Thursday, February 27, 2014


15 Quick and Dirty Writing Tips

writing tips
You can’t have too many writing tips!
The first time someone told me “show, don’t tell,” I had no idea what they were talking about. Show what? Isn’t writing, by its very nature, telling?
I was a young writer and didn’t yet understand the many elements that go into good writing. But I kept hearing that advice over and over:show, don’t tell.
Then, one day, it clicked. I got it. To tell was to write a synopsis. To show was to write a scene, to take readers through the events with action, dialogue, and detail. Show, don’t tell. Of course. It was so obvious.
Now, every time I read that advice, I have to smile.

You Can’t Have Too Many Writing Tips

Learning often happens through repetition. Oftentimes, the first time we hear something, we forget it almost immediately. Through review and repetition, we eventually memorize new information.
There are an infinite number of writing techniques and skills that the most advanced writers have mastered. We can’t expect to get our writing right the first time around, and we can’t expect to master all those techniques and skills as soon as we become privy to them.

You can’t collect too many writing tips, and you can’t brush up on your techniques and skills too often. In that spirit, I bring you fifteen quick and dirty writing tips. These are just the headlines, designed to jog your memory and remind you of all the writerly things we should be doing at any given time.

Quick and Dirty Writing Tips

This list includes a mix of some of my favorite writing tips and some of the tips I think are most essential.
  1. Read as much as you can (and make sure you read good stuff).
  2. Write every day – practice makes perfect.
  3. Acquire some resources: dictionary, thesaurus, style guide, grammar handbook, and books on writing.
  4. Join or start a writers’ group and get feedback on your work.
  5. Lower your expectations and allow yourself to write badly. It’s better to write crap than to write nothing at all.
  6. Feeling uninspired? Writer’s block is no excuse; find some writing prompts and exercises. Use them.
  7. Do you want to write a novel? Launch a blog? Submit your poetry? Set goals and then get busy reaching them.
  8. Be yourself. You have your own voice; let people hear it. Don’t compare everything you write to more successful writers. They started somewhere too.
  9. Tell your inner editor to take a vacation. Let yourself write freely and creatively. You can always edit and revise later.
  10. Get organized. All those notes, journals, and all that research! Binders, notebooks, and computer files. Put things in order so you can find what you need when you need it.
  11. Pay attention to your language: word choice and sentence structure is the difference between an award-winning novel and a book that sits on a shelf collecting dust (poetry exercises are great for this).
  12. Know your audience. Write for them using language they understand.
  13. Be creative and take risks. You’ll never know unless you try.
  14. Revise, edit, proofread, and polish everything you write before anyone else sees it!
  15. Show, don’t tell (you knew that was coming).
Do you have any writing tips to add to this list? If so, then leave a comment. And keep on writing!
About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Mixed feelings visit me this morning.  On one hand, I'm happy to be going home. I've missed my house, my "stuff", my husband of course, the tennis, TV shows, friends, everything that makes up what we call "home."  On the other hand, I've enjoyed the sunny, warm weather here every day and do not look forward to cold, snow, ice, wind.  I've learned quite a bit about the town, its people, and, most importantly, myself.  As I say when I teach travel writing - we learn mostly about ourselves when we travel, forced to be alone and left to our own devices.  

I've learned that three weeks is a good time-span for me to be away.  If David is with me, I can last longer.  I've learned that I can spend time by myself and enjoy it, although the evenings - what it's called "the blue hour" - can be a bit trying.  But when the sun sets for good and night arrives, I feel at peace again.  

Changing the landscape I see every day, the new sounds and the different smells, provide me with the energy and stimulation I need to write.  "Change is good."  I've learned that too and I'm glad I decided to come and stay in San Miguel for a month.  

Yesterday afternoon I attended a lecture on Modern Art: Mixed Media at La Biblioteca.  Unsure whether it would be worthwhile at first, I found the speaker and the material fascinating and enlightening.  The room was packed.  Next year (if I return) I'd like to give some lectures.  

For supper I returned to El Tomato for a juicy piece of steak and empanadas accompanied by a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Argentine of course.  The young man who owns the restaurant gave me an alfajor de maizena as a parting gift.  

This morning the sky is partly cloudy.  Very unusual.  Claire has gone to the "Tuesday Market." I write and read Joe Brainard collection of "I Remember"s.  They've served me as inspiration to write my own.  Excellent idea.  All you writers out there - try it!  

Monday, February 24, 2014


My time in San Miguel is coming to a close.  I will leave Wednesday morning.  

It has been an extraordinary experience for all it taught me about myself and for all the work I've done.  I've spent a great deal of time sitting in the den of this amazing house, writing, facing two large windows that look out on an open field where a couple of horses graze every morning (one brown, one white) and the sun streams in bright and warm.  Sometimes I see a human walking down the hill towards the street where I live.  Sometimes dogs run and bark.  

In the afternoons I've sat in the deck outside and read and dozed off.  Once in a while I've spent some time on the rooftop deck as well reading and sipping coffee or a glass of wine.  The sweeping views of the land around, the town downhill, a treeline, myriad birds: vermilion flycatchers, hummingbirds, wrens, grackles, and the blue sky have kept me company.

