In the middle of July about 7:30 in the morning, I was driving through the village of Atotonilco. It was just coming alive with schoolchildren in uniforms, older women setting up their stands for breakfast and snacks, men going off to work on foot or on bicycles. There was little car traffic and the famous 18th century Baroque sanctuary, billed as the Sistine Chapel of México, seemed still asleep. All along the edges of the cobblestone main street were metal frames, some covered with plastic, some open. These were the portable shops that cater to pilgrims. They offer religious statues, calendars, candles, and dozens of other mementoes of the traveler’s visit. This is mostly what country life in San Miguel de Allende looks like.
The village is historic, having played host to many events in the time of the War of Independence, 1810 and following. Before the sanctuary was built in the 1740s, the indigenous people here enjoyed the hot springs, and the name, Atotonilco, means “in hot water.”
Our house is about a mile away, up the slope overlooking the Rio Laja. This is the only time of year when it really has water in it. But in another month, there will be days when the tiny concrete bridge I took to cross it may be submerged. A little guesswork will be required to determine just where the edges are. It has no guardrails.
Between the bridge and my house is a series of terribly poor dwellings of the kind you would see anywhere in México. Never quite finished, with exposed red earthen brick and concrete ribs, they are waiting for the stucco skin that may never come. In the absence of loans, houses are built with available funds, almost one brick or ten pesos at a time.
Within the village are more homes like this, off the main street. But also, on the street heading toward the river, and behind it, there are some very large estates, the property mainly of wealthy expats. One belongs to a TV newsman from Montreal.
In the tiny community I live in, called Las Garitas, there are many TV people and theater actors. I didn’t know anyone here when we moved in, but it seems to be a congenial group. I am sure we have the smallest house here, even though we have about 4,000 square feet in the main house and the guesthouse on two-and-a- half acres. If this were a trailer park, our trailer would be the one with only two wheels, hitched to the back of a pickup to keep it level.
Across the valley is the property of an extremely successful Mexican businessman. He is in a business he started himself and his success is completely self-made. I am told he has three helipads on the property.
Although we live in a privileged neighborhood in the country, this is a truly mixed community, spanning race, income, sexual orientation, background and religion. This is the place where we have come to earth. Our house has undergone some massive improvements to realize its potential, and there is more to do. At the breakfast table each morning I watch the sun come up over the mountains far away. It does it a little differently every day. Nothing is ever the same, even though we have settled in what feels like a timeless place.