Friday, September 20, 2013

all things european

Thursday ended on a French note.  And not the famous Cloris Leachman French revolution high note in  History of the World Part 1.*

This was a culinary high note.  Potage Crecy.  Coq au vin.  Crepes Suzette.  All at Le Cochon qui Saute!  (The exclamation point is theirs, not mine.) 

And, best of all, an evening with Billie Mercer.

You already know Billie has a special place in my affections.  She was the first fellow blogger to promote my budding efforts: before the days of Mexpatriate.  She is now my photography mentor -- along with Gary Denness.

And it was a perfect ending to another great day in San Miguel de Allende.

On Wednesday, I toured the historical sights of the town.  On Thursday, I started the day by joining another walking tour -- specializing in the town's architecture.

For such a small place, there are examples of each of the five main schools of Mexican architecture over the past 400 years.  Spanish Mission.  Baroque.  Neoclassical.  Porfirio.  Mexican Modern. 

And because the church and the crown (or its successor) had most of the money during the first four periods, the periods are represented by churches and government buildings.  Rather than turning this into an architecture lecture (which might be interesting, but I have other fish to fry), let me give you examples of each of the periods.  You have eyes and analytical brains.

The only example of the Spanish mission style is Templo de la Ter.  On the same plaza as the much larger Templo de San Francisco.  It is an oddity in town.

The Baroque period coincided with one of San Miguel de Allende's wealthiest periods.  For a time, it was the third richest city in the world.  And, even though the town has had its major economic ups and downs, its major buildings were constructed when the town was flush with pesos.  Such as the Broque family home of the Allendes.  Where the super-hero Ignacio was born.

There are not a lot of Neoclassical buildings in San Miguel de Allende.  But one of the best examles is the bell tower of the
Templo de San Francisco -- slapped onto a church with a Baroque facade.

One of the most maligned men of modern Mexican history is Porfirio Díaz, whose dictatorship spanned the eras known elsewhere as art nouveau and art deco.  In Mexico, it is fittingly called Porfirio. 

All things European were admired (even more than they were in prior periods, as well).  Locally, that translated into a lot of copying.  The Cinderella Castle Parroquia featured in yesterday's night shots is rumored to be a copy of the Cologne Cathedral (even though it looks far more like the Prince Albert Memorial -- and just as uninteresting).

Or the facade of the Teatro Angela Peralta that was a copy of a London Museum.  Both constructed by the same man.  As was this dome.  A smaller version of the dome of
Les Invalides in Paris.

And then there is Mexican Modern.  If you have seen Bauhaus, you have seen the basis of Mexican Modern.  Flat surfaces.  Limited light.  Even more limited views.  A tribute more to the men who designed the buildings than tothosewho must occupy them.

What I found ironic about this trip was our guide's reference to Porfirio Díaz as being the Mexican Mussolini (the creator of the wealth gap in the country) and a lover of everything European. 

There is no doubt that
Díaz was a nasty piece of work.  But his years in power brought Mexico into the modern world as an industrial power.  Even the Communists grant him that -- in their odd dialectical reasoning.

Each of the major buildings we looked at had European roots.  Not surprisingly, they were built either at the behest of a European power or by people who admired Europeans.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Even this faux Romanesque church is part of the town's European heritage -- and it has an uncanny resemblance to the Mexican Modern movement.

Of course, this is one of the contradictions that the Mexican Revolution attempted to resolve -- by generating the mestizo myth.  Interestingly, it has taken almost a hundred years of another Porfirio-style dictatorship to bring Mexico face to face with its own history.

And that is why I love Mexico.  Not for what it thinks it was -- but for what it is today.

* -- For those of you bemused by the cultural reference, here is some context.  Warning: This is vintage Mel Brooks. 

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