San Miguel holiday 2

Gerardo stirs the chilis.

WE RETURNED Sunday after two nights in the Gringo Heaven of San Miguel de Allende. As during our previous visit last June, we stayed in the home of Gerardo Ruiz, an artist of considerable international renown.

His home abuts the Fábrica La Aurora, a sprawling art space not far from downtown. It’s all about art in San Miguel.

Gerardo’s refrigerator is a functioning antique.

When we arrived, Gerardo was stirring a huge vat of chiles chipotles en escabeche, something he’s cooked every Yuletide season since he took over the family tradition in the 1970s from his mother who had died. He gifted us a jar.

Retirees settle in San Miguel, sit on benches, usually with a pooch.

Though we were there only two nights and the full day sandwiched in between, we did get some stuff done.

We saw typical San Miguel Gringos like the couple in the photo above who were sitting on a bench in the central plaza, which is known far and wide as the Jardín.

Also spotted, traipsing down San Francisco Street* and through the Jardín, was a mob — 30 or so — of late-middle-aged Gringos decked out in clownish Christmas costumes.

They appeared to be stoned or half drunk. They were doing their best mimicry of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Beatnik days long, long gone by.

I gazed overhead, half expecting that the Ghost of Neal Cassady had winged over from the railroad tracks toward Celaya but no. He wasn’t hovering up there.

I should have taken a photo, but they were reeling and hopping too much. They couldn’t stand still.

My wife turned to me and said, Bet you’re embarrassed, huh? Well, kinda. I’m not making any of this up.

On a somewhat more sober note, yet another gaggle of Gringos — also 30 or so — who were not stoned were standing in the Jardín’s bandstand singing Christmas carols. Gringos in San Miguel are always having a really great time.

A side trip on the afternoon of our arrival — San Miguel is only three hours from our mountaintop Hacienda farther south — found us in the nearby pueblo of Atotonilco, the home of a famous church, el Santuario de Atotonilco.

The interior, we read, was painted by local artists over a period of 30 years, and the church is known as the Sistine Chapel of Latin America and receives about 5,000 visitors a week.

The Sistine Chapel of Mexico, they say.
The Sistine Chapel of Mexico, they say.

There were almost no visitors the Friday afternoon we arrived, so the 5,000 visitors a week probably is something of an exaggeration. No matter. It’s certainly worth a visit.

One of the prime reasons to visit San Miguel is eating in restaurants you’ll not find readily in other parts of Mexico. We had some reasonable pad Thai, mushroom burgers and French toast. No restaurant where we live serves those things.

Before we part company today, here’s a color shot of Gerardo’s chiles chipotles. Those vats are over two feet wide, and the house smelled of salsa during our entire visit.

Ceramic vats of chiles chipotles en escabeche.

* Irony.


San Miguel Holiday

MANY YEARS AGO in Puerto Rico, the early 1970s, I was visiting a friend in her Old San Juan apartment. Another woman was there, a visitor from the United States. I did not know her.

For some reason, she asked if I’d ever been in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I told her no. She then asked if I was gay, and I gave her the same response. Why would she ask that?

Flash forward 40 years or so till last weekend. We paid San Miguel a visit, scarcely for the first time. The official purpose was to attend the Food Fest — or, as San Miguel calls it, the Gastronomic Festival — but we really just wanted to get off the mountaintop for a spell.

For years our favorite hotel was the Siesta on the outskirts of downtown. It was an old, sprawling, single-story place consisting mostly of connected rock cabins. The rooms were big, and you parked right outside your door. I loved it. But they tore it down. There’s just a weedy lot there now.

So we met Gerardo Ruíz online and stayed in a room at his house. His place is part of the Fabrica La Aurora, an old cloth factory of days gone by that has been turned into a huge complex of art galleries and related stuff.

And Gerardo Ruiz is an artist of considerable renown, it seems. His work, not surprisingly, was all over the walls of his house and studio.

2Our room had a high ceiling. It was painted white. There were two twin beds that were very comfortable. The connecting bathroom had a large counter by the sink. The shower worked well. The toilet flushed fantastically. We found a scorpion in there the first night, and I stomped him dead.

OneThere was a huge, screened window in the bedroom that opened to a long-neglected garden with tall trees, cacti and bushes where crickets crooned us to sleep every night. We slept the sleep of angels and little children.

We ate at the Food Festival Saturday afternoon, but we also dined at two of the three restaurants in La Aurora. One was a fancy burger joint and the other was a coffee shop slash restaurant where we enjoyed vanilla ice cream atop brownies one afternoon and breakfast Sunday morning.

You don’t get that sort of stuff here on the mountaintop where we live.

Sometimes you gotta get out of town and see how other people live.