Su Casa Es Mi Casa: Part I

We have found our home in Morelia, Mexico.

Steve and I did it in our usual style: we fussed and researched and walked until our feet hurt, one of us lugging the baby and the other collecting phone numbers off “Se Renta” signs taped in windows. We got our bearings, narrowed the search to best-possible, then expanded those parameters again for the sake of being open-minded. Basically, we pretended we had a method, but mostly we walked in circles, agonized, and argued over hypothetical scenarios.

We didn’t want to be on a busy road: too much exhaust and noise. We wanted to be close to our son’s Montessori school by the aqueduct. We wanted to be in the Centro Historico because it is beautiful and has everything we imagined that we’ll need, thus negating, perhaps, the need for a car, but that’s another fight. We didn’t want anything to do with the pretty, modern suburbs with gated communities and swimming pools: that has never been our style. We thought we might want an apartment within someone’s home, but we weren’t sure about this. Steve wanted something secure. I wanted something without treacherous windows or stairs. Steve wanted something furnished so we wouldn’t have to screw around finding beds and chairs. I wanted something unfurnished so I wouldn’t have to offend some well-meaning señora by boxing up her decorative flourishes.

In Morelia’s Centro, an area that fans out from the hilltop cathedral, it is difficult to tell what houses are like from the street. From the front, all one sees is a wrought iron door and one or more shuttered windows. The funkiest façade of chipped stucco and graffiti might hide a really beautiful colonial-style house replete with internal courtyards, verandas, balconies, fountains, and beautiful wood and tile work. Or it might hide dim, dismal rooms with a few bare light bulbs, cracked plaster, and exposed pipes.

A house in Morelia's Centro Historico

Obviously, we preferred the former and cringed at the latter, but one doesn’t move to the developing world with passionate aesthetics. Besides, we had bigger worries.

Would someone even rent to foreigners? Would we be taken advantage of? All-out robbed? What discomforts did we not know to look for or expenses we did not know to ask about? Would there be roosters and bedbugs and dry faucets and fussy toilets and scorpions and general, crumbling decrepitude? Would we care? And, most important, would it—whatever it turned out to be—ever feel remotely like a home?

Of course, when we actually began the search, the obstacles were not those we’d anticipated.

To begin with, before we could call any of those “Se Renta” numbers, we needed cell phones. But phones have to be registered; this meant that, because we are foreigners, shopkeepers couldn’t help us and Steve spent a day navigating the murky bureaucracy that is TelCel’s Morelia headquarters.

Then we discovered the phenomenon of taping “Se Renta” signs in the windows of houses that aren’t in fact for rent. The signs simply mean that someone, somewhere, presumably at that house, but not necessarily, has—or had—a house or apartment for rent somewhere.

But gradually we began to get through—by we, I mean Steve, who makes phone calls—and then, a few days into our search, we began to make progress.

The first “Se Renta” we entered after days spent circumambulating the narrow sidewalks along Morelia’s old streets was a two-story building one block for the aqueduct and conveniently downhill (one must think about carrying shopping bags) from the large fruit and vegetable market. The cut stone facade facing a one-way side street looked pretty nice, with black iron over the doors and windows and the faintest glimpse of unbroken red tiles showing under the front door. On the right hand side of the first floor was a doctors’ office.

As usual—Steve and I have a history of researching and deliberating ad nauseam and then buying the first thing we actually see, we promised one another that we wouldn’t be too quick to decide. We still had a long list of numbers to call again. And there were surely nooks of the Centro that we hadn’t discovered yet.

In spite of our intended reserve, however, we arrived five minutes early for our appointment with the apartment’s representative (running on gringo time, we call it). To our surprise, at precisely the time of the appointment, a white pickup pulled up and out came Jaime, a man our age who was negotiating the rental for the owners, who turned out to be the doctors from next door.

Jaime unlocked a door in the front gate and led us through the cochera (cocheras are used as garages, but they look more like a sort foyer) and into a large, long, cool, tiled room with high ceilings and glass doors on the other end opening onto a tiny courtyard with a fountain. Through swinging saloon doors was the kitchen, which also looked into the courtyard. The second story, with three bathrooms and three and a half bedrooms, was just as light and lovely. There were closets and skylights, hard wood floors in the enormous master bedroom, and large (safe) windows in every room. A blue bedroom at the back looked out into a giant rubber tree. The lavender room beside it looked out across the neighborhood. There was even a deep tub in one of the bathrooms—which, since I’m expecting in January, was a serious bonus. And then there was the roof: a smooth red brick flat roof with high walls: perfect for a little boy who likes to scoot around on a little bike.

“Just do it,” I told Steve under my breath.

I couldn’t imagine we’d find another like it, and right within our budget, too.

So he did it.

“You can ride a tricycle up here,” I stupidly told my two-year-old, who began to cry for a tricycle.

I can only hope that tricycles are as easy to find as apartments.

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