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Slouching towards Chiapas

24 February 2009

I spent one night in Guanajuato (which, despite what norteños and Spanish teachers tell you, is pronounced Hwa-na-WHA-to) and a couple of hours in San Miguel de Allende, but both are already well known from the tourist websites to require much description here.

on-the-road-mexGuanajuato is full of students — and tourists — as always, and every downtown plaza (which are legion.. it’s a city of plazas attached to plazas, which are downstairs from… more plazas) had some entertainment going on. Being a UNESCO cultural site, and well-preserved from its glory days in the 18th century (when it was the richest city in the Americas, thanks to mining), there aren’t the 21st century cultural clues (like neon signs) to tip you off, so finding something like an Oxxo store is a slight challenge, but that’s the price you pay for eschewing progress, I guess.

I realized that with one appointment in Guanajuato, and a couple in San Miguel (which has a compact center, the better to let the gringos pretend they’re in a Mexican “village”), it made more sense to stay in Guanajuato than in the overpriced “village.” There are plenty of cheap hotels in the college town/state capital, but anything reasonable in San Miguel is going to be a youth hostel. And … as has been less than kindly pointed out to me… I ain’t a youth anymore.

I get a little confused by 18th century streets and plazas, but was staying across from the Borda family joint (the Bordas being the mining family that skewed the statistics of 18th century America enough to make Guanajato so much richer than any other community). Jose de Borda himself started as a miner, and ended up as sort of the Carlos Slim (combined with Warren Buffet) of his era. He had a few bucks (er… reales) to toss around, and it isn’t exactly a modest family home. More like a city block… and larger than the state capital building. But then, the Bordas were probably richer than the State ever was.

My abode was a bit less impressive… but, then, it was only $150 (pesos, not dollars) a night. And, I had indoor plumbing, which I don’t think the Bordas did back in the day.

Connie Coté, of the “pun-ishingly” named “Donkey Joté” bookstore (given Guanajato’s huge student population — including those from the U.S. there for Spanish classes), it’s practically an institution in that town… less pretentious than Casa Borda, but then… a lot more useful in the 21st century. Besides, Donkey Joté carries Editorial Mazatlan books (including Gods, Gachupines and Gringos) and a good collection of new and used English-language paperbacks.

San Miguel is about an hour and a half by bus, or a couple of light years in attitude. Where Guanajuato is — like some of its famous residents — preserved, San Miguel is — like those who visit one its better known attractions — self-consciously seeks to deny the march of time.  Like Puerto Vallarta (and much of downtown Mazatlan), it’s colonized by foreigners seeking to save Mexico from … Mexicans.

Oddly enough, one business owner told me that more and more the foreign residents are coming to San Miguel to avoid even contact with the “pretty” Mexico… chosing to live in new gringo ghettos outside the main city,  where they can buy imported U.S. foods, pay to have U.S. furniture and appliances imported, and then complain that the Mexican prices aren’t as low as they thought they’d be.  And that sometimes the “help” speaks Spanish.

Ah well… it is a good place for shopping.  Zocalo Arts (which has another store in Patzcuaro) is there for those who really want Mexican crafts and arts… or books from Editorial Mazatlan.

Tecolote… the best know of the two English-language bookstores in the city (not “village”) … also carries Editorial Mazatlan books.

I was supposed to go to dinner with grinogs who tend to privately agree with my assessment of their community, but I was just too tired to do anything but sleep for a while, and it was still early enough in the afternoon that I could sleep for four hours on the bus to Mexico City.  Which I did.

I won’t go into the details of what I did Friday night in Mexico City, but did realize I was just around the corner from the apartment house where Jack Kerouac turned Neil Cassady into a cultural icon (and Neil… managing to fall asleep on a railroad track… managed to make San Miguel seem “colorful”, before James Michener weighed in on the place and made it tourist-safe, too).   And where William S. Burroughs shot his wife.

But, I ended up in Mexico City on a Friday night because I was beat… not because of The Beats.  Though, after that nap, I did go out to a few places best left off the tourist sites.  The kinds of places good Mexicans go to be bad… or very bad.  But, as always… politely so.

I’ll be in Mexico City the rest of the week, heading for Chiapas this weekend.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 February 2009 5:12 pm

    5 years ago my wife, son (11 years old), and I took ayear off to travel. I had been to Mexico many times over the course of many years. My mother in law had been working at a college in Thailand, and we had visited her there in 1992. I thought we should take the year off in Thailand, mainly because I didn’t want to spend alot of time in a Catholic country.

    Needless to say, my wife talked me into going to Mexico, and I am glad of it now. She is part Mexican, and also thought it would be good to be able to drive there. We got to know alot of people, and are very close to some families in Michoacan, and are now Godparents to 2 children, and go back every winter now, and have bought a house there.

    When we first planned to go south, as a family, driving a van, sleeping in a tent much of the time, one of my main destinations for looking for a place to rent was in the city of Guanajuato.

    What happened was that we found good friends and a good palce in a smaller city to the south of there. Then when we went up to Guanajuato to make sure that that was not where we wanted to be, one of the first things to happen was that our propane tank was robbed off the roof of the van. This was the very first problem we ever had in Mexico, and made us realize that we were meant to stay in the smaller and quieter and less touristy towns. So be it.

  2. 24 February 2009 5:14 pm

    Re D.F.: Check out the “Casa de los Amigos” if you haven’t been. Historic structure designed by Luis Barragan for muralist Orozco. Among events this week: spanish charla, english charla, Mexican led Unitarian Service. Located on Ignacio Mariscal in La Tabacalera.

  3. 24 February 2009 7:06 pm

    Okay, hey, fine…whatever. Enjoy the trip. We’ll just finish this bottle of mescal with out ya.

  4. Margaret permalink
    24 February 2009 7:52 pm

    Are you doing any book-signing event in Mexico City? I was looking forward to having my copy signed…

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