When I first visited San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, at Christmas with my youngest son, Jules, I was captivated by the casita we stayed in. The entry has an immense skylight from the front door to the first stairs leading to the bedrooms. When we first walked in the door at 2am, we both looked up to see stars blazing in the chill, dark night. (There are really four cold/chilly months here, from November through February, and during those months you rarely see a scorpion. Too cold for their hot weather comfort, so they hibernate (damn them).)
We climbed the stairs and saw that the second floor had a sky window and from the bed I could watch stars, full moon swimming the sky from two arched windows. The huge bathtub had a skylight, sun and rain, and lightning. And the final flight to the roof, another sky window. Table and chairs on the roof, and a view that still makes me very happy...the entire town with white cranes flying their daily patterns, and at sunrise and sunset flocks of ducks flying from their night lake to their day lake, at sunrise; the reverse at sunset. No leaders, a chaos of flight and beauty.
At night all the churches light up, a comforting sight even to a Buddhist/ pagan/ Goddess/ Earth worshipper. The main church in the plaza looks like a wedding cake at night, lit up in tiers; the Christian cross brightly lit neon. But my favorite church is run by nuns, right next to Bellas Artes, almost always filled with flowers, and the many saints with candles burning in front of them. I always place some pesos in La Virgen de Guadalupe's steel donation box. I love her dark, Indian face, the roses at her feet...the Goddess of the Americas. And I like to place some pesos at the little altar of El Nino Doctorcito, a sweet boy-doll dressed up like a physician, all in white with a stethoscope around his neck, little black shoes, a tiny sexy girl-angel with wings pinned on his collar, and lightning bolts around his cute head. Families bring photos of sick children, children who have been healed, and prayers to El Doctorcito. He's entirely surrounded by his toys: trucks, cars, action figures, some stuffed animals...and behind him, pinned to red cloth, are tiny steel milagros/miracles to help him dream these children to full health. In short, I fell in love with El Nino Doctorcito, and although I always place my pesos into La Virgen's box first, I sit longer next to El Doctorcito's.
On that first visit, my son Jules and I wandered around town, stopping to have gigantic margaritas at Mama Mias, and dinners as well. I saw how at home he felt wandering around San Miguel de Allende, surrounded by Mexicans. He'd just graduated from UC Irvine, Orange County, Califas, and he was pulled over numerous times for driving while brown, and even for walking (breathing) while brown in Newport Beach where he shared a house with other students. He grew up in Santa Cruz, Califas, a surfer since around twelve, out in madre mar by himself. I took him out on boogie boards when he was younger, to introduce him to La Mama Mar. So his early training was in becoming a human being on planet Earth, but he often spoke of that pain/anger. Jules came to live with me, when I first moved/drove down to San Miguel, for around six months. So much JOY, our wanderings around Mexico as well...to Puerta Vallarta at an 'all-inclusive' resort. The warning in our room: 'If a guest loses their integrity, we will serve them no more alcoholic drinks.' We tried (kind of) hard to lose ours, but we both hold our margaritas pretty well...he switched to beer, a few tequila shots.
And so, I also drove down/moved to San Miguel de Allende to remember this feeling of being at home with my grandmother's people; to breathe that air. To see Mexicans as they are at home, full of spirit, gritos...that shout/yell that blends sorrow/joy perfectly. When I hear it on the streets, I remember my grandmother's, mi Mamacita's private gritos as we danced to ranchera music on the radio, as she lifted her dress to her knees, making me laugh. The sound of a grito fills my eyes with tears and laughter, simultaneously... that joy/sorrow song. While teaching in Los Angeles, I always pass a Home Depot with groups of Mexican men not at home, looking dejected; and I always give a grito. Which they give right back, loudly, laughing.
I also brought mi Mamacita's spirit home to her Mexico lindo y querido...her beloved Mexico, that she left pregnant with my mother, never to return. Her two brothers begged her to return; one a judge, one a professor. They were educated at university, but not her. She was a curandera/healer as was her mother (down the matriarchal line). I think she stayed for me, as she was the one who mostly raised me, taught me dreaming from the time I could share my dreams in the morning. Up on my roof at sunset, watching the duck ballet across the violet sky, the first week I arrived, a pure white dove landed next to me. Her presence was glowing, confident, fearless. After around twenty minutes, she lifted, flew away. I knew whose spirit it was and I wept sorrow/joy. For the next two nights she arrived as I sat on the roof, bringing my sunset margarita with fresh lime juice. I even moved closer to her, fearless, and I laughed. The third night the pure white dove began to glow with light, and the light comforted me. Mamacita's spirit was home, and so was I.
I continued to write my clashing/confusing storyline notes, describing some of the characters that seemed to be arriving, mostly dream/ghost, not fully fleshed demanding a voice. And gathering books that felt important, although I didn't fully know why, yet. In a shop of gorgeous, handmade things, I found a beautifully made metal frame which housed a pot-bellied, laughing, amber-plastic Buddha. Above his head, within a golden heart, the Hindu Ganesh Elephant God... "May there be no obstacles," his prayer. To the right, covered in silver glitter, Ganesh within his golden heart, with Islamic symbols strung on red yarn. To the left, covered in silver glitter, again Ganesh within his golden heart, with Christian symbols strung on red yarn. And El Buddha at the center, sitting, his fleshy hands on his relaxed, spread knees, his beautiful amber belly jiggling with silver laughter. I brought it to la casita, hung it in the entry skylight beneath the blazing Mexican sun and the full moon nights to come, when I would return to Santa Fe to literally give away my belongings. 'Song of the Golden Scorpion' has a scene toward the end...a gathering of Japanese-Buddhist, Mexican-Muslim, Mexican-Catholic, Israeli-Jewish, Hopi/Pueblo, my characters, as they bless the time they/we live in. And so, between Ganesh and El Buddha, I drove three days from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to reach San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with the essence of mi vida...to this casita and this scene toward the end of the novel. "May there be no obstacles."
I hear Buddha's laughter, almost as good as a grito. And the woman next to him, gathering her notes and characters in her dreaming basket.
(p.s. Jules now works as a Family Specialist with families, teens, kids at risk, my daily hero...passing on the spirit of el grito y gracias.)