San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Where you been, bro? It has been a year, yeah?

Sure sign that tourism is back — hot-air balloons dot the early morning sky in Colonia San Antonio, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

So here we are now at 6,200 feet enjoying incredibly mild weather yearlong, a severe drought and growing water shortage, unrestrained development, and a once-exuberant city that has almost withered away under the relentless grind of Covid restrictions. 

Signs of life are returning to San Miguel de Allende.

Many spires of San Miguel’s churches.

Hot air balloons are once again visible most mornings around 7 a.m. There are traffic jams on weekends. A beautifully refurbished basketball court in the heart of the city’s most beautiful garden, Parque Juarez, opened last week for the first time in more than a year. Fireworks are returning to the night sky and the weddings that inspire them are returning to the streets. No parades, no pageantry, no processions — these are the things we once encountered weekly as we strolled around town.

I miss them. Day of the Dead, Day of the Crazies, venerations for a dozen kinds of Virgin Marys, glorious little indigenous parades to saints, demons, and a variety of gods.

The way it once was. Tourists, locals, gringos and musicians filling the streets of Centro, San Miguel de Allende.

And the music. On weekends there would be Mariachi bands tag-teaming throughout the Central Plaza, and playing on side streets where people could dance in the road. Opera singers on busy corners with narrow sidewalks, jazz musicians blowing horns, rock bands blowing sound through thick old stone walls of modern-day clubs, classical music in the more-sedate parks.

When we first moved to San Miguel three years ago, I would say that every time I walk out the front door I fully expect something magical to happen. It still does but the miracles are on a smaller scale — beautiful flowers in bloom, great white egrets and black glossy ibises in flight, a previously undiscovered cobblestone road lined with old, old, really-old, homes, a tree growing in the middle of a street or a limb barreling right through a high wall (we respect the rights of our trees here), or an especially old door with a tarnished-blue bronze knocker in the delicate shape of an angel’s hand.

The city is a riot of color just now. Bougainvillea, jacaranda, cherry blossoms, lilies, so many varieties and colors of flowers excite every neighborhood in the city.

I take Moppit, the Belizean Philosopher dog, for a walk every morning and every evening. I rarely take photographs the way I did before COVID. I’m neither jaded nor bored but, somehow, life in suspended animation isn’t as enticing as it once was. We just need more people to bring this vacant soundstage to life.

San Miguel in high season (October until after Easter) used to feel like a Chautauqua in summer — artists, writers, actors, scammers, bilkers, orators, shamans, New Age-ist mediums, musicians, and magicians (aka economists and politicians) would flock to stages here and show off their brilliance for an extremely modest price. On a given night you would find yourself striking off two and three great things from your list in the hopes of attending one. We got giddy telling people what we simply didn’t have time to see.

Now it is all on ZOOM.

The pandemic has brought an explosion of mural painting to the walls of San Miguel de Allende. The city has become a brilliant outdoors art gallery. Some carry a message, most carry fascinating imagination to the streets.

It all ended so quickly. It will come back. Quieter, at first. Some parks and popular institutions — like the old nunnery now called Belles Artes and Jardin Allende — are marked off with yellow tape. The city welcomes tourists with one hand and holds up a stop sign with the other. Come. Enjoy yourself. But don’t have too good a time. Party. But not too closely. Drink up. But all liquor sales are forbidden from Friday 5 p.m. until the hangover passes Monday morning. (Except when I call my favorite liquor store and they quietly bring over a case of wine on a Saturday.) 

Still, low-flying helicopters once again ferry the very rich from Mexico City to the Rosewood or Live Aqua resorts on weekends. The packed tour buses once again drop off day-trippers at the Cordo parking lot so they can walk into Centro and buy cheap souvenirs.

We live in our third home in three years and move into a fourth one on May 1. It is not the way we planned things but so it goes. Our first was a planned short stay — a six-month lease while we looked for something more permanent. Our second was a in a beautiful big old house converted to apartments We were so happy in the rooftop aerie with a 180-degree view of the city and the steeples of no less than a half-dozen temples and churches. Then the roof caved in.

Basketball in Parque Juarez is back. The courts are once again filled with boys and girls, men and women, families. The sounds of laughter, cheering, teasing, encouragement — punctuated with the thumpa-thump of balls on the renovated courts — is joyful to the ears.

The property manager found our current home six months ago and it is the Garden of Eden wrapped in a high stone-and-stucco wall. Not high enough though. We are suddenly surrounded by construction of a 10-unit condo project that will tower above us and blot out the sun. (Not really, the sun arcs from a different direction but I like the sound of it.) The noise, sometimes until 1 a.m. is relentless and unbearable. Pounding wood into concrete forms, cutting rebar, sanding rough beams, shouting, cursing, a boom box that pumps out music all day long, the constant crash of things dropping like loose storm-tossed cargo is a steel ship’s hull — then silence from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. 

It is not enough silence. Most days, I can’t think and I can’t write.

Once a part of the landscape as much as air, water, and sunlight — San Miguel’s street performers will be back soon (I hope.) No parades or processions allowed for now but as vaccinations grow, so does hope.

We’ve latched on to a new home but it feels more like grabbing flotsam from a sinking ship. We don’t want to move. We have to. Shocking how many of the places that we considered are right next door to their own construction nightmares. Like I said, in some ways, this city is booming.

This is us.

Moving on — wrapping up? Yes, I promise. It is just the good dark-roast Veracruz coffee. I can’t stop writing once I start drinking it.

We’re close to our first return to the United States — shot No. 2 is weeks away. I have four grandsons (one I’ve never held) and a fifth on the way. I have not been back to San Diego since I moved out nine years ago but I still have strong ties there, including one son and his family. The other two and their families are up in the Lake Tahoe area of northern California. 

I’m looking forward to flying into Tijuana and walking across the border bridge, the genesis of which I wrote about as transportation “specialist” for the Union-Tribune — my last job there — and as a publicist for the San Diego Association of Governments which built the airport bridge.

It will feel like coming full-circle.

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3 thoughts on “Where you been, bro? It has been a year, yeah?

  1. Robert Cooksey says:

    Beautiful Bob. I sure hope we are close to a return to normal, it is great watching the globos pass silently over head in the morning, the glossy Ibis filling the sky at dusk. Delighted you are staying in the hood. 🙏🤗♥️

    Like

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