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Top Ten Highlights of the 2014 San Miguel Writer’s Conference

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1. Sitting elbow-to-elbow with Calvin Trillin during the round table and seeing the King of Deadpan finally crack a smile at his own escapades.

2. Feeding oatmeal to Yann Martel’s ten-month-old son, a cheerful tow-headed little fellow named Felix.

3. Pitching April Eberhardt in the ladies room while she put on her lipstick the first morning. Having her subsequently pitch my book at her panel The New Era of Publishing: Making it Work for You the next day.

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4. Hanging out with my friend, travel writer Tom Swick, and showing him some of my favorite haunts in San Miguel (including a lovely supper of conchinita pibil at Posadita on a nearly perfect night).

5. The Saturday night soiree I hosted for a dozen people at Casa Chepitos for the second year. I’ve decided to make it an annual affair.

6. Talking about everything that night, from feminism to our favorite authors, with the brilliant Brooke Warner, founder of She Writes.

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7. Sharing a late night taxi with the lovely and vivacious Amy Ferris and the queen of memoir, Laura Davis.

8. Listening to Laura Esquivel’s wonderful talk about love, compassion and how Water for Chocolate is being produced on Broadway. I listened in Spanish and understood at least 80%!

9. Tina Packer’s performance as Shakespeare heroines in “Women of Will.

10. Jumping in the river, metaphorically speaking, with the inimitable Dinty Moore in his workshop: A River Runs Through It: What Makes a Story Whole. I’ve wanted to workshop with Dinty for a while and I wasn’t disappointed!

Oops! There is actually one more:

11. Selling every single copy of my memoir The View from Casa Chepitos: A Journey Beyond the Border at the conference bookstore.

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In 1948 my husband’s parents honeymooned in Mexico. His dad borrowed his own father’s

Buick LaSalle and they drove all the way from Houston, Texas to Acapulco. On the way, they made numerous stops. One of Paul’s favorite childhood memories was looking at the faded Kodachrome photos that his father had taken of Acapulco, Taxco, Xochimilco, and Mexico City. After his father died we decided to retrace their steps with our own five-day survey tour of Tepotzlán and Taxco. We also spent a day in Cuernavaca, but found the City of Eternal Springtime disappointing. 

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Once the playground of conquerors, emperors, and later movie stars and artists, the city is now a popular weekend retreat for DFers (people from Mexico City). It was sprawling, dirty and overcrowded but the four highlights of our brief time in Cuervaca were a visit to Robert Brady’s house, seeing the Diego Rivera mural at the Palacio de Cortez, lunch at a chic restaurant named HOUSE where the owner, Dago, chatted us up about Cuervaca and environs. But the best part was our stay at the serene and lovely Camino Real Sumiya, in a suburb of Cuernavaca.

Formerly the personal retreat of Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth fortune, Sumiya is unique in Mexico for its Japanese architecture. Many of the buildings were built in the 1940s by Japanese craftsmen and materials imported from Japan.

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A side trip to visit my cranial-sacral therapist, Eduardo, and his wife Silvia at their home in Tepoztlán was interesting (and not just because Eduardo treated my frozen shoulder). The strange, but picturesque town is said to be the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent-god who eventually grew wings and flew away (hence the enigmatic bird named for him).

Tepotzlán is situated in a lush valley surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and has been home to curanderos (traditional Mexican healers) for more than 400 years. Nowadays there are few curanderos left but the town continues to draw many non-traditional healers. On the trail up Mount Tepozteco, there were signs for tarot card readers, massage therapists, acupuncturists and other alternative practitioners. Due to time constraints, we did not make it all the way up the mountain, but the view of the valley from the top is reported to be astonishing.

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Our last stop on the road toward Acapulco was Taxco, a charming city of steep and winding cobbled streets, white-washed walls and terracotta roofs that is best known for its silversmith trade. I was on a personal quest to see some original work by William Spratling, an architect from New Orleans who moved to Taxco in 1917 and was responsible for creating the jewelry trade. One hundred years later the town is a major tourist destination. Nearly every store in town sells silver jewelry and the Mexican National Jewelry Fair is held there annually in November. But finding any of Spratling’s original work eluded me. 

One morning I hired a cab to take me out to Taxco, El Viejo (Old Tasco) to the Rancho Guillermo Spratling where the Frommer’s guide said one could find original Spratling jewelry.

The cab driver took us to the wrong ranch, and we accidently ended up toruing the estate of a man who dines regularly with Carlos Slim, but that is another story and a very odd one.

A mile down the road, we finally found William Spratling’s ranch where a few original necklaces and bracelets are on display (and for sale). We took a quick tour of the house where

Spratling died (according to the man who led us around) but it was not being kept up. It was dismaying to see the house where the man who brought this vibrant commercial trade to the town of Taxco in a state of neglect. 

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