Monday, December 3, 2007
Research for a novel is always interesting, but that word doesn’t come close to describing my experiences over the last week. While working on background for a story I’m calling Lost Mission, I traveled to the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. There I stayed in the town of San Miguel de Allende (pictured here) and made side trips to nearby villages and cities. In the midst of our nation’s concerns about illegal immigration, more U. S. citizens should travel beyond the usual beach towns and visit Mexico’s interior to learn about the history and culture of our beautiful neighbor to the south. A little less fear and a lot more friendship would go a long way to finding solutions everyone can prosper from, in my opinion. But I won’t get political here, not when there are so many more interesting things to say.
The town where I stayed most of the time, San Miguel de Allende, was renamed in the early 1800’s, retaining the name of the priest who first settled there (Fray San Miguel) but adding the village’s favorite son and one of Mexico’s founding fathers of the Mexican War of Independence (Ignacio Allende). “San Miguel” as the locals call it, is incredibly photogenic. This blog includes a few shots I took there, but go to this link and scroll down to the “Galeria Fotos” near the bottom to click for more lovely visions. Believe me, the images you will see there (and here) are unretouched. Even with nothing but a disposable camera, anyone can take of perfect photograph in that glorious place!
The sense of history in the state of Guanajuato is everywhere. I was honored to visit the little town of Dolores Hidalgo where Father Miguel Hidalgo gave his famous El Grito de Dolores (The Cry of Dolores) speech to rally the people and begin the struggle for independence from Spain. Looking at those famous church steps, I had the same sensation of awe I have experienced at the Alamo and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Hidalgo, along with Allende and two other leaders of Mexico’s war for independence, were captured and executed for the cause of freedom, a price every signer of our own Declaration of Independence knew he might be called to pay. (Learn more about Allende and Hidalgo here.)
I also visited the Valencia Hacienda (now a restaurant) in Guanajuato, where the Valencia family lived across the street from their own private cathedral (see photo at left). That’s right: they had their own personal cathedral! The Valencias were among the richest people on the planet at that time, in direct control of 25 to 30 percent of the silver produced in Nueva Espanola, or “New Spain”. When you consider that New Spain accounted for about two thirds of all the silver mined on earth, the Valencia’s wealth defies imagination, easily reaching the level of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet today.
Guanajuato itself has a lovely European ambiance, with pedestrians wandering cobblestone streets lined by limestone and stucco facades, and drivers navigating a strange underground road system created by the miners who originally gave the city its wealth. 48 kilometers of tunnels under the city left the downtown area free of the noise and exhaust that plagues so many other towns. Diego Rivera was born there (on the right is a photo of The Lovely Sue and Yours Truly in front of Rivera’s boyhood house), and a major university is right downtown, which may explain the sense of creativity and energy I felt throughout the city.
The strong connection between my country and Mexico reveals itself in the strangest details. For example, did you know the Mexican Revolution was initially led by Francisco Madero, who studied at the University of California, Berkley? In San Miguel I attended a world class jazz concert along with an elegant crowd of well heeled people from all around the world. This, in a theater marred by bullet holes in its limestone façade, evidence of the firing squads that operated with ruthless efficiency there during Mexico’s revolution early in the last century. What a surreal contrast between that grim reminder of Mexico’s bloody history outside, and the sublime gypsy-swing music of the Hot Club of San Francisco on stage inside! I also had a chance to see Doc Severinsen play with Gil Gutierrez and Pedro Cartas (the classical guitarist and violinist duo known as “Gil and Cartas”). These three guys were awesome together, with beautifully arranged music spanning from straightforward jazz, to moments of classical Spanish guitar, to Django Reinhardt type “gypsy jazz.” I’m listening to one of their CD’s as I type these words, and if you can get a copy, you should listen, too.
All of this in only one week, and believe me, this description barely scratches the surface of the sights, sounds, and people I encountered. Mexico. What a beautiful, amazing, and fascinating country it is! I went south unsure of the final direction I should take with Lost Mission, and came home overflowing with grand ideas and creative energy. Now at last after months of preparation it’s time to do what writers do and . . . write!
Posted byAthol Dickson at 10:04 AM