By ANNE NICOLAI Special to the Star Tribune | APRIL 22, 2014 — 4:24PM
Five and a half years ago, I vaccinated the dog, vacuum-packed linens and clothes, got my soccer-mom SUV tuned up, and drove from Minneapolis to Mexico, where I recently received permanent resident status.
I became an empty-nester when my son went off to college in 2004. He spent summers at home, but I didn’t feel the need to operate a bed-and-breakfast any longer. I was sick of living in the suburbs, maintaining a four-bedroom house with a pool that I could use only four months of the year.
I felt burned out after 20 years of PR consulting, corporate speechwriting and business travel. I was restless, relationship-free and ready for adventure.
But mainly I moved to Mexico because I detest winter. I wanted to be blissfully, effortlessly warm. As I write, it is 14 degrees in Minneapolis and 81 in San Miguel de Allende, where I live.
The decision to move south of the border was instantaneous.
Fresh out of a job and dreading winter’s frigid inconvenience, I rented a condo near Cabo San Lucas in late 2007. One day I sat peeling a mango on a balcony overlooking the Sea of Cortés and heard buzzing next to my ear. I imagined it was one of the giant flying beetles we get down here.
But the buzz came from the wings of a tiny, shiny emerald hummingbird that had taken a break from a pot of pink blossoms to hover in front of my face and — I swear! — smile at me. In that moment, in my mind, I moved to Mexico.
In February 2008, I attended a writers’ conference in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. I didn’t see much of the town, so I returned in May, living rent-free in a friend’s one-room casita. Every day I sat in the courtyard with fresh fruit and almonds and Mexican coffee and I wrote. By night, I got to know San Miguel, practicing my Spanish on stage at a karaoke bar.
When I went back to Minnesota, I sold or gave away 20 years’ worth of accumulated furniture, household goods and winter clothes. I moved my artwork into storage. I took a five-week Spanish class at Normandale Community College and listened to 107.5 FM, “La Mera Buena,” on the radio.
I put the house up for sale.
My plan was to move on New Year’s Day—a symbolic start to my new life in Mexico—but in September it occurred to me that moving in the snow would be insane, so I packed up the car, wedging the dog’s kennel between boxes labeled ropas (clothing) and cocina (kitchen stuff), and began the four-day drive to San Miguel. I arrived on October 1, 2008.
My house in Minnesota never sold. I rented it out for two years, then gave it back to the bank. Now I own little of material value except for my SUV, my laptop computer, and a sound system for the karaoke show I host in San Miguel.
I haven’t yet published a book, but I’ve got an agent waiting for the first 50 pages of my novel.
An amateur photographer, I wander daily through a kaleidoscope of brick and bugambilia, festivals and fireworks. I’ve taken hundreds of close-ups of formidable scorpions and glistening black widow spiders.
Falling in love again was not on my bucket list, but after all these years, I finally found Mr. Right: he’s a Mexican musician and language teacher, fluent in English. We celebrated four years together in February.
Happily, thanks to LinkedIn, Facebook and Skype, I’ve stayed connected with family and friends, and with clients around the world for whom I write and edit business and lifestyle books, executive bios and memoirs.
As a permanent resident of Mexico, I am still an American citizen, but can come and go freely from Mexico. I can get a job here, but not vote. I love Minnesota and have not rejected my homeland, I have only expanded my definition of home.
As an indigenous Mexican man muses in the documentary film “Hecho en México” (Duncan Bridgeman, 2012), “Acuerdate que el ave no es del nido en el que nace, sino del cielo en el que vuela,” or “Remember that a bird does not belong to the nest in which it is born, but to the sky in which it flies.”
Anne Nicolai is a Minnesota writer and book editor living in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, where she hosts a weekly bilingual karaoke show and helps shivering souls to find rental homes. Find her at annenicolai.com, editorsma.com and karaokeani.com.
UPDATE 3 NOV 2017: I’ve lived in Mexico full time for nine years now, and my partner Aarón (the Mexican musician/teacher) and I will celebrate our 8th anniversary together this coming February. We’re in love with each other, with our fur-babies, and with our pueblita, San Miguel de Allende (despite its continuing expansion and the traffic and crime that inevitably accompanies growth).
I’ve gotten better at my Spanish, and am working on contract with some of the world’s largest educational publishers on creating, editing and securing copyright permissions for Spanish language textbooks.
My karaoke hosting continues full-swing, with two nights a week and a third in the offing.
I never did pursue the publication of that novel I was writing (“am” writing? It’s shelved, waiting in line behind my pet project, a children’s book series about Prickle, the Kind-Hearted Cactus).
I get up at 6:30 a.m. to see Aarón off to his junior high English and music teaching job, get my client work done, have lunch with a friend or do the laundry, then take a 2- to 3-hour siesta and try to get Aarón to do the same, as he often has evening music gigs, or his “guy nights” going to the movies (wives/girlfriends invited when the film isn’t gory) or playing pool with fellow teachers.
My nights out are Tuesdays and Fridays for karaoke, when I get to connect with the coolest of the cool in San Miguel … folks who sing their hearts out, some talented, others just enthusiastic … and who comprise a mix of younger and older, Mexican and foreign, every political party (including all the factions in Mexican politics as well as American, Canadian, European) … joined in the camaraderie of food, drink and song. When friends visit from around the world, I send suggested itineraries for their days, and I’m out playing hostess/tour guide every night because I can’t bear for them to miss a thing!
As we speak, I’ve got friends from California here for Día de los Muertos, two more coming from California for Thanksgiving (we’re having the full-meal-deal at an Italian place out in the countryside), and three coming down in December, one just for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and the other two for longer-term stays (in places I recommended/arranged for both of them).
Yes, life is good and I have no regrets about moving to Mexico, where we do have hurricanes and earthquakes and cartel crimes and all manner of other difficulties based on government corruption and general inefficiency, but where we deal with problems differently (more rationally, as I’ve come to view it) and so we experience less stress. Maybe that’s just last night’s Hendrick’s Gin Bar nightcap talking, but I don’t think so.
This weekend I’ll be lunching with renowned artist Anado McLauchlin at his fabulous estate (bringing a mezcal I know that he likes, from a friend who makes it) … celebrating the birthday of a friend who moved here from New York City and the anniversary of a couple who moved here from Los Angeles … and maybe (I hope!) sleeping in on Sunday, which we call dormingo here (a slangy mix of Sunday, Domingo, and the verb “to sleep,” dormir).
Okay, it’s time to go. The big dog is whining to go out because he hears his friends in the street, and I need to get ready for my Friday-night karaoke. Some of the singers are so eager to try new songs that they’ve been emailing their requests all week. Hope I got ’em all!
Thanks for reading and just so you know, I’m not trying to convince everybody to move to Mexico. We’ve got overcrowding issues as it is. What I AM trying to do with this blog is to say LIVE YOUR DREAMS. If I can do it (#singleperson, #50something, #notalottamoney), so can you.