Terminal 2 in Benito Juarez Airport, Mexico City
Ceremony for the Deputy Police Chief
At Harry’s New Orleans for Mardi Gras
Ceremony for the Deputy Police Chief
Violence is pervasive in all societies, of course, and it elicits a terrible human toll. But when violence visits a small picture-perfect community you think would or should be immune, the effect is all the more egregious.
I came back to San Miguel de Allende after 35 years to reconnect with a memory. And for the most part, the experience was wonderful. But on day 3, Tuesday, the last day of my trip, I received an unexpected visitor. And this particular Tuesday was not a usual Tuesday; it was Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. Fat Tuesday is traditionally a day of excess. It was to become a day to remember.
My morning started well; it was sunny and pleasantly warm for mid-February. I was happy to be here and away from the cold, dank and overcast days typical of winter in the midwest United States. I wanted to make the most of this last day so I arose early and walked the town, stopping for breakfast in a Starbucks, one of only a few nods to American culture in San Miguel.
In my previous visit, I had brought back a couple of shirts that had been beautifully embroidered and on this trip, I found a few stores that still sold such items. Around noon, I was in a shop on Calle Hidalgo looking at a variety of embroidered goods when I heard a multitude of sirens coming from far off in the distance, piercing the normally quiet milieu of San Miguel. I stepped outside and soon saw a string of 12 to 15 pickup trucks outfitted with police lights, blaring their sirens and blasting their horns as they were wending their way up Calle Insurgentes, the street perpendicular to my location. Young police officers stood up in the beds of each pickup, holding tightly to the roofs of their cabs as they sped through the street.
I walked two long blocks uphill to el Jardin. On most weekdays, the town square is lightly populated. On this day, the sidewalks were filled 5 and 6 rows deep with people – and the square, itself, was overflowing. People were up in trees looking down. They were there to witness a spectacle.
Police in dress uniform standing at attention lined both sides of the street. Two policemen in ceremonial costumes on horseback paraded in the center. And a police band stood silently as they awaited the arrival of a special guest.
Far up the street, the cordon of trucks appeared and turned toward us, slowly working their way to the town square, cutting their sirens as they got close. Officers snapped to a salute. All of the trucks passed through except for the last, which came to a stop right in the middle of the square in front of the police station. It held the special guest. Six officers carried a casket from the truck as the band began a drum roll. People applauded and dozens took photos.
A man next to me said there had been a gunfight two nights earlier just a few blocks away. The deputy chief of police was killed as he and a few others attempted to break up a counterfeiting ring. He wasn’t sure if they had captured or killed the counterfeiters or if they had escaped, but now I understood the wary look I’d received the day before from the policeman at the restaurant.
They took the body inside the station where it laid in state and a town official made some comments. The band played solemnly outside and then, after a little more pomp, the ceremony concluded and the crowd dispersed. I took this as my cue to leave.
I explored for the remainder of the afternoon; so many things still to do in a town so small, but the spectacle in the square had cast a pall over San Miguel for the next few hours. I needed a break so I took a late afternoon siesta at my hotel.
Around 7pm I walked to what I’d heard was the best restaurant in San Miguel, Solano Diez y Seis, a place named for its street address. I checked in with the receptionist and told her I had no reservation but she assured me she had a special table waiting just for me. My research didn’t disappoint. The setting, menu and service were excellent and I left feeling very satisfied.
This was my last night and, as it was Fat Tuesday after all, I was in no mood for it to end. I walked over to Harry’s New Orleans, a bar and restaurant owned by a man from Memphis. It was lively inside Harry’s; a line of bare-breasted women danced on the bar as music cranked so loudly you could hardly hear the person next to you. I met Becca and Barbara, two American artists who had been living in San Miguel for a dozen years. Andrew, the Canadian, walked by and said hello. I was introduced to Rich and his wife who were technology entrepreneurs from California, and a string of others. It was a friendly crowd, out to shake off the scene from earlier in the day and to welcome in the start of what passes for Mardi Gras in San Miguel. It was a wild night; the drinks flowed well, the music played long into the evening, a trio of young Mexican women sang jazzy songs and people danced. It was 1am by the time I made it back to my hotel.
I was a bit melancholy (and still slightly buzzed) the following morning and the weather must have sensed my glum at having to leave. My trip back to Leon was uneventful; I had a different driver this time who was less personable than the first and we made the 110-mile journey without much conversation. But I arrived well ahead of time for my flight to Mexico City where I would catch a puddle-jumper to Cancun for the business meeting I was to attend later that evening.
In my earlier life, I had taken the bus to Mexico City six or seven times, but flying to Mexico City on this trip gave me a completely new perspective. The city holds 27 million people and it is so expansive that Mexico City from the air makes Los Angeles seem like a two-bit cow town.
I had to change planes at Benito Juarez, the Mexico City airport, and this required a shuttle ride to a different location. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised. The terminal seemed like something from a futuristic movie – it was sleek and sensuous and at the opposite spectrum of what I had expected to find in Mexico.
This trip had been full of surprises. I treasured my 3 days in San Miguel. When I was a junior in college, my parents had scraped together the funds that allowed me to experience another culture for one brief semester. I had thought of that experience then as only a trip. But when I returned to San Miguel 35 years later, I finally realized what my parents had done: They had given me a priceless gift that had cultivated memories for more than half my life and had changed me in profound ways.
One day soon, I will go back yet again.