Monday, September 30, 2013
I have finally concluded that San Miguel de Allende is both Disneyland and Las Vegas. The worst of one and the best of the other.
Sunday was a big parade day. I arrived just as it was starting. And when you arrive late for a parade, you get the leftovers. For me, it was the equivalent of the neck and back of the holiday bird.
My attention meter was low when I saw an opening where I could point and shoot between heads, caps, and umbrellas. I knew you would understand.
I quickly discovered, though, why there was the semblance of a view. I was right behind the dehydration station. When I could get a shot, the participants would inevitably have a juice bag and straw obscuring their faces. But I decided to stick it out. After all, I was getting a few good shots.
Like this velvet painting come to life.
Or this shot. I like the character in this woman's face. Even with her water bottle.
You know how much I like humor. Especially,if it verges on the inappropriate. But this is one of my favorites. For anyone north of the Rio Bravo, it brings back images of those John Ford westerns.
I had finally accepted my limited shooting range -- until a little boy, who obviously concluded I had not moved quickly enough out of his way, bit me on the calf. I was out of there to play the Ugly Photographer role.
You know the person I mean. They get out into the parade route and hog the view. Up north, a policeman would have put me behind the rope. But this is Mexico.
As I made my way walking upstream, I encountered a tribe of trolls. I wish I knew more about the various Indian tribes. The best I can give you is truncated analogies. More first plane photographs.
I believe these costumed dancers represent an historical throw-back to the days when Mexicans celebrated their Spanish heritage. It would be the equivalent of a group in an American parade dressing up in knee breeches and dancing an English minuet.
We spend so much time ladling disdain on the Spanish Conquest that we often forget the Spanish were just one more tribe that invaded Mexico. The tribes that were here spent a lot of time striking terror into their neighbors.
Thus the war paint and ferocious looks. And the parade participants were great in their roles.
There were several groups that featured the historical divide within tribes. Such as, the Indians who fought on behalf of the conquerors and their successors, and those who resisted.
This group would occasionally put on mock battles between the two groups. But why the French flag? Perhaps a reflection of Mexico's Second Empire.
Even though Mexican children seem to be well-attuned to laughing at death, this fellow sent children screaming back to their parents. The devil in priestly garb. I suspect there is a self-negating Revolution motif going on here.
Some of the Indians were dressed in costumes that were colorful, but well out of my knowledge range. The Big Book of Things Steve Does Not Know has a full blank chapter on Indian lore.
Some of the participants simply went a bit too far. This death character was contrived enough to reduce himself to caricature. But this a parade -- not Shakespeare.
And, of course, there have to be little Indians.
The parade may have been over, but the performance was not. The Parroquia had been decorated with traditional Indian panels.
In front of the church, one Indian group danced. The Veracruz dancers climbed their pole and twirled to the ground. And each tribe took turns performing in front of the jardin.
I can honestly say I am paraded out. I was even too tired to rejoin the crowd in the jardin Sunday evening for what must have been an outstanding fireworks display.
So, it is a good time for me to exit stage right and head back to the pounding surf of Melaque.
The past three weeks have been great. I have left less money behind than if I had gone to Disneyland. And if I had gone to Las Vegas, there would have been nothing to stay there -- because you have seen it all here in Mexpatriate.
See you back at the beach.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
I woke up on Saturday with no particular plan in mind. San Miguel de Allende is like any other place. If I lived here for twenty years, there would be something to do that I had never done.
Instead of adding something new my Bottomless Pail list, I decided to visit the only monumental archaeological site in the area. Cañada de la virgen. Canyon of the Virgin.
You may remember it from last year (steve meets indiana jones). I hired Albert Coffee, who had worked at the site, to give me a personal tour. It was well worth the money.
This time I decided to head up to the site without an individual guide. No one is allowed on the site without some sort of guide. So, I joined a Spanish-speaking group. I could understand a bit of the spiel. But I was there to shoot, not to listen.
I told you earlier that I am re-reading Aaron Copland's How to Listen to Music. He starts his lecture series by dividing how we listen to music into three categories.
- the sensuous plane -- our emotional response to music where we let it wash over us (often while we are engaged in other pursuits; the way everyone experiences music at a rather basic level)
- the expressive plane -- where we try to determine what the composer's music means
- the sheerly musical plane -- where we listen to the music as an abstract art form; or, in Copland's words: "the notes themselves and of their manipulation"
The photographer also needs to know the meaning of his subject. For instance, the thirteen skies house, the main pyramid, had a ceremonial purpose. Unfortunately,that purpose can only be a matter of conjecture based on the few clues discovered at the site during its restoration.
Knowing the purpose assists the photographer in focusing on details that help to underscore the meaning.
