A Travellerspoint blog

New Orleans-style - more butter, more booze and John Boutté

Part 1

semi-overcast 30 °C

So much has already been said about New Orleans, and said so well (Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Bob Dylan, to name just a very few). So much literature, so much music, so many TV shows and movies dedicated to New Orleans. Every visit here adds another dimension to what we already know and adds to the contradictions about this city that are so seductive and keep us coming back for more. If New York is a state of mind, then New Orleans is a mood and an emotion that slips through your fingers - too challenging to try and describe here. BUT - in words we all know and love, I'll give it a shot - Food, Music, Art, Architecture, and for lack of a better term - Curiosities

Food

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”
Mark Twain

EAT Restaurant. We stopped here twice - cochon anyone? That's pork butt slow-cooked, cut into cubes and seared and served with smothered greens - just as southern as all get-out.

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EAT - we're only doing as we're told. As this restaurant suggests, we are not in New Orleans for the egg white omelettes. We are here to mop up sauces, savour fresh shrimp, roll our eyes heavenward over the culinary talents and deep-fried excesses and just...dig in. All too soon, life will return to moderate portions, low-fat yogurt and an eye to sodium levels.

That big Ruby Slipper - one of the top breakfast places in town, and where we first met up with dear friends Dave and Laureen for three days of music, food and beer at the French Quarter Music Festival. The Ruby Slipper speaks to the ongoing post-Katrina effect. When the owners returned home after the floods subsided, they opened four breakfast restaurants, and named them The Ruby Slipper. As Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz proclaimed, "There's no place like home" - that would be if home is the place you find eggs, bacon, grits, fried-green tomatoes, fried potatoes, butter, jelly, and a saucer-sized biscuit on your plate. When we commented on the size of the portions, our server said," You're in the south, man. We don't count calories, we count meals." He is not whistling Dixie - being dainty with food is not how they roll.

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Brennan's - a gracious New Orleans favourite - genteel service, old-money atmosphere for less than you might think.

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An oasis on Bourbon Street - the Bourbon O Bar. An old-school cocktail lounge with fresh talent and approach. We pulled up four stools and had a grand time chatting with the very charming bartender Rachel and listening to Eudora Evans sing. Great people-watching.

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We drank beer, but the focus was on hand-crafted cocktails. These are Baby Apricot Juleps - mint-infused Hudson Baby Bourbon, with Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur, an apricot garnish and served chilled on an ice cylinder. This cocktail is the brainchild of Cheryl Charming, voted New Orleans Magazine's Mixologist of the Year 2014. Please tell me why I didn't order one of these?

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I took a number of food photos, but most of them looked unappetizing. The vegetables on one plate looked like slugs. So, I'm sticking to exterior photos of the restaurants. We avoided tourist trap restaurants, talked to the locals for recommendations, and did not have one bad meal. I think that is great advice for anyone eating in New Orleans - do your homework, and ask the locals.

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We had heard great things about the Green Goddess, and luckily snagged the last table - right in a traffic area, with condiments on the bar, and the kitchen racket clamouring away in the background. Restaurant tables are at such a premium during Festival times, that you takes what you gets. The atmosphere of the place soon washed over, and we struck up a conversation with our next-door neighbours. Lovely folks from Burns Lake, B.C. - here to enjoy the Festival with their son and celebrate birthdays. Food was amazing - such synchronized, intelligent flavouring - a little party in the mouth - and unlike our neighbours, we had no room for an ice cream sundae with caramel-bacon sauce.

MUSIC

New Orleans has festivals of some description every week of the year, but April is packed with music festivals, and we had planned our trip there to coincide with the French Quarter Music Festival, which features almost entirely New Orleans performers. This is one of the largest FREE music festivals in the world. It has grown to attract over a half million visitors to listen to dozens of bands and singers on several stages over three days. In addition to the scheduled acts, there are buskers on every corner, and live music in restaurants and bars. All that, and the parade of characters who live in this city provides non-stop entertainment.

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Unfortunately, someone forgot to alert the weatherman (woman?), and we had a very soggy weekend - at times the rain and winds were so severe that the acts were cancelled. We did manage to see a few acts at the outdoor stages, but also caught up with some music on Frenchman Street, which is a compact few blocks of clubs, restaurants and street buskers. Sooner or later, all New Orleans musicans and many international ones come through this street. You can spend many hours in this area, club-hopping and listening to incredible music.

