Sing Like a Local Gringo

I never expected to be anybody important ~ Elvis Presley

One of our favorite things to do in a new city is find the best places to eat and drink in town. While La Sirena Gorda, our favorite watering hole, is just around the corner from our house, we’ve found many other lovely, local, chic and chill places in San Miguel de Allende to kick back and relax with a classy cocktail or una cerveza fría.

Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Dolores

Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Dolores

Another thing we love to do is play ‘tour guide’ for visiting family and friends. As part of their stay we take the time to immerse them in local culture and history and this includes a day trip to Dolores Hidalgo and Atotonilco. The steps of the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Dolores is where father Miguel Hidalgo issued ‘El Grito’, or cry of independence, on September 16, 1810 in search of separation from the Spanish stronghold that ruled Mexico.

 

 

 

Santuario de Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco

Santuario de Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco

His call to arms lead the uprising citizens to San Miguel de Allende by way of the small town of Atotonilco and the Santuario de Jesús de Atotonilco. This petite shrine is considered the Sistine Chapel of Mexico with it’s walls and ceilings depicting detailed religious histories and personages.

 

An important stop on our Dolores/Atotonilco tour is the museum of Mexican-born José Alfredo Jiménez who was a singe/songwriter, the king of música ranchera (folk style music) and is beloved by all Mexicans as an integral part of Mexican heritage. Think the ‘Mexican Elvis’ and you’re close. He is even often referred to as ‘El Rey’, The King. He was a prolific songwriter (more than 1,000) and is Dolores Hidalgo’s own as heIMG_3948 was born only a few blocks from the historic Parroquia in a home that is now the museum paying homage to him. In the museum, among the interesting facts, photographs and awards is a chance to hear his songs.

Rich was extremely taken with the song, ‘Camino de Guanajuato’(José Alfredo’s home state) and needless to say, we now own more than one José Alfredo Jiménez cd with this song at the top of the playlist on the iPod. Despite the lively music and passionate vocals, the lyrics are rather morose. Here is just the first verse:

No vale nada la vida                           Life is worth nothing
La vida no vale nada                           Life is worth nothing
Comienza siempre llorando                 It always begins with crying
Y así llorando se acaba                       And with crying is how it ends
Por eso es que en este mundo           Because of that in this world
La vida no vale nada                           Life is worth nothing

Not quite the uplifting little ditty but that was José Alfredo and it would stand it’s own ground among some of the best melancholy country/western songs in the U.S. He was married three times, had several children and was said to have mistresses along the way as well as quite the drinking habit. He died in 1973 at the young age of 47 from complications of hepatitis.  His grave is just outside the centro area and depicts the traditional Mexican sombrero and serape with the titles of more than 100 of his songs embedded in the colorful tiles.

Grave of José Alfredo Jiménez

Grave of José Alfredo Jiménez

Cut back to last friday in San Miguel de Allende. The quaint little bar of Las Cuatro Milpas is just down the cobble-stoned street from us and has only about 4 or 5 tables. With an air of Houlihan’s or Chili’s back in the states, there’s all kinds of crazy crap on the walls but it’s charming with cold drinks and always friendly, polite staff. Ok, well, *one* staff… a bartender. On this particular evening there was a guy playing guitar and singing what sounded like some Mexican ranchera songs. He played for about 20 minutes (to no one but Rich and I) when I said, ‘Camino de Guanajuato’!! He smiled and started to play our old familiar tune. After the first 2 verses his failing memory, shot of tequila, unfamiliarity of the song or all three took their toll and he started laughing because he didn’t know the lyrics. I quickly picked up his place and guided him into the next verse in Spanish. He cut the song short and was unmercifully chided by the young lady bartender for being Mexican, not knowing the words and having to be SAVED by the ‘Americano’! It was hilarious and he still got a tip from the gringos.

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Two-Way Street

Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether you go forwards or backwards: you need to live your life as well as you can.~ Eric Roth

Our latest adventure was driving Sarah back to school at Western Illinois University and then on to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I reflected upon our 8 week trip home for the summer. Everything I wanted to do had been done: baseball game with our kids, downtown for a Chicago river cruise with friends and family, time at the family farm in Wisconsin, evening out at the theater with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, lunches and dinners with good friends and time hanging out with Jason, Kelsey and Sarah.

As we see the Willis Tower getting smaller in the rear-view mirror, I realized that sometimes travel isn’t always about moving forward, but coming back, again and again, to what is always important to us. Although moving forward to new destinations, experiences and people can be exhilarating and rewarding, the consistent presence of familiar people, places and events often mold our path through this world and this life as we continue to move forward.

We arrived in Macomb to move Sarah into her first apartment and thought she too was traveling backwards/forwards, both in Macomb and in Chicago, while forging her way into a new world. She straddles both realms as they feed off of each other in a constant tug-o-war between moving forward and moving backward. She continues to rely on friends, feel comfortable, reach out to family and refers to both surroundings as ‘home’.

two_way_591

Likewise, our son Jason, who is almost 25, leads a life journey of self-discovery by himself and with his girlfriend of 3 years, Kelsey. They are both working and going to school but who knows where their paths will take them, together or separately. Though they continue to navigate into uncharted territories as emerging adults, they also continue to travel backwards from time to time. The same family, the same friends and the same events.

The glory of this kind of travel is that both directions seem to meld together seamlessly at some point to become the present. Our life’s journeys are not like the Metra where there is a definite starting and ending point. We can take both directions and make them our own, not knowing where it will lead, but always knowing constant and change simultaneously.

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