Category Archives: San Miguel de Allende

The 2017 Number One City in the World

What city did Travel and Leisure Magazine name the number one city in the world in 2017? It wasn’t New York, Paris, London, or Tokyo. It was San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. While this rating may seem a little over the top, there are a lot of reasons to love San Miguel. First, it is an artistic center with galleries seemingly on every block. While there is a lot of folk art, I believe there is even more contemporary art of an exceptionally high quality. Whether you seek glass, pottery, paintings, sculpture, furniture, or wood carvings, it is all here.

Second, it is a culturally rich city with history, popular music, plays, lectures, and classical music readily available every week. Tonight, we are going to see Bohemian Rhapsody at the pocket theater. For $6 you get a pirated movie, a glass of wine, and a bag of popcorn. We are going from there to see guitarist Gil Gutiérrez, who formerly played with Doc Severinsen. Tomorrow afternoon we are watching the world premier staging of Bikers in Camelot, which began what is hoped to be a pre Broadway run in San Miguel.

Third, there is a diverse assortment of good restaurants. Not only good Mexican food, but good Peruvian, European, Thai, Italian and most other styles of food. In the last two weeks, I have enjoyed panko crusted sea bass and chicken breast stuffed with cheese and spinach with a tamarind sauce that are among the best dishes I have had in any restaurant. And the cost is less than half what you would expect to pay in the USA.

And fourth, it is a beautiful town with hidden treasures throughout the city.One of the most popular streets in the city to photograph is Aldama because it leads up to the Parroquia. You will notice several other things about this street. It is cobblestone like many of the streets in Centro which make walking and riding on the street quite uncomfortable. Second, the sidewalks are very narrow which means you usually have to step in the street or turn sideways to pass anyone. Third, there are no front yards so most houses and shops feature a courtyard and/or a rooftop garden to enjoy the outdoors.This is the terrace overlooking the courtyard in our hotel. The door at the end is ours. The courtyard houses a restaurant and two orange trees that are growing oranges. The courtyard features a movable roof to block the sun when it is hot or to block the rain.This is the courtyard in the Instituto Allende. It features a mural on the back wall and a fountain in the center. It is very popular for wedding receptions and you see flowers in the fountain from a recent reception.This house on Aldama features an interesting door, windows, and roof top. The roof top gardens are usually lined with pots of flowers or plants..Since dogs don’t have a front or back yard to play in, they are frequently up on the rooftop gardens,It seems that interesting doors are everywhere. The top door is the main entrance to the house of the Canal family, one of the wealthiest families in early San Miguel. It is now owned by Banamex Bank. The bottom door is richly carved.This window looks into a courtyard. It is always interesting to see what lies behind those walls!The Rosewood Hotel is one of the most luxurious in San Miguel. A popular activity is to go to their rooftop for drinks at sunset. We went with our friends from Ottawa, Canada: from left, Keith, Norm, Nicole, Jane, Suzanne, Peter, and of course Susan.

The sun sets in the opposite direction of the Parroquia, but tonight some orange managed to make its way behind it.The Rosewood has a beautiful courtyard by day or night.After three days with some clouds and even a trace of rain at Nirvana, we are back to what we call a Carolina Blue Sky. Tomorrow we fly to Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican coast to visit our friends from Minnesota, Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim. We plan to have a lot of pool time to make up for missing the La Gutta Hot Springs here.

Two Weddings

Saturday is a big day for weddings in San Miguel. On our art walk on Saturday, we stopped at the San Antonio Church where the bridal party was just arriving.We are guessing this is a local San Miguel couple getting married.The bride and the flower girls were dressed up, but the father of the bride was dressed pretty casually.The little boy in the white suit and the little girl in the blue and white dress were both very cute.By contrast, the Parroquia hosts many destination weddings. The bride and groom had already left when we arrived. We are guessing that they are from Mexico City. Everyone in that wedding party was dressed to impress.

