Tag Archives: Mexico

Mexico Travelogue (Part 11): Cooking with Paco

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While in San Miguel de Allende, Hailey and I took a class at the Sazón Cooking School. Our instructor was Chef Paco Cárdenas (pictured at top) of the well-known and highly regarded El Petit Four Patisserie in San Miguel de Allende.

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Paco was incredibly energetic, passionate and thoughtful, and it made for a wonderful two hours on the Thursday afternoon we spent there.

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He made a traditional homecooked meal of dried shrimp cakes with molé and romaritos (a grass-like herb) and topped it off with a buñelo, a deep-fried sugar-dusted Mexican cookie (below right). The class was quite affordable, and I’d highly recommend it if you are spending ample time in San Miguel de Allende. It breaks the mold a bit and its nice to head home with new skills in the kitchen.

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Paco was very amiable, and the next day (Good Friday) Hailey and I stopped by his bakery for breakfast. It was incredible. Moist pasteries, good coffee and a clean, well-lit place to contemplate whatever.

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On Saturday evening, as we walked the town taking pictures of doorways and the like, an SUV pulled up alongside us and honked the horn. It was Paco behind the driver seat, checking in to make sure we were enjoying San Miguel de Allende. The traffic was stopped behind him, but no one seemed to mind. Such is the spirit of the place.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 10): The Funeral

2009-04-10San-Miguel-8017Somewhere, buried in the emotions and endurance of Holy Week’s brutal processions was a story angle. A child walking in their first parade, an old centurion wearing his Roman helmet and armor for the 40th straight year, a devout gringo who signed on and was carrying a shrine to St. Peter. I wanted to know about them, understand them and retell their story in some way.

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But as the stream of parishioners flowed out of Oratorio de San Felipe Neri into San Miguel de Allende’s streets, it was clear that I was only going to encounter these personal tales on the surface. I was wedged between a hulky teenager and a posse of expat Texas housewives at a nearby intersection, legs locked, with little mobility, and, oh yeah, little command of Spanish. The writer in me would never get to the bottom of these stories. I was merely an observer with a 200mm lens.

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This was to be the ultimate spectacle of the week: the funeral procession of the savior. Hundreds of the faithful dressed in all black, or in the garb of period piece re-enactment, waltzing somberly to the slowest drumbeat on Earth. After high noon’s broiling crucifixion ceremony, standing through five more hours of slow-motion walking might sound like torture, but it wasn’t. All I can say is that sometimes the mystery of something can captivate you so much that time, bloodless legs and cooking skin are rendered insignificant.

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“You’ve found the best spot in all of San Mee-gul. How’d ya know?” asked one of the Texans. She had bleach-blonde hair that was tamed into a bob by what could only be called an ample amount of hair spray.

“I guess its because we came early and scouted where we wanted to be,” I remarked.

“Well, you’ll get great pictures from here. I do every year, but you’ve got a better camera.” It’s true, I did, but I was paying for it with a spine that had been twisted severely from the awkward weight of my camera bag and its multitude of lenses. Such is the price of devotion to a hobby.

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Then again, my devotion was nothing by comparison. Take for instance, the women in black. Caught between the need to dress sufficiently dark and somber, and the need to look graceful, many of them shouldered the weight of the massive altars on top of severe, four inch heels. The simple physics equation of doing so — on cobblestones no less — befuddled Hailey.

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As the minutes passed, I came to realize that we may have had the best spot in the city for viewing the procession. It hung a sweeping left turn in front of us, affording a 270-degree view as it went by. An hour into the parade, the sun passed low enough down the street to allow for amazing backlighting conditions. Flooded with sun, my 24mm, 50mm and 200mm lenses were capturing an ethereal light that washed the images with warmth.

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Nothing was done the easy way during Holy Week. Midway through, music was provided by an actually orchestra, who carried their instruments — from flutes to timpanis — through the streets. Eventually, the casket and shrine of Christ — a massive 10-foot tall structure of wood, brass, glass, plaster and flowers — was ushered through the crowd by 20 men.

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We were 100 yards from the starting and ending point of the procession — the Oratorio San Felipe Neri — and after the casket and shrine to Christ passed, the corridor of people dispersed and reorganized to accommodate the parade’s return. Just as they did, the front of the snaking procession (pictured below) appeared down the street in the late evening light.

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By now, we were three and a half hours in, and somehow, someway, each character in the procession remained true to their part, even the children.

