photography, San Miguel de Allende

Opening soon: City Market Photo Galleria – Mart for art’s sake

Plus: The 10 Commandments for successfully shooting City Market

Also, how Prince Valiant’s graphic art layout can 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 robertj.hawkins2012@gmail.com — 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

Meanwhile …

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.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Poor souls, lost their marbles on the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende

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.

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Rants and raves, Writings

Tongs for the memories

It is clear to me that the single greatest invention of our civilization has been the wooden toast tongs.

Since the time of Medieval toasters, this device has safely extracted piping hot slabs of bread. Perhaps even earlier, if certain Egyptian hieroglyphics are to be interpreted correctly.

Suspected fact: Leonardo da Vinci may have invented the wooden toast tongs before there were electric toasters, once again anticipating the needs and aspirations of future generations.

Toast tongs made it possible for countless writers and poets through time to sit at their humble desks and create, undistracted by the burning sensation on their fingertips that a tong-less household brings.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Fiction: Hell hath no fury like a seminarian scorned — this is war

Recently I was asked to read a selection of my writing at the Prose Cafe in San Miguel de Allende.

In better times, Prose Cafe is a gathering of writers and others (mostly other writers, I think) in the beautiful Belles Artes. Three or four writers would each read something and take questions. I always found the cafe sessions inspirational. I imagined myself — some day, not right away — being just like them, having something of worth to share with other writers.

These days, Prose Cafe and its sister gathering, Poetry Cafe, are ZOOM affairs. They are both the offspring of the San Miguel Literary Sala whose wonderful Writers Conference is currently underway — on ZOOM, of course.

I shared the ZOOM space on Thursday, Dec. 3 with two accomplished authors, Molly Giles and Fredrika Sprengle. Both have published works — award-winning books, short stories. I have nearly four decades of newspaper clippings. A good mix, as it turned out. We all leaven our prose (and pain?) with humor.

What follows is the story that I read. As I told the ZOOM audience, this is a work of fiction, except for the parts that are true. (You figure it out).

It is one of a number of short stories in the file marked “Seminary Life” that may yet grow into a full-sized novel.

Declaring war on … well, everybody

It was the beginning of the end — the end of my days as a Catholic seminarian. It came the moment I picked up that heavy metal bucket full of dirty water and heaved it out the third floor window. Sending a loud and long string of curses cascading after it.

Two things occurred to me in the moment.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

The cabbie’s life: One night in Toronto

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?

“Sutton Place,please.”

“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.”

“Right. Keep the change.”

True story.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Schultzie’s transistor radio started a revolt

Pocket-sized transistor radios were probably one of the first great subversive technologies. And smuggling one into a culturally hermetic community could spark a revolution.

That’s what happened when rock ‘n’ roll invaded the cloistered walls of my seminary.

Thank God.

As an eighth-grader I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. Two years later I realized that he had dialed a wrong number and I had, regrettably, answered.

I went all in: a missionary order whose Latin name translated to Society of the Divine Word (SVD).  The order had a very gothic looking building about 20 miles south of Erie, Pa., where they educated their high school recruits.

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Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, The Log, Writings

The Log for June 2: Binging on depressing podcasts, ‘Space Force,’ and my own House Hunters Int. drinking game. And your day?

IMG_1832LOOK UP IN THE AIR! IT’S CLUELESS MAN!: Took Moppit for her morning walk and I must say, there are far, far, more people with masks on than without. Are morning people more considerate of their own health and that of others?

I wouldn’t know since I usually take the evening walk but yesterday a woman was mugged two blocks over and I immediately went into Superman mode.

“I’ll walk Moppit in the morning,” I said. “It isn’t safe out there. You can go running if you like. You can outrun most anybody that would mug you. Can’t do it with a little dog on a leash.” Continue reading

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Camino: Porto to Santiago, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

J.K. Rowling wrote here, and here, and here, and over there … but apparently not here

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Yes, this may look like something you thought you saw in a Harry Potter movie but author J.K. Rowling says, “No way.” It is the interior of the Lello & Irmão bookstore in Porto, Portugal, which has its own Harry Potter Room in which Rowling neither wrote nor slept while creating the popular series.

By my unofficial and completely speculative count, J.K. Rowling launched the “Harry Potter” series in upwards from 234 bistros, flats, castles, coffee shops, libraries, phone booths, buses, trains, caves, back alleys, and pawn shops spread over 27 countries and a few former colonies.

I swear, for example, that she got the original idea while living in a flat just above mine in a funky old apartment building in Point Loma, a once-funky waterfront corner of San Diego, California. Continue reading

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, The Log, Writings

The Log for May 29: A podcast fest, shopping in-person & online, someone likes my blog, Lovett & Hiatt sing, and summer job memories

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After a wonderful dinner in a friend’s backyard last night, I felt the gentlemanly thing to do is walk Moppit this morning. It was a reunion of Casa de las Poetas former residents. John & Linda and Jimmy & Gina moved elsewhere in town.

Then the pandemic hit. It was good to sit around a table again, outside, and safely distanced.

I had my first fake-meat burger — whatever they are called. It was quite satisfactory and if I ever go vegetarian, I will order a case.

So, Rose usually walks Moppit in the morning and I take the early evening shift. Today, I hoped she would sleep in for once. Naturally, she was preparing her yoga mat before we even hit the street. Dedicated. Continue reading

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

‘We arrived at the Dam in tattered cut-off jeans — covered in sweat, sawdust, and dirt’

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The modern Matson Lumber Co. looks a lot more streamlined, automated, and efficient than in my day. But stacking lumber is still the name of the game. (Photo: Matson Lumber)

“What did you do on your summer vacation?” I bet the answers in 2020 are going to be a lot different from those in 1966. 

A newsletter for ex-newspaper folks (specifically those bred in the incubator known as The San Diego Union-Tribune) recently spooled out a thread on summer jobs. The question was neutral but the recollections quickly veered toward the worst, hardest, most humiliating.

Well, those are usually the most memorable, aren’t they? Continue reading

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