And then there is the abstract art form. Using all of the photographer's tricks to combine a well-framed shot with a meaningful representation.
Well, I had no intention of doing all that. This was entirely a sensuous shoot session. I was happy to be shallow by playing with the elements of water, stone, and sky. To put my camera through some of its paces.
Getting to the site is quite a trek. A bus takes the group from the visitors' center to a drop off point. It is then a three kilometer walk -- mainly uphill before arriving at the gate to the site.
So, I decided to try something new. Here is a panorama shot of the road. The site is on the mid-right rim of the hill. My aim? To convey that it was a hard slog just to start the tour. (On each of the panoramas, you should click on them to see them in their full glory.)
I wish I had a shot of the young woman in her high heel boots. Despite her footwear, she carried on like a trouper.
When I was at the site last year, the rains had been sporadic. Not so, this year -- as you know from my reports. The wetland area was in full bloom, and had enough reflective power to take advantage of the sky and clouds. (I know some of you like that sort of thing.)
Archaeologically,the different colors and sizes of stone are a clear indication of when each structure was constructed. (You can read about that in last year's post.)
From a photographic standpoint, they are beautiful on their own. Whether in these waves of various building styles --
Or this linear reconstruction of one of the earliest foundations.
I have always struggled with trying to show steepness. Cameras tend to flatten out the image. So, I tried this little trick to convey just how steep the grade is on the stairs of the main ceremonial building.
And why climb a "pyramid" if you are not going to share the view with your friends? This is the view looking off of the back of the structure.
On my next visit (next year?), I will sit down with Albert Coffee and establish a shoot that will bring you the combined beauty, meaning, and spirit of the place. For now, I am happy merely with pretty pictures.
What I do know from this visit is that my new camera and I have the start of a beautiful friendship.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
"Well it just goes to show you, it's always something."
I swear San Miguel de Allende should adopt that as its town motto. Friday was more fun than a barrel of senators. With one exception.
Let's get that out of the way first. Despite everything I had read and heard, I decided to see Elysium at the local cineplex.
The concept is long in the tooth. The evolving wealthy and educated classes develop an upper world to retain their status. And the devolving poor sink into barbarism in a world below.
If that sounds familiar, it is the plot from H.G. Wells's Time Machine. In Elysium, though, the world above is a space station and the world below is a rather nasty Earth.
The inhabitants of Elysium (the rich world) have access to eternal life and health through machines in each of their homes. On Earth, people just die of diseases -- like they do in the real world today.
The film is boring. And those are just the overly-graphic violent scenes. Not to mention politically ham-fisted. The wealthy have all of the health care and a simple program "reset" can provide it to everyone on Earth, as well. Get it? Even Harry Reid would blush at the comic book economics underlying the film's premise.
If you do not mind laughing uproariously (or snoring) during the film, you might choose a better way of spending your time -- as I did the for the rest of the day.
I met one of my favorite Mexican citizens for breakfast (she, whose name I do not use). We met at Cafe Rama -- for good food served in one of the homiest dining rooms in town. Not to mention being surrounded by some rather quirky pieces of art.
Speaking of quirky pieces of art. After I downed my croque-monsieur, my mystery guest suggested we visit -- I'm not certain how she described it -- "a junk shop," perhaps . But it was enough to pique my interest.
When I was in grade school, their was a junk spot between the school and our house. My friends and I always liked stopping there to see what we then called "neat stuff."
I have driven past the Casa Reyna several times coming and going from San Miguel de Allende. Even though tempted to stop, I always let the urge pass. Until yesterday.
Antiques are not my thing. But the clutter of paraphernalia in front made the shop exactly the type of place where I like to browse. I suspect Babs would consider it a treasure chest of decorating ideas.
I could buy a kitchen door.
Or a cherub.
Or come up with an entire wall of relatives -- and make up tales of eccentric backgrounds for each.
Or I could have my very own statue of Saint Michael -- who, even though mentioned only twice in The Bible, seems to be known by almost everyone. He must have had a very good agent.
But if I could only have two objects in the store to help furnish a house, my first choice would be this skele-cycle. It speaks to my inner biker.
And my second choice? A crucifix filled with mystery and stories.
Of course, I would take the monkey as a bonus purchase. Now, all I need is a house to furnish.
I barely made it back to my temporary home when I heard a combination of sky rockets, bells, and drums from the centro area. That could only mean one thing at this time of year. Leroy Anderson was in town or Saint Michael in the box was being returned to the church from another of his walk-abouts.
And sure enough, when I arrived, the parade was just ending in front of the parroquia. But this is Mexico, nothing ever really ends.
The parade participants formed up in front of the church and kept up their performances.
There were several groups of colorfully-costumed Indians who danced and danced to the beat of insistent drums.
