A Personal Blog Challenge

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘26x26I survived the 2013 A to Z Blog Challenge. I wrote 26 blog posts, one for each letter of the alphabet from April 1 through 30 (Sundays off). The theme I chose was “important people in my life.” I learned I could write on a schedule and stick to a theme. The challenge was fun, enjoyable, and did not seem difficult.

I skipped the 2014 A to Z Blog Challenge; but, the idea of writing 26 blog posts on a theme stayed with me. What about setting a personal challenge, I thought? How about writing 26 posts on a theme in any month? I don’t need to wait for April to join the A to Z Blog Challenge. After more thought, the idea for a personal challenge turned into a challenge to write 26 blog posts on each of 26 themes over 26 months, a total of 676 posts.

Initially, I thought of one theme for each letter of the alphabet and began listing themes. For each theme, I began a list of 26 post ideas, one for each letter of the alphabet. On further reflection, I abandoned the alphabet criterion in favor of selecting themes that come to mind. I set August 1, 2014 as the challenge start date.

By beginning my personal challenge on Friday, August 1, 2014, I will finish on Friday, September 30, 2016, an auspicious date that coincides with another personal goal.

The blog challenge commitment serves several purposes the most significant of which is forcing me to write and post on a schedule. The challenge causes me to seek a balance between writing and other projects I am working on.

I am curious to know who is in my balcony willing to cheer me on. Anyone?

Adios, San Miguel

I added two weeks to my San Miguel stay to be here for the Easter celebrations. Am I am glad I did. Mexicans know how to celebrate. The Mexican Easter celebration is filled with processions, music, color, drama, and even a bit of comedy. The past three days were a feast for the senses.

Viernes Santo (Good Friday)
Viernes Santo, there are processions held in several locations throughout San Miguel.

Santo Encuentro (Holy Encounter)
At 11:30 a.m., the Santo Encuentro procession takes place at the Parroquia and through surrounding streets. The main attraction is an antique figure of Jesus that includes a mechanism allowing the statue’s head to be raised as if to look at his mother, represented by the statue of the Vigen de los Dolores (Virgin of Sorrows).

Santo Entierro (Holy Burial)
At 5:00 p.m., the final procession of the day assembles at the Oratorio.  The Santo Entierro is a royal funeral procession. Those who walk in the procession are dressed in luto riguroso, strict mourning. Men in black suits, white shirts, black ties. Women in black dresses and mantillas, white gloves. The formality of the procession is memorable. More impressive is the reverance of the people who line the streets for two hours to attend the slow, slow advance.

Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday)
On Sunday the celebrations end. At noon, the traditional burning of effigies of Judas and other disliked figures are strung up in El Jardin. The pinata-like papier-maché figures are blown up with internal firecrackers! The crowd roars its approval. The figures’ heads are collected and sold.

Leaving…
My flight to Los Angeles departs early Tuesday morning. My bags are packed and my head is filled with memories of a magical place and friendly, beautiful people. I accomplished the goals I set for what I’ve called my “artistic retreat.” I feel like I’ve found a place where I am free to focus attention, time, and energy on activities that nourish my creative spirit. I return home refreshed, invigorated, and with my creative batteries charged.

Adios, San Miguel. Hasta.

Holy Week Begins In San Miguel

Religious celebrations in Mexico are a blend of liturgical practice and local custom. Liturgical practices are the public rites of the church throughout the world. Local celebrations are unique to the culture of place. In San Miguel, Holy Week begins the Friday before Palm Sunday.

Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Sorrows)
Friday morning, El Colegio, the street in front of the Mercado Central, was filled with flower and fruit vendors. Tarps draped across the street made a cave-like atmosphere intensifying the colors of purple and white flowers and of bright oranges.

“Hola, amigo,” said Abraham, my friend from El Bagel Cafe, “Today is Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Sorrows). It’s a beautiful time.”

Viernes de Dolores honors the Virgin Mary, recalling her sorrow on learning she is about to live through the pain and passion of Christ. Beginning early in the day, public and home altars are installed throughout the city. Many of the city’s 45 fountains are decorated by informal groups of neighbors. Elements of the altars consist of white altar cloths, representations of the Virgin, white and purple flowers, bitter oranges, wheat plants, and herbs. The color of each element has a special significance: white signifies Mary’s purity. Purple signifies both penance and royalty. The bitterness of the oranges suggests Mary’s anguish and Christ’s bitter cup. Sprigs of fresh chamomile (green) represent humility. The pale gold of the new wheat is produced by keeping it covered, away from sunlight. Its color suggests prayer made in secret that only God hears.

