Landscapes

A friend recently said to me, jokingly, as we strolled along the streets of San Miguel, that there are two kinds of gringos in Mexico: Those who are wanted (as in, appearing on posters in the U.S. Post Office), and those who are not wanted (as in, by their families back home). I laughed. But like most jokes, this one had a loud ring of truth for me.

I can’t speak about the wanted ones, though I have no doubt there are a whole lot of gringo-bandidos in our midst here in Mexico – people who are on the run from the law in their own countries (mainly the U.S.) for whatever reason.  I’ve never met any. I imagine I might cross paths with them if I were to hang out in bars or nightclubs after dark, but that’s never been my thing. I’m more of a daylight kind of person.

I prefer to venture out in the afternoon and enjoy the beauty, sunshine, and warmth of this gorgeous old colonial city on foot, alone, with my camera in hand. I walk miles, striving to observe and admire everything – the cobalt blue sky, the twisted-limbed trees, the stony old walkways, the vivid dripping bougainvilleas, the misty distant mountains – all of the foreground, mid-ground, and background landscapes of San Miguel de Allende.

I’ve noticed, in my new passion for watercolor painting, that my daily exercises in learning this challenging art form have mostly been of landscapes – small paintings inspired by my favorite photos of the day. It’s not enough to preserve the beauty I see around me here with photography; I seem to need to take it a step further and put my fingerprints over the scene via my paintbrush on 100 percent cotton paper.

This is my way of saying: I am here now, this is the land I now call home, I am profoundly thankful for all this earthly beauty, it gives me joy, and these small landscape paintings are my proof.

On a walk in El Charco, SMA’s botanical gardens

Clearly, I belong to the second group of gringos, by my friend’s jokey definition – those who are not running from the law but rather seriously seeking a sense of belonging and acceptance not found in our hometowns or home countries.

My friends here, most of whom are single gringas about my age, have similar stories to mine. Our stories are different in details but alike in that “family” is a painful concept. Some never experienced a happy family, some have lost their families to tragic death or bitter divorce, some have grown children who have cut ties, some have hateful daughters-in-law who have exiled them from their sons and grandchildren, some chose not to marry and have children and are now alone in the world. All of us have made new lives for ourselves here in warm, embracing, healing Mexico. And most of us, in our own small ways, are thriving.

Last month I read Paul Theroux’s novel Mother Land, a thinly veiled autobiography, which resonated with me, as it would with others from less-than-loving families. Jay Justus, the protagonist of Mother Land, comes from a large and contentious New England family that was so unsupportive and mean-spirited, he couldn’t wait to leave it and find happiness elsewhere in the world — as far away as possible. Naturally, Jay becomes a travel writer.

“Travel had always been my salvation,” Jay states at one point, “though perhaps I was less a traveler than a refugee. … Everywhere I went I found strangers kinder and more civilized than my family.” Later he adds, “all I knew of family life was wreckage – a shipwreck that cast forth scavengers and wounded, frightened people, potential cannibals, fighting to survive.”

This week I received an e-mail from someone in my family of origin suggesting that instead of my thinking of my watercolor efforts as “third-grade” level, as I related in a recent post (www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/third-grade/ ),  I should consider my level as “pre-school.” This kind of remark would be categorized as humorous to them, but I don’t share their sense of humor. They are not my tribe.

My new tribe is found here in this sunny, earthy landscape, among the kind, good-natured, tolerant, nonjudgmental Mexican people — and the gringo misfits like me who are not wanted back home.

34 thoughts on “Landscapes”

  1. Hi Bonny….if the watercolor in this listing is by your hand, it is works class. I say that, of course, not being able to draw but stick figures. Néanmoins, I am impressed.

    1. Thank you, dear Ted. You are too kind! Yes, I practice every evening (instead of watching the news); one of these years I’ll be happy with the results. Until then, I’m just having fun. Love to you and Claudia, BB xx

  2. Dear Bonnie,

    Your blog warms my heart. seeing your water-colour painting is so lovely, they are gentle and joyful. Your words and paintings brought my memories back staying in SMA in 2018 and 2019, and also it is so beautiful that you write the community with which people can find their own “family”. Whenever I am asked, where is your family? My answer: wherever I am. You build your own family, blood ties or not, with loving and supportive members.

    Keep writing and painting, I enjoy it!

    1. Dear Angela — Thank YOU for your kind and encouraging words. I promise to keep writing and painting as long as I have a brain (and a heart) that still functions and a hand that still takes commands. 🙂

  3. Well you can cross that relative off your Christmas list, so mean spirited . Good grief, life is too short. Go for it Bonnie, you’re exploring exiting new ground every day. D.

