Monday, October 31, 2005

Entry #9

Sunday, October 30th, 2005
As I was doing research for my visit to San Miguel, I found references to La Biblioteca Publica’s House & Garden Tour on Sundays. Each week three homes are visited, and the three I saw today could all be chosen to appear in the pages of Architectural Digest.

House #1: <--- belonging to Carmen & Antonio Rangel-Barrera
House #2: owned by Jean & Rick Jacobson
House #3:home of Peggy & George Bell

They shared a marriage of landscape and design; these are Mexican-style casas .

Each of the three I visited had the typically Mexican high exterior wall that prevented curious eyes from knowing whether there was a palace or a hovel on the other side. Most streets in Centro San Miguel are mixed; Mexicans and Gringos live beside each other but often standards of comfort are different.

Empty lots are rare since property values have skyrocketed in recent years, some say up by 25% in just the last year. On the street where I have been living, there are broken walls, with the occasional guard dog atop.

The other three most common

security measures are bars on all windows and a row or two of broken bottles, sharp edges pointing upwards, on the top of the walls, or a wall of cacti.

Sometimes competing with the chiming every 15 minutes of the many churches bells is the wail of a car or house alarm.

The farther away from Centro you are, the better is your sleep.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Entry #8

Saturday, October 29th

All over San Miguel, Dia Del Muertos preparations are underway. Nearly every Art Gallery and hotel in town has an ofrenda with photographs of loved ones or one constructed according to a theme, such as the largest one in front of the Parroquia which is dedicated to El Cantiflas, a Mexican entertainer and movie star from the 1950's. A special Mercado in Plaza Civica only sells items used for El Dia del Muertos: candles, copal incense, colorful paper picado and decorated sugar candy in the shape of skulls, skeletons, coffins, animals, fruits, plates of food, among many other things. Ofrendas are decorated not only with photographs but with the favorite foods and possessions of Los Muertos, including bottles of beverages (tequila and Coka Cola) handmade toys, musical instruments and clothing .

On October 27th, souls with no living family are welcomed back into the community. On October 28th, souls that died accidentally or through violence are remembered. On October 30th,
Los Ninos Limbos--the souls of babies that died before being baptized-- return for one day. October 31st is the day of the Angelitos, children who were baptized before dying.

November 1st is the day when the souls of older spirits , The Faithful Dead, return to their families. That evening whole families line the streets to the cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones with plants, flowers and flower petals, and refresh the grave markers with a new coat of paint.
The family may have a picnic at the grave and talk to the departed about the events of the past year. Marigold petals, candles and incense show the spirits the way. People believe that the spirits walk among them and can share in everything that occurs, although unseen.

The celebrations will end on the evening of November 2nd.
By the afternoon of November 3rd, there will be few traces of El Dia del Muertos, except in the cemeteries where the graves, covered in flowers, wait for the families to sweep them clean another day.


Early Saturday, I got on a beat-up school bus with about 25
other gringos and went on an "Adventure Tour." These are led by an 80+ year old woman named Lucha for the organization she founded to help children with developmental disabilities. The fee of 150 pesos supports El Centro de Crecimiento and its programs. First there was a visit to the home workshop/ factory of a carpet maker. He had 6 looms which were operated by himself and 4 others and he made a high quality product there.
His prices were inexpensive for 100% wool rugs. Afterwards we traveled to the outskirts of San Miguel to the magnificent hacienda of a glass manufacturer and his wife- a metalworks designer. On this one trip we observed the extremes of Mexican life- artisans at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. The pictures show the son of the carpet maker stirring the large dying pot and hugging his dog. The last photo was taken at the Hacienda, and shows a viewpoint beside their family chapel.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Entry #7

Friday, October 28th, 2005

Today was spent relaxing in the Jardin, reading the new edition of Atencion, and circling the many events that looked interesting in the week to come. Tonight I have tickets for a guitar concert by José Manuel Alcantara, who has started a series of contemporary Latin American music projects, primarily the New Guitar Movement blending traditional classical influences with new forms of expression, some very jazz like and avant guard.
But before the guitar concert began I attended two gallery openings. The first was a Day of the Dead Reception at Galeria 19, featuring five artists: Genny Claro, Greg Ellis, Tim Hazell, Shirli Marcantel and Karen Wright. The gallery was decorated with traditional Day of the Dead ofrenda (altars) and candles. The window in the photos was on a residential street and typical of a personalized Day of the Dead
ofrenda. This one had photos of loved ones and Marilyn Monroe! Afterwards, I dashed across the street to Galeria LeNoir to see Agnes Olive's show entitled "Journey of the Ancestors". (see photo)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Entry #6

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

 Today I walked around town taking photos of open and closed doorways, architectural details and people whenever possible. Yesterday the walking-tour guide pointed out the many holes in the exterior walls of Teatro Angela Peralta. They were created during the 1810 insurrection led by Allende and his co-conspirators when firing squads used the building to dispatch their enemies.
I went back to Noah's Ark House, in the Cohen family for over 150 years. The facade is covered in animals, each one different, but they are very hard to photograph since the street is narrow and the angle from the sidewalk is awkward. San Miguel is famous for its unusual doors; many books and posters document them, so I went in search of some of the more unusual ones.
The annual Tango Festival has just begun and I went to see the film Tango: An Obsession at the Biblioteca Publica. Tango is not a dance; it is a way of life!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Entry #5

