We are but children here

April 23rd, 2010 Comments Off on We are but children here

Looking around the café, we are the youngest white people in town, by about 20 years. I knew of San Miguel as an artists’ community. I’d pictured an enclave of more middle-aged and even 30-something women with hairy armpits and an eclectic fashion sense, and men who wore tunics and smelled of pachouli. I’m not saying that artists are, by essence, hippy types. But for whatever reason—the small-town mountain locale?—this is what I’d pictured.

Instead, I should have envisioned a community of white-haired, newly retired dream seekers and followers from the U.S. and Canada, mixed in with some real ancients who must use 2 canes to walk and look as if they could keel over at any minute. There are much fewer of these men and women–who, I should add–ingnite the girl scout within me: I so desperately want to help them cross the street. But, here they are taking their baby steps on slick, flagstone streets and eating solid food at Argentine-style steakhouses. Catching a glimpse of a couple who must have been in their mid 90s at the market the other day as they held on to each other for dear life while stepping off a high curb, Benjamin asked with a smile, “Is that us?” (obviously speaking in future tense).

It’s quiet here, as one would expect. It’s peaceful. There’s not a lot to do but gander at churches, visit the many art galleries, peruse the market. Perhaps we should have stayed longer in Guanajuato, where there is more to see–we didn’t scratch the surface there, of museums, tunnels, and silver mines.

But, our time here is not wasted. We met an indigenous couple hunched over intricate works of beads at the market selling Mexican handicrafts. They are from Nayarit, Huichol Indians–animists–who practice peyote ceremonies. I asked if I could take their photo. The man said no, until after we made some purchases, at which time he donned a large feather-decorated hat and posed for my camera.

We bought treats at a bakery. The system here is to grab a large, silver tray (about 18″ wide) that resembles a large pizza pan, a pair of tongs, and fill the tray with as little or as much as you want. Benjamin chose about a dozen items–cookies and an empanada for 41 pesos (less than $3.50). We nibbled on our treats in El Jardín Principal, the central plaza, and washed them down with aguas frescas (fruit water) while telling a few people with clipboards and empty plastic cups waved under the nose, “No entiendo.” I think I’ll use that back at home when asked for my signature or money on the street.

San Miguel, like Guanajuato, is a colonial-style town with the low, boxy buildings bedecked simply and minimally with wrought iron window grates, old-fashioned street lamps, and painted goldenrod, burnt orange, various shades of red. What I like most, though, are the narrow flagstone streets and sidewalks. There is history in each stone’s placement–the town was founded in 1791.

The sidewalks are so narrow that you must walk single file in some places. Holding hands, one must walk on the street while the other walks on the sidewalk, a foot or two higher. Oncoming pedestrians either step on the street or you do to make room for each other–otherwise you squeeze by each other as if in a crowded bar, though you might be the only 2 people on the block. I like the noise car tires make when they take a corner. They squeal and squeak on the flagstone, and otherwise make a comforting crunkle sound when driving upon it, like the sound of tires on gravel, which–to me–is the sound of arrival and anticipation. A sensory memory, perhaps, from camp grounds when this noise might represent the arrival of friends, or maybe it goes even farther back to childhood, when it meant house guests had turned up.

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