For years I’ve heard of the charm and beauty of San Miguel de Allende, a small Spanish Colonial city and World Heritage site. With a thriving art scene and tons of American expats, with all the pros and cons I imagined of the latter.
At long last, partly at the urging of certain people in my circle that I should “take a vacation,” I am here. Staying at by far the loveliest hotel (in my admittedly limited experience of lovely hotels) of my traveling life!
No doubt about it, the place drips with charm. The weather, reminicent of Southern California at its best, is perfect: 80 or so, sunny, with a breeze. The streets in the central Colonial part of town are cobblestoned, there are no traffict lights, the buildings are weathered stone or adobe painted old rose, deep gold, brick red. Doorways are surrounded by dried flower garlands, balconies stream colored ribbons, and ledges are topped by rows of aged terra cotta pots of geraniums, agaves and succulents.
So the walking is fantastic. Window shopping, people watching, gorgeous cornices, tilework, gardens, public squares, fountains. There is the usual love-hate contempt for tourists, so as always you just try to be grateful and polite
But the best part of the whole town for me is the churches. They’re all over the place, cavernous and cool, festooned with folk art, flowers, gaudy chandeliers, and gruesome statues. Everything looks jerryrigged, unplumbed, held together with paste, dabs of spacking compound and glue, and as if, say, the scallop-and-angel-bedecked stone arches and overhangs might crumble or collapse any minute.
St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan is my favorite let’s say white people’s church, but I feel more at home in churches like this than just about anywhere on earth.
The main thing is they do not stint on the major fact of human suffering. Everwhere Jesus is lacerated, scourged, bound, crawling, bloody, in agony, dying, dead. Glass coffins hold effigies of his wounded corpse.
The people around him suffer, too: Mary, John, the disciples, the two guys who were crucified with him on Mount Calvary.
The wages of sin also take center stage, the fires of hell being another central motif.
With all that, Jesus’s love and tenderness are everywhere in evidence, as well as the love of the faithful for him.
So much care, thought, and ongoing labor have gone into these blessed sanctuaries. They’re often empty, save for some sainted soul with a bucket quietly mopping the floors, and a stray pray-er or two, and maybe a tourist couple taking selfies. And the overall effect is of…I guess you could say heaven. Heaven as envisioned by a child which I, for one, hope to be at heart perpetually. Like all those scoffers who are always saying, Ha, I don’t believe God is some old man in the sky! And I always think, Well how do YOU know? Maybe He IS an old man in the sky…and by the way hell is not just a “concept!”
Just as, in the desert, within a couple of days you begin to feel an uncontrollable urge to collect and sort small stones, in Mexico, before long you feel an urge to find a bench, sit down, and stare idly into space.
I love this, and really do “need” it. All around, other people are doing the same. I ponder my visit in light of Jesus, headed to his Passion on Mount Calvary. In the midst of it all, I am sitting with him, walking with him, conversing with him, abiding in silence with him.
The gimcrack sounvenirs are adding to the landfill, the churches will one day crumble to dust, I am forver part of the darkness of the world–but also, I hope, of its light.
Joining my heart and prayers to yours from this beautiful spot.