Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Time to Write, Jazz and a History of Gringos in SMA

I have resumed my plan to spend most of the day writing now that the weekend is over and so it was after 4 pm when I went for my walkabout before my meetup with Marc and Sue for dinner. There are lots of daytime activities here during the week as there are many retired and long term gringo residents looking for things to do but so far I have only accepted one daytime weekday activity - the English language tour of the Botanical gardens which is on Thursday. That is the same day as the Art Walk at the Fabrica and I shall try to do both!

I am making good process with my writing projects and in order to make more time for that and after today I will not be writing the longer posts as I have been doing. I am really starting to get into my project and don't want to lose momentum. I hope you understand.

The 11th annual San Miguel International Jazz and Blues Festival runs here from Nov 11 to 15. The first order of business was to go buy tickets to the Friday night performance which features Danny Marks, a Toronto musician and on air host at Toronto's JazzFM 99 radio station. Danny Marks was a founding member of the band Edward Bear, whose hit "You, me and Mexico" still gets airtime on vintage radio. The lineup for the festival is impressive, but I am watching my budget and at 400 pesos a ticket I can only attend only one of the ticketed events. There are also some free concerts and I will have to see if I can fit in one or two. Marc and Sue wanted to see Danny Marks and I am glad to join them at the Auditorio "Miguel Malo" at the Bella Artes Centre. I have seen him at the Rex in Toronto, he is a great musician and he plays there not infrequently.

The Plaza Civica is a few blocks north of the Plaza Principa. This is the Templo de Nuestro Señora de la Salud with the very I interesting seashell facade. It is dedicated to the Virgin of Health.

The Virgin presides over the front alter
The Iglesia Del Oratorio de San Felipe Neri was built in the early part of the 1800s.

An interesting memorial plaque of Felipe Neri (Br. D Luis Filipe Neri de Alfaro y Velaquez). Can you the smaller images included in the lower part of the sculpture?

The two churches are to the north side of the Plaza Civica. In the Jardin Civica there is a statue of Allende riding a horse. Sorry, this photo was taking as the sun was low and so there are shadows. General Ignacio Allende was one of the Mexican Civil war heroes who was born In San Miguel. After the war the town honoured him by adding his name on the end of San Miguel. Just a block further north is Artisan's Alley. It is a 3 block mix of buildings and tented stalls which features artisanal crafts at reasonable prices. SMA artisans are known for their work in tin, glass, wool and silver jewelry.

The pay were asking 25 pesos for the pewter trivits.

I was told that when you see swinging doors on a bar that means it is "men only". I didn't venture inside to see, but the name of the bar sounds interesting.

The tile artwork on this table is just splendid. Lots of pretty tile work, colourful tiles and ceramics to be had in the shops here.

When I was going to the first house on the tour yesterday the volunteer guide gave us a brief talk about the history of SMA and an explanation of why there are so many gringos here. I have summarized what he said. You can get a longer account of the city's history here.

SMA was a thriving city in the early 1800s with more than its share of wealthy inhabitants as it was on the "Silver Route" for transportation of silver from the mines. But after the war of Independence in1821 the route was moved and the towns folk went to more prosperous centres. By 1900 it was becoming something of a ghost town. The upside of this is that as is the Spanish custom, the large Spanish colonial homes were retained by their absent owners, left as they were, until the town slowly started to come into its own after it was proclaimed a National Historic Monument in 1926. By the time redevelopment started there were measures put in place to preserve the original historic town facades and to keep big chain stores and restaurants out of a large area in the center of town.

In 1938, Peruvian artist Felipe Cossio del Pomar established San Miguel’s first art school, the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes and appointed an American artist and writer, Stirling Dickenson as the Director. After serving in WWII, Dickenson had the art school accredited so that the town could attract demobilized GIs studying under the GI bill, since the funds provided for education outside of the US to accredited schools. It didn't take long for word to get out that the school fees, food and housing costs were much less than their education grants and the weather was beautiful and temperate year round. There were 200 GIs who came to study after WWII and after the Korean War and most did not go back. The volunteer shown in the picture above, telling us this story, was one of the 200. There were enough students to support a 2nd art school and the Instituto Allende was founded in 1950.

In the early 1950s, during the McCarthy years, when artists, creatives and free thinkers were more singled out than others in America, there was another influx of gringos.

In the counterculture years of the 1960s, San Miguel began its career as a center for American expatriatism, looking for easy living in the pursuit of happiness (or was that hippiness) and was a popular destination for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, as recorded in Tom Wolfe´s novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Beat writer Neal Cassady died beside the railroad tracks between San Miguel and Celaya after a party in town. (Wikipedia). So a colony of creative and left leaning Americans found there way here. Not sure how the word got out to us Canadians, but I guess good news travels.

As a consequence there is a great number (10,000 strong in the winter) of tree hugging, "do gooder" and like minded liberal (I guess Democrats in the States) gringos here who also seem to have taken volunteerism to the next level as they both raise funds and contribute time toward local institutions and charities in more impressive numbers than I have seen elsewhere. If you look at the left panel of the web page here you will see a list of SMA community organizations. Quite impressive.

But the town is not only one of gringo writers and artists, as in truth they are the minority. It has attracted a community of Mexican creatives as well who are the local artisans. In addition, and perhaps even more important to this city is that it is a destination spot for Mexicans as well, both tourists and the wealthy Mexicans who buy second homes here.

Enough of my lecture, I need to finish this blog and get on to my other writing projects.

After my wander and a time at The Jardin, as the Jardin Prinicpal is referred as (btw, pronounced "Hardeen" in Spanish), I listened to a local violinist playing some fantastic music, then met my friends to head over to the La Prada, the only Peruvian restaurant in town. I am told their chicken liver dish is excellent, but not caring for chicken liver, I had the Pulled Pork sandwich which was much more than it sounds and so delicious. Price was 285 pesos with 2 glasses of wine and tip.

We walked home via El Chorro/Washer Woman Plaza - but it was too dark for pictures so that will be for another day after I go back in daylight.

Adiós pod ahora mis amigos!



  1. The history of San Miguel is fascinating, Peggy, and it is one, not surprisingly, I was completely unaware of to this point. You have made the sequence of events leading to the arrival of political and social liberal-types and artistic-types clear and understandable.

    It is easy to see how difficult it must be to balance your time between learning if this is a possible place for you in the future, simple holiday enjoyment and your writing projects. Good luck at that !!

    Returning to your post from yesterday for a moment, my own interest in art is focused -- narrow, some might say -- while I have family members who teach it and produce it and envision it broadly.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Fram. I thought you might find the background to the gringo population interesting.

    Yes, I am finding time management to be a challenge for sure! You will excuse me if I do not write a longer reply to your comment today, I am trying to get today's blog posted.