I’M IN FABLED SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, waiting for the magic to happen.
This central Mexico town of 80,000, made wealthy half a millennium ago as a way-station between the silver mines to the north and the capital 200 miles to the south, has been a favorite winter destination for North Americans since at least the 1930s, when the famous art school, Instituto de Allende, was founded.
The Beats loved it in the ’50s — Neal Cassady died and was buried here — and it has since had a reputation as a haven for writers, artists and all manner of eccentrics.
I first heard of San Miguel in 1969, on a trip to the then-USSR (I was a college Russian major working as a translator). I befriended a woman whose nickname was Sis — she was in her 40s, an artist from the NYC suburbs, divorced. She was my first “adult” friend and possibly the coolest person I’d known up to that point. We exchanged addresses, and Sis sent me a postcard a few months later — from San Miguel de Allende. She’d gone down for a vacation, met a man, fallen in love, and was moving there for good.
Sadly, I forgot Sis’s real name, and we lost touch. But I never forgot that postcard, full of exclamation points and little hearts. I’ve wanted to visit San Miguel ever since.
Now, I’m more interested in gardens and historic houses than anything else, and that’s fine, since San Miguel is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its intact 18th century architecture, from the rose-colored Parroquia cathedral, which calls to mind the excesses of Gaudi, to the modest one-story buildings, painted every shade on the warm side of the color wheel, that line the hilly cobblestone streets.
I’m here with two friends, each of us for a different length of time (me for two weeks). I’m staying at a 3-star hotel, Quinta Loreto, in a $29/night room with spotty WiFi and no heat. It’s clean, simple and very Mexican; white amaryllis bought this morning at a plant market in a park makes it home.
At the moment I’m wrapped in a wooly scarf, hand-loomed here in SMA and purchased yesterday, as I sit with a Corona on the long terrace of the hotel.
With just one full day to go on, it’s something of a mystery to me what people do here for two weeks, a month, two months, the whole season. After last winter’s whirlwind tour of Europe, I’ve grown used to spending two nights in a place, making a quick study of it, and moving on.
I’ve already wandered the most historic streets of the compact historic center and crisscrossed the Jardín, a perfect square planted with lime (?) trees pruned flat across their lower branches, several times. It’s pleasant, to be sure, and I hope to cultivate the ability to relax on one of its wrought iron benches soon.
I do love peeking through archways into courtyards, many of which are cafés or shops. We’ve had some fine Margaritas and a few meals. The best was Peruvian — sea bass ceviche and cold lime mashed potatoes at the New York Times-recommended La Parada last night. I am optimistic about finding Mexican food as good as that you can get in NYC.
Tonight there’s an art walk and tomorrow the weekly Sunday morning house and garden tour. And next week, by sheer coincidence, is the 11th annual San Miguel Literary Sala, a writers’ conference that casts a wide net — it’s “for everyone,” with a focus on personal expression, according to an interview with the director that appeared in Atención, the local English-language weekly.
I’m signed up for one workshop, a photography walk and a “cantina crawl.” I’d love to find yoga classes and an introductory walking tour of the historic center (surprisingly difficult).
More to follow, as I explore, discover and hopefully, relax.
Above: Hotel Quinta Loreto