Monday, April 16, 2012

Last days in Mexico, Visiting Guanajuato

Our slides will tell you most of what's to show and tell about Guanajuato, another beautiful colonial town of the Central Highlands, where we spent our last four days before flying back to Portland on March 31st. We loved exploring the many streets and neighborhoods. It seems much larger than San Miguel with the accompanying crowds and traffic,but fortunately many streets are for the pedestrians only and wandering them is like being in a candy box. We also loved the cultural offerings from concerts to theatre, and fabulous art shows. There's a famous university in Guanojuato and the evidence was in the many young people from around the world we saw on the streets. It reminded us of being in Salamanca, Spain in 2003. We came at just the right time, after the Pope's visit but in time for the amazing Dia de Los Flores (Day of the Flowers). We were also invited on our first night, by our French hostess and owner of the small casita we rented next to her house, to an amazing "inaugaration" at the Municiple Art Museum of three artists selected to tour the country---the "stars" of the contemporary Mexican Art Scene. Part of the exhibit was held at the Diego Rivera home and museum where we saw many other artists work and even got a peek of Diego and Frida, posthumously, in paper mache form.

Sit back and enjoy a trip to Guanajuato with us. I'll soon be home in Portland and look forward to talking to some of you and seeing others who live near by. Let me know your reactions to "Adventures with Sher." Hope you've enjoyed the trip to Mexico!

Adios, amigos! Sher

The Spring Equinox in San Miguel de Allende-March 21, 2012

Enjoy some photos of our Spring Equinox celebration:

Hola and Felices Primavera,

I would like to share with everyone the way we celebrated the Spring Equinox this year in San Miguel. A half hour's hike from our casa is an amazing Botanical Garden known as El Charco de Ingenio. Set in the heart of the central highlands, this nature reserve covers more than 300 acres adjacent to our town of San Miguel de Allende. It is the result of a nongovernmental initiative, begun in 1990, to rescue and protect a treasured area benefiting and open to all sectors of the community. It is committed to the restoration and conservation of it's native econsystems. In 2004 it was proclaimed a Peace Zone by the visiting Dalai Lama.

Each Spring members of the community are invited to join a local shaman to celebrate Spring and the four directions, East,West, North and South. An impressive ceremony is held in the center of a big stone plaza built for such occasions. Flower seeds are blessed and thrown in a fire, and the winds carry our blessings for the Spring planting. At the conclusion of the ceremony we are all invited to walk along the small pathways down to a deep Canyon surrounding a wetland. Along the way, are tables set up with small pottery cups filled with mescal, a native drink made from the Maguey plant, and we are invited, for a small donation to El Charco, to imbibe. We find a place amongst the rocks and settle down for a concert. Two years ago when we participated, we had the pleasure of hearing a very famous Opera Star from Mexico City perform excerpts from many well known operas. This year the limelight was on an internationally known pianist. As unbelievable as it seemed, they actually managed to get the piano carried down the trails and over the rocks to sit perched on a precarious landing. Very impressive. We enjoyed the company of a delightful French woman, Fran├žoise and her Mexican husband, sitting near us as we all anticipated the concerts' beginning. Music started, we settled into our hard seating and fell mesmerized into a dream like state---no, we didn't drink too much mescal, but admittedly it probably helped us to relax. As I sat there, my eyes perused the crowd of people sitting below, above and beside, young Mexican families, teenage lovers, old lovers, gringos and Mexicans alike. It is a time of community and interconnectedness as we reflect on the new season and watch birds soaring above and time slips by and music collides with the setting sun.

I hope you enjoy the photos and can imagine yourself there next Spring. We know we will be back. I'll add a few more photos of El Charco's treasures, the extensive botanical collection of cactus and other native Mexican species, which are rare and in danger of extinction. Many of these plants have been collected from different parts of the country. Enjoy---disfruta!


Reflections on the Light and Dark Sides of San Miguel

One day while walking to the Centro, I was thinking of all the things I love about San Miguel and the things I don't like---I call it the Light and Dark Sides of SMA. Let me elucidate. I love the beautiful and colorful old colonial buildings with their inner courtyards filled with tropical flora, the local small tiendas (shops for groceries, sundries and anything one would need)on nearly every street corner. I love the sounds of the church bells on the hour, passing the beautiful La Perroquia, at dusk as the lights come on. I call it the "wedding cake church" because of its fanciful baroque architecture, Most of all I love the gente, the people who are so kind and respectful, full of zest for life, and real. I love the music and all the fiestas in spite of the frequent and startling sounds of the firecrackers going off at all hours of the night.

And, I love my barrio, my neighborhood in the colonia of San Antonio. As I walk along the cobbled streets I now feel "at home" and can't express how much I love the sunshine and warmth. Gary and I often stroll home in the evenings as late as ten or ten-thirty in short sleeves. It's good to not feel the chill of Portland's winters. Si, there is much to love about San Miguel de Allende. (Read about"Mi Barrio" and see photos in the post titled "Mi Barrio")Oh, and let me not forget the favorite site I have seen everyday in March, the amazingly beautiful blooming jacaranda trees, flourishing purple against clear blue skies.

Now,for the "dark side" of San Miguel, just in case you should think that I am surely looking through rose colored glasses. I don't like the dog poop on the sidewalks, the rebar on the tops of many of the rooftops (even though I understand the reason for this is the lowering of the taxes for the people when the building appears not finished). I don't like the many holes in the streets where one can twist an ankle or break a leg. Again it's understandable. This is a four hundred year old city. The Mexicans are constantly working on the streets and trying to fill holes, improve the old sewer system and replace cobbles. Our Mexican friend, Maria Elena, who's an engineer for the city, said the "hole problem " is getting worse due to the people, who at night steal the metal plates off the utility meters in the streets and sidewalks, in order to sell the metal. It's a never ending problem, an economic one. Many people are poor and they will do whatever it takes for "dinero."

