Wednesday, December 7, 2011

San Miguel - The City

Evening in the central jardin (park) was busy with the orchestra setting up, families with children, break dancers and crowds of on-lookers taking in the action. I was worn out already from activities earlier in the day and the necessary mile long marches to experience them. I followed Susan up the steps of the Parroquia as she hunted down opportunities for photographs of children posed in front of painted cut outs of the desert scene where the Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego. Parents ushered their made-up Diegos and peasants into the scene for a quick photograph as the camera man called out "Diego, Diego..." to get them to look at the lens. This was all cute and quaint initially but I was done for the day and so drifted aimlessly about waiting for a signal from Susan that she was also ready to leave. It never came.
Out of boredom and curiosity I followed the long extension cord that supplied the photographer's spot light to find out what powered his operation. It led me to the top of the steps of the Parroquia, where it was plugged into an uncovered electrical box full of frayed, exposed wires.

From this vantage, I gazed out over the people below who were enjoying the evening. I picked the gringos out amongst the swelling crowd that waited for the concert and thought 'are they my tribe?' I didn't feel a connection to them. It was time for me to go.

I was reluctant to leave Susan to walk back to the apartment in the dark alone, but I concluded that she was comfortable and capable enough after all her years of traveling throughout this part of the world. So I left for the quiet solitude of our concrete apartment to recharge my batteries for another day.

As I navigated the narrow cobblestone sidewalks leading away from the jardin I realized, I think for the first time, that San Miguel is not just a tourist destination decorated with elaborate church spires and leaning and patched adobe walls, but a full fledged city with mostly working class people tasked with keeping up the image of a small Spanish Colonial town that once existed in the distant past. The colorful cultural differences and inspiring Spanish colonial architecture can feel like a facade to me when I'm tired like this. I followed this thread of thought as I took in the sounds and smells of the streets. I wandered home as a witness to the other side of this gringo destination. Taxis jockied for a better position in lines of traffic, horns honked and exhaust filled the air as pedestrians scurried on the sidelines towards restaurants and businesses that vied desperately for their money. 

Dust, grit and sewer gas rose up from the street along with diesel fumes as the autobuses chugged by, laden with the people. I crossed
calle Pila Seca, and up onto the narrow sidewalk that runs along calle Jesus, avoiding the passing taxis and SUV's driven by chilangos, the tourists from Mexico City.
The stone paved walkway felt narrow and slick as I gingerly stepped to avoid the on-coming foot traffic and the occasional frequent dog turd. Down the block, a car with megaphones strapped to the roof was making announcements in rapid Spanish at full volume and was headed in my direction. I considered taking a new route to avoid a closer encounter as a poor and ancient woman held out a leathery hand as small as a chewed caramel, in hopes of a peso or two. I dropped one in without missing a step.

These collective experiences enhanced my recognition that there is more to this city than its structural and cultural beauty. That there lies an energy just below the surface that is common to all modern cities. An energy that sustains the continued flow of the economy but in this case also support an idealized vision of the San Miguel of the past. Fortunately, this same energy also fuels in San Miguel (as it does in all cities worth their weight in cobble stones), the introduction of an abundance of delicious and varied foods, cultural diversity, theatre, the arts, and above all else, the sense of possibility. More about that later.
As I got closer to home my pace quickened, enticed by the seclusion this inner sanctum offers. Off the streets, behind the thick walls I am free of the assault of the constant stimulus. There I'm able to fortify myself with a silence that is only broken by the rooster in the neighbors yard and the lull of distant church bells that continue to mark the passage of time in a city that has a reputation to uphold.

For those interested, I have included a video of our rooftop views from the apartment where we are staying for the next few months. This is video #2 in an ongoing series.
Roof Top Video

1 comment:

  1. Great idea, Susan & Mark, & interesting to get a sense of M from his words.
    San Miguel looks like it's spread out in all directions, but maybe I didn't walk everywhere, back then (mid 80's). I was living at the Posada Carmina, when that lovely lady was still in charge, & it had not been tarted up.
    Nice to think of you in Mexico, enjoying. xxAnie


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