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Musicians set up all over the French Quarter - we stopped to listen to a number of them - some much better than others, but all deserving of a few bucks in the tip jar.

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Back to the stage acts - Thursday was sunny, so we parked our folding chairs and sat in for hours of great music - we listened to the Rebirth Brass Band, followed by the great Allen Toussaint, and just wallowed in the pleasure of it all - the Mississippi River on one side, stage in front, Abita beer in hand, and chats with people as they came and went all day. Food - blackened shrimp po-boys, spicy meat pies - life is good.

We headed over to another stage to watch veteran fiddler Doug Kershaw and Steve Riley - incredibly 78-years-old, and still rocking. He brought the crowd to their feet.

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And, the best for the last - John Boutté. He is an immensely soulful and personal singer, and after listening to him in an outdoor venue, we were so smitten, we caught him again at d.b.a, a club on Frenchman Street, where he has a standing Saturday night gig. His version of "Hallelujah" comes close to k.d. lang's. Our friend Dave had a chance to buy his CD and have a chat with him. Please excuse the weird, grainy, off-colour photo - it is the only one I have.

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One more blog posting to come - wrapping up New Orleans, if such a thing is possible. See you in a day or two.

Posted by millerburr 19:12 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Driving towards The Big Easy

sunny 26 °C

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See this beautiful highway? This road was our last memory of Mexico - our payback for every wrong turn, every pothole, every tope, every roadblock and every detour. This was bliss - mostly toll roads, but plenty of free roads as well - each kilometre well-paved and scenic; we zoomed along towards our very last Mexican mystery - the dreaded border crossing.

Just as our trip began in Nogales, so it ended in Laredo - no big deal. First we drove through a booth to have our car sticker removed and our money refunded (this was done at the beginning of the trip - we paid $400 US to have a sticker put on our car; an initiative put in place to discourage illegal car imports). Then, we waited in line at the border for about 45 minutes - a typical day at the Peace Arch. Pleasant chat with the border guard, he wished us a safe trip and waved us through. And that was it - we were unleashed into Laredo at 8:30 pm, after a 10-hour drive from San Miguel.

After such an uneventful border crossing, we had an even more uneventful night in Laredo - we chose a Super 8 because we can't get enough of cheap motels that smell like cleaning fluids and ate granola and yogurt for dinner as the Burger King looked too scary and everything else was closed.

Our luck turned the next day - we stopped in Victoria, Texas for lunch and a little visit. Texas is pretty darn flat, as our friend Bey had warned - so we wanted to break up the drive a bit. Stephen had read about Victoria, and especially about their old-fashioned deli - Fossetti's - which has been around for decades. The young woman in the grey T-shirt (a Fossetti) allowed Steve to take a photo - she said she was "selfie-ready" at all times! And indeed she was - so funny - my "selfie" readiness could use a little tending to at this stage in our travels, and our re-entry into the U.S. is a good reminder of that.

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We loved the décor - the long bar, the high wooden ceilings, the fans, the memorabilia. We also loved the clientele - very southern. The gentlemen in generously-cut suits, the ladies coiffed. Our waitress' black hair was teased, back-combed and beehived. We chatted with our neighbour; a charming man with fine manners and a very nice watch - he was in ranching. This deli was a microcosm of southern society - beautiful old town with gracious homes and gracious residents - all brought together over potato salad and peach cobbler. We ordered iced tea and sandwich plates - BLT's, chips and a dill pickle. I was disappointed not to have room for dessert.

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We were driving through oil country, so stayed the night in Sulphur, Louisiana - and splurged a bit after our Super 8 - this motel was clean, quiet and civilized. Next morning , we headed out for New Orleans - first stopped to get a long-overdue oil and filter change and wash for the car, and feeling all scrubbed up and ready for the big city, we zoomed out of town, over the bridge, and right into the arms of a state trooper waiting at the bottom. Apparently Stephen was driving 69 in a 50 mph zone, but the argument that he was simply following traffic was not compelling enough to prevent a ticket. We have no idea the amount (it will be large, and we don't want to annoy ourselves by looking just yet as we have until June to pay it online), but here's the irony:

On our second day in Mexico, I was stopped by the feds for speeding and got away with it. On our second day in the U.S., Stephen was stopped for speeding and got nailed. We drove for thousands of kilometres in Mexico without mishap - no police bribes, no flat tires - none of the potential dangers/annoyances that could have happened. Now we're on what feels like home turf, and we have to kep our guard up.

