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The following Memories of San Miguel are listed on this page, and in this order:

On renting, owning, buying, selling, real estate in San Miguel      by Elena Shoemaker

Allende's birthday       by Memo Almolky

I love San Miguel  - from the ccollist (author not known)

Harold Black and the Escuela Ecuestre     by Jeannie Schnakenberg

Profile of Augusta Irving 1908-1998    by Sylvia Berek Rosenthal

Stirling Dickinson and San Miguel de Allende

4/14/04    On renting, owning, buying, selling, real estate in San Miguel      by Elena Shoemaker

I have a casita for rent. That means I can "rent" space.
I have "real estate." That means I have REAL space, not an estate. Estate is a legal term, not a space term.
How I long for the days when San Miguel real estate deals were done with a handshake! Perhaps an annual renegotiation was necessary, if it were for a business space, and if the business happened to be doing, well, at least okay. Rentals were real. If taxes hadn't changed, expenses hadn't escalated, there was no reason to be greedy.
We all know that the secret of making money, supposedly, is to own your own dirt. Farmers fight for it, environmentalists fight for it, condo developers fight for it.
Hey, you folks out there who want to buy property in San Miguel! Looking for a quick deal? There are lots of ways to go. Buy some property out where there is no water, no public service. Do a good thing, and give lots of people jobs, as you develop your dream.
But let's go back to the bottom line. If you OWN your space, and you aren't living in it, you must RENT it to someone.
So we're back to expectations, legal and realistic.
I believe that a handshake is valid. A handshake is a two-way deal. Neither the landlord nor the tenant should be out of line.
I know what it's like to rent US properties lately; the leases cover every kind of liability, including nails in the wall. Why do the citizens from the US, claiming that they don't want to live that way, have to bring that attitude here?
They should know that in the old days of San Miguel, finding a dead body in your commercial establishment could cause you to lose your license; better to move it out on the street, or to the closest fountain. Street noise, neighbor noise, this just is not an issue.
I remember begging a landlady, an American, for a toilet seat, in the only working bathroom of the house I rented. She resisted, saying that it wasn't really necessary, and that most Mexican bathrooms don't provide that luxury. I asked her if she had one in HER house. She acknowledged that she did, and finally put up the $ to have a functional one installed. Really, that was all that I'd asked for, and I was pleased.
Yes, the person renting the property should give what they advertise. As should the person renting the property be realistic about what they want. Nobody can control neighbor's chickens or dogs, nor fireworks, nor holiday celebrations. If you live near a school, (where do you live in San Miguel that is NOT near a school?!) be prepared for children.
If you drive to San Miguel in a big car or van, you may join the ranks of those who complain about lack of parking space or bad roads. Really, this is nothing new. This town was not planned for any motorized vehicle. Learn to walk. Leave your cell phone at home. Measure your trip to the Centro by how long it takes you to walk, not how much time it takes to find a space to leave a vehicle. You can justify it all by heart health and supporting the taxi drivers.
I do so love hearing about new parking lots, better service for patching up the streets. I love it, because I know that one good rainy season will humble the best of contractors!
If you come to San Miguel to live, then DO JUST THAT. Live. Breathe. Keep your word. Keep private things private, goof a little at life's little irritations, and stop expecting that someone else will take care of your problems. If you want your Mexican landlord/lady to act like an American, you may get your wish.
I still like being able to talk to people, to look forward to the posturing of the annual renegotiation, and to my continued belief in the value of a handshake.
Elena Shoemaker has lived in San Miguel since 1980, founded La Luciernaga, San Miguel's first message service. She has lived in lots of real property, some of it hers, by definition!

4/11/04            allende's birthday       by Memo Almolky

January 21 is General Ignacio Allende's birthday and a big
there in the pantheon of saints) so this town is the 'San Miguel of Allende.' Allende was born here and died a gruesome but heroic death in the war of independence against Spain.
He was captured and along with others had his head chopped off and displayed prominently for a long period in the nearby city of Guanajuato,wherein the rebels had commited atrocities of their own. So it was kind of tit for tat.
Mexicans love pomp and ceremony and are extremely patriotic and love their country. I am not so patriotic but I love their country too.

