When I walk the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, usually early mornings with Moppit the philosopher dog, I find things.
It is not that I am scouring between the cracks and crannies. It is just that cobblestones can be treacherous and if you are not attentive to your footsteps, well, you can fall.
There is a joke about the number of ex-pats who walk around this hilly town with canes — but I forget how it goes.
Cobblestone streets are the tide pools of very old cities. They tend to trap small and delicate things in the spaces between rocks, much the same way that tide pools trap small fish, snails, squid and pirates’s treasure. Especially after it rains.
Simply put, when you walk these streets with one eye to the ground, you tend to find things.
Money, of course. Especially during weekends. People can be very careless with Mexican money crammed into their pockets. Bits of it sometimes end up in the street, when they reach for their keys for example. Things like that. I make a point of transferring quickly such gains into the outstretched hands of sidewalk supplicants, of whom we have many.
Jewelry is another thing. Nothing big — a tie tack, a stickpin, a delicate gold chain, a religious medallion, a ring. Not long ago I found an Apple watch in Centro and despite posting ads I have not yet been able to reunite it with its owner.
“A rich kid from Mexico City,” surmised someone who knows about these things.
The most valuable thing that I ever found was a tiny teacup. Its value is not intrinsic. Tiny teacups can be had at select shops quite cheaply. In fact, you can buy the whole service — teapot, six cups and saucers, creamer, sugar bowl — for a reasonable price.
What I prize most about this little blue-and-white cup is how it triggered my imagination.
When I picked it up, my first thought was, “There is barely a nick or scratch on this little cup. Any china cup that falls onto a cobblestone street and remains intact must be very lucky — and anyone who finds such a cup must be very lucky indeed.”
So, I wondered, who would drop such a cup?
The answer was obvious: A fairy. (They are plentiful in San Miguel, if you know where to look. Ask any innocent child, if you are at a loss.)
But why? Clearly, it was a fairy in a hurry. Then it all made sense. A woodland fairy was obviously forced to flee from the path of a developer who was toppling trees to make way for yet another hotel-slash-condo project in San Miguel. We have a lot of that going on here. And way too many displaced fairies, if you ask me.
You do know that fairies prefer living in trees to most other accommodations, right?
It only made sense that a fairy fleeing in haste with bundles of possessions might drop a teacup or two.
Lately I’ve been finding human souls — although until most recently I thought they were only marbles.
Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that they are merely marbles, what are they doing scattered about San Miguel’s cobblestone streets, trapped between rocks?
I currently have six. Many more have passed through my hands. Moved on, as it were.
So, you might ask: Human souls?
Have you ever read Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline”? Gaiman became one of my go-to authors during the COVID era of self-imposed exile. He writes wonderful escapist stories of fantasy and science fiction.
“Coraline” was written for his young children but it is — like many of his youth-oriented stories — equally entertaining for adults. Some adults. The ones who still harbor a touch of wonderment in their heart.
Some adults, especially, have an attachment to “Coraline.” I have become one of them.
The young girl of the title moves into a tattered old Victorian manse with her too-busy parents. The house has been carved up into apartments and two of the four are occupied by eccentrics. Coraline discovers a door that opens onto a brick wall on the other side, of which, might be the one remaining empty apartment.
Naturally (I say “naturally” because this is what Neil Gaiman does so well), the brick wall becomes a portal into a parallel universe in which Coraline discovers sinister versions of her own parents. Sinister, but “other parents” who promise her all the attention and good things her working parents are too busy to provide. (Eccentric neighbors in the parallel universe also pronounce her name correctly, unlike their real-world counterparts.)
A long and delightful story made short, Coraline discovers three young children trapped within the tiny space behind a mirror, possibly for decades, if not centuries. The “other mother” of this universe has sucked out their souls and hidden them around the house. It is up to Coraline to find their souls and free them so they can move on to their final resting places.
And in what form does Coraline find these souls?
I’m so tempted to say, “Have you lost your marbles?” But I won’t.
Nonetheless, where Coraline had to find three, I currently have six of various sizes and colors — blue, green, yellow, silver and two that are crystalline clear.
If you know of anyone who has lost their marbles, uh, sorry, their soul, I may be able to help.
I also have an Apple watch. … which has zero magical properties.
To the best of my knowledge.