Beyond Words
(from September 2011 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine)

By Marshall Chapman

Sunrise in San Miguel

For over a month, I have been in San Miguel de Allende, an artists’ retreat located in the highlands of Central Mexico. This is my fourth trip to San Miguel, a charming colonial town founded by Spaniards in 1542. The altitude here is approximately 6,500 feet, which means that, once the sun goes down, a sweater or jacket is required— even in July and August.

I am staying in the home of Robert and Jennifer Haas, a couple I met during my second visit here in 2009. As it turned out, Jennifer grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which is my hometown. Her sister bought the house I grew up in. Our families have known each other for generations.

The “Haascienda” sits on a cobblestone street a couple of blocks from the Jardin, a tree-lined plaza next to the world-famous Parroquia, which is the largest cathedral in San Miguel. The house rises up from a tiled courtyard that features a fountain/waterfall koi pond surrounded by lush, semi-tropical foliage. Potted geraniums, flowering cacti, and cascading epiphyllum add texture and color everywhere you look, including the rooftop garden with its spectacular view of the city and surrounding countryside that fades to the distant, blue mountains of La Sierra de Santa Rosa.

Every morning before sunrise, Robert drives out to La Gruta, a hot mineral springs spa located about six miles north of San Miguel. On the mornings I’m not at the Warren Hardy School for learning Spanish, I accompany Robert on these early morning treks to paradise.

Once we get beyond the ubiquitous speed bumps (or “pinche topes” as they are often called) that dot the streets of San Miguel, we cruise along the open road to Dolores Hidalgo that leads north to La Gruta. Few words are exchanged as we sip our morning coffee. From the car’s stereo, Jerry Garcia sings “Simple Twist of Fate” followed by “Waiting for a Miracle.” The first light of dawn begins to show in the east. I lean back and close my eyes. We’re not even there yet, but already, I’m in paradise.