The prompt this time was to simply begin with a list of cities you are familiar with (not necessarily cities you’ve lived in, or even visited more than once). After making a list, we all chose one of those cities, and wrote as many images that came to mind as we could in five minutes (in phrases or single words). After that, we wrote for 15 minutes.
Here’s a piece about Puerto Vallarta:
“I know why you like it here so much,” Jackie said as we followed the group up the steep flight of outdoor steps. “Everybody kisses and hugs you here. They make eye contact; they say hello.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s true.”
“It’s nice,” she said, “to be seen, to be spoken to.”
The crickets were singing their nighttime song, and the uneven sidewalk sloped ahead of us and turned toward our house. I could smell meat cooking at a taco stand one street over. In the morning, I will take the same walk in reverse, down Callejon de Igualdad, down Frederico Rodriguez, past the white stucco homes with their wrought iron doors. I will peer through the black latticework into impeccable courtyards and wonder what it would be like to live in a house with a name: Casa Lupita, or Casa Felicidades, each labeled by a hand-painted oval tile, cemented above the doorway.
Outside the houses, flowers grow wild: varieties I don’t recognize, except for the magenta hibiscus and the rainbow of bougainvillea (hot pink, purple, white), and some miniature birds of paradise. The bushes are covered in tiny blossoms (cantaloupe, rose, lemon yellow), and flowers crawl across telephone lines (green and orange), or up from cracks in the sidewalks (tiny yellow daisies).
After the writing retreat is over, and I have said goodbye to everyone, I will spend a few days alone. It’s January, and the horizon lights up blue in the distance, a thin line between sky and sea. The morning air is cool, but the afternoon will bring light humidity and a hot sun. I’ll sit under a palapa at the beach, and a beautiful man dressed in blue and white (with gingerbread calves), will bring me a Piña Colada.
“Why is this so good?” I ask in Spanish. “It’s so different in the US.”
“It’s the Calahua,” he says, which I later learn is a kind of condensed coconut milk when he brings me a can.
And though I am nearly out of spending money, I still pay the guitarist when he comes by, thin as a scarecrow, and asks, “Musica?”
“Play something happy,” says a woman who is selling pedicures nearby, “The American looks sad.”
It’s my last day in Mexico, after all.
“Dance with me?” she asks. She’s a stranger, but her eyes light up like an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time.
“Here?” I ask. “On the beach?” She nods, and takes my hand.
And so we dance, right there on the sand.