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We stayed until nightfall — five total hours — and quietly watched as the casket and shrine of Christ passed through a corridor of lit lanterns. The crushed plants that the angels had sprinkled on the pavement (a mixture of herbs and daisies) were scattered across the cobbles, a pleasing but biting smell of tarragon hanging in the air. But as the parade rounded the last turn to head back into the church, a cleaning crew — an army of sweepers and blowers positioned in a V formation around a sanitation truck — turned the tranquil, meditative street into a buzzing dustbowl. Good Friday had come to a close.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 9): Moment of Surrender

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{Note: I have created a slideshow of the best images from Good Friday on my portfolio website. Please visit, and let me know your impressions. Critiques are welcome in the comments box below}

Just outside San Miguel de Allende lies a village named San Luis Rey, where the Passion is enacted with such brutal devotion on Good Friday, they actually tie three men to crosses and hang them up in the hot sun. Such is the intensity of faith in this part of Mexico.

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But in San Miguel de Allende, it was appearing that Good Friday was just as much a spectacle for visitors as it was a community event. What had seemed like a sleepy hamlet in the middle of nowhere on Monday, had by Friday become the center of attention. El Jardin — the charming tree-lined square set underneath La Parroquia — was swarming with Mexicans on vacation, gringos clammering for a spot on the parade route, and Indian women aggressively selling dolls. By the time the procession began to flow from the stairsteps of La Parroquia, the hot April sun was directly overhead, the makings of a sunburn and a brain-boiling headache underway.

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A steady drumbeat once again set the even and slow pace. Women in all black lead with a large altar bearing a sculpture of Mary, followed by a small boy in a purple tunic carrying a skull. More children followed, dressed as angels or wisemen with beards painted across their cheeks, and then the centurions — the brutish, stone-faced warriors who were so effectively played by the men of the town. They marched with a swagger and a touch of subtle arrogance, as if they were the embodiment of man’s flawed sense of justice.

Pontius Pilate emerged, a sneer spread across his face as the hot wind blew his white cape. He lurched from step to step, stopped, produced a microphone, and read the death sentence of Christ to the hushed crowd.

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As the drum beat picked up and the procession threaded through the streets, barefoot men in purple robes with thorny crowns followed in twos bearing large wooden crosses, and just beyond them…

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…two shirtless men, tied to posts with nails dramatically positioned as if they’d been nailed through their palms. These were the two thieves who had been crucified alongside Christ, and they were covered with rusty paint to signify their profuse bleeding.

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Two centurions handled them with a taunt rope, and occasionally would unleash a ghastly flog across the men’s back. The audience gasped in horror, an exasperation of disbelief that these men were actually being whipped. Despite all of the gringo tourists (and I do not pretend that I was not one of them), Good Friday would not resign itself to a quaint cultural festival. This was the supreme sacrifice, a moment of deep meaning and transcendence, and by reenacting the cruelty of their savior’s death, these people were somehow closer and more intimate with his suffering. It was a level of devotion that was all at once remarkable and rare.

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The thieves were followed by a richly decorated altar of Christ carrying the cross, and then more figures on more altars — St. Peter, Mary Magdalene, Joseph — each weighing a few hundred pounds and bearing the scent of lilies. Scattered girls dressed as angels dropped herbs and petals on the streets. It was a beautiful set of contrasts and juxtapositions. Pain, suffering, death. Beauty, rebirth and fragility.

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The parade redefined our notions of endurance; we had thought we were enduring physical distress just by standing, locked legs, in the 100-degree heat. As the parade tapered off, we ducked back into El Jardin’s shade and I quickly deleted images I knew were no good. A blocked face here, an out-of-focus subject there. In a mere 45 minutes I had fired off 300-some shots.

As the procession circled back to the square, we headed back out into the sun and found a prime viewing spot for its return. The procession’s players were looking exhausted: the angels seemed restless, the men behind their fake beards were clearly melting, and the barefoot devotees who had carried their crosses through town for 90 minutes looked utterly spent.

