Yesterday while waiting for church service to begin, I wandered to the edge of the parking lot to see if I could capture a panorama of some of San Miguel churches.
Oxford may be the city of dreaming spires. But San Miguel is the town of Freudian imagery.
Of course, the weather was not going to cooperate. I either had a blotchy shade or sun with washed-out clouds in the background. I waited patiently for the shot. And this is what I got.
When I saw the final product, I remembered my blogger chum Billie complaining that she felt most of her photographs had turned into one cliché after another. If you have seen her work, you know how wrong she is in her self-criticism.
But I know what she means. It is really difficult, when wandering around with a camera, to avoid getting caught in the Mexico of clichés.
Anyone who has ever tried to capture the spirit of Mexico with a camera understands the problem. Old man with burro. Piled pottery. Peculiar church façade designed by an amateur and inexplicably loved by tourists and locals.
All of that is Mexico, of course. But Mexico is also an amalgam of its less-celebrated parts.
For example, take a walk through my favorite church in San Miguel. Santa Ana. It gets no rave reviews from tourists. In fact, it does not appear in most tour books.
Its exterior looks like one of those sixteenth century churches built in Yucatan by the first wave of priests. Part ark. Part fortress.
But it is a relatively new addition to the local church community. It was built in 1847 -- right in the middle of the Mexican-American War -- as the church for a homeless children shelter.
When I was here last year, the church struck me as a very special place (faith, friends, fiesta). And it is.
Part of it is the reverence people show when visiting. It is a place of worship. I was the only overweight white guy with a camera in the church during both rather lengthy visits.
But there are other reasons. I admire the plain exterior. No windows. No steeple. Just sturdy plain walls -- looking as if they may have been painted by the local French's mustard representative.
My Quaker soul is always pleased with humble worship space. But it is more that that. The church is a bit like the less-attractive sister who develops genuine charm rather than a shallow façade.
On this trip, I took a closer look at the church. The church has a small courtyard with what looks like a columbarium. I found that a bit surprising because I thought the Catholic church was opposed to cremation.
But I persevered and tortured him with my Spanish. And that was good enough for him. He joined me in the courtyard to answer my inartfully-constructed questions.
From what I understand, the courtyard is a sanctioned columbarium. The church's position on cremation is -- well, how do I say this diplomatically? -- complex.
While I had his attention, I asked him about the modified flying buttresses on the church's courtyard wall. They looked structural to me, but I thought they might have been archways for a demolished portion of the orphanage.
My helpful guide informed me they were structural. When I asked him why there were no buttresses on the street wall, he took me outside to show me the brick pillars that perform the same function, but through different engineering dynamics.
I may have missed a few of the subtleties due to my limited Spanish skills. But he taught me two new things about Santa Ana. Both its function and its form.
And, of course, that is how we avoid cliché in life. By learning something new about our surroundings each day.
If my photographs reflect nothing but cliché, that is fine with me. As long as the life I live can rise about it. Now and then.
But also to remember that these buildings serve a real purpose in offering care to the needy.