The area between the Parroquia and the Jardin usually has several balloon vendors which add to the festive atmosphere. The kids particularly like those crayon shaped balloons which bounce really high when they slam them into the ground.Watching the weddings from the comfort of the Jardin is a popular spectator sport on Saturdays.

We had an interesting incident while people watching in the Jardin last week. There was a school group in front of the Parroquia with both teachers and students wearing vivid green scarves. The teachers were louder and more animated than the children. Suddenly, a dozen kids and several teachers started running toward the Jardin and they surrounded us. The teacher had a camera and one of the students had a microphone connected to the camera which she thrust into Susan’s face. The students took turns asking us questions in English such as where we were from, what Mexican foods we liked, etc. We learned from them that they were sophomores from Guanajuato.

Those of you with good memories will recall that we met a similar school group in Guanajuato and they got Susan to dance with them on the steps in front of the theater. The teachers of Guanajuato really like to have fun on their field trips! About ten minutes after the first group left us, we were surrounded again by a second group and the process was repeated. There were plenty of other Americans and Canadians sitting in the Jardin that day. I think there is something about curly hair that attracts the Mexican children. Unfortunately, I was so busy with the kids, I failed to take any pictures.

Art, Art, and More Art

As you will notice from the pictures, the clouds have finally found San Miguel. Both Friday and Saturday were mostly sunny in the morning and mostly cloudy in the afternoon. There is even a good chance of a shower this evening. But not to worry, we are back to only a one percent chance of rain by Monday.

The clouds did make for a nice sunset at the Jardin tonight and we had no rain.

Today we spent the day on an art walk in the San Antonio area of San Miguel. San Antonio is an area adjacent to the Centro area where we normally stay. Forty seven artists had there studios open for the day. San Miguel became popular with American artists after WWII when many GIs attended art school at the Bella Artes in town. The city is still known as an artist colony with galleries scattered throughout the town. The art walk is particularly interesting because many of the studios are located in the artist’s home so you get to see some of their home as well. Most of the artists were from the USA or Canada, but some were Mexican. We also enjoyed the walk as it gave us an excuse to explore San Antonio in more detail.

These windows and doors are not real, but are strictly for decoration.The area was rich in street art. The bottom art work is made with mosaic tiles.Like all of San Miguel, San Antonio is filled with interesting doors and windows.

They had done a lot to save the trees in this part of town. There were limbs poking through the walls, tree trunks with a wall on both sides, and this hollow tree in the middle of the road. Susan is modeling her new Mexican dress and her old San Miguel Sandals. We have spent some time in the shoe stores here and Susan will have two new models of Sandals to show off when she gets home. For those not familiar, the San Miguel Sandals are sold here for about $35 and in the USA as Charleston Shoe Company Sandals for about $135. Some of the shoe boxes in the stores here even say Charleston Shoe Company. It doesn’t quite pay for our trip, but it helps.This was a very impressive gate.San Miguel is a colorful town, both from the flowers and the color of the buildings. Most buildings also have a rooftop patio. It was a good day with the opportunity to see a wide variety of art and to meet the artists.

Life in San Miguel

First, I have to give you a weather update. We have now been here six days and we have yet to see a single cloud. The temperature is in the mid eighties during the day and drops into the fifties at night. However, Accuweather’s chance of rain this Friday has skyrocketed up to 1%! I was checking on December weather here and came across the fact that the average number of muggy days per year here is zero. What’s not too love about that weather?

We have been attending a wide range of events. One was a lecture by the author of a book, The Decline of America. In it, he evaluates the performance of presidents from Woodrow Wilson through Obama and discusses their contribution to the decline. He was equally critical of Republicans and Democrats. As a spoiler, the highest grade was a B- and some of the more popular presidents got a D-. As I have mentioned previously, the English speaking people in San Miguel are very liberal. The audience was pretty calm until the speaker said that Obama was one of the least qualified presidents and criticized some of his policies. The discussion turned rather ugly after that.

