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The phoenix rising from the ashes of fire is the symbol which manifests itself when life is at its most bleak, then something unexpected happens. Fresh life & inspiration surges up from within.

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The cancer resurfaced towards the end of 2010. Even though I know I had been given bonus years of reprieve, the news crushed me like falling concrete. I chose to run away to San Miguel de Allende. When I returned, 2011 was dedicated to regular chemo-therapy in preparation for an autologous stem-cell transplant. During pockets of wellness, I turned to my paint-brush for solace.

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TRANSFORMED BY TRAVEL - my time in San Miguel de Allende                                  Sept. 6, 2011

 The new year, a frigid 2011,  has just unfolded in Montreal.    I am due to report back to the hospital for tests in two months and I need an escape.  Alone.  I need a quiet adventure, time to reflect, to absorb, to forget, to be re-energized.  

 A week later, I hold tight as Aeromexico makes a wobbly landing at Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City.  Another 4 hour coach ride offers little in the way of scenic diversion except for dusty hills of nopal cactus and sudden mounds of scrapped cars.  It’s almost dark as the green and yellow taxi finally hurdles down bumpy streets towards a bustling almost-medieval village,  nestled in the mountains and far from the ocean.   Reflected in the driver’s mirror, I  gasp at the bright ribbons of magenta,  mauve and amber splashed against the night sky.  

 It’s my first morning in San Miguel de Allende.  Halfway through a dream, I awake early to the clanging of church bells and rush to take in the sights and smells of my unknown surroundings.   There’s a chill in the air.   The uneven stones and nano sidewalks make strolling a challenge.   I make my way slowly, looking down more than up,  quickly nodding to the serious faces rushing to work or taking their children to school.   I follow the bells to an old baroque colonial church in the square with Iglesias de Nuestra Senora de la Salud carved into a small stone.  People are lighting candles,  kneeling women with children at their hip are reciting prayers out loud,  men with lined faces and furry moustaches smoke and idle on the front steps.  I sit a while and breathe deeply.     

 Map in hand,  I search out the famous Jardin square in the town center but embarrassingly end up in another square that looks similar.    Someone has left this  week’s edition of ATENCION and QUE PASA on a bench.  An hour later, I put the newspaper down and shake my head.   Overwhelmed by the  number of cultural activities available , I wonder where to begin.  Theatre, lectures, concerts, art classes, I want to attend them all.   I feel light-headed and put it down to the high-altitude. 

 Walking into the Biblioteca,  with its old stone courtyard and tumbling bougainvillea-filled arches that lead to different areas of the library, I feel drawn to a room where a Mexican entomologist is discussing the migration to this area of 160 million monarch butterflies from Canada.    I remember the Monarch Odyssey when the Insectarium in Montreal invites  the public to participate in their take-off.   Even as a young girl, there was always something about the butterfly that mesmerized me and now,  decades later, the symbolisms -    struggle,  transformation, renewal, silence,  freedom  -  still haunt me.   Today, in San Miguel I learn even more about this exquisite creature.

For the next few weeks,  the Bibilioteca becomes my second home.  There is the intimate Sala Quetzal concert room,  its walls saturated with the murals of David Leonardo in bold shades of orange,  blue and ochre outlining the history of Mexico.  It becomes even more inviting when I am given free rein to play on the grand piano and so I venture in every morning before I head elsewhere, allowing melodies long-forgotten to spill out of my fingers.

 One morning,  a woman stops me.  « I don’t know you, but I have this feeling deep down that you have to perform here, yes here, give a concert.  It will be therapy for you and for us.  It’s important.  Do what I say, please.   I will introduce you to the person in charge ».    Two weeks later,  An Evening of Piano & Poetry takes place in the Sala Quetzal with me facing an audience I hardly know but with whom I feel a strange surreal bond.

 Occurrences such as this are commonplace in San Miguel, from spontaneous spiritual healings to encounters with like-minded, creative people who yearn to connect at some other level.  It is said that the town is built on quartz which seems to guarantee magic and miracles. 

 One of my walks leads to a peluqueria where a smiling senorita sitting outside her small shop offers to color and set my hair.  I sense her need to work.   After emptying a bucket of ice-cold water on my head and hearing me yelp,  she explains that she lives with her large family in a village far away and it would cost too much to have hot water at the shop.  I believe her story and become one of her few regular cold-water customers, bracing myself each time at the appropriate moment of deluge.

 When stopping at a colorfully decorated sweet shop on rua Reloj,  the young owner Vincente, a Mexican professional tenor asks me to accompany him on the electronic piano while he belts out his operatic favourites.  As customers come and go, he continues to sing,  oblivious to the traffic jam he has caused on the sidewalk outside.   I make his shop one of my almost-daily routines.     

 And so the sun-drenched weeks rush by.  I realize that San Miguel de Allende, with all its architectural beauty and color, is  brimming, bursting, exploding with something quite extraordinary.    It’s not just the sprawling bougainvillea, nor the blood-red climbing roses and jacarandas against the patchwork of stucco houses or painted tiles.  Not just the terracotta fountains filled with papyrus, the hot springs,  the Mariachi bands,  nor the balloon-sellers or the flying Ibis streaking against wild sunsets.    

 Maybe it’s the coffin shop beside the busy supermercado,  endlessly displaying its wares in different sizes so brazenly in the front window.  Or the many dancing, laughing skeletons that abound in every corner store.   A reminder to me, that here, more than elsewhere,  death is indeed a part of life and I need to hurry back to Montreal. 

 

 

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September 27: Painting SUNBOUND (2010) is part of the "Hang Art, Lift Hearts" fundraising for Dystonia, a neurological disease that affects artists and musicians. It is on sale for $300 and all the entries can be seen on the Hang Arts, Lift Hearts Curry's Art Store, Toronto website. Please check it out.

September 22: Two paintings donated to LE NICHOIR wildcard fundraising project. Read about their unusual and exciting way to raise money. www.lenichoir.org

September 20: Launch of the McGill Academic S.E.D.E. calendar at the Faculty Club. My painting SEEDS is on the front cover. The calendar will be distributed free on the McGill campus.

August 7, 2011: Painting of Montreal accepted for the CBC Literary Awards postcard contest. Copy & paste this link to see it. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/literaryawards/2011/08/the-great-canadian-postcard-todays-pick-16.html

July 28, 2011: Nominated for the 2011 Prix Charles Biddle award organized by Immigration et Communautés culturelles Québec to immigrants who have made an exceptional contribution to local culture and the arts. (Followup: Chilean illustrator Diego Herrera won the prize on September 13)

March 31, 2011: Chosen as one of the final 25 Quebec artists by ELAN for the RAEV Recognizing Artists Enfin Visible, you can now see my interview video on their site. ELAN, English Language Arts Network, Montreal. Click on link: www.quebec-elan.org or http://vimeo.com/channels/bbparts#21468878

FEB. 24, 2011: CAFE CONTENTO, San Miguel: "Finding My Voice and Healing through Art" invited by Director and Author Marty Rosenberg who organizes regular sessions for the San Miguel community. Spoke to a group of about 50 people followed by a lively question and answer session. See RELATED PHOTOS

February 15: "PIANO & POETRY" evening concert at Sala Quetzal, Biblioteca, San Miguel. Read 6 poems and played interpretations of favorite jazz and semi-classical standards. On the grand piano, I was surrounded by original murals of Mexican artist David Leonardo which added to the surreal and uplifting experience.

January 24, 2011: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico