Our blue planet 50 years ago

Access to Emergence Magazine’s film Earthrise has been lingering in the mail on my computer awaiting a time when I had space to view and consider its importance.

Earthrise

“Earthrise tells the story of the first image captured of the Earth from space in 1968. Told solely by the Apollo 8 astronauts, the film recounts their experiences and memories and explores the beauty, awe, and grandeur of the Earth against the blackness of space. This iconic image had a powerful impact on the astronauts and the world, offering a perspective that transcended national, political, and religious boundaries. Told 50 years later, Earthrise compels us to remember this shift and to reflect on the Earth as a shared home.” (Emergence Magazine)

Thoughts and feelings range over a wide spread as I sit today Monday September 16, 2019 watching and listening to this remarkable film created from the accidental documentation of a significant event in the history of my time on earth. Some members of the crew of Apollo 8 resisted photography on the mission, their orders did not include capturing images of the earth, they were only to photograph the moon and her craters in detail. The iconic image was the result of a spontaneous response to the beauty when they viewed earth rising over the moon’s horizon.

The astronauts’ reflections on their emotional responses to the blue planet image, on their hopes for the impact this image might have on the people who inhabit that blue planet, their dreams of a time when we might come together as earth inhabitants regardless of the boundaries we have placed between countries and peoples, landed hard on my heart as I thought of the current reality of our ecological and political environments. I listened to these three men and wondered what they might say now to the current President of the United States. How they might applaud Greta Thunberg’s clear speaking about the climate change we are now living in. What they might say to the leadership of the political parties electioneering in our own country, Canada, about the need to come together united in the common imperative that the survival of life as we know it on this blue planet is no longer a certainty.

With all this I simply find myself wanting to share this remarkable documentary widely and encourage others to take the thirty minutes needed to watch it and perhaps share in my experience of deepening love for our blue planet and my desire to reach out across all our artificial boundaries sharing that love in action to preserve her for the seven generations yet to come.

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another turn around the sun

Every year my birthday rolls around in mid May, another year another labyrinth, drawn and walked on a beach somewhere. This practice has been central to my birthday celebration since the mid 1990’s. I started the practice when I lived in Kitsilano on the West Side of Vancouver marking and walking my labyrinths at Spanish Banks in the days before Burrard Inlet was choked with freighters. In those days there were pleasant sandy flats at low tide, ideal for labyrinth drawing and walking, and I was a regular ocean swimmer there. Things have changed as I noticed in early May this year. I had to be careful not to get sucked into the mud on my way to what I hoped was a sand bar, only to find a mud slurry almost as soft and sinky as the one I had just squelched through. Not to be deterred I drew a pre-birthday labyrinth, because I was there and because it felt important to honour the memory of so many of my earlier labyrinths.

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When I left Vancouver and moved to the K’ómoks Valley I drew and walked my birthday labyrinths on the wide expanse of sandy beach and open sandbars at Kye Bay.

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Kye Bay Beach, Comox, BC

Now living in Victoria for my last two birthdays, Willows Beach has held me for the drawing and walking of my birthday labyrinth.

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Willows Beach, Oak Bay, BC May 2018

This year it was late in the afternoon before the tide was out sufficiently to offer me a strip of moderately dry but firm sand for this annual ritual. Part of the ritual is to find a stick on the beach, and there is always the perfect stick within easy distance. Drawing carefully beginning with the + mark, I added a chevron at each corner, and a dot allowing enough space for a moderate pathway to accommodate a comfortable walking width. Beginning at the top of the + I marked a wide circle ending at the vertical of the first chevron to the right thus setting my entrance point on the right. Connecting chevron to dot, dot to chevron and horizontal + to horizontal + eventually an eight circuit classic labyrinth design is achieved.

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Taking time to breathe in the fresh ocean air, the lovely expanse of water dotted with islands, noticing the quiet broken by a small motor boat moving slowly across the horizon, the murmur of gulls, my body awareness sank down into the soft sandy ground giving me a sense of rootedness in this place. As often happens there were a couple of casual observers, one who walked by twice declining my invitation to join me, the other who walked by then sat at a distance on a log watching the scene and perhaps me although by then I was ready to enter the otherworldly space of my labyrinth walk.

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My practice is simple. Walk in with intention to drop away the day’s/week’s/year’s excess of thought, planning, busy mindedness, arriving at the centre with space to allow a resting and observing. Here my intention shifts to open curiosity as to what the labyrinth might bring this time. I may or may not have gathered pebbles, shells, wood, feathers, or other beach treasures on my walk in which I then place at the centre. I may or may not turn to the four directions, the sky above and the earth below. I may or may not raise my arms wide to embrace the space around me. I may or may not receive a distinct clear call while in the centre. The decision to begin my walk out of the labyrinth arises from within me, my gaze is drawn back to the line on the sand and my feet begin to retrace their path. Sometimes clarity of thought comes during the walk out, sometimes it arrives as I step off the path and turn again to face the centre. This year the message came during the walk out through the soles of my feet in contact with the ground inviting a celebration of the beginning that each turn of my birth year offers. A beginning to a year of my choosing. A beginning that carries refreshed intention and commitment to myself. A sacred trust to live fully and gratefully into the days ahead of me.

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reflections on a residency

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On Sunday I had the privilege of participating in a post-residency talk with Barbara Bickel and R. Michael Fisher of Studio M* exploring what we have learned and are continuing to learn from the work of my winter residency with them (see blog posts January 3 and 13).  A recording of this conversation becomes #13 in a series of Parallel Recordings co-created by Barbara and Michael and found on the Studio M* website.

Since returning from my Mexico trip in March, I have been very focused on researching and thinking about what we are currently referring to in Canada as ‘reconciliation’. It is clear to me that my role as a settler, immigrant, white, privileged Canadian is to find my own way to contribute to this process. I have chosen to do this through art and a continuation of the work I began in Calgary. I am engaged in a collaborative arts-based research project with the intention of healing my own relationship to the history of this country in which I have chosen to spend most of my life.

I am a follower of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings a buffet of elegantly written email messages that brings writers and books current and past into my inbox. I don’t always read the emails, and was so glad I did last week as I discovered an issue full of gifts in wise words from Rebecca Solnit and Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Solnit captures the essence of my intention for this project when she says: “key to the work of changing the world is changing the story”. This expresses the core of my desire to contribute to changing the colonizer story of how Canada was settled, by changing my own internal story. I believe that by decolonizing my own attitudes, opinions and beliefs, through art in the broadest sense of the word, I can change how I respond to the opportunities offered by ‘reconciliation’, and possibly become a resource or inspiration for other settlers to do the same.

“Finding the words is another step in learning to see,” bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in reflecting on what her Native American tradition and her training as a scientist taught her about how naming confers dignity upon life. ‘If to name is to see and reveal — to remove the veil of blindness, willful or manipulated, and expose things as they really are — then it is in turn another step in remaking the world, another form of resistance to the damaging dominant narratives that go unquestioned’. …. ‘once you know what you’re facing, you’re far better equipped to know what you can do about it.’

My current thinking has been influenced by Paulette Regan’s book ‘Unsettling the Settler Within’ from which I am gleaning much needed information and perspective helping me to see some new truths and use new language in naming the nature of indigenous/non-indigenous history in Canada. Regan brings forward a compelling argument about the ways in which the historical narrative of the dominant culture has created and continues to support the myth of what she refers to as the ‘benevolent peacemaker’. This greater depth of information and understanding is important I believe, if we are to move beyond the somewhat legalistic approach to ‘reconciliation’ which currently seems to characterize Canadian thinking. I have also found it very instructive in identifying ways in which those of us committed to our own reconciling work can find our own way to action and not simply rely on government agencies and institutions to do the work of ‘reconciliation’.

Regan suggests that the ‘benevolent peacemaker’ myth arose from the  comparison between Canada’s approach to treaty making and the US history of Indian wars. This somewhat dubious but convenient line of thought is used to shore up the untruths that prevail concerning what happened during colonization in Canada. These untruths can still be found in Canadian history books, and programs such as the award winning CBC documentary series “Canada: A People’s History” aired in 2000 and 2001, and the 2017 mini-series “Canada: The Story of Us” made for Canada 150 which CBC claimed “celebrates how we transformed differences into understanding and created a unique national identity”. To give them credit the CBC did apologize for this huge cultural mis-step after an enormous public outcry, however it does point to the need for a much deeper education on what a decolonizing process needs to look like.

Regan’s text takes me on a ride of optimism and despair. She quotes Brian Titley an historian’s comments that in the context of settlement and treaties it is settler attitudes of arrogance, contempt, denial, fear and guilt which were and are the hallmark of Canadian government policies and programs inflicted on indigenous peoples.  The denial of racism is a major impediment to meaningful ‘reconciliation’ in Canada, yet we all know the story of Colten Boushie. We need more than apologies and financial settlements to move us into a new narrative. As I edit this post on the morning of May 23 I hear that our Prime Minister is in Saskatchewan today to ‘exonerate’ Chief Poundmaker of the Cree nation of the treason for which he was imprisoned 130 years ago. There is such irony in this occurring in the very province where a young Cree man was shot and killed by a settler farmer simply for being on the farmer’s land.  The award winning documentary
about this Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up is currently touring Canada.

One encouraging note from a national benchmark survey is the finding that 67% of Canadians believe that individuals have a role to play in bringing about full reconciliation. The question then is how can we as individuals participate meaningfully in the process?

I am beginning by researching and at this stage my art is in my writing. I am encouraged by the words of Toni Morrison who in a 2013 speech at Vanderbilt University said “I am a writer and my faith in the world of art is intense but not irrational or naïve. Art invites us to take the journey beyond price, beyond costs into bearing witness to the world as it is and as it should be. Art invites us to know beauty and to solicit it from even the most tragic of circumstances. Art reminds us that we belong here. And if we serve, we last. My faith in art rivals my admiration for any other discourse. Its conversation with the public and among its various genres is critical to the understanding of what it means to care deeply and to be human completely. I believe.”

In Unsettling the Settler Within, Chapter 2 Rethinking Reconciliation I was caught by a quote: ‘….as currently envisioned, reconciliation is actually a huge obstacle to justice and real peacemaking…the blame for this lies with………. those settlers whose ignorance and wilful denial of our historical reality detract from any possibility of meaningful discussion on true reconciliation’

those settlers
whose wilful denial
of historical reality
detract from
any possibility
of meaningful exchange
on the truth
about the progress
of reconciliation

there is rhythm
in these words
like the drum beat
in the circle
sets the heartbeat
for the song

there is learning
for this settler
in the research
deeply studied
articulated
eloquently framed

reading, learning,
teaching, listening
these days the
journey moves me inside
my own internal landscapes
need to be explored

the years I’ve spent in Canada
as immigrant 
and mother,
as wife 
and friend,
student
 and teacher,
as leader and as follower
curious and questioning
listening, wondering,
seeking and asking
for a truth I understand

I call myself a witch
follow celtic pagan teachings
feel resonance in ways they ask me
to relate to mother earth
finding in the teachings
of indigenous relations
ancient wisdom and medicine
familiar yet new

artist, woman identified as queer
gender bending far beyond
traditions of my youth
constraints and limitations
set by culture of my ancestors
cast to the winds
no longer relevant to the life I seek to live

new foundations now define me
supporting change in many ways
aging has become a friend
a time when crowded memories
from length of life richly led
with love and hope
now hold me strong
with kinder gentler gaze

settler colonizer
are labels I attend to
harsh words yet strong
push me leaning fiercely
into truths denied
a laser beam illuminating change

within me lives the product
of my heritage
the English girl
shaped and trained in
Euro-centric thought
my culture is the culture
of the colonizer
the treaty maker

more truthfully named
the treaty breaker
imposing systems
foreign and unknown
to eliminate indigenous
rights and culture
steal lands and resources
all in the name of
benevolent peacemaker

to re-name, re-vision
re-write the story
this now is my work
my quest and my commitment
to find the place within
from which I can arise
emergent, open willing to engage
in meaningful reciprocal
healing and change

noticing my thoughts
watching my responses
observing their nature
questioning the underlying
values and beliefs
from which they form

sensing shifts in
long held core foundations
of influence, attitude,
opinions and beliefs,
I catch a glimpse of
something new in me

someone who can watch herself
and catch herself in time to seed
her own response
in newly fertile ground

I have no definition for
true reconciliation
the dictionary presents
two different views
is this the
‘restoration of friendly relations’
or is it the
‘action of making one view or belief 
compatible with another’

the former sounds less complex
the latter more a challenge
do we have the will, desire and skill
to honestly, determinedly
reach out to one another
on the warp of new relations
in the twenty-first century
and weave the weft of Canada
with threads of heartfelt truths

During the conversation last Sunday with Barbara and Michael, I was challenged with the question of how the research I am doing both anthropological and arts-based, can make a difference in the dominant culture. I have a deep faith that learning to reclaim our relationship to the earth is a way to shift the beliefs behind actions on the economy, social/cultural/environmental policies, climate change, and indigenous/settler relationships. The process of art opens us to the healing available in that relationship and in the ancestral medicine and teachings of indigenous peoples. Through my collaboration with an indigenous friend/artist/elder in training, I am learning from the teachings of the elders, and the teachings of the land. Honouring and re-membering the original peoples through my art in the present, this is the medicine for my healing. My work is driven by the desire to find the truth for myself in the complex and enduring cultural rift that exists between indigenous and non-indigenous populations in this country. As Dame Iris Murdoch observed “A motive for change in art has always been the artist’s own sense of truth.”

Barbara proffered that the artist is a distiller and as such I have been weaving ancestral threads  in my art practice since the first piece I created as a co-researcher on her PhD dissertation team in 2007. That piece is a map of the UK mounted on board, with woven rope, rocks and shells from the beach at my mother’s home on the South coast of England, and a frieze of wording around the edge ‘we are ancestral threads in the eternal weaving of our ancestors’. She pointed out the connectivity between the art of my current research focus evolving from the residency, with the art produced in a residency in 2010 at Artscape Gibraltar Point, Toronto Islands. In 2010 I was distraught at the oil spill created by the Deepwater Horizon accident and used found plastic objects from the beach to create Oil Catcher. In 2019 I used found feathers and a found embroidery hoop to create a piece evoking the connections between people and the land in Great Horned Owl. The themes of the circle, the web, red thread, symbols of culture and nature all appear in both pieces.

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Oil Catcher 2010

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Great Horned Owl 2019

Barbara’s long time influence as my art mentor and collaborator, is now enriched by Michael’s input as artist/co-creator/teacher/guide. We three are now co-presencing, co-becoming with each other within the holding place that is Studio M*. Weaving our individual and collaborative threads into a web of restorative and creative exchange for healing and transformation.

In response to Michael’s invitation for any final observations on the call, I said: “I’m very aware of my privilege to be here, now, healthy, able, well-resourced and supported, with time to actually dedicate to doing this work. I recognize that this is not a process that is going to fit for others, I’m not suggesting that, what I’m hoping will come from this process is some thing(s) or happenings that will be a resource for others to pull them into their own process of curiosity, bringing healing around this big rift in our country, that really needs to be healed if we are to look optimistically at change on many levels in the future.”

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An unsettling time

Spending time in Vancouver I find myself drawn to nourishing pursuits that serve to bring me in closer touch with myself and to seek out opportunities to spend time with nature and art.

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I have been staying in the West End enjoying the Stanley Park lagoon a truly beautiful place of sanctuary and peace amidst the hum of traffic on the causeway.

