7 Jan– 4 Apr 2016. It was all Don’s fault. I didn’t want to go to San Miguel de Allende (SMA). It was Don’s choice, just as the choice to go to Burma had been mine. He now thanks me for Burma, and I now thank him for San Miguel though it was far from an easy time for me. I wanted to go back to La Manzanilla.
The first week was all about coming to terms with what I felt was dire accommodation. I was so distressed that Don offered to let go of SMA and move immediately to La Manzanilla. I refused. No matter how distressed I was I felt very strongly that I needed to be in SMA. It felt right but not light, and so it proved to be. I look back at the casa we rented now and wonder what my problem was. It was not the casa; it was my state of mind. Well it was not entirely the casa.
I’m sitting on a lumpy couch. I have a blanket wrapped around my legs. I’m wearing layers of clothing including a fleece hat and my padded outdoor jacket. The small windows are covered in bars. The sun is shining outside but no warmth or light penetrates into the room. Inside the air is cold. I’m in pain. I can’t even walk as far as the end of the street to get a taxi into town without pain.
There is no nature to be seen anywhere, only a few straggly trees and bougainvillea bushes. The rest is all brick and cobblestones. I hide in the dark house wrapping myself in blankets against the cold.
In between regular expeditions to a couple of different healers I spend my time on the couch editing photographs, writing blog posts, and playing on the internet. In the evening we cook dinner together in the cold kitchen. Even cooking dinner I’m still wearing my outdoor jacket. I burn a hole in the sleeve reaching for a pot on the stove. We eat full hot meals perched on the tiny metal chairs.
Regular followers of the blog will know that I’ve been in pain for some time. I always view dis-ease in the body at least in part as a mirror of dis-ease in the psyche, and so my intention was to spend the time in SMA healing whatever it was that was causing me so much distress. What unconscious emotional baggage was I carrying around that was causing so much pain? I found healers that I would not have found in La Manzanilla, and got to work.
SMA was a long dark tunnel for me. I don’t want to dwell on it. I worked with an energy healer and a craniosacral therapist and I don’t for a minute regret our time there. On the contrary I know it was essential no matter how painful. I swam around in the inner murky depths for three months dealing with worthiness issues. I hardly slept. I weaned myself off medication I’d been taking for ten years for Restless Legs Syndrome. Among other things I finally healed my fractured relationship with my dear mother fourteen years after her death. It felt like freedom. For both of us.
And all the while beautiful San Miguel de Allende was there for the taking. Don took it. Don loved SMA, and walked and walked up and down the worn cobble-stone streets soaking in the atmosphere of this most special town.
We’d been there before, three years earlier, so knew its charm. SMA is a Spanish Colonial town and a Unesco World Heritage site. The suburbs have changed and expanded, but the centre remains much the same as it was 350 years ago. SMA has no traffic lights and no parking metres. The pace of traffic is leisurely and within the central core most people walk. Behind the many doors in the warm yellow and rust and ochre walls lining the streets are restored colonial homes, and courtyards overflowing with bougainvillea. The population of approximately 60,000 is made up mainly of Mexicans and indigenous Indians. Ten percent are foreign retirees from Europe, Canada, and the USA. It is often listed as one of the top ten places to retire.
SMA is a haven for artists of all kinds but principally painters, sculptors, and writers. This strong sense of the value and rightness of creative and artistic pursuits pervades the town and there are numerous galleries and cultural activities. Once a year there is an internationally renowned Writers Festival. And just about every month there are local dance and religious celebrations. They got me out of the house.
We heard there was to be dancing at the Jardin tonight. We don’t know what to expect. We arrive early at the last light of the day and I find a spot close to the stage crouching down so as to not block anyone’s view. The stage is set up in the open space in front of the Parroquia.
And then they start dancing, a vibrant whirl of joy and colour. It’s spectacular.
I am entranced. All my pain disappears. The happiness is contagious. Everyone has come to the Jardin to see the dancing and to enjoy the evening. Everything glows golden in the evening light.
Every Mexican town has a town square. It is usually known as the zocalo, and is the place where everyone meets to catch up, to hang out, to hear the latest gossip, and to find out what’s on in town. In SMA its official name is El Jardin Principal. Everyone refers to it simply as El Jardin. Jardin is pronounced hardeen, and everyone in town knows where it is and what it is. It is always a hub of activity especially in the evenings and on weekends.
The Jardin is dominated on one side by La Parroquia, and on the other three sides by colonnaded colonial buildings.
In the centre, in the French style, there is seating around and in amongst formal garden beds and manicured laurel trees.
La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is the parish church of SMA, and its soaring pink towers dominate the Jardin. Unsurprisingly it is one of the most photographed churches in Mexico. Zeferino Gutiérrez, an indigenous stonemason with no formal training in architecture, designed the towering pinnacles in the late 19th century. Apparently he based his design on a postcard image of a Belgian gothic church, and instructed his builders by scratching plans in the dirt with a stick. What he created must be one of the most beautiful and magical churches in the world, and is San Miguel’s most iconic landmark.
The parade starts really close to where we live about twenty minutes walk from the Centro, and ends, of course, in the Jardin. We arrive early and watch the kids gathering, all perfect matching uniforms and berets and gleaming epaulettes and pom-pommed sweaters.
There is a parade queen and princess,
and every school it seems has a marching band; they are all ready for the parade. This is where all those hundreds of Mexican Mariachi Bands that come from nowhere come from.
They’ve all been practicing for weeks. Every day in our little casa in one of the colonias, or suburbs, we hear the bands practicing. And now the day has arrived. We follow the parade towards the Centro and join the crowds lining the streets.
There must be at least twenty different school bands, the Red Cross contingent, a large contingent of chefs in their starched white uniforms and tall hats, a mounted police unit, a police unit with their trained dogs, two fire trucks, another princess riding in a horse-drawn carriage, the military,
and at the end, in the Jardin, a group of people in Spanish colonial dress riding in on horseback.
I found out later the parade is to commemorate the birthday of Ignacio Allende, the town’s namesake, born in 1769. There was more dancing in the Jardin that evening. The people of San Miguel love their fiestas. And we did too.
Whenever I was out attending these events I mostly forgot all about my pain until I couldn’t any longer. Then I’d flag down a cab and for forty pesos ($2.50) get a ride home.
Don walked all over SMA. After the first week, when I admitted defeat to the pain, I went everywhere by taxi. I mainly went to the two therapists I was working with. Don did all the errands and most of the chores. I slogged my way through a long dark tunnel of emotional muck. We kept an eye on notifications of the fiestas and went to most of them. Every time the spectacle, and the joy of the community, released me for a while from the pain.
Next couple of posts: A truly spectacular Indigenous festival, the parades of Semana Santa (Holy Week), and some fabulous street art.
Note: We were in SMA last Jan-Mar – eight months ago. My healing journey has continued since then. I hardly dare say it but I do believe I’m finally on the mend. Either way we’re headed off on Oct 31st on a four-month journey around the Yucatan peninsula, Cuba, and parts of Central America. We’ve been in Vancouver for five months and it’s time to get moving again.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.