Saturday and Sunday Claire and I spent a few hours in the town.  We went to the gallery opening of our friend Marty, met two women for coffee and a very long conversation at Cafe Monet, a short stroll in El Jardin where hundreds of people gathered.  Yesterday Lin - the landlady - took us to Atotonilco: a huge gallery in the middle of the countryside where a couple sells art.  A lot of art. More art than you can imagine.  Beautiful, colorful, fantastic pieces, large and small.  Photos below.  

In the afternoon I took Claire to Parque Juarez where we ambled through the trees and cacti and then sat down to rest.  After a few minutes a group of older Mexican women joined us.  They had come from the small towns or ranchos nearby for the day.  We enjoyed their presence and speculated about their lives - so different from ours.  Parque Juarez is an oasis in the middle of the traffic, especially on Sundays.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Starting on Fridays and lasting til Sundays San Miguel fills up with tourists.  And I don't mean the usual ones who are always here. I mean the Mexicans who come for the weekend from Queretaro, Leon, Mexico City.  El Jardin (the center of the center) becomes dense with men, women, and children strolling in every direction.  Vendors selling balloons in the shape of rockets; all manner of sweets, corns, fruits, ice-cream; bands of mariachis in black suits with studded pants; teenagers meeting and flirting; humangous paper-mache figures ambling slowly; donkeys covered in flowers stand near the church for photo opportunities; music and voices mingling and rising above the tree canopy.  It's a party every weekend well into the night.  Traffic, as a result, becomes a nightmare. The insanely narrow streets clog up with cars and buses going in opposite directions.  

Two nights ago, as we were sauntering to our dinner destination, we witnessed two buses poised opposite a long line of cars.  Half of the street was closed due to construction. Which meant there was only one narrow lane to navigate for both directions of traffic.  No one was budging.  There was no place to go sideways and escape.  Someone had to relent and move backwards.  Claire took up the job of directing the traffic.  Slowly the cars began to reverse and ran into the cross street behind them also clogged up.  A couple of bikers almost slammed into one of the cars.  Finally a policeman ran from wherever he was and started blowing his whistle and gesturing to cars and buses.  Gradually the orderly movement of vehicles was restored.  Our duty done, we continued on to our supper.

Saturday is here and I know downtown will be a mad house again, not to mention Sunday.  The taxi driver last night commented on my observation of heavy traffic: Esto no es nada (This is nothing). His wry humor continued through our ride back home.  When I translated for Claire what he said, he asked: Usted es la interprete?  (Are you the interpreter?)  I laughed and agreed.  Debe ganar bien (You must make good money).  I chuckled and replied: Lo hago por la gloria (I do it for the glory).  When we approached the house he saw all the big flower pots lined up atop the wall with cacti and commented: Les hacen falta algunas macetas (You need some flower pots).  There are certainly many of them, perhaps too many.  

Tomorrow Lin, the landlord, and we are going to an art opening outside the city.  She promised a delightful time and an unusual experience.  I'll let you know on Monday.

Friday, February 21, 2014


I thought I was back in the 80s in Hydra last night.  People drinking, dancing, flirting, acting wildly and weirdly.  Except that these people are all over 65 years old for the most part.  The "Frank Sinatra" Bar is where we (boomers and olders) go to relive our youth.  A blues bar owned by a Canadian who likes to think he can sing, we listened to a pretty good blues band led by JK, a white-haired singer and harmonica player, who delighted us with "Georgia on my Mind," and other standards.

Also known as The Piano Bar, the club is small and therefore crowded.  Claire and I met the two women we had met the night before. Fortunately they were already at a table and we were able to sit with them, empty seats being at a premium.  We clapped, swayed, and tapped our feet to the music.  Claire let the band know we are from Chicago as soon as we sat down.  After about an hour and a Grand Marnier for me, I was getting sleepy, so I got up and danced with Claire for a bit.  It was fun. And it woke me up.

Most customers seemed to know each other, kissing and hugging: a small pond where everyone is a big fish.  I think that's one of the charms of the town for North Americans.  And it really reminded me of my days in Hydra where we knew everyone, stayed up til the wee hours drinking and dancing, and sometimes went home with company.  

In the afternoon we attended a lecture by our friend Marty Rosenberg, the poster dealer, who talked about Polish posters and their history.  He's just opened his gallery here in San Miguel and is showcasing his posters.  The lecture was excellent (not like the one on Modigliani).  He knows his stuff and speaks easily and comfortably.  Claire loved it.  And she loved some of the posters depicting images of Shakespeare's plays.

Supper was at Mexifran, under the stars, with good wine and good meats.  Below is a photo.  

My eyes seemed to have caught the flash. Don't look at me too closely.  I'm sporting my latest acquisition: a Mexican sarape.  Now I need to get some San Miguel shoes to complete the ensemble.

I can hear the fierce wind this morning as I sit and write.  It whistles around me, blows leaves and seeds on the deck behind me.  Still sunny although a tad cloudy today.  Claire has just left for her look at the town.  I'll meet her later at the Biblioteca.  I enjoy my solitude now.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Madam Pompadour   Portrait Of Beatrice Hastings - Amedeo Modigliani -

This is one of Modigliani's portraits.  Her name was Beatrice Hastings.  She was his lover for a few years.

