If you find good neighbours, they are worth their weight in gold! We arrived in San Miguel de Allende at supper time, both of us tired and hungry from our flights from Zihuatanejo. We couldn’t get into our apartment on Animas due to time mix-ups with the manager who was to bring keys to let us in, and weren’t looking forward to going out to find a restaurant. Dave and Darlene Kerr, who were in another apartment in the six unit complex, had just ordered pizza and offered to share it with us. Ray was still suffering from Montezuma’s Revenge and limited to the BRAT (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) diet. That was no problem, Darlene gave me fish and rice to prepare for Ray and I enjoyed the pizza. Add to that being invited for breakfast the next morning and we knew we were destined to have a good visit in San Miguel.
We started right into our activities the next morning. I went to my first Aquafit at Hotel Posada de la Almeda. That evening we met Suzanne and David Andrews, Sheila MacDonald and Barry Mair and Joan and Warren Simpson, at San Miguel Playhouse to see The Odd Couple. The next day I had my first yoga session with Alejandra and met our friends for our regular Friday lunch at Oso Azul. That set the tone for the month. I did my activities every weekday morning and we used the weekly newspaper, Atencion, to pick the concerts, plays, movies, that sounded good. We often choose presentations or documentary films held in one of the Biblioteca (local library and community center) theatres, often with discussions after the presentation.
Later in the month we attended a performance of Old Love, a Canadian production, written by Norm Foster, directed by Patricia Vanstone and with actors Janet-Laine Green and Booth Savage, who each play several roles. We had seen both the actors and director in other production on stage and on TV in Canada. It was a very enjoyable play. At the end of the month, we attended the annual 10 Minute Play festival, which features local actors and directors. The audience is asked to vote for their three best plays after each performance and the results are published at the end. We had a hard time choosing our favourites.
March brings the Academy Awards and several of the nominated films were shown in the Biblioteca theatre and a small theatre in Hotel Bacco. There was also a lively exchange amongst our friends of DVDs, bought at Juan’s Cafe, so I think we saw nearly all the winners and most of the nominated films this year.
For us, the concerts arranged by Pro Musica, are a must. We attended four concerts this year, ranging from classical to ragtime to New Orleans les and jazz, all excellent. Pro Musica has branched out in support of Opera as well. For the tenth year in a row opera San Miguel, now joined by Pro Musica, have sponsored a contest to find young Mexican opera singers. This year there were 130 applicants that were narrowed down to 12 finalists, each to perform two numbers before a local audience and judges from Operatic backgrounds in several countries, including France, Germany, Sweden, the US and Canada. The audience was asked to vote for their favourite contestant. It was hard to choose, they were all so good. At the end of the evening the results were announced. No contestant was forgotten, there were so many scholarships, awards and even contracts. They deserved every one.
Always worthwhile is a Harp and Flamenco Guitar concert by the guitar master Sergio Basurt. An added bonus is the small room, Sala Quetzal, in the Biblioteca where the concert is held. The walls are covered in colourful murals of the 62 original Mexican cultures by David Leonardo. The concert is a treat and the murals are breathtakingly beautiful.
Besides the local Central Market, we like to shop at the Saturday Organic market. The produce selection is great, including fresh baked quiche, smoked salmon, a variety of moles, cheeses, honey, a variety of breads and buns plus lots more. We enjoy lunch from one of the stands featuring traditional foods. Ray’s favourite this year was a lamb burger, freshly made and juicy. We get a fresh mug of juice from another booth and choose a seat at one of the long tables where we can enjoy music played by various groups.
There are too many good restaurants in San Miguel to sample them all, but we did get to a few. March incudes Barry Mair’s Birthday, so a celebration is in order. This year a group of us went to Orchidea Thai to enjoy the spicy Thai offerings, eat carrot cake and listen to the music supplied by a talented couple with guitar and voice. Bistro Mi Casa, inside the Instituto Allende on Ancha de Allende has special dinner concerts on Wednesdays and Thursdays each week. Two tables were reserved one night for our group to hear a talented singer and her band perform a program of Brazilian music. The setting is beautiful, with a view over San Miguel, the food was good and the music excellent.
Our second annual party was
hosted jointly by Dave and Darlene Kerr and ourselves. We invited the other
four tenants of the apartments in our Animas Street complex, plus our circle of friends,
all with Montreal roots. It was held on the Kerr’s balcony this year and was
a great success. Everyone contributed to the tapas style food and imbibed
our selection of wine, beer and limonada. Neither the Kerrs, whose unit has
been sold, nor Ray and I, whose unit is booked from December to April next
year, will be returning to our apartments on Animas. We will have to
establish a new annual get together in our new apartments next year.
San Miguel was established as an artistic center for gringos after WWII. Today the arts thrive. The number of stores selling paintings, sculptures and other works are innumerable. There are lessons available for every type of artistic endeavour. One of the biggest and best places to get a flavour of what San Miguel has to offer is Fabrica Aurora. Once a textile plant, it now houses showrooms and ateliers, plus a few restaurants and coffee shops. We hadn’t visited since the year before so Ray and I walked up to see what was new. Geeks & Coffee is just what the name implies. Bring your computer for repair and have a cup of coffee or light lunch and relax in a quiet garden with ducks and geese swimming in a stream next door. After your coffee break, stroll through the showrooms. There are so many one day is not enough to explore them all. The prices are high but the quality is too.
