web On Sunday, we saw many people from other towns and cities in Mexico who had come here for a weekend. I have to say, it seemed that most of them were enjoying Patzcuaro as much as we were. On Monday and Tuesday, it was mostly locals. I don’t think I have encountered friendlier people anywhere on our travels here.

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This lady was selling hats on the square. I love the one I bought from her. And, I love her face.

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No matter where we have been in Mexico, there was usually a reason for a parade, dancing, and getting into costumes. This happened on Tuesday morning.

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My incredible Mexican driver, Fred and the Rambling Whippet, Pinky Lee. By the way, she is a Big Star in Mexico. It’s a little like walking around with a unicorn.

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Remembering Sam

The photo shown with this post actually has nothing to do with the subject of the post. This is a story from decades ago, before digital photos. I took this photo a couple of days ago, when the sun was so bright and the lighting so all over the place that I could barely see what I was shooting. But, when I managed to catch the eye of the guy looking straight at the camera, I thought I probably had something. I was pleased to see the strangeness of this picture.
But, this post is about remembering Sam. For some reason I started thinking of him while I was editing this photo. I can’t say that I still think of him everyday, or even all that often, but when I do think of him, it is with an unusual amount of intensity.
When Sam was a junior high school student, I was his art teacher. This was at some point around 1967, more or less. He was a good kid, and he really liked me. I was going through a period of identity seeking that involved strange fashion. One day I put up my hair and attached a cluster of curls to the top. I know that you have a hard time picturing me doing this. I also wore 3 pair of false eyelashes…all at the same time. So, Sam walks up to my desk and says,”Is that a hairpiece?” My response was to tell him that that was an inappropriate question. At which point, he spun on his heel, walked away, and said over his shoulder, “I was just going to say that I like it!”
Sam went on to high school and a few years passed. One evening I decided to visit the Watch Your Hat and Coat Saloon, a gay bar that was really happening in Nashville in the 1970’s. The event that evening was the first Miss Gay America Pageant. It was 1972. As I walked towards the door, I heard a voice call out my name in the way a former student would say it. I turned to see Sam. At this point Sam was 20, and I was 29. He was amazed and thrilled to see me. I am sure the fact that I was cool with him being gay was important. We became instant adult friends. In fact, Sam helped me get through the disaster of moving out of a bad marriage.
His speciality was decorating. I found a nice little apartment and splurged on fixing it up. Sam could spin into a room, pick up a paint brush and a staple gun and put the queer eye on it in a heartbeat.
More time passed, and Sam ended up moving to California, where he became quite successful in the area of retail visual merchandising. In Nashville, he had worked into the job of display director for Cain-Sloan, now Dillard’s. All of this from a very young man who had such a great talent that he required no formal education to go to the top of a very competitive field.
While Sam was in California, my life took some major upward turns. I married Fred, and started the jewelry business. Sam was happy for me to have found Fred, and he was over- the-top-excited about the jewelry business. This was 1983. Sometime around 1985, Sam moved to New York. Now the circle was complete, as I was traveling there frequently. Once Sam moved to New York, he loved to help me set up for trade shows. (Actually, I was always the helper when Sam was around. He was in charge.) I will never forget the time he showed up to set up wearing an all-white, sort of I think western, outfit.  Very long fringe on the sleeves and chest. After he finished setting up my booth, he proceeded to go out into the aisle and twirl furiously, just to feel the fringe move, because that’s just how Sam was. This was in the days when my friends Phillip and Sunny were also in New York, designing clothes. Sam was quite a customer, and they did wonderful, over-the-top men’s wear for Sam. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were responsible for that shirt.
There was one darkness that floated above this time in history, the specter of AIDS. Unfortunately, Sam was one of the casualties. It was so heart-breaking. At that time it was a death sentence. The drugs weren’t around yet. It had spread before anyone knew what it was. For the people of Sam’s days there had been no warning. They had contracted the disease while it was in the process of being discovered.
By this time in his life Sam had a loving partner who had the means to take very good care of him. The little boy who made it on sheer determination ended up living in a beautiful town house in New York. For a time, during his later years, Sam had a retail store in the Flatiron District. He was a pioneer of the boom of that neighborhood. The name of the store was Flatiron, and Sam specialized in selling display items that people could use in their homes.
After Sam had been diagnosed, but before he was really sick, he made a speech to a packed Carnegie Hall. It was a fund-raiser for AIDS research and Sam’s subject was love. He received a standing ovation.
The last time I saw Sam was in New York a few months before he passed. He had decided to just have fun that night and was wearing a beautiful black suit and an Andy Warhol crazy wig. “Girl,” he said, as Fred and I left the restaurant, “Always give ’em fashion!”

Falling in Love with a Country

This photo is not what you usually see to show off San Miguel de Allende. Not glamorous, just life in Mexico. I took this picture right up the street from our house. It is the corner of Insurgentes and our street, Quebrada. Both of these streets form a diving line that sets the Historic Centro apart from the rest of this little city. Most of the street scenes in Centro are much more picturesque. This corner is right on the edge. Sort of the dividing line between San Miguel as it is seen by tourists, and the rest of the town. While I find great beauty in the wonderful architecture closer to the Jardin, and I love to look at the Paroquia, and the rest of the big churches here, and all the glorious colonial buildings, I also like the simple, funky side of Mexico, and I hope it doesn’t change.

