Archive | September, 2012

San Miguel de Allende, The Early Years – Early Rising

20 Sep

San Miguel de Allende, The Early Years

Early Rising

San Miguel de Allende, Aldama Street

San Miguel de Allende, Aldama Street

During one of my halting conversations with Roselia, looking up words in my Spanish-English dictionary as fast as I could go, the subject of early rising came up. Roselia told me that most Mexican women got up before dawn, at four or five, to go to the molinos to have their corn and lye mixtures (grains of corn are soaked overnight in lye water to soften them up) ground up into masa, corn dough, to make the day’s tortillas.

They then have to make their way home again carrying the heavy buckets, and make the actual tortillas. Slap, slap, slapping them between their hands shaping the masa into round flat cakes and then baking them on large flat round pieces of tin, a comal, over a wood fire.

Well, I had to see this so I got up the next morning at four, put on my heaviest sweater against the cold, and went out into the street to see this phenomenon. Sure enough as I walked around town I spotted lots of women bundled up in sweaters, with rebozos covering their faces right up to the eyes, carrying large zinc buckets covered with kitchen towels. Right through the darkness of night they scurried this way and that, each one headed for their favorite molino where I saw them standing in
silent lines waiting their turn. They would hand over their buckets of corn and lime and would be given big globs of corn dough weighing just what they should for the amount they had given.

The night sky was full of stars, very clear in the absence of any real light from the city. The only street lights were forty watt bulbs in wrought iron lanterns hanging over a few of the street doors of the houses. Dogs were barking from some of the nearby rooftops, and when they stopped I could hear a thousand more from every direction. The night was filled with the sound of them barking. Some, I could tell, were from far, far off in the distance.

During my wanderings I observed pairs of policemen, called sirenos, completely covered in blankets walking the streets, huddled in doorways, and blowing bosins mate type whistles every so often. “Buenas noches,” they would murmur. Their whistling would bring responses from other nearby twosomes. An “all is well?”

I wandered up to the market that at the time was located on the corner of Mesones and Colegio Streets. It was a beautiful old cantera stone building with carved stone columns and arches. The
Mesones side had stone steps up into the building that was lit up bright as day. The sweet smells of ripening fruit and spices wafted up and swirled around the colorful display piles of bright colored oranges, bananas, peppers, and pears.

Out of the dark, cold night I walked right into the heart of the bustling crowds of early morning shoppers. I was jostled from one side and then the other by men and women buying the days meat,
fruits, and vegetables. (There was no refrigeration remember, so most everything had to be bought and consumed daily. The butchers had to sell every piece of the slaughtered cow or pig every day
or make longaniza sausage cured in brine with what was left.)

Around the back side of the market and down two flights of stairs (the front side was higher than the back) and then back inside were the fondas, where one could eat sitting on long benches at picnic-like tables. Tortillas were purchased from the farm women seated on the flagstones outside and you carried them in to the tables and ordered from the huge clay pots of food cooking over wood or charcoal fires.

The tables were nearly full of early morning workers. Day laborers, stevedores, masons, and milk men sat side by side shoveling in large quantities of steaming hot food, stoking their “stoves” for a long hard morning’s work. Dressed in their worn work clothes, which were, without exception, clean.

Eggs were cracked into scalding hot pans of smoking oil that was then spooned over them frying them almost instantly. Served over a plate of Mexican rice with a generous helping of fiery tomato/chili
sauce and freshly made tortillas. Oh, mama!

Roselia was right, this was an active, working city, and the Mexican people were certainly an early rising, industrious lot.

(That beautiful old market, that in reality only needed a new roof, was dismantled stone by stone and carried off to God knows where by the Mayor at the time, and a new one was built further down Colegio Street where it remains to this day. A concrete and steel structure without charm or style. This same man was, a few years ago, blown to bits by a gas leak when he entered his hotel’s boiler room with a lit cigar. Poetic justice?)

