July 9, 2017

Simplicity, Minimalism and Contemporary Design in San Miguel

Simplicity is our byword. My wife and I live it every day in the choices we make about where to eat, shop, or simply relax. We do it by planning out our strategy for our daily activities. Our lives are much simpler and more manageable without a car, which we gave up 2 years ago in favor of a scooter to get us around town. If the sky looks dark and stormy or just pregnant with rain, we leave the scooter home and walk, knowing we can always take a bus or a taxi home if we feel worn out or if there’s a torrential downpour during the rainy season (roughly July to September).

In contrast to the traditional buildings and houses of San Miguel, our house is minimalistic and Euro-contemporary.  It’s made of brick and concrete covered with plaster and painted white inside with a mostly white exterior. It has an open layout on the ground floor. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are similarly constructed with mostly white exteriors. (Looking out from our rooftop terrace I’m struck by how much it resembles a village on a Greek island.) However, we made some modifications to the interior layout to make it more open with a clean, contemporary style.

Our preference for interior design is also minimalistic. We decided not to drill holes or put nails or screws in the walls whenever we could avoid it, so the kitchen has one long shelf and a free-standing unit and all dishes, utensils and food are in drawers.  Some of my paintings rest on the top of a long bookcase. In furnishings, we favor mid-century modern. This is also in contrast with the dominant décor of San Miguel’s casas, where the great majority of them are decorated in the traditional ornate and rustic Mexican style. (If you rent a house here you will most likely get that type of décor.)

The frustrating part of our minimalistic lifestyle is that good quality mid-century modern furniture is extremely hard to come by in Mexico, especially in San Miguel. There is a vintage furniture store in Mexico City that sells restored pieces (vintage-antic.mx), but as of this writing they have only a very limited inventory.

So if you have the same taste in décor, my advice is to bring pieces with you or plan to have them shipped to San Miguel.

If you are interested in hiring an architect to work with you on designing a contemporary house in San Miguel, check out these web sites. I can't personally recommend these architects but they have been recommended by people in SMA who have worked with them.



June 27, 2017

REQUIEM FOR A CITY: San Miguel's Changing Demographics

A word of caution to artists who want to come to San Miguel to make a career for themselves. The demographics of this city have changed drastically over the last 5 years, and most of the expats from the US and Canada who are coming here are not very interested in art, education or culture. Apparently, all the hype about San Miguel being the world's best city to visit (not to live in, mind you) has spurred people who are seeking the "good life" to come  here by the busload. Some of the latest evidence to confirm this – three serious Lifelong Learning classes scheduled for this July and August have just been cancelled due to low enrollment. A friend of mine who was offering acting for beginners starting in June could not find enough students to fill the class. And even the two anchor institutions, Bellas Artes and the Instituto Allende, seem to be offering fewer and fewer art classes. Ditto for individual artist who teach here.

The city's culture is suffering a rapid death by tourism.
So be advised, dear artists – if you are in your 30s, 40s or 50s and want to make a living as a teaching-artist, go elsewhere. Go to Europe. Go to Florence, Paris, Prague, Berlin, or Barcelona, but do not come to San Miguel. More and more, the city is a place for retirees living on social security and small pensions, and they are people who lack the means and/or the desire to buy art.

I regret sounding so gloomy and pessimistic, but that’s my perception of what’s happening here. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. The city is in serious cultural decline and I don’t see it recovering its former “magic” any time soon.

So this may be my last post. There’s nothing more to say about a dying city.

June 23, 2017

Painter or Artist?

"Anyone can learn to paint. Sometimes it seems that the less one is an artist the more easily and quickly one can acquire the superficial qualities of a painter."

-- Kimon Nicolaides in his book The Natural Way to Draw

April 17, 2017

The Economics of Life in San Miguel (Revised and Updated)


If you are planning to move to San Miguel for at least a year or more, do it as soon as possible. Rent prices are going up fast.  Rent for a decent 2 bedroom with studio space and a patio in the middle-class bohemian neighborhoods of San Antonio and Guadalupe used to go for around $4000 pesos. Now the same size houses are renting for $500-600 USD if you rent from gringos. Most expat landlords (and there are quite a few) are setting rents in dollars rather than pesos. That’s significant because of the strength of the dollar (now at 18 pesos). Obviously it’s a better deal if you can pay rent in pesos, which means renting from a Mexican owner. Soon even they will be renting in dollars, or dollar equivalents.

A recent development – expats are posting messages on Yahoo groups offering to pay up to $1000 USD and more for decent 2-bedroom apartments or small houses. Take a look at the postings on Craigslist for housing in Guanajuato and you’ll see what I mean.


