Up in the air

Hot air balloons have become almost iconic of mornings in San Miguel.  It’s a rare occasion when you don’t see at least one such balloon drifting through the early morning sky.  Their bright designs mimic the colorful structures below.

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We hear the whoosh of the hot air filling the chamber when they float directly overhead… an indication of favorable winds and (I like to think) of a promising day ahead.

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Blooming Cactus

Out on a walk with Dylan this morning, I noticed a sweet fragrance in the air and discovered that things were happening in the cactus garden next door.  The cactus were full of buds and beginning to bloom.

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The flower is delicate and dainty, not bold and bright as one might expect.  What a beautiful aroma coming from such a prickly source!

On the Horizon

Many residents of San Miguel de Allende have spectacular views of el centro, with its colorful walls and stunning churches. They are the views replicated in glossy postcards and artists’ renderings sold on the square.

The view from our home looks away from the city and out onto an expanse of mountains, which are the backdrop against the golf course. The color and contour of the hills change frequently and subtlety as the light constantly shifts. It is a scene I take in every day, but struggle to capture through my lens.

But recently, a bank of voluptuous clouds provided an additional dimension, contrasting their rounded softness with the rounded hardness of the ground below. A dramatic contrast indeed.

Dia de la Candelaria

Both a colorful and cultural day here in Mexico — Dia del la Candelaria. The holiday has religious significance and origin, but is celebrated in many ways…

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Historically, Candelaria commemorated the day – 41 days after the birth of Jesus – that Mary brought the baby Jesus to church for the first time.  New mothers were not allowed to go out into public for 40 days after giving birth and it was customary to bring the newborn to the temple after that period.

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In Mexico, Candelaria is a follow-up to the festivities of Kings Day as well.  On January 6th, the Rosca de Reyes sweet bread is enjoyed at gatherings of family and friends and the person who receives a baby figurine hidden inside of it is chosen to host a party on Candelaria. Tamales and atole are served.

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But in San Miguel de Allende, Candelaria is also the weekend when dozens of vendors gather in Parque Juarez to sell live plants.  Row after row of vibrant colors greet you as you walk the garden.  Even non-gardener types would be tempted to leave with bundles of plants.  Eager children follow behind you with empty wheelbarrows, waiting to help you carry your purchases home.

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But to me, the day is a tribute to a glorious climate.  A celebration of spring on February 2nd!  Far in advance of the official start of spring on March 21st, it reminds us how fortunate we are to live with sunshine and mild temperatures much of the year. To me, Candelaria is a vivid affirmation of why we chose to call San Miguel home.

El Dia de Reyes

King’s Day is celebrated throughout Mexico as the day the three kings arrived bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. Young children receive their gifts from the three kings, not from Santa Claus, and in their shoes, not stockings. But children aren’t the only ones to have fun on January 6th…

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Celebrations with family and friends are common, and a Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake, is usually present. Tucked deep inside the crown shaped cake is a plastic figurine of the baby Jesus, symbolizing how Jesus was hidden from King Herod in order to spare his life. The person who finds the figurine in their slice of cake has been chosen to host a party on February 2nd.

Although adults don’t typically get gifts on this holiday, I received something very special. An invitation to a gathering of a group or women in our development. Thinly disguised as a King’s Day tea, it was – at least in part – a generous attempt to introduce me to the neighborhood.

One of the things I like most about San Miguel is that it is ageless. Careers and interests are interchangeable. Generations blur. Friendships are not dependent upon workplace environments or children’s shared activities. The result is a wide circle of relationships that spans age groups and pastimes. What a rich circle it is.

And our neighborhood gathering was no different. The youngest person in attendance was 3 months old, and the oldest, in her 90’s. Several nationalities were represented, and the buzz of bi-lingual conversations filled the room. El Dia de Reyes is a lovely tradition indeed.

Oh, and I did not receive the figurine in my portion of cake, but I did receive an invitation to the next party!

If you want to learn more about El Dia de Reyes, here’s a nice description:  http://www.mexonline.com/history-lostresreyes.htm

A spectacular sky

I’ve always been a lover of clouds. The kind of child that could spend hours watching the clouds move and transform to recognizable shapes.

Clouds are one of the (many) things I love about San Miguel.  Most days have some sort of clouds.  Maybe a thin, fog-like layer that settles between the hills until the sun burns them away.  Or large, fluffy varieties that resemble mounds of drying cotton.

And, often, we have spectacular sunsets, thanks to the our marvelous clouds.

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San Miguel hasn’t cornered the market on clouds. The clouds may not be so different here, but the fact that we can be outside enjoying them all year round makes them special indeed!

Christmas in San Miguel

We’re spending our first Christmas in San Miguel. In some ways it doesn’t seem as “Christmasy” as usual. Maybe it’s the lack of white stuff on the ground? Or the absence of hats and gloves? Or is it the reduced emphasis on consumerism that we’ve come to associate with Christmas?

But despite that – or maybe because of all that – It is a magical time of year.

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There is just enough chill in the air to bring out a festive wrap as we go into the square in the evenings. Buenanoches – poinsettias – line the gardens in El Jardin, the main thoroughfares and around the glorietas.

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Blue lights sparkle high across the streets in El Centro. And a huge tree is dwarfed by the magnificent cathedral behind it.

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The gazebo in El Jardin is transformed into a nativity scene, complete with living sheep.

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Living outside of El Centro, we haven’t seen any of the many posadas taking place in more historic neighborhoods. Parades of neighbors flow through the streets, singing carols and stopping at neighboring houses in a symbolic reference to Joseph and Mary searching for accommodations. Ultimately, they end up at a home and celebrate with refreshments and piñatas for the children.

The warm gatherings of family and friends are at the center of the season here. And, although we’ve been here only a few months, we have experienced it ourselves. A constant flow of hospitality and friendly festivities has made this, our first Christmas in San Miguel, a very special one indeed.

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A refreshing morning

A few nights ago, we had some rain overnight.  Unheard of for December in San Miguel.  But the moisture was much-needed and the rain left behind a welcome freshness to the air.

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And in the morning, we still could see droplets clinging delicately to the branches.  Glistening in the sun.

Bella Idioma

The Spanish language is beautiful.  The roll of the tongue. The softness. The structure.

Just sixteen refresher classes still leaves me a long way to go to really be able to converse, but I’m enjoying the challenge.  Already I can appreciate that the language has its own personality and conveys much about the Mexican culture.  I look forward to uncovering those personality nuances much as you would peel an onion.  Poco a poco.

Courtesy is built into the very structure of the language.  It is evident that respect is an important element of life here and embedded in the culture.  It is taught in every home from a very young age. Observing some basic niceties goes a long way in building relationships here in Mexico — with the construction workers next door, and the grocery store employees, and new acquaintances.

Let’s face it, wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we all recognized the fact we are deserving of respect regardless of our position, our job or our family?  We don’t need to learn a new language to appreciate that.

La Catrina

You’ve seen them all over Mexico.  Skeleton figurines that depict people in every walk of life.  They take the form of shadow boxes, earrings, tee shirts, family trees  — entire collections of these bony characters.

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Sugar skulls decorate windows, and skeletal figures greet you at many establishments during the day of the dead. The skeleton and the skull are the primary icons of the Day of the Dead and you will even see references to them long after the holiday is over.

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One cadaverous figure in particular has come to be the most important symbol of this traditional holiday.  La Catrina came to life in the form of a zinc etching by the artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada.

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The image depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting of the European upper class.  She is a satirical portrait of those Mexican natives who were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic ways in the pre-revolutionary era.  Although she was attempting to pass herself off as upper-class, the fact that she wore no clothes tipped us off that she was, actually, penniless…  a reference to the vast gap in the classes of society.  She suggests that death is the ultimate equalizer.

 

As the most recognizable icon of the Day of the Dead, party goers throughout Mexico imitate La Catrina and compete to recreate the most alluring and creative version of her.

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This is quite a contrast to the American holiday of Halloween, where the variety of characters portrayed through costume is enormous.  In Mexico, it’s all about being the best Catrina (or Catrine) possible.

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That is the challenge and focus in celebrations across the city.  Hotels and restaurants host parties, providing makeup and hat decorations.  The gardens are filled with face painters.  Many neighborhoods host block parties.

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Parades are launched from every direction, all headed toward the main Jardin.  A moving mob of skeletons, right down to the horses leading the mass.

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There are many activities associated with el Dia de Muertos here in San Miguel.  I suspect that many of them cater to the large population of gringo and the town’s dedication to public celebration.  But the jovial atmosphere permeates all walks of life.

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But, in addition to a lighthearted celebration, there is a lesson.  We can imitate, scoff, and outright laugh at death.  Because — in the end — everyone is equal.

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…snippets of San Miguel