But NONE of that could dampen our excitement and enthusiasm for arriving in New Orleans just two days before one of the biggest FREE music festivals - the French Quarter Music Festival begins tomorrow. I'll tell you all about the line-up in the next posting. Our friends Dave and Laureen are flying in tomorrow night, and we'll meet on Friday morning to begin some serious partying. In the meantime, some New Orleans impressions.

This brass band is one of many bands and buskers playing on the street, in addition to the scheduled line-ups

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This young man is either waiting for a gig or working up his nerve to perform.

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Bourbon Street - the most famous street in New Orleans, and for all the wrong reasons. This sign shows its origins (most streets have similar signs), but somehow Bourbon Street lost its way.

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The locals hate the fact that Bourbon Street and New Orelans are synonymous, but tourists have to go there at least once. It is over-the-top in excess, bad behaviour and poor judgement. We've been warned to stay away, to be discreet with our money, and to not engage in the hustler's banter. Fair enough - our walk home last night gave us our Bourbon Street fix - no need to return.

The strip clubs make me sad - very young girls wearing almost nothing posing by doorways, visual promises of "topless, bottomless" inside and watched over by large, ponytailed doormen. You can't come to New Orleans if you are easily shocked or offended - everything goes here. But the young girls and boys get me every time - still young enough to tug at the heartstrings, but already lost and at the mercy of someone else's agenda - this for me is the dark side of New Orleans. The Huge Ass Beers, the frozen daiquiris, the yelling in the streets- they do seem to be part of the NOLA experience for many tourists - and for them, hopefully nothing worse than the inevitable hangovers.

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Do they still call them "pasties?" Do they still use them?

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Old-fashioned neon - this city is a treasure trove of old signs, both neon and painted.

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On to more decorous, or at least more typically New Orleans signs. From this point on, I hope to show you images of the New Orleans we love. Like the graffiti and street art I found in Mexico, New Orelans is filled with fabulous graphic signs. This hat shop is a landmark in New Orleans

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Who can resist Dr. Seuss? This shop is filled with Seuss-inspired paintings and sculptures.

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The restaurant, Court of Two Sisters, a NOLA institution

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Royal House - great spot for a mid-afternoon beer break

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Cigar Bar - sweet aromas wafting out - if only we smoked!

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Swamp Dog - Google it for a great story

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Apparently being haunted is a selling point in New Orleans

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Bargain drag show (although Ru Paul is in town at a different venue)

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New Orleans-speak - "dat" is a real word

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Cafe du Monde is another New Orleans institution.

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Chicory coffee and beignets - hot dough dredged in 1/2 pound of icing sugar and dipped in milky coffee - mmmmm. The restaurant is cavernous and tended to by a squadron of ladies who careen around tables with heavy trays, and manage to clear, wipe tables, serve and collect money at an astonishing rate. The average turn-over on each table is a half-hour, so the line-up moves quickly. Great people-watching.

We left Cafe du Monde and crossed the street to see this sign on the back of a bike-taxi.
The World's Most Interesting Man has joined us for the Festival.

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Psychics and tarot card readers do a big business in New Orleans. There were tables set up all over the French Quarter; possibly they have taken business from this establishment, as this lady had time to check her phone and survey the street.

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The stores here could make you swoon. Everything from high art to low camp. These folks know how to merchandise - this is a typical window.

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Every Wednesday is Music in the Park at Lafayette Square - last night the headliner was Kermit Ruffin. Music is free, and you buy tickets for beer, wine and the food outlets - all so good. We ate jambalaya, burritos, drank Abita Amber and had a perfect seat on the steps of the statue of Henry Clay. We chatted with folks from Alberta, New York City, Jamaica and Chicago, and had a grand time.

