Tag Archives: San Miguel de Allende

Returning to San Miguel

It’s morning and we are sitting on the rooftop deck having coffee. There are birds chirping from all directions and the morning doves coo. Occasionally they drop by and sit on the surrounding wall. The gentle sound of the birds is broken with the sporadic bark of dogs…..some near and some far. It’s a symphony that is both soothing and pleasant, immediate and invigorating. We are back in the magical town of San Miguel.

The house that we are renting is high on a hill southeast of the Centro, and about a fifteen minute walk to the Jardin. It was formerly the home of artist Marion Perlet and still contains a number of her original paintings. Shaped like a two story “L” it has an enclosed courtyard. The courtyard is full of ferns, vines, bougainvillea, and other plants gathered around a large fountain. The cats (especially Chuckie) enjoy strolling through the jungle of ferns, digging their paws in the dirt, and rolling, stretching, and scratching their backs on the stone floor of the courtyard.

We are all slowing down and settling into the unique rhythm that is day to day life in Mexico. Climbing the hill to the house (and even the stairs to the rooftop) will be good for the bodies we brought here from the States. Much of the other aspects of being here should be good for the soul.

Buen Dia,





Earnest and Excited

It has been a long time since I have written, but travel is on our horizon again. Now I am happy to play the role of both characters in the post title above. At the stroke of midnight tonight the prospective buyers of our currently “under contract” Denver condo would lose their earnest money if they were to back out of the purchase. It looks like the deal is going to happen. Please, call me earnest.

The rest of the title? We sit in a Staybridge Suites in Suburban Denver, and the picture at the bottom of this post is the view out the window of our room. Yes it is late March and we are having a blizzard. The winds are reaching above 50 miles per hour and the snowfall is expected to reach 14 inches. But we have secured a rental in San Miguel de Allende, and will be returning to Mexico. We will leave here within the week and, with a stopover in Austin TX (last minute U.S shopping, health certificates for the cats, vehicle permit to drive the Blazer into Mexico) should arrive there as of April 9th. We have that house rented through the end of June. Once there we will look for another home to rent after that to extend the stay for a month or two longer.

I look forward to seeing old friends, hanging out at our favorite places, walking to them in shorts and sandles, and hearing the crow of the roosters and the music and festive voices that are always present in the Jardin. Please, call me excited.

Bien Viaje,



Staybridge Window

Christmas Approaches in San Miguel, and Maya Angelou Points to the Way Home

It’s Christmas time in San Miguel de Allende. The mornings and evenings are cool and crisp. The light in the afternoon seems brighter, more intense. Families prepare their presents for each other. The streets are filled with poinsettias, posada processions, and festive decorations.


After a two-year four-wheel walkabout (driveabout?) Traci and I have decided to give ourselves a gift. We’re going to give ourselves a home. We’ve road-tripped and crisscrossed the U.S. We have spent a winter on the ocean in the Baja Norte of Mexico. We have enjoyed two long stretches of time here in Mexico’s mountainous Central Highlands. Now we are going to “break camp” soon and head to Denver where we’ll search for a downtown condo in a neighborhood where we have lived before…..and loved it.

On the surface It might seem that, compared to the last two years, owning a property would be restrictive. We think it will be freeing. A home base will allow us to leave the cats at home under the care of a loving “pet nanny” and hop on an occasional plane to…..any number of places to which you cannot drive (The cats HATE flying and we hate flying with them). With a home base, the two of us can easily jump in the car and go to the mountains for a few days of hiking or off to see family. We will advertise our new condo on vacation rental sites for 30-day minimum rentals. If somebody wants it for a month (or three) we will pack up the Blazer, cats and all, and hit the road again. We will keep making tracks, but our adventures will depart from Denver.

Two years of bouncing among hotel rooms and rentals has been fun, but we miss having a home to return to. This should balance both. Maya Angelou said “the ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” As always, Maya was onto something.