On my way home through the quiet streets still empty of traffic I could see men dressed in coarse linen clothes wearing broad-brimmed hats leading burros loaded down with metal milk-cans strapped to their sides. They would stop here and there and tap on the wooden doors with their steel tumblers. Tap, tap, tap, and their rapping would be answered by hurrying housewives thrusting all manner of clay or enamel pots out to them to be filled with the frothy white liquid. Their chatter and laughter filling the cobblestone streets with life, with an occasionally complaining burro punctuating their conversations. (All milk was brought to a boil in those days to purify it, there was no store bought milk.)

The sun was up, but it was still chilly as I walked back toward my apartment warmed with a good hot breakfast. I went through the Jardin that like the market also bustled with activity. The street sweeper gangs from the drunk tank were busily sweeping the streets and the plaza with their rough brooms made of small tree branches tied in a bundle, their guards leaning against sun drenched walls,
warming themselves. They had old Springfield rifles slung casually over their shoulders. I asked one of them if he had any bullets for his rifle and he proudly dug into his jacket pocket and came up with a
single cartridge, grinning at me happily.

A garbage truck was parked in front of the paroquia and the plaza’s gardeners were helping to empty the various trash barrels into it. Their laughing voices filling the verdant space with joy, and a sense of tranquility filled me, and forced a sigh of contentment from my throat.

San Miguel de Allende, Old Market

San Miguel de Allende, Old Market

San Miguel de Allende, Colonial Street

19 Sep
San Miguel de Allende, Colonial Street

San Miguel de Allende, Colonial Street

Becoming a Writer

18 Sep

Becoming a Writer
La Cucara, the Kook

San Miguel de Allende, Portal Allende Circa 1940

San Miguel de Allende, Portal Allende Circa 1940

…I spent many an hour in the Cucaracha listening to the inebriated
American veterans who hung out there: Benny Freiling, Pill John,
Crazy Richey, Diamond Lil, the Sherriff, Three Dollar Bill, Freddy,
Dennis, Tom McGinty, El Chivo, Halito, Otto, Johnny Burke,
and Lou Breck. (Some of these men were to become the leaders of
the first American Legion Post of San Miguel de Allende that was
to be founded in 1971.) These were not nick names of my invention,
but were “earned” by them!

Benny would be in the Cucaracha from the time they opened until
late afternoon drinking Cuba Libres (Fidel had not ruined the
name of that marvelous rum drink yet), and talking about any
subject under the sun. He was the very first member of the Beat
generation, even before Kerouac. He was very cool! He came to
Mexico to die and he accomplished it in a relatively short time.

Dennis was a retired disk jockey/radio personality from Wisconsin
who had been a war correspondent. He could hold forth on any
subject indefinitely and often did. The more Dennis drank, the
softer he talked so that by the late afternoon he wasn’t audible at
all, and ended each day talking to himself. At times he would
walk around town with toy mice pinned to the epaulets of his
shirt, some sort of criticism of the military I presume. One day,
too far into a discussion with Benny to stop, Dennis sent for the
barber and had a shave and a haircut sitting in his chair at the
Cucaracha, drink in hand.

Pill John earned his nickname by passing out pills to anyone for
any ailment they might have. It wasn’t long before everyone
caught on that he had no idea what pills he was dispensing for
what ailment. I think the last straw was when he applied foot
ointment to Crazy Richey’s eyes because they were red! And Crazy
Richey, it seems got his nickname as a radioman in the U.S. Navy
where he had gone nuts, his words, listening to radio static year
after year. He finally snapped one night, he told us, and snuck into
the Captain’s cabin where he dumped laundry detergent in the Old
Man’s face while he slept to get out on a Section 8.

Richey delighted in spinning clumps of his hair into spirals, one
on each side of his face, and another sticking straight up into the
air, and making silly faces at children on the street. The Mexicans
loved it, just one more crazy Gringo.