  4. Bonnie my dear friend, your water color is beautiful. The composition is that of a maturing artist and the atmosphere is filled with movement and light, perhaps a storm brewing, a warm wind rustling the leaves and grasses. Having been an art teacher for 30 years I can tell you unequivocally, that this is lightyears from third grade let alone pre-school. As to family, there are families we are born into and families we create. Clearly you have created a beautiful one for yourself in Mexico. Paint on and continue to share them with us.

    1. Dear Barbara — How kind of you to say these encouraging words. I’ve been taking my w/c study quite seriously lately — watching YouTube tutorials and doing small practice paintings every night. What a challenge, but so exciting and transporting. You must come and visit me here in SMA to see the gorgeous, super-paintable landscapes! — Love, Bonnie

  5. Good post. Yes, there are gringo bandidos here. When I first arrived there was an empty apartment in this complex that belonged to a man who was playing cards one night with friends when US law enforcement of some kind marched in and arrested him. Poof, gone. And another word of mouth story about another neighbor who told someone here that he was in debt for a million dollars and was hiding. I guess it is easy to hide here.

    1. Thanks, Toni. Yes, they’re certainly out there (or, rather, hiding out). Another WOW reader told me in an e-mail today that she’d met an American woman here in SMA, a former child care worker, who was wanted by the U.S. authorities for child abuse. We just don’t come across such types in our crochet circles! 🙂

  6. Dear Bonnie,

    Before I read your blog I saw the painting and I was very impressed. I think you have improved soooo much, and it is not about the final product, but how you feel, the peace and gratification you get while painting or doing whatever it is your media.
    Felicidades amiga.❤️

    1. Muchas gracias, querida Beatriz. Si, poco a poco, I think, I’m learning how… I love the challenge! I wish you were still here so we could paint together. Mucho love from SMA, BB xx

  7. I love your blog as much as your paintings Bonnie. I agree with you. Your home is where you are loved and wanted. Blood line has nothing to do with it.

  8. Hello Bonnie! Greetings from SMA via Taos and Santa Fe and Austin. I was a volunteer at SOMOS inTaos about the same time you were there I think. I’m also a painter and love watercolor. You may want to join the Plein Aire WC group here that meets once a month in different spots.
    I really could relate to this blog. Thanks and hope to meet you soon. I’ve been here six months and love ❤️ it

  9. Interesting observations, Bonnie. I don’t think of myself as a refugee from family or friends — I adore them all. I do think of myself as a refugee from my country, which is coming apart at the seams day by day. As for your paintings — art is often about getting to the essence of things. Some of the world’s best art looks primitive or childlike to those lacking imagination or depth. Consider your relative’s comment a compliment.

    1. Thanks so much, querida Kim, for your p.o.v. Yes, we gringos have all come here (MX) for different reasons. My post just touches on the subgroup I belong to. I’m deeply grateful that Mexico manages to embrace us all. — xx

  10. Love your paintings, photos & newsletters! You are now and always an inspiration. I fled from the Northeast to NM long ago. Now I’m back— in a good place, yet miss life in a incredible landscape near a mountain, with my kind of peeps. I continue to write here in midst of suburban NJ life—my collection of poems will be out soon. You’re always in my heart.

  11. Dear Bon,

    Thank you for your poignant words. I think many, many people can identify with some kind of complicated family dynamics along the lines of what you describe. As I was reading, I thought the picture you posted was lovely. I said to myself, Bonnie work is paying off, and her pictures are getting better and better. When I got to the end and heard the cruel opinion that was expressed to you, I said, “No!” I actually said it out loud in my kitchen. Shut your mind to the naysayers. You owe it to yourself to express yourself in whatever medium you choose. That is an artist’s duty, and you are a true artist.

    Love,
    Paul

  12. I think there must be some kind of validation in being rejected by the cruel and sadistic. It’s like a double negative that equals a positive. It’s not family that’s inherently bad, it’s family members who are malignantly insensitive. Anyone who thinks cruelty is funny is obviously damaged, so I guess you could pity them for that.

    I love your recent painting. To me, each one improves on the last.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts, BeDear! I love the idea of “double negative that equals a positive.” Yes, it was my father’s wont to mock everyone and everything mercilessly. This was his “sense of humor,” which had a trickle-down effect in the family. And, yes, he was a damaged person, whom I always pitied…. I’m happy now to be climbing this new watercolor mountain. It’s so exhilarating!

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