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The days have been quite cool and overcast bringing a grey cast to the atmosphere, until this morning when clear blue skies and sun greeted me on my morning walk.

Today my feet led me away from the lagoon towards the seawall walk around the marina, where my thoughts led me to memories of this place in the ’60’s and ’80’s. In 1968 I was working as an office manager in Toronto for a Chicago based hearing aid manufacturer, Ultra Sonic Hearing Aids. The company owner – I don’t recall his name – took me along on a business trip to Vancouver and we stayed at the Bayshore Inn. This morning my eyes searched the buildings around the marina seeking the outline of the original Bayshore, before the tower, before it became the Westin Bayshore, before the Georgia Street development, before, before, before!! I could not be sure of it from my seawall vantage point, nor could I recreate in my mind the image I remembered of the marina in the ’80’s when my good friends Jim and Jane had their first power boat moored there a few steps away from the Bayshore.

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The view this morning was of hundreds of craft moored inside hundreds of identical blue boatsheds, or on open docks. The pathway I was walking on is now divided offering space for walkers/runners and a separate path for cyclists and other wheeled personally powered conveyances. I saw no birds other than gulls on the marina, the water tidal though it is was skunky and a bit smelly, mud, rock the occasional shell, certainly not an abundance of life in those waters. This city skyline is indeed beautiful, an example of urban development that rivals many large cities of the world. The location beside the ocean and the mountains is spectacular. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see this place before Vancouver became the ‘world class’ city it is today.

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I walked to the totem poles where I found the sculpture carved by Stz’uminus master carver, Ts’uts’umult Luke Marston. The piece depicts Portuguese Joe Silvey from the Azores around 1860 and his two wives the first pqaltan:at of Musqueam and Squamish descent, the second Luke’s great-great-grandmother Kwatleematt a Shishå1h (Sechelt) nation matriarch. The family lived at what is now known as Brockton point, called Spapayaq in Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh, and P’ápeyek’ in Squamish languages.

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From that point on everything I saw, felt and experienced on my walk was through a different lens. I felt the presence of the first people’s on this land. I saw the trees as aged beings, witness to hundreds of years of change. I imagined the natural contours of the ground, the earth, the rocks, the low growth, the beaches the ocean with no pavement or rock wall or sea defences. I saw the North shore with no industry, no piles of sulphur or lime, instead thickly forested with the mixed forests native to this region and imagined the abundant wildlife supported by this environment before settler arrival and colonizer policies and institutions overwhelmed the land and culture of the people.

I’m reading Unsettling the Settler Within, Paulette Reagan, who was the Director of Research for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This book was published in 2010 two years after the Canadian government apologized to the victims of the Indian Residential School system and established the TRC. While the TRC’s work brought forward much needed stories from residential school survivors, and the final report delivered a series of recommendations for action by governments, this book offers people like me, an immigrant from England in 1966, a settler colonizer in every sense of the word, an opportunity to decolonize my embedded attitudes and beliefs, with the hope that I can learn from and change my own relationship to first nations and become a worthy participant in the process of reconciliation.

 

Playing in San Miguel

Rediscovering my love of metal sculpture

Undoubtedly the creative highlight of my trip were the two days spent at Van Doren Metal Art studio in the Los Frailes district a newer development on the outskirts of the historic town.

IMG_4206view of Los Frailes from the studio deck

The house is open, with spacious rooms, high ceilings and full of Lane’s art collection and his own work. We were treated to lunch in the dining room both days, and of course the dog came along.

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IMG_4205Alex and his father Lane have a big studio full of old style, accessible and easy to work with metal tools. The two of them facilitate with great ease, enthusiasm and joy supporting small groups to create metal art of all kinds. In addition to the tools, the studio has a great collection of metal bits and pieces gleaned from frequent scrapyard visits on Alex’s part, and regular donations from his circle of contacts in the metal scrap business.

