I’ve just returned from ten days in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where I stayed with my uncle’s friend and hung out with a college classmate. San Miguel de Allende is a small mountain town known for its silver mining and revolutionary origins, and the preponderence of expatriate art-inclined retirees. The trip for me was an escape from the darkness of winter in New York. Here are some sketches I made while there and some recollections.
Right away, on landing in Mexico City, I noticed what the guide book refers to as Mexico’s “love of color.” It may not be as strong a “love of color” as India’s or Jamaica’s “love of color.” But it certainly is a far cry from Sweden’s or Canada’s near hatred of color. Tibet’s “love of color” though, I have to say, seems a close second to Mexico’s “love of color,” though I can’t claim to have been to Tibet.
With a thin grasp of the Spanish language, I was thrown to the wolves, so to speak, when I asked the taxi dispatcher at the airport if he “habla’d Ingles.” “No,” he said (which means the same as in English). I made it by taxi, notwithstanding, to the contradictorily named “Central Norte” (Central North) bus station where I caught a bus to San Miguel.
After a year and a half of not eating meat, I decided that I would “do as the Romans” and sample the meat in Mexico. Why fight it? I thought, for this one time.
I was fascinated by the simple beauty of the landscape and the people in Mexico. There are many white-bearded Americans in San Miguel too, but they were less fascinating to me. At a “gringo” café, not far from the main square, I ate a quesadilla. A lonely old white woman sat alone nearby and I wondered who was lonlier, she or me?
Later I met up with Margaret, a Canadian friend from college who has made San Miguel her home for the last year and a half.
You aren’t allowed to flush toilet paper down the toilet at Fred’s place where I was staying. Instead you must deposit the paper in plastic bags that are disposed of by the maid. This humiliating ritual took some getting used to.
I met Veronica, a local Mexican woman, at the “tianguis” market on the outskirts of town. She said she had been to New York once for an exhibit in connection with an art gallery where she works. I gave her my card and hoped we could meet again.
Fred took me to a life drawing session at a local artist’s house. The small group of mostly Americans were welcoming and enthusiastic about drawing.
I took the bus to nearby Guanajuato, a beautiful university town, also known for its colonial silver mining origins. I visited the Diego Rivera’s birthplace museum and the museum of Don Quixote “iconografia.” Both were a disappointment.
A friend of a friend of a friend failed to meet me in front of the theater as planned so I went and had nachos and a “michelada,” a sort of bloody mary beer concoction. I peeked into a crowded local bar and a boisterous young Mexican gentleman yelled something in Spanish and gave me the finger.
Back in San Miguel, Fred’s 86 year-old cousin Jay arrived from Minneapolis, grieving a recently deceased wife. We had ice cream.
The birthday of Ignacio José de Allende, a key figure in Mexico’s independence from Spain and the man for whom San Miguel de Allende was named, brought an orchestra, fireworks, and a lightshow to the main square.
A drunken Mexican man approached me and said in English:
“Where are you from?”
“New York,” I said.
“Oh, that is the capital of the world!” he said with a tinge of sarcasm.
“Heh… yeah,” I said, “but it’s very nice down here.”
“Here we have tradition. It is very important,” he said, gesturing toward the orchestra which was playing traditional Mexican music.
“Yes, it’s beautiful,” I said.
“Maybe that’s why you all come down here.”
“What is your name?”
“But you are not a gringo.”
“I’m afraid I am.”
“But I thought you were a European.”
“No, I am from the United States.”
Later Margaret, Ava, Charlotte, and Gabriel, and I ate greasy onion and garlic-soaked pork and beef tacos from a street stand. Afterward Jacob deemed I would be a “pussy” if I didn’t drink another couple “palomas” (a grapefruit and tequila drink).
The next day I felt nauseous and feverish. But, with a borrowed guitar, I played a solo show of my music for gringos at a local bar/restaurant called Oko. Margaret arranged this impromptu gig.
Veronica finally wrote to me saying that she enjoyed viewing the work on my website. I urged her to meet me for a coffee before my return to New York. But, without a phone, I was only accessible by email.
Margaret and I visited the hot springs outside of town and I did another show, with the borrowed guitar, at a small theater. Before the show, however, I ran into Veronica, walking her dog on the street. She claimed to have knocked on the door where I was staying, but I had been out. Instead we walked along and talked for a bit and agreed to keep in touch via email should I ever return to San Miguel.
After my show at the theater, Margaret and her friends took me out for drinks. I met other friends of theirs including two Mexican guys. Cheekily I exclaimed “Hey, check out this photo of a girl named Veronica whom I met here in San Miguel. You might know her!” One of the guys looked at the photo and said “That’s my sister.”
I spent one extra day in a Mexico City airport hotel awaiting a morning flight back to New York after my original flight had been canceled because of snow at JFK.