I love his portraits!  All those elongated faces and sitting or reclining nudes offer me a measure of peace and joy.  Don't ask me why.  I can't explain it.


In the interest of fairness I have to say that there are good things about San Miguel.  Many, many nice things.  Last night Claire and I went to a lecture on Modigliani (that's not the nice thing). After the lecture, which took place far from the center of town, many attendees were waiting for taxis that had been called.  Some people were very impatient about this is my taxi, we called first, no, we did.  A few of us just stood there waiting, knowing that taxis for all would eventually come.  And laughed at the obnoxious behavior.  I struck up a conversation with them and we ended up sharing a taxi and going to dinner together. 

We had a lot of fun.  They are from the West Coast but originally from Detroit.  We went to La Grotta - a pizzeria with delicious salads and pizzas.  Claire had the margarita she'd been craving all day; I had a beer; we ate and talked and laughed.  After dinner we walked to El Jardin where a mariachi band was playing to the delight of my friends who promptly took photos and videos.

Carol and Andy turned out to be delightful, down-to-earth, funny.  That happens here often. You meet people in cafes, in El Jardin, at the Biblioteca, in shops.  If you are open and talk to everyone, you make friends easily.  And that's a good thing.

The lecture which was sold out was kind-of lame.  These couple have lectures about painters once a week and make a mint doing it.  He was the speaker this time and all he did was read his power point presentation, albeit very theatrically, with mannerisms, gestures, voice inflections.  I thought - what a shtick!  why don't I come up with some topic and give lectures and make some money.  I was told that they are always sold out. We were able to get in because two people didn't show up.  And they cost $130 (pesos, not dollars).  

Claire arrived on time and happy to be in a warm, sunny place.  We'll see what the day brings.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Dogs barking downstairs, loud voices, someone outside the door sweeping, phone ringing, today will not be a quiet day like yesterday.  I can just see it.  And in the afternoon Claire arrives.  Which is great.  Yesterday I was alone all day, writing, reading, eating, until the evening when I went out to dinner with a few new friends.

It was so quiet yesterday. No one around. The dog was quiet. I did the laundry and worked peacefully.  I suppose I should just give in and go with the flow.  That's what life is about.

The dinner people consisted of an English woman who lives here, a New Yorker who lives here part-time, a Mexican man, and a young woman from the Bay Area who lives in Oaxaca part-time. First they told me to meet them at Fenicia, a Lebanese restaurant, but when I got there the place was closed for the day.  I thought they were trying to ditch me.  I called the young woman.  I know, it's closed, she said, we are at Cafe Monet.  

Oh, ok, I'll be there in two minutes. Cafe Monet is a few doors down from Fenicia.  Owned by Bill, an American, is one of the gringo favorites.  They were sitting in the back.  

I shook hands with each one and sat down, ordered a beer.  They were laughing, seemingly about private jokes.  But I didn't mind.  Eventually I ordered spaghetti a la bolognese and joined in the conversation.  The young Mexican man and I spoke about the invasion of the gringos.  He said that in a few years they will own everything and we'll be working for them more than we are now.  I am very intrigued about the feelings and opinions of the locals towards the foreigners - mostly North Americans and Canadians.  They mix very little.  Very, very little.  

It feels colonial, someone told me.  From the first time I came here in 2012 I've felt an uneasiness about the overwhelming presence of the people from the North.  I can't explain it.  It's different from being immigrants or tourists or visitors.  And one of the things that bothers me most is when I hear the North Americans disparage the locals for being always late, or disorganized, or inefficient.  If anything goes wrong, if you complain about something, the answer is always: This is Mexico.Get used to it.  What does that mean?  I find that offensive.  And I say so.  

Then you have those who patronize everything and everybody.   I've met many men and women who come for a visit and decide to stay because It's a magical place. Really. And the locals are so kind, and easy going.  However, very few try to learn the language and communicate with the San Miguelenses.  They speak to clerks and taxi drivers and cleaning ladies and waiters in English.  Are you kidding me? I want to tell them.  Make an effort, learn to speak Spanish.  If you want to live here, shouldn't you learn the language?  And I remind them of the big stink North Americans make up North when an immigrant doesn't speak English.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


A Creative Writing Workshop

This workshop is designed for the beginning writer as well as the more experienced author.  We will begin each session with a series of exercises to open up our minds and cajole memories or ideas that can serve us as springboards for essays or stories.  Free writing with prompts, making lists, using photos or pictures, how to find an original subject, organizing an essay or short story, how to create or depict a character, using dialogue, how to start and how to end an essay or story, and many other techniques and subjects will be discussed and practiced during our sessions. 

Reading and learning from published writers is another important component of our workshops.  We learn to read like a writer; in other words, to learn how to write from others who do it well.  Critiques of participants’ works are an essential element of our workshops.  However, you are not obligated to bring your writing to be workshopped.  It is totally up to you.  Homework is also provided as well to stimulate creation and keep you writing during the off-week.  This is also not mandatory.  All genres are accepted. 