Off I went to El Jardin (the main square) to see the annual homage to the town's hero. A white statue of Allende is mounted a dozen feet (what's that in meters?) above ground just off  El Jardin on the

Soon I hear the rat-tat-tat of drums and blares and bleats of trumpets as the militlary-looking parade comes into sight. A drum and bugle band of men with a sprinkling of women,one with red-streaked hair (I suppose this means progress),a squad of public safety police replete with riot gear: shields with' policia' printed on them,thick helmets with visors,and padded long pants. An assault squad,tall,beefy,gringo-featured 'goons' with wicked-looking assault
rifles,shouldering huge coils of rope and safety buckles the size of your hand. No doubt for swooping down on some unruly mob of poor campesinos trying to protest against the punishing effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on agriculture. Hmmm public
safety; wonder who is protecting who from whom. (whom from whom?)
Followed by a mini beauty pageant,including District Queen IX, plumpish , pretty,with long golden gown and a nifty tiara. Maybe the public safety squads are protecting the queens from...? And the usual suspects-I mean coterie -of public officials with round cutouts of
Allende pinned to their lapels with the red,green and white colours of the flag.
The queens, band,officials,some guys who look like generals but might be corporals who have been sauntering, not marching, in the parade,disappear while I have been mesmerized by the goon squads. I hear the bleat of trumpets across the square. A ceremony is taking place in the patio of Allende's house. Fortunately,by the time I arrived the speeches are over. But black smoke and flames are leaping
filled with I know not what.
Ceremonies over,soldiers march out rhythmically banging drums as I
Across the square the goons march off, go two blocks and turn into the public safety building from whence they came. They have not had to swoop down on a single soul. I am disappointed. Thought we would at least have a display of swinging from tall buildings at a single bound-or two.
When I return to Allende he is looking a little off ,more the colour of sheets washed without soap. And the beautiful red and white carnations of two large floral wreaths are wilting from the heat of the fire. A TV cameraman records all this for posterity. When done,he turns to District Queen IX and begins to chat her up-with success! 
A happy ending after all.
But wait,I thought this was the end of the story... 

Tonight, while again crossing the town square,the sound of sirens and the beating of drums and torchbearers in the distance:   It is the same drum and bugle band followed by male torch bearers and,on horseback with a cohort of fellow riding 'revolutionaries,' is 'Allende' himself,resplendent in Napoleon hat and matching period uniform; he is flanked by 'Father Hidalgo,'dressed in priestly soutan and collar. It was Fr. Hidalgo of the nearby town of Dolores who uttered the famous 'Grito,'or cry, sparking the rebellion against the Spaniards-perhaps a little too prematurely,as it turned out. As did the original Hidalgo,our latter day Hidalgo carries as his battle standard an image of the revered Virgin of Guadaloupe ( a smart move aimed at rallying the devout peasantry). 

A flag honour guard of pretty high school girls, dressed smartly in white with black piping, leads a squad of girls carrying torches as they all ride and march past the town square to a smattering of applause by proud Mexicans. For this area is the cradle of the revolution that eventually brought freedom, of a sort, to this country; and it is why nationalism and love of country is
particularly strong here.
And when I looked back on Allende's statue, he looked none the worse for his trial by fire and smoke. There he stands, proudly, cape flung aside as he looks defiantly into the distance, still wrapped in his wire mesh cage, to enforce the pigeon no-fly zone.
Yet another happy ending. Don't you just love happy endings?


I love San Miguel  - extracted from the coollist (author not known)

... and to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all the good things we love about San Miguel de Allende and our lives here

I am thankful to have discovered SMA on the internet and to have found it lived up to the hype.

I am thankful more gringos haven't discovered it yet--close the door behind me, please.

I love the cobblestones and narrow sidewalks and crumbling walls and carved doors and the fading, intertwining textures of the colorful paint. It is truly an artist's paradise.

I love the art everywhere, even on a bedpost carved with "el alcatraz" flowers or a computer chair in a sleek modern design or the curve of a child's toy offered me on the street.