It’s 2 days from Thanksgiving, and less than 24 hours until we take a shuttle to the Leon Airport for a flight back home. We’ll land at O’Hare Wednesday night, grab a rental car, and head north to see Traci’s family in Wisconsin. There will be lots of great food, and it will be great to see the in-laws (truly……no sarcasm).

There will also be a lot of things back in the States that I no longer care about and some I never did. The latest television reality show, the latest pop phenom or scandal, and the measuring of place in the society of consumption are among the latter. NFL football is among the former.

There are definitely things I miss about the States when I am here in Mexico. Likewise, there is much I miss about Mexico when we are north of the border. This past Saturday night we strolled to the Jardin (literally translated it means “the Garden” and it is essentially a small park-like town square) with no real expectation of what we would find. This is what we found, and it’s a great example of what I miss when we aren’t here. There is a joyous celebration of life and culture around every turn.




Protest and Perspective

Yesterday was a National Holiday here in Mexico. It honored the Mexican War for Independence of 1910. It’s one of six holidays on which all government offices, schools, and many businesses close. The people step away from their routines to remember and proudly honor their heritage and the sacrifice of those who lost their lives for a greater cause.

Traci and I strolled to the Jardin here in San Miguel de Allende yesterday and witnessed a moving remembrance ceremony, but it was not for the war 104 years ago. It was for the 43 students missing (and assumed dead) from the city of Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.  The demonstration was filled with signs and speeches and crowds chanting. While there was a solemn, calm resolve on the surface — raw emotions of anger, sadness, frustration and idealistic determination were also evident.


By now most in the States probably have heard (at least) the shorthand version of the tragic event: In September, a group of 43 students from a school that trains kids from poor and rural communities to be teachers had been on the road. They were protesting education reforms when they stopped in Iguala to demonstrate. It is known that local police fired on them and six were mortally wounded. The rest have disappeared. There’s evidence that the mayor and his wife ordered an attack on the students. There’s also evidence (and reportedly admissions) that the mayor and the local police had ties with the local drug cartel and that cartel was enlisted in the “disappearance” of the students and the disposal of the “evidence.” The details emerging are of a horrific level of senseless violence and cruelty.

The barbarism is hard to imagine. The sheer number of victims is shocking. It’s also the kind of story that supports the U.S. media’s sensationalist, broad-brush portrayal of Mexico. It fosters the misconception that this kind of action is possible (or even likely) in every town and on every street corner south of the border. It engenders fear, pity, revulsion, condescension, a sense of “that wouldn’t happen here” superiority……..or just “that’s their problem” apathy.

Without a doubt, politicians and cartels are at least in cahoots (if not totally intertwined) in some places. This corruption is a Mexico problem and the solution will need to come from within.  In the meantime, maybe the reaction that should be triggered north of the border is one of empathy and contrition, and a willingness to own up to some complicity……a realization that the U.S. has its own house cleaning to do. For starters, let’s admit that the enormous North American demand for illegal drugs plays a huge role in fueling the activities, including filling the coffers and the armories, of the cartels.

Ending the ongoing and pointless “war on drugs” by federally decriminalizing, legalizing, and controlling recreational drugs would strip the cartels of much of  their power and influence. It would also mean hundreds of thousands fewer U.S. citizens imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes in which the only victim is that recreational user that is incarcerated.

So when you watch the news, if your reaction is along the lines of “what’s wrong with those people?”…consider the role that U.S policies and  consumption play. Then, as you reflect on American values, consider our own plentiful examples of senseless violence: Kent State, Oklahoma City OK, Virginia Tech, Philadelphia MS, and Sandy Hook NJ, among others.

Traci and I watched a few speeches yesterday. In the most moving of them, the main speaker slowly stated the names of each of the missing 43 to the crowd in the Jardin. After each name the throng of protesters shouted out in unison a corresponding number: “UNO” after the first. “DOS” after the second…and so on…until all 43 were named and counted. The protesters were angry but focused, and were calling for change. They want their countrymen to stop killing each other. Shouldn’t we all?




