allá en las plantas

San Miguel de Allende was one of Lu’s favorite places.  Her first visit was in the summer of 1965, which found us in medias res and broke.  Lu learned of an art institute in central Mexico where we could take courses in art, language and culture.  It was cheaper to travel in Mexico than to live in California, and we set off in her vintage Plymouth, stopping for a visit with my family in Tucson and crossing the border at Nogales.  Travel in Mexico was very different then: there was no “berlin wall” at the border; a driver’s license sufficed for i.d.  We were warned at many points about dangerous bandidos, but they were always in some other part of Mexico.

The art institute was a treasure.  Lu produced her first lithograph and sculpted the head of a young boy, ultimately making a plaster cast.  Lectures in Mexican history and culture introduced us to colloquios, folk dramas like English mystery plays.  Lu learned of a colloquio to be performed in a nearby village, and she decided this could be a scholarly project (basically for me, since I knew Spanish and she did not).  We tracked down a prompt copy of the script, handwritten in fading green ink in an old ledger book, and dutifully typed out the totally phonetic Spanish prose.  On the church’s feast day we drove out to see the play.  The village consisted of a few adobe houses along cobbled or unpaved streets, a cantina, a bodega, and a monumental Spanish colonial church.  At a certain point we needed a restroom, and I asked an elderly woman at the edge of the crowd, “¿Donde está una damas?”   (Where is a ladies’ room?)  She looked puzzled, so I tried “toileta?”  She stepped back, rolled her eyes, nodded in the direction of a nearby field of maguey, and intoned, “allá en las plantas” (basically, “out in the tules”).  We did actually find a better location.  For years after that, when it was a question of primitive accommodation, the word was “allá en las plantas.”

Lu returned many times to San Miguel, especially in the years when she lived in Glorieta and could easily drive straight down through central Mexico.  She bought a small condo and made friends in the expatriate community, considering a permanent move to Mexico before deciding to return to northern California.

Helen Jaskoski


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