One of the reasons we choose to come to San Miguel de Allende in March is the fact that the weather is generally warm and the number of festivals scheduled for that month. The first Friday in March is the Festival of Our Lord of the Conquest. The faithful from villages close to San Miguel, arrive to pray to a corncob statue of Jesus, brought to the Parroquia in San Miguel from Pátzquaro, and perform traditional dances around the Jardin. The dancers, called concheros, wear elaborate feathered headdresses and elaborate pre-Colonial outfits. Whole families, from the elders to very young children, dance most of the day to the beat of traditional drums. We make sure we are there every year to witness the pageantry and colour of their outfits.
We were lucky this year. We were able to witness all but one of the processions and festivals leading up to Easter. Two weeks before Easter was El Señor de la Columna (Our Lord of the Column). The celebration began is 1812, when a priest in Atotonilco, 8 miles from San Miguel de Allende, created a statue of a beaten and bloody Christ and subsequently carried the statue to San Miguel hoping for a miracle to stop the epidemic raging in the area. The epidemic was curtailed and the procession has been repeated every year since then. To get the real flavour of the festival, we had to dress warmly and get to Indepencia Avenue by 7 AM. We were not disappointed. Even more murals, created with coloured wood shavings and flowers, covered the roadway over which the procession would walk. Purple and white decorations decorated the houses and formed archways over the Indepencia. Bouquets of flowers lined the street and sweet smelling camomile covered the pavement between the murals. The numbers of the faithful increase every year. We followed the procession down Indepencia to its destination at San Juan de Dios Church, where a mass would be held. We didn’t stay for the mass. Instead we headed for Café Monet for an excellent brunch, a perfect ending to an early morning start.
The last Friday of Lent is La Dulzura de la Virgen Dolorosa, (The Friday of Sorrows). Altars to the Virgin Mary, who is believed to foretell the arrest and death of her son, Jesus, are created in private homes, churches and at public fountains. That night, people visit the shrines all over San Miguel and receive popsicles, small ice creams or other cold treats, representing Mary’s teardrops that are collected in cups to prevent them falling on the floor.
Ray was wakened at 5 AM on Palm Sunday by firecrackers in the sky. The Mexicans take any opportunity to create big bangs. There were repeats of noise all morning and into the afternoon. There were two parades scheduled for Palm Sunday. The first parade started at 10 AM at Calvario Chapel, at the top of San Francisco Street and proceeds downhill to San Francisco Church. The parade was led by a man dressed as Christ and riding a donkey as he has for the past 19 years.
At approximately 11 AM, an even larger procession assembles in Juarez Park and walks up Sallano Street to the Jardin and the Parroquia where another mass is held. The best place to watch this procession is part way up Sallano Street, where the houses are decorated with flowers, coloured ribbons, purple and white streamers, more decorations arch over the street and sweet smelling herbs cover the roadway. It was one more photo bonanza and a chance to witness the depth of belief of San Miguel residents.
We had a bonus procession that day. Ray and I were just finishing lunch at one of our favourite breakfast and lunch restaurants, Garambullo, on Animas, when we heard the beating rhythm of drums. Looking out the doorway of the restaurant we saw a group of indigenous people, dressed as they were for the earlier celebration of Our Lord of the Conquest. They were followed by people dressed as sinners, then children and adults in Gigantes costumes and finally, people on horseback, all headed to the Jardin.
Good Friday is the holiest and most solemn day. Altars are erected along the route of the procession. The day starts with an enactment of the Trial of Jesus by Pontius Pilot, this year in the Oratorio San Felipe. The procession starts after the trial of Jesus. Angelitos, little girls, and a few young boys, dressed in white with angel wings, throw aromatic herbs on the street. Palequin with statues of Christ and all the favourite San Miguel saints were carried, including the famous “Rain God”, who will be carried from church to church during the rainy season to ensure good water for the crops. Immediately after the parade finished, sweepers cleared all the herbs from the street. I would have liked the herbs to remain, giving off their sweet odour. On our way back to our apartment we passed more altars, constructed just for this one event.
We left San Miguel on Easter Sunday, April 1. That meant that we missed the most bizarre event of Holy Week. That is the Firing of the Judases. We had seen the event two years ago when Easter was a bit earlier in March. Papier Maché figures are constructed of all the unpopular political figures and other comical persons. The figures, with a belt of firecrackers around their waist, are strung on ropes between the Jardin and San Francisco Street. One, by one, are set alight until they explode, to the delight of the crowd.
That last weekend in San Miguel, we encountered one figure, depicting
President Trump, hanging from a building not far from the Jardin. A
two-sided sign dangled from one hand waiting, hanging from one hand,
declaring “No Al Mura (no to the wall)” on one side and “No A Los
Parquemietros (No Parking Meters)”, a local issue. We would have loved to
see this year’s versions of the Judases. Another year we will make sure we
are in San Miguel for the entire Holy Week.
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