BootsnAll Travel Network

San Miguel de Allende

Here´s a slow day, a quiet day, a day for me to catch up with myself. Gallo, Ansie, and I are each taking a day to ourselves, going off in three different directions. It´s time. Much of what our trip has been is conversation, much of it stuff that doesn´t belong in a blog, so blogging on this trip has been completely different from blogging in Portugal, where I was alone. We talk almost non-stop, laugh, walk in tandem on narrow sidewalks, take pictures (sometimes of the same things), eat together, learn about each other and about ourselves in relation to each other. We didn´t keep our commitment to communicate only in Spanish, as Gallo is the only one with sufficient vocabulary to do that. I´ve been feeling overwhelmed with so much to see, feel, notice, and respond to. So last night we came up with this idea: split up for a day.

We´re all three staying (for US $12 a night each) in a huge adobe room with two sets of bunk beds, built-in bookshelves, a bright yellow wooden table, a private bathroom, and a kitchen with a stove (that has no gas) and a refrigerator (not plugged in). The hostel doesn´t offer breakfast, so Gallo and Ansie, who are coffee-drinkers, woke up with a hunger for caffeine. Ansie took the first shower, and while she was in the bathroom Gallo and I meditated. Just as I came out of my meditation and picked up my journal, Ansie danced out of the bathroom fully dressed, her hair in a towel. She raised both arms toward the windows and said, “Let´s go get breakfast and coffee!” I had just started a sentence and said, a bit absently,”We´re having a personal day, remember? You go on. I´ll be fine.” Gallo, brushing his long steel-gray hair said, dryly, pretending to be hurt, “She doesn´t want to eat breakfast with us.” Ansie, picking up on his game, cajoled, “Shouldn´t we start the day off right?” I laughed, agreed, and started digging out clothes while Gallo took his shower. By the time I emerged from my shower, they had their bags packed and were ready. We walked. And walked. And walked. Up and down hills, over cobblestones, on narrow sidewalks, past rooftop dogs and one little mutt with his nose poked through a hole (his nose to the world), looking for a simple little place to eat breakfast that didn´t have menus in English, that had tacos instead of toast, and that felt like it was in Mexico. This is more difficult than it sounds, in San Miguel de Allende. We finally found a place, about an hour after we´d left the hostel. As we were waiting for our tacos and huevos and their coffee, the theme song from the Disney animated version of Tarzan (“You´ll be in my heart”) started playing (sung in Spanish) and I started to cry. That song always makes me cry, and it´s so embarrassing to cry over that song that I laughed as I was crying. Gallo saved me by confessing that he sometimes cries when he sees General Electric commercials with happy families. Ansie said she has sometimes been told that others in her life “can´t deal with feelings,” so she shouldn´t talk about hers. That led to a conversation about attachment, detachment, sentimentality, feeling, acceptance, judgment, and authenticity, during which we all laughed and cried over our eggs, and when we finally parted for our personal days apart, we really needed the break.

So out of the encounter with my two good friends, into San Miguel de Allende (SMA for short from now on). Instantly my receptors turned on in a way they hadn´t done before. I noticed that the color palette in SMA has become somewhat homogenous. It´s beautiful, but it´s as if some committee has decided on a “tasteful” palette: the dominant color is Terra Cotta, a kind of Georgia-red-mud color, to which is added salmon, coral, and burnt umber. Then there´s a range of browns: chocolate, cappuchino, sand. Then the golds: butter, sand, butterscotch, gold. There´s an occasional mauve building, and now and then a lavendar or blue accent, but none of the wild colors of Guanajuato. No aqua, no hot pink, no school-bus yellow, no highlighter-orange.

