Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Zen of Underpants

Ever since I moved to San Miguel de Allende, I’ve begun to appreciate the art of doing nothing.  I don’t mean in the formal sense like meditating. Nor do I mean in the Seinfeld sense of making a big to-do out of daily trivia. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say the art of not doing anything in particular.
I have three favorite places in which I practice this high-powered inertia. The first is the jardin, San Miguel's town square bordered by the rose colored parroquia, side-walk cafes, and vendors selling everything from fresh fruit to dried flowers. I go into town a few days a week to pick up my mail. Then I head for the jardin and take up residence on one of the wrought iron benches in the sun or in the shade of one of the manicured laurel trees, depending on the day. I get through my mail, mostly junk forwarded from the states, pretty quickly. Then I just sit there.

The parroquia bellringers don't do anything
in particular between bonging out the hour

Lots of other people just sit there, too. There are locals, gringos, young, old, single people, couples. Occasionally, some over-achiever will strum a guitar. But it’s the little kids who are truly unclear on the concept. Apparently unaware that they could be home sitting in front of the TV doing nothing, they rebelliously play with balloons and bubble makers or other low-tech toys.

Their parents sit watching them: not talking on the phone, listening to their iPods, texting, or tweeting. What’s the world coming to?
The second place I don’t do anything in particular is the local botanical gardens. I tend to picture Kew in England and the Huntington in California when I think botanical gardens: formal, pretty, landscaped. But El Charco del Ingenio is more of a large, enclosed wilderness area. A nature reserve with three different zones – high desert, canyon, and wetlands – it’s home to lots of waterfowl and is a winter stopover for Northern birds. One of these days I’m going to take the Audubon tour so I can learn to identify all the vibrantly colored birds that I see darting among the cacti, but that would be doing something. Right now, I go there an hour before sunset and just walk.

I suppose walking is technically doing something. But I’m not also wearing a pedometer or heart rate monitor, one of which I would always have on when I walked in California, where walking had a purpose. My favorite route in El Charco is along the banks of the presa, the man-made lake.  Ducks are great at not doing anything in particular. They just … float. When I get to the dam wall, I walk out along it and stand in the middle, facing the canyon and watching the setting sun get all crazy on the horizon.  I saw a beautiful fox doing the same there once.

When that gets too hectic, I switch to the lake side and wait for the big fly-over. At dusk, the water fowl take to the skies as one.  Hundreds of them head off towards the north, the whirring of their beating wings breaking the silence.  I don’t know where they’re going; probably to the big lake on the other side of town where they tuck in for the night, exhausted by all that floating.

The third place I don’t do anything in particular is the roof terrace of my casita. This is dangerous territory because it’s in such close proximity to where I should be doing something; namely working at my computer.  I can see it from where I write, and it exerts a strong pull. Sometimes I just gaze out there looking for inspiration then figure if I'm not doing much I may just as well be out there as in here.  

There are a number of different seating options and views on the terrace. Sitting one way, I can commune with the neighbor’s dog, Carmela, who recently had a litter of puppies so we know what she’s been doing.

Sitting another way, I can watch the full moon come up over the wall.

Sometimes, though, I just watch my neighbor’s underpants drying in the breeze.

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