Monday, July 28, 2014

Casa Tranquilo For Rent for September in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

 Fully furnished, one bedroom (king size bed), one bathroom, house overlooking the canyon and San Miguel.
House is furnished with wifi, DVD player, TVs, stereo along with maid and gardener services once a week.
 Available September 1 until September 30, 2014 for $900 USD plus $300 USD security deposit.
 House is light filled with beautiful views of gardens and canyon from all rooms.  Plenty of birds and butterflies to enjoy along with all the flowers and trees.  Very quiet and tranquil.
 A perfect get-a-way from the rat race and heat of the rest of the world!  Roof terrace has beautiful views of
 the lights of San Miguel coming on at night along with spectacular sunsets.
IF interested, please email  
 Thanks and bienvenidos.
 No pets, as Velcro the cat is here to guard the premises.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

With the designation in 2008 as a UN World Heritage Site, the influx of tourists grew.  Then Conde Nast magazine named it the Best City in the World in January of this year and even more tourists came to see.
Add to the above the fact that the Tourism Counsel of Mexico has focused their in-country advertising on the Colonial Cities with San Miguel at the forefront and it has created a perfect storm.

It became noticeable at Easter this year when it was just about impossible to get anywhere during that time which covers a couple of weeks.

Then two weeks ago, the influx began with a flood of visitors.  Mostly Mexican Nationals but also Norte Americanos as well trying for one thing, to escape the heat.  If I gave a percentage from a visual survey, I would say 95% Mexican Nationals to 5% Norte Americanos are the tourist mix. It used to be 80/20 mix.

The difference is also the amount of cars!  It is total gridlock on the narrow, one way streets.  Last night there were police officers at each block that headed to the centro directing traffic back up to Salida de Queretaro.
What is usually a 5 minute car ride became 30 minutes!

I think our town is being loved to death!  

The Guanajuato International Film Festival which used to be held in Guanajuato with ancillary performances here is now headquartered here in the jardin area, unfortunately.  The area is much smaller then the Guanajuato jardin area and it was chockablock last night.

In my humble opinion, some additional planning needs to be held and possibly this event needs to be where the Guanajuato parking lot is with much, much more space for people to mingle and watch outdoor films.
Then the whole town would not be in gridlock.

OR they need to stop vehicular traffic at the libramento and have shuttles into town.  Something, hopefully innovative, needs to be done.  Antigua, Guatemala and Oaxaca City don't allow vehicular traffic in their centro area.  It is lovely.

After I returned home last night and looked at the San Miguel webcam located with a view of the jardin, it was totally wall to wall people.  It looked like the one time a year that it is that way.  On Independence Day.

For those of you who read this blog know, I seldom write negative posts or rant about things, but one of the criteria of the UN World Heritage site doctrine is the requirement of maintaining the quality of life and the quality of the site that is designated.  Right now I would say that is not happening and has steadily been declining for this year.

Hopefully the powers in charge will do something to rectify this situation before it is too late.  In the meantime, my contribution will be to avoid the centro until things calm down again - hopefully by mid-August! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

He was Only Fifteen!

It happened seven years ago.  An occurrence that changed my way of seeing the kids who ride the trains to the border.  Personally, my path had never crossed a young kid far from home that I know of.

Always when pulling into a parking lot, there is a multitude of car cleaner and parking guys.  Usually a smile and "No gracias" is my standard reply when being asked if any of these services are needed.

Somehow, this day, the young man had an "aura" that caused me to look up and see his eyes.  Something there caught my heart and in a moment of hesitation I said, "Por favor, limpio mi coche"  Please clean my car.

When coming out from shopping the young man hurried to get the packages and stored everything in the car.
Then we agreed on a nominal price for the car cleaning.

Surprising even myself, I heard myself say "Donde esta su familia?" Where is your family? Immediately he answered "El Salvador".  Then the conversation continued with me asking how he had gotten to Celaya and he told me on the train.  It had taken him almost two months to get to Celaya, which is 45 minutes south of San Miguel.