We also attended a speech by a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He was six years old at the time and his family was not in a shelter when the bomb dropped. They had no knowledge of the effects of radiation and walked through the area of impact several days later searching for food. Nobody knew why people started developing these strange conditions. He recounted how the survivors became damaged goods so that someone from outside the area would not marry a survivor. He ended with a plea for everyone to do what they could so this would never happen again.

Today, we saw a lecture on the life of Pete Seeger with the audience singing some of his most popular songs. The program was a big draw in a town filled with senior activists. We had gotten the last two available tickets the day before. We got to the theater about 30 minutes early to get good seats and joined the line up at the door. When the doors were not open five minutes before the show was to begin, the crowd began singing We Shall Overcome. The singing became particularly spirited with our new chorus of “We will enter the door”. Did I mention this all took place in the library?

San Miguel is a great city to explore on foot. This is one of numerous attractive Spanish Colonial streets.The rooftop terraces are lined with potted plants.Street murals can be found around the city.Many of the buildings also have interesting niches. One of the problems is that you have to look up to see many of the interesting things. Unfortunately, there is nothing more hazardous than looking up and walking due to the narrow sidewalks with numerous opportunities to trip. You have to learn to stop when you look up!We had dinner tonight at a roof top restaurant overlooking the Parroquia. The young ladies at the table next to us were from Houston and were visiting one of their parents in Mexico City. The restaurant claims the title of Number One Rooftop Destination in the World. I don’t know about that, but the food was outstanding!

In short, life in San Miguel is good!

We Will Miss San Miguel

When we stayed at the Red Tree House in Mexico City, we talked with many people about the relative merits of Oaxaca, Guanajuato, and San Miguel.  For us it is no contest.  We would choose San Miguel in a heartbeat.  Following in no particular order are some of the things that we are going to miss when we leave for home on Thursday.

The jacaranda trees.  They have been in full bloom since we arrived on 1/Mar and they are still in full bloom.  This is just one of over ten I can see from our roof top terrace.  And roof top terraces and courtyards are other things we are going to miss!
The burrows.  These two burrows are tied up just down the block from our house.  Perhaps the owner had ducked into the nearby gym for a little exercise.  Mostly you see burrows in town as part of a wedding procession.
The fountains.  This fountain outside of San Francisco church had been decorated for a wedding.  The water in the fountain is covered with white petals.  Fountains with floating red rose petals are very popular around town.
The churros and hot chocolate.  A churro is similar to a long, sugared donut.  We live only a few blocks from the favorite churro restaurant in town.  This is the lineup to get into the restaurant on a recent holiday weekend.  It is so popular that we have yet to get in this month.
The garbage collection system.  Three times a week a man comes down our street ringing a gong to announce that the garbage truck will soon be here.  People bring their garbage down to the street and chat until the truck arrives.  They then hand the garbage up to a man in the truck and he passes it on to the sorters in the truck who divide it up into recyclables and garbage.  There are at least four people riding in the truck.  This picture was taken from our roof terrace.The entertainment.  There seems to be non stop entertainment in town.  There is first class chamber music most weekends in winter.  We have heard live folk, jazz, new age, country, and popular music.  We have seen a one man play.  We have seen a program of ten plays of ten minutes each.  We have attended lectures and movies.  This event is the garden party held at a private house at the end of the chamber music season.  The performers were a brass quintet from Western Carolina University.The parades and fiestas.  This was a parade we had no idea was going to occur.  It went down the street next to ours and appears to be another Saint Joseph’s Day Parade about a week late.  You may recognize the person in the front of the picture.  He is also a very popular subject for piñatas.  I would guess that ten to twenty percent of the expats in town are wearing anti Trump buttons.The margaritas and mojitos.  Susan needed two hands to lift this margarita at another wonderful restaurant we discovered.  This one is family run in a beautiful house away from the tourist area.  There are so many good restaurants that we are not going to be able to get to all the ones we wanted to visit despite being here four weeks and only eating dinner home four times.You have to love a city that lets a tree limb come through the brick wall instead of cutting it off.