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So much more - the magnificent architecture, the distinctive homes, the awesome live oaks, the food, the people, the music - all to come. Today we are off to see the Rebirth Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, and Irvin Mayfield - all on the waterfront stage. Thursday is a warm-up to the festival. Tomorrow we meet up with Dave and Laureen in the morning, and the fun begins.

I'll leave you with this image. It is perpetuating Louisiana stereotypes, but they're kidding, aren't they?

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Posted by millerburr 08:02 Archived in USA Comments (3)

I can't resist showing you: yet another side of San Miguel

semi-overcast 23 °C

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This is the road up to the botanical garden - the El Charco del Ingenio jardin botánico. Our place is already a good hike up from the main square, but the city climbs up very precipitously after that - the streets get narrower and the road surface more challenging. A sharp turn and then another - the one-way signs ignored as vehicles jockeyed for space. Just when we thought we must be at the top, there would be yet another near-vertical climb. My heart was in my throat the whole time, but we made it up. I tried to forget that we would be taking the same road down.

El Charco is set on 220 acres of nature preserve that includes a spring-fed pool in a canyon, and an old reservoir with a dam from the 19th century. The botanical garden is spread out over the reserve, with a huge conservatory of Mexican plants, wetlands frequented by local and migratory birds, watermill ruins, and in 2004, was named a Peace Zone by the Dalai Lama. It has beautiful paths winding throughout the preserve, and has a large central ceremonial space called the Plaza of the Four Winds. Tonight at 7:00 pm, they held a celebration of the full moon. El Charco has a number of initiatives that include environmental education programs, and ongoing activities.

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We walked through this gate, and were simply gobsmacked by what we saw - everything just on the verge. We are about two weeks too soon to see the full effect of the flowering cacti and succulents.

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This photo will give you an idea - the flower stalk is probably 30 feet high, and will be a sight to behold in full flower.

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This one, on a slightly more modest scale, (possibly 20 feet high), resembles an asparagus spear.

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Yuccas, agaves - from adorable one-foot plants to these man-eaters.

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The preserve is an absolute joy to explore. We spent about three hours following the paths, which lead from the main gate, with many benches and shady spots along the way. The area around the reservoir was especially tranquil. We spotted a number of birds - don't ask - they were red birds, birds with black heads and toffee-coloured bellies, hummingbirds. Lots of ducks. Next time, we'll come early in the morning, with binoculars and a guide.

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The conservatory holds an exceptional display of cacti, succulents, water plants and native fish. The landscaping around the conservatory was just as exceptional.

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The old dam of the 19th century reservoir was very interesting to us, as it was tied to the Fabrica la Aurora, the old textile mill. This is where they generated electricity by passing the water through an old iron pipe. (That's me on the dam)

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Further down from the dam, we ran into this sign and the ruins from the water mill.

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Continuing on the path, we headed for the viewpoint of San Miguel...

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...and looked out over the city. If you look to the right of the reservoir, you will see an old grey building that is an unfinished hotel. Our street is just down from that.

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An image of Mexico we really like (that has nothing to do with the botanical garden). Stephen snapped this today on our street as we were heading out for breakfast.

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We walked around the jardin tonight after dinner for one last glimpse of Mexico. The mariachi bands were out in full force, and we think we witnessed a marriage proposal. Man and woman in full embrace, surrounded by mariachi band, and a number of nervous looking friends, two of whom were taking videos. Every so often the woman would lift her head from her (fiancé's?) shoulder, then dissolve in fresh tears and fold back into his shoulders. At each sighting, the friends would clap encouragingly, and the band would play a little more enthusiastically. We're hoping she said yes.

As for noise, we spoke too soon. We had been commenting on how there were few fireworks, and with the exception of a few dogs, almost no noise. Well - we are being sent out in style. A party is raging on the next terrace, music cranked, and by golly, the fireworks have started!

Posted by millerburr 21:12 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

San Miguel: Christ, churches, churros and children...

... the many contradictions of Semana Santa in Mexico

sunny 28 °C

Semana Santa (Easter) is considered the holiest time of the year in predominantly Catholic Mexico. Which is why most Mexicans pack up their coolers and every inflatable device known to mankind and head to the beach. Mexico City is a ghost town. San MIguel, on the other hand, is packed but very civilized. These ladies have seen more than a few Easter parades in their lifetimes. The benches in the shadow of the Parroquia de San Miguel are a perfect place to catch up on ( un-Christian) gossip.

