To the west and south of Parque Juárez, precipitous, rocky hills rise on which mansions have been built. A guide on the Biblioteca Sunday House Tour called this area "the Beverly Hills of San Miguel." Please.
This oldest part of our city, El Chorro, does indeed contain many fine homes and huge old trees. Stately, shady and quiet.
It also contains the Cultural Center, at the top of the switchbacks of a steep street.
This late 19th-Century building houses an organization that promotes and teaches traditional arts to San Miguel residents. Here people practice dance, piano, and guitar. Or they paint or sculpt or attend lectures.
Throughout the day, I hear the sound of the center's unusual clock bell announcing the quarter-hour. Clank-clunk; the sound is inelegant but comfortably familiar.
Many terraces cascade down the hillside. The traditional image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is rendered in cantera in this pocket garden. A statue of Juan Diego, his tilma filled with Castilian roses, kneels nearby.
No important public place is without its image of Guadalupe.
I visited the Cultural Center because my friend Anamaria's paintings were to be included in a juried show here. Part of the gallery is accessible only by passing beneath a very low arch. I had to bend double to get through.
Rocks protruding through the floor and walls are part of the stony cliff on which the center was built. Much Mexican architecture has a charming ad-hoc quality.
Anamaria's paintings, shown here, won no awards. But this was her first-ever showing. For the most part, her competitors in the judging were professional painters.
I've written before about the Disneyfication of Mexico. This entry shows that the phenomenon is creeping into what is supposed to be serious art.
What the center is really about is providing a place for people to work, to do projects relating to local culture. Here some boys are rolling a Day of the Dead image for transportation. It will probably be hung on the iron fence in front of the Parroquoia next week.
Meanwhile, a girl puts finishing touches on a Katrina, taking advantage of one of the center's many terraces to spread out. The center provides the materials for these activities.
Mostly middle- and upper- class young people use this place. The enrichment they receive here would benefit the poorer kids in the barrios at least as much, but the latter probably would feel unwelcome here, if they even knew about the center. Instead, they satisfy their artistic urges with spray paint on walls.
The west-facing arcade provides a warm, sunny place to work on a cool afternoon. Guitar music drifts outside through the auditorium doors on the right.
When I walked by the Cultural Center for the first time some years ago, I heard a scratchy recording playing 1940s-era Mexican big band music. Couples in period costume were dancing on one of the patios. It was magic.
It is one of San Miguel's jewels, part of the rich experience of living here.