SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO—The municipality of San Miguel has a population of almost 140,000 people. It feels like a small town to me, with winding cobblestone streets, cars that stop to let pedestrians cross, corner stores, and tiny taco stands. I was at a party the other day and a couple of folks near to my age commented that it can be too small and sometimes you feel like you know everybody. I think that’s San Miguel’s version of MNcest. Let’s call it Mexcest.
My favorite part of daily life here is walking everywhere. My parents walk to school, I walk to meet them for lunch, we walk to dinner. Until I made a friend who is from San Miguel, I barely got in a car. I wish I could be the same way in Minneapolis. I drive to work and can’t imagine increasing my commute by 45 minutes or so to take a bus. The winter biking idea has so far been not my best follow-through ever so I find myself too often in a car. There’s something great about walking off dinner before you go home and sit on your butt or waking up and immediately going out for a stroll to pick up a kilo of eggs.
Speaking of eggs, you walk into a tiny little tienda on a corner in your neighborhood, one of many, and ask for a kilo of huevos. They put them in a clear thin plastic bag like you’d put your produce in at the grocery store, weigh them, charge you 20 pesos (under $2), and you walk home delicately cradling them in your arms. My mother and I were wondering the other day why these tiny local businesses survive in places like these, not getting put out of business by the Walmarts and Megas (that’s the Walmart of San Miguel) like they do in the U.S. Is it because people walk two blocks to these shops instead of getting on a bus to the bigger store where you can find everything (and spend two hours looking for the right wines and trying to figure out if they have ground turkey, if you’re like me and my father)?
San Miguel is full of tiny little shops many of which sell the same (sometimes tiny little) things. I’ve enjoyed wandering through markets and shops buying milagros (religious folk charms) like the little man milagro that my mother thought I should probably buy. If dating doesn’t work, try a tiny little metal charm. I’m also never going to tire of buying skeletons of all sorts.
My parents have Spanish school every weekday from 9:00-1:00, and they walk over from our little house in the Guadalupe neighborhood. When they return we have lunch together and I ask them what they learned at school. In the evenings after I’m done working (well, now I’m done working and have started vacationing!) I check their homework. I love the role-reversal. Friends of my parents who live in San Miguel taught my dad how to make margaritas just so and he’s got them down to an art.
After I got tired of not having friends with whom I could go out for a drink, seeing as my parents have to get to bed so they can be well-rested for school, I actually made a friend by—get this—looking on the Internet. Yes, online dating, online shopping, online friend-making, what can’t we do without having to leave the couch? For those of us who just don’t have the balls—or whatever the female equivalent is—to walk into a bar and make conversation in a language we aren’t even fluent in, the Internet is such an amazing assistant. I found some folks who live here on good ol’ Okcupid and ended up making a very enjoyable and interesting and bilingual friend. I now even have my eye on a certain bar for becoming my favorite night-time spot.
While we’re talking about favorites, I think the “fish taco” store as my mother calls it, is my favorite place for a quick and cheap lunch. The fish man helps my mother with her Spanish when she’s ordering and I can eat 4 shrimp tacos for the low, low price of $5 (60 pesos). The empanadas place is my other favorite, where you get an empanada for about a dollar and it could be filled with Mexican mushrooms, chicken mole, or even apples with caramel. @MeredithWestin arrived yesterday and we picked up some empanadas for lunch with my parents.
Tomorrow we go to the hot springs known as “Escondido Place.” Why these springs are named a combo of Spanish and English I can’t begin to explain, but hello, hot springs! Everyone has asked me why I’m not sipping tequila on the beach and my answer about the rain and the 40 degree weather and the lack of a beach here doesn’t seem to satisfy them. However, hot springs are an opportunity for a traje de baño too.
Today was my first day of real vacation after a couple weeks of working remotely so I’m looking forward to ginger margaritas, lots of walks, and as many empanadas as I can stomach.
Photo: Chapel of Jimmy Ray, San Miguel. Photo by Nicky Stein-Grohs.