And then again, there were the two thieves — one looking down the whole time, the other gazing into the distance. A centurion flogged the older of the two, who winced and then returned to his far-off gazing. Guilt spread on the centurion’s face, a moment of humanity in a role of utter brutality.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 8): The Owls and the Ibis

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By 6pm — after our regular afternoon of puzzling and napping at Casa X — we made our way to La Capilla, which is frequently regarded as one of San Miguel de Allende’s finest restaurants. Based on location alone, I’d have to agree. Situated on Calle Allende snug up against the towering La Parroquia, the restaurant utilizes a courtyard and an old, crumbling side chapel as its dining space (pictured below). Our plan was to have a glass of wine, do some birdwatching, walk around at dusk and come back for dinner. Yes, that’s right. I said birdwatching.

We had heard from a Canadian couple that a pair of barn owls was nesting in an alcove above the restaurant. At nightfall, the parents could be seen flying out to hunt for their chick. Seeing the mother and father owl proved elusive (at least on this night), but the chick was a noisy little one. From the restaurant’s patio you could see its white, fuzzy little profile on the alcove edge, its screeching for food an odd accompaniment to the fine dining happening just below. Abrasive shrieking aside, I found it magical. Certain birds have a way of adding mystery to an old place, and the owls’ hole-in-the-wall home lent the church a haunting quality.

San Miguel de Allende not only had these nesting barn owls, but also a nightly appearance from thousands of white-faced ibis (pictured below), who would migrate in flowing V formations over the city at sundown. The birds were extraordinary, perhaps because nobody else seemed to notice them.

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La Capilla would also serve the best dish of our entire Mexico trip. It was a simple yellow pepper and tomato soup that got increasingly complex with each spoonful. Bold and rich tanginess defined the pepper side while nutmeg, smoke and a touch of heat defined the tomato side. The bowl looked like a yellow-and-red yin-yang with an artistic swirl of white cream down the middle. Getting a little of all three elements in one taste was the most transcendent food experience I’ve had since Italy.

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It was also Holy Thursday, a day that lacked the pageantry of the two days that book-ended it. Still, it was no less moving and compelling. Each year in the evening of Holy Thursday, the faithful commemorate the Last Supper by going from church to church to have their feet washed. Lines braided from the church doors out onto the streets at Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, Templo de San Francisco and La Parroquia. Coming from a place where lines like these were more synonymous with buying concert tickets, I couldn’t help but be moved. Devotion wasn’t just something you claimed, you practiced it, even if it meant standing for an hour, washing your feet, then going and standing in another line for another hour and repeating.

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We strolled around town in the mild night, circumnavigating El Jardin a few times to the sound of wheezing toys, giggling children and mariachi music. This old town was amazing at night — a place where kids had no bedtime and the temperature was perfect.

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A full moon rose over the hillside to the east and crested the church towers. The next day would be Good Friday, and I was getting nervous about shooting the event. I had no deadline, no assignment, no client — this was all self-imposed pressure to do the spectacle justice.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 7): The Artist Colony

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Morning is consistently my favorite time of day in an old city. Things are tranquil, the light gives life to the walls and there is a persistent, timeless quality to the streets. Who knows how many stories have unfolded on the cobblestones, or how many times the scenes playing out before you happen every day.

From a photography standpoint, there’s nothing better than working with low, brilliant natural light in the early morning. The ordinary suddenly has a pulse, an undeniable and mysterious beauty you can’t easily peg. On Calle Cuadrante, an elderly shopkeeper swept the sidewalk and generated a fantastic, Pigpen-like dust cloud. The dust never seemed to be gone, and she kept at it tirelessly. The next day, another shopkeeper was doing the same thing at the same spot, only to give up and take a hose to it.

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After breakfast on Thursday, Hailey and I walked down Calle Zacateros to the Instituto Allende, San Miguel’s world renowned art school. Situated in an old, Spanish-style mansion, the school was founded in 1951 by Felipe Cossío del Pomar, an exiled Peruvian painter, political activist and friend of Diego Rivera. From the beginning, the school was popular with Americans, particularly veterans of World War II who were stretching their G.I. Bill dollars in the quaint Mexican city.

On this day, the school’s central courtyard was a refuge for a handful of chirping warblers as well as a man who was threading a wicker seat together. We found a cushioned spot at the cafe and watched him as he squinted and patiently weaved his needle in and out, and back and forth. A romantic notion crept into our conversation involving the words “sabatical,” “studying” and “photography.” Why these types of ideas seem permanently stuck in neutral is beyond me.

