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A Mexico love story

Marvin West

Marta and Michael Dickson
Marta Palomares and her husband, Michael Dickson

A genuine Mexico love story lives in a big, beautiful home behind a high wall in Tzurumutaro, a not-much-to-it community adjoining Patzcuaro in the remarkable state of Michoacan.

Back at the turn of the century, Marta Palomares, daughter of a doctor, was a dedicated career woman, a civil engineer employed by the federal government, a splendid success with her very own Mexico City condo. She was a star in a man's world and had appeared all over the country, supervising highway construction.

Marta had been a few other places, too, including Madrid for postgraduate study. She saw a bit of Italy, France, England, even Monaco. Her friends thought she was shy but she became a charming place-dropper. She had been there and seen that!

At 41, she was rare in other ways. Trim, athletic and attractive, she had not married and had been trying for a year to get a grip on the probability that she would never meet the man of her dreams. High standards.

Michael Dickson, early retiree from a newspaper career in New Orleans and Houston, flew south for an illogical new beginning. Even now, he doesn't seem to know why. But he did it with gusto. He disposed of 99 per cent of his belongings, caught a jet from Atlanta to Guadalajara and landed in the middle of the night without contacts or a dependable sentence of Spanish. That was Jan. 19, 2000. Clueless? Loco? Not exactly.

Dickson is one interesting dude, highly intelligent, artistic, adventuresome, even daring. His educational experiences included a few minutes at Vanderbilt, a quarter at the University of Tennessee, a degree from LSU-New Orleans.

He was in the Air Force and later learned to fly. He once volunteered as a driver for Meals on Wheels. He earned certification as a massage therapist. He was twice divorced, probably for good reasons.

"You may as well tell about the time I walked barefooted across a bed of red-hot coals."

Michael did that, too, one New Year's eve, new-age stuff, mind over matter, five or six steps through the remains of a bonfire where it was too hot to stand close. When he could tactfully inspect his feet, there were no blisters.

Dickson came to Mexico for language study. He caught the bus from Guad to Morelia. Stayed six months. Got the bus to Patzcuaro just to see the sights. Liked the looks of some of 'em. Moved there that September.

Practiced Spanish with Pati, owner of a coffeehouse on plaza grande. She just happened to be the sister of a civil engineer in Mexico City who came to visit, usually once a month. Michael just happened to meet Marta. No, really. Well, maybe it wasn't a total accident.

Michael invited Marta to a restaurant. She invited a teenaged niece to tag along. The niece canceled. The new acquaintances managed to talk. Some.

Both now say they got along very well. Marta really was shy. Michael was on his best behavior, trying to make a good impression. He did. They saw each other the next two times Marta visited. Sister Pati invited Michael to her house for a Christmas eve meal. Mexicans don't take in many outsiders. Michael got to thinking something might be up.

Something was. Marta invited Michael to Mexico City that January to see the remarkable leftovers and restorations at Teotihuacan. To show he could, Michael climbed to the top of the highest pyramid, just barely, in blazing midday heat.

"I had to make it. She's 16 years my junior and a physical fitness fanatic."

Michael went back for Valentines week. The couple drove to San Miguel de Allende for a couple of days. Michael told Marta he wanted to marry her. She said OK, quit her job and moved to Patzcuaro.

Michael Dickson says his first two marriages were difficult. He decided to try a different approach. Maybe something dramatic. He invited Marta to the ruins in Ihuatzio. The place was closed in late afternoon but they climbed over a fence and took a walk.

"I actually got down on my knees, at sunset, between two pyramids, and asked her to marry me."

Of course he knew the answer but when he tells this part of the story, he doesn't emphasize that.

They were married in the courtyard of Pati's coffeehouse. Because each thought the other wanted to live in the area, he bought two lots in Tzurumutaro, on Zapata Street. They sketched plans on a yellow pad.

He found an old builder who really wanted a job. Marta the engineer produced detailed drawings that looked professional. Michael became the contractor, bought all the materials and was on the job every day.

The result is a two-story showplace, 3500 square feet for 65,000 U.S. dollars, an absolute steal, a spectacular hand-carved front door, marvelous Mexico colors splashed all around, art objects that look like museum quality.

The couple eventually discovered both prefer big cities. They redecorated Marta's condo as their second home. Could be Tzurumutaro will remain No. 1 -- even as they pray for improvement in that rundown, ramshackled, chaotic small-town place with plenty of potholes in what's left of the pavement.

Michael and Marta take interesting anniversary trips. Back to San Miguel, to La Manzanilla, to Zacatecas, to Taxco, to the bay of Zihuatanejo.

Happiness shows. Michael acquired Mexican citizenship.

He is a private person but obviously appreciates beauty. He is an internet storyteller and photographer who can transform simple subjects into insightful and entertaining reading.

Marta, years ago, studied dancing. She's about to open a dance school and exercise studio, more for fun than pesos. Marta is great in the kitchen. Her apple strudel will be for sale at the plaza coffeeshop. And maybe pay de pollo con champiñones. And, jalapeño cornbread, because Michael likes it.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 2008 by Marvin West © 2008
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is westwest6@netzero.com.
 

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