The cost of a good meal in a decent restaurant is going up. A full-course broiled salmon lunch used to cost 140 pesos – it’s now 250 pesos. Tikka chicken at a curry house was 95 pesos and is now 150 pesos. Chicken parmaggiano at a family-run Olive Garden-type Italian restaurant is 120 pesos, but over 200 pesos at a finer place. Wine will cost at least 70 pesos a glass, beer 30 pesos minimum. Of course there are many small family-run restaurants where you can eat good authentic Mexican food for 50 to 100 pesos. A buffet in Centro charges 75 pesos for all you can eat. The one gringo-run restaurant exception is a popular place called Cafe Monet – a decent sandwich goes for 50 pesos and the daily special will set you back about 80 or 90 – they’ve held their prices down for years without compromising the quality of the food and the old world decor.

There are two major supermarkets in town, Soriana and La Comer (formerly called Mega). Their prices are inching up. You and your partner will spend an average of 900 pesos per week if you buy a lot of meat, 750 if you only buy chicken and fish for four meals. Plan to spend more if you want beer and wine. A six-pack of good Mexican cerveza goes for an average of 70 pesos. Table wine from Carlo Rossi is 95 pesos; anything else from California, Europe or South America is in the 150-250 peso range.


Good, durable clothing is hard to come by in San Miguel. At Liverpool, the Macy’s equivalent, you will pay 900 pesos for a pair of Dockers or Levis for men, 800 pesos for a shirt, and 800 pesos for Flexi shoes (excellent quality and made in Mexico). Women will have to pay considerably more. However, women can shop at consignment shops (there are many), but none for men for some odd reason. Every one, children and adults, can find an occasional bargain at the tianguis – a huge open market that is open once a week, and there are smaller markets in almost every neighborhood where you can shop 7 days a week.


San Miguel remains a relatively inexpensive place to live for artists, but this may not last much longer. The SOHO effect is taking hold here. Artists have made this city a truly wonderful place to live, and now the affluent are moving in and driving up prices.

February 4, 2017

Art and Politics in San Miguel

The San Antonio Art Walk takes place on the last weekend of this month (February). San Antonio is the neighborhood in San Miguel with the largest population of working artists. There are now 65 artists who are taking part in this annual event. Sixty-five! How many visitors can be expected per studio? Not that many. My guess is that some studios will get a lot and others not many at all. That's usually how it goes. 

These artists have formed some kind of association, with dues and by-laws and the delegation of tasks such as sending out press releases and coordinating of their preview party which this year is being held at a hotel (that's a lot of wine and a lot of pre-event kissing up and schmoozing with potential buyers -- my idea of hell on earth). Sounds like there's a lot of money and work involved for a two-day event with only a remote chance for sales. Personally, I prefer my independence and loathe being part of a club that will put demands on my time and involve a lot of politics. I hate politics. You can't have an organized group of 65 people without rules and fees and politics.

But here's the worst part -- these artists have nothing in common except for the fact that they all live in the same neighborhood. They are not like the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists, the Symbolists, the Surrealists, the Pre-Raphaelites, or, for that matter, the artists of the Italian Renaissance, because they are not united by a common set of principles, a common vision, or a raison d'etre of any kind. All they have in common is the fact that they live in the same neighborhood and want to sell art.

If artists are going to form associations, they should be based on supportive friendships and common beliefs, and they should be free of any business encumbrances. Money will poison the good fellowship of a group of creative artists. When money is involved in an enterprise of any kind, people become more selfish and the dynamics of power come into play. In this respect, artists are no different from other people.  

January 9, 2017

Death of an Artist

I read yesterday of the death of one of San Miguel’s more serious artists, a Mexican who was well regarded and well loved, from what I’ve heard. Even though I’ve never met him, I was deeply saddened by this news, especially because there are precious few truly serious artists left in San Miguel these days. But also because his death was sudden and no doubt he was working on a project that will remain forever unfinished. All passionately creative artists have more ideas than they can possibly put onto canvas, and we must all one day have our creative energy abruptly terminated by death. One day our creative output will be cut off and we will have painted our last picture and have no time left to say all we had wanted to say. It is not a pleasant thought -- it is in fact a very grim thought, but it should move us to produce all that we can in whatever time we have left.  

December 8, 2016

Beauty and the Soul

Great beauty produces a rapture in the soul, and in the soul of an artist this rapture is more intense than it is in the soul of the average individual. When the artist produces a work of art which he considers to be beautiful it is because he is experiencing the rapture of the soul which compels him to express these emotions in his art. I’m sure Van Gogh felt this rapture when he looked upon a starry night. Gauguin must have felt it in Tahiti when he saw the harmony of man and nature. I feel this heightened rapture of the soul when I look at a young girl who is innocently unselfconscious of her loveliness.

Proverbial wisdom tells us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there is an undeniable universal beauty in the world masterpieces of art, music, theater, and dance. We can define a masterpiece as that which has the universal power and beauty to move us more profoundly than an “ordinary” work of art. Great beauty stirs the soul to unknown depths of rapture while at the same time raising it to new heights of enlightenment. In short, great beauty is an enigma that moves the soul in ways we cannot understand.

