Category Archives: San Miguel de Allende

Random Thoughts

I normally try to avoid political topics on this blog. But you don’t have to be in San Miguel long to recognize that politics is a significant part of the expat life here. And the dominant political persuasion is very liberal. There are at least two liberal groups, The Center for Global Justice and Occupy San Miguel, that have weekly programs. Today while Susan walked, I attended a talk on climate change by the former group. Without going into any deep discussion of the talk, Elizabeth Warren was too pro business for this group and Hillary was lumped in with the Republicans.

Yesterday we went to a movie and discussion on The Other Side of Immigration. This movie was not sponsored by either of the above groups. The contention of the movie is that the majority of Mexican immigrants to the US are farmers from rural Mexico. And guess what the movie says is forcing them to come to the US to try to make a living. NAFTA! The small farmers in Mexico cannot compete with the large mechanized farms in the US, so they cannot sell their crops at a profit. Furthermore, crops are subsidized in the US and the Mexican government cannot afford to help their farmers. Grains and strawberries have particularly suffered under NAFTA.

I was shocked to hear this. On the ride out of Toluca we saw plenty of factories of American companies that had moved manufacturing to Mexico. Clearly, a number of factory jobs have moved from the US to Mexico under NAFTA. In the discussion period, one member of the audience from Canada had a plant in Mexico. He struggled to find qualified workers for the plant. He said it took six months of training before the workers were qualified and then they wanted to leave at melon picking season. He had come up with incentive plans where the workers were paid substantial bonuses each year if they didn’t leave. However, one woman in the audience thought we were really on to a good thing if people could work in the plant most of the year and pick melons when they wanted to! It was said to be a cultural thing that farmers in Mexico only want to farm. The problem I have with that is that some of the case studies in the movie went to Chicago where I suspect they did something other than farming.

On another topic, I have been deeply moved by the events in Paris. I think one of the reasons that it has affected me so deeply is that we spent a month there last year. I recognize some of the places in the news. I stood in some of those places. I am reminded of these words by Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I personally find that I develop some sort of affinity for the people of countries I visit. Events that transpire there are much more meaningful to me. Even though our cultures may be quite different, most of us want the same things for ourselves and our families. Our culture does not have a monopoly on good ideas.

I apologize for burdening you with all this philosophy, but it is what is on my mind today. Next blog will either be on the party we are hosting tonight for three other expat couples or the precolumbian site we visited yesterday.

Je suis Charlie

Fabrica La Aurora

Fabrica La Aurora is a turn of the century textile factory that is now the home of numerous artist studios, antique stores, contemporary art galleries, furniture stores, craft stores, and designer jewelry and clothing. I thought there were a lot of high end galleries in the Centro area of San Miguel; but after visiting La Aurora today, I am really impressed with the arts and crafts available here. It reminds me a little of a more affordable version of Santa Fe .

Fortunately, we just downsized and disposed of a lot of our possessions, so we are definitely not in the market for art. If we were in the market for art and crafts, this could be an expensive trip.

The galleries still contain some of the equipment from the textile factory. Note the cat sleeping on the chair.

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I did get a little pot crazy there. No, that doesn’t mean I need a trip to Colorado when we get home. It means I loved the variety of pots they had there. I wish we had a place for some at home

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Many of the artists offer classes. I talked to the artist in a glass studio who offers two classes per week for four weeks for $200 including supplies. She said in that time I should be able to make a table. If we return next year (and we are thinking we probably will), I am going to seriously consider taking a class.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures in the galleries, so here are a couple outside shots.

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What a Day!

Sunday we went on the weekly home and garden tour of San Miguel sponsored by La Biblioteca. This library claims to be the second largest bilingual library in North America. The tour is a fundraiser for the library. There were approximately 150 people on this tour of three different houses. They have over 150 homes that have agreed to participate in the tours, so there are no repeats over a one year period. One thing we learned from the tour is that 100 pots of plants in a home is not at all unusual here.