He jumped off the train there so he could earn some money and get some food.  He didn't ask me for anything.  I asked where he was going.  He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket that showed he was going to a town in Michigan.  When I asked why there, he said his dad works at a factory there.  If he could get there perhaps he could get a job as well.

My heart lurched at the distance this boy still had to travel.  All I could think of was my five teenage grandchildren in Houston out of harm's way with a bed and pillow along with the comforts of home and family to sustain them.

Without thinking, I started pulling food out of the bags that would keep unrefrigerated.  I made a "goody bag" as my youngest daughter used to call them.  Then I gave him some money, not much, but enough for a week or two.  As I handed it to him, there were tears in his eyes.

Again, without thinking, I grabbed him, (as I would my own grandchildren), gave him a Grammy hug and wished him good luck.  It was instinctive.  I hurriedly got in the car as I knew I would lose it and end up in tears as well.  It was the darnest thing.

It's been seven years.  Often I remember that 15 year old boy trying to act strong. He would be 22 now, the same age as my oldest granddaughter.   He is still present in my mind's eye.  With all my heart I hope he is with his father.  That he is safe,  has been able to send money home to his mother and brothers and sisters which was also his goal.

If only all the people and politicians who think the "illegals" are all the things they are not, could meet one person, such as this young man, hopefully they too would be compassionate in their realization of the fact they are  human beings who only want to get to safety and their families.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mexican Picker

 In the mid 80's trips to Mexico to find decorative accessories and furnishings for Tex-Mex restaurants were a normal occurrence for me.  Those trips went on and on for almost twenty years  The first trip was flying into Guadalajara to discover factories who manufactured glass, mill work, tile, chairs, tables along with decorative accessories.

Restaurants in Houston and Atlanta, Georgia were the final destination of this first trip.  It was a hoot!  Nothing to me was more exciting then finding a source for a needed item.  The way we found the "factories", which in US terms are usually only a few rooms with a gazillion people working in them, was a hunt!  To find
the glass factories one drove up and down the streets looking for piles of broken glass outside.  Not a sign was to be seen back in those days - just the rubble of items that couldn't be sold.  On the other hand, to find a paper mache factory, one looked for examples to be hung in the doorways. No one had phones then so they hung their merchandise like that so people would know what they made.

On the first glass factory trip, glassware needed to be manufactured to meet TABC standards - that's the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission.  They come in to a restaurant and measure the glassware to make sure that drinks are not being made stronger then allowed!  This first order was all the blue rimmed glasses that were so popular thirty years ago.  I came armed with Tupperwear measuring cups, a baby bottle I think and that was about it.  It would be hilarious now to see photos of that first episode and our measuring water over and over to get each order of glassware correct.
 Mexican chairs for the most part still have a straight back, not the ever so slightly tilted back that is needed for comfort.  So, chairs had to be designed and made.  Literally, once we designed the perfect chair with leather strap seats and backs - the seats were 19 inches, which is another important thing - we shipped eighteen wheeler loads both to Houston and Atlanta.  A favorite chair of many restauranteurs.
 While out a couple of weeks ago with my grandchildren in a yard of all of these items shown in the photos, I felt that little thrill race through my body that I used to feel upon finding a unique item or an item that would be perfect for a project.  Not photographed but found on this trip were several kinds of Corona coolers, Corona metal tabletops, a cool cash register - all things I could imagine in a project.  It almost, but not really, made me want to get back into sourcing for restaurants and hotels.
It seems the 80's and 90's were me in the right place at the right time.  I knew Mexico.  I knew where to go to get the stuff and ended up designing well over 100 Tex-Mex restaurants throughout the USA.  The greatest part of it was getting to spend time in Mexico in the countryside seeing and doing things that others had not yet discovered.  I treasure those memories. IF I didn't know where to go, I'd go to a cab stand, find someone who had lived in the USA who spoke English and off to the villages we would go!  Exploring at its best........
 There wasn't a thing in this yard a few weeks ago that I couldn't have thought of a use for on some project.
It felt good to feel those creative juices moving around again.  Great stuff.
In fact, in a "ahh haa" moment I realized the reason the History Channel with Canadian Pickers and American Pickers are my two favorite shows is because some of it was me for years on the back roads of Mexico as they are in the USA and Canada for those guys.

