Thursday, November 24, 2011

Shock and Awe

Most of Mexico's colonial past lies in the central highlands of the interior, from Oaxaca to Mexico City to Guadalajara.

Cobblestones, grand stone buildings, ironwork, pretty gardens and churches. Tons and tons of churches.

Big Dog is impressed with the speed at which the Spaniards built their impressive cities. Morelia was established less than 40 years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. And now, here we were in San Miguel de Allende, in front of a church they had started building in 1511. That's less than 20 years after Columbus landed in Hispaniola!

I am impressed with the scale. The grandeur of many of the colonial cities has not diminished over the centuries. It's impossible to imagine just how these missionaries were able to build such huge churches, with soaring domes and elaborate detail -- so early on.

There are churches, cathedrals, temples, monasteries and convents all over San Miguel de Allende. Humonguous Baroque and Neo-classical structures rise from every street. There must be more Houses of God here per square mile than anywhere else, I thought.

Why would the Spaniards spend so much time and resources erecting so many churches? My theory is that the missionaries wanted to shock and awe the natives. Perhaps they felt challenged by the Aztec temples. "If these pyramids are what they're used to building for their gods, we better amp it up or we'll never get converts!" "Yeah, our God should have an even more impressive house!"

Interestingly, Jesus is not always "Top Dog" or, rather, Top God in these places. In many of the churches I've entered, it was the Virgin who had the "seat of honor." Just as curious is the realism of the statues -- compared to the monochromatic marble saints of many European churches, the figures in many Mexican places of worship are exceedingly realistic. Like, wax museum realistic. (And can be downright gory!)

Yes, it's a blurry shot but you sort of get my drift, right?

We weren't sure we'd like San Miguel de Allende because of its reputation as some sort of gringo retirement town. An Americanized Mexican town didn't sound too attractive to us. In reality, there weren't nearly as many North Americans as we had expected. Where had they all gone? ("First, it was swine flu, then the economy and now the narcos," mused the American owner of Pizza Pig, a pizza restaurant on the main highway from Dolores Hidalgo. "You'll see a lot of Texan women here in the summer, though. They leave their husbands behind to work in the Texas heat.") At any rate, we wound up loving the place. It was just as our new friend in Guadalajara, Maria Elena, told us: small, beautiful, arty, clean and with perfect temps.

Beautiful quiet streets...

...and lovely homes.

Plus, I found my all-time favorite church here: La Parroquia, a towering, airy, gay-wedding-cake of a cathedral. How can something so huge, feel so light? I loved it even more when I found out that the facade was constructed by an indigenous bricklayer and self-taught architect who had never been to Europe -- he based the design on postcards and lithographs, adding in his own touches. It's elaborate, pink and heartbreakingly pretty -- enough to make me want to...convert to Catholicism?!
My photos can't do it justice!

It even gets a fireworks show!

We thought they were rowdy tourists climbing up for a better view of the town. Turned out to be electricians adjusting the angle of the lights on the church. "Glad I didn't follow them up there," said Big Dog.

Chili-covered jicama popsicles!

Off to his gig...

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