Three Dollar Bill was a diminutive red-haired, freckle faced,
cane carrying old queen who came from New York, and could lisp
and camp it up with the best of them about all things show
business. He was high camp long before the phrase was made

He had the bad habit of playing his records too loudly on his portable
record player ’til the wee hours. After complaining ad naseum the
other tenants in the Infierno apartments bricked up his doorway one
night, the only exit from his room. They only let him out two days
later because the landlord, who had been in on the joke, made them.

One day he slipped on the cobblestones, broke his hip, and was
“shipped out” in a station wagon for the V.A. hospital in San
Antonio, Texas, and dumped in the emergency room.

El Chivo, never did hear how he got his name, was a section eight
from the Battle of Iwo Jima who remained sane enough as long as
he took his meds. He chained smoked marijuana and sculpted when
he could, and we shared, as roomates, the “House of Miracles” for
a time. The House of Miracles got its name because of its
location next door to the Calvary chapel, but we often thought it
was so named because every bus that lost its brakes coming down
the Salida de Queretaro crashed into it to stop itself. Well,
Chivo got off his meds and stayed off, and when he began wearing
a three foot long machete around town he was also “shipped off.”

Halito and Johnny Burke were probably the sanest of the lot
although Hal was legally blind and regularly drove around town,
eventually in a golf cart. Hal and Otto were great buddies
(Otto seldom said a word) and would spend the day bending their
elbows and having discussions with anybody who would listen. One
afternoon Otto disappeared for awhile, and in the morning,
leaning against the door of the Cucaracha was a wooden casket
with Otto stenciled on the lid. Just Otto’s sense of humor, he
lived for years after that. Keep in mind that these were two of
the Legion’s Commanders, you can imagine the rank and file!

San Miguel de Allende, Portal Guadalupe and Jardin

San Miguel de Allende, Portal Guadalupe and Jardin

17 Sep
San Miguel de Allende, Insurgent Hero

San Miguel de Allende, Insurgent Hero

San Miguel de Allende, Las Fiestas Patrias

16 Sep
San Miguel de Allende, Fiestas Patrias

San Miguel de Allende, Fiestas Patrias

Las Fiestas Patrias
Well, here we are at the actual Independence Day! Lots of Mexican tourists, the usual parade of school children with the addition of a small military contingent, fireworks, speeches and more speeches, and castillos and more fireworks tonight.
We’re still hiding out, with a few forrays to the grocery store/liquor store. Napping when we can because its hard to get enough sleep with the dusk and dawn-breaking fireworks orgies going on. So, back to our book: an excerpt from “A Gringo Guide to Mexican History,” available in its 354 page entirety for download at and Barnes and

Chapter Five

Father Miguel Hidalgo, having been warned of the discovery of his rebellion, rang the bell of the church in Dolores, Guanajuato to summon his parishoners. He called for armed rebellion against the Spaniards. He later confessed, “I knew no other way to ignite the war other than to appeal to the elemental passions of my Indian parishoners, among them plunder and revenge.”

When Hidalgo, Allende, and Aldama left Dolores early on the morning of September, 16th they were accompanied by 13 deserting Dragoons who had been stationed there, and perhaps another 200 men, half of whom were mounted. A few of the men on horseback were armed with pistols or shotguns; the majority had only lances. The men on foot (mostly Indians) were armed with bows and arrows, slings, and even sticks. (It was a capital offense under Spanish rule for an Indian to possess a firearm.)

When they stopped at the Sanctuary of Atontonilco (Place of Hot Waters), Father Hidalgo took from the church a famous banner depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe, which thereafter served as the “flag” for the patriots throughout the war. When this banner was raised on a lance, the crowd came up with their own Grito, “Viva la Virgin de Guadalupe and death to the Gachupines!”

The legend of how the Virin of Guadalupe presented her image to the Indian Juan Diego was universally known by Indians throughout Mexico. By selecting her image as the Standard of rebellion, Father Hidalgo clearly signaled that he wanted popular Indian support for a universal conflagration. He wanted to destroy the old order, to cure its social and ethnic injustices, to avenge the old grievances of the creoles, and to avenge Manuel, the brother who the Spanish King had driven mad by the confiscation of their lands.

