On Mexican Time - A New Life in San Miguel
by Tony Cohan. New York: Broadway Books, 2000; ISBN 0767903188. 288 pages; $25.00.
Reviewed by Robert B.
Any Mexicophile will be
inexorably drawn to a delightful book just released in January, 2000. Finally,
what Peter Mayle has done for Provence and Frances Mayes has done for Tuscany
has now been done for the beautiful, if not typical, Mexican town of San Miguel
de Allende. Fortunately, Tony Cohan doesn’t take the snooty route in
recounting his adventures in setting up his new life in San Miguel.
In the mid-1980's, Tony
Cohan and his wife, Masako, decided that they had had enough of frantic Los
Angeles living. True, they were successful, he as a writer and she as an artist,
but their lives in the States were hectic, money-driven, and ultimately,
dissatisfying. The book recounts their progressive drift from staying in a hotel
room in San Miguel to renting their own cottage – and finally, buying (well,
“buying”) a 250-year-old colonial house which was badly in need of repair.
The house was a fright at first, dilapidated beyond imagination with bats flying
about and walls crumbling. We witness the process, over a fifteen year span, of
their making a home, and an impressively gorgeous home it is, and building a
life of serenity, virtue, and integrity, drawing on all that Mexican tradition
has to offer. The chronicle is peopled by a freakish cast of characters
including murderers, idealists, pseudo-intellectuals, womanizers, and a
maintenance man who uses their bed while they’re away, and not just for
The writing is rich with
detail, even poetic, and evocative of that special magic that we all look for
when we visit Mexico. Granted, San Miguel is not a typical Mexican town,
populated as it is with ex-pats and wealthy natives, but that hardly matters.
This is a book to be savored, relished, and read slowly – on Mexican time.