Sunday, June 15, 2008

San Miguel de Allende, #2 of 4 parts: Jardin and Street Scenes

The Jardin Principal. The central plaza in San Miguel is called the “Jardin Principal”, meaning principal garden. Usually it is referred to as simply "the Jardin." As usual, it is the heart of the community. In San Miguel, stately old buildings with arched portales surround it. Many of the buildings used to be the mansions of wealthy Spaniards. The former mansion shown here now houses a bank, a youth hostel, a tour agency, and—just up the block—Starbucks. The town is justly proud of its beautiful Jardin and mounted lights flush to the ground in the sidewalks around the edge to highlight the buildings at night. The effect is enchanting. Just in front of the car you can see a group of mariachis taking a break. Multiple mariachi bands played in the Jardin every night we were there, sometimes several at once.

Under the portales. This scene, on the east side of the Jardin opposite the bank, is typical of the activity under the portales in many Mexican plazas. The cool shady spaces are occupied by diners at Rincon de Don Tomas, a popular restaurant, and by Mexican shopkeepers chatting with their friends and relatives. Looking through the archway, you can see north up Calle Reloj (clock street), one of the narrow old cobblestone streets found throughout the old city.

Restaurant San Francisco. Carole and I ate an excellent dinner our first evening at the Restaurant San Francisco, which occupies part of the north side of the Jardin. We sat at the table now occupied by the man in the checked shirt. The people-watching was great and the Jardin across the street (from which I took the picture) created a never-ending show.

A door built for grand entrances. This huge and fantastically ornate carved wooden door is located on a side street just off the Jardin. To appreciate the size, it is helpful to know that the two small doors at the bottom are each over seven feet tall (see also the next picture). These portals allowed the wealthy owners to bring their carriages directly into the interior courtyards of their mansions so that the aristocrats and their ladies could be conveyed without the possibility of stepping into anything unpleasant on the street.

And behind this door... The ready availability of highly skilled, and very inexpensive, Indio craftsmen allowed the aristocrats to decorate their mansions in such opulence. By the late 19th Century, silver mining in the area declined and San Miguel became a near ghost town. Perhaps because of this, details like this door were spared from “modernization” and when the Mexican government finally discovered what an architectural treasure house the city contained, they protected amazing works like this.

Templo San Rafael. The Spanish built this Gothic-style church in 1564, by order of the first Bishop of Michoacan. The province of Michoacan included the modern state of Guanajuato at the time. The church is also known as the Santa Escuela de Cristo. Many churches and other religious structures seem to have more than one name, not surprising considering their age.

Restaurant with a view. The Terraza Restaurant sits in front of the Templo de San Rafael, which itself adjoins the Parrochia church on the south side of the Jardin. The Terraza’s location makes it a prime spot for viewing activity in the plaza, but we hear that the food is not all that great. We were told “better have a coffee there after dinner somewhere else and just enjoy the view”.

A peek through the arches. The Parrochia, or Parish church, seen through the arches of portales lining the east side of the Jardine, is the dominant structure in SMA, visible from many parts of the city.

Old San Miguel. This is a walking town, and I strongly encourage visitors to park their cars in off-street lots and enjoy the narrow cobblestone streets with their many shops, galleries, and interesting human vignettes. This street is typical, with multi-hued pastel buildings, casual strollers, and an Indio woman in the distance, seated on the stone walk, surrounded by her bags of wares for sale.

Friendly cop. As usual, the traffic cops were the friendliest. Many of them get around the narrow streets by bicycles. This one was kind enough to stop when he saw I was about to take his picture.

Keeping an eye on things. This Dalmatian seems to be taking a relaxed attitude toward his watchdog responsibilities. Since the sidewalks are very narrow and the walls begin at the edge of the sidewalk, I came eye-to-eye with this fellow as he snoozed with his eyes open on the ledge of his master’s open window. He seemed somewhat unimpressed with me.

Chasing pigeons in the park. Children are often the most photogenic of all subjects. This boy was energetically pursuing the pigeons at the base of a stern statue of Ignacio Allende. The markings on his t-shirt are in English, a common occurrence in Mexico. I often wonder whether Mexicans wearing some of the more provocative t-shirts know what they are broadcasting.

Directing traffic, San Miguel-style. While wandering the streets, we encountered a parade of traffic cops and small children, apparently meant to publicize traffic safety. Mexican whimsey once again came to the fore with uniformed officers marching gaily along wearing animal heads, and other officers performing acrobatics on their motorcycles. You never know what's around the next corner.

I hope you enjoyed the second of my four posts on San Miguel de Allende. The next post, in about a week, will focus on the Parrochia and on the culture and art scene.

1 comment:

  1. Ola, Jim. I forwarded your posts on Zacatlan to my wife who is a clock maven (go figure). She was impressed, to say the least. I was just telling her how much more I enjoy and feel buoyed by your posts than reading NY Times or Huffington Post to which I had become addicted. So, it's good to know that I have many more pics and posts of yours to enjoy. Great pic of the Parrochia through the arches.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim