SO NEAR AND YET SO FOREIGN

San Miguel de Allende is probably the most spectacularly beautiful place I have ever visited. I have traveled a lot in the USA, including Alaska and Hawaii, a bit in Europe, a bit more in the Caribbean, a whole lot in Mexico, and San Miguel wins the beauty pageant–hands down. The architecture here is simply amazing. It looks like someone put it in Photoshop and slid saturate all the way to the right.We have been here before for three short visits and this time will be here for three months. This morning Fred and I did a bit of research online to learn a little more about the history of the town we love.
San Miguel de Allende was the first city in Mexico to declare itself free from Spanish rule in the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821). It was founded by the Spanish in the 1500’s.
By the mid-1700’s the city reached its height. This is when most of its amazing structures were built. At that time, it had a population of 30,000 people. (At the same time, New York City had 25,000). The town started to decline in the 1800’s and almost became a ghost town. But, at the same time it became a historic and protected town by the Mexican government. In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s the town began to attract artists and writers. Schools for adult cultural studies—the Instituto Allende and the Escuela de Bellas Artes—were founded, and people began to come here to study and appreciate the beauty of the town. This in turn, spurred the opening of hotels, shops, and restaurants. The town became an enclave of Americans in Mexico, and these Americans are credited with saving the town. In the 1960’s and ’70’s, the city took on a counter culture and bohemian quality. It is now estimated that 7,000 Americans live in San Miguel de Allende. The total population is around 80,000, and it remains a predominately Mexican town.
When we arrived on October 2, we experienced the festival of San Miguel Arcangel, the patron saint of San Miguel de Allende. It went on all this past weekend. People from many of the 31 states of Mexico were here to put on elaborate costumes, march in the streets, and dance in from of the Parroquia, the main local church, which looks like a baroque pink wedding cake. I was completely enthralled by all the color, costumes, and activity. I was fascinated by the obvious blend of paganism and Catholicism, which I am always aware of in Mexico. I don’t claim to understand either path to the Divine, but these two mixed together make for a cocktail of celestial confusion. Dancers in face paint and feathers would parade by the church, doing dances that seemed from ancient pre-Columbian times. They would stop, kneel, and cross themselves in front of the church. Then, back to the twirling, stomping, and drumming. Most of the costumes involved things attached that made noise. It was all about percussion, with a brass band every now and then. The dancers were all genders, all ages, and all shapes and sizes. Some were babies in costume being carried by parents. It was kind of a gas to see them in these costumes of ancient cultures taking selfies along the way.
Yesterday the sun was out and the air in this beautiful mountain city was crystal clear. The streets were decked out with flags and lined with people from all over Mexico. As we walked from the Jardin back to our house it was a sensory overload. I am so happy to have an opportunity to experience this city in this country which is right across our border but so yet exotic and so very far away.

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