Join us for an exciting, instruction-filled, practical workshop to develop your creative life or to continue your artistic life in an encouraging, positive atmosphere.

Frequency: every other Monday – 7-9 pm / starting March 3
Duration: 6 sessions
Cost: $20/hour
Register by February 21st by email and receive a $40 discount (one free class).  
Send your check to the location indicated below by February 21st.  
Location: 1867 N. Bissell – plenty of free parking or one block from the Brown Line or three blocks from the Red Line

For more information: email me at


Paganini's symphony plays on Radio Universidad de Guanajuato.  Earlier I heard a poem by Jose Emilio Pacheco, Mexican poet who died recently.  And before that it was a Chopin composition.  This morning - sunny as usual - I sit at the computer right away and start to write and read.  The university radio station is a blessing.  

Mary Morris's workshop yesterday proved very useful and inspiring. So many sad stories! But the instructions and exercises will help me continue my work and probably move in different directions.  She talked about writing scenes - the building blocks of stories.  And we wrote for short periods of time.  First we made a list of "I remember"s - as many as we could; and then we picked one of those to expand into a scene.  It never ceases to amaze me how productive those free writing I remembers can be.  No matter how many times you've done them, you always come up with something you hadn't thought about ever before, or a new way to think of an incident in your life, or just stuff that it's buried in your subconscious.  I came up with a few fascinating possibilities to expand on.  Any writers out there reading this?  Try doing that every day.  For a few minutes.  

After the workshop I sat by the hotel pool and chatted with a woman from the class.  Later we went to dinner to Hecho en Mexico - a favorite of gringos around here.  (I don't usually like using the term "gringos" but it's so common in this town, I can't help myself.)

Lisa comes from the West Coast but has been living in Oaxaca the last few months. She's considering moving there.  I've met so many who come for a visit and move.  To a person they all love San Miguel and sing its praises.  Others move to Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Ajiji, Oaxaca.  I had no idea so many Northamericans relocate here.  And quite a few Canadians.  Food for thought.

At this point, I wouldn't do that.  David and I have thought about it over the years but we are not convinced.  Where will we move to?  Will we move?  More food for thought.

As I close this blog, Aaron Copland's music fills the room.  "American" music - serendipity or omen?

Monday, February 17, 2014


This Monday morning the house is empty of David.  He left Sunday morning, returned to Chicago.  We had a busy weekend with a piano concert on Saturday, a walk downtown.  Yesterday I attended a panel at the San Miguel Writers' Conference with Yann Martell, Ignacio Padilla, Benjamin Saenz, and Alberto Sanchez.  They spoke about reality vs. the fantastic in literature.  I found it refreshing; they all denounced the idea of "magical realism," and do not like to be classified as such.  Martell is the author of "Life of Pi", a Canadian, who sent books to the prime minister every week or so for a few years.  I don't know the whole story but remember hearing something about it.  I'll have to research it.  Sounds fantastic!

After the panel I sat by the pool of the hotel and drank a Corona, read, until Martell came to sit near me with his wife and three kids to have lunch.  I must say they were not noisy or annoying. After a while I struck up a conversation with two women sitting near me, one from Canada, the other from New Jersey.  I always enjoy talking to people.  

When I left the hotel I walked and walked.  My quest was to find a place to have supper where I hadn't been before.  Along the way I ran into our hosts from last year.  Beatriz! a man says on the street. I reply Hello! but have no idea who he is.  He does look familiar. His wife approaches. Bruce, he says.  And slowly I realize we stayed at their casita last year during the conference. I didn't know you were here, he says.  I tell them we're staying in El Paraiso. They invite me to get in touch with them but they're leaving next week.  They seem in a rush; I keep going.  What a surprise!  Later I walk by our friend's Marty's poster gallery and duck my head in, say hi to Nina and Marty and the dog.  They're busy watching tv on the computer.  I leave.

Finally I found a place that looked very nice, called "The Restaurant", not very original but delicious and lovely setting.  They sat me by the fountain filled with rose petals.  I enjoyed my dinner of braised short ribs with caramelized onions and carrots, a potato-cauliflower cake.  And a flan.  Around 7 I hailed a taxi and came home.  

It's going to take me a while to get used to being alone.  But I'll do it.  I'm a big girl.  It's not the first time.   This afternoon I'm taking a workshop with Mary Morris and will meet the Canadian woman after.   

Friday, February 14, 2014

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE Readers' Choice Rating: 84.6 San Miguel de Allende nabbed the No. 1 spot thanks to its "great atmosphere, excellent restaurants, culture and ambiance galore." The "lack of [traffic] lights and billboards" makes the region "romantically and historically beautiful, and the city itself offers a "traditional feeling of a small town in the heart of Mexico." "An amazing place to be."


Because the house is at the end of the street, which is at the bottom of the hill, every time I go out I have to climb uphill.  At 6500 feet high, the walk up is difficult.  So I think about it twice before venturing out of the house.  If there is a sidewalk, it is easier but walking on the rough, uneven cobblestones can be trying.  Sprained ankles are not uncommon.  Your foot slips over a stone and - twist! - there goes the foot.  One of the facts of life in SMA.  

