Back in Central Mexico, meandering the relentlessly uneven surfaces of both the centro historico and nuevo avenidas of San Miguel de Allende. This necessitates admiring our feet more often that not, stopping regularly, causing human traffic jams on the very narrow sidewalks, to gawk at the exquisitely colourful street scenes … the many and varied festivals, processionals, parades of all description (children dressed in fabulous costumes, the Mexican indigenous in tribal wear, funeral processions, sportfests, Palm Sunday altars set up everywhere including our villa where Alisa and Alejandro our home owners house staff set up a lovely altar by the front door) … and oh the ubiquitous San Miguel doors … worth a walk around the city just to view them all ….
San Miguel was founded and most certainly converted to Catholicism in 1542 by Franciscan monk Fray Juan San Miguel, as evidenced by the church steeples dominating the skyline. There was most likely a little town or village here long before the Spanish invasion, given its ideal location near a source of water, fertile land, hot springs and mountains. Historically, conquerors destroy and plunder … this was certainly the case in Mexico, where thousands of years of Indigeneous culture, history, artifacts were lost, stolen or destroyed by the conquering Spanish. This remains a sad fact of life for the indigenous, be that in Australia, Canada, United States, Mexico or South America. History is rampant with territorial wars. Divide, destroy, conquer! Seems archaic that in 2015 this thinking still prevails, creating chaos, terror and destruction in its wake, much as it always has. Imagine a world where respect, kindness and compassion for each other’s differences were the cornerstones of a society …
After the Mexican War of Independence in 1826, the city was renamed San Miguel de Allende after famed son and much loved national hero, Ignacio Allende, born to Spanish wealth but chose a different route than his compatriots. Does anyone not know I personally adore rebels??!! 🙂 Allende joined forces with Father Hidalgo, both well known for their rebellious bravery and enjoy hero status everywhere in Mexico! Sadly, both were captured and executed by the Spanish for treason …. still, their legacy remains and Mexico is certainly no longer a Spanish colony :)!
The Mexican population of SMA remains steady at about 120,000 with anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 gringo expats and tourists from far and near, calling this little city home. Some come from Mexico City (a mere three hour drive away) on weekends for the substantially cleaner air quality, others for the many festivals, the eclectic ambiance, the temperate climate, the art scene, family visits, escape from wintry climes, the always awesome margarita popcorn movie nights 🙂 or all of the above … some stay a weekend, a week, a month, a year …. some never leave! There is a magic to San Miguele de Allende that defies definition. I love it here and cannot for the life of me say why, but I shall try.
This city is a very seductive place for the senses. There is an unusual mix to the energy …. mysterious, intellectual, artistic, peaceful, spiritual, meditative … all beautifully woven together in layers, waiting patiently for the curious to explore, discover, unveil …. much like the thousands of decorative or simple front doors that line every street, giving little indication of what kind of house or even if a house sits behind it! …. one never quite knows what delightful surprises await when one walks through a San Miguel door.
One afternoon, Bev and I took in a talk at the local library hub, the Biblioteca, on the mystical aspects of the shamanistic ayahausca ritual, followed by a lively discussion and sharing of experiences …. yes, many willingly shared fascinating experiences using this, ummmm, tea. There were a handful of those well versed in the use of hallucinogenic substances in general. However, it was made abundantly clear by the presenter that ayahausca is not a hallucinogen at all! Apparently all who have taken part in an ayahausca ritual, had experienced profound degrees of personal healing and clarity in their lives …. some less, some more so. Ayahuasca literally means “vine of the soul” and is a concoction of caapi, a Peruvian jungle vine bark mixed with various leaves and plants that grow alongside and around the vine. Amazonian indigenous have long used the ayahausca for religious and healing ceremonies. The brew is boiled and simmered for hours to form a sludge like tea. In addition to its hypnotic effect, the caapi vine is also a purgative, cleansing the body of parasites, aiding digestion. Shamans are required during the ritual for both administering the brew and guiding the participant through what can oftentimes be a full eight hour long journey into “the eyes of the soul” …. was momentarily tempted and remain intrigued. So yes, another interesting afternoon in San Miguel de Allende.
Another afternoon found us at a lively discussion about the recent developments between Cuba and United States. It was hosted by a rather socialistically inclined retired philosophy professor from the U.S., who together with a troop from a Global think tank, has made dozens of trips to Cuba over the last decades and was a wealth of information on recent developments. I remembered attending one of his talks on Cuba last year and found him a very knowledgable sort, not just on Cuba, but global affairs in general. Cuba has developed and is currently experimenting with a new concept of doing business …. via cooperatives. It is enjoying some success, albeit still in its early days! One thing remains certain, Cuba is not keen at all to adopt the U.S. and Canadian model of capitalism that is more than showing its cracks today. In the meantime, Cuba is exploring a middle ground, fully aware that neither communism nor capitalism are ideal forms of government. Time will tell if their new cooperative style initiatives will succeed.
Our first Sunday, we attended a Pro Musica violin concert inside the beautiful stone St. Paul’s church. American Elizabeth Pitcairn performed with the original 270 year old Stradivarius, known as the red violin. There is a movie aptly called “The Red Violin” that is loosely based on the story of this instrument. Eliazabeth’s grandfather had annoymously purchased this famed violin at an auction decades ago for her 16th birthday for the princely sum of $1.7 million, the highest price paid for a musical instrument at that time. Elizabeth is a highly gifted musician
who brought this instrument to life for a small audience of a few hundred appreciative fans! Carried it with her everywhere in an aluminum case during the après concert cocktail party. Guess we would not let such a valuable instrument out of our sight either 🙂 ….. magical musical moments in SMA!
Another evening found us listening to indigenous percussion music at the botanical gardens! There is literally something here for everyone! I personally love just wandering these cobbly streets, soaking in the atmosphere, heavy on all manner of seemingly weekly festivities, poking my head into the many interesting galleries, shops and cafes scattered throughout the city. Of course my all time favourite remains sitting in quiet contemplation in the many churches here. The Parroquia and the Jardin forming the town square, remains a great spot to meet up with friends, or just hang out, sit quietly or in the case of one tired tourist I walked past one
afternoon, falling asleep. A peaceful vibe permeates.
Some of Bev’s Calgary travel friends popped into town for a week … A lively surprise 60th birthday for Bev’s oldest friend Jill was held at one of their homes. Jill and her new partner Peter, stayed with us for a week … a busy week prevailed for everyone, exploring SMA surrounding sites, organic markets, galleries, shops and of course, indulging in many tasty meals together. This city is known as a bit of a culinary hub … it is said there are over two hundred restaurants here … we are slowly making our way through them 🙂