In the evening, the streets fill with people visiting the home altars. Refreshments are offered: fruit waters, popsicles, ice cream, and sweets all recalling the sweetness of Mary’s tears. Recorded local hymns of the passion can be heard from place to place. As with any Mexican celebration, impromptu kitchens spring up along the streets offering tacos, tamales, and other savory delights. 

 

Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday)
Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) is celebrated in San Miguel with two processions.

I left my apartment at 9:00 Sunday morning to walk the short distance to El Calvario (The Chapel of Our Lady of Solitude) at the top of calle San Francisco. El Calvario is the site of the beginning of a procession to recall Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. The street was empty. Soon, a few people—mostly fellow gringos—began to gather. At 9:30 a burro arrived on the back of a pick-up truck.

The crowd grew as members of the procession arrived: Jesus, disciples, acolytes, followers. At 10:00, the procession began a slow descent along calle San Francisco. Led by three acolytes  followed by Jesus astride the burro, 12 men portraying the apostles, and other marchers, the procession made its way to the church of San Francisco where mass was celebrated. Arriving at San Francisco, the church’s bells rang wildly to welcome the procession.

The second Palm Sunday procession takes place along calle Sollano from Parque Juarez to the Jadin. The procession is lead by a priest followed by parishioners carrying a sculpture of Jesus riding a burro. The procession is escorted by a drum and bugle corps. Firework explode and the joyous clanging of church bells welcome the procession’s arrival at the Parroquia.

On Palm Sunday, intricately woven palm fronds shaped as crosses, flowers, stars, and other designs are sold outside the city’s churches. The palm frond objects are taken by their buyers to mass where they are blessed. Following mass, the objects are taken home where they are hung on doors and in windows to protect the family from evil.

Services, celebrations, and fireworks continued late into the day in one place or another all over San Miguel. Each celebration is an example of a long history of local custom honoring the principles of faith.

El Señor de la Columna

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘lord-of-the-columnEaster festivities begin in San Miguel de Allende with the arrival of Nuestro Señor de la Columna (Our Lord of the Column), one of the most solemn and traditional religious festivities of the year.  Accompanied by a large procession, the statue of Nuestro Señor is carried to San Miguel on the shoulders of the faithful the week preceding Holy Week. The procession begins Saturday at 11:00 p.m. from el Santuario de Atotonilco (The Shrine of Atotonilco), eight miles northwest of San Miguel. I left my apartment Sunday morning at 5:40 for the 20 minute walk to the place where the procession enters the city.

The Procession
Avenida Independencia was filled with people who worked overnight lining the procession’s route with chamomille, anise, and greens. Street murals of intricate designs made with colored sawdust welcome El Señor.  Purple and white banners and flowers line the street. At 6:00 a.m., hundreds awaited the procession’s appearance. The statue was greeted with fireworks. The crowd swarmed behind the procession as it passed.  Flowers, herbs, and greens are taken as souvenirs.

The procession reached the Church of San Juan de Dios about 8:00 a.m. where it was received by the bishop of Celeya (Guanajuato). Mass was celebrated before a large crowd in the atrium of the church. Following the mass, the statue of Nuestro Señor is placed on the high altar, where it will remain until Wednesday following Easter. At 6:00 p.m. that day, the statue begins the return journey to Atotonilco in a similar, but smaller, procession.

During its stay at the Church of San Juan de Dios, the statue is watched over by members of El Hermandad del Señor de la Columna (The Brotherhood of the Lord of the Column). The Brotherhood organizes the procession, working all year to prepare for the event.

The Statue
In 1823, Cayetano Vargas, a San Miguel merchant, commissioned Father Remigio Angel Gonzáles,  the parish priest of Atotonilco, to sculpt a statue of Señor de la Columna to request a miracle. The statue, made of painted wood, represents the flagellated Christ resting his arms on a small column. His cheek bears the scar of Judas’ kiss, his body is covered with blood, and his ribs are exposed from flogging. An impressive figure credited with miraculous powers, the statue stands six feet high and weighs 88 pounds. It is housed in el Santuario de Atotonilco, a site of spiritual retreat for thousands of faithful from all parts of Mexico.

