Archive for the ‘San Miguel de Allende’ Category

Singing corridosOne of the most enjoyable elements of Mexican culture is the ubiquity of its art and culture.  It is so interwoven into the fabric of society that you encounter art and music everywhere.  Even in the least expected places and times (at least for a Norte de Americano).

In San Miguel a small, al fresco terrace-like restaurant, La Terraza sits in front of the Santa Escuela de Cristo (the Teplo de San Rafael) where Jackie and I would regularly relax after nuestras clases del español de la mañana, sip cervaza Indio, and watch the people make their way, always unhurriedly, about the Jardin.  As we sipped our cervazas, once in a while a little boy (my guess the son of one of the friendly waiters) would suddenly burst out—as if he could no longer bear keeping it inside him—into a corrido and sing his heart out, completely unrestrained,  for the customers.  He never had to ask for tips, and he always got one from us.  His singing was magical.  It’s hard to imagine Mexico without its music.


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La Sauceda, a little town about 45 minutes south of the beautiful colonial city of Guanajuato, and maybe an hour from San Miguel, is one of those off-road villages that survives on both tourist and commercial traffic; however, not many tourists stop. There’s no gift shops or any stores catering to the tourist trade. If you blink your eyes as you pass through you’ll miss it. Not even one tope (speed bump) which are ubiquitous everywhere else in Mexico. Victor Gutierrez, our driver for the day, whom we hired to drive us (safely) to Guanajuato—a man of many words, but cautious with most of them—told us about the little town and wondered if we would be interested in seeing the “real Mexico.” He had noticed that I enjoyed taking pictures (not a difficult assumption since I was shooting left and right through the windows of the moving van), and asked me if it wouldn’t please me to stop and take pictures there.

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There are no traffic lights in San Miguel, no stop signs, no center lines to designate which side of the road you should be driving on, no crosswalks for pedestrians, and an endless supply of bright green taxi cabs and city buses, “Vespas,” motorcicletas, and todo terrene vehicles.However, somehow the flow of traffic works like a well-oiled machine: intuitively, as a part of the magical subconscious of the Mexican world, people behind the wheel know what everyone else is doing or is about to do on the road.No one gets angry, that I’ve seen. No evidence of road rage here, no flipping of the bird, no waving of hand guns.Impatient horn honking, yes (it seems there is an obligation in this country, in traffic, to lay a heavy hand on the horn), but none of the NOB (north of the border) manifestations of perpetually angry drivers.

La Gente Mexicana:

In San Miguel, you do see various stages of poverty everywhere, but you also see clearly distinguishable class systems as well; there is no subterranean, no unseen levels of poverty here; it is all in the open for everyone to see.Ever walk downtown and get hit up for spare change by a panhandler?In Mexico panhandling is a job, though I would not describe the process as panhandling; a business, yes, selling something, anything for a few pesos, but not panhandling.Everybody here is trying to make a living anyway that they can.There are “beggars” here, but most have something to give you in return, indigenous women with babies in their arms, old women who spend hours making tiny dolls to sell to the tourists or anyone who will pay, little children who sell bags of handmade corn tortillas or chicles, men who sell traditional woven baskets that they carry on their backs all day long, and old men and women who sit on the threshold of a doorway, holding out empty hands or hats or plastic cups.We saw one man who was selling these elaborate cactus gardens, one in each hand.These, I believe, are the real people of Mexico/SMA,just what they have always done to make a living to take care of their families.And oddly enough, certainly unlike NOB, the local businesses, including the restaurants, gift shops, pharmacies, all compassionately tolerate these people, allowing them to come into the business establishment to try to sell their wares to the patrons.It is difficult for us, as touristas who stick out like white statues in shorts, t-shirts, cameras, and floppy jungle hats, to say “No, gracias…”Of course, sometimes we put a few pesos in the empty and extended hands of these people, but not always.And that’s the point: This is Mexico; this is how life works here:a mixture of the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad, rich and poor, the smell of food and flowers combined with the smell of sewers and sanitorios.To say Mexico is a land of contrasts is obvious and the way it should be down here because it is not the USA, where so much of life NOB is hidden, obscured, buried from view; it embarrasses us; we feel ashamed; we feel guilt for what we have here.These are not Mexican values, so don’t bring them down here is the message I am hearing and learning about.Mexicans are very proud people; they appreciate their freedoms and independence a great deal more than Americans do because the incredible history of this country has led them to believe that freedom is not just a part of a clichéd phrase (freedom is not free), but something they have lost and regained and lost again.We know that the Mexican people we have come to know and experience are the kindest, gentlest, most caring people we have ever known.Example:One day after an exhausting walk, we stopped at one of our outdoor hangouts for lunch and Indios, Ten Ten Pie, a block from the Jardin, we noticed a elderly and frail women who had just finished her lunch. She stood up painfully and walked slowly toward the Jardin.Two of the wait staff at the restaurant and a Mexican man with a pick-up truck recognized that this woman needed help. They helped her into the cab of his truck to give her a ride to her destination.


Street food vendors are everywhere selling all sorts of cooked and uncooked and, yes, even rotten (to our NOB standards) food.Jackie and I have walked by several vendors selling these odd, yellow-colored chickens that smell rotten, but only because refrigeration is costly and ice melts by the end of the day and the Mexican people don’t mind because they cook the chicken in pozoles and sauces and so on with chilies and verduras and spices, so they just don’t notice.We went to Mega today, an enormous Costco-like supermercado that holds an incredible fusion of American and Mexican food of all kinds.We see Kirkland brand canned food from the states next to canned food from Jalisco; meat imported from the U.S., specially priced, next to special cuts from the local ranches (I’m still a vegetarian, but I can appreciate cuts of prime rib being sold with the rib bone attached).And guess what:all the fresh chickens had that odd yellow color to the skin; and, of course, some are packaged with the chicken feet.On the shelves of this mega-store is a veritable cornucopia of canned, bagged, and bulk foods of all kind.Everything we would ever need we can find here.Except playing cards.Another oddity we have found.For some reason, we cannot find any playing cards here, and we have looked everywhere in SMA.We were certain we would find them at the Mega, but, alas, none to be found.It is as if there is some unwritten understanding that card playing is not allowed here, that somehow card playing (gambling) is this terrible vice and cannot be encouraged through the sale of Bicycle Playing Cards!Other kinds of cartas, yes:Monopoly, Uno, etc., yes, but anything you can use to play poker, no.While this may not be true for the experienced resident of SMA, it is certainly the case for us. We have a good deal to learn yet. We walked out of the store with a bag of dried chiles chipotle; they smelled fantastic. We will bring those home with us when we return so that Jackie can make some wonderful dishes with it (especially since she attended an all-day cooking class!). We also bought a bag of dried hibiscus flowers for agua de hibiscus.

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