If the centro historico district of San Miguel de Allende is known worldwide for its colorful buildings that’s probably because all the color has been leached out of San Luis Rey.
“San Luis Rey.” It lies on my tongue like a penny . I keep wracking my brain trying to figure out if swallows are supposed to fly back there, but of course what I’m thinking about is Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge Over San Luis Rey [which takes place in Peru.] This San Luis Rey is a working class neighborhood on the outskirts of San Miguel. I’ve set a project for myself to take all the bus lines to their final destinations, so last week I hopped on to Ruta 6 to see where it goes -before it goes to San Luis Rey.
These adventures are not without frisson, because the first thing gringos here will tell you is, “Stay away from San Luis Rey. It’s dangerous up there.” ‘Up’ because San Miguel is ringed with hills so you ‘go up’ to a lot of neighborhoods, and ‘there’, I suppose, because it’s out of the (gringo) way. [Incidentally, I have a friend down here in the flats who lived in that area, and I know there is a small community of gringos who’ve built homes ‘up there.’] And, try as I might, I don’t find the majority of Mexican people “dangerous”, though they are certainly puzzled when there is one gringa riding the bus into their colonia.
But, San Luis Rey is not for the faint of heart. Dry as a dessicated cow bone, sidewalks deserted at 2:00, precious few services, my overall impression riding around the community was -simply – beige.
The earth is a chalky white strewn with rocks, the streets haven’t seen municipal services for awhile, the tiendas shrink back under their awnings out of the sun and even the flowers look tired. The neighborhood is growing, but the choice of materials is grey concrete or a reddish brick and, while everyone can afford metal grills for their windows, it looks like paint is the last line on the budget. [You can tell where the gringos or the wealthier Mexicans live because their houses are painted.] Swirl the neighborhood around – earth, dust, concrete, brick – and you’ve got beige.
And litter. Beige litter.
Last year Jorge Castenada wrote Manana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans. I read it and was struck by a passage describing Mexicans as (perhaps) even more individualistic than Americans. He illustrated his principle by describing the disinclination of Mexicans to live in apartment buildings, saying given the choice, they would rather build a humble home with a fence or a wall around it than ever go into a high-rise. (Bursting-at-the-seams Mexico City being the exception that proves the rule.) When I look at poorer neighborhoods here and see all the public spaces – empty lots, culverts, arroyos, beneath the bridges, along the roads – filled with trash, I think he must be right. I think that Mexicans retreat into their homes, and that litter is somebody else’s problem.
San Miguel de Allende has a new mayor and he’s on a tear to beautify the city. It’s a crying shame that some of those dollars can’t be put in places like San Luis Rey – if just to pave the roads, paint over the graffiti, pick up the litter, and stick a few grow-like-weeds Bougainvillea into the ground. Or at the very least, seed some dollars into a neighborhood collective and give them the tools to beautify their surroundings.
On my bus ride around San Luis Rey I see proper little children dressed in school uniforms shadowing their mothers up unpaved streets, past ugly black scrawls of graffiti, trash strewn lots, and skinny street dogs seeking shade under skinnier trees. Here. In internationally revered San Miguel de Allende where people tell me there’s more money than Palm Beach. Where the spa’s want U.S. prices, you can get your chakra read, your low-cost plastic surgery done, your chi energy adjusted, and where you can enjoy the ‘laughter of ice cubes and the tinkling of women’ on rooftop wonderlands overlooking the indigo twilight and sparkling lights.
” …. makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.”
Candeleria is basically a two-week garden show in Parque Juarez sprinkled with music and dance performances where all the farmers from the campo bring in flowers and plants and the entire city “marks the coming of Spring.”
Though I’m fairly sure that globalization has hit the nursery market, I did see a couple of plants that were either new (to me), or I’d forgotten existed.
What’s not to like?
While Mexicans and gringos were stalking the aisles for the next blossoming wonder, the kids blithely ignored the entire event and put the park into parque. After being stunned stupid at the plethora, my next favorite part was watching them.
Determined to break my self-imposed isolation (why do I do that?) I found out about a group of women who meet at the Bugumbilla on Tuesday nights from 5:00 to 7:00 and forced myself to go. [True to old habits, when I first found out about this group I giggled and thought to myself, “Oh. ‘Women Who Drink’. Sounds like my kinda crowd.”] But low, I had two (stiff!) maragaritas and, primed after only the first, found myself gazing at more than 35 gringas who wore interesting jewelry and, at my end, said interesting things. About their volunteer work teaching English, about their dilemmas in leaving grandchildren behind in Canada or the States, about their painting and jewelry making, about their fierce desire to live full, creative lives … ha! women a lot like me.