First House

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The walls tended to have a lot of art work.

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The sign on the chicken cage at the end of the garden reads “Cluckingham Palace”

Second House

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This was easily our favorite house on the tour. The owner collected rocks from his travels as well as masks.

Third House

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The best part of this house was the view from the rooftop terrace. This house was owned by the same person as the first house. It was for sale at the start of the tour (coincidence???), but was rented for a year by someone on the tour and taken off the market.

After the tour, we went back to the library to see a movie on Poncho Villa (another fund raising activity). Following mango margaritas and a delicious volcano bowl dinner (I neglected to take a picture of the volcano bowl. We will have to go back), we dropped by the ice cream stand for desert.

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Unfortunately, I’m not going to need my Panther tee shirt for the rest of the trip. Congratulations to the Seahawks.

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A Remarkable Town

To understand San Miguel today, you need to know a little bit about its history. The city was established by the Spanish in the mid sixteenth century as San Miguel el Grande. When silver was discovered in the area, San Miguel prospered by selling supplies to the mines and the travelers in the area. By the mid eighteenth century it had a population twice that of Boston and more than New York City.

San Miguel played an important role in the Mexican War of Independence from the Spanish. Ignacio Allende, one of the heroes of the war, was born in San Miguel. It was the first city to be liberated from the Spanish and the city was renamed to San Miguel de Allende. After the war, the city languished and became a virtual ghost town.

Around 1940 the town attracted several artists and writers who established two art schools in town. These schools became popular with American Veterans of WWII who studied there under the GI bill. Many of these veterans later retired to San Miguel. Thus, San Miguel became the artist colony and retirement home for American and Canadian expats that it is today. It has a large number of high quality art galleries (more than in Charlotte), about 10,000 to 14,000 expats (an estimated 10% of the population), and 250 restaurants.

We are meeting many people and running into some of the same people all over town. The restaurants are all filled with expats speaking English. There are English language lectures and entertainment throughout the day. We have seen two movies, a flamenco show, a guitar/harp concert, and gone to “The Frank Sinatra Bar” where we enjoyed margaritas and music. There is no shortage of things to keep us busy. Susan has found a park to exercise in. Our favorite activity is just exploring the town.

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The guitar and harp concert was held in the library in a room with a mural depicting all the indigenous peoples. There were only eight people in the audience, so it was like a private concert where we could talk to the artist.

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There aren’t many donkeys in town, but this one was right in front of our house.

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If you aren’t into donkeys, there are other options.

Go Panthers. We will be cheering them on tonight.

Dia de Reyes

January 6 in Mexico is celebrated as Dia de Reyes or Three Kings Day. It is also the twelfth day of Christmas or the Epiphany. It celebrates the three kings who traveled from afar bringing gifts for the baby Jesus. It is the traditional day for children to receive gifts in Mexico. Here, receiving gifts from Santa on Christmas Day is strictly the result of exposure to US television. The gifts are left by the three wise men in or near the shoes of the children. The children often leave their shoes out the night before with a little bit of straw in them for the kings to feed their camels.

There are a number of traditions here for Dia de Reyes other than gifts for the children. One is the sweet desert known as Rosca de Reyes or King’s Cake. It is shaped like a large donut or king’s crown. A small plastic figurine representing the baby Jesus is contained somewhere within the cake. Whoever gets the figurine in their piece of cake is obligated to host a party on February 2nd. We saw a lot of people carrying these cakes on the street, but we did not try one.

San Miguel had a small parade with a band, fire truck, and a horse drawn float carrying the three kings.

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Walking in San Miguel

The driver who brought us from the Toluca airport to San Miguel de Allende told us that the city of San Miguel has no traffic lights because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I guess that is understandable, but there are no stop signs either. Since the sidewalks are very narrow and the buildings are immediately adjacent to the sidewalks, the drivers have no view of oncoming traffic until they are ready to enter the intersection. This effectively makes every intersection a four way stop and requires the drivers to work together to keep traffic flowing.