I went to a supermarket and picked up some Nescafé for Ansie and Gallo (although how we will get hot water I don´t yet know) and a couple of bottles of water and some long-life milk, then went back to the room to chill out and finish the sentence I had started in my journal. Then, into the streets. I found a bench and watched Mexican men with leisure time read newspapers devoted to sports, retirees from the USA meet and gather in the jardin, and an old man who has adopted an identity as a tourist attraction ply his trade. He sits in a public space, beautifully dressed in Guatemalan costume, with a small child in a similar costume. A tourist comes along and starts to take a photograph, and the old man pulls a scarf over his face and says, loudly and clearly, in English, “FIFTY PESOS.” The startled tourist fishes out the equivalent of $5, at which point the “beggar” lowers his scarf, pulls the child on his lap, and smiles broadly. Then, if the tourist attempts another snap, up goes the scarf again. Another fifty pesos. Not a bad gig, really. Brilliant. I also spotted a magnificent figure of a woman who has adopted an identity as a fading film star. Or maybe she is one. She must be nearly ninety years old, paper thin, with a lush mane of white puffy hair, carefully coiffed. She has a richly-textured face, deep red lipstick, and pancake makeup. She wears black lace stockings, a black skirt, a white satin blouse, and a brown cashmere sweater. She walks slowly but gracefully with a cane and wears big dark sunglasses. Wonderful. The human pageant. Mexican families on vacation, accompanied by three or four children, seem to have destinations toward which they meander pleasantly, observing the gringos in the jardin. Their kids suck on bottles or sweets, or play with pinwheels or balloons purchased from vendors who are also popular targets for photographers. The gringos gaze at the Mexicans who are gazing at the gringos . I don´t see so many laptops and electronic toys here as there were in Guanajuato–the university city. After looking at Elva Garma´s work yesterday, the art in the galleries in SMA seems tame. But that´s unfair. After Elva Garma´s work, just about any art seems tame.

But there is something about SMA that makes me uncomfortable. We´ve decided to leave tomorrow instead of staying a third day. It´s not the large population of retired folks from the USA that bothers me. That´s OK. I´m not snooty about them–in fact I´m indistinguishable from them. It´s not a bad idea to live in a place like this. Even the inflated prices of SMA are reasonable enough for people with decent retirement incomes, and the retirees contribute to the economy. They buy stuff (lots of stuff). They make the effort to speak some Spanish, although most of the menus in the restaurants in the center of town are in English. Some of the retirees have done great good for the local economy. They run local social service agencies. They offer yoga, pilates, Tai Chi, drawing lessons, ballet lessons, piano lessons: for other gringos and for Mexicans who can afford their services. They bring activities that enliven others besides themselves: last night a really fine guitarist was performing jazz and light classical pieces at Mama Mia´s with its made-in-China lanterns under a bamboo roof, and tonight there´s a classical guitar concert at the Cultural Center. There are plenty of Mexican tourists, a few Asian tourists, and some Europeans. That´s all good.

The slightly depressed color palette bothers me. It feels repressed, somehow. It strikes me as conformist. It reminds me of the cities in the US that hang thousands of tiny white lights at Christmas, compared with the smaller towns that still hang large multi-colored lights. Upscale feels–I don´t know–conformist? prescriptive? trendy? Why do I dislike that? It feels less alive, somehow. Less surprising. SMA is such a tourist attraction that it feels a little like a Mexican theme park instead of a Mexican town. I´m glad there´s money for the restoration and repainting of the Parroquia (parish church). I´m just a little surprised that it has been repainted in peach with coral accents. Even the bouganvillea, which is bountiful, seems to fit into the color scheme. The whole town feels as if it has been recently redesigned by an interior designer. Maybe it´s the movie company I read about. Maybe they affected the colors. SMA is good. But…what?

I´m sitting in an internet cafe where the music ranges from flamenco to vintage Joan Baez. To my left is a gay male couple discussing (in English with American accents) how tacky the house of a friend of theirs is, and pork belly futures. On my right are two twenty-something Mexican girls visiting My Space on one computer. Behind me is a guy in shorts and hiking boots with a big backpack and a black labrador dog. I love the mix. SMA is a thing of its own, and I guess it just has to be appreciated for what it is. People who come here need to expect that it´s a gazing phenomenon, a tourist city that happens to be in Mexico. It is what it is. People watching people watch them. People cooking for, cleaning for, selling things to, people who come here to watch people.


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