After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Milagro in Mexico--A Memory


Never ask God to give you anything; ask Him to put you where things are.—Mexican proverb.

I made it! As so many had done before me, Phoebe the Cat and I arrived in San Miguel de Allende to begin a new life in old Mexico.

Vicente was waiting for me at the Leon airport holding a sign with my name as prearranged by my new landlady. The road to San Miguel was long and obscure and Vicente drove carefully, mindful of the topes (speed bumps) in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and the dead animals by the side of the road.

The lights of San Miguel gleamed in the distant hills out of the dark countryside. Soon we were on the town’s bumpy cobblestones, surrounded by adobe walls, and a few old-fashioned Christmas lights. We actually passed a man in a sombrero and serape in a small plaza, and then climbed up the hill and down a miniscule alley, where we stopped in front of my new Mexican home. I carried Phoebe inside and Vicente brought in the two large suitcases.

“But where are the purple bags?” I asked in panic. We searched the car uselessly, frantically.

My carryon bags never made it out of the Leon Airport in Mexico. You know, the bags where I put everything too important to be checked-- camera, address book, eyeglasses, jewelry, medication, computer cables, software, family photos, business papers and bills, Phoebe’s favorite toy rat, my tango shoes? I don´t know exactly what happened, you can’t relax your vigilance for one second in life. I turned my attention to Phoebe, and poof, everything changed. And the timing couldn’t have been more poignant--it was right before Christmas.

I endlessly examined my two remaining bags. I couldn’t sleep. I only tossed and burned with worry about the loss of my irreplaceable belongings. I pictured someone picking up the bags, searching them for things to sell, and tossing the rest out the window of a pickup truck on some dusty Mexican road. The image of my family photos blowing through the cactus just made me sick.

The next day my new landlady called the airport for me because as yet I had no Spanish. But the news was bad: no found purple bags. She counseled me to forget it and move on. Easy for her to say in the middle of her Texas mansion plunked down in a garden in a beautiful, small highland town in Colonial Mexico. Not only did she own her huge hacienda and my apartment, she also had built and rented out a casa and a casita all constructed in the same walled compound. And of course all four dwellings were full of her things. In all the world I only had a cat and four suitcases, and now the two most important bags were missing.

This new loss after so many recent losses in my life caused me to mourn for days. I went to lovely St Paul´s, the gringo Protestant church, and prayed to accept the inevitable.

The day of Christmas Eve, the town was full of people carrying baby Jesuses hurriedly through the streets on their way to all the Nativities where the Holy Child would later appear in ceremonies that included rocking Him in cradles of lace. That night I went to a party given by a friend of a friend, and like seems to happen so often in San Miguel, in talking about a problem, help happens. At the party I met someone who was leaving the next day for New York from Leon, and she offered to inquire at the airport about my bags.

I took the bus up to the supermercado on the hill and bought some new underwear and makeup, although all of the shades were too dark for me. The bus was decorated with crucifixes and images of Our Lady of Guadalups, and a boy dusted off the windows at major stops and then collected the fares in a plastic bucket.

Gigante was like a surreal American supermarket, where things were kind of familiar, but upon close inspection were totally different. Open bins of sticky candies and pickles, and the smell of fish, strange looking plant things in the produce department, only frozen shrimp, ice cream and ice cubes in the freezer, guards with automatic weapons at the ready near the checkstands. Next door to the small supermarket in the center of town was a funeral home with a big stack of tiny white satin baby coffins in the display window. It was so foreign.

After five days, acceptance was growing. I figured this was just another lesson in how we don’t need things, how we are here not to accumulate but to live and do. I looked at the poverty around me of the Mexican and indigenous peoples with new eyes. I didn’t really need so many pairs of earrings, how often did I look at those photos anyway, and if my friends wanted to contact me they had my address, even if I didn’t have theirs. It would all work out, and I would be a better person for it.

In the last few years I had lost so much. I was sick and tired of loss, but wasn’t this just another lesson in how to live on my own? We come with nothing, we leave with nothing; we can’t take it with us, possessions are just a burden, etc. All the helpful cliches spun around in my head, actually making me feel better.

Early Christmas morning the phone rang: "Cherie, your bags are here!" It was the lady from the party, calling from the airport on her way to New York.

Twenty minutes later a sleepy Vicente and I were tearing along the empty Christmas morning road the 150 km to Leon. At the airport we searched through the lost luggage and my bags weren´t there, although there was a similar purple one and I thought probably that was the one my new friend saw.

But Vicente also wanted to check in Customs up by the gate. And when we approached, we saw my orphaned bags behind locked doors. There they sat, both of them, like my oldest friends in the world. Traveling unlocked with me on the plane, now they sported plastic security seals. I offered a tip, but the officials waved it away, smiling at the tearful reunion of a gringa and her stuff. Gracias, muchas gracias, Feliz Navidad! I sang, walking through the airport hugging my luggage.

Vicente and I laughed all the way back to San Miguel where, after cutting off the plastic locks, I found everything completely untouched.

Getting my things back was a miracle and the best Christmas present ever. But those five days without the security blanket of the cherished contents of my bags gave me perspective. I could have managed without them, I had been managing. And it had not been the end of the world. I had even learned something about myself. Nevertheless because of the kindness of strangers and a miracle of good luck, I had a very Feliz Navidad in my new home town, and an incredible Bienvenida a Mexico.

And Vicente invited me to his extended family´s Christmas celebration that night. But that is another story of milagros, magical realism, and me in Mexico.

All photos but the Baby Jesuses and margaritas by Gail Miller.


Harry said...

Wonderful story! This has never happened to me, but I think about it a lot. We really can live without all of our 'stuff' and it is nice to remember it once in a while. What a miracle you got everything back!

tangocherie said...

For sure it was a Milagro!!

A similar flap occurred when I moved from Mexico to Buenos Aires; I checked 2 suitcases, 2 big boxes, and a painting, and only the painting made it! The other baggage went to Rio on vacation for 5 days, but finally I got it all back--once again!

Maybe I have baggage karma, although I hate to even mention it.

Thanks Harry for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Anonymous said...

Hello Cherie,

I love your blog! So full of life. I traveled in Latin America and came to love it. Here in Toronto we are lucky to have a few solid Salsa clubs and a small group of Tango devotees.

I dance salsa but little tango - after seeing your blog that may change!

See my baby blog at:

all the best