I love the great food here--though I may miss Burger King and other U.S. restaurants sometimes, I would never trade for all the variety and tastes here. Where in the States could I ever find chiliquiles or roquefort cheese pizza or enchiladas stuffed with raspberry-red hibiscus flowers or at least 50 varieties of empanadas?

I enjoy people watching, from gringos sitting in the Jardin, to the children chasing the balloon sellers, to the bustling Mexican businesswomen in their smart suits, to the workers loading crates of veggies, to the lines of uniformed school kids out on a field trip exploring, to the men on horses or burros herding goats and sheep out in the countryside, to the young lovers holding hands, to the old couples promenading proudly in their best clothes on a Saturday night, to the fiery salsa dancers at Mamma Mia's, to the concheros leading a parade, to the funeral processions down the middle of the street blocking traffic, to the young policemen directing traffic by blowing their whistles to a pattern I hope they understand, to the knife sharpener walking the streets to his own musical announcement of his coming, to the crowds pouring out of their houses to catch the garbage truck when it comes with the sound of a different tune, to the chimes at all hours and no predictable pattern, to the voladores gliding through the air on their 13 arcs to the ground, to the sidewalk vendors slathering mayonnaise and grated cheese and hot sauce onto grilled corn or slicing up jicamas and watermelons...

I love the flowers, the poinsettias flaming everywhere this month, the bougainvillea spilling over walls, the fields of yellow daisies and pink cosmos.

I love the weather, at least for eight months of the year (coming from Phoenix, this cold spell is really harsh). Love to see tourists in shorts even on days like this when residents are in jackets.

I love all the concerts and lectures and gallery openings and art films and dance groups and recitals that are going on every day, so much to choose from.

I love learning a new culture, a new history, a new world view, to broaden my perspectives. (Wish I could say I loved learning Spanish, which I find really hard.)

I love the Biblioteca, with all the events going on there and the children using the computers and reading and learning all over the place, and the Great Books room and the Mysteries room and all the paperbacks, and knowing that so much help is being given to children through the scholarship program and other activities.

I love so many social action groups, so many opportunities to volunteer, so many ways to do good, to harness all the energies and talents high-powered gringos bring into their retirement.

I love so much discussion going on throughout the community, not when it sinks into gossip or quibbling, but when so many perspectives come to bear on an issue, or even on something like the movie "Frida." Everybody has an opinion and feels free to express it--few shy violets here. There is an openness in the air.

I love the shops and galleries, where I can get custom jewelry or furniture made or find artwork ranging from the highest quality to the lowest kitsch, where I can discover 1,000 T-shirt designs celebrating the Running of the Bulls or Frida's eyebrows.

I love those rambling old buses for 3 pesos (30cents) and taxi rides for 15 pesos ($1,50) so that a car isn't even needed.

I love being able to walk everywhere--I even walked downhill from Gigante to the Hotel Sautto yesterday, probably 2+ miles, far more than I ever would have walked in the States. I'm healthier for it.

I love Tuesday Market--no words could encompass all the sights. A plate full of freshly fried fish fillets and tortilla chips for 15 pesos ($1.50), a big bag of fresh key limes for a few pesos, fruit so fresh you have to cut it up as soon as you get home, a silk skirt maybe hiding on a table for 25 pesos ($2.50) if you're lucky...even a machete or a live guinea pig if I had a need for one.

I love Belles Artes and Instituto Allende and all the other classes and workshops in every conceivable subject, affordable and accessible, so I can explore sides of me I never knew I had.

I appreciate this local electronic coollist, where I can find a recommended plumber or dentist and find out the story behind a rumor and meet some interesting people who disagree with me.


a 2010 note added:  I would like to extend a belated "thank you" to Jeannie Schnakenberg for the following article.  Michael Wein, publisher


