Category Archives: San Miguel de Allende

Happy Birthday, Ignacio!

Our home in Mexico is San Miguel de Allende, named after Ignacio Allende, one of the heroes of the Mexican Revolution who was born in a house across from the Jardin. Tuesday was the 251st anniversary of his birth which is celebrated over a two day period with parades, concerts in the Jardin, and fireworks. a distinguished military career where he was the Mexican hero of the campaign against Texas in 1801. After 1806 his sympathies aligned with the conspirators behind the independence movement. He was a Lieutenant General and led a resounding victory in some of the battles for independence. He was promoted to leadership of the insurgent army but was betrayed shortly thereafter. He was sentenced to death by a military tribunal and was executed on June 2, 1811.

The bandstand in the Jardin was decorated in Allende’s honor. Our Minnesota friends, Jean and Ron are visiting this week. That’s Ron on the left and Susan and I on the right.A man dressed as Allende drew the most applause from the crowd.There were several beauty queens in the parade.A cleanup crew followed all the horses.This appeared to be the senior queen of the parade.Every school in San Miguel seemed to have a spot in the parade.This school group carried a large Mexican flag.Most of the students must have been told not to smile as they had very serious expressions.This youngster was dressed as Allende.A culinary school in town participated in the parade.All public service organizations such as the army, police, ambulances, fire department, etc. participated in the parade. We had an appropriate spot to watch the parade, across the street from Instituto Allende, an art and Spanish school near our home.We watched the end of the parade from another location to facilitate the girls shoppin for San Miguel Sandals. The parade lasted about an hour.

Canada de la Virgen

This blog has nothing to do with the country north of us nor the maturing of youth to adulthood. Rather it is about a pyramid built by the Otomi people about 15 miles from what is now San Miguel. Tuesday, Laura and I took a tour of the site led by Albert Coffee, a graduate in archaeology from LSU. He was persuaded by a friend to move to San Miguel, despite there being no developed archeological sites in the area. Shortly after moving here, he learned of the discovery of Canada de la Virgen and the plans to restore it. He decide to do whatever it took to be part of the team. It is very interesting taking a tour led by one of the people active in restoring the site. When restoration began, the site looked like a small hill with trees and shrubs growing on it. The smaller vegetation was removed, but some of the bigger trees were left as they help to hold it together.The Otomi are believed to be the original inhabitants of this area. They were avid skywatchers and in particular worshiped the sun and the moon. They passed their knowledge and observations from one generation to the next. The location of the pyramid was based on astronomical criteria, religious beliefs, and agricultural cycles. The site was occupied from 540 CE to 1050 CE.Evacuation of the site began privately in 1995 and officially in 2002. Public access was first allowed in 2011. The site is located on private property, so admission is strictly limited.The House of the Wind is a unique structure that has a square base and a round top.The House of the Longest Night has a sunken patio that could be flooded with water in the rainy season. It is believed that this was useful in studying the stars as they could look down at the reflection rather than looking up at the stars.The main structure, The House of the Thirteen Heavens, was built in two and a half phases. The first phase was built with these large rectangular blocks. These blocks came from “beyond the horizon” and had to be carried to the site on the backs of workers.The second phase was built on top of the first using locally available stones. A third phase was begun using smaller locally available stones as shown on levels one and two, but it was never completed.This is the main structure viewed from its entrance. The site faces celestial north so the stars spin around the top of it. The moon aligns perfectly with the notches of the pyramid at key times in the lunar cycle and at the equinox. There is a nineteen year cycle, so the Otomi had to study and record lunar data for a nineteen year period to design and build the pyramid.This gives you an idea of the steps you have to walk up to the top of the pyramid. If you walk up sideways, your foot fits pretty well. I brought my walking stick for the occasion,Other than being narrow and uneven, the steps were really pretty easy.The view from the top overlooks another sunken patio they could flood with water and the ceremonial entrance road. Going down was much more nerve-wracking than going up.

Dr. Rossana Ennis has studied and photographed the relationships of the sun and moon with the pyramid for ten years. After completing our tour of the site, we visited her museum and restaurant, which served a prehispanic lunch featuring native, seasonal ingredients based on the symbolism of the Aztec calendar. The lunch was delicious! My main course featured rabbit.One thing I had never seen before was a decorated tortilla. I asked about this and she said it was a traditional thing to do before the Spanish arrived.It was done with a carved wooden mold which she covered with a red plant dye using a corn cob.

Following lunch, she made a fascinating presentation of her work studying the relationship of the pyramid with the sun, the moon, and the 260 day Myan Calendar. She has documented her work with numerous pictures of the sun and moon at key points on the pyramid at important times in the calendar and agricultural cycle. She said they could not predict when an eclipse would occur, but the position of the moon on the pyramid accurately told them when an eclipse was impossible. While I can’t say I fully understood her work, I left fully amazed that the ancient people were able to design and build the pyramid to achieve all these relationships with the sun and the moon. She believes that Venus entered into their design and she plans to continue her studies to prove that. I highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting San Miguel.