(Sources of information used in writing this post: Jade Arroyo, Attención, April 4-11, 2014; Attención: Quepasa (Supplement), April 4, 2014; Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel; www.wikipedia.com.)

 

 

Until

I’ve been in San Miguel seven weeks today. The end of March appears to be a time of exodus for winter visitors from the northeast and the mid-west. My visit includes Easter. That means I can enjoy San Miguel for another three weeks.  

I came to San Miguel on an artistic retreat. The retreat began with the San Miguel Writers’ Conference where I charged my creative batteries and fueled me desire to write. I’ve kept up the creative momentum by making a space each day for writing. Free of the distractions of my day-to-day life at home, I have  achieved the goals I set.

I could live full time in San Miguel. It would be easy. But, full-time residence might spoil its charm making it commonplace. Becoming too familiar with a place, we fail to see it. Short visits are better.

A hidden treasure of San Miguel is found in the people I meet and the friends I make. “Magic” is the word most often used to describe the essence of the San Miguel experience. San Miguel friendships are part of the magic. Meet someone, make a friend. Soon there are many friends who are a pleasure to know. Each one is a new facet of the jewel box that is San Miguel.

Julio, Abraham, and Octavio, brothers who own Bagel Cafe, have become friends. I stop at Bagel Friday mornings. I buy a copy of Atención from the vendor at the entrance. I read it while enjoying my favorite San Miguel breakfast: chilaquiles rojos. I have lunch there at least once a week to enjoy gaspacho and the vegetarian Rueben sandwich. Nothing like it in the world. It is my pleasure to support the brothers’ business.

San Miguel is a friendly place. The downside is the speed at which time passes. Too soon it is time to say “good-bye” to the friends I’ve made. The pleasure of new fiends brings with it the sadness of saying “good-bye.” I’ve spent the past ten days saying “good-bye” to friends I’ve made in the short time I’ve been in San Miguel.

“Good-bye. Until next year” is a wish. It suggests recreating the magic we’ve enjoyed being together this year. But, these holidays are unique. They cannot be recreated. Each one is a moment to live and to enjoy as it is.

My new friend Rachel and I had breakfast two days before she left. After breakfast, we walked to the Jardin. Rachel hugged me warmly. “Hasta,” she said. “Until.”

Primavera

Primavera (Spring) in San Miguel de Allende is welcomed with a children’s parade. Kindergartners and pre-schoolers dressed as insects, flowers, fruit, circus animals, and cartoon characters make their way through the streets of central San Miguel to the Jardin. Costumes designed and made by parents show eye-catching creativity. The children, shepherded by teachers over the mile-long parade route, are adorable. More touching, maybe, than the beautiful children are the beaming faces of proud moms and dads.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, posting 241 pictures will leave me without readers. I selected a few pictures that capture the sweetness of the San Miguel Primavera parade. Enjoy!

The Parade

The Children

The Dogs

Etc.

La Cañada de la Virgen

La Cañada de la Virgen is a pre-Columbian archaeological site about 18 miles southwest of San Miguel de Allende. I booked a half-day tour through La Biblioteca SMA. A group of five and an excellent guide made the tour a worthwhile experience. The exquisite sapphire blue San Miguel sky is the perfect backdrop for a  tour in the open spaces of El Bajío, the mountainous north central region of Mexico. For complete information about La Cañada de la Virgen, please click here.

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Señor de la Conquista

El dia del Señor de la Conquista is celebrated the first Friday in March. The feast has its origin in an event that took place in 1575. Two Spanish priests who were transporting an image of Christ to San Miguel were attacked and killed by Chichimecas Indians south of the village. The image was later fetched by the villagers and has since been worshiped especially by the Indians in the area.

Scores of dancers in elaborate pre-Hispanic costumes and plumed headdresses dance for hours accompanied by the beating of drums.

