The main point is that the history of Mexico is so much more interesting than the history of Canada. When Hernán Cortés arrived from Spain in 1519, he had exactly 550 men, 16 horses, attack dogs—and cannons. The first thing he did was to burn his own ships on the beach at Veracruz—so there would be no thought of retreat. The second thing he did was to tell his men that one remained for those who wanted to leave—a good way to separate the men from the boys since, in fact, there was no ship.
Beetles, that bug suitable along tortuous streets, there are the huge satellite dishes adorning the baked roofs, thus bringing in the vitally important NCAA basketball playoffs and the hot news of whether the Borisand-Bill Show will in fact impact in Vancouver, or whether the guy in the Kremlin has this hour been impeached, beheaded or what. One thinks of the hooks on the comer of the museum and ponders.
There are, in the civic square, beautifully sculpted trees-disguised-as-bushes, all clipped and nourished as beautiful as dessert on a plate in a designer restaurant. Across from the square is a quite intriguing edifice, a soaring parish church, by a self-trained Indian architect, which in its frothy pink facade has a strange resemblance to Gaudi’s famous unfinished cathedral in Barcelona. With the TV dishes and the Beetles, it makes quite a town.
This is still—those hooks on the museum—a Third World country, three times the population of Canada with one of the earth’s most populous cities, smogshrouded Mexico City. There are claims that 23 journalists have “disappeared” in the last two years as the dispute grows over NAFTA—which may still get the shaft from Democratic dissidents in the Clinton Congress.
There is a chap, white of hair, bom in Saskatchewan, who serves breakfast tortillas filled with chopped onions and salt. He points out that this is a proven institution that goes back about 3,000 years before the Aztecs that Cortés thought he had conquered but in fact never did. In the tortilla, which his maid mashes out and puts lightly on the stove, is lime—the same binding quality used in cement. It is, he explains, why the Mexicans have such good teeth.
The town is a great mecca for Canadian artists, Toni Onley and Roy Kiyooka being in a recent exhibit. Leonard Brooks and his photographer wife, Reva, arrived here in 1947 after his “down and out in Paris” period. More than 200 of his paintings rest in vaults in the National War Museum in Ottawa.
Two beautiful blondes transcend, from the Great White North, dazzling the man with the white hair who claims to know about the 3,000-year genius of plaster that makes your teeth go white.
And in San Miguel, on Saturday night, there is advertised at the Angela Peralta Theatre an evening called Scroobyton—a cast of “30 actors, including three small boys, a dog and four horses.”
Sounds like Cortés to me.
The second point is that Spain at the time had a population of less than eight million; the population of central Mexico alone was estimated at 25 million and Cortés, with his cannons and guns against arrows and spears, overwhelmed the whole land of the Aztecs and Mayas. In all of Mexico, there is not a single statue of Cortés.
We are in San Miguel de Allende, in the mountains several hours north of Mexico City, an old town where the air tastes like ambrosia and perhaps enjoys the best yearround climate on this festered globe.
The third interesting point is that in the nearby state capital of Guanajuato, there are hooks hanging on the corners of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas Museum. That is where the Spanish Royalists, in 1811, hung the decapitated heads of the celebrated leaders of Independence who were inspired by the French and American revolutions— Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez.
So determined were the Spaniards on signalling the dangers of rebellion to the population that they brandished the heads for 10 years until Mexico, despite such threats, finally won its independence from Spain a decade later. A visitor only longs for such emulation in Ottawa these many decades later.
One must understand that San Miguel is the last home of the Beetle. This is, it seems, one of the few places on earth that has not junked the environmentally suspect little bug that was the answer to every college stu-
dent’s dream. Hitler’s creation, the wagon for the volks, fits perfectly in the narrow streets which, thanks to the cobblestones, limit all traffic to 18 m.p.h.
Because of the climate, the air you can taste on your tongue before it descends to your lungs, there are an estimated 1,500 Canadians hiding in their villas behind the bland street facades. Most of them are encountered at the same cocktail parties, all of them asking how do you spell Queen Kim.
An aged and once-powerful Ottawa mandarin attacks your innocent agent over tequila, demanding an explanation and an apology for something the alleged author never remembers having penned. We put it down to “altitude attitude,” the common local explanation for the fact that visitors, not accustomed to sudden elevation to 6,500 feet, have an uncommon stultification of the brain.
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