San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

This week in our yoga class Arron read from Eknath Eswaran’s Mantram HandbookThe Elephant and the Bamboo – comparing the elephant’s constantly moving trunk to our human mind. As the man in charge of the elephant gives him a stick of bamboo to hold onto in order to keep his trunk still, so may we quiet our mind by repeating a mantram/mantra. Struck by the reading I decided to write it out in my sketchbook; the watercolor elephant seemed a natural addition.

Coincidentally, at the end of yoga one of our classmate’s made an announcement… Philip Glass’s opera, Satyagraha, would be broadcast live at our local performing arts center this Sunday. Satyagraha tells the story of Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, where he developed his philosophy of non-violence. Jay and I went home and made reservations online. We were going to the Opera for $13 a piece!

Eknath Easwaran's The Elephant and the Bamboo
Eknath Easwaran's The Elephant and the Bamboo from my sketchbook

Metropolitan Opera Live in HD (also known as The Met: Live in HD) is a series of live opera performances transmitted in high-definition video via satellite from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to select venues, primarily movie theaters, in the United States and other parts of the world. The first transmission was of a condensed English-language version of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on December 30, 2006.

This year the Metropolitan Opera’s Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series The Met: Live in HD continues for its sixth season, featuring 11 live transmissions. Our local performing arts center is in its first year of transmission. When we saw Satyagraha, the transmission included interviews with the composer Philip Glass, the director, and some of the actors, including Richard Croft who plays Ghandi. The entire experience is incredible – picture a large movie screen, encompassing surround sound, and intimate multi-angled camera work that allows us to visually connect with the actors in a way not usually possible.

I took a quick look at the Met’s website and learned that in Washington State there are 19 venues for viewing. Russia is the latest country to join the Met’s groundbreaking live entertainment initiative; 1,600 theaters in 54 countries, including new additions: Israel and China. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy the Met live at your local movie theater or in a city you may be visiting. All the major cities have venues and click here on Met Live for a PDF of all the current locations for viewing. Can you tell I am excited about this?

There are recordings of the opera… click here on Satyagraha for information on the recording by composer, Philip Glass, with Christopher Keene conducting the New York City Opera Orchestra. And to read about Eknath Easwaran’s book: Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World just click on the title of the book.

How “Playing For Change” is changing the world

Bill Moyers calls it a remarkable example of “the simple yet transformative power of music… to touch something in each of us.” As we sit down to watch the DVD Songs from Around the World by the nonprofit group Playing For Change, our friends, Noel & Steve, can’t contain how amazing and emotional this film is to them – goosebumps, tears… check it out…

Here’s one of the most viewed songs from the film – Stand By Me.

Here is the story in their words:

Several years ago, a small group of filmmakers set out with a dream to make a documentary film about street musicians from around the world. Using innovative mobile audio/video techniques, Playing for Change (PFC) records musicians outdoors in cities and townships worldwide. They’ve traveled from post-Katrina New Orleans to post-apartheid South Africa, from the remote beauty of the Himalayas to the religious diversity of Jerusalem. Their talents are captured in myriad environments: under the sun and beneath the streetlights… in public parks, plazas and promenades… in doorways, on cobblestone streets, amid hilly pueblos. Their performances are subsequently combined in allowing them to collaborate – albeit separated by hundreds, or even thousands, of miles.

While traveling to around the world to film and record these musicians, the crew became intimately involved with the music and people of each community they visited. Many of these people lived very modestly in communities with limited resources; nevertheless, they were full of generosity, warmth, and above all they were connected to each other by a common thread: music.

In an effort to ensure that anyone with the desire to receive a music education would have the opportunity to do so, the Playing For Change Foundation was born. The Playing For Change Foundation (PFCF) is dedicated to the fundamental idea that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music.

By providing a safe place to learn and flourish, PFCF schools offer a positive alternative to the struggles that many children face daily. The mentorship and guidance the students receive from musicians and teachers provides a strong foundation for them to grow and thrive. In an effort to preserve history and cultural traditions, each school’s curriculum is focused on regional music and instruments.  The global role of music is also explored via interaction with other schools, students, teachers and musical cultures. In addition to building music schools, we provide resources and opportunities to communities in need, thereby empowering these communities with the ability to establish thriving and sustainable economies.

These are not our schools; each school belongs to the people in the community. The community is invested in the school and its success.  The people create the energy that the schools – and the community – need to succeed.

The Playing For Change Foundation is committed to creating positive change through music education. You can contribute directly to the foundation or support the cause by purchasing the DVD/CD: Songs from Around the World.