Addendum (March 14, 2014)

Dancers conquered by the Lord of the Conquest
Dancers, dressed in the pre-Hispanic Indian way, with colorful plums and seed pod rattles, danced from sunset to sunrise on Friday, March 7, to celebrate the venerated Lord of the Conquest, a figure representing Christ crucified, in a festivity with an old tradition in San Miguel. While the dances took place in the streets surrounding the Jardín, hundreds of people went into the Parroquia to venerate the figure of the Lord of the Conquest, usually in a side altar, but moved to the main altar during the festivity, as a symbol of the power of God and his love for the Indians. People pray 33 creeds in his honor, in memory of the 33 years that Christ lived on Earth. San Miguel has become the capital of this celebration since several groups of dancers from other parts of the country come to the city to participate in these festivities. There is another similar figure of the Lord of the Conquest in San Felipe Torresmochas, but no special celebration takes place in that town to honor Christ.

The Lord of the Conquest festivity is celebrated on the first Firday of March. According to tradition it is done on Friday because it was the day when Jesus Crhist died. The celebration begins on Turdsdday night, when at 10 p.m. dancers from several parts of the country meet at El Sindicato in Recrero 4 to pray before a statue of the Lord of the Conquest.

Jesús Ibarra. Atención, XL: 12 (Mar. 14-21, 2014)

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San Miguel Carnaval

Carnaval is a 5-day celebration before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. The Jardin (Main Square) of San Miguel is lined with vendors selling papier-maché flowers, accordion-legged clowns called payasitos, and cascarones, eggs filled with confetti, glitter, or flour. Children run wild cracking cascarones on the heads of friends and anyone whose head they can reach. Confetti, glitter, and egg shell gets into hair and clothes and covers the streets. The morning following Carnaval, street sweepers clean the streets and the Jardin walkways. The celebration continues with more confetti, glitter, and egg shell that evening.

But Mexicans don’t need Carnaval as a reason to celebrate. Mexico has a vibrant street life. It is fun to watch and it is impossible not to join in the festivities. There are street vendors selling balloons, baskets, and dolls. Food vendors sell tacos, helote (corn on the cob), and ice cream. There are street artists and always, always mariachi.

This evening there is a wedding at the church of San Francisco. In the square in front of the church, a wedding photographer photographs the bride and her father posing next to the fountain decorated with white roses. People in the square take pictures and shout congratulations. The bride and her father pass through the crowd of onlookers, pleased and proud, as they enter the church. Invited guest or not, everyone is a part of the celebration.

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San Miguel Musings

Though I prepare most meals at home, I eat out two or three times a week.

Annis and I met for breakfast at La Posada Corazón, a beautiful B&B in a spacious Mexican house near the center of San Miguel. The guest rooms and dining room are surrounded by gardens, fountains, and leafy trees.  Breakfast is a la casera (home cooked) with organic produce from the inn’s garden. Delicioso!

I met friends at Azotea, a rooftop restaurant just off of the main square. We ate dinner and watched the sunset. Rose and Cathy ordered jicama and shrimp tacos. Tissue thin slices of jicama instead of a tortilla shell. They rave about them. I had an excellent vegetarian pizza and learned that Mexicans use salsa inglesa (Worcestershire sauce) on their pizza, as well as red pepper flakes and assorted hot sauces.

Helado Michoacana is around the corner from my apartment. That’s dangerous. Two scoops of ice cream cost 10 pesos. I’ve tried chocolate, capuccino, and pistache.

The Movie Pocket Theater is a cozy art-house cinema complete with a bar and a spacious lounge area.  The theater screens Academy nominated films and award winning foreign films and documentaries. A hundred pesos buys a drink, a bag of popcorn, a comfortable lounge seat, and a movie. Can’t beat it. I saw Philomena and Nebraska. I may get to see all of the Oscar nominated films before March 2.

As I wander the streets of this enchanted city—with or without camera—trompe-l’œil curiosities catch my attention as if checking that I’m paying attention. A tangle of wires converges overhead on a utility pole. A pool of water in the street reflects the brilliant colors of buildings.  Weathered doors with ornate hardware. A skinny young photographer dressed in black photographs a dreamy-eyed, pudgy couple posing on the steps of the Parroquia. Framed by the doorway of a bar, a well-dressed old man stares at an unseen television. In a antique shop window, La Virgen de Guadalupe watches over an old Coca-Cola ice chest.

Annis left for home at 4:00 a.m. Thursday morning. I miss her.