Then the other day, when a friend was staying at the Quinta Loreto Hotel in San Miguel, I ran into an old friend from Houston who has had a retail store there for probably thirty years.  He used to import from Turkey, Afghanistan and distant places.  Now he's down here looking for things since it is so expensive and difficult to import from those faraway places.  There is still plenty of stuff down here, but, not at the prices we used to get it for.  Those were the golden days, to put it mildly.

You can tell I was never a designer who ordered from a catalog, but rather was ALWAYS looking for the unique and different or designing it and having it made.  What fun it all was......

The challenges of finding freight consolidators, shipping companies, craters and border agents was just that, a challenge and not something that couldn't be overcome.  Now it is so much easier with NAFTA to ship.  But finding the items and having them made still takes someone willing and interested in doing so.

Someone once said, "It gets in your blood".  I guess that was so........

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Road Trips around San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

 Now that I have wheels again and the car is running as smooth as a baby's bottom, I headed out this week in various directions.  Without a final destination in mind, I just head out and see what happens, if anything.
On Tuesday morning, I zipped over to the Tuesday market.  I've written about it many times but never is a trip there the same as any other trip.  With all the crops being harvested at this time of year, just to see the fresh produce is a treat.  The cauliflower and broccoli was beautiful as well as the peppers and all the cactus paddles that were being de-thorned for selling.  A laborious task! 
 I'm not sure if this rabbit was being sold as a pet or as a meal.  Rabbit is served in many high-end restaurants in San Miguel as well as the rest of Mexico.  The French cuisine influence is alive and well.

Wednesday, my destination was to go to Atotonilco.  The UN World Heritage site only fifteen minutes outside of San Miguel.  It is referred to as the "Sistine Chapel" of Mexico.  It appears that all the restoration work in the main church is completed.  A big festival is being held there this weekend.  The altars were covered with pink and red roses in mass profusion.  A lovely sight. I've written about Atotonilco many times over the years as well.

My next stop was Ruth's.  Ruth is a ceramic factory headquartered in Delores Hidalgo that has a side retail store outside San Miguel.  I needed one flower pot.  If you can't find it at Ruth's, you pretty much can't find it anywhere.  I found the pot. Rather then head back to San Miguel, I headed for Delores.  Stopped at Amore where one can watch the artists hand painting free-style the talavera dishes and pots.  They had huge shipments being wrapped, crated, and made ready for export shipment.  Saw lots of great things there for the US and European market.

Instead of heading back to San Miguel at this point, it seemed like the only right thing to do was to head into Delores Hidalgo to Vicente's for the best carnitas on earth.  They have SEVEN restaurants in Delores Hidalgo! 
Yum!  They are always so friendly.  Want to make sure you're happy and filled - I always am.  Have never been able to even eat a half order which is carnitas, tortillas, guacamole and salsas.  
 I was having so much fun that instead of heading home, I headed for the huge plaza in Delores Hidalgo.  It is at least four times bigger then the one in San Miguel, if not more.  While eating my ice cream cone, (Delores Hidalgo is known for its strange and delicious ice cream flavors) sitting on the bench, several people came over to talk.  A young boy who now lives in Corsicana, Texas.  A man from Delores who now lives in Rosharon, Texas and a gringo who now lives in Delores with his Mexican wife.  He was originally from Los Angeles.  Obviously, being a gringo in Delores is noticeable.  All were delightful to talk to and to learn about their lives.  Eventually I headed back to San Miguel shaking my head at how unexpected events bring such pleasure.
 Once I hit the road, I wanted to go more.  So, Friday morning was a trip to Mineral de Pozos.  It's about 45 minutes from San Miguel just like Delores Hidalgo is, but its 1000 ft higher then San Miguel.  The drive is through farmland that is breathtakingly beautiful - especially this time of year.  Mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus and corn - lots and lots of corn - to just name a few things grown for export.  All the mushrooms are grown for Whole Foods.  I don't know about the other crops as to their final destination. Approaching Pozos, the mountain peaks are very, very high.  It's a beautiful sight.
 Typically when I drive to Pozos during the week, seeing fifteen people is a lot!  It is an abandoned mining town whose families only seem to come back on the weekends to visit.  So you can imagine my surprise when I pulled up to its plaza on a side street to see a fair being set up.