I love that our neighbors are mostly still Mexicans, and that there are Mexican businesses right across the street…a little barbershop, a tienda that sells all sorts of interesting things, a hardware store, and a bus stop. I even love clothes lines and roof dogs. I love walking down my neighborhood street and seeing people who look very different from me. I love saying, “Buenas tardes” when I walk Pinky down the alleyways. I love living in Mexico, where the colors are so much brighter, and I see things every day that I haven’t ever seen before.

San Miguel de Allende is high in the mountains, about 1,000 feet higher than Denver. As a result, we get wonderful weather, and amazing skies and sunshine. At times, honestly, the light here makes me feel that someone has slipped a psychedelic drug into my guacamole. Some days we just stay home, and enjoy the indoor/outdoor living. Tonight we will probably walk across the street, and through the parking lot, to have dinner at a neighborhood hotel. It is mostly frequented by the Mexican tourists who come here. There is a large courtyard there, so we can take Pinky along for dinner.

I think that the Mexican people, on the whole, are very thankful for all the good in their lives. I don’t sense that they compare themselves to others, and come out wanting for more. They are happy to work. They appreciate their jobs, and they are very hard working people. Older people are respected here, and families do things together. The elders are included and taken care of. It might be just an early evening of sitting in the Jardin, or it might be a large family of tourists, maybe from Mexico City, who are enjoying a weekend in the fabled city of San Miguel. Mexicans see this city as a jewel. There is no place quite like it, and there is no country like Mexico. I am so happy to be in this country. I have truly fallen in love with it. Every day it seems to change me into more of the person I have always wanted to be. I feel so blessed and happy to call it my home.

 

The Magic Garden

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Alfonso Alarcon of Terra. He is a very popular landscape designer in San Miguel de Allende.

One of the things that Fred and I liked most about the house we bought in San Miguel de Allende was the little garden off the living room. We knew we would need to “tweak” it a bit, but it was basically pretty nice. There is a dining area, a sitting area, and lots of cacti and succulents, which are my favorite plants. Pinky took to it immediately, and while it is small, it is still big enough for her to run around just a little bit. She loves to sit outside in the sunshine. We love to sit outside in the shade of the big umbrella. One of the best things about this garden is the huge pencil cactus that looks like a big tree. It has some flowering vines clustered inside it that the hummingbirds really love.

The past few days have been devoted to tweaking the garden. We engaged the services of a wonderful landscape designer, Alfonso Alarcon. Interestingly enough, the name of his business here in San Miguel is Terra, which is the name of the service we used in Nashville. He and his crew came in for about four days of work, and we ended up with the garden looking exactly right. I might also add that they left everything each day in perfect order. They moved some of the plants we already had around to different spots, and added a few new ones. The most exciting of the new plants  is a little grove of five organos. They rediscovered an old fountain that had been hidden under vines and brought it back to life. Alfonso did the original landscaping for this garden when the house was first renovated, many years ago. Then the owners that we bought it from undid that, and did what we had when we moved in. It was nice for Alfonso to come back to the site and work his magic touch. We are so very pleased with our garden, and look forward to enjoying watching some of the new plants grow up to maturity. Our little touches are the glass balls, most of which we found at a dump! (San Miguel manufactures lots of glass and there is an actual glass dump, when you can get lucky and find rejects.) The big mirror one I found in a shop. I think the reflection is a nice contrast to the plants and the rocks.

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The showcase corner, with the organo, the fountain, and the glass balls.

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A lovely detail, our big agave. Note the little sculpture. It was a gift from a dear person, Margaret Beasley. I have always treasured it, and this is such a happy home for it.

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Another detail…a succulent (with babies) and the big mirror ball.

 

A Trip to the Queretaro Mall

About an hour’s drive from here is Queretaro, said to be the fastest growing city in Mexico. Ever since we arrived here we have heard that there is a large mall there, with interesting stores. Since Fred and I occasionally enjoy a bit of retail therapy, we decided to head over and check it out. The Antea Mall is, in fact, quite nice. Some of the stores are brands we recognize  (there is a Birkenstock store, there is a Sephora, there is even a Mac, a Gap, a Puma….and a P.F. Chang. There are also many stores and brands that I’ve never seen before. There are two large anchor department stores, Liverpool and El Palacio de Hierro. I think that both of these are Mexican chains. All in all, we did our damage at Crate and Barrel, with a little trip to Sephora on the side. I found it somewhat interesting that the very American Iris Apfel was the featured image promoting a line of clothing I am unfamiliar with. The lady has definitely gone international. To be honest, as I walked around and checked things out, I realized that I really prefer to wear ethnic Mexican clothes, rather than look like I did while I lived in El Norte. Of course, a girl always needs jeans and nice teeshirts regardless. And make up…and Birkenstocks from time to time. Here are some more scenes from the mall.

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