Improptu: Florida

Home from Mexico, I started looking at the calendar trying to figure out when I could arrange a trip to see family. I hadn’t been down since my brother’s wedding and, come fall, that was going to be two years. It was a long time.

Life’s complicated though, so once I started trying to figure out when I could string together five or six days during the Fall term, I realized that “next summer” was a real option for getting down to see everyone. Then the Beav stepped in: “Why not just go now? You have a a few weeks before classes start again.” It was obvious and brilliant.

The trip begins

So after a couple calls and a few days to take care of some house chores and some Montreal errands, I jumped in my car and drove down. It was a two day trip (20 hours) both ways, but went well. I kept the windows down, the radio off and watched the landscape. Crossing the distance on my own made the two poles of my family life feel closer together.

The visit was great and a surprise: I’d only told mom and my brother. For everyone else it was all very “what are you doing here?!?!?!” when I showed up at the beach. (Well, mostly that. My sister and spiritual twin divined from signs too obscure even to mention what I was up to.) 

Heading home…almost there.

Back now and waiting for Mom to arrive tomorrow for a week’s vacation in Montreal. Clearly, but unexpectedly, it’s turning out to be a summer of partying.

Day 16–Heading Home

Setting off for home.

The schedule is a bus to the airport (3 1/2 hours) followed by the flight home (6 1/2 hours).


Once we’re in Montreal, we’ll take a shuttle to the car, then the drive home (1 1/2 hours). I think we’re going to be pooped once we get there!

Day 15-Rainy Last Day

We wandered out at the end of the morning without the umbrella because it was sunny with no rain in the forecast, but then spent the day trying to stay dry!

Our first stop was for a late breakfast and coffee (under the watchful eye of a dog on a roof) followed by a visit to the Museo de Ignasio Allende. The museum occupies his former home and is packed with long Spanish texts arguing that the city’s namesake was the principal figure in the Mexican war of independence. It also presents rooms decorated with period appropriate furnishings and made “life-like” by never appropriate wax sculptures like this one.

The first storm hit as we were leaving the museum, and we waited it out under the awning of a nearby depanneur. When it let up, we ducked into the Starbucks down the block.

We waited out the next storm there and then set off for the hotel but got caught running in the rain the last block. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading. When things cleared up, we headed out to a pizza place down the street, this time bringing our umbrella! Obviously it didn’t rain.

The food recap for the day is as follows:


Dinner done, we’re packed and ready for the shuttle tomorrow at 9am. It’s going to be a long day of travel.

Day 14-Canyon Hike

Breakfast (seriously)

After breakfast and organizing our ride down to the Mexico City Airport Wednesday, we decided to walk out to El Charco del Ingenio, the botanical gardens. The first few roads you have to walk to get there were winding, steep climbs and tough going.

The gardens were worth it. They were spread out across a corner of a larger reserve and were full of all kinds of cactuses and succulents.

The real attraction though is a nature trail running along the top of a canyon the drops down into San Miguel. There are ruins of an old water-powered textile mill and beautiful waterfalls and views. Phone died early on so not many pics but the hike will probably be the highlight of the trip.

Walking home we visited the market and, after cooling off with a couple local brews sporting T-shirt labels for the World Cup, ate Italian food for dinner. Yummy.

Day 13-El Dia con Mole

Today’s big event was a tour of two “historic” houses. The tickets were 20$ each which is exorbitant. (Only a couple meals have cost more than that!) But we bought them because the tour money went to the public library.

Turns out the first house was a renovated property available for rent. The second was a private house—beautiful, yes—but done up in modern Architectural Digest style by the financial planner owners.

We ditched after a quick look at the second and set off walking on our own through the southern part of town.

The rest of the day was low-key. Rain was coming so we hung around the hotel room and read. I had mole pueblano for both lunch and dinner. So I was near euphoric by the end of the day.