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Semana Santa is an endurance test of religious processions, re-enactments and church services that began on Holy Wednesday (April 1) with the Way of the Cross - representing the 14 stages of Christ's martyrdom. Thursday featured Visits of the Altars at 7 churches , and a re-enactment of the Last Supper. Good Friday is the most important day, with two processions - one with Jesus on his way to the Calvary, and the other - the Holy Burial. Sunday is the "Burial of the Judases", a fiery event not limited to biblical figures. Apparently effigys of despised (past and current) political leaders are among those going up in flames. Perhaps there will be a Harper-esque figure brought to the party by one of the Canadian ex-pats.

The fact that I am not a religious person is: a) not my mother's fault - her quiet Anglican faith never "took" with me, and b) does not preclude me from loving churches, cathedrals and ceremony. It is hard not to feel quite affected in any country where religion is such a powerful force. Please forgive my ignorance if I make mistakes as I present these photos. Shrines and stations are set up all over the city, but these are part of the 14 stages. Offerings of camomile flowers, grasses and oranges are present at most of the shrines.

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I love Mexican families, and I especially love their children. Children are many things - adored, paid attention to, surrounded by family, and included in almost every part of life. However, children are not in charge - their parents are - and that simple difference in child-rearing philosophy is huge. You seldom see tantrums (except for the very young), and you seldom see angry parents - no hissing, or swatting, or negotiating. We see this over and over again in public, and marvel at it. This little boy listened quietly to his grandmother as she explained why he couldn't play with his ball during the procession.

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Yesterday, and today, we stood in the hot sun and watched the children who were part of the processions. Five-year-olds had more patience and poise than I did, as I complained about being hot, foot-sore, thirsty, etc. We loved this little crew - some more pious than others.

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The angels were another source of amusement. Processions moved along for several metres, then stopped for interminable amounts of time, and then moved forward again. We caught these little girls just as they were starting to lose focus.

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Then came the rough stuff - Jesus bloodied and bowed, and the two thieves who died on the cross beside him - the blood is fake, but they were being flogged as they walked along, and it was very realistic.

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Since we are on the subject of religion... to the churches. San Miguel has beautiful churches, with the Parroquia de San Miguel being the crown jewel - the pink "Disney" cathedral that dominates the downtown and is the subject of millions of photos and selfie shots. Day or night, it is the iconic landmark.

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The plaza in front (with the central jardin behind) is the gathering place for locals and tourists - plenty of food stalls, shady benches, mariachi bands and balloon sellers. The mariachi band members look a bit disconsolate these days, as they have serious competition from buskers, balloons and Jesus.

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More churches...

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This shot was taken from a rooftop restaurant, where we ate superb pizza, and contemplated life in San Miguel for chunks of time each year. Looking for our city fix without giving up our country life - this ticks off quite a few boxes.

Food - we're not having much luck finding bad food here. We haven't hit any fancy restaurants, but our little hole-in-the-wall places do just fine. This is a stall in the mercado we discovered. Today was our third visit, and the owner greeted us with a big smile, " Camerons chica and torta de pollo. (We're habituals). This is the stand - about 8 stools, but turn-over is fast.

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Our standing order - chicken sandwich (explained below), and shrimp cocktail served with saltines - insanely fresh and delicious. Lunch for two - about $4.00

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Typical torta stand - greasy grill, open jar of mayo with cross-contaminated spatula, bin of lettuce sitting right beside the dishpit, and a non-stop preparation of food, handling of money and wiping of counters that does not appear to involve hand-washing. So far, we have survived it all, but for the odd tummy rumble. The chicken torta - big soft white bun, smeared with mayo, grilled both sides. Fried fillet of chicken, thinly sliced, heaped on bottom bun, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, avocado - build until height reaches about 6 inches, then slap on top bun. If you are Mexican, wash down with litre of Coke.

