You meet the strangest characters on the streets of San Miguel de Allende at this time of year.
Bigger than life, a bit on the emaciated side, and not that responsive to a cheery hello. Their appearance marks the run-up to Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — although I’m seeing that more and more in the plural, Days of the Dead, as just one day no longer seems enough.
Bars, hotels, and boutiques seem to especially revere the dead as they decorate and plan events for days leading up to the traditional Nov. 1 celebration. Door frames get beautiful floral treatments, too.
You set out to get a quiet cup of coffee in the morning and by noon you are sitting down with two incredibly talented artists, discussing their work, their dreams, their ambitions.
That, my friends, is the magic of San Miguel de Allende.
That cup of coffee turned out to be not so quiet as I ended up at an outdoor cafe table with some of my Golosos pals — Efrain, Robert, Ben, Scott, and Colin. They’d been booted out of their regular haunt — guilty of possession of a couple of yipping dogs.
The proprietor told them that animals were now forbidden in food establishments by the city.
She’s right, you know, my new friend from the housewarming party the other night: I haven’t written on the blog in a long time.
I owe you all an apology, if, indeed, you actually missed me.
If not, then, hi! Welcome (back) to my blog.
You know how these things happen — someone starts a blog and it goes great for a while, then a pandemic strikes, and life as we know it is suspended. So the writer begins writing interior monologues, surreal short stories, overly long recollections about that dream from last night, and, in the worst of cases, poetry.
Plus: The 10 Commandments for successfully shooting City Market
Also, how Prince Valiant’s graphic art layoutcan help tell your story
Congratulations, San Miguel Facebookeers! You are creating a new photography genre — City Market Art. Your orgasmic uploading of scores of images from the newly opened high-end supermarket “experience” has been a visual feast worthy of the artfully displayed departments of bread, fish, wine, vegetables, chocolates, and meats.
This is commercial exhibitionism at its finest.
Because you are all so good — and prolific — I am proud to announce the first-ever open invitational online gallery of the year’s best City Market images. I will create a gallery page for your very best images and keep posting new ones through the end of the year.
By which time we should all feel we’ve fairly well exhausted the subject …
Don’t let your best images languish on a single Facebook post, only to disappear in the relentless and voracious feed cycle. Let me offer you a slice of immortality!
Send images to firstname.lastname@example.org — and be sure to include your name (for credit) and a little something about each image. Sorry, this is all for the glory. There is no compensation, honorarium, prizes, or lecture chairs to be gained. The images remain yours and yours alone. I promise to put your name in bold face type.
They will be lovingly posted and curated in the order in which they arrive, on a timely basis.
Be selective. Send your favorites. Volume is not art. And I am only one guy. Send a few at a time, or only the one you really really like!
Be creative. Edit. Photoshop. Play with images. Create compositions. Express yourself through your images. Be irreverent. Be ironic. Be playful. Make a statement. Have some fun. Get serious. Make art. Make commerce.
Maybe there will be artistic or psycho-sociological revelations to be had by the end of the year. Who knows until we try, eh?
City Market Photo Galleria will open when enough images arrive. It will only take a few to launch
The 10 Commandments — urgent suggestions, mostly — for getting the best out of your City Market photo shoot.
Pro-tips for the several thousand San Miguelians photographing the new City Market with your cell phones and posting on Facebook:
1. Occasionally incorporate foreground objects for perspective.
2. Compose your picture within the frame before you shoot. Crop before you publish.
3. Create a composition that tells a story: Isolate your subject — say, the wine cellar, or the chocolatier, or the fish monger’s. Then compose three shots — a closeup (detail), a middle-ground, and a panoramic. (Think of the “Prince Valiant” Sunday comics spread. See some examples at the bottom of the page.).
4. Vary the perspective — sometimes you need to get down on one knee or raise the camera above your head, or get your nose into that school of sea bass swimming in a bed of ice. Don’t always shoot straight down into the cold shrimp.
