San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is a miraculous place. Air balloons coast over the town as the sun rises over the red-tile roofs, musicians take to the streets at all times of day and night, poems jump off the page, and people you know but have never met show up at exactly the right time.
I've experienced the power of this very special place more than once, filled as it is with gentle beauty and creative people, but this last one was one of the most amazing of all. I made my sixth trip to San Miguel this past December, taking a 10-day writing vacation in one of the lovely casitas at Quinto Recreo and arriving in time to spend Shabbat morning with the Torah study group that meets each week at the Loreto Quinto Hotel. I was delighted to see that the group had acquired a new, beautifully crafted ark and a full-size Torah scroll. The group was as lively as ever. I saw a few familiar faces from my last visit two years ago, and met some new people, too. One new acquaintance, an American who lives in San Miguel and now calls himself Carlos, was very surprised to hear my name.
"Are you the one who published that book of 19th-century prayers for Jewish women?" he asked.
"Yes, that's right," I answered. "It's called Hours of Devotion."
"Oh, my goodness!" he exclaimed. "I was just listening to your podcast on Nextbook.org yesterday while I was working out!'
"Really? That interview was more than a year ago."
"Yes!" he answered. "I download the Nextbook podcasts to my iPod and just happened to listened to that one!"
He then asked me if I had a copy of my book that he could buy for his wife, Linda. The next day Carlos called to tell me that his wife had also recognized my name but for another reason. Linda Soberman is an artist, as is my best friend, Terry Braunstein, and the two of them are also good friends, having both lived in Washington, D.C., at the same time. Terry and I will be marking our 50th year of friendship in 2010 (we were college roommates at the University of Michigan), and I am hoping we can celebrate it in San Miguel! If so, we will certainly be inviting Carlos and Linda to join the fiesta!
But that's not the most exciting thing that happened to me on this trip. I had an even more surprising encounter on New Year's Eve. I had been invited to a progressive dinner by Miranda Nadel, former leader of the Jewish Community of San Miguel. In 2001, when I spent two months in San Miguel de Allende on a writing Sabbatical from the J. Paul Getty Museum, I regularly participated in the Torah study group, where Miranda had first introduced me to the Jewish Renewal movement, including the tradition of Jewish meditation, which I have been practicing daily ever since. As I mention in the preface to Hours of Devotion, I took several books with me to San Miguel that time:
Dusk was beginning to fall as Miranda, her husband, Eli, and I began our meandering walk down the cobblestone streets and alleys of this gracious, Spanish colonial town with its brightly colored walls and old stone fountains. As we approached the gate of the first house, where we would gather for appetizers, we met up with another couple, who were introduced to me as Shoshana and David. As we began to greet one another inside, I learned that Shoshana and David had just returned from leading a meditation retreat and that Shoshana was an artist. She told me that her husband, David, was a writer. Over hicama and dip, I began to chat with David. He said he was working on a novel. He was also quite interested in my book and asked me if I would be doing any upcoming events with it. I mentioned that I I had applied to teach a workshop at the ALEPH Kallah gathering this coming summer.
"Oh, really?" he replied. "Shoshana and I will be teaching there, too!"
"Is that right? What's your last name?" I asked.
"You're David Cooper?!" I exclaimed. I could hardly believe my ears! I had taken his book God Is a Verb with me to San Miguel eight years earlier, and it had had a profound effect on my life. And now here was Rabbi David Cooper himself, having recently moved with his wife to this very place. How miraculous is that?!