We walk the dimly lit town, along its Moorish walls of roseate hues. In the small, thronged central plaza, we sit on an iron bench gazing up at a quirky dripcastle church, its spires embedded in full complement of stars. Drop it, something whispers. Just let it all go.When Los Angeles-based novelist Tony Cohan and his artist wife visited friends in central Mexico in 1985, they fell under the spell of an irresistible place where the pace of life is leisurely, the cobblestone streets and bougainvillea-splashed patios are seductive, and the sights and sounds of daily fiestas fill the air. Awakened to needs Cohan didn't know he had, they returned to California, sold their house, and cast off for a new life in San Miguel de Allende. In an alternately humorous and poignant narrative, Cohan recounts how he and his wife absorb the town's sensual ambiance, eventually find and refurbish a crumbling 250-year-old house, and become entwined in the endless drama of Mexican life. From peso devaluations, earthquakes, murders, and water shortages to a jail break and Mexican and gringo friends' births, marriages, and deaths, On Mexican Time captures
There also was something about Cohan’s sensibility that grated on me. There often is an implied insult to expatriot tales if you’re from the country fled from, but in that respect this was the worst among the dozen or so I have read. I took umbrage at the description of New York City, and particularly the Columbia University area, which I know well. He claimed his daughter lived in an apartment on 110th Street infested with “rats and roaches.” (Rats? Mice and roaches I’d believe--was she living in a crack house?) And the neighborhood was filled with “Bums and muggers, rappers and dopeheads.” A lot more dire than I’d describe it, and given the exaggeration about a place I know well, I suspected Cohan felt he had to trash America in order to paint Mexico in this much more idyllic light. It’s a subtle distinction perhaps, but I remember Mayes, for instance, as showing Italy’s appeal without sounding like she felt a need to feel superior to America and its “consumerism” and yet at the same time with Cohan there’s a patronizing streak towards Mexico evident to me at times.
Yet I continued reading beyond the 100-page mark, because I found interesting reading a description of Mexico. It’s a country Americans should know and understand better than we do, and Cohan did weave in bits of in the history and culture of the land he’s residing in, even if I never felt he quite left the lifestyle and mindset of a tourist. And if I sometimes felt he romanticized life in a third world country, at least he wasn’t completely unaware of his privileged status. But if I had to describe in one word the way Cohan came across to me, it would be: smug.