“Probably some of the best things that ever happened to you in life happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise, things just sort of stay the same.
-Danny Wallace, Yes Man
While in San Miguel last week I was reminded many times of Carlos. I think of him as my “Like Water for Chocolate” moment. With Laura Esquivel in attendance and a discussion and cooking demo from the book, it triggered memories.
The title of Esquivel’s book/movie, “Como Agua Para Chocolate,” is a common term in some Spanish-speaking countries denoting fury. It refers to the boiling water used to make hot chocolate and in the book, is a metaphor for the suppressed anger and volcanic passion between the two protagonists, Tita and Pedro.
A book resplendent with magical realism, my favorite scene is after Tita prepares a rich dish of quail in rose petals, which has become infused with her erotic feelings for Pedro. Her sister, Gertrudis, becomes so inflamed eating the meal, she sets the outhouse ablaze, runs naked through a field, sees a revolutionary soldier, jumps on his horse, and rides off in a fit of passion.
Ten years ago I attended an art workshop in San Miguel de Allende. Our group took a tour to the nearby Goth-like city of Guanajuato one afternoon. We came upon a procession of two hundred cowboys who were lingering roadside, so stopped to find out what was happening. We surmised that they were awaiting their leader.
The men came to attention as a caballero crossed the road. His horse was stunning with a beautifully handcrafted bridle, halter, and saddle, and they strode confidently into our midst. He was the only cowboy wearing a large traditional sombrero. He wasn’t overly handsome, but he had a big presence that commanded respect. He exuded raw machismo.
None of the men spoke English and so we questioned the leader about what they were doing. His name was Carlos. In English he explained that they were on a religious procession to San Martin, most likely linked to Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which was in high gear.
Gradually my group meandering off and I stayed next to his horse, mesmerized by this made-for-movies Mexican.
The group called to me, but I didn’t want to leave. He looked over at them. Then down at me. His eyes burned.
“Get on my horse.”
“Whhaaat?” I stuttered.
“Get on my horse. Leave them and come with me. Just get on my horse. Now.”
“Seriously?” I said, my knees on the verge of buckling.
“Yes. Get on my horse.”
I was unsteady, hypnotized. The air hummed around us.
I wanted to get on that horse. I’m not an easy tame and this man was larger than life, a rare find.
In that momentito, I understood the appeal of every bodice-ripping Harlequin. Fantasies flashed through my mind. I mean, what would happen? What would he do with me? Ravage me at his sprawling ranch? What modern-day güera (white woman) ever rode off on a horse with a team lead and a procession of two hundred cowboys in tow?
I stood transfixed.
Now, at this point in the story, every single woman I’ve ever told it to, without fail, has blurted out anxiously, “So?! Did you get on?”
Shoulders sag. Disappointment washes over each face. “Well next time, get on the f—ing horse!”
When I got back into the Suburban next to the 75 year-old tour guide who fancied me, like Francesca in Bridges of Madison County, I had my hand on the door handle, on the brink of bolting. Surging blood and pheromones almost deafened me. I vibrated for hours, twitterpated.
What kept me from fleeing that sedate Suburban? I wasn’t afraid of Carlos. I wasn’t concerned about how I’d get back to San Miguel. I certainly wasn’t too timid.
It was the good opinion of others. That’s it. That’s all.
How many times have you said no to life? Aside from the big moments, there are many times in a typical day when we are given opportunities to say yes to opening up our world.
It may be an urge to tell a woman she has beautiful hair, but we hold back for fear she’ll think it’s a come-on (same sex or opposite). We may see a homeless person who desperately needs someone to acknowledge his or her existence, but we hesitate because of what strangers may think of us having a conversation with a street person. Maybe we want to wear polka dots, but worry our colleagues won’t take us seriously if we do. Sometimes we have a pertinent story to tell in a group, but we remain mute by the embarrassing possibility of sounding silly.
