3 Days in San Miguel, part 1.
In the mid 1970s, I spent the fall semester of my junior year in San Miguel de Allende, a little town of about 3,000 people, 200 miles west of Mexico City, 6,000 feet up in the mountains.
My school rented a building on Calle Mesones and we had our art classes there. The days were warm, the nights cool. About 20 of my fellow students and I filled our time by making art in the day, debating art late into the evening, drinking the local beer, flirting with the señoritas and walking the town. At nights we’d visit Pan y Vino, Rafaele’s Chicken House or La Fondue, three of several restaurants where, for just a few dollars, you could buy a good meal and a mellow glass of Mexican red.
I remembered San Miguel as beautiful with lush gardens, vivid colors and friendly people. On Sunday evenings in el Jardin, the town square, the young single men and women would circle each other in a mating ritual that was quaint and charming. Elders would sit on surrounding park benches and smile approvingly.
On the feast day of San Miguel, the town turned into Pamplona. The streets were cordoned off; the bulls would run wild chasing down the local men who were crazy enough to test them, and then most of the town would walk the mile or two to the Plaza de Toros. It was like something out of Hemingway. We were treated to three matadors on that particular day; the first two were nothing more than journeymen bullfighters but when the third appeared, it was as if he’d been sent from central casting and San Miguel had suddenly vaulted into the big leagues.
Antonio Lomelin was tall, dark and beautiful to watch, graceful in his movements, fearless in the ring, and magnificent in his suit of lights. He taunted the bull. He commanded the bull. And with his every action, Lomelin whipped the crowd into a frenzy. They chanted a song and called him by name, first from one side of the bull ring and then the other. When it was time for the final dénouement, silence. Lomelin approached, inserted the sword and, with one clean pass through the neck, brought the bull to its knees. The mariachi band burst into song; Lomelin raised his arms in triumph and the crowd rewarded him with both ears and the tail. It was beautiful and horrible to watch, sublime and grotesque at the same time.
I saw things in San Miguel I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world and the memories have stayed with me since. I promised myself I’d go back one day, but as the children grew, as a growing business became more demanding and as tuitions increased exponentially, that promise seemed just like one more left-behind dream.
Jump ahead now 35 years to 2010. I had a business meeting to attend in Cancun and Ann suggested I make a side trip to San Miguel on the way down. I demurred, thinking I couldn’t afford the extra $1,500 it would cost. But then fate intervened and, through a most unusual circumstance, that money dropped into my lap.
I made the reservations with trepidation. My Spanish at one time had been good and in college I could hold my own in a conversation, but as I’d had no reason or occasion to keep my Spanish skills up, I could now only pick out a few words. And the violence and kidnappings that seemed to occur daily in Mexico made me rethink the trip four or five times.
But go I did. And I was surprised by what came next.
To continue this story, read ’3 Days in San Miguel, part 2.’