The Mask Museum

Monday, we visited the Mask Museum, which is located in a bed and breakfast part way up the hill overlooking San Miguel. It is operated by a couple from New York City. He visits indigenous villages in Mexico where he collects masks that have been used in ceremonies, and she collects Mexican folk art as well as selling the works of seven artists.There are beautiful views of San Miguel from the roof of the B&B.

Masks were used by the indigenous people as a part of their religion. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, they destroyed all the old masks that represented what they considered to be the wrong god and created new masks to teach them the Catholic religion. The Europeans brought many diseases with them that the indigenous people had never experienced resulting in widespread disease until some natural immunity was developed. Due to the sudden loss of workers, the Europeans brought slaves from Africa who had already been exposed to their diseases. This is the reason for a significant number of black masks in the museum.

Today masks are used in performances to celebrate holidays and events in numerous indigenous villages predominantly in southern Mexico. There is usually a couple of mask makers in each village. They are made predominantly of wood with some being made of leather. He has approximately 600 masks in his collection and each one has been worn in some performance. No pictures were allowed in the museum, but he has masks displayed throughout the B&B.

There are a number of Catrina dolls, symbolic of the Day of the Dead, scattered around the B&B.

There was also an extensive collection of folk art.

In building the B&B, they used doors recovered at salvage yards.

I particularly liked the design of the floor in this courtyard.

I had to try on one of the more attractive masks in the sales room.

Our daughter, Laura, is visiting us this week. The picture is from Taco Don Felix which you may remember for its giant margaritas from last year.

The Fancy Hotels of San Miguel

Tuesday we spent much of the day at Aurora Fabrica, a former cloth mill that has been converted into a collection of artist’s studios. We decided to go there the back way by the house we rented two years ago. We expected the route to cross a busy street and then pass through some large undeveloped areas. To our surprise there was a beautiful new hotel where the undeveloped area used to be. As always in San Miguel, it pays to walk through any open door and check it out.This unusual sculpture was in front of the hotel. We walked in through the lobby to explore the grounds.There was a nice swimming pool with an abundance of unused lounge chairs.They had a row of basket chairs which I could not resist trying out. They were as comfortable as they looked. We talked to some of the staff, and they claimed the hotel was doing well, but we saw two customers the whole time we were exploring. The listed rates at the front desk were $600/night and way up. When we looked online at home, you could get a room for as little as $300/night.These ruins were located right next to the hotel grounds.

You have heard us talk of our friends Jean and Ron from Minnesota, who are coming to visit us in a week. Wednesday, we met their friends, Kathy and Steve, who are visiting San Miguel for a week. We had lunch in the courtyard of the Santa Monica Hotel and then explored some of the city highlights with them. We ended the day with frozen mango margaritas at a rooftop bar.

Thursday, we joined Kathy and Steve again for drinks on the rooftop of the other luxury hotel in town, The Rosewood Hotel, directly across the street from where we are staying. We hear the music from the rooftop in our home. The Rosewood rooftop is well known for its sunset views. When we looked over the hilltop area known as The Balconies, we saw the moon rising.When we looked the other direction, we saw the sun setting over the area known as San Antonio.Finally, after the sun set, we saw the Parroquia lit for the night. The Rosewood seems to be more expensive than Live Aqua but it is much busier.

Our daughter, Laura, is arriving Friday evening to spend the next week with us.

At Home in San Miguel

We continue to feel at home when we return to San Miguel. Our home this year is in a gated complex across from the Rosewood Hotel, probably the most prestigious hotel in town. It is on the other side of Centro from our previous homes here. This means we are closer to Parque Juarez where Susan likes to walk, to Instituto Allende for Lifelong Learning classes, and to the pocket theater. Most things in Centro are a similar distance, but the Shelter Theater and Fabrica Aurora with its many art galleries are further away. So far we are averaging about four miles of walking per day.

Our home is rather plain on the outside. It sits on a small parking area for the complex. Inside, it has a lot of architectural interest.This is the living room with the fireplace on the left and the patio to the right. The bright spot on the left of the ceiling is an opening to the second floor.The dining room and kitchen are off the living room. Like all houses here, there is no central heat, so the fireplace is the only source of heat. The days have been mostly pleasant with temperatures in the low 70’s in the afternoon, but the evenings are in the 40’s and 50’s so the fireplace is needed.The guest bedroom is the other room on the first floor.It has been a little cool to enjoy breakfast or lunch on the patio so far.Our bedroom is on the second floor.There is a terrace off of our bedroom. The terrace overlooks our patio and the surrounding buildings.There is a small alcove on the second floor which makes a perfect knitting area for Susan.The second floor hall has a skylight above, an opening to the living room below, and a circular window to the terrace.Our favorite part of the house is the rooftop terrace with its abundant sunshine and view of the Parroquia in the background. This house is quieter than the others we have rented in San Miguel. There is no traffic noise, no roosters, minimal dogs, and minimal fireworks – even on New Years Eve. The main noise is the music from the Rosewood roof top bar, and that could be considered a feature if you like the music.