28 March 2004     Harold Black and the Escuela Ecuestre      by Jeannie Schnakenberg 


It was 1970 and I was in need of a special vacation.  While perusing the classifieds in THE CHRONICLE OF THE HORSE, I came across a small ad entitled "Riding Holiday in Mexico".  Little did I know then what an impact this would have on my life.  The rest of the ad described seven nights in a luxurious hotel, all meals, and most importantly, 3 hours of daily riding instruction.  All of this was offered at a very reasonable price.  I eagerly sent an inquiry letter and received a speedy reply from Harold Black, owner of the Escuela Ecuestre in San Miguel de Allende.  I had no idea where San Miguel de Allende was other than Harold's description of 175 miles northwest of Mexico City - I couldn't even find it on a map.  However, I booked my flight to Mexico City and spent the first night in the hotel recommended by Harold on the Reforma.  The next day after a morning of sightseeing, I found my way to the bus station and headed for San Miguel.  This was my first trip to Mexico and I eagerly absorbed the sights, sounds and smells of the country as the bus sped its way down the highway.  It wasn't all lovely, though.  The bathrooms at the stop in Queretaro were unspeakably disgusting and I had many glimpses of poverty along the way, but the scenery was so foreign to me that I was fascinated.  I was a city girl from Chicago on a grand adventure.


At that time, the busses went right on into town on the Salida de Queretaro and down San Francisco.  The bus stop was across the street from Lloyd's.  I will never forget my first view of town as we passed the Mirador at sunset - it was to me one of the most beautiful pictures I had ever seen.  I took a taxi to the Rancho Hotel Atascadero where I would be spending the week.  Upon entering the dining room for cena I immediately connected with two women who were also beginning their week at the Escuela Ecuestre.  They were from Quebec and we are still friends to this day, although one of them passed away a few years ago. 


The next morning we met Harold. The equestrian program began with a theory lecture given by him.  He had a life-size model horse, saddled for demonstrating riding position.  There was an articulated desktop model horse that he designed plus various other teaching aids and charts.  We were somewhat impressed with his apparent knowledge of horses and riding, but we were more impressed with the interesting stories he had to tell.  He certainly was never at a loss for words.


After the 45-minute session we walked over to the riding area adjacent to the hotel.  Various horses were lined up tethered to a tie line and attended by a number of Mexican grooms dressed in khaki military-like uniforms.  There were probably only 6 or 7 of us riding – it was October and the low season for the Escuela.  Our first task was to “mount” a saddled oil drum, which was suspended between 4 posts.  A couple of grooms then rocked the “horse” back and forth to check our “seat” so as to get an idea of our riding abilities.  Horses were assigned and we were divided into two groups – beginners and others.  My Canadian friends and I fell into the “other” category even though they were both far more experienced than I was.  Harold was astride his very special black horse named “El Greco”.  Many of the horses were named after painters since Harold was also an artist.  Monday through Friday we would start with an amusing lecture by Harold. He particularly enjoyed talking about the psychology of the horse with many stories to illustrate his points.  Afterwards, we would have our class riding instructions consisting of dressage, jumping and formation riding plus occasional instruction on a longe line.  On Saturday we would head out into the countryside for a 3-hour cross-country ride with the grooms.  These were usually quite exciting and sometimes risky (jumping over cactus) and racing down the grass airstrip east of town.


 He came to Mexico from New York where he had worked as a medical illustrator.  He was also a ceramicist and sculptor.  His wife at the time, Lois Hobart Black, was a writer and photographer.  Harold was not a horseman when he arrived in Mexico but after becoming acquainted with some Mexicans in the military, he decided to take riding lessons with them.  He was so enthusiastic that he decided to open his own vacation riding school.  Lois opened an equestrian boutique called El Pegaso. (It is now the restaurant of the same name.)


I returned to the Escuela in 1971 for another vacation – two weeks this time.  Again, I had a fabulous time and continued to be enchanted with San Miguel.  In 1972, I decided to take a year off and spend it in San Miguel riding horses, if possible.  My friends from Quebec, whom I had met on the first trip, owned a summer horsemanship camp. When they heard of my plans, they invited me to spend the summer helping them with their camp.  I accepted and with my 7-year-old daughter and our Siamese cat, we had a marvelous time there and learned a lot about taking care of horses.  At the end of summer, we drove from there to San Miguel.  I had written to Harold and asked if I could work at the Escuela in return for riding.  He was vague in his answer but I was confident that something could be worked out.  Upon our arrival, I found a very nice rental in Atascadero.  As it turned out, Harold’s office girl, Sally, was about to get married and leave her job.  I was able to step right in since I had worked part time in secretarial type jobs throughout high school and college.  After a week or so, Harold just handed me the mail and I answered all the inquiries.  My total work time was about an hour a day in return for being able to ride every day with the paying customers.  Harold loved to be the center of attention and the guests always enjoyed his stories.  I was somewhat of a novice rider when I started riding at the Escuela, and pretty fearless, so I didn’t realize that Harold’s expertise left something to be desired.  Also, safety was not at the top of the list.  However, the majority of the riders had a wonderful equestrian holiday and many came back for more.  However, Harold was not especially good at running a business and eventually, the Escuela went out of business.  You can still see the ruins of the riding facilities near the Atascadero Hotel and near the Antiguo Camino Real where he built a small stable after moving from the Atascadero grounds. 


