Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Guanajuato in November

Cobblestones of Calle Antigua Sirena, high above the town
I am going to place the blame on Mica Miro, my friend Carolyn Myers' younger daughter, who loves Mexico and is currently living in Oaxaca.

Why? Because Mica is the one who suggested that I might enjoy Guanajuato, which she described as an authentic, relaxed Mexican town. And here I am, having followed Mica's suggestion.

I arrived on October 29th in the late afternoon, and was met at the airport by Aunt Lucy, a woman a few years older than I.  Lucy is the widow of a well-known Guanajuato artist and her big house is high above the town on Calle Antigua Sirena, the street of the ancient mermaids.

This is a view of the cobblestone road near her house.

Big trucks lumber slowly up, people riding on horses go past enjoying the fresh air and sun, and humans from toddlers to ancianos can be seen walking along on their daily errands. Of course there are many dogs barking, roosters in the morning and up the road, some creature that sounds like a goose with laryngitis or a donkey with impaired vocal cords.

There was a lot I did not know when I took Mica Miro's suggestion. I did not know that Guanajuato was located at an altitude of from 6,200-6,600 feet, depending on who is reporting. Most places agree on the elevation, but not in this case.

I had some idea that the city had many cobblestone streets and hills, but as with many things in life, you just don't get the full experience of what that means until you are walking those steep cobblestone streets at that 6,000 foot elevation. Invigorating! Great for the lungs!

I am a very nonlinear woman, but I have been put to the test here. It's easy to assert that you are nonlinear, but what happens when you arrive in a town with streets that make you realize what nonlinear feels like when applied to city design? Though I have no idea how much of Guanajuato streets, alleys and tunnels has anything to do with design, and how much has to do with the necessity of working with the landscape, a narrow valley surrounded by steep hills.

The Jardin de Union, a delightful central plaza
Predictably, even though two local women named Mariana and Laura kindly guided me on how to descend into the Zona Central easily, the very next day I took another route! I can be that way, sometimes to my own dismay. That day, I wound up in a maze of alleys and very steep staircases that I assumed would eventually lead me down to the center of the city. It was quite a grueling experience physically. If my legs could talk, they would tell you a story. They are still talking to me about it several days later.

Along the way, a young man who spoke English reassured me that I would eventually reach the city center, which was quite a relief at that moment. I wonder what part of the city that was. I may never know, but yet.....

Guanajuato is an amazing jumble of tiny alleys, steep staircases and streets, many of them cobblestone. There are no parallel streets, no grid as we are accustomed to in other cities.  Crazy nonlinear and confusing, but not a bad place to get completely lost in.

A number of the alleys have no names and some have whimsical names such as “Sal si puedes” (Exit if You Can). I know the feeling.

 I am studying Spanish at Escuela Falcon, and the street it is located on is Calle Cabecita, the" street of the little head."  I just know there must be more wonderful street names and I am keeping an eye out for them.
This is the Plaza de Barratillo, which is very near Escuela Falcon, the language school. There are many plazas in Guanajuato, places where people gather to relax and talk. They are all beautiful and each of them has its own special quality. I may do a plaza story later, but for now, this is Plaza de Barratillo.

Today I got a delicious gordita for 12 pesos from a woman who has a very popular street stall near this fountain!

At lunch,  I went with Bashka, a young woman from Poland who is in my Spanish class, to a restaurant on the plaza that serves Indian and Mexican food. We had samosas, pakoras and chai. It was delightful in that place. I should take some photos of it. Later.

There are patches of wild fields, flowers and herbs growing in the midst of the houses, especially higher up in the hills. This is at the base of Calle Antigua Sirena, as it joins a bigger street.

On November 2nd, this couple was among the costumed celebrants for Day of the Dead. All the young people wanted to get their photos taken with them.  I love the culture of the young people here. Their energy is so ebullient, happy and also respectful.

I have seen serious young people, but not sullen ones. One doesn't see the kind of smirking or disrespect one sees in the States. What a marvelous change that is. I like to imagine that all young people may be able to enjoy the camaraderie, openness and joy that I see in the youth here.

I find it sympatico to see the way generations relate-- both in the family and in the wider community. There is so much love, connection and empathy.

These are some of the things I love about Mexico. People are warm and authentic. On the other hand, Marie, an expat from New York whom I met the other day, pointed out to me how dour the shopkeepers are. New Yorkers are often good at providing this kind of counterpoint. I notice that some of the shopkeepers are dour. I think it is a minority though. Or maybe they really do it up for Marie, giving her the New York kind of experience.

There were exhibitions of art and artisanal foods and crafts on display for La Dia de los Muertos. Caterina, the figure pictured here, is one of the most common archetypal images associated with the Day of the Dead. She brings her flamboyant feminine style out to flaunt,  though she is nothing but a skeleton. Something to think about.

Vanity. Impermanence.
 Not to mention the color fuschia!

Viva la Vida! as one of the many pieces of street art proclaimed. There were many large pictures, made literally on the surface of the street itself, and composed of dyed wood shavings, seeds, flower petals and other materials. All of them were created by university students (perhaps there were some high school students, too but I cannot be sure.) Groups of students began in the morning and continued on into the afternoon until they had finished the particular work they were creating. Each of the street paintings was so well done and it was fun to see how much the students enjoyed each other and what they were creating together.

Here is one I particularly liked.

I couldn't resist taking a photo of these sisters, the older one so serious and the younger one showing her winsome smile.

What a delightful day, the streets filled with people enjoying themselves, the churches filled with music and worshipers lighting candles and praying, the sky full of clouds, and as for me, I was and am full of delight that I am on this journey, something I have wanted to do for many years.

Should I tell you about what happened on the plane? Across the aisle, there was a young couple with a small child. They were both very good looking. She was swanlike, with her hair in dreads and wearing hippie clothes.  The child was very busy nursing so I didn't get too much of a look at him, but he probably will grow up to be a looker, too. The young father was certainly Hispanic, a very handsome chap with cafe au lait skin and long hair.

In fact, I have to say he looked like Johnny Depp but even better.

There he was coming toward me in the aisle of the plane. When you are in your 70s, some events are far more intense and quite different from when you were in your 30s. Such as this example.

And I was thinking, hopefully not in too obvious a manner, or what the hell who cares-- that is one gorgeous dude, with those bright dark eyes and that authentic real hombre feeling, a real Hispanic mensch. Seemed to me his eyes widened as he approached and said to me, "I like your scarf!" The guy was just being totally cool, not a let's be nice to the old lady vibe in his aura. Praise be to the Goddess.

Well I liked a lot of things about him, as you might imagine, if you like to imagine things, which I certainly do. I considered this brief encounter a good omen. The magnetic resonance of male-female continues to be vivid.

The aging body and the ageless spirit.

That is the end for today, and may you have beautiful dreams, amigos and amigas.


  1. There is LIFE...WARMTH (or is HEAT a better word?)...and great ENERGY in this post, Gaea!

    You are on a real adventure...thanks for "sharing" with us.

  2. Your wonderful post reminds me of my travels to many different cultures. Each time I'd find that we all have so much in common whether or not we spoke the same language. There is so much beauty to experience if we focus on the essence of the people and place.

    Loved your magnetic resonance with the lovely man!

    Keep the posts and photos coming. You'll be in great shape in no time walking up and down those cobblestone street at that altitude.

    1. Loved every word and photo...Wrote a longer response but it didn't publish so I'm trying a shorter one as a test....

  3. Your plane incident reminded me of a similar situation I had on an Amtrak riding across the nation. I was about 60,sitting reading Wendell Berry, when I heard this fine masculine voice say-- "are you enjoying your read -- I read it a while back and enjoyed it!" I looked up and saw this young good looking man and I must say, as I sat there in my elder years, I enjoyed his remark as a human to human connection rather than as an old to young patronizing remark.

    Your photos are spectacular. I admire your gusto to change your life at this time in your life. Perhaps your writings about your experiences will give some us elders gumption to follow their dreams. -- barbara

  4. Thanks to those who have posted these messages. I appreciate hearing from you. Yes, connecting on the heart level works no matter where we are. Barbara Judge, check out the recent NY Times article on Old Masters for more inspiration! Cheers!