The lime green and black board was set up for an indigenous ceremony to be held on Saturday morning when the Chichimechas and Otomis along with a tribe from the State of Sonora was going to participate.
Sonora is near Arizona!  A long, long, long way away.  In addition, a local man told me that a rap group from Chicago is going to play Saturday night  Say what? 

Wandering around the plaza, there was much jewelry made for sale along with indigenous musical instruments and some clothing.  It's truly amazing how many minerals come from this area such as amethysts, opals, turquoise along with stones that I couldn't identify. Magnificently made filigreed necklaces and bracelets for very little money.
The photo above is a man playing a drum made locally.  Many had beautiful carvings on the sides.
Mineral de Pozos at one time was a very, very wealthy town with silver mines and some gold.  Today those mnes are closed.  They have been closed since around 1910 when the mines were flooded during the Revolution.

It's so interesting when driving up and down most of the streets over there to see no people living on the streets.  However, I must say that yesterday I saw at least 100 people!  The most I've ever seen in Mineral de Pozos.

The week was capped off last night in going to the performance of Doc Severinsen and several other musicians.  Actually there was a total of fourteen!  Most were Cuban with several Mexican singers as well as musicians.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to photograph the event or record the music.  Suffice to say, that although Doc is now 87, to listen to his solo performances, one would never imagine that.

It was a superb evening of about two hours of WOW music!  I had not heard Doc play in five years, but I promise, he is still as talented as ever.  It was a sold out theater.

The town is hopping with all the tourists here now.  This is our summer "high season" just like we have a high season in the winter from the end of November til the first of April.  There were so many events going on this weekend that one would have to be a whirling dervish to get to half of them!  It will continue this way until mid-August when it will slow down again.

Coming up or ongoing, Guanajuato International Film Festival begins this coming week along with the San Miguel Music Festival.  There is a Blues/Jazz Festival going on as I write this.  Heavens, I can't even list it all.
Come see for yourself!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Distant Neighbors - Authored by Alan Riding

 The saga to acquiring this book began several months ago.  I don't remember the circumstances, or who quoted Alan Riding.  It caused me to sit up and take notice.  Having never heard of Alan Riding (sorry Mr. Riding), I knew from his quote that he understood Mexico and the Mexican people.

I made a note of his name and subsequently looked him up on the internet.  Aah, I discovered he had a book on Mexico and promptly ordered it on Amazon in paperback.  If I remember correctly, it was only available in paperback as it was published back in the 80's.  Believe it or not, this is the first time I have ordered a book to be sent to Mexico from Amazon!

Usually, reading a book takes a day or possibly two for me to read.  THIS one has been a month.  At first, I was so enamored with all the information and comments that were so right on that I turned down pages.  Let me say, I don't usually turn down pages and never on a hardback book.  The next time I picked up the book I realized I had turned down 8 or 10 pages.  So, out came the highlighter.  It has been at least 10 years, if not longer, since I have taken the time to highlight a book.  Again, never a hardback.  This book has so much information that I didn't want to forget or poignant comments that I wanted to remember, that the book now looks florescent yellow inside.

My history with Mexico goes back to 1974.  My love affair began then.  I've read a zillion books during the ensuing years, but, never, have I read a book that has this undercurrent of energy and affection for the Mexican people that this book does.  It's hard to explain.  Alan Riding is a fantastic writer and researcher.
I can't possibly imagine how long it took for him to write this.

It goes over the pre Conquest history, each ruler of Mexico, various parts of Mexico and the oncoming industrialization instead of agrarian society.  He talks about the indigenous peoples of Mexico who fear, still to this day I might add, the assimilation by the Mestizo to dilute their culture.  That plus the well meaning missionaries and gringos who want them to learn the ways of the USA, when their cultures are so much purer.

The book talks in depth about the political party PRI and then PAN.  In addition the development of various areas of Mexico and the families who were instrumental in that movement.

