The period before lent is Carnival time in many Latin American countries. This is traditionally a time of exotic costumes, fancy parades, and heavy drinking leading up to the somber period of Lent. In San Miguel the weekend before lent is known as Cascaronazos and lasts from Saturday to midnight on Tuesday. So how do you celebrate? First, you head to the Jardin, the garden in the center of town.
We went to several well attended musical events in the last couple days. One was a blues concert where one of the songs was Take Me Back to San Miguel. As we prepare to leave San Miguel for home, the song reminded me of how much I enjoy being here and how much I want to return. This is true despite the fact that there was not nearly as much to do because of COVID. In the past, we would have to make decisions on most days of what we wanted to do as there were several conflicting things of interest to us. This time we frequently had a day with no group activity. Still we played bridge, attended several lectures, attended four music concerts, and went on an out of town tour. Despite the lack of organized activities, San Miguel is a great town to just explore and we did quite a bit of that. There is an abundance of good, affordable restaurants in town and we visited a lot of them. We were also fortunate to have friends and family visit during our stay. Following are some pictures from our explorations.
Monday we both passed our COVID test. We take a shuttle to Mexico City Tuesday morning and fly home from there. It has been a wonderful month in San Miguel after a wonderful week in Puerto Vallarta. I hope some day soon our travels will Take Me (Us) Back to San Miguel!
Thursday we took the Rancho tour to Agustin Gonzales, a small town of about 1000 descendants of the Otomi people who built the Canada de la Virgin pyramid we visited in previous years. The tour was run by volunteers, and all of the proceeds went to support the village. The volunteers have trained eighteen women in the village to learn the art of rug hooking. The tour provides these women with income from the tour as well as a market for their rugs. The village has four schools, including the only high school in the area. It is interesting that despite the fact that many people in the village work in San Miguel, no one in the village has contracted COVID. They speculated on whether this could be due to their somewhat unique diet.
Tuesday we went with our friends Adrienne and Herb to the Nirvana Hotel and Restaurant for a relaxing afternoon and lunch. The last time we were in San Miguel two years ago, we went to Nirvana for lunch where I learned that I really like tamarind. We found tamarind at an Asian store in Wilmington, but it just didn’t live up to my recollections. I found a tamarind dish in an Indian restaurant in Wilmington which I get every time I go there, but it still wasn’t as good as my original tamarind dish. After some lobbying, I talked everyone into going to Nirvana. Once again, I had: PECHUGA DE POLLO. rellena de queso cabra, espinacas y champiñones en salsa de tamarindo or chicken stuffed with cheese, spinach, and mushrooms in tamarind sauce. While it was delicious, I am not sure anything can live up to that first experience. Once more, you can’t go home again.
While sitting on our roof, we noticed another roof top across the street and several doors down that had a steady stream of people going out on the roof and taking pictures. We thought it might be a restaurant, so we checked it out. We learned that it is a toy museum, so we went to see it today. It is an exhibit of toys that were collected by one man over a fifty year period.
Sunday night we went to the ProMusica chamber music concert starring a Russian pianist. He was very talented. One piece he played was by a Russian composer who had lost the use of his right arm. Consequently, he composed sonatas to be played only with his left hand. It was pretty amazing. He played with the right hand on his lap or the top of the piano. His left hand covered both the left and extreme right sides of the piano. It was interesting to watch.
San Miguel is well known as an artist colony. This started after World War II when many American and Canadian soldiers came to San Miguel to study art under the American GI Bill and a similar Canadian program. Among the arriving artists were Canadians, Leonard and Reva Brooks. Leonard developed a love of painting and music at an early age. He served in the army as a war artist painting the movements of an aircraft carrier in the waters of Scotland and the activities of mine sweepers and motor torpedo boats in the English Channel off Normandy. After the war, he and his wife were impoverished and decided to move to San Miguel under the Canadian version of the GI Bill. When they arrived in 1947, San Miguel was a small, backward town. They describe the taxi that picked them up as having three tires filled with air and one filled with straw. The hotel room where they first stayed cost $4 per month. Reva went on to become a noted photographer and Leonard a well known painter and violinist. He wrote many books on painting technique and taught violin. Later in the week, we are going to a concert featuring two of his students.
The Mirador or viewpoint is in the hills above the city. We don’t normally walk there as it is quite an uphill climb from previous houses we have rented. However, our house this year is partway up the hill so the walk to the Mirador is less than half a mile. We decided to make the hike.
One of the adventures of living in a foreign country is grocery shopping. You can’t read the labels and you find items in unexpected places. For instance, most milk is unrefrigerated so you look for it in the grocery aisles. In San Miguel, we normally buy our groceries in local tiendas or small grocery stores that are located near our house. Last year we made our first visit to the large grocery, La Comer. Since then, a new more upscale super market known as City Market was built adjacent to La Comer. We decided to walk the nearly two miles there and take a taxi back home with our groceries.
City Market was very large and much nicer than any supermarket we have seen in the US. It is owned by La Comer and, despite being more upscale, has the same price for identical items according to people we have talked to here. However, they have a much greater diversity of items including many imported from the US. The wine section was not as big as Total Wine, but it was huge for a super market. There was an entire aisle with coolers of beers on each side. It was quite a different experience from our usual visit to Aldi at home!
Monday was Constitution Day, a national holiday in Mexico. San Miguel is usually crowded with Mexican tourists on the weekends, but for a three day weekend it is really packed. Based on the crowds we experienced Saturday and Sunday when it was hard to get a seat in the Jardin and the restaurants were full, we decided to spend Monday exploring outside of Centro. Our first stop was the luxurious Live Aqua hotel which we stumbled onto two years ago shortly after it opened. Our goal was to learn if they sold day passes so we could use the pool. Unfortunately, the answer was a resounding “No”.
Murals, skulls, an old wagon with pots: following are some pictures from our walk.
One of the highlights of visiting San Miguel are the numerous activities at many venues around town. We are finding that there are far fewer activities than in previous years. The Shelter Theater and the San Miguel Playhouse are both shut down. Their replacement was a theater at Casa de la Noche (a bed and breakfast where we play bridge) which operated for the first part of January before closing temporarily for COVID. It was supposed to reopen in mid February, but no sign of that happening. The Biblioteca has less than half of its normal programming. Pro Musica (chamber music) is on a normal schedule and we attended a concert our first week here. One of the pocket movie theaters is on a normal schedule and the other appears to be closed. The Angela Peralta auditorium has some attractions. So while it is less than normal, we are still able to find activities of interest. I continue to find that the COVID precautions in San Miguel exceed those in the USA.
But another highlight of San Miguel is exploring the city. And that is what we are doing most every day. Following are some pictures from our first few days of exploration.
We have attended lectures at the Biblioteca in previous years where the speaker advocated focused walks where you concentrate on one aspect of the architecture such as fountains, doors and windows, murals, door knockers, corner niches, or roof drain pipes. I have never done this, but I am thinking it might be fun this time.