5. Look for interesting patterns, artful combinations, playful images. City Market begs you to be ironic.
6. Volume is information but it is not art.
7. It is not all food porn, but it doesn’t hurt to “think sexy” when you shoot. City Market is commercial exhibitionism at its best. Roll with it.
8. Your cell phone has amazing photo editing capabilities. Yes, yours. Sit down and order a coffee and play with your pictures before posting.
9. Put people into your images. So far, most images have looked like the store is a lovely sexy empty mausoleum.
10. Keep those photos coming!
And here’s some old Prince Valiant Sunday comics that I promise. Harold Foster was famous for using the three visual elements — closeup/detail, middle ground, and panoramic — to tell a whole story in one page. Newspaper photographers have used that same technique for decades.
Sometimes you just have to get out there and walk. Anywhere will do. Just walk.
Most mornings, that’s me walking Moppit, struggling for control over the master/pet dynamic with a willful and intelligent opponent.
I want to go left, she wants to go right. We both freeze in our tracks and engage in a game of blink, staring into each other’s eyes with fiercely competitive stares. It is Moppit who decides when she’s had enough of this walking nonsense and communicates her desire by sitting firmly on her tush. It is Moppit who sets the pace, decides what needs to be sniffed or peed upon. For my every step forward, she executes a complex zigzag pattern worthy of her genetic heritage.
She is a sniffer, a searcher, a chaser, a marker of vast territory.
When I walk the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, usually early mornings with Moppit the philosopher dog, I find things.
It is not that I am scouring between the cracks and crannies. It is just that cobblestones can be treacherous and if you are not attentive to your footsteps, well, you can fall.
There is a joke about the number of ex-pats who walk around this hilly town with canes — but I forget how it goes.
Cobblestone streets are the tide pools of very old cities. They tend to trap small and delicate things in the spaces between rocks, much the same way that tide pools trap small fish, snails, squid and pirates’s treasure. Especially after it rains.
Back in the day — before Uber & Lyft, before Google street maps, before the Internet — there was a thing known as The Thomas Guide. It was a spiral-bound book of maps and street indexes for many of the major West Coast cities in the U.S.
It was a godsend for journalists and taxicab drivers alike.
Toronto had a similar book, as I discovered one night when I arrived to cover the Toronto Film Festival for my California newspaper.
“Where to, eh?
“Good, good. Is that cab in front of us going there, too?”
“No, they’re going to another hotel.”
“Good, good. OK. Sutton Place. That’s not far. Do you know where it is?”
“No. Don’t you?”
“Yeah. Well, no. Well, sort of. I usually work the West End. Don’t get up here that much.”
“Um … Bay Street. I think it is on Bay Street.”
“Bay Street? Good. Good. Bay Street. Bay Street. Right you are.”
“I think it is a main thoroughfare here. North and south.Turn here on University. You’re bound to cross it.”
“OK. Yeah. Right you are. Here, look in this book, page four. Got to be on page four or near it. Look on four.”
“There’s no map on four.”
“What do you mean? No! Index. Look at the index. You read; I’ll drive.”
“I can’t find a map. Look here, there’s Bay Street! If you turn here, we ought to find Sutton Place.”
“I can’t turn. See the sign? It says ‘No left turn.’ You really ought to learn how to read that book. You can get anywhere with in this city with that book, you can. Ah, I’ll turn anyway.”
“Why do I need to read this book? I’ll be leaving Toronto in two days. You live here. You learn it.”
“Sure, but what if you come back? You really ought to learn.”
“You ought to learn. You live here, you drive the cab!”
“Right you are!”
“Look, there’s the Sutton. Just drop me off behind that car.”
“Right! The old Sutton! There you are! I got you here, didn’t I? You really ought to get one of these books. Invaluable! Fare’s $4.25. Told you I’d get you here. Well, have a good evening then.”