(The sanctuary, incidentally, had been a popular place of spiritual retreat since Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro and the Order of Felipenses constructed it in 1746-1748.)

By the middle of the afternoon the “army” had reached San Miguel el Grande, numbering more than 600. Word of their coming had preceded them and many of the Spaniards had hastily armed themselves and gathered in the City Hall, determined to fight. But Capt. Allende, who was well-known to them all, convinced them that resistance would be useless and they surrendered peacefully. They were taken to the Colegio de San Francisco de Sales under protective custody.

The Sanmiguelenses had joined with those coming from Dolores and the combined mob was getting both drunk and ugly. The Dragoons of San Miguel and Dolores had their hands full keeping order. At one point Allende was forced to lead a mini-charge to keep the mob from breaking into the College and hanging the Royalists.

During that evening and well into the next day, rioting and looting were common. As soon as a troop of Dragoons dispersed a group and moved on, the mob formed again. On the 17th a new city government was formed and order was gradually restored. The new Honorable Ayuntamiento #1 (city council) was the first governmental body in Mexico to be free of Spain. (It’s still number 1 to this day. Mexico City is number 50.) The attorney Ignacio Aldama (Juan’s older brother) was named Presidente Municipal, Municipal President.

Early on September, 19th the army, now about 5,000 strong, left San Miguel El Grande. Their route would take them to Celaya, Salamanca, Irapuato, Silao and on to Guanajuato. Few of them would come home again.

Mexico City, Fiestas Patrias

Mexico City, Fiestas Patrias

San Miguel de Allende, Insurgentes

15 Sep
San Miguel de Allende, Insurgentes

San Miguel de Allende, Insurgentes

Present Day – Fiestas Patrias

14 Sep

Present Day

Well, here they are again, the “Fiestas Patrias!” Time for all of us gringos to hide out. The fiesta is definetly for the Mexican people, rife with athletic events, we don’t really care for like soccer games, foot races, basketball games, the endless school children’s parades, and speeches. Lots and lots of speeches by long winded politicians.

Well this year, take heart. There’s going to be…an inauguration of the Feria (Carnival) on September 14th…the arrival of the torch from Queretaro on the 15th…and the entrance of the insurgents at 1:15 P.M. on the 16th!

Not your cup of tea? Well, there’s always the Luciernaga shopping center. Lord knows we can’t go swimming. All the “Hot springs” will be infested with chilangoes. Good time for a trip to the States? Sure, but what about the crime? The Drug traffickers? The West Nile virus? No need to confront all that! Life’s too short after all!

I suggest curling up with a good book. One of mine, of course. September is “Mexican History Month,” isn’t it? What with Allende riding in the parade, sword in hand, taming the unruly mob. Scenes of blood thirsty insurgents surging into town, drunk with power, Hidalgo at their head.

If you’re struggling, trying to understand the Mexican people, reading their history could help. And the atmosphere in town this month IS conducive to reading history….

An excerpt from “A Gringo Guide to Mexican History,” available for download at or Barnes and

No other comparable period of its history brought San Miguel such attention or distinction as the early days of the war.

The brothers Aldama, along with Ignacio Allende and a very considerable number of other Sanmiguelenses, were prominent in the war. It was in San Miguel that the first government of any sort operated free from the influence of the Crown, and San Miguel bore the major burden of clothing and arming the army.

Allende had been plotting and recruiting supporters for independence since early in 1809. He found wide acceptance for the idea. This is why:

Although much printed material was prohibited or censored by the Holy Office—better known as the Inquisition—these restrictions were never rigidly enforced in Nueva España. Copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights were to be found throughout the country. So, too, was the French “Rights of Man.” In philosophy and theology many Liberal writers were questioning the old order, and the works of these writers were also available. Among the upper classes these Liberal and anti-monarchical ideas took root during the last half of the 1700s. The Masonic movement took hold in Mexico and, if it didn’t flourish, it definitely exerted and influence on the independence movement.