 

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IMG_4238IMG_4237Day one we ‘met’ the tools, everyone had a chance to use every tool, all the while the group of us were scheming and imagining what we might make. By the end of the day concepts were being drawn up, bits and pieces gathered and arranged, larger pieces of metal being cut, the creative juices really flowing. I knew early on that I would make a mask, don’t know why, I’ve never made one before, the idea of a two part representation, perhaps the classic theatre mask, perhaps some other approach. I mulled it over that evening and in the morning it was clear, one side would be pre-columbian, the other European. I was set and ready to roll.

Medwyn cutting

medwyn-welding.jpgCutting, welding, shaping, turning, finding small pieces, gradually the sections began to form themselves into something. Lots of helpful input from Lane and Alex, a hand here and there where my welding skills failed, experimenting with each step, just the way I love to work.

IMG_4239the base steel form cut with the plasma cutter, then cut in half and welded at an angle gave me my starting point. bits and pieces gathered from the collection made eyes.

IMG_4240acid washed steel strips turned around the cutter handle, became pre columbian hair.

IMG_4241then the mouth, two folded steel circles, some welding art and a piece of copper for the tongue, had to have that copper!!

Medwyn and Lanewith lots of help from Lane, masking the mask to add the final touch, paint in two shades for added emphasis.

The Mask

We five all left delighted with our new work to carry home – an essential element in my decision to make something I could fit into my suitcase!!

the crew

 

Hot Springs on a hot day

I was doubtful but game to give it a go when my new friend from the Writers’ Conference suggested a trip to the hot springs. Now I love hot springs, don’t get me wrong, but I just wasn’t sure that a hot spring on a 25 degree celsuis day would feel good. We headed out of town to La Gruta spa about twenty minutes on the wide smooth highway, pulled into the gravel parking lot and found our way to the entrance. I was so pleasantly surprised, I guess my expectations were not high, and this place exceeded them. The pool was lovely, soaking with friendly families and delightful curious Mexican children. It was a delight watching the easeful play of these good natured people. We ventured into the tunnel arriving in a white domed grotto where a blast of hot water spews from high on the rock wall offering a powerful back and shoulder massage.

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We finished the afternoon relaxing with a marguerita after our dip, with our shade umbrella and table on an open grassy patio.

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IMG_4102marguerita time at the hot springs with Doug Rice

 

Art Party at the Chapel of Jimmy Ray Gallery

I was assured by Doug that the Chapel of Jimmy Ray was not to be missed and he was right. The gallery is an amazing creation of mosaic artist Anando McLaughlin and his partner who have developed a piece of countryside into a fantasyland of delight. Whimsical works employing hundreds of wine bottles, tons of broken mirrors and pottery, sparkling costume jewellery and other notions adorn the gallery, the house, and the lands around them. The most unique composting toilet stands proud near the gallery, a testament to the brilliance of eco-friendly, practical sculptural art. I was among a goodly crowd in attendance at an art party and opening to celebrate the work of Shirli Marcantel and Greg Ellis wonderful collage artists whose work somehow complimented Anando’s mosaics.

IMG_0034welcoming entry

IMG_0036come into the galleryIMG_0039the composting toilet

IMG_0045the exhibit

Anando’s mosaics

the house

IMG_0106back yard wall in process

the entertainment so typical of Mexico, giant puppets.

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Finding my San Miguel

Danza del Alma morning moving
Sunday San Miguel far from home
where Dance Temple has just begun
every move every position
I feel restrictions in musculature
inviting body to move easefully
within her limits
slow
smooth
moves
stretch
gentle
aware now how this body
asks for kind attention
other bodies move past fast
slow down around me
swirling arms feet legs
leaping body weaves
in out around
breath deep into feet
feet breathe deep into ground
sounds around
soft skin slap
floor tap clap
bright spark morning sunlight
through open door
faces peering
curious
watching our dancing
music moving
voices stilled

That first Sunday friends introduced me to San Miguel’s La Danza at what would become my favorite place in the city, Bellas Artes. After dance we shared a light breakfast of quiche and espresso drinks in the calming quiet of the old cloister looking out on the fountain courtyard and wrote together sharing words and thoughts in gentle camaraderie. I returned often to this courtyard café to write in its peaceful atmosphere while the fountain played and the churchbells rang out the quarters and hours of the day.