The doors and windows.  This door is outlined with real flowers. We suspect it was done as part of a wedding reception.The wedding processions.  San Miguel is home to 500 to 600 destination weddings each year.  Since most of these are on the weekend, it means you don’t have to wait long to see one if you go to the Jardin on the weekend.  Most involve a burrow, giant bride and groom dancing puppets and a mariachi band.The colorful Spanish Colonial streets.The buildings.  If we do ultimately buy a house here, we are going to paint it this blue color.Old and New Friends.  This has to be the best place in the world to make friends.  We met Susan and Peter from Ottawa, Canada through playing bridge.  The picture was taken with my iPod and I am still learning to hold it so my fat finger doesn’t get over the lens.  Sorry Peter!

Thanks to all of you for following our adventures this winter.  And a special thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment.  Our quest for new experiences will resume this summer with a Baltic cruise, a week in Provence that we hope will coincide with the lavender bloom, a self piloted boat trip on the Canal du Midi in France with friends from Pawleys Island, and time in Vienna.  We hope you will join us.

What Lies Behind that Door?

The streets of the centro area of San Miguel all have stucco walls separated from the street by the narrowest of sidewalks.  These walls have many doors plus a few windows and during the day when the stores are open you see restaurants, galleries, tiendas, and small shops of all descriptions through the open doors.  But what about the closed doors with no signs?  What lies behind that door?  Saturday we learned what was behind three of these doors when we took a walking tour of the mansions of San Miguel organized by the Biblioteca.  It was the first time they had done this tour and we considered it to be a resounding success.

The first door we entered is the last door to the right of the picture.  There is nothing noteworthy about the door or the wall.  But the house behind that door belongs to an attorney who was described as one of the most powerful men in the state of Guanajuato where SMA is located.  It is one city block long and has at least four courtyards.  I think if one person had to water all the pots there, the first pot would need more water by the time the last pot was watered.This is one of the courtyards.  I particularly liked the two columns of plants by the door.The first room of the library.  There is a second room with a spiral staircase to reach the top shelves.The dining room.The largest courtyard was between the house and the law offices.

The second house was once a bank.  It still had the vault- a great place to keep your valuables – and men’s and women’s restrooms.As is typical, the house was centered around a courtyard.The family had cages for lots of birds on the second floor.  I particularly liked the built in bird cage on the left with a curtain you can draw at night.  Both of these cages had birds.The living room of the house featured several elaborate mirrors.

The third house also featured a beautiful courtyard.  The owner of this house lives in another house in the country.  He uses one room as his office when he is in town, and all the other rooms are used to store his large collection of paintings by San Miguel artists.  

We had a bonus stop at the San Francisco convent adjacent to the church of the same name.  The convent also featured several courtyards.

After careful consideration, we decided all three houses on the tour were outside of our price range.

Any Excuse for a Parade

Sunday, March 19, was St. Joseph’s Day honoring Joseph, the husband of Mary.  And in San Miguel, they are always ready to celebrate.  Shortly after noon, we thought we heard a band in the distance.  We looked out our door and saw a parade going down the nearest cross street.  We grabbed our things and headed out the door in hot pursuit.  We caught up with the end of the parade, but there were too many spectators to reach the front.  We decided to head to the Jardin since almost every parade ends there.  Fortunately, our instincts were good and the parade was soon passing by our spot on the wall. A large caterpillar followed the band at the beginning of the parade.Next came a collection of the large, dancing puppets known as mojigangas.  The puppet costumes were worn by both adults and young children.There was a group in indigenous costumes resembling American Indians, but the most interesting group was at the end of the parade following a sound truck and dancing in bizarre costumes.  Everyone was in a good mood and were happy to pose for pictures and dance with onlookers.  Many participants also threw candy to the spectators.You may ask what does this have to do with the observance of Saint Joseph’s Day?  I haven’t a clue.  However, we talked to several Mexican onlookers and they all said it was a Saint Joseph’s Day parade.  You may recall pictures last year of Susan dancing on our street with some people dressed similarly.  We were told that dance party was to observe Saint Joseph’s Day even though it was several days later.  For a one minute video of the parade, click here.

