Janet Dunnett

Crafting a Second Life

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Janet Dunnett is an enigma. She has travelled the world for 30 years delivering aid in Asia and Africa. She thrived in this challenging career, but snatched her pension the moment she could to embrace the pace of grace of Island life. Loving the wet-coast environment, she still yearns for cloudless skies. Janet is grateful for her life but questions her identities as mother, grandmother, and wife of a grizzled golfer. She’s taking it easy, but remains deeply engaged in a quest to figure out what age means to her as a boomer. Janet knows she’s not alone.

I’m back in San Miguel de Allende, living the second life I’ve crafted for myself over the last few winters to round out my Island existence. For four months, as the rain drips off the roof in Qualicum Beach, I’ll be living large here in Mexico. My agenda will be heavy on volunteer work and my own efforts to write meaningfully and for posterity. My life here will also be crammed with the particular joy of women friends. Though we come from all over and from all walks of life, we share a commitment to a journey of discovery of ourselves as creatives and as elders. So I will walk all over this fine colonial town, I will meditate, I will write, I will share some of my teaching skills, and I will explore as yet undiscovered paths to self awareness and self care. I call it my annual sabbatical from “what’s for dinner?”!

I packed my bags as soon as the Christmas decorations were down in Qualicum Beach. It was a 17 hour voyage through five airports, but at last I stood before the gate of my little two bedroom apartment on a quiet cobbled street. It is a middle class neighbourhood not far from the centre of town, named for Mexico’s favourite woman, Our Lady of Guadeloupe. It took me a frantic few minutes to get the keys to work. As I muttered expletives, I drew the attention of a short and stooped old lady with grey braids and beautiful wrinkles. “Can I help?” she asked. In no time, Amelia had spun the key in the lock just so, and with huge gratitude for the kindness of strangers, I was inside the courtyard. Now, better understanding the spins and counter intuitive twists of locks in Mexico, I sailed into my new home with a grin and a sense of recovered competence.

24 Jaime Nuno is a two bedroom apartment tucked into the corner of a four condo development, all owned by single women. It is painted in all the colours that belong to Mexico, and which would be illegal in the beige colour schemes of Island developments. There is an ultra modern cooks kitchen full of Mexican dishware, two bedrooms, and design touches out of the finest Home and Gardens magazine. I’m especially enchanted by the artist landlady’s original paintings, and the folk art that adorns every fireplace mantel, glass shelf, ironwork pedestal and the hacienda-style table. There are grinning skeleton dolls in every kind of pose and finery, puppets and masks, jaguar sculptures and candles carved into intricate designs. And yes, there is a large screen TV. I soon felt right at home. Within minutes, my bestie Cherie arrived, and passed me a huge bouquet of roses as she hugged me welcome. “They are the colours of Mexico”, she said.

I admit it! Not everything was easy or obvious in those first hours. I suffered deep fear of being out of touch as every password I tried failed to connect me to the internet. That space heater and that so attractive gas log fireplace would not light, even though I knew the evening would bring a deep chill and I would need them. My suitcase lock was stuck and I had to break in to get my gear. As the sun set, there was a power failure. I managed to fumble around with my cell phone light and the glow of my iPad until my search revealed a flashlight and a stash of candles. But bit by bit, each challenge was overcome and I settled in.

Cherie and I had made a plan to go to the central plaza and dance in the new year. We were both ravenous. Though every seat in every restaurant in town was reserved, we didn’t worry. The street food vendors were out in force and their lights glowed, with Mexicans gathered around for the tacos, corn, and other fast food fare. It is delicious and cheap. As long as the cart has a “reputation” among the expats of being safe, and as long as you watch the food being cooked and have it passed over to you with clean hands, all will be well. The hamburger hotdog combo was “loaded” with trimmings suitable for a pasty gringo palate, with fries on the side, and hit the spot for both of us. Cost? About five dollars.

Now feeling better, we joined the crowd in the central square in the shadow of the Parroquia, a cathedral that looks like it should have been designed by Disney. Beside us was the biggest tree I’d seen outside of Cathedral Grove, festooned with lights and decorations. Ahead of us, a stage was blazing with coloured strobes, obscured at times in concert-smoke, with gigantic speakers pounding out the music and a jumbotron giving everyone a front row seat. The music was meant for dancing, and Mexicans really know how to party. The two acre plaza was jammed with all sorts of people of all ages: families with grandmothers holding infants while moms and dads danced cheek to cheek, kids and adults mingling happily, and groups of teenagers who greeted us warmly in whatever English they had. No one made us feel silly as we boogied with all limbs akimbo, buzzing with belonging. Of course there were gringos just like us. But most of the crowd was Mexican and all of the crowd was happy to be right where they were on this New Year’s Eve. Even though the energy grew as the clock moved towards midnight, there was no alcohol in evidence. I’m sure there must have been tequila somewhere, but it was not part of the public party, and I did not see a single drunk. When the bells rang out at midnight, fireworks filled the sky with light and smoke. Eventually there were also bits of cinders and I put up my hood and sheltered my eyes as I looked up, agog at the spectacle. At the same time, dozens of glowing lanterns drifted skyward, carrying the wishes and commitments of people for the new year. It was a surreal sight. Though the celebrating went on till dawn, I was glad to snuggle under my duvet, smiling myself to sleep and utterly satisfied to be in San Miguel.

Now a few days later, I’m preparing lesson plans and reconnecting with friends. I’m in a poetry workshop this weekend and full of new ideas for writing my truth. Meanwhile, my calendar is filling with art walks, movies, plays, concerts, lectures, and of course the lunch and dinner dates. One of the dangers of life in San Miguel is becoming over extended. But part of the joy of being here is this buffet of experiences of every kind. Four months will fly by.

I wonder, do other Island women go away for the winter, leaving their husbands behind?
Janet Dunnet
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  1. Hi Janet,

    I’m amazed by you, would love to be there with you and all
    your friends and dong something out of the ordinary.

    What a way to start the New Year.

    Happy times for you


    • Thanks for your comment! Yes, it is really fun to be doing something quite different from life at home in Qualicum Beach. But in April, when it begins to get REALLY hot, and spring is well established on the Island, I know I’ll be happy to get back.

  2. You paint such a lovely picture of San Miguel with words!

    • Have you been to Mexico? Do you have any Mexico settling in stories?
      Thanks for your kind words.

  3. I am so glad you are sharing this experience virtually with your readers. I know you have worked very hard to carve out a place in which to achieve your metamorphosis. I look forward to physically stepping into your picture with you, like the innocent stepping through the wardrobe into a a magical place.

    • Can’t wait!

  4. Hi Janet,

    Wow, I just checked in to see if you had written anything and one more time, I am in awe of your powers of description. I felt I was there. You made it happen. Good for you. I look forward to more vicarious living in San Miguel.


    • I do hope to write at least once a month. Thanks to Island Woman for making this space available. Tell me the story of you settling into Italy. I recall it was charming-distressing too.

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