Cohetes, fireworks, marked our arrival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Our conversation with our landlord for the month was punctuated with loud bangs, which caused us to jump again and again. After an hour or two, we found ourselves saying, “that’s better; I’m getting used to it,” when we only twitched. We soon learned fireworks were commonplace, noise makers customary to local fiestas, and local fiestas happen with frequency. “Every neighborhood has a church and every church has a feast day,” one taxi driver explained, as he drove slowly behind three burros laden with vegetables on the cobblestone street to our house one of those first nights.
He said the street—Cuesta de Loreto--was one of the oldest trade routes in San Miguel de Allende, a city of traders from pre-Columbian times. Gold and silver from the region’s mines flowed through the town, along with other goods. In San Miguel de Allende’s extensive, winding market today we find a range of goods from across Mexico: wool rugs from Oaxaca, silver and gold from nearby Guanajuato and other mining towns, talavera pottery from Puebla, as well as many crafts from San Miguel’s own artisans and flowers, vegetables and fruit.
The market is not far from the jardin, the local name for San Miguel’s main plaza, which faces la Parrochia, a spiraling 17th c. rose pink church, its Gothic style unusual in Mexico. The first evening we were in San Miguel, we ate at a restaurant bordering the jardin, where we could see the brightly lit church and take in the sounds and smells of a Sunday night in the center of town. A Mexican band played in the gazebo; people talked and laughed in Spanish and English, and cars rumbled slowly across the cobblestones.
We—my friend Brenda and her daughter Megan and I—had walked down to the center that first night in San Miguel, but we took a taxi back up, which would become our habit. It wasn’t just that it was dark at night and the streets relatively deserted, but also that our house in el barrio “Las Palmitas” is uphill, a serious climb we had quickly discovered. We were enchanted by the house, though, a two-floor loft in Mexican style, with big glass doors and windows overlooking an extraordinary garden with cacti the size of trees and a gentle gray cat, Guadalupe. We learned we and our landlord, from south Texas, have mutual friends and acquaintances, and we loved the way he had decorated the house, with folk art and natural materials. It was an excellent place to get away, to write and read and study—our purpose for the month in San Miguel.
On Tuesday, we took a walking tour to acquaint us with the city more formally. The tour began with a walk across to the cathedral and then to the "El Nigromante" Bellas Artes, where in a cavernous room we were surrounded by an unfinished mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of Mexico’s great muralists. In a room of the public library, we viewed another amazing mural; this one by David Leonardo depicts the mythical and cultural history of Mexico.
I have been to San Miguel before, a few years ago, with Turo. Then it was November, and he was showing me a city he had visited several times before to play in jazz festivals. We had stayed down closer to the center, between the jardin and Benito Juarez Park, where we walked winding paths and enjoyed the tropical plants and flowers. In late autumn, it was pleasantly cool though sunny during the day, but cold enough at night that we used the fireplace in our hotel room. Now I am here in summer and the nights are cool, though the days are warm and sunny. It’s rainy season, they say, and in the late afternoons, the rains often come.
One of those first days we were caught in the rain at the public library—a library with an incredible Mexican mural, thanks to the rich history and culture of the local people, and collection of English books, thanks to the large gringo population. We watched the rain shower the courtyard and spew from the rain pipes from the roof. When the storm ended, we ventured back into the street, eventually finding our way back up the hills to our summer home.