Another fact of life is that you cannot drink the water from the faucet.  Some people don't even cook with it or make coffee or brush their teeth.  I take my chances with that stuff.  I just don't drink it. The landlady provides us with enormous bottles of Santorini water.  They are big and very heavy. Hauling them upstairs can be dangerous.  Yesterday, David had to bring one up and he was out of breath; then, turning it upside down and sticking it into the tiny mouth of the ceramic jar proved difficult: spilled water all over the floor.  But, eventually, he managed to get it in.  Mop the floor, dry the counter, water's ready for drinking.

All fruits and vegetables have to be "microdyned," especially lettuce, tomatoes, and anything you eat raw and don't peel.  Microdyne is a tincture: 8 drops in a liter of water, leave food for 10 minutes, take it out, ready to eat.  You can use the same liquid for about a week before making a new batch.  It is a yellowy mixture, not very attractive, but many people swear by it.  Again, some people don't do any of that; but then, many others do.  Our downstairs neighbor gave us her tiny bottle and now we have a bucket with the liquid on our counter.  David washed tomatoes and apricots the other day.  We haven't had any lettuce except for last night, when we went to a friend's house for dinner.  They microdyne everything.  It was fun to eat lettuce again after two weeks.

Because there is no central heating and the house is made of stone and tile, mornings can be very cold.  When I get up, I put on pants, wool sweater, and a robe over my nightgown. And I wear my socks and shoes.  During the day the house warms up quite a bit since the sun shines on it and in it; this way, evenings are not as cold as mornings.  There is an electric fireplace in the living-room which I turn on sometimes while we watch television before going to bed.  

For all the North Americans who live here year-round, these are small prices to pay.  They love it. They wouldn't think of leaving.  Crime is very low.  Weather is sunny and warm most of the time. There are plenty of cultural activities to keep you engaged and entertained.  Cost of living is low. There are no traffic jams.  (There are no streetlights.)  Life is easy.  

San Miguel is a UNESCO Heritage Site and, as such, it is kept as a colonial city.  The center of town offers small shops and cafes and restaurants.  There is only one Starbucks and it is very inconspicuous.  McDonald's has requested permission to open over the years but has been refused continually.  There are few malls but they are outside the downtown.  "Conde-Nast named San Miguel de Allende the best city in the world last year," told us our friend Marty who has lived here for the last few years.  I don't know about that.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014


The highlight of yesterday was the movie The Book Thief.  It's a sweet, sad, well-acted film.  The young actress is superb.  And Geoffrey Rush is fantastic.  After, I had a churro and David ate ice-cream.  We came home and watched WGN News again. 

Before the movie I went to the Biblioteca for another lecture from Eva Eliscu on The History of the Dining Table series.  She talked about The Kitchen, the Chef, the Restaurant.  Most of what she presented I knew already from my research on the history of food and the restaurant.  Some of the people she mentioned however I haven't read about yet, like Careme - the first Chef - and Escoffier.  The last half of the lecture was about present day famous chefs and restaurants. Those I know about. I live a few blocks from one of them. 

It was a quiet day for the most part, occupied by laundry and house cleaning.  Afterwards, we walked to the Russian bakery and enjoyed a slice of orange cake and a cup of cafe con leche.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I confess.  I didn't go to the birding lecture nor the Molly Bloom talk yesterday. I stayed home until later, when we went downtown for a walk and dinner.  After lunch I sit on the lower deck and read usually; that's when I become sleepy and snooze, the sun warming up my feet and legs.  

We took the bus once again yesterday.  Shock absorbers are not popular on the buses I guess because the rides are so bumpy over the cobblestones and street humps.  So bumpy. We got off at the end of the line and walked, passed one of the churches, went in, came out, and kept walking, mostly downhill (which is good for me), but not always.  We were looking for Ancha, the street we like, but it took us about an hour to arrive somewhere where we wanted to stay.  I was, needless to say, tired.  We found a new - for us - restaurant: Mexifran.  Yes, as it sounds: a combination of Mexican and French cuisine.  

There is a nice patio and we sat, ordered a beer each, and played Qwirkle, munching on guacamole. So much guacamole! After the game - which I won by the way - we had supper.  David ordered chiles anchos rellenos and I had estofado frances.  Delicious food!  And the best surprise - a singer started at 8 pm.  He sang Los ejes de mi carreta, the song made famous by Atahualpa Yupanqui, the Argentine folklorist.  He also sang tangos and Cuban nueva cancion.  I was delighted.  Happy.  I told him we'll be back and stay longer.  His name is Ramon Arancibia; he's Mexican.  I think we'll go back Friday for Valentine's Day.  

I don't know what it is (or maybe I do know) but the songs of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and earlier too, from Latin America make me so happy.  And sad at the same time.  They are in my bones. They inhabit me and will always take me to that past we lived and struggled in.  A sweet nostalgia takes over; sometimes I cry when I listen to them at home, alone.  I sing along and cry.  But it's a good cry. A cleansing cry. And after a while I am renewed, energized, serene, hopeful again.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


This Tuesday morning the sun shines as always.  Every day is sunny, not necessarily very warm, but sunny. Right now - at 9 a.m. - the temp is 48 degrees F.  I wear all my clothes like the Marx Brothers. Later it goes up to the 80s.  And I shed them.  

