Posted by: ktzefr | September 8, 2010

San Miguel de Allende: Casas, Colors, Quotes, and Notes

“Your home is in your heart and mind’s eye.  It is roots grounded in place, it is wings governed by no place.” ~ Sarahlee Lawrence (“I Read Walden Once”)

In my book, To Come and Go Like Magic, the young narrator is intrigued by the story of the monarch butterfly migration from the US to Mexico and back every year, and she wishes she could be like the butterflies.  Sometimes I do, too.  It would be great fun to be magically transported to some exotic locale for a few hours each day and get back home for dinner.  Fine substitutes, however, are books, pictures, memories.

The monarchs aren’t ready to go yet, but I took off yesterday (through pictures, memories, and a few favorite quotes) to the hills of Mexico…

(Double click on the photos to enlarge for detail; be sure to use the back arrow to return to this post.)

This outdoor dining space at Casa de Lisa in San Miguel de Allende has a boveda ceiling.  The boveda is a brick-vaulted ceiling or dome, and the construction technique is an ancient art that is practiced by very few craftsmen.  In the town of San Miguel there are many casas with beautiful boveda ceilings.

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Troje, Casa Lisa, San Miguel de Allende

The troje is the traditional house of the Meseta Purepecha region of Mexico.  It’s similar to the American log cabin, but made of pine planks for the sides and constructed with heavy beams over a volcanic rock foundation.  Traditionally, no nails or screws were used in the construction.  Even the flat pine shakes roof was attached with  thorns from the tejocote tree.  Many trojes, like this one, had a front porch, but most had no windows and only one door.  The troje has a four-sided roof with deep eaves — each side made independently so the troje could be dismantled easily.    The little house could be broken down, moved, and re-erected in a single day.

Trojes were built for different purposes.  Some housed the family’s altar, religious symbols, candles, flowers.  Others held clothing or equipment or tools.  Corn was often stored in the loft.  This particular troje, moved to San Miguel de Allende from Patzcuaro, has a window in the loft because the loft is used as a guest room (called the treehouse room).

“We drove through dusty villages and into lush tropical forests until at last we arrived in Patzcuaro.  I felt like I had moved from one dream into another…. Giant bunches of orange and rust-colored marigolds hid the faces of women who walked through the plaza, their embroidered skirts as blue as the sky.” ~ Barbara Robertson (“Los Muertos”)

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“Thunder rumbles…. The bells of the parroquia jangle.  Blackbirds fly away in jagged triangles.  People scurry under the archways of the buildings surrounding the jardin.  The shoeshine men put away their rags.  The fruit woman pushes her children under her rain tarp.  Mariachis pile into trucks… The square is suddenly empty… Large drops of rain begin to fall….” ~ Pamela Alma Bass (“Mexican Rain”)

La Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

La Parroquia is a pink, Gothic parish church built in 1683.  It stands in the city’s main square and is one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in Mexico.

“Like the birds falling among the trees, like music/As the trees close, and the cathedral closes./No one will know who in a stranger land/Has never stood while night came down/In shadows of roses…” ~  Muriel Rukeyser (“Evening Plaza, San Miguel”)

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“Mexicans know that a party has been outstandingly successful if at the end of it there are at least a couple of clusters of longtime or first-time acquaintances leaning on each other against a wall, sobbing helplessly.” ~  Alma Guillermoprieto (“Serenading the Future”)

San Miguel is a city of walls, a multitude of colors, trees towering and flowers peeking over the tops, shady rooftop gardens.  But the houses and the gardens, hidden behind walls, are a mystery until you peek inside…











A lovely periwinkle house and my friend Robin’s garden…

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“Later, in the twilight, I walked along the river on a path paved with a mosaic of red pebbles… a heron rode by on a floating log…snowy egrets sailed in to roost in the trees.” ~ Lynn Ferrin (“I’ve Still Got Mexico”)

Although Lynn Ferrin is describing walking in the ruins at Palenque, San Miguel also has its share of snowy egrets that come to roost in the city parks at night.  I took the picture of these birds from my bathroom window.  This is a morning shot and the egrets are just waking up and getting ready to head to the mudflats outside of town to spend the day looking for fish.  At sunset they come back to Parque Juarez and settle into the big nests that fill the trees.


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The cities of the Bajio, including San Miguel, were once the great silver cities of Mexico, producing most of the world’s silver.  Jenny Rosenbaum’s early evening in Guanajuato is familiar.

“Extravagantly punctuating the city were churches which, as a local legend has it, were built of mortar mixed with silver powder and then moistened by choice Spanish wines… The drama of early dusk had begun.  To the east, an indigo mist was sifting…across the plains of the Bajio.  The complex tiers of the city were being claimed by shadows, then assuaged by a violet-lavender hush.” ~ Jenny Lenore Rosenbaum (“The Hills of Guanajuato”)

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In the following quote Rebecca Bruns describes dusk in San Cristobal de las Casas.  She says of the city that sits at 7,000 feet that it “almost touches heaven.”  San Cristobal is in the remote highlands of Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, but the description sounds a lot like sunset in San Miguel.

“As dusk fell…the aroma of wood fires began to creep over the red-tile roofs.  Crossing the square, I wandered through the red-and-white arcade where baskets of macaroons, sugar cones, peanut brittle, and glazed fruit seethed with bees, which a vendor was plucking off with tongs and putting into a humming plastic bag.” ~ Rebecca Bruns (“City in the Mist”)  A humming plastic bag…what an image!

I’ve always loved pretty sunsets in the islands, especially in the Caribbean, but sunset in the Sierra Madre has its own special glow.

Sunset in San Miguel de Allende

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To Come and Go Like Magic ~ Set in Appalachia in the 1970s, the story follows a young girl and her dreams of seeing the world.  The butterflies migrate from the hills of Kentucky to the hills of Mexico; the eels, born in the Sargasso Sea, head northward and live for years in foreign waters before making the long trek back home; people, too, leave and return.  The journey makes all the difference.

Buy now in hardcover, paperback, or E-book:  Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Indie Bound, Amazon, or your favorite local bookstore.


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