Usually happenstances presented require a split-second decision to say yes or no. Often we opt for the safety of the status quo. Sometimes we are just too caught in a web of rushing to the next thing.
Traveling always brings out my innate need to connect. As new experiences and new conversations layer upon each other, the rewards spur me on.
On Valentine’s Day at the conference I’d seen a man walk past with a big bouquet of roses and said the typical, “For me?” He laughed and said he was going to have to come back with many flowers (the conference was attended by a majority of women).
A few nights later I sat writing at a café in front of the famous La Parroquia church. He walked past and I smiled. I reluctantly packed up and left five minutes later due to the chilly wind. As I turned from the square, the Rose Man stood on the corner.
“Hello. I was waiting to see if you would join me for a cappuccino.”
I said yes. He was a successful sculptor originally from South America and living in the USA for many years. He was in San Miguel to work on his art. An otherwise uneventful evening ended with a long, scintillating conversation that carried on down the cobblestone streets to my hotel and into the lobby until closing.
One evening after a long day of classes and keynote speakers, my friend Lisa suggested we go to visit her friend Luis at the boutique Hotel Nena that he manages. He was a font of good information and suggestions. One was a visit to San Agustín Café, a chocolate lover’s paradise. We asked him to accompany us, but his shift wasn’t over until 11:00 pm. Although tired and with an early morning ahead of us, we opted to wait.
Firstly, we witnessed a group of mariachis serenade a woman who’d just been proposed to from the rooftop patio with an unprecedented view of San Miguel. Next, we sat in the bar and waited with a hilarious group of chic men from Montreal selling screws in Mexico. Then Luis took us to the gorgeous old world café for velvety rich hot chocolate and steaming sweet churros. Was I sorry to have missed a couple of hours sleep after that luscious food and fun?
On the long bus transfer to the airport I rode with a lovely family of four. With my head full of the conference, I asked questions and we all shared our feelings and experiences of the trip and a bit of our life history, infinitely more interesting than sitting close-lipped on the bumpy, winding journey.
On the plane as I was madly wrote on my laptop and scratched notes in my journal, the flight attendant stopped to ask if I was a writer. She said she very much wanted to write and came by intermittently to discuss her dreams. I stopped my thoughts to encourage her and to listen to her heart’s calling. When I left the plane, she handed me a psalm she’d scribbled out: Espíritu alegre hermosa el rostro mar el espíritu triste seca los huesos.
Going through the extreme insanity of US customs, I asked an unusual question of the agent that I genuinely wanted an answer to. You are likely familiar with how dour and intimidating these guys can be. But by connecting as a human with a sense of humor, the agent boldly flirted and asked, “Will we see you again soon?”–a most unlikely response from Homeland Security!
All of these moments fill life with an abundance that goes missing if we put out our ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and allow our prudent side to prevent moments of unbridled spontaneity.
Yes is expansive and creates a tear into the fabric of the unknown.
No contracts our reality and keeps us in sameness.
Yes takes us off the road of monotony.
No keeps us on the path of the ordinary.
It is usually the opportunities that we do not seize, rather than the ones we do that cause us regret. When we avoid connection and engagement, small or grand, we risk living a robotic existence. Remember, you can always sleep when you’re dead.
Get on that horse and carpe diem!
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Post © Wanda St.Hilaire
I received this message via Facebook after I posted. The wonder of social media. I haven’t seen Stephan since that trip. What a cool connection.
I hope you are having a good weekend. I happened to click on your posted link last night and read the “Get on My Horse” blog post. It’s a great piece and brings back a whole bunch of good memories from the trip to San Miguel almost 10 years ago – I could’t help but remember the very same scene with the strong horses and all the cowboys. I had to dig up some photos from the archive today – I attached them below. There are lots more from that day, I just picked a few randomly – not sure if Carlos is in any of them. (-:
It was a wonderful and educational trip – thanks for sharing the story and reminding me.
Warm wishes. Stephan