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Another place we stumbled upon - Hecho en Mexico - a popular restaurant that is a bit of a misnomer, as most of their clientele are gringos, and the food, while delicious, has a lot of North American offerings. We were there for a while before we realized that all the art work in our room was done by Toller Cranston.
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Our server told us about this painting, and he appeared to be quite moved by it. It was the last painting Toller did before his death. He brought it into the restaurant on a Friday, and as he left, he called out that he would see them all the following week. He died two days later.

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As I don't want to end this posting with the deaths of Jesus and Toller (no disrespect intended), let me tell you how Stephen and I and about 200 Mexicans began our Good Friday morning. We arrived at La Gruta, a hot springs just outside of San Miguel, about 7:30 am. This hot spring park has about 4 or 5 pools that increase in temperature, and a grotto that is reached through a claustrophobic tunnel. There is also a regular swimming pool, a restaurant, and several sitting areas with tables and lounges. It is quite lovely if you are not visiting during Semana Santa. We figured we would beat the crowds, and for about 1/2 hour, we did. Then, they arrived - first a trickle, then a stream, then a flood of vacationing Mexicans - families with grandmothers, children with noodles, couples carrying drinks (in flagrant disregard of the no beverages allowed sign), and our peaceful reverie in clean steamy hot springs was over. Fun while it lasted.

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Like our travels through Mexico, hanging out with the Mexicans has been so much fun while it lasted, and we're so surprised to find it is almost over. We have another day in SMA, then we make our way out of the country, and on to New Orleans.

Heather, you commented a while ago that travel changes people, and that is so true. We have lots to sort out in our heads - new perspectives to fit into our lives once we're home again.

But...we still have New Orleans to report on - you're not done with us yet.

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Posted by millerburr 20:46 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

San Miguel: Don't hate me because I'm beautiful

sunny 28 °C

We love San Miguel de Allende. There...got that out of the way. Sure, SMA has a reputation for being overrun with gringos (yes) , for being expensive (can be - you gotta know where to look) and for being "not quite Mexican". Well that's news to all the Mexicans we've spoken to so far. As they represent the overwhelming majority of citizens here, they certainly regard this city as their own, and carry on in spite of whatever benefits or challenges the ex-pat community have brought to bear.

San Miguel is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. There is good reason that so many artists have located here - the light is clear and soft, the architecture is inspiring, the churches are over-the-top in scale and magnificence, cobbled streets twist and wind up hill and down, creating fresh sightlines at every turn, and the landscape is filled with ancient gnarled trees, bougainvillea, monstrous cactus and agave, and my favourite - the luscious purple blooms of the jacaranda trees.

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Here, a view of the city and mountains beyond. San Miguel is quite small - about 140,000 people, and the centre (the area surrounding the churches) is compact and walkable.

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Parks and plazas are dotted throughout San Miguel. Parque Benito Juarez is filled with quiet corners and shady paths like this one. We walked through and sat on a bench, listening to the birds, and feeling a million miles from the city.

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And then we walked out and discovered Toller Cranston's home and gallery, just on the corner; already looking abandoned and a bit run-down since his death just two months ago. (It is the entire red building, in three sections). The very mention of Toller's name provokes a very interesting, smelling-poo sort of reponse. We're not sure why - he was flamboyant, to be sure, but that attitude is not in short supply here in SMA. "He didn't leave his affairs in order," sniffed one bitchy gallery-owner, as though dying suddenly, unexpectedly and without a will was somehow a blight on the entire arts community. It made us sad to see the lights out and doors shuttered at his lovely home.

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We're staying at a quite spectacular apartment we found through VRBO. In some cases, the units are entirely self-contained; in others, you rent out part of someone's home. Ours is a delightful mix of the two - our hosts Rhonda and Al have a beautiful home with two separate wings, and they rent out the smaller one - bedroom, bathroom, living room and courtyard - for $50 a night. We are ending our trip in style - languishing in a suite outfitted with Egyptian cotton sheets, silk draperies, European antiques and spa toiletries. As with so many Mexican homes, the unassuming outside entrance gives no hint to the beauty behind the door.