Picture This

Above is a picture of Traci standing at a corner near the house where we are living. The mural behind her is painted on the wall of the local “taller mechanico” (automotive mechanical shop). Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will type less today, and instead share some local art.

We are living in a neighborhood in San Miguel de Allende called Guadalupe. It’s a working class Mexican neighborhood sprinkled with a few ex-pats here and there. The sprinkle becomes a liberal dusting in the winter. The people are friendly and the streets bustle. There’s a  density of  tallers (workshops) and tiendas (small stores). A handful of small restaurants are here, and an organic market. A short walk away is the beautiful Fabrica Aurora. But for the most part it’s gravel and rough cobblestone streets with indiscriminate walls enclosing unseen homes. Owners intentionally do not disclose to the street what does or doesn’t lie behind. Here, the show IS the walls.

Over the last couple years art students and others have come on a weekend here and there to adorn the walls with murals. The results have made strolling through the neighborhood to shop for dinner like walking a gallery showing. Here are a few of my favorites on our daily walk.

The mural at the end of the building just a few weeks before was just the catepillar. In a few weeks it will probably be just the Monarch Butterfly.


The Monarch metamorphoses appears again, with a little festive Dia de la Muerta to the right.


A little different angle to show more mural and the context of where it’s painted. That door is the entrance to Gil’s tienda…..one of the busier little markets in Guadalupe.


A random monster facing the entrance to the local watch repair shop


The other side (and other entrance to) Gil’s tienda. Is it a bird, is it a ship? Yes…..and it’s beautiful.


The wall across from Via Organica, decorated for Dia de la Muerta.


Hope you enjoyed these.


Dia de la Muerta

It’s late morning Sunday, and it’s the tail end of the Dia de La Muerta weekend here in San Miguel. I’m sitting on the rooftop terrace of the home we are renting. It’s peaceful now and all I hear are random church bells and the trickle of water running in the arroyo….the calm after a raucous couple of days. Friday saw young children in face paint clamoring for candy. Both Saturday night and last night we saw hundreds of “Catrinas” in traditional garb….doing the crawl around the bars and restaurants of the Centro….drifting in and out of the official march from the Paroquia for a drink here and a quick bite there. It’s a buzz as festive as any Halloween party in the States, but without the Naughty Nurse silliness and Freddie Kruger garishness.

Most Sundays here start slowly, but the neighborhood comes alive by mid-morning. We hear the cheers of a few dozen spectator in the bleachers of the soccer field across the arroyo as they watch the local matches. By noon there is always a large extended family renting the nearby “Salon de Fiesta” (Mexican version of a party hall) for the day. Complete with both happy dance music and giggling children flowing out and into the cobbled streets, families celebrate all day. The local tiendas open a little later and neighborhood customers drift in and out in small but steady numbers. But not today.

The post-Halloween wind-down in the States entails gorged stomachs and livers working overtime from the parties. Fuzzy-headed revelers return rental costumes or put outlandish outfits in storage. But here in Mexico the most elaborate decorations are dedicated to the dead and not the living.

Families in Mexico focus their most important Day of the Dead energies on somber and serious rituals designed to not only honor the relatives that have passed, but to guide them back so they can make contact and be with those still here. Graves are cleaned and decorated. Elaborate altars are constructed to honor the departed, complete with photos and offerings to them, from a favorite snack to a pack of cigarettes to a bottle of their favorite soda or tequilla with a shot glass. It’s a beautiful and deeply felt way to pay tribute — to show lost loved ones they are not forgotten. The families gather, and share and recount their stories to keep them alive and reconnect spiritually…whether it’s metaphorically, or maybe even more.

So today there was no soccer game and no fiesta in the Salon. We passed houses on the way home tonight with front doors crowded and flanked with family members quietly holding vigil around their altars. William Faulkner said “the past is never dead…..it’s not even past.” Today the past and present were one and on heartful display in Mexico.