One of the other things I like to do when I travel (besides go to supermarkets) is to go to the movies in other towns, other countries.  The Cinemex is in La Luciernaga mall, near the house. 

We saw The Wolf of Wall Street yesterday.  By mistake.  We thought we were going to see The Book Thief but the usher sent us to the wrong cinema. We stayed.  The world depicted in The Wolf is filled with drugs, debauchery, greed, excess, lies, not to mention fraud.  At first - when I realized it was the wrong movie - I wanted to leave and find the right one, but I stayed because David wanted to stay. I became more comfortable with all the cursing and sex and drugs; nevertheless, I left with a sense of overflowing disgust. These are the people that manage our finances?  What kind of world do we live in?  Don't answer.  It's a rhetorical question.  Besides all that, it's a freaking long movie.  Three hours!  Three hours of the same stuff over and over.  I have mixed feelings about the virtue of making such films and showing the underbelly of the financial world.  Are we glorifying that kind of life?  Beautiful cars, grand houses and yachts, expensive clothes - all at the cost of the common man (and woman).  Does every little boy and girl want to be like Jordan Belfort now?  Or does the film turn them off such choices?  It's a toss up.

On a more joyous note, I spent the day reading and writing, after Irma left in the morning to go back to Mexico City. We discovered a Russian cafe nearby where I had crepas de pollo and David ate a mushroom omelette.  In the evening we watched a bit of the Olympics and went to bed, not before reading for a while.

This Tuesday morning I hear distant dogs barking, the song of the vermilion flycatcher outside the window, the downstairs neighbor making breakfast.  This afternoon we'll go to the Biblioteca for another lecture on birding, and later a talk about Molly Bloom.  We don't go to town often.  In past years we stayed downtown, we had no choice.  Now we have to take a bus or a taxi.  Besides the house is comfortable, the surroundings open and quiet.  And I want to write.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Good morning! I am back. I've decided to take the weekends off from writing. 

Saturday afternoon Irma arrived; we sat on the rooftop deck sipping wine and catching up. The sun was warm.  In the evening we went to dinner to Berlin, a sort-of German restaurant downtown. The food was good, the wine too, but one other customer annoyed us to no end.  An older woman who spoke loudly and seemed drunk.  Eventually David became angry and yelled at her, I said some things, her companions got involved, and then they all left. We had crepes for dessert and left too. This is the second time we are confronted with loud speaking "gringos" who make our dinners unpleasant. What is it with these people?  And if you tell them - like we do - they say things like "this is Mexico," "relax," "don't be so uptight," etc. etc.  I wonder how the locals put up with them. Irma suggested we don't go to the restaurants they frequent. I suppose that's a possibility.

Sunday we strolled in the Botanic Gardens and did some bird watching.  We saw an avocet, a whole bunch of Mexican mallards, vermilion flycatchers, and apparently a coot (although I couldn't find it).  The cacti are not in bloom yet. Lunch was at the garden cafe before returning home to read, nap, rest. In the evening our downstairs neighbors invited us for cocktails and off we went. Irma gave them tips on what to see in Mexico City where they're going next week.  Later I made supper at home and we watched the Olympics for a while before going to bed.

This morning Irma left and I am back at my computer, writing, composing, feeling productive. I miss it if I don't do it for a few days, now that I've gotten in the rhythm of things.  That's why routines are useful.  Decide when and for how long you'll write and sit down and do it, or stare at the screen for however long you decided.  Eventually something will happen. And if nothing comes out, just free write nonsense. Something is bound to be good and usable.  I promise you.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


The classical guitar concert last night offered me the possibility of thinking about life and work. The young man played Bach, Piazzolla, Villalobos, and others. Very pleasant and we had nice seats.  It was what my soul needed.  After the concert we walked a bit and went to San Agustin Cafe, across from the church.  No Americans in the cafe.  It was a welcome sight and sound. I wonder why it was all Mexicans and us. We had a delicious tortilla espanola and jamon serrano con melon. I enjoyed a martini kiwi. 

Before the concert I attended the second part of the lecture on the history of the dining table with Eva Eliscu - a woman originally from Stockholm who lives in Chicago and here and there too.  She talked about the dining table from Napoleon's time to the present.  The first installment covered the period from Ancient Greece to the French Revolution. I founded all fascinating.  It reignited my interest in researching food anthropology, the history of foods, what people ate, what are dishes we all have in common, and many other topics. I think I'll do that when I go back to Chicago.

During the day I watched the vermilion flycatcher flutter around on the shrubs, bright red breast, black head, could not be more beautiful.  Jumping from branch to branch, hiding in the tall trees in the distance, coming closer to my window.  A red slash against the blue sky, impossible not to admire.  Two grackles walked back and forth across the street, their long black tails sweeping the cobblestones, determined and purposeful.  Sometimes one of them perches himself on the dome above the house and calls out to who knows who - a mate? a friend? us? 