I don't like the small bits of garbage that's sometimes thrown carelessly in the streets, despite the every other day free garbage pick-up in San Miguel and the small trash bins attached to electric light poles along many of the main streets. Last Wednesday, the annual childrens Spring Parade, showed us there is a growing environmental consciousness, though, as children, all decked out in bumblebee, flower and bunny costumes, carried signs that said in Spanish, "Protect the Environment", "Recycle and Reuse" and other "green" messages. It may take a couple of generations to change the habits of the people.

I don't like that there are teens and kids languishing on the streets with no work and often joining gangs that spray grafiti on the lovely old buildings in certain neighborhoods; I don't like that they sometimes feel the only answer is that they flee to El Norte, the US, for "a better life" and then some die crossing over. It is up to the governments of both the US and Mexico to change our migration policies. We in the states need to put more pressure to find a better and more humane immigration policy and the Mexican government must do more to help its poorest of the poor.

Another thing I don't like is the number of poor old women, and young ones with children, sitting on the sidewalks with hands outstretched begging for just a little "moneda"(a few coins)for survival. I feel sad every time I pass them and, until recently, I always dug down in my pockets, to drop a few pesos into their hands. Recently I learned this is not a good idea. Many of these women from the "campo", the countryside, are being prostituted by men who bring them into town early in the morning in the back of pickups, along with "rented" children who have been drugged. We've always wondered why the children seem so passive and inert,willing to sit all day long in the laps or beside the women. Of course, what tears at our "gringo" hearts the most? ---poor women and children. Our Mexican friends and others who have lived here longer than us tell us to avoid giving and instead put pressure on the municiple governement to have the same policies they used to have, to fine and imprison the "pimps" who are preying on these ignorant women of the campo. Nobody seems to understand why that policy has not continued. Many of the poor people in the campo have farmland, but with the last few years drought and the competition from big agri-businesses, they find it hard still to grow enough and/or sell enough to make ends meet. They are enticed to try and earn more by street begging. Well, it's a complicated issue, but definitely a "dark side" of San Miguel.

But then there's always another bright side. One of those is the excellent medical and dental treatment here. Many of the ex-pats have purposely moved here because of the excellent care they can get at affordable prices. Well trained doctors (many educated in top rate institutions in the US) still make house calls. A friend of ours who had a bad case of food poisoning was given excellent care; his doctor came to the house and called each day until he was well. Gary and I have both had to have some dental work done here recently, and our new crowns cost us a third of what they would be in the states. In addition, my dentist, a woman, sent me daily emails from her iphone, to check on how I was doing and to make sure I didn't have any pain. When the final crown was put on and I walked out of her office, we hugged and I commented "In the US we usually don't hug our dentists!"

All and all, there are more bright sides to life in San Miguel than there are dark. We look forward to continuing our odyssey here in the following years that we are alive and well.
There is a cultural pre-disposition among Mexicans to like and,in fact,cherish older people. It is not unusual to see older Mexican or gringo women, being gently supported on the arm of a young Mexican girl or boy, helping their "abualita," or employer down the street, carrying her groceries or helping walk her dog. It's a culture with a proclivity for kindness and respect. Everything reported about violence in Mexico is not always true in all parts.

So, to wrap it up, the adventures go on and they are Muy Bueno!

We will spend our last four days in Mexico, in Guanoguato, a lovely neighboring colonial town. Then, on March 31st, we wing home from the airport in Leon, just a half hour from there. We will be back to our Portland casa by late Saturday night, March 31st, ready for Spring!

Hope you are all well and healthy and we look forward to making contact with friends and family once we are settled back into our Portland routine. Felize Primavera---Happy Spring!

Hasta luego,

Mi Barrio

Dear amigos,

It's going to be hard to leave my neighborhood, mi barrio. This past week I have loved talking to the shopkeepers, my haircutting neighbor, Sandy, who cuts Gary's and my hair for 30 pesos ($2.50 once a month). We'll miss our grocer, Antonio,and the old man, who stops with his burro every couple of weeks and calls out "suelo", soil. Most houses in San Miguel do not have yards with gardens, but instead these old, colonial homes come with courtyards, patios and terraces where people delight in creating their "potted gardens"---thus, the "dirt man". Yolanda, the flower lady will be missed, also. I've enjoyed her tap on the door every Friday with her arms filled with fresh flowers. It's fun to buy a bouquet to adorn our small casa before guests come for dinner or margaritas on the weekend at the low cost of 20-40 pesos ($1.50-3.50). Such a deal!

I love the children I hear each day, practicing with their marching band in the corner school yard, or running out at the close of the day to play in the beautiful old square at the end of our street in front of our neighborhood 16th century church. Two old guys sell them sherbet and ice cream at the square, and I stop to talk with them on my way to and fro. There is much to love and delight one in this quarter of town, called "Colonia San Antonio." Like other barrios, we even have our patron Saint, a sculpture of Saint Anthony, gracing a corner fountain. Visiting artists often come and set up their easels in the street to do some "plein air" painting, and local musicians strum their guitars in the plaza. Young lovers snuggle on the old ornate iron benches under the trees.

Yes, it's going to be hard to say "Adios" to our barrio when we leave, but we know we will be back. Hope you enjoy a peek at a few photos of"mi barrio."

Maybe next year some of our friends and family will join us here. Hasta luego!