Cover image for On Mexican time : a new life in San Miguel
Title:
On Mexican time : a new life in San Miguel
Author:
Cohan, Tony.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Broadway Books, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
289 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780767903189
Format :
Book

Available:*

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F1391.S2 C64 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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F1391.S2 C64 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

We walk the dimly lit town, along its Moorish walls of roseate hues. In the small, thronged central plaza, we sit on an iron bench gazing up at a quirky dripcastle church, its spires embedded in full complement of stars. Drop it, something whispers. Just let it all go.When Los Angeles-based novelist Tony Cohan and his artist wife visited friends in central Mexico in 1985, they fell under the spell of an irresistible place where the pace of life is leisurely, the cobblestone streets and bougainvillea-splashed patios are seductive, and the sights and sounds of daily fiestas fill the air. Awakened to needs Cohan didn't know he had, they returned to California, sold their house, and cast off for a new life in San Miguel de Allende. In an alternately humorous and poignant narrative, Cohan recounts how he and his wife absorb the town's sensual ambiance, eventually find and refurbish a crumbling 250-year-old house, and become entwined in the endless drama of Mexican life. From peso devaluations, earthquakes, murders, and water shortages to a jail break and Mexican and gringo friends' births, marriages, and deaths, On Mexican Time captures


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A brief escape from the hectic life of Los Angeles to a small Mexican town slowly and inexorably changes novelist Cohan and his artist wife. They progressively drift into a permanent life in San Miguel de Allende, exchanging a hotel room for a rented cottage and finally "buying" a 250-year-old house, badly in need of repair, and resettling their lives. Cohan is poetic in his descriptions of the vibrancy of life, the serenity of the pace of activity, the simplicity of priorities, and the attentiveness of human relationships in Mexico. Cohan and his wife find much to feed their artistic souls in this small Mexican town, inhabited by expatriots of several nationalities and intentions, all trying to integrate themselves into Mexican culture or, at least, configure an amalgam of their former and current cultural milieus. Cohan ties in the intricacies of foreign relations between the U.S. and Mexico, and the travails of water shortages, earthquakes, and currency devaluations. Cohan's account is humorous and enviable for the adventure and sheer joy of adopting a new language, culture, and lifestyle. --Vanessa Bush


Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1985, novelist and travel writer Cohan (Canary; Secular and Sacred) and his wife, Masako, traveled on a whim to the colorful Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, where fireworks sputter from wooden towers on feast days, "mariachi singers' plangent howls" season the air, "cats roam the rooftops unimpeded" and "history, religion and ceremony soften the effects of change." Lured back for repeated visits, the Cohans finally made their home there. Casual yet studied in tone, this ode to Cohan's adopted town and nation devotes much space to San Miguel's legends, ancient and modern. The local nunnery's founder, who turned worms into butterflies, may be more fiction than fact. Cohan's acquaintance Ren‚, though, is real enough: the story of the murder that the locals believe he committed dominates a disturbing chapter called "The Man Who Was Killed Twice." Hospitality vies with inefficiency to make Cohan's Mexico a place of surprising ease and random hazards: "Mexican buses are reliable, cheap, and safe," but Mexican highway patrolmen demand bribes or worse; a friend of Cohan's dies when a hospital can't get her blood type. The Mexican day seems to last longer, and "nothing happens between two and four." Cohan also presents less serious downsides to his calmer Mexican lifestyle, explaining why it took him so long to get a verandah built on his 250-year-old house. The last few years have seen San Miguel become a destination for hip tourists: Cohan's pleasant account of its former obscurity may send his fans to further crowd its streets. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Cohan reads the story of how he and his wife moved from the United States to the Mexican hill town of San Miguel de Allende and refurbished a 250-year-old hacienda. The publisher expects this to be the Mexican version of books like Under the Tuscan Sun. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Twenty-One-Day Ticket JANUARY 1985. THERE IS NO AIRPORT directly serving San Miguel de Allende. Boarding a midafternoon bus from Mexico City's north terminal, I watch the clotted capital become desolate factory outskirts, then dissolve into cultivated swaths of agave cactus, sorghum, bean. The air softens. Musica estereofonica raises sweet laments. A Virgin of Guadalupe pendant sways from the driver's mirror between decals of Che Guevara and Rambo. A tossing reverie must have become sleep, for when I next look out the shadows are long, the hills closing in. Along the roadside, farmworkers materialize out of the air, then recede back into dusky earth. Little roadside shrines whiz by, candles lit within. Old stone walls run to nowhere. Clusters of black birds wheel, then swerve toward the horizon like iron filings to a magnet. I look over at Masako, her head pressed to the window. A sudden sharp descent causes me to grip my seat. A dying sun sets ablaze a little town nestled on a hillside. We debark in a dusty clearing among stray dogs. A half dozen scruffy kids vie to carry our luggage; I wave them off. A taxi driver in a clean white shirt offers to take us into town. Anxiously I counter his figure by half; nobody's going to rip me off. Shrugging, he agrees, as if to say: If it's that important to you. We step through a canopy of bougainvillea into a cool, flower-flooded patio. I enter a hotel office where earlier I'd called to ask, "Do you have a room?" and been answered with "Maybe." I'd bridled at the insouciance, with its echoes of being put on hold; but as our luggage slumps onto a tile floor in a high stucco room overlooking a shady garden, I ease, forgive. We walk through a dimly lit town of roseate Moorish walls. A tuneless band plays somewhere. Church bells stun the air. I see a ghost or a barefoot woman walk by smiling, a bucketful of calla lilies on her head. Through the open door of a church, I glimpse a wooden Jesus in a wine-colored velvet robe. Cobbles and narrow, raised sidewalks force me to notice where I place my feet, imposing a minuet with each passing person. In a small, thronged plaza, we sit on an iron bench gazing up at a quirky pink church, its serrated spires embedded in a full complement of stars. These strolling, chatting, laughing citizens don't seem to realize the TV they're missing at home. I war with the evening's sweet lassitude, trying to keep it all outside, avoiding eyes. I feel repeatedly for my wallet, my passport. Vainly I fish for the summarizing blurb, the snapshot, the quick hit. Drop it, something whispers. Just let it all go ... Our Spanish-style house was in an area south of Hollywood known in real estate parlance as "Hancock Park adjacent," an attempt to bind it to the million-dollar neighborhood close by. We'd bought it with money made writing words and music, designing clothes, and making art. We were busy, successful, tired. An uncharacteristically cold January, and we kept the heater on all day. A book of mine had just come out and I was trying to get a grip on the next one: a story about a dwarf writer in a South American prison and an American lawyer attempting to free him. I was spending afternoons at the Amnesty International office downtown, poring through prisoner files, reading about the dirty war in Argentina, atrocities in West Africa, slaughter in East Timor. I was bringing home books with names like Torture in the 1980s . Masako would look at me oddly. She herself was painting large, grim self-portraits, acrylic on canvas. At dinners I listened politely to friends' conversation about the price of real estate, projects in development, notable recent crimes. After a cultural night out I lay in bed reviewing the drive there and back, the parking experience, where I put my keys--the event itself barely recalled. I left messages on machines; they were returned in kind. Surrounded by art, music, information, and food, I saw, heard, thought, and tasted little. A series of robberies and killings had erupted in our neighborhood: first the Bob's Big Boy murders, in which the victims were executed; then a robbery at a favorite restaurant two blocks away, the customers mugged and herded into a freezer; then a break-in at the house next door. In a moment of grave personal defeat, I installed a house alarm system with an "Armed Response" sign stabbed into our lawn, a blinking "command center," "perimeter defense," "panic button," and roving patrol cars. We were wired for apocalypse: Blade Runner was no longer a metaphor. There were days when I'd find myself hurtling down freeways toward receding destinations of evaporating worth, suspended between the fantastic and the mundane, between wide acclaim and abject defeat. Somewhere, I'd missed a turnoff. Cold, anxious, trapped inside our house, we'd taken to bed early one night to keep warm. Masako was leafing through an issue of Gourmet, a Christmas subscription from a friend. I was with Bruce Chatwin in Patagonia. The Gourmet magazine represented to me the very complacent consumerism we'd once scorned, now breaking through our "perimeter defenses." In youth we'd both traveled widely on