This morning, as I sip my coffee and write, I listen to the radio from the Universidad de Guanajuato.  There is a program for children teaching them about classical music. Eric Satie talks about his compositions and they play his music while children ask questions.  Before there was a recitation of Homer's Odyssey in Spanish with Greek music in the background.  What a pleasure! 
Gardenias yellow on my desk yet they still offer me their aroma.

Later today Irma will arrive from Mexico City.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Today was a quiet day: stayed home until supper time.  I wrote, I read, I wrote some more, had lunch.  David went out to find the Mega Mall and had some mishaps with ATM cards and fast food joints but all turned out well in the end.  When he came back we played Scrabble and later went to dinner at El Tomato - an Argentine restaurant.  We had empanadas and I ate gnocchi, delicious, and flan with dulce de leche.  David bought me a small bouquet of gardenias.  I so relish their smell! It always reminds me of Buenos Aires, where the flower vendors on every block carry gardenias in the Summer.  As I walk by them, I inhale their aroma and feel content.  

A glass of wine each and some guitar music later we left.  

Do you know that you can watch WGN on tv?  We like to look at the weather report and be glad we're not in snowy, cold Chicago.  Is this a small world or what?  

Every morning I sip my coffee and gaze out the window towards the Botanic Garden and the red and yellow houses across the street.  I usually see a donkey trotting by carrying sacks of soil led by an old man in a white hat.  Will I miss him when I go back to Bissell Street?  

Tomorrow will be a busy day: lecture on the dining table, Pepe Romero concert, and Saturday my friend Irma will arrive from Mexico City to spend the weekend.  Undoubtedly we'll spend a lot of time talking and discussing politics, social issues, culture, having some tequilas, laughing, and reminiscing about our days in Chicago.

The writing continues and progress has been made.  By the way - to all of you who wrote about walking, let me tell you: I love to walk.  I walk in Chicago all the time, sometimes from my home to the Loop.  But I prefer to do it on flat land and at sea level.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


What a day!  I'm starting to rethink this whole "walking" thing.  Around here everyone is obsessed with walking.  They boast about how far they walked, how long, how often.  Mind you - the streets are covered with cobblestones, all of them, everywhere.  It's a miracle there aren't more sprained ankles and broken feet.  Add to that the uphill streets and you have a recipe for disaster.  At least, as far as I'm concerned.  

This afternoon I agreed to walk to town with David.  I should've known better. I should've trusted my instincts.  But I wanted to humor him.  The landlady came over in the morning to introduce herself and talked about this walk and that walk, showed us on the map how to get downtown, blah blah blah.  It takes 20 minutes, 30 at the most.  So I said ok.

Just walking from our door to the main street a couple of blocks away is a struggle for me: uphill all the way.  And so we went.  On the main street David offered to take the bus but I declined.  So we started on our way.  And I walked, slowly, over slippery, uneven cobblestones, first uphill, then downhill.  You would think that downhill is easier.  You'd be wrong.  Because you have to break not to go rolling down like a potato, it's more difficult for me, especially because my right foot has little traction, little power.  And we walked, and walked.  And walked.  After about one hour my legs were weak and my breathing forced.  I sat down a few times to rest but had to keep going to get somewhere because the area we were walking in was pretty boring, empty of everything except houses.  Every so often a car would roll by or a motorcycle and we'd have to step aside, against the wall, or risk get run over.  And we walked some more.  "We're almost there," David would say, "five more minutes."  Another hour and we arrived near civilization but nowhere near the Biblioteca where I wanted to go.  At that point I had been whining, complaining, and cursing, so when a taxi appeared David flagged him down and made me take it.  He insisted on walking all the way.

At the library I sat at the Cafe to have lunch and rest my shaking legs.  It was now 2:30 pm.  It took me a while to recover but I did, ate my guacamole, read a bit, and then David appeared.  He walked all the way.  At 4 pm I went to the lecture on "The History of the Dining Table."  Very interesting and informative.  The lecturer is from Chicago and she gives these talks everywhere. Her website looks very inviting.  She talked about dining and food from Ancient Greece to the French Revolution.  Friday she'll give us the second installment.  I talked to her after the talk and hope to talk some more again because I'd like to do something similar.  Also, I'm very interested in food anthropology and the history of eating, etc.

Our friend Marty Rosenberg opened his gallery of posters here so we went to see him.  The official opening will be February 22.  I plan to go.  After this we walked to a cafe to play Qwirkle and have some coffee.  I won by two points.  Dinner was at Hecho en Mexico - a good place to eat but the room was noisy and towards the end of the evening David became angry with a table that was talking and laughing loudly.  He yelled at them and they were not happy.  I was startled.

I have to say that I'm getting accustomed to the house and the town slowly.  There are some things that I'm not enjoying like the coldness in the mornings when I get up.  Houses here don't have central heating.  But I've learned to put on a sweater and pants instead of parading around in my nightgown and robe.  I wish I had brought warm slippers.  I'm also not fond of the location of the house because it's not near the center.  The surroundings however are beautiful and peaceful.  We would prefer to walk out and find ourselves in the midst of shops but "it is what it is."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


A power outage this morning left us with no electricity or water. The city is changing some pipes. Fortunately the power came back sometime in the afternoon, when we were out.