Since it was published in 1984, which was the cusp of the growth of the democracy along with the huge beginning of industrialization and exportation brought on successfully by NAFTA, I wish a sequel had been written.

In my humble opinion, Mexico has changed more since 1984 and especially since 1992 when NAFTA took effect then it has in all of its history.  I'd love to hear Mr. Riding's take on all of this.

It turns out he was born in Brazil but educated in England.   He began his career as a correspondent in Latin America - writing for The Financial Times and The Economist.  Then for six years he was bureau chief for the New York Times from 84 to 89.  He was also The NYTimes bureau chief in Brazil.  I checked to see if he had written a follow up but, alas no.  He has just published a book on Paris which I want to read.

Interesting as I always equate Mexico City and Paris together.  There are so many similarities, again, in my opinion.

Hopefully, you can read Carlos Fuentes comment along with others about the book on the back cover.  His enthusiasm matches mine.

As we watch the quagmire at the border, it becomes more and more apparent to me that the US government and the politicians have no idea about their neighbors to the South.  It is appalling and embarrassing to observe.  IF I had the money, I would order a copy of this book for each and every one of them to read.
Maybe it would help, somewhat.   
Hopefully some day, probably not in my lifetime, the borders in North America will all be open.  The ebb and flow would be so much more healthy for all then the current process.  One of my greatest wishes.

To me this book was as though the author presented Mexico as a flower.  He gently peeled back each petal lovingly as he shared its history, its culture and its people.  A lovely, lovely learning experience.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Little Girl Teaches a BIG Lesson

Yesterday started out as a "day of adventure".  When picking up John, Matilda and Sebastian, we talked about what to do and what direction to go.

We finally settled on heading toward Delores Hidalgo because Grammy, that's me, wanted a flower pot to replace one that fell off the ledge and broke.  Ruth's is a good place to find anything that one wants in ceramics.  PLUS next to Ruth's are several big "exploring" places that I knew John and the kids would enjoy while I found a flower pot.

Off we went.  Sebastian asked where we were going and Matilda was saying gleefully, with a Spanish accent, "Delores, Delores".  Sebastian wanted more explanation so I said, "To a junk yard".  Then he wanted to know what junk meant.  I told him it was stuff to sell that the owners didn't want anymore.  His response, "Oh like a garage sale".  That kid is super smart and quick.

I didn't find a flower pot.  They were too expensive for me but, Matilda and Sebastian, along with their Dad enjoyed discovering all kinds of things that I"ll write about in the next post.  This photo of them with some wonderfully carved cantera characters sums up the sense of discovery.

By this time it was near noon, lunch time to Sebastian and Matilda.  Off we headed to Pizza Pig.  A fun place where the kids could run and play while we waited for food.  Alas, it wasn't open yet and wouldn't be ready with food for at least an hour.  NO waiting for little ones.  Off we went to somewhere else after MUCH discussion.

We found a favorite place for lunch.  Then, Grammy offered ice cream cones at Santa Clara.  GREAT ice cream in San Miguel.  As we walked down the street out of the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly woman with extended hand asking for money.  Right past her was an old man sitting on a step doing the same thing.
I was focused on getting to Santa Clara and didn't give them much thought, to tell you the truth.

Since I was leading the charge to Santa Clara, I turned to see if the three were right behind me.  What I saw literally brought tears to my eyes.

Matilda had spotted the woman and man.  She stopped to open her coin purse.  With the most beautiful, glowing smile on her face, she walked up to the woman and told her, in Spanish, that this was a gift. What else she said I didn't hear, but she didn't just give her the money and keep going as most people do.  She engaged with the woman.  And, then with the man as well. 

Without saying anything else, they caught up with me and we entered the Santa Clara ice cream place.  My son took one look at me and said, "I know", as he looked at my face.

This little girl reminded me of what a kind Mexican man told me about fifteen years ago.  He said, "We don't give to the children, they can work.  But, we do give to the elderly.  If not for them we would not be here now".  Actions speak louder then words.  Thanks Matilda for the reminder and the lesson.