shoestrings, lived in Europe, North Africa, India, Japan. Now we had the money but no time. Instead we read about it, recounted old experiences, festooned our dwellings with Third World artifacts, talismans of trips once taken. "Look," Masako said, holding open a double-page color spread. Warm rose-colored walls, azure sky, red bougainvillea. A scalloped fountain, a courtyard restaurant, a sandstone church spire. "Isn't that where Mina and Paul go?" We'd known them separately in Berkeley before we met, then again in Los Angeles together. Mina makes and teaches independent films; Paul is a painter best known for his surrealistic record cover paintings for avant-garde rock bands. Years earlier they'd fled bad marriages and run off together to Mexico. They still returned there every summer. When asked about it, they always grew vague. "San Miguel de Allende," the caption said, "in the mountains of central Mexico." Excerpted from On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel by Tony Cohan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Twenty-One-Day Ticket
JANUARY 1985. THERE IS NO AIRPORT directly serving San Miguel de Allende. Boarding a midafternoon bus from Mexico City's north terminal, I watch the clotted capital become desolate factory outskirts, then dissolve into cultivated swaths of agave cactus, sorghum, bean. The air softens. Musica estereofonica raises sweet laments. A Virgin of Guadalupe pendant sways from the driver's mirror between decals of Che Guevara and Rambo. A tossing reverie must have become sleep, for when I next look out the shadows are long, the hills closing in. Along the roadside, farmworkers materialize out of the air, then recede back into dusky earth. Little roadside shrines whiz by, candles lit within. Old stone walls run to nowhere. Clusters of black birds wheel, then swerve toward the horizon like iron filings to a magnet. I look over at Masako, her head pressed to the window.
A sudden sharp descent causes me to grip my seat. A dying sun sets ablaze a little town nestled on a hillside. We debark in a dusty clearing among stray dogs. A half dozen scruffy kids vie to carry our luggage; I wave them off. A taxi driver in a clean white shirt offers to take us into town. Anxiously I counter his figure by half; nobody's going to rip me off. Shrugging, he agrees, as if to say: If it's that important to you.
We step through a canopy of bougainvillea into a cool, flower-flooded patio. I enter a hotel office where earlier I'd called to ask, "Do you have a room?" and been answered with "Maybe." I'd bridled at the insouciance, with its echoes of being put on hold; but as our luggage slumps onto a tile floor in a high stucco room overlooking a shady garden, I ease, forgive.
We walk through a dimly lit town of roseate Moorish walls. A tuneless band plays somewhere. Church bells stun the air. I see a ghost or a barefoot woman walk by smiling, a bucketful of calla lilies on her head. Through the open door of a church, I glimpse a wooden Jesus in a wine-colored velvet robe. Cobbles and narrow, raised sidewalks force me to notice where I place my feet, imposing a minuet with each passing person.
In a small, thronged plaza, we sit on an iron bench gazing up at a quirky pink church, its serrated spires embedded in a full complement of stars. These strolling, chatting, laughing citizens don't seem to realize the TV they're missing at home. I war with the evening's sweet lassitude, trying to keep it all outside, avoiding eyes. I feel repeatedly for my wallet, my passport. Vainly I fish for the summarizing blurb, the snapshot, the quick hit.
Drop it, something whispers. Just let it all go...
Our Spanish-style house was in an area south of Hollywood known in real estate parlance as "Hancock Park adjacent," an attempt to bind it to the million-dollar neighborhood close by. We'd bought it with money made writing words and music, designing clothes, and making art. We were busy, successful, tired.
An uncharacteristically cold January, and we kept the heater on all day. A book of mine had just come out and I was trying to get a grip on the next one: a story about a dwarf writer in a South American prison and an American lawyer attempting to free him. I was spending afternoons at the Amnesty International office downtown, poring through prisoner files, reading about the dirty war in Argentina, atrocities in West Africa, slaughter in East Timor. I was bringing home books with names like Torture in the 1980s. Masako would look at me oddly. She herself was painting large, grim self-portraits, acrylic on canvas.
At dinners I listened politely to friends' conversation about the price of real estate, projects in development, notable recent crimes. After a cultural night out I lay in bed reviewing the drive there and back, the parking experience, where I put my keys-the event itself barely recalled. I left messages on machines; they were returned in kind. Surrounded by art, music, information, and food, I saw, heard, thought, and tasted little. A series of robberies and killings had erupted in our neighborhood: first the Bob's Big Boy murders, in which the victims were executed; then a robbery at a favorite restaurant two blocks away, the customers mugged and herded into a freezer; then a break-in at the house next door. In a moment of grave personal defeat, I installed a house alarm system with an "Armed Response" sign stabbed into our lawn, a blinking "command center," "perimeter defense," "panic button," and roving patrol cars. We were wired for apocalypse: Blade Runner was no longer a metaphor.
There were days when I'd find myself hurtling down freeways toward receding destinations of evaporating worth, suspended between the fantastic and the mundane, between wide acclaim and abject defeat. Somewhere, I'd missed a turnoff.
Cold, anxious, trapped inside our house, we'd taken to bed early one night to keep warm. Masako was leafing through an issue of Gourmet, a Christmas subscription from a friend. I was with Bruce Chatwin in Patagonia. The Gourmet magazine represented to me the very complacent consumerism we'd once scorned, now breaking through our "perimeter defenses." In youth we'd both traveled widely on shoestrings, lived in Europe, North Africa, India, Japan. Now we had the money but no time. Instead we read about it, recounted old experiences, festooned our dwellings with Third World artifacts, talismans of trips once taken.
"Look," Masako said, holding open a double-page color spread.
Warm rose-colored walls, azure sky, red bougainvillea. A scalloped fountain, a courtyard restaurant, a sandstone church spire.
"Isn't that where Mina and Paul go?"
We'd known them separately in Berkeley before we met, then again in Los Angeles together. Mina makes and teaches independent films; Paul is a painter best known for his surrealistic record cover paintings for avant-garde rock bands. Years earlier they'd fled bad marriages and run off together to Mexico. They still returned there every summer. When asked about it, they always grew vague.
"San Miguel de Allende," the caption said, "in the mountains of central Mexico."