My Colonia and Welcome to It

I live in the coolest neighborhood in all of Mexico. Unlike Condesa, it will never make the pages of Condé Nast Traveler. It will never call itself an art district like San Miguel de Allende’s Guadalupe.  It’s far more exclusive than Buenos Aires’ Palermo Viejo and San Telmo. It’s too cool for that.

Greenwich Village of the 1950s and Williamsburg (the one in Brooklyn, not the one that’s always prefaced by “Colonial” in Virginia) meet the Hill Country here. We’re the place everyone in Morelia loves. We’re the place where everyone would love to live.

One visitor likened the village to Montmartre, the city on a hill overlooking Paris and known for bohemians and fast and loose living back in the day. We are the hill with a view of the city, and our neighborhood was known in times of yore as the place where you could get things done that just couldn’t be as easily accomplished in the city.  The local priests were known for creative workarounds to problems that faced someone wanting to baptize a bastard child or solemnize a marriage prohibited by the Catholic Church. And one priest, a very well-liked one within the memory of those younger than you are, even openly maintained a woman with whom he’d sired a child. Squint real, real hard, and maybe, just maybe, you could imagine Montmartre.

Instead of Hasidic Jews and French dwarfs roaming the streets, we’ve got nuns in various habits.

I’d love for my neighborhood to be central Mexico’s Usaquen, but that’s not going to happen in my lifetime.

We roll up the sidewalks at night.  It’s a place where only the rats and rateros roam after dark.  And the velador blasting his whistle as he passes by after midnight.

It’s the kind of place where door-to-door vendors, selling garbanzos from a plastic bucket and pan de rancho, collide with the Testigos de Jehovah.  You can buy pulque on the plaza, along with pirated versions of the latest movies. It would not be unusual to encounter a crazy man wearing nothing but a shower curtain walking down a side street in the middle of the afternoon. Or Pepe, a dual diagnosis kind of guy, asking “Mil pesos for Pepe” and proclaiming that he’s going to Europe as he boards a bus for the Centro Historico.

Soon-to-be quinceaneras practice their choreographed dance with their chambelanes in the driveway under street lamps in the early evening. In the days preceding the fiesta patronal on August 15, some families will build small bonfires in braziers on the street, drinking ponche in the early evening. There’s practically not a block in the hood where someone isn’t selling pozole, tacos or tamales out of a living room. We had puertas cerradas, or closed-door restaurants, long before they become fashionable.

Subcomandante Marcos has spent a few nights in this neighborhood, bunking in some like-minded household.

Church bells mark the time of day. Heavy populated by the university crowd, there’s a PAN component, too.

The artists have been, and are still, here, but they’re the kind who ply their trade for a living instead of just doing the talk and painting en plein air. The late Don Shoemaker, and later his son George, brought steady employment to the hill making furniture. Shoemaker was the Spratling of Morelia, and his name remains revered. The late sculptor Enrique Alferez divided his time between here and New Orleans. Mizraim Cárdenas lives and creates in the neighborhood.

It’s got the second oldest church in all of Morelia, the one where none other than Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon was baptized. Why his mother schlepped him all the up here from downtown is beyond me.

It’s got stores, if you’re after groceries. No less than six kinds of olive oil lurk on the back shelves of Super Leyva, but you’ll have to ask for it. Carambola and grape tomatoes can be had at the fruterias, but the striped eggplant’s tucked away, available only upon request. That can make getting the makings for imam bayaldi not unlike a drug deal. You gotta know who to ask. Pan de leña (bread baked over a wood fire) and tortillas hecho a mano can be had every day of the week.

What you won’t find here is glitz. Coffee shops have opened and closed. More Nescafe is drunk here than Brazil Bourbon Santos. There are no boutiques, unless you’d want to count the small shops selling pure polyester, imported directly from Moroleon. Or plastic toys and cheap fake designer purses straight from China.  But that doesn’t really matter, because our denizens who have better wear old clothes at home and on the street. This isn’t the kind of place where you’ll impress anyone.

Politicians, bureaucrats, expats, and poor folk, and just plain folks like you and I inhabit this corner of the city where you’ll see a Mercedes sharing a one-way street with a donkey and a low-rider. More than a few Estadounidense friends visiting here for the first time wondered if we were down on our luck for landing here. We just consider ourselves damn privileged for getting to live in what was formerly known as Santa Maria de los Altos and  is now known as Santa Maria de Guido.

There is no place else like Santa Maria de Guido.