Another factor was that the Creoles (Mexican-born Spaniards—and by the time in question there were far more of these than there were “pure” Spaniards) were treated as second class citizens vis-a-vis their Spanish-born cousins. Birthplace, rather than merit, governed the selection of bishops, generals, judges, and government tax collectors and administrators. Because this was so, it was customary for wealthy Creole families to take their daughters to Spain when seeking a husband. Mexico had always had a more “upwardly mobile” society than her mother country, perhaps because of the huge amount of wealth there, with fewer people to take advantage of it, or the distances involved between King and subjects. Commercial interests occupied more of the hearts and minds of the citizens of Mexico than was evident in Spain. Trade restrictions galled. The Royal monopolies caused a slow burn. And the taxes!!!

San Miguel de Allende, Parroquia

13 Sep
San Miguel de Allende, Parroquia

San Miguel de Allende, Parroquia

Becoming a Writer

12 Sep
San Miguel de Allende, Paroquia

San Miguel de Allende, Paroquia

Becoming a Writer

…I began my new life with a stroll around town, searching for a
different restaurant to try out my menu Spanish. I discovered “La
Terraza,” owned, I was to learn, by Don Daniel Mojica. It was
located right beside the big church and in frot of the town
square. It was in a building with only plate glass windows and
carved stone columns separating them. It was bright and cheerful,
but as I was to find out, too expensive for me.

Don Daniel had been a professional Tango dancer in a fancy
speakeasy in Cicero, Chicago during the 20s and had been
accidentally shot up one night in a drunken brawl. He decided
Chicago wasn’t for him after all and got back to San Miguel as
fast as his now limping legs would carry him. My menu Spanish
proved to be unnecessary as he spoke excellent English.

His advice to me that morning was, “Stay away from those bums at
the Cucaracha. They’re no good.”

Naturally I was intrigued.

There was one saloon that was patronized by the few Americans
that lived here then, the Cucaracha. The bar was owned, I learned
later, by a pair of uncles of my finance with whom I immediately
began building a friendship.

Chucho and Miguel Correa were brothers. Chucho was the older,
more stable of the two. Miguel was a much an older man than I,
but we hit it off right away. He was married to my wife’s aunt,
and with his little bit of English and my little bit of Spanish
we shared jokes, sang songs, and he introduced me to the Mexican
patrons of the Cucaracha who I liked better than the Americans
that were there.

Every night, Miguel’s older brother Chucho, the actual owner of
the bar, would clear everybody out and lock up the place at 11
P.M. We’d all wander around the corner and wait for him to walk
through the Jardin, which is what they called the main square,
toward home, and then we’d go back. Miguel would unlock the door
with his own key and back inside we’d go to drink free for a few
more hours. It was on one of these binges that we decided to
serenade Miguel’s girlfriend. We used my car, naturally, for the

We put the top down on the car and picked up a marimba band,
loading the xylophone into the back seat, and took off. Little
did I know what Miguel was up to. We drove down San Miguel’s
narrow deserted streets at about 3 A.M. and set up the marimba to
play with the musicians sitting on the boot. The band struck up a
tune and I was really enjoying the music when all of a sudden
Miguel yelled, “Let’s go!” Well, I followed instructions and we
were soon setting up at another location and another and another!
This guy had girlfriends all over town! We were high-tailing it
every time a husband stuck his head out of the window to see who
we were!

On another occasion we took a guitar and a bottle to the police

San Miguel de Allende, Bajada de Salida a Queretaro

San Miguel de Allende, Bajada de Salida a Queretaro


station and got the whole garrison of night duty cops drunk and
disorderly! Miguel was the only man who could drive by the cop’s
door and shout, “Adios culeros!” and get away with it.

San Miguel de Allende, Hospicio from Barranca

11 Sep

San Miguel de Allende, Hospicio from Barranca

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