A PERSONAL NOTE
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
I’ve visited Mexico five or six times and I have to say it is one of my favorite countries. Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Baja California with its wild ocean and desert landscapes is awesome; the crowded beaches of Cancun can’t spoil the wonderful Caribbean waters; more isolated Tulum with the underground caverns and rivers is divine and Mexico City is always surprising. These are the great places in Mexico I’ve had the pleasure of visiting over the years. But nothing compares to San Miguel de Allende. And not only in comparison to other destinations in Mexico. No. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that San Miguel is one of the most beautiful and delightful places I have ever experienced on the entire planet.
The city, a World Heritage Site, has about 140,000 inhabitants and serves as a weekend getaway for folks from Mexico City, a three-and-a-half hour drive away. What’s particularly impressive about San Miguel is the extent of the historic area which covers several square miles of narrow, cobblestoned streets lined with ochre, burnt sienna and salmon colored one and two story buildings that have been renovated without destroying the city’s traditional architectural atmosphere. The outsides of buildings are typically quite plain and look pretty much as they would have 50 years ago sans façade repairs and recent paint jobs. And then there are the magnificent cathedrals on the Jardin, the city’s central square, and the half a dozen other truly magnificent churches scattered about town. The place is a gem.
We happened to arrive just at the start of the annual San Miguel de Allende three-day festival. Parades, fireworks, Indian dance groups, acrobats all competed for our attention in a very old fashioned, low key but musically stullifying celebration that was both entertaining and fun to be a part of. I was hugely impressed that not a single fight, not a single bottle throwing incident, nor a single police arrest occurred in my sight over the three days despite the fact that there had to have been no less than 50,000 people jammed in the Jardin each night.
In fact, it’s the patience, humor, dignity and friendliness of the Mexican people that is truly at the heart of my love for Mexico. I don’t speak Spanish – at least not more than your rudimentary “how much is that” and “where is the bathroom” - and not all that many Mexicans speak all that much English here. At least outside the tourist restaurants and trendy shops. But between muddled Spanglish and sign language with the occasional pencil and paper thrown in, we’ve managed beautifully. And this, I think, is testament to the really fine, fun loving, gracious character of the Mexican people.
The restoration of San Miguel began with Norte Americano writers and artists who moved here back in the first half of the 20th Century, started an art instate – Instituto de Allende – and basically turned what had been a near ghost town into a thriving artists colony over the next decades. Now, as a World Heritage site, it is both a beautiful and popular retirement venue for Canadians, Americans and other foreigners, and a gorgeous place in which to live. As I noted, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen.
NB: We stumbled into a small theater – Pocket Movie Theater by name – which isn’t all that well known. Patronized mainly by gringos, the place has two 20 seat theaters (nice cushy theater seats) and two 8 X 10 foot screens. The fare is mainly Academy Award nominated films from the USA and other countries as well. We’ve been half a dozen times so far. Oh, and there’s free popcorn and a free drink. We are in heaven.