The Movie is the Message

I recently caught the movie “Frontera” at the Petit Theater here in San Miguel de Allende. It’s a drama (set along the Arizona-Mexico border) that grapples with undocumented immigration and the complex issues surrounding it. I hope it finds a large audience in the U.S.A. because, unlike most of the media’s handling of the subject there, the film does so in a way that is humanizing instead of polarizing.

Of course there is an Immigration System in place  with laws that need to be followed. I don’t think anyone disputes that. Those laws and that system badly need an overhaul and update, but posturing, politics, money and vitriol continue to stand in the way of Congressional action. In the mean time there is a perspective that must be easier to see from here — in the Central Mountains of Mexico — than from north of the border. That is, the visceral reaction to the issue has more to do with misplaced fears (based on ignorance, paranoia, and bigotry) than with concerns about safety, economy, or security.

There is a small percentage of “bad actors” in any corner of the globe; but for the most part anyone risking an illegal border crossing is looking for opportunity and a better life. Yet a certain faction of the U.S population is so angry/fearful about this action that they are driven to exact (or threaten) deadly violence. What are they so angry about that they will, as civilians, take it upon themselves to don camoflague, brandish military weapons, put finger to trigger, and set their scopes on complete strangers all in the name of “patriotism”?

Is it to save the States from disease? Some media have hyped the idea that the thousands (mostly women and children) that rode trains and walked north in recent months could carry sickness and be infectious. The recent arrival of an Ebola victim in the US has created a fevered pitch and brought some calls for shutting borders entirely. That disease came to Dallas, Texas from an area in Africa where its outbreak has been fueled by ignorance of basic sanitation and a lack of a health care infrastructure. Still, in the Lone Star State children are much less likely than their Mexican counterparts to have their vaccinations up to date or have seen a doctor when they need to. That’s because Mexico guarantees affordable health care to all of its citizens. Yet Governor Rick Perry has refused to accept Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act at no cost to Texas or it’s people. That means many of the more than 6,000,000 Texas citizens without health care could be insured with the stroke of a pen…..but they aren’t.

Is it economic patriotism? Would any of the these watchmen lining up shoulder to shoulder accept the labor that might be available to those that get across? Would they do that work? Would they want that work?

Is it safety and security? Despite the false portrayal of every street corner in Mexico being a drug-cartel shooting gallery ,my wife and I have always felt safe in our travels and in the places we have stayed in Mexico. But north of the border military style weapons are too often brandished by too many with too little training and too little regard for the potential consequences. Why are informal militias forming and setting up shop on the border? Are they really serving a noble purpose or are they exorcising their xenophobia and false machismo all at the same time on the same target?

Yes….it’s a movie…..but go see Frontera……and tell me what you think.


Taxi Drivers Party Too……….You Lookin’ at Me?

Friday night was a rough night to sleep, but a great night for a festival here in San Miguel de Allende. This weekend has been “La Alberoda”, the birthday of the patron saint of this beautiful town in Central Mexico, Saint Miguel Arcangel. That means the entire weekend is ceremony and ritual, dancing, decoration, and of course fireworks. The blasts and booms started around midnight and hit a crescendo around 4:30 in the morning. Our feral kitten Chuckie (who we adopted here last May) spent the night under the bed or under the covers. He’s loving and affectionate but has a highly developed amygdala.

Every one else in SMA has been having a great time…..and I mean everyone. Yesterday we saw children hoisting paper machet figures on poles march into the Jardin to have them blown up one at a time as they giggled and shrieked. We saw the majesty of beautifully groomed mounts and caballeros promenade through the square for the “Blessing of the Horses”. We saw parades of locals dressed as Native Indian Dancers from a bygone era…….and my obscure favorite……the Thursday “warm up” of the Taxi Motorcade where a long string of a few dozen decked out taxi cabs roll slowly into the square of the Jardin. And they make quite an entrance. Their horns honk, their alarms blare, their lights flash, and the driver’s smiles beam. Why not, and why shouldn’t they have a seat at the celebration too?