The World Tree

The Templo de la Concepción in San Miguel de Allende is a dirty and battered little church nudged up against an old convent that’s been converted to an art school. The convent’s courtyard has comfortable chairs and avocado trees heavy with fruit.  We read there most of a morning. The church though is a dreary spot.

Or would be if not for the shade tree that stands just beyond the thick wooden doors. People gather beneath it when the sun beats down, and that tree, reaching up around them, rings with the divine.

Matthiessen on Shey (on Mexico)

I stare about me, trying to etch into this journal the sense of Shey that is so precious, aware that all such effort is in vain; the beauty of this place must be cheerfully abandoned, like the wild rocks in the bright water of its streams. Frustration at the paltriness of words drives me to write, but there is more of Shey in a single sheep hair, in one withered sprig of everlasting, than in all these notes; to strive for permanence in what I think I have perceived is to miss the point.

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

Day 12–Books & Birds

We arrived in San Miguel a day earlier than we’d planned. So we stayed the night at a place we’d booked because it was cheap and near our real hotel. It wasn’t great. So this morning, the first order of business was to check into the room we’d booked before leaving Montreal. We were nervous about it—the photos online hadn’t been very clear—but what a surprise: it’s one of the best rooms we’ve ever stayed in!


Check-in done, we started the day with an all-you-can-eat Mexican breakfast buffet. It was great!


Then we set off to the Biblioteca to get tickets for a tour of some historic private homes for Sunday. We hoped to sit in the library cafe & read for a bit but it was full.


So we walked to the nearby Fine Arts Institute situated in an old convent and sat by the fountain in its courtyard instead. It’s in an old convent and tall avocado trees were growing all around with ripe avocados on them!


We read for most of the morning and then stepped across the street to eat a late lunch.

After lunch we wandered around visiting parts of the city outside the center. We saw a public market & a park, then explored winding cobbled streets.


We even found a site with nesting birds: some kind of egret or crane or something. Then climbed the hill to a lookout to see over the city.

Dinner was corn on a stick from a stall in the main square.

Day 11–to San Miguel!

Today was a travel day. So after coffee, we packed and took a taxi to the bus station. By 3:30 we were in San Miguel de Allende.

As per convention the first few hours in a place are just about wandering around and getting the feel of things. So we walked to the central plaza—El Jardìn Principal—and started looping around from there.

What we discovered is that this place is crazy. It’s tourists and shops for tourists and restaurants for tourists and it feels like being at a festival. We haven’t really seen anything like it before. There’s supposedly some beautiful stuff to see though. So hopefully stories soon…

Day 10-Valenciana

Started the day with a solid breakfast at the Plaza San Fernando because we were heading to the countryside and weren’t sure we’d find a restaurant until we got back. On the way out of town, we made a quick tour of a museum that opened up only three months ago in a house built by the Count of Valenciana. The highlight were the engravings but photos weren’t allowed.

From there we caught a city bus to Valenciana, the location of one of the principal silver mines in Spanish Mexico. We toured the local church, which was very wealthy & is famous for its triple retablos done in over-the-top baroque style. Then we toured the first bits of a mine shaft.

I’m not sure why we actually went down the mine shaft. It was hot and I’ve gone claustrophobic the couple times I’ve gone into caves underground. But we did, and when we got to the bottom, the electricity cut out and we were in total darkness until they came back on. It was only for a few seconds, but it was enough to make me “eager” to get topside.

(Posting these pictures now, I honestly don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to this…)

As we waited for the bus, I watched some dogs on roofs looking for people to bark at. Back in town we sat in the Plaza Fernando over beer and watched people.


Day 9–Los Juglares!

We had three days in the middle of the trip where we didn’t schedule where we’d be or book hotels. We decided to spend two in Guanajuato & booked a new room in the center of town & moved our stuff. The place was great but the front door was a bit complicated to operate!

Settled again, we headed out to see the Diego Rivera museum. (He was a painter & Frida Kahlo’s husband.)

