Vibrant San Miguel de Allende # 2
EXPANDING UPON LAST WEEK’S SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO – PART 1
In SMA Part 1, we reviewed how to plan ahead for a great experience, best times to visit, how to get there and get around once you arrive, where to get information on events and festivities, a brief history of the area, and the Cuisine Scene for fine and casual dining. In this second post we want to introduce you to the broad spectrum of activities for your exploration. The Art Scene is diverse and teeming with schools, workshops, open studios, demos, exhibitions and galleries. Headquarters for the Literary Scene is the “Biblioteca Publica” (public library) supplemented by many workshops, readings and well-attended conferences. What would world class art and writing be without proper accompaniment? A melodious background for everything in San Miguel de Allende is furnished by the exuberant Music Scene.
In this amenable climate, nature-loving activities of all kinds thrive and contribute to an invigorating Outdoor Scene. Festivals and markets occur regularly and provide a great venue to bring locals, ex-pats and tourists together in joyous celebrations of life and culture. In recent years, increased interest in health and well-being has resulted in a more visible profile for traditional healing techniques and a proliferation of natural remedies. These many distinct attractions meld and simmer like spices of the ultimate molé to make your time in San Miguel de Allende an absolutely divine banquet.
THE ART SCENE
San Miguel de Allende overflows with art and artists. I mentioned that I’m an aspiring artist & author, right? So here goes. I’ll try not to bore the non-afficionados… The Jardin, or central downtown plaza, is filled with art galleries.
— FABRICA LA AURORA
A ten-minute walk northeast of this city center is a reimagined turn-of-the-century textile factory called “Fabrica la Aurora” that has become a globally recognized art and design center. The quality of the 40 plus Fabrica galleries, studios, shops and restaurants is so high that the New York Times was inspired to recommend it as a must-see in SMA. Thursdays are open studios, which means most artists will be at their galleries. Classes in all art media and techniques are available here. Fabrica de Aurora is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Yippee!!!!
— INSTITUTO ALLENDE
In the opposite direction, less than half a mile southwest of the city center, the graceful “Instituto Allende” is open to everyone wishing to take workshops, or just explore and appreciate. The campus embraces many gardens and parklike areas, as well as artsy cafes, and is open to visitors Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The history of this school is long and storied. Instituto Allende has been drawing art students to SMA since the 1930’s, including such luminaries as Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. Originally built in 1736, the picturesque property was converted to an art and language school more than two hundred years later. Post WWII American veterans flocked to the mountainside town after learning that the Insituto Allende qualified for study under the GI Bill. It wasn’t long before word of the beautiful aesthetics spread and aspiring artists were heading to the school in droves. In addition to art, Spanish language classes are offered there to this day.
— BELLAS ARTES
Bellas Artes, the shortened name of “El Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez El Nigromante”, is a government cultural center that offers arts, crafts, music and dance classes year round. Their website is temporarily unavailable. Only 2 blocks from the Jardin, it is generally acknowledged as the most beautiful of all the art schools. The building was originally built in 1760 as the cloister of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception. It has morphed into a sort of center for art worship. The Café Las Musas is a lovely place to meet a friend or read a book and soak in the peaceful atmosphere. Gracing the north wall of the cloister you will encounter the single most famous work of art in all of San Miguel de Allende, an unfinished but still powerful abstract mural by Davíd Alfaro Siqueiros. Siqueiros was one of the famous triumvirate of Mexican muralists—along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. A true cultural center, Bellas Artes offers exhibits, concerts and performances by Mexican and foreign artists year round. Shhh…Don’t tell anyone I told you, but it also has a Starbucks!
— PHOTOGRAPHY AND MORE
Whether you are an accomplished or aspiring photographer, the Academia de Fotografia specializes in courses just for you. Additionally, there are numerous local and expat photographers and artists that teach from their studios around town.
THE LITERARY SCENE
San Miguel hosts a prestigious annual Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival. It is usually in February and planned 2017 dates are February 15-19. There are also writing workshops throughout the year. Literary salons with monthly readings are offered as well as an international storytelling festival. My Irish ancestors blessed with the gift of gab are just chittering with excitement over that storytelling festival!!! For information on all these events, go here. Quick word of caution: the SanMiguelLiterarySala.org website has been compromised and is not repaired as of May 2016. Don’t click on that until the new site is up and running.
The Biblioteca Pública de San Miguel de Allende was privately established as a basic lending library for children in 1954. It is now the second largest private bilingual library in Latin America, holding more than 60,000 volumes. Over the last half of a century, it has evolved into the cultural hub of SMA. It houses mural-enriched lecture halls, a café, a store, classrooms and plenty of beautiful seating. The Biblioteca Publica publishes “Atencion”, a weekly newspaper for the English speaking community. If that weren’t enough, this library awards scholarships to 200 deserving students, as well as hosting music, theater productions, films, lectures, and providing free internet access to the general public.
THE MUSIC SCENE
Mexico would not be Mexico without music and dance. I took Salsa dance lessons when I visited because I was fascinated by my instructor, Lulu Sametini’s, wonderfully graceful hand stylings. If you are here during the 6 month classical music season that typically runs from October to March, I hope you will enjoy at least one world class performance. These concerts are held in the best acoustical space in SMA, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It has the further advantage of being an intimate venue.