One thing we miss here is Leo, our friendly grocer who gave me a hug and Susan a kiss every time we came in his store. We learned last year that he is no longer in business. The best we have found nearby is a Farmacia that has a grocery section. Friday, we decided to walk a mile to La Comer, the Costco of San Miguel.It is a large store with TV’s, tires, refrigerators, and clothes. But mostly it is a huge grocery store with some Kirkland products but not the large package sizes you would find in Costco. Three Kings Day, the twelfth day after Christmas, is widely celebrated here. It is the day when children receive their presents. The traditional food is hot chocolate and Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread shaped like a wreath, with candied fruit on top, and a figurine of a baby Jesus baked inside. They were being baked on the premises and most shoppers were buying one.Walking a mile to the grocery was OK, but walking a mile home lugging two big bags of groceries was not. La Comer had a helper outside with a whistle to summon passing taxis and load your groceries in the trunk. The taxi home cost $3 which seemed high compared to last year. When we made our first grocery stop at the Farmacia, they told us they didn’t have any bags; so we had to carry our groceries home in our arms. When we got to the check out at La Comer, they didn’t seem to have any bags either. We were able to buy the green bags you see in the picture. I thought they were just like Aldi’s where you have to buy reusable shopping bags. I have since learned that Mexico has outlawed plastic bags. Good for them!

In the short time we have been here we have enjoyed chamber music, blues music, and the movie Judy at the Pocket Theater where you can enjoy a pirated movie, a drink, and popcorn for the all inclusive price of $6. I think all the Golden Globe nominated movies are playing now. The movies change daily. At the blues show at the Shelter Theater, they sang a song I had never heard before, Take Me Back to San Miguel. For those who have been here before and are missing it, here is a link to a You Tube video with the song and a lot of pictures to make you nostalgic to return: https://youtu.be/VMZL2__b2ok

Happy New Year from San Miguel de Allende

We began the new year in one of our favorite cities which many of you know from previous blogs. On 30/Dec we flew from Wilmington to Atlanta (you get one guess of which airline), to Mexico City and to Leon where we took a shuttle to the home we have rented in San Miguel for the month of January. Our travel day began at 5 AM when we awoke for our airport taxi and ended 15 hours later when the shuttle dropped us off at our rental home. Other than being a long day, everything had gone smoothly with all transportation on time.

I knew that our rental home was located on a gated alley and that I would need help getting through the gate. The address I was given was Tenerias 33-2. Never having seen a hyphenated address before, I interpreted it as Tenerias 33 with an apartment 1, 2, etc. The shuttle dropped us off at Tenerias 33 which had a sign in front saying welcome Liza and Bruce. I was very impressed by the welcome sign, but didn’t know who this Liza was. It turns out that Tenerias 33 was a banquet hall and Liza and Bruce were coming from Texas for a destination wedding the next day.

We quickly learned that San Miguel does indeed have hyphenated addresses and ours was a big locked gate several doors down. There was a key pad and a box with several other buttons but nothing that we could read in the dark. Fortunately, our T-Mobile cell phone was working in Mexico, so we called the apartment manager’s office, and the maid who was waiting in the house for us quickly unlocked the gate and gave us a tour of our beautiful new home. I will give you the tour in a future blog.

San Miguel is a popular destination for Mexico City residents on weekends and holidays. We walked on quiet streets to the Jardin late Tuesday morning to get the Attencion newspaper so we could begin planning the rest of this week. We then walked to several venues to purchase tickets and had lunch at one of our favorite ceviche restaurants. By the time we headed back to the Jardin, the streets were filled with people and cars.

The Christmas decorations were still up throughout the city.Poinsettias were a very popular part of the decorations.A couple of the large puppets known as mojigangas walk the streets to observe the holidays. They are dressed as Catrinas, which were made popular in the Diego Rivera mural, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park.A large stage with a live band was set up in front of the Parroquia.It was standing room only in the Jardin which was decorated with poinsettias and lights.A nativity scene filled the bandstand in the center of the Jardin.Lights festooned all the streets leading to the Jardin.

There was a beautiful fireworks display over the Parroquia at midnight. These pictures are taken from our rooftop. Every roof top in view had spectators watching the fireworks. Liza and Bruce’s wedding party was on one of them. Like so many people, we love San Miguel!

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!