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Moments later, we met an artist who seemed to have no problem with her impulse’s gearbox. Tjitske Schuurman (she went by “Paloma”) had moved to San Miguel de Allende — site unseen — from British Colombia on the advice of a psychic, and was now crafting leafy sculptures and jewelery at the institute. Using a method of casting leaves out of concrete, her work was delicate and fantastically rich with detail. Had it not been for one necklace — a trio of golden leafs set on a silk choker — we may have made it back from San Miguel de Allende without an impulse buy. But considering how it looked on Hailey, how it made her feel, and how convincing Paloma was in her salesmanship… well, recession be damned. You have to live a little.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 6): Scenes from Holy Wednesday

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Miercoles Santo (Holy Wednesday) was when things in San Miguel de Allende became a great deal more serious. We had known that there would be special masses to commemorate los matines de tinieblas (loosely translated in our guidebook as “the vespers of darkness”) followed by a spectacular procession in the evening. From a photography perspective, it would serve as a warm-up to the main event: Good Friday. I had never photographed a cultural procession quite like this one, with its requisite crowds, split-second moments and hard-to-anticipate movements.

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At 5pm, we entered El Jardin, the tree-lined main square that is set beneath the magnificent Gothic cathedral, La Parroquia. Like on previous evenings, children played with their cheap-thrill toys, mariachis entertained tourists, and old men sat on benches watching the world go by. Nothing unusual, but if anything, it was a bit more subdued than previous nights. And then the angels appeared — five-, six- and seven-year old girls dressed in white with purple ribbons in their hair and feathery wings bouncing on their backs. Some carried religious symbols while others sprinkled petals and tarragon-scented sprigs onto the cobblestones.

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They were followed by the Roman centurions, a multi-generational group of men dressed in deep-red fabrics and bronze armor. One methodically beat a drum at his waist to give the parade a steady timing, his lips downturned in a kind of sadness you wouldn’t expect on the face of a warrior.

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The drummer was followed by a buffer of angels and then an altar of Christ, profuse with an elaborate bouquet of lilies. Purple and white confetti rained down from the balconies above, and while it looked like a celebratory spectacle, it was actually a somber and silent event, the only noises emanating from the thumping drum, the shuffling of footsteps and murmuring of prayers.

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Hailey and I were fortunate to be at the front of the parade where we could move, cross in front of it, try new angles and anticipate as many upcoming shots as possible (the same could not be said for Friday’s parades due to the huge increase in spectators).

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The route had begun at Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, a church that had actually seemed like the epicenter of the city during Holy Week. But as it moved through the cobblestone streets, it would stop at Stations of the Cross that had been sculpted into the city walls (above). Romans would stand stoically, girls would fidget with their clothes and smell the flowers from their basket, and a priest would read a passage into a microphone. Speakers would materialize, and the altar-bearers would catch their breath as wooden support stands would hold the weight of the massive icons.

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At one Station of the Cross, children dressed in silken robes of vibrant colors silently stood vigil, hand clasped in prayer, their eyes shifting between each other, the colorful procession standing by them, and the spectators. What did they think of all this? What did they feel? Among them were two toddlers (one of whom I’ve written about, Mexican Jer). One of them cried with confusion, the other plucked happily at his toes. The oldest girl (pictured above right) was a silent mother figure to the other children, leading by example, but fertively stealing glances at each one to make sure they were doing things properly. It was a very sweet scene, one that felt universal in its innocence, in its tradition. This was faith living on, moving forward, but also recalling the last few thousands of years — this was how it had passed from generation to generation.

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And I really don’t know what this guy’s story was. He emerged from a door, and while the priest spoke, he played his whistle and beat on his tourist drum. A man with a bicycle emerged from a door next to him, laughed at the scene, and then pushed his bike up the street as if these parades happened every day.

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Ultimately, the procession reached a chapel atop a hill. Prayers were read as the centurions led the angels and altar-bearers in a dramatic 180 turn at the foot of its steps. Steadily they pressed on, and brought them back into the heart of the city and into the dwindling daylight. A smiling boy sat on the chapel’s rooftop (pictured below), happy as humanly possible because he got to the ring the bell.

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And below the chapel, an angel who’d had enough.

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As the sun set and we broke off from the parade to find dinner, I could see what was happening to my perceptions. The next few days were going to forever mold my understanding of the Christian faith.

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Mexican Jer

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I’m about to work on part 6 of my Mexican Travelogue, and it’ll be a lengthy one. I’ve finally reached the Holy Week parades, a collection of images from one of the most intimate events I’ve ever encountered. But as I was sorting through the images, I decided this one warranted a quick post all its own.

