Monday, April 20, 2009

Plunge into Mexico

The Tale of Bekky and Miles

This affair of the heart all began with a 1994 trip. In fact, it was the beginning of a long honeymoon. Bekky and Miles celebrated their marriage with a ten-day trip to the Yucatán, and then continued their honeymoon with Mexico (and each other) returning as often as possible on a two- to three-week trip to visit different Mexico destinations. While revisiting Oaxaca in February of 2005 it hit them: “Why do we keep returning to Asheville, N.C., when we really want to be in Mexico? For one thing, we don’t like cute names such as ‘road rage’ and ‘going postal’ for what is just plain bad behavior.” So, in June of 2005 they made a trip with a different focus.
Bekky had only lived in the eastern United States and Miles only in North Carolina and neither spoke one word of Spanish. Well, that is an exaggeration. They could say “sí” and “no” and “gracias” with great flair. So armed with this aptitude, Bekky and Miles, aged mid-fifties and mid-sixties, started exploring with an eye toward a permanent move. They visited, of course, popular Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, but decided they wanted to live somewhere more traditional with a smaller concentration of Anglophone expatriates. They said they wanted a mix of cultures and of people. Then they spent eight fateful days in Pátzcuaro. Bekky said she was smitten by the Plazuela San Francisco on sight: she could smell the plaza, she could feel it… It was right. This magical mountain pueblo, with its Spanish and Purhépecha Indian influence, was the place.
The Pie House
In 2006 they returned to Pátzcuaro to live for three months at the back of the Galería del Arcángel on Plaza de la Basílica. They had to walk through the shop with its beautiful furniture, paintings and crafts to get to their courtyard and small apartment. It was great. The owner, Hilda Villela, is a fountain of information about culture, crafts and arts. Acquaintances would come looking for them, stop by just to say hello, or entice them out for coffee on the Plaza Grande. They were at the heart of the Centro Histórico with its trio of plazas and diverse activities. They loved it. They did the deed. By June of that year they had purchased what is sometimes called the Pie House.
View of Lake Patzcuaro from the Bella Vista Terrace
After their three-month stay in Pátzcuaro, they returned to North Carolina. Bekky had previously resigned her fifteen-year job as Center Director for Asheville Parks and Recreation to work with Miles. Now Miles liquidated Stage Door, his twenty-year video rental business. They sold two houses. They were ready. They had some furniture delivered to a freight company in Texas to forward across the border to Pátzcuaro. On February 18, 2007, Bekky and Miles climbed into the Honda CRV that they still drive today and in a snowstorm headed south, permanently leaving Asheville behind.
Relaxing in the Water Wall Patio
The Pie House is two steep blocks from Plaza Vasco de Quiroga. A long-established Pátzcuaro family lived there. The long structure is very narrow on the North end and widens at the South end, just like a slice of pie fronting lengthwise to the street. Among a number of projects to adapt the house to their preferences, Bekky and Miles renovated the kitchen of the main house and created a nice one bedroom apartment in the spaces at the skinny end. A double garage separates the two living areas. Their Bella Vista rooftop terrace has a magnificent view over the town and Lake Pátzcuaro; it is a great place for a barbecue and for evening relaxation. The Water Wall Patio is private, cozy, and warm, a tranquil spot in which to relax, soak up winter sun, and read to the sound of falling water. The Pie House is comfortable and delights the senses with its aesthetics.
"Kutsí" is a custom sculpture from nearby Tzinztunzan.
In the foyer of the house rests an imposing stone sculpture of a woman. Let’s call her Kutsí, a word for woman in the Purhépecha language. Bekky and Miles had fallen in love with her in Tzintzuntzan—but when they went back to buy her, to their consternation she had been sold. They showed the sculptor the photographs they had taken and he recreated her especially for them. Delivering and placing this monumental stone piece must have taken ingenuity. She reposes on the marble floor with majesty, a solid anchor to this abode. In addition to the quiescent presence of Kutsí, a rambunctious bundle nicknamed Mo (so nobody will know that his name is really Maurice) moved in with Bekky and Miles, adding his wriggling, happy nature to the household. So far, so good. Mo has not jumped off the rooftop terrace despite his high jinks up there.
Mo, Miles and Bekky
What have been Miles’s and Bekky’s experiences in this mountain, colonial pueblo that lies at an altitude of 7200 ft. in Michoacán? Too many to tell here, but a few should be recounted.

A 2-car garage separates the main house from the apartment.

Because of the violence of the narcos so frequently reported and rehashed in the news, many foreigners have questions about security in Mexico. Bekky and Miles say they have not altered their lifestyle over the past year. As in the past in Mexico (as well as in the U.S.), they are cautious and mindful about where they go and what they do, within the parameters of good sense. They feel quite comfortable in their daily life.

In 2007, Bekky unfortunately suffered a myocardial infarction. Miles took her by car to Star Médica in Morelia, approximately 45 minutes away. Within an hour of their early morning arrival, Bekky was in surgery to have a stent put in. She was home in three days and is very happy with the attention and the medical care she received, which both Miles and Bekky say was excellent. Costs were much lower than they would have been in the U.S. and, in addition, the physicians spoke excellent English.

Bekky and Miles continue to be happy and active in Pátzcuaro. They founded the Amigos de la Biblioteca to assist the Biblioteca Pública Federal Gertrudis Bocanegra, and this group has made many valuable contributions to the library and the community that it serves.

What do they like best about their life in Pátzcuaro? They have a long list, but a few things stand out. In the United States they say they could not afford the quality of their home and its view. In addition, living expenses are cheaper. But they hasten to say that economics is not what brought them here. They came for the adventure, the interesting culture, the music, the food, the people… They are accepted by their neighbors, who they say watch out for them. They frequently participate in neighborhood festivals on their street. They started a “movie night” at their house every two weeks, to which they invite some eight children, eight to twelve years of age, for films and food. In addition, they have frequent contact with the small expatriate community of Pátzcuaro, comprised of individuals whom they find interesting because “as you know, the people who move to this area are somewhat eccentric”.

A blossom in the Water Wall Patio.

Do they have any complaints? They would like to see family more often, although they go for visits to the U.S. and family members visit them in Patzcuaro. And there is the language barrier with the resultant misunderstandings that can be both frustrating and comical. They say they need to continue to work on their Spanish. It seems, however, that they must have a few universal communication skills. With no international living experience, they moved to the Colonial Circle in the heart of Mexico, they manage to communicate with their neighbors and their “Movie Kids”, they are involved in service to the local community, and they frequently visit pueblos in the region to see the particular crafts of the local artisans. Life is good.

Bekky and Miles are unreservedly happy that they took the plunge.

  1. A Patzcuaro website for expats:
  2. Join for community and practical tips: