San Miguel de Allende

I got into San Miguel around 8:30pm and found a micro to the Oratorio, near Calle Loreto where La Catrina hostel is located. As I walked down Calle Loreto, I said hi to a group of Americans congregated outside a colonial home. We talked for a few minutes, and then Kip, the home owner, invited me to see the view from the roof. His 2 friends, Marilyn and a friend of hers, were also visiting. We ended up hanging out and talking for a few hours. I met their cute dog, talked to his wife about her recent black eye (and gave her some arnica cream), and ate a delicious salad, hamburgers, and English muffins with Skippy’s peanut butter (and other anachronistic food from the US, which is imported to a local market called Super Bonanza). Kip is one of those people that you meet once and are impressed for life. He is the president of the Lion’s Club in San Miguel. One of their projects is giving free glasses to locals, after testing their eyes. The trick is matching the glasses to the person. People with very bad vision have to pay for lenses.

About 10pm, Kip walked me to La Catrina, and I put my things in the women’s dorm. I ended up hanging out with Jozef and a few guys on the roof, talking politics, communism, and travel tips.  Jozef is a very charismatic and imposing figure, over 6 foot 8, an aging tarzan, but very intelligent.  He was born in Tiblissi, Georgia, in the Caucasus Mts, and then moved to South Africa at the age of 4.  He has been traveling for 22 years, and was in San Miguel for a kind of completion, as he had lived here 24 years ago before he began his wandering.  About 1 year ago he was bitten by a puff adder on the banks of the Mei Kong River, and ended up losing his lower right leg and the toes of his left foot.  Over the next few days we had several occasions to talk more.  He told me of the phillipina woman who helped nurse him back to health, how he couldn’t remember his pin # after the affects of anesthesia (and therefore how the hospital was going to kick him out for nonpayment), and how he recovered physically and emotionally over the following year.  He is a role model for me.  He is heading to s. China in September, and plans to spend the next year in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  He highly recommends that part of the world and encouraged me to come visit.

I spent Thursday through Sunday walking the streets of San Miguel, exploring the beautiful lanes full of revamped haciendas, eating gelato near the main square (the Swedish owner married a local), talking to locals, including the daughter of the mid wife and herbalist who started La Victoriana 23 years ago (an herbal store filled with homemade tinctures, creams, supplement capsules, Bach flower remedies, etc).  I ran out of camera memory and ended up taking a micro to Plaza Luciernaga to buy a 32 gig card at Office Depot.  Talk about anachronistic!  There was a lovely fund raiser to sell decorated skeletons on Friday at Instituto Allende, the home of the Escuela Bellas Artes started by Stirling Dickinson in 1937.  Dickinson arrived from Chicago to find a town in shambles after the revolucion in 1910-1913 and the loss of revenue from mining (the real de plata y oro ran through San Miguel from Guanajuato to Mexico City).  He essentially brought life back to the town, and started the trend of US expatriats moving to San Miguel (1 out of 8 people in town are from the US).

Some female friends from Mexico City goaded each other on in the main plaza, dancing to Mariachi Loco, La Llorona, La Luna, and others.  It seems that everyone in Mexico knows how to sing and dance to a plethora of songs.  The women were dancing as if they had rehearsed and choreographed their performance.  Their husbands were filming them, and everyone was laughing and shouting.  They have giant puppets, Mojigangas, the idea of which was brought over by the Spanish in the 1600s but was made manifest in San Miguel in 1928 thanks to a handful of maestros.  The performers participate in a solemn pilgrimage to the cemetery every year in August to ask the help of Las Animas, the spirits, in their work.  They often depict known persons in town, often politicians or clerics, often unpopular ones.  While I was visiting I saw 2 senoras that were dancing in the streets after a wedding, and 2 others that paraded with a brass band.  

On Sunday I made my way to La Aurora, previously a textile factory with machinery imported from England.  It was shut down in 1991 because of NAFTA (I have suspected NAFTA as the cause for much of Mexico’s woes starting in the early 1990s).  Between its founding in the early 1900s and 1991, La Aurora employed 300 locals to run and fix the looms and other machinery necessary to a textile mill.  The facility used power generated by an upstream dam (presa).  I took photos of the many pieces of equipment which still populate the place.  It has been converted into a trendy warehouse space for artesenal and antique dealers, as well as artists showcasing their paintings, sculpture, and other work.  I had a nice chat with a man in the antique store who told me stories that his grandmother had told him about the military men that she worked for who were in charge of protecting San Miguel de Allende from attackers along the La Real de Plata, the route from Zacatecas (and mines further north) through Guanajuato to Mexico City.  He also said that he has heard the moans and cries of ghosts along that camino, and relayed the story of a good electrician from VeraCruz who saw La Llorona and never was the same (he left for home within a week, never to return).   

On my way back into town, I discovered a tiny theater connected with a public library and coffee shop.  I enjoyed an evening of blues, jazz, and standards at a small bar whose owner was a cruise ship lounge singer and who enjoys crooning the old standards.  I asked for Bobby Darin and he belted out “Mack the Knife”.  I thought I was in Las Vegas, not a small town in Mexico.


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