The good news is that pedestrians have the right of way – at intersections, the middle of the block, wherever – and the drivers are very good about stopping for pedestrians. All this means that traffic proceeds very slowly, so I am glad we are not driving.

However, walking has its own issues. The sidewalks and streets are cobblestone. Unlike Antigua, Guatemala which had rounded cobblestones, these are flat cobblestones; so they are nicer to walk on. But the cobblestones are sometimes uneven and have occasional holes. In addition, any entrances to garages usually involve a step down in the sidewalk and steps, light poles, and window sills intrude on your limited space. Consequently you have to look down at where you are walking at all times. Window shopping can be very hazardous!

Most sidewalks are only wide enough to comfortably accommodate one person. When you meet someone coming toward you, you have a choice of scrunching up to make yourself thin enough to pass, turning sideways to allow the other person to pass, or stepping down into the street. Remember, you do have the right of way in the street. Thus, walking is somewhat like driving – we all have to work together to keep the traffic moving.

This is a small price to pay for being able to walk in a beautiful, historic city.

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A Saturday Walk in San Miguel

One of my favorite things to do in a foreign country is to walk around the town and to experience the local culture. Last Saturday while I was waiting for the Panther game to start, I took a walk around the center of San Miguel. Following are some of the things that caught my interest.

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This boy was sitting on the curb eating a Popsicle and selling crafts. His mother was sitting on the other side of the street eating the other half of the Popsicle and selling the same crafts.

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Several balloon vendors were working the crowd in the main plaza.

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Newlyweds were being serenaded by a mariachi band in front of the main church on the plaza.

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They walked down the path formed by the plants on pedestals followed by the band which continued the serenade on the street. The people cleared the path when they started to walk to the street.

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Soon the band left this couple standing in the middle of the street looking like they didn’t know what to do next and another couple started up the path to the church to begin their wedding.

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These girls were part of the second wedding party. The picture isn’t very sharp, but the girls are still cute.

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A busker working the crowd.

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I take him to be a Mayan dancer.

It was a pleasant way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Our Casa in San Miguel

San Miguel de Allende is a colonial town located about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City at an elevation of 6200 ft. It’s historic center containing buildings from the 17th and 18th century is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our home for the next five weeks is located on the fringe of the historic center. It is easily the nicest apartment/home we have rented. Susan loves to give house tours, so why don’t we follow her around the house while I try to describe it.

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Our house is behind the red wall. The front is just that, a wall that hides the house behind it. There is a car parked behind the big door, but we have no keys. After seeing the traffic in town, I’m glad we don’t have a car.

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This is the entrance hall to the first door. Note all the potted plants. They are everywhere! The car is parked to the left of this hall.

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We finally reach the door to the living room. The stairs to the left lead to the upstairs bedroom.

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Two pictures of the living room and dining area.

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The kitchen is well equipped including a dishwasher and a six burner gas stove. Susan is very excited to be cooking with gas again!

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This is the patio off the living room. It has a very active hummingbird feeder.

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The downstairs bedroom.

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The stairs to the upstairs bedroom. I counted 47 pots in the entry hall and on this staircase. That doesn’t include plants in built in planters. I estimate well over a hundred pots total.

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The upstairs bedroom. We are in the process of trying out both bedrooms to see which gives the best balance of quiet, light, and comfort.

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The deck off the upstairs bedroom. This is a strong factor in favor of the upstairs bedroom.

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This is the deck with the washing machine and two staircases leading to rooftop decks. That makes a total of five decks/patios.

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One of the roof top decks. The other is used for drying laundry.

We find our casa very comfortable and attractive. The one thing we have to get used to is the unexpected steps you find throughout the house – but this is true everywhere in San Miguel.

In case you are worried, the Panther game is on TV here; and, yes, we will be glued to the TV cheering them on. The game will be broadcast in Spanish which doesn’t bother me much, but I will have to do some interpretation for Susan. Go Panthers!