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A Short History of San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel was founded by a Franciscan monk in 1542 and fortified as a Spanish garrison in 1555 to protect the new road from Mexico City to the silver center of Zacatecas. In 1826 it was renamed San Miguel de Allende after favorite son Ignacio Allende who was one of the conspirators that spearheaded the Mexican Revolution from Spain and had his head chopped off for his efforts.

Not much else happened in town until 1938 when an art school was founded. The resulting arts scene attracted the famed beatniks who wrote poems and got drunk here in the 1950’s and put the city on the map as a destination for foreigners, which in turn attracted the 35,000 or so ex-pats who live here now. Finally, in 2016, Vanamos arrived in an effort to make more of our own history.

San Miguel Coconut

Coconut strolls down a shady avenue in San Miguel de Allende.

As far as Mexican colonial cities go, San Miguel is not our favorite – placing third in that category behind Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas. It trends toward gringo and there are a lot of shiny, new SUVs woven into the threads of traffic that wind into and out of each roundabout. But it does have spots of local flavor that remind us of what we love about Mexico and even the dead come alive to admire how the late afternoon sun dances through the cobblestone streets which are narrow as coffins.

SMA street

View up one of the narrow streets towards the church.

With the help of our friends Sean and Mittie, who have been extremely generous and laid back as we’ve crashed their place a second time (we were here in September as well) for going on three weeks, we’ve explored the town and put the finishing touches on our year abroad. We’ve gotten into a comfortable daily routine of sleeping late followed by morning walks to the fruteria for our daily greens, and then conquering whatever task we’ve set for ourselves for the day.

Coconut and J have both (mostly) finished their portfolio of “school work” to be submitted with a letter describing their “educational progress” to the school system to which we are returning. This is more of a relief to me than it is to them – no more do I have to argue with them to “do your math.” I feel like I’ve gotten out of school for the summer.

homeschool coconut

Coconut finishes up one of her last Algebra lessons for the year. What a relief!

R and I have been flying around interviewing upholsterers, painters, and mechanics to see who is best qualified and available to reupholster, paint, and do mechanical things to Wesley. Everything has finally been arranged and pieces of Wesley are all over town.

delivering the bench

Sean helps deliver Wesley’s bench seat to our upholsterer, who literally works out of a hole in the wall.

Our upholsterer, who we affectionately refer to as “the gangster of thread” because he’s got a lot of tattoos and his friends hang out around his sewing machine eating chicken feet, and not the sweet, gummy candy that we like but the ones with bones and crinkly skin that looks like a scrotum. The Gangster of Thread told us that it would take three days to fashion covers for Wesley’s seats and cushions using the material we purchased in Guatemala but that was more than a week ago. Every few days we go check on his progress and he tells us that it will be ready that afternoon.

gangster of thread

Pastor, the gangster of thread, and one of the seat covers he made for Wesley.

Our painter seems like a nice guy – he picked up a family of hitchhikers on the way to showing us his shop – and promised us that Wesley would be back in our possession in less than a week because he only takes one job at a time. When we went to check on him a day after dropping the van off, it hadn’t been moved from where we had parked it and he had two other cars under the tent that acts as his garage. He told us that he planned to start Wesley that afternoon.

I was definitely not qualified to remove the cabinets, but managed to do it.

Removing the cabinets wasn’t particularly difficult, but there were a lot of nuts and bolts and wires and hoses and it took time. I managed to keep my swearing to a minimum.

Empty Wesley

Wesley, empty of cabinets and everything else that made it home for the last 12 months. The real trick will be whether I am able to put everything back together.

The main reason we needed to take out the cabinets is so that this rusty panel could be replaced.

The main reason we needed to take out the cabinets is so that this panel that is rusted through can be replaced and then painted with the rest of the van.

Stripped and ready for paint.

Stripped and ready for paint.

Our mechanic only had Wesley a day longer than he said he would have it, but changed every spare part that we had brought along – oil and filter, brakes, belts, fuel filter, engine gasket, plugs, air filter – and probably would have changed our sheets if we left our bed with him. The parts haven’t fallen out, indicating he put them in correctly, but we still question his competence because we don’t know what evaluation he may have done before installing the parts and whether those parts needed to be swapped, or if he just did it because we had them handy.

mechanic shop

This is not a junkyard. This is where we took Wesley for a tune up. All the VWs in the yard gave us hope that the mechanic was familiar with that style engine.

Despite these apparent setbacks, we’re still optimistic that we will have Wesley back by the weekend, put back together by early next week, and be on our way back to the States shortly after.

In between our days of work, we’ve tried to make room for some fun. We met a family in town and had a blast shooting them during a round of paintball in the “Urban Labyrinth” arena – which was like nothing we would ever experience in the States. The playing area consisted of crumbling, burned out buildings with holes in the walls between the apartments that were just large enough to crawl through, re-bar poking out through the cement foundations, no railings on the staircases, and thorn bushes in the courtyard between the buildings. It was pretty awesome.

Coconut hair

Coconut decided she wanted to have the ends of her hair dyed purple – a five hour process that turned out royally.

And so it goes. We’ve visited hot springs, done laser tag, gone to parties, taken classes at a local writer’s workshop, and gotten off the beaten path driving Sean’s 1995 Land Rover Defender around San Miguel (the vehicle he and Mittie plan to drive south on their own year-long adventure starting next April).

Road shot

Sean, Mittie, and their Beast.

There are still a few things to do – I’d like to visit the home of Allende which has been turned into a museum and we’d all like to go to the toy museum showcasing a century of what kids around here used to play with – but for the most part, things are winding down. We expect to be out of Mexico three days after we hit the road. It might take a week to ten days once we hit Texas to make it back to Alexandria. The writing is on the wall, the end of something is our future.

Discussion

7 Responses to “A Short History of San Miguel de Allende”

  1. And the beginning of the next adventure too! Maya’s hair looks great! And you are going to have to find a way to make the IRS bloggable b/c you are hilarious… you could secretly capture shots of colleagues at the copy machine, water cooler …. create a whole story line around the inside lives of the IRS … it will be grand! xoxo

    PS – LA beaches are lovely now .. you guys could leave Wesley here a bit, fly home, come back again and do a cross country drive for one of the kids breaks??? 😉

    Posted by Dava | July 9, 2016, 11:09 am
    • I’ve considered an IRS sitcom – along the lines of thirty rock. it will need a catchy name because I don’t think “11 11 constitution” works.

      Posted by Paul Carlino | July 11, 2016, 10:21 pm
  2. Glad to see Wesley get a makeover, and I really hope the eyelashes make it back on so people of various nationalities can unite in questioning the driver’s sexuality! 😉 Way to soak it up guys and gals and, yup, in all of our futures there is an end to something and a beginning to something else. Some folks shy away from these milestones and some cherish them.

    Posted by cvarmit | July 10, 2016, 9:20 am
  3. Love those new covers – wow! And what a time…

    Posted by Jessie Voigts | July 11, 2016, 8:16 pm
  4. “The Gangster of Thread” – lol!!! Quite a project. 😀

    Posted by Shelly Rivoli | July 17, 2016, 3:09 pm

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