Tuesday, February 24, 2015

San Miguel de Allende

So, last weekend the motek decided to take me along for a relaxed couple of days at one of Mexico's prettiest towns, in the state of Guanajuato - San Miguel de Allende. By the way, and just as an interesting detail, this was the first municipality to declare independence from Spain at the start of Mexico's war of independence!

But, back to the trip. The three hour drive from Mexico City (it should be a lot less, but getting out of the city is quite the ordeal!) was very interesting for me. This was the first time I was on the road since I came back, and the views and landscapes seemed so intriguing to me. After all, all my road trips in the last 5 years had been in very northern latitudes. This part of Mexico (called El Bajío) seemed strangely arid... an abundance of cacti of different sorts and the diffuse soft light gave it an incredibly different aspect than any of my previous trips. I'm still not sure whether I found it beautiful... it was so unlike anything I had seen in the recent past! 

The good life

Last time I was in San Miguel de Allende was over 12 years ago. I had gone there with the huz to have a most deserved rest from work. And we did nothing but walk around town, eat, rest, and be together. This time it wasn't much different. Among other things we simply enjoyed coffee (with a bit of Arak, an idea from a good friend who lived in beirut at the same time as the huz and me) and watching the birds and the trees and countless lavender flowers in a crispy morning; we enjoyed organic gorditas (sort of a fried Mexican version of Israeli falafel) at the local organic market; watched TV (or, more accurately, American Horror Story 3); and I enjoyed one of the best pastas I might have had in a really really long time (fusilli with braised greens, walnuts, roasted garlic and fennel-tomato sauce; very simple, yet the flavours played with each other in an impossibly delicious and delicate way) at a place simply called The Restaurant. 

Surprise... art!

San Miguel has changed a lot since I last visited. Like, incredibly so. Back then it was already popular with foreigners retiring there, as well as artists and the like. But it was also still a rather quiet place. But this trend really took off and the inflow of foreign and out-of-town residents and tourists has caused business, especially art-related business, to flourish. And to levels I could have never imagined! Like, we walked into this art gallery place called La Aurora, a former factory, right? 

At la Aurora there were antiques, furniture, paintings, you name it. Very nice, but nothing out of the ordinary at an art place. But then we came across this one gallery with lots of nice pieces. Then we spotted what seemed some M. C. Escher reproductions. Then we looked closely. Hmmm, why did they look so... non-reproduction-ish? And then the attendant came by, and quite nonchalantly confirmed - these were originals! All of them! But then, if these were originals... then that Dali-esque elephant... that was not Dali-esque, that was a Dali! And the four Warhols were, indeed, original Andy Warhol works!? All of this, on sale, in this one space??? We asked the prices, but I can't remember any - I was too dumbfounded by finding all of this, just like that, in a San Miguel de Allende gallery! 

We saw plenty of nice stuff afterwards. But quite frankly, after you've seen this, the rest seemed a bit... underwhelming? LOL  

What you came for

Of course, what San Miguel is famous for is its very well preserved historic architecture. And deservedly so - it really is very pretty, it's very well preserved, and it's a delight to wander around the streets. Particularly beautiful, and especially interesting, is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, in the main square. And what's so special about it? That its façade is Gothic. And more than authentically Gothic, it's a re-interpretation - by a local architect - of Gothic churches from postcards! And don't you love the colours?

And what you didn't know you came for

There's another reason people go to San Miguel. And it's something that is not in San Miguel proper - the World Heritage site of the Santuario de Atotonilco, in the town of (surprise!) Atotonilco - a small, sleepy place just a few minutes from San Miguel.  

Granted, Atotonilco does offer a few photographic opportunities. But you wouldn't come here were if it were not for the sanctuary. And you definitely want to come for this! It's not really old (18th century), but the building is graceful on the outside. It's simple, it's solid, and it seemed very peaceful to me. Which contrasts radically with what you find inside: almost every available surface (bar, obviously, the floor, and the very lower parts of walls) is covered in mural work and sculpture. If you want a prime example of Baroque, this is it! There is a (religious) story behind every image, of course, but the sheer number of figures and designs is enough to render most attempts at interpretation a very difficult affair (unless you're an expert).  

And all the rest

I left San Miguel not only refreshed, but with a number of notes about random things like Fangoria (the band), Yva Las Vegass (a Venezuelan singer), L'Élegance du Hérisson (the book), strange sentences heard at a gallery ("his family is practically Hebrew"), the 2nd movement of Shostakovitch's String Quartet No. 8, and Anna Wintour's accent. Getting away from the hustle and bustle does wonders, eh?

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