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We went out for dinner with them last night, and got an insider perspective on the ex-pat community here, which is estimated at being about 12,000 - 14,000 people, or roughly 10% of the population. As is the case with many other Mexican ex-pat communities, the folks here do a lot of good in terms of volunteering and raising money for social services that otherwise might not happen. There can also be a lot of alcohol and drug abuse; a lot of gringos gone native - as there is in any Mexican destination with an agreeable climate and a two-buck cerveza. There are events happening every hour of the day, every day of the week - gallery openings, readings, jazz, blues, chamber music, movies, theatre, lessons in everything from tango to astronomy, language classes, cooking classes - all in English. There is even a synagogue and an Anglican church. The photo below is St. Paul's Anglican.

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San Miguel is filled with courtyards - in hotels, restaurants, stores - anywhere one might want to sit and rest for a moment. The courtyard will have a fountain, a garden, benches or tables and chairs and pillars to frame the scene. This is the courtyard attached to Starbucks!

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This courtyard is part of a sweet boutique hotel - the dining area circles a central fountain. In the one minute I stood there to take a photo, all I could hear was birdsong.
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And this courtyard is part of Institute de Allende, built in 1736. The Institute has had many incarnations, including a private home, a convent, and an art and language school. Now it is multi-purpose - it is an event venue, holds countless interest courses and houses a café.

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This is the back area of the Institute that overlooks the city, and is often rented out for weddings.

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The artistic community, which developed shortly after the Second World War, transformed the town. As is the case of artists everywhere, their once-cheap digs paved the way for more well-heeled travellers and prices have risen steadily over the years. The city itself is a work of art, with little surprises painted or sculpted in the most unusual places. And the art! There are dozens and dozens of galleries, both public and private. There are jewellery stores that are mind-boggling in their innovative design and use of metals and native stone. They're not merely stores - they are small galleries. Textiles, fabrics - these are borrowed from indigenous design, but made modern. It is simply sensory overload, and you need several days to take it all in.

One of our favourite places for sheer esthetic appeal is Fabrica la Aurora, which is an old textile factory that has been converted to showcase artist studios and shops. The building has been meticulously restored, and it and the grounds around it, are a visually stunning backdrop for the dozens of stores inside. During its century in operation, it employed over 300 people and was a social centre for its employees as well - an important part of the San Miguel landscape. Unfortunately, in 1991 it closed its doors, as free trade flooded the market with cheap imported textiles and it could no longer compete.

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This is the entrance to Fabrica la Aurora. The grounds outside, the entryway and a sculpture by one of the featured artists, Rodrigo de la Sierra.

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Have a look at the link - http://fabricalaaurora.com/ It gives the full history and tells how the current incarnation came into being. The design quality of the buildings and grounds alone is flawless - a perfect complement to the artwork inside.

Galleries offer paintings, sculpture, ceramics, clothing, leather, jewellery, and furnishings, both modern and antique. This incredible store, called "Antiquities" was filled with items we will never own - such as a small desk for $25,000 US.
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This painting was more our speed - an homage to one of Mexico's big exports.
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Or this - a stylized bicycle - this is a foyer piece. Alas, our front hall (we can't really call it a "foyer") is too small.
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I loved this display (would it be art imitating art?) of a sculpture contemplating the paintings. The red chair is probably part of the installation - I felt too self-conscious to try sitting in it.

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A young sculptor from Mexico City, Rodrigo de la Sierra, has an entire hall devoted to his work.

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This piece is called "Pillheads" - reflecting his consternation with our approach to problem-solving.

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He has created a rotund little character called Timo, and many of his pieces deal with Timo's fear of death and his ability to vanquish his fears, and go toe-to-toe with the Grim Reaper.

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Here are some of the walkways through the building, and to the outer studios.

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I could have stayed there for hours just admiring the beauty. At some point, the $16 napkins, and the $400 necklace and all the other things that were beyond my price range started to depress me , so I caught up with Stephen, who was resting up by one of the factory artifacts.

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I'll leave you with this photo of our favourite little breakfast place, called Medio Naranja. It is up a flight of stairs, with windows looking out over the street - and fantastic food. We've been craving simple eggs and toast - not always that easy to find in Mexico. For the past three mornings, we've been enjoying freshly squeezed orange juice, scrambled eggs, toasted whole grain bread with fresh jam, and excellent coffee for about $4.

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I'll send off another SMA blog posting in a couple of days. Churches are up next, and a bit of history, and hot springs, and wonderful food.

Posted by millerburr 15:03 Archived in Mexico Comments (4)

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