From there we wandered to the public market & the theatre, taking time along the way to see the municipal museum and to grab something to drink.

The theater. It’s interior is inspired by the Alhambra in Grenada.

The highlight of the day was a tour of the hillside roads led by university musicians in renaissance costumes, “los juglares”. (I nearly lost the Beav as we waited in a nearby plaza for it to start.) There was singing, dancing, stories of monkeys, & audience participation. This last had me hiding in the back of the group. A tourist trap but also an “experience” 🙂

Day 8-Alhóndiga

The day started off with crêpes in Plaza de San Fernando, which has become our go-to place to find restaurants. Breakfast done, we set off to the Alhóndiga, a colonial granary turned prison turned museum.


The highlights were the murals about Mexican independence, the pre-Colombian seals and stamps, and the “ex voto,” which are old folk paintings celebrating a miracle by a saint. These last were so great and I was so absorbed that I never stepped back and took a photo! Argh!


The rest of the day we wandered around, seeing the church of San Domingo and the Museo Iconographico del Quijote. This last was the personal collection of an ad exec obsessed with Don Quixote. All the painting and sculptures are of the book! It was crazy. Dinner was leftover chicken and tomatoes at the apartment, supplemented with a pre-dinner snack of spicey Fritos!


The Buddhist notion of Karma isn’t about payback. It’s about the awful reality of being tied up in contingency. We choose. We act. There are consequences for us and for others and these have consequences in turn. So bit by bit moving through our days we build a life and as it takes shape we have to live it out. This is karma. The cage of good and bad consequences from our past that becomes our horizons.

The tragedy—the awful terrifying tragedy of it all—becomes clear when someone builds an unlivable life for themselves over the course of years and then are stuck with it and have to live it and there’s nothing anyone can do to get them out of it.

Day Seven–Wandering Around

We got up early to walk to an old Hacienda two kilometers out of town. It showed up on Apple Maps so we knew where to go, only when we got there, it wasn’t there! And “there”—or rather, the “there” that wasn’t “there”—was many, many kilometres more than “two” outside of the city. It was a trek and involved a fair amount of climbing!


Discouraged but undeterred, we walked back toward town, stopping to ask for directions in a pharmacy. Turns out we’d missed the turn we needed early on when we’d detoured to avoid a busy street


Spanish Baroque in One Image


Where we waited for a bus that didn’t come


Back in town we went to lunch and then up the funicular to get a view over the whole town.

Then we made a circle to visit the five nearby churches.


The day ended with a nice dinner on a balcony overlooking the Jardin de la Union.


How much of how I feel about what’s going on in the US a product of feeling powerless in a way that tens of millions of people live with in the states all their lives. The country that is supposed to align with me, empowering me, has constricted the access to power to such an extent that there’s no reasonable way to assume I have any. I’m not a billionaire, not part of the American Caliphate.

People have lived like this for lifetimes. Just not me.

Election Day in Mexico

The last time I was in Mexico was in 2013. Presidential elections were underway, but I didn’t really pay attention, reducing them to a funny story about being refused a beer with dinner because of the dry election laws. Now five years later, I’m back, and Mexicans are again voting for their president. This time though it’s hard not to think about the people heading off to the polls and impossible to see it as funny.

The Beav and I are in Guanajuato this Election Day. The late morning sun is bright, the sky clear, and the houses stacked in twisting rows across the mountainside shine with color. The streets are busy with buses, taxis, cars and people heading to work or mass or the market. The smell of roasting meat and charcoal fill the air. So little of what I see of the life here seems to depend upon the American Dystopia to the North. Yet back home, we generally take it for granted that Mexico will face north.

I don’t know anything about the politics here, don’t know what’s possible or best. The fact that the peach I bought at the public market came from the States makes me think I’m ignorant even of the extent of my ignorance.

Yet sitting here I wonder if (and blindly hope that) the people voting around town might say “enough” and look south, leaving their northern neighbor to play the racist fool by itself.