We stayed in the central area of town and headed back home late in the afternoon and what did we encounter?  Yet another parade.  This one had some religious statues at the beginning.But they were followed by the sound truck and people dressed in costume including some of the same people we saw in the earlier parade.  It wasn’t this guy, but we saw one of the men that Susan had danced with last year.

It is always hard to find out when a parade is going to occur and where it is going to go.  We have been looking forward to the Children’s Parade to celebrate the beginning of spring.  The children are all dressed as animals or flowers.  Again, you may remember the pictures from last year.  We had been told twice by the tourist office that the parade would be at 10 AM on Wednesday, the first day of spring.  We arrived right on time to watch but could see no sign of an upcoming parade.  We stopped at the tourist office again and were told that it was now going to be on Thursday.  However, there was a class in the Jardin in costume and holding signs about protecting the environment.  We had to settle for that as our Wednesday parade.

Fortunately, we came across the Children’s Parade on the way to bridge on Thursday.   While the parade was much smaller than last year, the children were as cute as ever.Some of the children were honored by wearing crowns and getting to ride in trucks.The children are encircled with a rope held by adults to keep everyone going in the right direction.  The people of San Miguel know how to enjoy life!

Welcoming Spring

The El Charco Botanical Gardens is located in the hills above San Miguel.  The gardens contain a canyon with a natural amphitheater.  One of the traditions here is to have a concert in this amphitheater on the Saturday before the equinox to welcome spring.  The festivities begin at 4 PM with an indigenous celebration to bless the seeds for the new crops.  We arrived early and joined the celebration.  The only problem was that no one there looked to be indigenous and few of the people even looked Mexican.  We were given a sheet in Spanish and English explaining the celebration. 

Per the handout:  “For approximately the last 5000 years, human consciousness has been centered in the development of personal will, authority, manipulation, and the incorrect use of power.  Humanity is currently in the process of making a dimensional shift, ascending from a power-based consciousness to love-centered awareness that focuses on the heart and allows us to feel our interconnectedness and equality with each other and all creation. … This is a time for us to align ourselves with who we know ourselves to be, deep within our heart of hearts, and make our life choices in accordance with this way of being.” It goes on, but you get the idea.  I am not sure I sense this change they are talking about.  Maybe we need more government participation in equinox ceremonies.We gathered in a circle around the leaders.  There was a lot of drumming and playing of a conch shell.  We all got some seeds to bless and take home to plant in our garden.  We began by reading the handout together and then we paid our respects to the four points of the compass.  The seeds we received were mostly rice which I was pretty sure was not going to thrive behind our condo even though our county was once the rice growing center of the world. The conch shell was not an easy instrument to play.People sat wherever they could find a spot on the rocks for the late afternoon concert of Mexican Baroque music.  There is no electricity in the canyon, so the music and singing was entirely acoustic.  The band is on a wood platform in the center left of the picture.The band stage.A beautiful sunset was a fitting conclusion to the concert.

Bellas Artes

San Miguel is well known as an artist colony and one of the best known art schools in town is El Centro Culturál Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante” – Bellas Artes.  Fortunately, it is known universally as Bellas Artes.  The building was built in 1755 – 1765 as the cloister area of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception.  The building was converted to a fine arts school in 1938 and soon became very popular with former GI’s studying art under the GI Bill.  Today it has classes in drawing, painting, ceramics, weaving, music, photography, printmaking, and dance.  The building also houses an auditorium and several exhibition halls.  Considering the initial use of the building, it is ironic that the Ignacio Ramírez in the present name of the building was one of the most prominent atheists in Mexico.  The church associated with the cloister still exists next to the art school.This statue of a bull outside of Bellas Artes is a well known landmark and meeting point in town.The courtyard of the school is heavily planted.  The Church of the Immaculate Conception towers in the background.The courtyard is also a beautiful venue for musical performances.The murals in the exterior hallways were painted by early students at the school.There are long hallways surrounding the courtyard.  The building is a quiet oasis only a block from the hectic Jardin.  As I was walking the corridors, I could hear beautiful, soft guitar music throughout the courtyard.It turns out the music was not from a student, but from this man who performs every Wednesday night at the Biblioteca.  He told me that he finds this to be a peaceful place to practice.  His practice certainly added to the atmosphere.  When we chatted a little, he guessed right away that I was an engineer.  Geez, is it that obvious???One of the galleries had a series of paintings depicting man’s effects on the environment.  This painting addresses the effect of us disposing of plastics in the ocean.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception.The church features a boveda ceiling, which is an arched brick ceiling common in San Miguel which can be made without any support from below during the construction.  I would like to see one being constructed sometime.