We left the house and walked to the bus stop around 1 pm.  A couple dressed as clowns was waiting for the bus and, as soon as it got there, they climbed on behind us.  Then, they proceeded to start talking out loud, making jokes, and teasing each other.  The young woman was holding a baby in a sack.  No one was laughing at their jokes; the passengers looked rather resigned to the annoying voices.  David looked at me and said "do you want to get off?"  We waited for the next bus but it was so crowded, we opted for a taxi to go to El Centro.
Two lectures today: one on birding, the other on the anthropology of travel.  The first one was informative and gave us the opportunity to find where and when are the birding field trips. There is one tomorrow at 9 a.m. David will be in attendance.  The second lecture proved better as the speaker went on.  His English pronunciation made it difficult to understand him sometimes; his information however offered food for thought.  What is a tourist? What is a traveler? When is too many tourists too many? San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO Heritage Site but the government hasn't taken measures to preserve, sustain, while allowing people to visit.  

The first lecture took place at the Biblioteca - the hub of San Miguel.  That's where you go if you need something, if you want to meet someone, if you need information.  I like to sit in the open patio and read while groups of people study Spanish or English, children do their homework, others check out books.  There is a small theater as well and a conference room.  

The second lecture was held at Bellas Artes - a colonial building with many rooms around a big open patio on two levels.  Pictures to follow.  

My writing continues although I made some drastic changes today.  

Monday, February 3, 2014


Outside the window from where I sit to write I can see a row of houses in the distance. Reddish, yellow, white, against the blue, clean sky. In between - a large patch of land with mostly dry grasses but here and there short bushes rise, cacti, birds, a white horse tethered to a bush eats slowly and deliberately, moving ever so carefully, unable to go very far.  In the morning the sun streams and falls on the desk, the floor, my hands.  It's comforting because the air temperature is cool.  I turn my face towards the shining orb and smile.

Today we went to the mall nearby.  White buildings, open spaces, the usual shops plus a few different ones.  David shopped at Liverpool: a shirt and a sweater.  Lunch outside and then a game of Qwirkle at The Italian Coffee Company.  This mall reminds me of the shops in San Isidro (Buenos Aires) with second floor walkways, white marble, and clean spaces.

One of the peculiar things I like to do when I travel is to go to the supermarkets, see what they offer, what's different, what's the same.  It's been said enough times already but I keep living it: it's a small world.  The same brands, the same shops.  There is something comforting in that I guess.  We stocked up on wine, beer, cheeses, fruits, pasta; took a taxi and came home.  

The afternoon found me on the lower deck reading and napping before climbing up to the upper deck for some tequila with lime.  The melodious blackbird sang to us perched near the copper dome.  The sky turned pink, dark blue, and then black.

This evening I did it again!  I was being compulsively social once more, inviting our downstairs neighbors up for a glass of wine.  Can't help myself.  I like people.  I enjoy listening to their stories and telling mine.  But I did put in a few hours of writing this morning and I'm writing now, at ten pm, before going to sleep. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014


The first day of February started around 4 a.m. for me.  That's the time I got up to take the taxi to go to the airport to get on a flight that was supposed to leave at 6:30 a.m.  Fat chance!  We didn't leave until 9:30 and therefore didn't get to Dallas until past 11 a.m.  Our connecting flight was long gone.  The next flight was at 7:30 pm.  David and I spent about 8 hours at DFW - got to know it really well.  Felt like that guy who lived in the Paris airport for I-don't-know-how-long.  After a very long day we arrived to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) around 1 in the morning of the next day.  

The second day of February woke up sunny and warm however.  I familiarized myself with the house while David went shopping for groceries.  When he returned we sat in the roof top deck and had breakfast, looking out over the expanse of land near the Botanic Gardens, the town farther down the hill.  The house is located at the Southern edge of SMA, in a neighborhood called El Paraiso.  Which makes for gorgeous views but long uphill treks to the shops, buses, and the center of town.  

While having breakfast our downstairs neighbors came to introduce themselves and offer any help we might need.  The couple from Boston brought us a newspaper and were relieved to see that we were not some noisy young pair given our late arrival.  After all that, we walked up the hill (me out of breath) and took the bus to the center.  El Jardin was buzzing with people, children holding balloons in the shape of rockets, young women wearing flower crowns around their heads, music.  I managed to find a table at a restaurant well-positioned to people-watch and later we walked to our old favorite cafe on Nemesio Diez - Cafe Rama.  We played a game of Qwirkle and had an early supper before returning home to watch the Super Bowl.

It's going to take me a few days to accustom my mind and soul to being here, in this house, in this town, in this country.  It always takes me a few days to feel comfortable.  I miss my house and my things.  But - then - life takes over, things start rolling along and I'm a "relatively" happy camper. Let's hope nothing goes wrong.  Anxiety has diminished considerably but there is a small piece still floating around my brain.  It's almost 10 pm and I'm starting my work.  I'm writing.  And I will continue to write.  Every day.  As planned.