There was a giant puppet dancing to the brassy sounds of a band. A Mexican couple caught the beat and joined in with a fancy two-step.
I have often imagined this is what drinkers must see in their dreams.
I wish I could tell you more about the connection between leprechauns and the town. But I am as baffled as you are. All I know is that the entire rowdy lot accompanied Saint Michael in the box on another outing.
And, of course, if there is a Saint Michael in the box, there had to be a Saint Michael in a truck bed. Nature conspired to make the image a little bit special -- if I do say so myself.
What I had been looking forward to,though, was the danza de los voladores -- the dance of the flyers. This pole had been erected in front of the jardin earlier in the day. About ten stories tall.
But apparently, it was not quite straight. So the performers went to work straightening everything out.
When they were done, five of them climbed the pole. While one played the flute and drum while standing on the top, the other four jumped from the pole -- each tethered by a rope.
They swung in circles around the pole like a carnival ride. Until they landed, as light as birds, on the ground.
The ritual is ancient. No one is certain where it originated or its exact purpose, but the five men who performed it on Friday had the audience in their hands.
It was a nice way to end a day.
And, yes, Roseanne Roseannadanna, it's always something.
Friday, September 27, 2013
I woke up Friday morning thinking I was in the London apartment on Charles Street. In August.
The weather was right. Warm 60 with a sky the color of a white refrigerator door in a household filled with five-year-olds.
I got up ready to prove I had not landed in Europe in my dreams.
I started by wandering in the garden. And discovered a number of interesting finds. Nothing the conquistadors would have admired, but they were a rather shallow lot.
Take these angels. They stand in a group inside Babs's gate to welcome guests with as much grace as any hostess at a Houston eatery. (I will confess the sunlight is from another day. As are some of my other shots. Your correspondent prizes his credibility.)
I have been watching two giant buds grow in the garden over the past two days. On Friday, they exploded into these hand-sized blooms. To me, they look like Christmas cactus flowers on steroids. The aloe on the right is ready to horn in on this extravaganza.
Even though not quite as showy visually, the two jasmine vines are the perfume queens of the garden. Babs says she loves the scent coming through her kitchen window.
And then there is this statuette of a child in the garden. The light and shadow play off of it -- changing its shape depending on how it is lit.
A bit more whimsical is the metal bird. Not to mention colorful. But, I guess, I just did.
Babs's grandson pretends her garden is a jungle. Maybe he is not pretending. There be tigers here.
And fascinating walking sticks. The kind that walk on their own.
I could have spent half of the day wandering through the garden. But I wanted to have lunch at one of San Miguel de Allende's noted restaurants.
So, off I went. Quite positive I would not run into a Beefeater heading off to the Tower.
Instead, I ran into knots of children, dressed as Indians, walking along with their parents. If you look closely at the photograph at the top of this post, you will see one in the far left corner. I led with that photograph because I like all of the small stories it tells.
The gringa -- just as surprised as I was. The police officers smiling at the mini-parade -- oblivious to the beautiful woman who seems a bit nonchalant about the whole business.
But, sure enough, something was breaking up. You seldom see a mojiganga separated from its herd. It had just left a wailing young boy in its trail feeling as if he had just been spared -- what? death?
The boy should have walked a few steps to his left. He could have been comforted by, and had his photograph taken with, a princess.
I hear people comparing San Miguel de Allende to Disneyland. They are a bit off the mark. This is Las Vegas.
But I came down the hill to eat lunch. And eat I did.
We have nothing like this in Melaque.
A restaurant decked out in the style of New Orleans. The type of place where you can sit next to two gringo couples who are debating which level of sponsorship they wish to buy to some local music group. They settled on $500,000 (Mx).
My lunch? French onion soup and a plate of duck.
This place is well-known for its homey ambiance, its impeccable service, and being the type of place where you wish to meet friends and pretend you just might bump into the next Ernest Hemingway. It is all that.
But the food? Every time I have eaten there, the food fails to live up to the promise of the place. The menu choices are stunning. But they fail in execution.
The soup had a vaguely metallic flavor-- probably from using Mexican cheese instead of Gruyère. The portion of duck was more than generous. And tasty. But, rather than a slight glaze, it was awash in what tasted like sweet and sour sauce from a jar in a second rate Chinese buffet. All for $430 (Mx) -- with tip.
If I return in the future, I will simply order a plate of atmosphere with a bit of duck fat on the side.
Could it have been London? Sure. Gardens. Flowers. Costumed children. Over-priced mediocre food.
But it wasn't. As I write this, I can hear the distinctive sound of cohetes bursting in air. A sound that could only be in Mexico. Or small arms fire in Damascus. But certainly not London.
There is a celebration somewhere. And I need to find it.