San Miguel de Allende is different from any other place I’ve lived. Of course, that can be said about all cities.
Through the years I’ve been aware of the energy or heartbeat of towns, even if they are neighbors. Whether it is a subdivision surrounded by a larger metropolitan complex, or a tiny burg separated from others by miles of a dirt road, every community breathes in and exhales to its own cadence.
I see your dismissing shrug and hear your muttered ‘duh’. This is not new information to anyone. But on an early morning stroll today I was attempting to identify what makes San Miguel (SMA) distinctive and how difficult it is to retain the idiosyncrasies that first attracts us to a certain place.
I initially focused on the visual differences that I observed: the types of structures, the layout of rooms in casitas, and the varied colors used on the exterior and interior of buildings. I was (and still am) delighted with the vibrant, often disjointed, color combinations with little (if any) regard to what the house next door looks like. Green next to pink next to orange, nestled next to a cozy purple, highlighted with a yellow door.
I’ve captured some 4,000 + photos, primarily of competing hues whether in paint or flowers or clothing since my first visit to this active but laid back town.
Other variances that seems to set SMA apart from cities in the United States of comparable size include sounds heard and unheard.
Music, for one. Someone recently noted that they hear more live music in San Miguel than recorded tunes. Bands stroll the streets, individual musicians entertain on street corners, and along any street it is common to hear a group jammin’ during the middle of the day.
And then there is the pounding of hammers against concrete and brick, soft laughter of old men sitting under trees in parks, and mothers, holding the hands of their children, catching up on today’s school adventures, as they walk to the market or toward home.
There are no sky scrapers competing for attention, so no cranes blocking traffic. What is missing are the sounds I don’t hear, primarily of machinery. Cars and buses and motorcycles are common. Heavy equipment, not so much, unless you count wheel barrows and 20-year-old Ford pickups.
And one can’t ignore the bursts of fireworks, an annoying, irritating, but popular night-time alternative to a peaceful evening. The sudden eruption of exploding pyrotechnics are enhanced by the whining, barking and canine cursing that add to the chorus of chaos.
San Miguel is in a state of constant change. Construction is underway on every street, so the sounds of modification, transformation and conversion mean work for the local population. And as more gringos visit and move here, the more adjustments are made.
Growth is continual, and I’m reminded of what a college professor once told me, when I was touting the need for more businesses to locate in our vicinity.
“Not all growth is good,” he opined.
I thought he was nuts. Of course, growth is good. We are a nation of growth and if we don’t grow we die and become stagnant.
Now some 50 years later, I’m seeing the perils of unrestrained and unplanned expansion. Life as we know it is lost as each new person brings personal desires and requirements to an environment we were drawn to, but immediately want to alter to meet our tastes.
Do I have an answer for how to retain what we have while accommodating our desire for more, better, different?
Nope. No matter where I live I want clean water, safe food, toilets that work, and a dependable power grid. A dishwasher, cobble streets that are smooth, and an understanding of a foreign language would be nice too, even though the lack of those amenities are the things that hold so much charm.
So, I’ll take what San Miguel has to offer, and attempt not to demand my standards be met. Who says my way is better? The natives have been living here for centuries living a life I envy yet want to improve.
How arrogant is that?