23.03.2016 24 °C
San Miguel suffers from a reputation for being a not-quite-legit version of Mexico - a playground for foreign visitors who can't bear to leave the comforts of home behind. A "gringolandia". It's a reputation that is not undeserved, but doesn't present the whole picture either.
The last time we checked, we were gringos. As in,"mainly white foreigners." Apparently, it is no longer considered a derogatory term although I once had a disgruntled beach vendor in Sayulita hiss "green-gah" at me after I politely declined to buy his CD.
The gringo ex-pats in San Miguel count for just 10-12% of the population of San Miguel but they have altered the landscape here forever. I asked our Mexican dentist about his impressions of the ex-pat scene, and he was quite candid. "We have some gringo friends, but most of them don't mix," he said. "They keep to themselves, they have created their own world here. They play Gringo Bingo. They paint."
It is still possible to enjoy the pleasures of San Miguel and leave here feeling you have had a Mexican experience. It has a drop-dead gorgeous geographical setting, stunning architecture, and a full range of Mexican art, music, food and craftsmanship. That's our take-away.
This is our last posting from San Miguel and we have some final impressions to share. One of my favourite things about San Miguel is the architecture and the mystery of the doorways - wondering what lies behind. Here are a couple of homes in San Miguel I particularly liked, and could reasonably imagine living in - one-storey, roof-top terraces, great front doors. (This is all I can see from the exteriors - I imagine the interiors as having stone floors, 14-foot ceilings, and spacious rooms arranged around an interior courtyard.)
Since we're not living here, we have noticed a lot of charming "boutique" hotels - modern art, great lobbies, water features - if we ever came back, we would look for one of these.
Many hotels have their own particular quirks. As we walked by the Haiku Hotel, Stephen quietly noted, "it probably has small rooms".
Doorways - just a small sampling of the hundreds of beautiful doors of San Miguel.
Laneways - some of them so narrow they are pedestrian-only. I wonder about the logistics - delivering a new fridge, or hauling home bags of groceries. What do residents do in the case of an emergency?
A few street shots. The vistas change hourly, with the light and the sun.
I was struck by this young boy - he has a lot of character in his face.
We've watched Mexicans carry incredible loads on their backs - several cartons of water or Coke or beer, supported just by one hand. We saw a couple of men breaking down tables and chairs from an event at the Institute Allende, and were amazed by the balancing act. He has at least 10 chairs piled in this curving arc.
ART. Lucky San Miguelese - they are surrounded by art and craftsmanship, both modern and centuries-old. We enjoyed our gallery visits as much as we did our street-roaming - beauty at every corner.
Our friends who work with wood will appreciate this piece - it is cut from a fallen granadillo tree - not one nail in this cabinet, and each piece of wood is at least 3/4" thick. I didn't even check the price - I hope the artist is able to charge what he/she deserves to be paid.
Contemporary art galleries abound - paintings, sculpture, weaving, jewellery - much of it very affordable. We are necessarily restrained - a collector could go a little wild.
Vintage cultural posters, including one of the world's largest collections from Poland
Bronze bull, outside the Bellas Artes building
We were curious about the mirror image painted on two sides of this building
Sculptures and paintings from a studio in the Fabrica La Aurora - a collection of studios and galleries housed in an old textile mill
A wall-mounted fireplace that runs on ethanol. It was a thing of beauty and threw off a fair bit of heat - how perfect for smaller rooms.
Even the planters at Fabrica Aurora have great design.
Everyone has somewhere to go except this man and his dog. (My interpretation - it may say something completely different to you).
Lots of dramatic business entrances in SMA.
Prison Art. Founded by Jorge Cueto-Felgueroso, who was thrown into one of Mexico's toughest jails on a fraud charge (he was cleared 11 months later). He was fascinated by the quality of the tattoo art in prison, and put his entrepreneurial skills to good use to survive. He enlisted some of the inmates to apply their talents to leather rather than skin and the result was over 600 handbags and wallets with one-of-a-kind designs. They are statement pieces - no puppies and rainbows in the prison art collection.
One of the inmates at work on his design.
Coming from a slightly different angle - these chairs are also made by prisoners but with no artistic effort involved - just stringing plastic cord around metal frames. The work involved must be therapeutic, ( as opposed to working on a chain gang), as they are insanely comfortable - Stephen fell asleep in one of them. We saw them in Oaxaca without knowing the story behind them, but we found these in the courtyard of the Bellas Artes building in SMA. If we see them for sale on the way home, we'll grab a couple and stuff them in the back seat of the car.
The Bellas Artes building houses temporary art displays, social commentary work and a host of cultural events. One of the current installations is by artist Lena Bartula who has taken the traditional huipil, which is a garment woven and embroidered by indigenous women of southern Mexico and Guatemala to tell the stories of their lives - children born, crops sown, lives lived. These garments also discreetly tell the hidden stories of the cruelties and inequalities they have had to bear in their lives - they are precious records. The artist has taken the ancient style and adapted it with modern materials to tell contemporary stories. The results are thought-provoking and very relevant to the social and economic upheaval of modern Mexico. Each of her installations uses spools of thread and fabric to imitate original indigenous design.
Bartula examines the waste of the modern clothing industry by sewing tags (Abercrombie & Fitch, Sears, Lord & Taylor, etc.) snipped from people's clothing onto these strands of fabric.
In this piece, she coloured old slides (still with their images intact) and arranged them in the pattern of a huipil garment.
My favourite - an interactive piece that honours mothers. Folded papers were provided, and visitors were invited to write a message to their mothers or to any woman who has made a difference to their lives. Mine was easy! These multi-coloured papers are hung to resemble a huipil garment.
Our final image of San Miguel - may we present Carmen from Queretero. We met Carmen, her husband Daniel and their son Daniel Oscar at a market last week. They were visiting for the day - we shared a lunch table and began talking and as soon as we acknowledged that we enjoyed Mexican music,our new friend jumped up, commandeered the trio playing further down the aisle, and began to sing. We loved her - bright magenta hair, aqua fingernails, astonishing breasts bursting out of her denim onesie - she had the big voice to match. Just another surreal moment in Mexico.
We've had three grand weeks here, but now we're ready to shake things up a bit - off to Guanajuato tomorrow for a week. We'll talk again soon.