This little guy was sitting in the middle of a Biblical scene along the parade route, and he resembles our nephew Jeremiah in so many ways its hilarious. The messy hair angled forward. The puckered lips. The shape of his ear. The character of his eyes. And so he has become known to us as “Mexican Jer.” Makes us smile every time the photo comes up.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 5): On to SMA

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Miguel was driving us to San Miguel de Allende. Little did we know that we had been an hour late in meeting him, not knowing that in Mexico, on this year, Palm Sunday was also daylight savings. He never mentioned it, perhaps he was reluctant to embarrass us. In fact, we didn’t realized the time difference until late that evening in San Miguel de Allende, where every belltower clock was one hour ahead of our watches.

Between the two cities the land was sullen, bare and looked burned. Desert in all directions, skeletal trees, lop-sided cactus and at the crossroads between Celaya and San Miguel de Allende, a dusty burro at the intersection, motionless (maybe for hours, maybe for days), his nose pointing the way to the painted city.

Suddenly Miguel steered across the incoming lane, into a dusty shoulder and off road. “I’m going to take the new highway to San Miguel,” he stated. “It’s not open yet, but its OK. It’s more scenic.” Sure enough, a paved strip lay in the near distance, practically parallel to the old road, and he found it with his tires and accelerated. Soon, we were zipping past men with pick axes who were still working on the unfinished highway. The pavement petered out into dust just short of a riverbed, and the rest of the drive made little sense. A right here, back onto more pavement, a left, a sudden green field (which in this land seemed obscene), and then railroad tracks and a dusty, dirt lot. “Welcome to San Miguel de Allende,” Miguel said, and then he pointed out the old train depot, which looked more like a ghost town relic than a source of civic pride.

It couldn’t have been a more unimpressive entrance.

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In instances such as this, there is always a “but.” Shortly thereafter, La Parroquia appeared, a pink crystal of Christiandom pointing into the sharp blue sky. A maroon-and-creme rotunda like a Faberge egg, a bell tower behind it, another, and color. Bright, garish color on every building and storefront. What was this place?

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And it would take a good 24 hours to figure out just how remarkable San Miguel de Allende was. Despite the churches and the radioactive paint jobs, it seemed unassuming, limited in its depth and sleepy at first blush. Taxis and buses chugged down the narrow roads, stores were shuttered for the 4pm siesta and the street where our rented house stood smelled of an open sewer. Could I stand this city for 8 days and 7 nights? Phew. I didn’t know.

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Turns out San Miguel was simply a slow-brewing tea, its flavor and character seeping into me in due time. On Tuesday morning, as we strolled the quiet city after breakfast, we came upon a woman in a courtyard selling roses, her neatly trimmed blossoms set in a trickling fountain to make them all the more appealing. She would appear four more times during the trip, twice at Cafe Parroquia, where she simply walked in, set her roses in their fountain and then sat off to the side waiting for a customer.

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As I slowed down to San Miguel time, the details began to look remarkable. Papel picado strung across a radiant corridor, flapping in a light, hot breeze. A vermillion flycatcher perched outside our window. And then there were the Bugs; VW Bugs everywhere, playfully whizzing down the road, their engines repaired countless times in the last 40 years, their circular headlights like optimistic eyes hoping to make it a few decades more.

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And so the routine was this: early morning walk to photograph the beautiful crisp desert light followed by breakfast; shop or find a cafe; lunch; return to house for 3 hours of sudoku by the fountain and maybe a nap; walk in the late afternoon heat and photograph till sundown; dinner. We were unhurried, satiated and, for once, completely relaxed, and that’s when San Miguel de Allende — which had once seemed unassuming, limited and unremarkable — became magical.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 4): Estudiantinas

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Say the word “minstrel” and I have two connotations, one that is probably seered into your head if you are a Monty Python fan as well, and another that involves my best friend’s love of Jethro Tull. And while I could bloviate about ’70s Renaissance Rock for a 1,000-word post, I’d rather focus on the professional goofballs in Guanajuato who carry on a nearly 50-year-old tradition of dressing in pantaloons and puffy shirts, singing and drinking and joking their way through the cobbled streets of the old city at night.