Harold was quite a character.  I found him to be outspoken, funny, creative, intelligent, annoying, stubborn, a heavy smoker, often crude, a womanizer and a dreamer.  His long-suffering wife, Lois, and I became friends and have stayed in touch all these years.  After divorcing from Lois, Harold had two more wives and many more adventures, I’m sure.  He passed away 8 or 9 years ago after a long bout with emphysema.                


 PROFILE of AUGUSTA IRVING 1908-1998        LANGUAGE AND THE LADY             by Sylvia Berek Rosenthal

She was small, almost birdlike in appearance and movement.  Always dressed for an occasion and carefully made up.  She always knew exactly where she was going and what she wanted to say.  And she said it almost too directly.

You knew her.  She was Augusta Irving and for many years she wrote that regular lead article in Atencion, "Worth Repeating".

In order to do this, Augusta read every Spanish diario available in San Miguel.  She culled those articles she felt were of interest and importance to gringos here.  She then translated those pieces into her own personalized, very recognizable English prose.  Augusta never used a common two syllable word when an uncommon four syllable word would do.  Her readers read her material as much for the style of her writing as for the news it provided.  Mess with her prose at your peril.  You could as lief try to correct Ring Lardner or William Shakespeare.

In her other life, back in New York City, Augusta sent a first short story to the New Yorker.  It was accepted.  Do you know of anyone else whose first short story was accepted by the New Yorker?  Accepted and then published.  And according to Augusta, they edited out "Augusta" and made it into a "New Yorker" story.  She never sent them another thing.

In 1953 Augusta came to San Miguel, looked around, learned the language, probably sowed a few wild oats and decided to make her home in what was then a very small town.  First order of business had to be a way to earn a living.  She totted up her skills, found what she felt was a need in this community and opened the first bilingual school here. 

It is hard now to describe the uniqueness of such an institution when it opened then.  It was probably the first school that truly served Mexican and foreign students.  And being the first was far from its only virtue.  Language always was the soul of life for Augusta.  She developed a program whose goal was to make her students fluent and literate in both Spanish and English.  To know how well she succeeded just ask any young folk who are former students.  They'll tell you in clear and accurate English and Spanish.

Augusta knew that to teach one must continue to learn.  As long as she ran her school she maintained contact with educational publishing houses in the States and in Mexico City.  She was constantly searching for better and more interesting ways to share knowledge with her students.  That did not mean she jumped on the bandwagon of every new educational fad that came into being.  She was always as  selective in her choice of educational materials for her school as she was in selection of written material for her own education and edification.

The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review always counted Augusta among their subscribers.  She was aware of what was being published and selectively ordered those books she deemed worthy.  Senora Irving was also an inveterate user of the Biblioteca which she helped found.  When a book was not up to her standards, she was quite critical and had been heard to comment, "Well the content is worth reading but, my dear, the writing is an abomination."

Augusta Irving had one other important skill that is totally irrelevant to her lifelong devotion to language.  She made the very best margarita in all of San Miguel.

we would be remiss if we did not refer you to Stirling Dickinson and San Miguel de Allende - read it by clicking on personalities

Objectives of this page:  

1 - to publish the memories of individuals regarding San Miguel for the last (perhaps) 30 years.

2 - this section will contain all "memories about old sma" that meet the criteria described in Instructions .   All memories will be published in the date order of receipt, with the latest ones on top (the oldest nearer the bottom). 



“Underpromise and Overdeliver”

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