Category Archives: Photo Essay

The Endurance of Stone

Six years ago this month, when I visited San Miguel de Allende for the first time to attend the world-renown writers conference here, I stayed with my artist friend Sharon from Taos, NM, who, with her husband, had had a second home in SMA for many years.

After the conference ended and before I left San Miguel to return to Taos and teaching, Sharon was my tour guide, showing me the main art and cultural attractions — including, of course, the Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes — and sharing with me the rich history of this beautiful old colonial city.

One of the things Sharon said to me on our informal tour stuck fast:

“San Miguel will never burn down,” she said.

“Oh, really?” I laughed. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because it’s all made of stone, and stone doesn’t burn.”

Ah, stones, I thought, how I love stones — emblems of solidity and endurance! I’d made a lifelong habit of collecting stones from every far-off place I’d ever been, as enduring mementos of my travels. I made a mental note to choose a stone from San Miguel.

“And it’s not only made of stone, it’s built on stone,” Sharon added. “It’s built on a bedrock of rose quartz, which is said to channel positive energy.”

My mind then flew to a song I used to sing in Sunday School when I was a kid: “The wise man builds his house upon a rock (and the foolish man builds his house upon the sand) …”

For this and a dozen other reasons, I decided on that trip to retire to San Miguel de Allende at the end of that year.

On this week’s walks here I’ve been looking more closely than ever at San Miguel’s stones – the bumpy cobblestone streets, the narrow flagstone sidewalks, the decorative stone walls and building façades, the immense pink-stone neo-Gothic Parroquia church at the center of it all – as metaphors. All so solid and enduring.

Yes, this charming, centuries-old city is going through a tough time right now, due to the coronavirus pandemic (see last week’s WOW post, www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/not-just-a-walk-in-the-park/ for more on this); but it – and the people who are rooted here — will endure, I’m sure. All these stones, everywhere I turn, are telling me so.

SMA, located in Mexico’s central mountains, is noted for its narrow cobblestone streets that rise and fall over the hilly terrain in el centro.
In el centro there are said to be over 2,000 doors, behind which there are 2,000 courtyards. The date hammered into this metal door framed in stone reads 1764.
Few structures in el centro have atriums or front yards; instead, open private space — often including decorative fountains and lush gardens — is behind the main facade, in the courtyard.
While many other world-class cities are associated with art, SMA, as one writer put it, “IS art.” This is a side view of the iconic Parroquia church, built of locally quarried pink stone.
Cobblestone roads, narrow flagstone sidewalks, house-and-shop facades of stone standing shoulder to shoulder abutting the streets — this is the face of SMA.
And even when the paint peels and the plaster crumbles, one can see that beneath it all is enduring stone.
This stone wall, near where I now live, which I frequently pass on my walks, symbolizes for me life’s ups and downs.

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For further reading about the charms of San Miguel, go to: “Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende” in the Smithsonian Magazine

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/under-the-spell-of-san-miguel-de-allende-71084706/

and “Mexico: The Art and Soul of San Miguel de Allende – Tapping into the hidden colour of Mexico’s fairytale art capital” in National Geographic

https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel/2018/09/mexico-art-and-soul-san-miguel-de-allende