The elaborately carved entry door.

Time is flying by here.  We think we have seen more cultural events in the two plus weeks we have been here than we saw in the last three months we were at home.  It is also unbelievable how easy it is to meet people and make friends here.  As an example, we met a Canadian couple in the Jardin this morning, we went to a cafe for coffee, and now we are going to dinner with them on Tuesday.  Less than two weeks left and so much more we want to do.

Gil and Doc

Two prominent residents of San Miguel are Gil (pronounced “hill”) Gutierrez, a world class classical and jazz guitar player and Doc Severinsen.  People of my age know Doc as the trumpet playing leader of the Tonight Show orchestra when Johnny Carson hosted the tonight show.  Doc is now 89 and still tours with Gil as a member of the San Miguel 5.  While we have never seen Doc here, we have every reason to believe he still lives in San Miguel.

Gil is equally famous as a guitar player.  He was born in Oaxaca where his mother sent him to an art school to study painting and sculpture.  It was here that he fell in love with classical music and learned to play on a borrowed cello.  He was forced to change to guitar when his family couldn’t afford to buy him his own cello.  As he studied guitar, his interests diversified to include flamenco and jazz in addition to classical.  He earned money to pay for his studies by playing in restaurants and on city buses in Mexico City.  Doc discovered him playing guitar in a restaurant here and they made a recording together in 2007.  Gil is the leader and music director of the San Miguel 5 which still tours the United States.

Gil plays in a restaurant in San Miguel several nights a week with whatever musicians happen to be in town.  In addition, every Sunday he is in town, he hosts a jam session at Zandunga, a performance venue adjacent to his home in the countryside about thirty minutes outside of town.  He brings whatever musicians are in town and they jam for several hours.  The musicians seemed to be having at least as much fun as the audience.  But it is not just music, his wife loves to cook and there is a buffet featuring various tacos, grilled sausage, and the best grilled chicken wings you can imagine.  I would guess there were two hundred people at Zandunga last Sunday despite it being the worst weather day we have experienced in San Miguel.The performance area is covered and there are various rooms and patios that open off of the performance room to accommodate more guests.  We were lucky to be able to join a group from the bridge club so we had a large table near the stage and under cover.That is Gil on the keyboard player’s right.  He went around and welcomed everyone personally before the performance.We went with our friends Kathryn and Bruce from Pittsburgh.  We met them last year at one of the classes we took.The food spread.  The first woman is dishing out grilled sausages and chicken wings.  The next woman is melting cheese in the tacos.  The final woman is adding things like chicken mole, chipotle chicken, or freshly sliced pork shawarma.  You then add the condiments you like such as guacamole and salsa.  Delicious!!!There is very little rain in San Miguel this time of year.  For the first time in our four months here, it rained off and on all Sunday morning.  It was looking better by the time we left for Zandunga, so we left our extra layers at home.  It was pretty nice for the first couple of hours, but an hour before our taxi was supposed to pick us up, a shower came through, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up.  That last hour was pretty cold, but fortunately the rain stopped before we had to walk to the parking lot to find our taxi.  Despite the weather, it was a great day.My Favorite Age is Now!  Life is Good.  A good philosophy to live by.