October 30, 2016

The Day of the Dead in San Miguel

Art works in honor of Dia de Los Muertos should emphasize the spiritual over the commercial. Much of the art work I’m seeing around town is much more commercial than it should be. It is dead art. Caterinas, painted skulls, and skeletons abound. Is this respectful to the sacred tradition of the holiday? Families get together to make flowers and use them to adorn altars, they gather at home or at el cementerio to remember their departed loved ones, they DO NOT dance around with someone dressed up as a Catrina, and to multiply these Catrina figures (a skeleton dolled up as a tawdry female, for those who don’t know) does a terrible disservice to the spiritual beliefs of the occasion. You might even go as far as to call it sacrilegious. As art in honor of the day, it is all rather tasteless.

Other subjects related to the holiday are more imaginative and meaningful. Take, for example, my painting “Making Flowers for the Day of the Dead” (see below). I painted this while I was still living in Zacatecas, a city, I am happy to say, that has eschewed or at least avoided the commercialism of San Miguel in this regard. The image is of three women, an old woman and her granddaughters, making flowers to be used on an altar. The old woman looks directly at the viewer because she is prepared for and willing to face Death, who is not in the picture but should be understood to be standing before the group. The two younger women look askance, over their shoulders because they sense the presence of Death but are not ready or willing to face him – it is not their time.

                                                “Making Flowers for the Day of the Dead”

September 28, 2016

The Starving Artist's Restaurant Guide

Let me begin by saying this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to the economical places to eat in San Miguel, but rather a selective list based on my own personal preferences. Artists in San Miguel who are on a limited budget due to retirement or simply because they are starting out in their careers and don’t have much income are always on the look-out for restaurants that offer good value for the peso.

I grew up in a family that prided itself on good home cooking. My grandparents were immigrants from Southern Italy who had done well for themselves in the US and could afford to eat out but preferred to their own cooking to the cuisine offered by most Italian-American restaurants in their home town of Hartford, Connecticut. They ate well at home during the Great Depression, and passed their expertise on to their six children. My parents continued the traditions. So I am very picky when it comes to eating out and refuse to pay more than I need to for a good meal. I don’t need to sit at a table with a white tablecloth, be served by waiters in white shirts and black bow ties, or need to have a fancy atmosphere with Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” playing over the sound system. Just give me good food for a fair price and I’m happy!

As a struggling writer in Montreal in the 1970s, I ate at the many restaurants in the Mile End and St. Denis area that offered wholesome ethnic foods from Eastern Europe as well as the standard French Canadian grub such as bean soup, meat pies, and poutine. I stayed away from anything that resembled the haute cuisine of France for financial as well as dietary reasons.

Okay, so what does San Miguel have to offer in the way of cheap restaurants with good food? Here’s my list:

MEXICAN ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT BUFFETS. These are run by families. The food is home-cooked in the traditional style of real Mexican food. You will usually find chicken or vegetable soup, mole, chicken tinga, pork dishes, eggs, beans and rice, nopales, a fried dish with potatoes, a green salad with many raw veggies, tortillas and a rich pudding for dessert. All you can eat for 65 to 80 pesos per person.

POLLO FELIZ (HAPPY CHICKEN). A national chain that is Mexico’s answer to Colonel Sanders, and much healthier! One-half a barbecued chicken with tortillas for 46 pesos.

LA COMER. A large commercial supermarket with an excellent deli that serves chicken, fish, chile rellenos, various other hot meals as well as many vegetables and rice. Tables for dining are at the front of the store.

EL ITACATE MEXICAN GRILL. Located in SMA’s mall, La Luciernaga, this restaurant has pozole, burgers, flautas, quesadilla, and other traditional foods. Nice atmosphere, friendly staff. Average price: 75 pesos.

CAFÉ MONET. Located on the fringe of Centro, this place has good soups, omelets, sandwiches, meats, and daily specials. Wonderful atmosphere with Victorian-style furniture, many original paintings, and a baby grand piano. Friendly staff. They haven’t raised their modest prices (70 pesos on average) in 8 years.

MANY SMALL RESTAURANTS AND CAFES RUN BY FAMILIES. These eateries are located all over the city and they offer basic home-style fare in a no-frills atmosphere. Mexican equivalent of the American neighborhood coffee shop.  

September 24, 2016

Back Under the Radar

I am writing this with a pen dipped in acid. I am writing from a hotel in Queretaro, a large city of some sophistication about an hour from San Miguel. I am in Queretaro because I need a break from the glutted San Miguel art scene. Queretaro has plenty of authentic Mexican culture and relatively few gringos. There are too many tourists coming to San Miguel who have no interest in art. The city is overflowing with them. They are arriving by the busload, and they are coming because they read the hype published in high-end travel magazines as well as prestigious publications like Forbes, the New York Times and the LA Times. Starry-eyed travel writers are barking “San Miguel is a gem, an oasis of art, a hipster heaven . . .” blah, blah, blah, like a herd of bull seals. And so we serious artists who are full-time residents are the ones who are suffering the most because our voices are being overpowered by the tourist babble. Enough already. Basta! Let San Miguel have some peace for a change! Let it slide back under the radar, if that’s possible.