Many people wonder (and ask) why we would want to spend time living in Mexico…..and especially a town they have never heard of that isn’t on the beach. Typically their knowledge of Mexico is limited to the picture of danger painted by a sensationalist, ratings driven US media or a “bubble travel” trip to a resort town (Cabo, Cancun, pick one….any one). They typically go plane-shuttle van-resort-shuttle van-plane-home. None of that begins to tell the story of our experiences here.

We love the warmth and friendliness of the people, their work to live not live to work mindset, the beauty of the landscape, the casual pace of day to day life, the history and architecture and movies and dining all within walking distance. We love the simple pleasures here and the freeing feeling of escape from a culture of identity based (and measured) on conspicuous consumption and accumulation. And yes we have always felt safe here. Statistically we are safer than when we lived in Chicago or Oakland. But it really always comes down to the warmth and the joy of the people, and the feeling that any time and for any (or no) reason there is cause for celebration.

Nobel Prize Winning Mexican Poet Octavio Paz said “any occasion for getting together will serve, any pretext to stop the flow of time and commemorate men and events with festivals and ceremonies”. And everyone rejoices…..from the highest seats of government to the taxi drivers. And the taxi drivers not only want you to take a good look at them, but for all to join in.


“Trafficking” in Mexico

We have been in San Miguel de Allende now for a little over a week. Enough time to begin to feel and absorb the differences between life here and back in the US where we spent the last four months. So far, as I remembered it did, it feels great.

The pace is slower and life is simpler for the most part, yet of course with some unique challenges of it’s own. Preparing to cook an evening’s meal here doesn’t mean getting in the car and fighting traffic congestion, aggressive drivers and “road rage creep” to get across town to the generic grocery chain bursting with processed foods. Here you are probably going to toss a bottle of water in your backpack and you’re going to walk. If your recipe includes vegetables, herbs, a grain, cheese, and maybe a nice bottle of wine to share you’re probably walking to four or five different tiendas.

The good news is that all of them without fail are in your general neighborhood. That means getting in some steps. It means starting to knock off some US road bloat. It means getting to once again practice my Spanish with the same familiar smiling faces at our favorite shops. It means supporting local businesses and farms instead of Monsanto and GMO factory production. It’s great exercise for the body and a great exercise for the soul and the planet.

We drove the trusty Blazer into Mexico so of course we have a car here. We don’t take it out often. We have in fact taken it out once since we arrived. That was to do our first “stock up run” for staples (after all, who wants to stuff 24 rolls of toilet paper in a backpack?) at the major local grocery store/Safeway equivilent,  aptly named “Mega”.

San Miguel is a town of about 125,000 people without a single traffic light. Many streets are one way cobblestone with space for parked cars at the curb (or not) and one traffic lane. Few intersections even sport a stop sign. Many people here don’t own cars but the heart of the city is still full of cars, buses, small commercial vehicles, and tourists from nearby cities. In the US that logistic scenario would be a nightmare for everyone but the wreckers and auto-body shops.

Given that, when we started out for Mega on a Saturday I started to think it was a mistake. The traffic was thick and moved pretty slowly and it FELT chaotic. I was anxious and felt impatient…..until I realized I was holding onto the traffic mindset from a different place. I expected to be honked at. I expected to be cut off (or flipped off).  It never happened. In reality I didn’t hear a horn blast and everyone took their turns at intersections. We got there and back just fine.

In seven months here last year. I rarely heard a horn and never saw a fender bender. Getting around may look chaotic on the surface but it has it’s own congenial and communal order. Once you let go of those old expectations and accept and join the flow you become a beat in the gentle rhythm of San Miguel.

The one exception is the vehicular merry-go-round that are the handful of glorietas, where incoming highways intersect the road that rings the outer circle of town. The pattern of drivers hopping on and off is always an adventure. But it is Mexico after all, and along with it’s charm it has it’s own unique challenges.