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

This was a very busy day. I was up early to go on a 2.5 hour walking tour of Centro sponsored by one of San Miguel's numerous charitable groups, Patronato Pro Ninos. This group supports a free mobile dental clinic for children in need. I learned many new things about the history of San Miguel from
our guide Harry. After the tour ended I had a relaxing lunch at La Buena Vida Cafe a few blocks away from the Jardin. I met some friendly people on the tour- Sally and Ralph from Rochester (formerly Egypt) who were driving through Mexico on a search for a place to live permanently. Harry was helpful to suggest a place where I might get my suitcase repaired. Threads holding the zipper on were worn away In places. I had visions of my bag bursting open on the next leg of this trip. I wish I had packed the duct tape!

After lunch I walked to the San Antonio colonia (neighborhood) in search of a jewelry teacher I had found out about on the internet. Maestro Enrique Lopez had taught at the Allende Institute for many years but now was retired and gave classes at his own workshop. This location proved to be inconvenient for me and I decided to take the "creative jewelry" class at the Instituto since I was going to be there anyhow Monday to Friday for my semi-intensive Spanish class. So that was my next destination--to pay the balance of my language class tuition and sign up for the jewelry class.

After a quick meal at home I went out to the second photography lecture. Tonight Elizabeth Opalenik and Chris Rainier showed their very different work to a full house. Opalenik, using b/w and infared film, is known for her "draping technique" and handpainted images. Her swirling fabric draped dancers were dreamy images. Rainier is a photographer for Time and National Geographic and has been in most of the world's recent hot spots. His special project is on ritual tattooing around the world and those images were fascinating and disturbing. It was an excellent presentation. Both of these talks have made me more aware of what I could do with my digital camera. Too bad I don't have enough tiome for a photography course!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Entry #4

Tuesday October 25, 2005

Tianguis--The Tuesday Market--is something to see in San Miguel. It stretches the length and width of a huge empty field several acres large. The place was packed with people and goods. You can find almost everything there. There are fresh vegetables, fresh and frozen fish and seafood, candy, baked goods, kitchen ware, hardware, bicycle and car parts, new and used clothes, shoes, toys, cds and dvds and vhs tapes and several kinds of caged birds, including turkeys.

You could have a set menu-- comida corrida-- or a snack. There were spepcialty vendors of herbs, different types of honey, and mole sauces red and green.
It was interesting that there was no alcohol present, and the Policia presence was on the perimeter and inconspicuous. What I couldn't buy at The Tuesday Market I was able to get at the neighbooring Gigante supermarket. Pack heavy with food for the week, I took a taxi the mile or so back to my apartment.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Entry #3

Monday, October 24th, 2005

Today I walk for several hours around town, discovering different streets and routes to and from the Jardin, which is the main square in San Miguel. It is the meeting place for everyone, no matter the age. It is the heart of the city.

There is an abundance of activities here. The bilingual weekly newspaper Atencion lists events and I begin to circle those that interest me. There is something to do every day of the week and at all times of day.

Tonight I will go to the first of eight photography lectures hosted by Santa Fe Workshops at Teatro Angela Peralta. Each time two photographers will talk about and show their work. Tonight's presenters are Vida Yovanovich
and Jay Maisel.
The outside of the Teatro was used during the revolution as a place for firing squads. The many bullet holes are still there.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Entry #2

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

The apartment is exactly as advertised. The yellow and terra cotta colors of the walls make me feel warm and comfortable immediately. The two outdoor spaces are inviting and I see myself in the coming days enjoying breakfast on the balcony and reading in the sun on the rooftop terrace. Therese and Jim had left welcome presents of wine and snacks for me in the apartment. I am very touched by their hospitality.

Tired but unable to sleep, I unpack until nearly 3am. Then I hear the typical sounds of a Mexican town: barking dogs, screeching brakes and rumbling engines as cars and trucks go up and down the hill outside my windows. As dawn approaches one other sound pierces my sleep: churchbells from various parts of town. The firecrackers will come later.
Entry #1

Saturday October 22, 2005

I left P.E. Trudeau Airport in Montreal for San Miguel de Allende, Mexico mid morning on October 22, 2005. The flight to Leon, was via Chicago and Monterrey, Mexico. All flights left on time and the final connection arrived at El Bajio Airport in Leon on schedule. Despite many warnings that thefts from checked luggage going through US airport TSA checks were common, my bags were intact.
A taxi dcriven by Jesus, reserved from, was waiting for me.

The drive to San Miguel took 90 minutes and I was ringing the doorbell of my hosts Jim and Therese H. just before 10pm . The welcomed me into their home, offered me tea and food and after some very pleasant conversation they showed me to the studio apartment I had rented.