San Miguel de Allende is not yet a ghost town, but it is awfully quiet.
On Saturday there were five hot air balloons crossing the sky as I took Moppit out for her morning walk. Today, there were none.
San Miguel’s edgiest T-shirt shop (“Any design you want, in black and white only”) has had a “Pinche Trump” T-shirt in the window for as long as I can remember. Today, a new shirt reigns: “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.”
Available in black
Tourists, Americans, and Canadians are heading back home in droves. High Season, as we’ve known it these past two years is over. Theaters, concerts, restaurants, gyms, sports parks, tours, parades and pageantry, religious gatherings, schools — all are closed down or put on hold. Weddings, which are a big deal here, are either postponed or moved out of the public square.
As if to put an accent on all this strangeness, heavy rains and gusting winds have been moving in every evening — tamping down the dust and pollen and spurring on the lavender jacaranda trees and brilliant red bougainvillea bushes. This is June weather.
Zandunga! With Gil Gutierrez, The Mavericks, singer Lady Zen, Cuban pianist Lai L’Amour, and the Gabriel Hernandez Quartet. One last hurrah before the Age of Contagion sets in.
On Sunday, six of us rented a van and drove out into the campo to Zandunga, the ranchero of guitarist Gil Guttierez. Every Sunday he invites musicians from all over the world to perform with his jazz band and the rock ensemble The Mavericks. A huge buffet is set out and there is tequila, wine, and dancing all day long.
We started as a table of 11 people and ended up with eight, as people backed out ahead of the day, citing virus concerns.
It felt like the last happy day for so many of us. So many friends were there and none of us willing to hug or shake hands. Bumping elbows is the new intimacy, I guess. Or bumping into people on the dance floor.
This was Gil’s last hurrah for a while, too.
The same day, Sunday, a friend canceled a memorial concert for the late-Jon Sievert, a mutual friend and pre-eminent photographer of the San Francisco rock and jazz music scene in the 1970s and 80s. Eighteen of the best local musicians had signed on to perform to a sold-out house. But it was just too chancy.
In the midst of all this making life smaller and safer, there have been only two reports of possible coronavirus cases here. That is deceptive because there has been almost no testing of anyone. So easy to say you don’t have a problem when you don’t look for one.
Still, it feels like a slow-moving tidal wave is heading this way. You can feel the pressure in the air. Something bad, this way comes. Will we be ready?
Mexico’s President López Obrador has been criticized for excessive hugging and kissing of constituents in public. He is a most-demonstrative president. His health minister defended the presidential intimacy, declaring AMLO a moral force, rather than a contagious one.
AMLO himself has declared that the Mexican people will not suffer as much as our northern friends because of the unique spirit of the people — he cited natural disasters, invasions, plagues, and a host of other maladies overcome by the people as reasons why this disease will be faced down and defeated.
Not the best strategy in my book.
In reality, steps are being taken at national, state, and local levels — as I noted above. Mexicans do not seem as concerned as their gringo counterparts and, in fact, visitors from Mexico City and elsewhere in the country seem to be filling the vacuum left by departing gringos.
The popular Jardin Principal in Centro was alive with strolling Mexican tourists yesterday. Usually it is a strong mix of Mexicans and gringos.
Yesterday, I ran into two friends on the Ancha, a still-busy thoroughfare. It felt more like meeting up with survivors than friends. We stood there exchanging anecdotes and stories. People walking by sarcastically asked “Are you keeping the appropriate distance from each other?”
A joke for sure, but even so …
Street scenes: Rain-swept cobblestones, a gold heart in the road, and an artful wall of the kind Trump could never imagine.
It is hard not to hug friends. Because that is just what we do. Something we’ve picked up from our demonstrative Mexican brothers and sisters.
Old friends from Belize left this morning, two weeks early, for their home in Canada. They rode in a packed shuttle to the airport. My own visiting family is leaving two weeks ahead of schedule, in about an hour. So many friends from San Miguel are visiting in the States and Canada and will be hunkering down there, rather than returning to uncertain Mexico.
Two couples who were staying in our complex for a month or so left suddenly yesterday.
I’d met them on their second day here and asked how they were getting on.
One guy said, “Just great except for the assholes across the street who sing and play music all night.” (They don’t.) I was stunned. “Those are good people,” I told him. “If you take the time to get to know them.”
I walked away because I am capable of saying worse. I heard a day later that they all had Monty’s Revenge. Something they ate — not the coronavirus.
So there is still karma.
We say goodbye to family and friends as rumors of a border shutdown grow stronger every day.
For me, an April 10 trip to California to visit children and grandchildren has been delayed until Fall; a weekend trip in April to Mexico City for a Michael Buble concert (with backstage passes!) is canceled; the great cellist Amit Peled was to play here this week but that isn’t happening, of course.
I’ve had my tickets since January for that one.
My wife, Rose Alcantara, has closed down her booming Pilates business. We are filming 10-15- minute exercise videos up on our rooftop patio for all her clients. The streaming app Zoom is doing a good business among teachers and yoga and Pilates instructors who are setting up live, remote sessions. I downloaded the Plum Village meditation app to see if I can deepen my own practice.
Wolf Gym, which I just rejoined after a year hiatus, has closed.
As a shy person, I am no stranger to self-isolation. It is my preferred way of life.
I said as much on Facebook and was surprised at how many friends feel the same way.
One is a wonderful Ukrainian veterinarian who we knew in Belize (now living in London). She had this to say: “I realized over the weekend that my life now is no different with taking the ‘extra precaution’ measures than what it normally looks like. Me, dog, food, laundry, Netflix, dog, shower, bed. 🤔”
One final unanticipated byproduct of the exodus: My fridge and cabinets are filling up with barely tapped bottles of tequila, unopened bottles of wine, fresh fruit, crackers, bags of coffee and other bounty left for us by friends and family. We even inherited a bag of 50 pairs of surgical gloves with Sani-wipes included and several rolls of toilet paper — of which there is no scarcity here.
In the evening, I shall repair myself to the upper deck with a bottle of wine and some snacks and gaze out over San Miguel, covered in this new blanket of quiet that is like fresh-fallen snow.
I’ll toast friends and family, recently departed, and those ensconced in homes far from here. I pray for their safety and good health, while wondering about our own.
Self-isolation is beginning to look pretty good.
Here’s what I wrote about this, our new quality-time, on Facebook the other day:
Keep your spirits high. Use your enforced time at home creatively. Keep in touch with loved ones and your community.
Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper in a city or town where you want to live. Pick any topic. (If it doesn’t have a newspaper, trust me, you don’t want to live there.)
Get in touch with yourself. Ask yourself what you have been doing for the last couple of decades. And ask “why.”
Go online and learn how to meditate. Admit it, you’ve always wanted to learn how but didn’t have the time. Now you do.
Find an empty notebook and write something. Anything. Every day. It may not mean much now but it will someday.
Read a book. Ask friends you admire for their recommendations if you aren’t sure.
Get a subscription to The New Yorker and circle all the words you encounter that are unfamiliar. Look them up. (If you have a subscription, go through that huge stack and read all the stuff you meant to the first time around.)
Draw up a plan for the rest of your life, then put it away because the universe is in charge, not you or me.
Remember: Karaoke can save us all! Keep singing.
I was kidding about the Karaoke.
I asked friends to add to the list and some very imaginative entries followed. How about you? How are you making the most of self-sequestering during the Age of Infection?
Post in the comments section below!