If opera is your thing, in the spring you can really enjoy the Concurso San Miguel, a contest for talented young Mexican opera singers. And of course, there is mariachi, salsa, rock, hip-hop, folk, drum circles, and just about any type of music you can think of going on somewhere in San Miguel de Allende every day.
THE OUTDOOR SCENE
San Miguel de Allende is an outdoor dream, with hiking, biking, history, archaeology, geology, mining, photography, bird-watching, botanical garden, lavender farms, horseback riding, rowing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, hot springs and a few other things that I’m forgetting at the moment. I could go on for pages to discuss the variety of outdoor entertainments to be had. But I’ll try to be brief.
— A BIRD WATCHING PARADISE
The only Audubon Society chapter in Mexico is headquartered in San Miguel de Allende (pause for applause…) and has a wonderfully rich scope of activities that even include multi-day Eco-journeys throughout Mexico. Key birding hotspots in the vicinity include the wooded river trail along Rio Laja and La Presa Allende, which is a significant lake/aquifer that serves as the town’s water source
— Botanical Garden
A 170 acre botanical garden and outstanding nature preserve, “El Charco del Ingenio” is located a few minutes’ drive from SMA. El Charco is a center for environmental education, workshops, dances, concerts, festivals, art exhibits, full moon ceremonies, traditional temazcals, bird-watching tours, and so much more. It houses a vast collection of Mexican cacti and other plants, many of which are rare or threatened with extinction. Check out their website for what is happening during your visit and potential free transportation from downtown SMA.
If you’re a fairly serious hiker, don’t miss the Sunday Hiking Group. You may have to ask around to get the most current contact information, because it seems to change leaders and meeting points from time to time and I haven’t checked in with them for a while. The last I knew, this club meets every Sunday morning at 7:45am at the Pemex fuel station on the Ancha San Antonio. It’s free and it’s a great way to meet new people. Some days there are two hikes to accommodate different levels of difficulty. But they always go somewhere really interesting known only to locals or well-informed ex-pats.
— DAY TRIPS FROM SMA
Upon occasion, excursions out of town are loads of fun too. You can bask in the sun like a lizard, picnic, and swim in the warm pools at La Gruta or Escondido hot springs. The nearby famous ceramic-producing village of Dolores Hidalgo makes for an inspiring day trip. Visit the silver-mining ghost town of Pozos. Step back in time to wander the narrow lanes, underground tunnels, and college town cafes of medieval Guanajuato. If you’re up for a long day trip, you can also traverse the Sierra Madre Mountains to visit Media Luna, a lushly vegetated volcanic hot springs lake where gases bubble upward thru black lava sands to tickle your toes. Then there are waterfalls…the list goes on and on, and I DID say I was going to be brief. Too late!
— CANADA DE LA VIRGEN
Home to a 40-acre archaeological site, Cañada de La Virgen is a beautiful sprawling nature preserve located 15 miles west of San Miguel de Allende. Seven pyramids have been excavated to date. These sites in the Laja River basin were occupied by the Otomí and Toltec peoples from 540 to 1050 A.D. When you’ve had your fill of archaeology, other activities such as hiking, horseback riding and birding will keep you busy in the nature preserve.
THE MARKET SCENE
Every Tuesday morning, the huge outdoor market convenes upon the hills of the Cuesta de San Jose and Canal Street between the hours of 9am and 4pm. Also known as “Tianguis del Martes”, it is as large as three football fields! Everything you can imagine and a few things you probably can’t are for sale there.
On Saturday mornings, there is a fun Organic Farmer’s Market “Tianguis Organico” from 9am to 3pm in a beautiful courtyard at #32 Ancha de San Antonio on the corner of El Cardo street on the Rosewood property. It features fruits, veggies, flowers, fresh baked goods, soaps, incense, clothing and food vendors that prepare delicacies not available anywhere else. I like to have an early lunch at one of the tables, then do the shopping for the week. Everyone is there and it’s a great place to meet old friends as well as be introduced to new ones.
THE FESTIVAL AND FIESTA SCENE
Never one to miss a good party, the Mexican government recognizes 50 holidays in SMA. Always ready to celebrate, many of these include parades, fireworks and music in the city center. Check out this list of festivals and fiestas.
TRADITIONAL AND NATURAL REMEDIES
There is a great interest in indigenous healing that has been building over the last few decades. Without a doubt, SMA can fulfill your needs in this area. For natural products like homeopathic remedies, herbs, vitamins and supplements, check out “Centro Naturista” on Ancha de San Antonio 75, “La Victoriana” at Hernández Macias 72, or “Moonrise Health” at Organos 29 in Centro for a nice selection of native incense, soaps and cultural wisdom. A fascinating visit is one to the Pharmacy “Botica De Santa Teresita” that has doled out inexpensive homeopathic remedies for centuries. It’s under the 6th generation of family ownership.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
Beware! Countless travelers have come to San Miguel de Allende for a few weeks’ vacation, and never made it back home. So charmed were they by the hip, colonial, old-Mexico modern vibe that they purchased homes on the spot and had their worldly goods shipped south from the USA or Canada. I might easily join their ranks when I finally decide to retire. How about you?