On Saturday night, just as we were brushing our teeth in our hotel room, we could hear boisterous music crescendoing up the narrow street outside our window. Stepping out into the hotel’s courtyard, we could see 10 musicians, dressed in traditional Spanish Renaissance outfits, singing boldly and strumming their instruments. Three lute-players were at the forefront, strumming, singing, baiting the crowd down the street, then turning and charging a few steps at them like bulls, inspiring giggles and a collision of elbows and stepped-upon toes. We joined the fray, not knowing what the song was about (but assuming love) and walked with the group of 80 down toward Plazuela de San Fernando. Everyone had a drink but us, and we were soon weeded out of the crowd by the minstrels handlers at a narrow passageway. Turns out you need to drop 100 pesos each for the full show, your ticket stub being a small, ceramic, bong-like pitcher that they give you at the start of the tour. (This video shows what its like to come upon them, but I didn’t shoot the video).

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So on our final night, Palm Sunday, we ponied up and joined the 10pm callejoneada, or musical walking tour of the city. The group had originated in the 1960s at the university, but had clearly morphed into a tourist-centric moneymaker. The drinks were far from plenty and tasted more like Tang than booze (a friend who had visited more than 10 years ago had relayed a more raucous version of events involving the group) and there were definite moments when I felt played. The group would round the corner and a dozen men selling roses would suddenly appear, right before the minstrels would serenade the ladies.

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But I don’t kid myself. The group — in fact the whole concept — is brilliant, and they should be cashing in. Guanajuato is an even better city because of the merry music echoing in its alleys at night, and the men in their velvet, poofy sleeved shirts are genuine showmen. It was the first in a handful of instances in Mexico where I told myself its finally time to learn Spanish (the next was on Monday, when a Mexican clown would thoroughly embarrass me). Their jokes were totally lost on me, but in an odd way, I felt completely in the loop on what they were about: music, laughter, romancing the ladies and taking pride in your city. Not a bad way to spend the evening.

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Mexico Travelogue (Part 3): Palm Sunday

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There was a welcomed serenity to Guanajuato on the morning of Palm Sunday. The light was crisp, the air oddly still, and the few people who were out and about were headed to church.

The night before had been merry and raucous. Jardin de la Union was profuse with music as mariachis serenaded diners. At one restaurant, a single table was surrounded by a six-piece band, blaring trumpets, drum kit and all. I was getting the impression that this wedge-shaped plaza with tightly packed shade trees was always this cheerful.

Just steps away from the plaza we had dinner, and then made our way back to Hotel Antiguo Vapor, but found ourselves on the steps of Templo de San Roque watching another open-air baile folklorico performance. Guanajuato’s serendipity struck again, and its energy seemed to be ceaseless.

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But in the morning, things were refreshingly different. On the steps of Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato (which is fun to say backwards as fast as you can), men, women and children of all ages gathered and wove palms into beautiful crosses and Christian icons. We purchased one that incorporated rosemary, simply to fill our room with its wonderful scent. Two blocks away at Templo de la Compañia de Jesus, a teenage girl was selling incredible palm crucifixes, the chest and arms of Christ appearing like a braided helix of DNA. I bought one, not knowing fully what to do with it, and together we walked to breakfast at a subterranean restaurant called Papalotl, where they serve eggs scrambled in mole sauce with a side of fried plantains.

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Guanajuato in April is blazing hot, and our afternoons were consumed with napping or pursuing a cold cervaza. Palm Sunday, our last day in the city, proved to be no different. A one-hour siesta, a cold soak in the bathtub and then a late lunch (that also passed for dinner) at La Bottelita on Jardin de la Union. Tricked out in funky Mexican folk art and garish colors, the bar/restaurant was one big nonchalant fiesta. We ordered a molcajete filled with enough steak, chicken, chorizo, onion, jalapeño, nopal (cactus), and grilled pineapple to feed a six-piece mariachi band, and then opted for a tram ride back up to El Pipila for sundown.

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As we waited for the light to fade into blue hour — that magical time when a cityscape lights up but preserves its daytime colors — we heard an eruption of drums coming from the general direction of Templo de San Roque. Its acoustics moved through the winnowing streets below and echoed off the ravine walls of the city, and soon we could see a colorful parade leading past Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato. A girl sat on a mule, altars covered with flowers were carried past, and a steady stream of young boys in shiny, colorful robes walked by. In the slanted evening light, it would have made for amazing photographs.

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But an hour later, I was happy we stayed put. Blue hour over Guanajuato was simply gorgeous.

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