I first learned of San Miguel de Allende forty of so years ago when I was in my mid-twenties and my mother was in her fifties. She raved to me about this place for twenty years before I ever saw it for myself.
My parents divorced when I was a teenager, and my mother took up travel as a passionate hobby. She had a couple of girlfriends who loved to travel as much as she did, and they paired their travel with study abroad classes: Shakespeare in England, Spanish in Madrid, and whatever struck their fancy. My mother went to Japan and saw the sunrise on Mount Fuji. She took a roots trip to Poland. She lived for those vacations. At the time, she was a school social worker with long summer vacations and frugal habits—and she found a way to cheaply travel—she’d rent out her house at the Jersey shore for three months every summer and the rent paid for her summer adventures. Travel, for her, meant freedom, romance, the opportunity to break free from the constraints of her structured, busy, middle-class life.
I don’t remember exactly when my mother first discovered San Miguel de Allende, but someone told her it was a great place to continue her Spanish studies. So, she bought a cheap airline ticket, signed up for a summer course at the Instituto and flew to Mexico. That summer, she fell in love with San Miguel and returned whenever she could.
And after she retired from the child study team, my mother became a snowbird, renting an apartment or casita in San Miguel each winter, enthusiastically diving into her second fantasy life, far from the cold, ice, and sleet of New Jersey winters.
For years, she offered to buy me a ticket to visit her in San Miguel, but it was during our time of deep estrangement, and the last thing I wanted to do was vacation with my mother. San Miguel remained my mother’s playground, never mine.
It wasn’t until decades later, long after she gave up San Miguel to spend her winters in Santa Cruz instead, with the goal of reconciling with me and getting to know her grandchildren, that I was coincidentally invited to teach at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference. Now it is my fifth time here, and as I walk the cobblestoned streets, pass the Instituto where Mom had her first Spanish class, sit in the Jardin at sunset to watch the locals and expats stroll by, I think of her. I imagine her here. And I miss her.
Here are some shots of my mother back from her good old days in San Miguel.