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Close to my home in the Guadalupe neighbourhood I found another favourite haunt, Geek and Coffee behind Fabrica la Aurora a converted textile factory now housing artist studios and galleries.

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The spaces at Fabrica La Aurora were a treasure trove of artists’ expression a place where I was able to wander with ease through studios and galleries. Greeted by a great grizzly bear I felt at home.

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I was intrigued and delighted by the juxtaposition of the old factory machinery with the contemporary art.

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San Miguel has a mural tradition started at the original Instituto de Allende (now Bellas Artes) where students received instruction in mural painting. A few of the original student murals remain on the walls of the cloisters enclosing the courtyard.

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In 1950 the Instituto moved to its current location the restored palatial ‘country’ home of the Canal family. In the courtyard here a striking mural of the history of San Miguel, painted by contemporary muralist David Leonardo dominates the space.

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Colonia Guadalupe is the mural district of San Miguel. Murals decorate the walls of houses, restaurants, empty buildings along many of the streets in the neighbourhood.

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Local eateries, Mio Bistrock fondly referred to as the food truck, and Via Organika nourished me many an evening.

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Mara introduced me to the food truck only open on Thursdays through Sundays. It is operated by a Mexico City family who served up the very best food I had in San Miguel. All cooked in the tiny truck kitchen, either by the Dad or Mum of the family and served to the customer by the two sons in a rustic courtyard backed by a stunning mural, always accompanied by a great marguerita.

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Art and Architecture in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Spanish Colonial Architecture

My first site of this Spanish colonial city dramatized the Mexican baroque and neo-classical architecture which earned it the UNESCO World Heritage designation in 2008. La Parraquoia the most photographed perhaps of all religious buildings in the historic district glowed red in the late afternoon sun, offset by domes and spires of surrounding structures, releasing the eye from the outlying villages a contrast in poverty.

town view 1

town view

My second day here I decided to take a historic tour, knowing I would likely learn the history of the Spanish involvement in this region, and very little about the indigenous population here. It’s true the architecture possesses great beauty. The locally quarried pink sandstone chosen by the masons responsible for constructing several of the churches, complemented by the limited palette of colours permitted under UNESCO regulations gives the whole place a glow that intensifies in the evening sun which sets around 6.30pm at this time of the year.

The main cathedral in the town centre La Parroquia is dramatically beautiful.

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The inside of this church is a mix of baroque and neo-classical, very rich decoration and of course magnificent altars. I saw many churches on this historic tour and on a later tour of Guanejuato and will be limiting my posting of those images lest readers become weary of the excessive opulence of the Catholic decoration. One interesting and somewhat surprising fact is that the church buildings do not belong to the Catholic church, at some point in San Miguel history the state took over the buildings. The state is responsible for the maintenance of the outside and the church must take care of the interior.

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Not along after I arrived here, I began to notice the abundance of images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. During a later tour of Guanajuato our guide, a local with excellent English learned in school and from practice with his American stepfather, gave a detailed explanation of why she was so significant in the Christian conversion of the indigenous people of Mexico. I’ll quote what he said in my Guanajuato post.

 

A colourful tiled fountain caught my eye just outside the church, I was to see many examples of Mexican ceramic work before the end of my time here.

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The historic centre is where the rich Spanish families built their mansions. These square two storey structures, some with courtyards accessed by high archways built to accommodate the horse and carriage that would carry the inhabitants from place to place lest walking should soil their petticoats, are imposing structures either painted in yellow, red, rust, brown, or built of dark brown sandstone accented in contrasting colours.

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later I discovered the most delicious french pastry shop up this street that also served very good coffee – a couple of San Miguel habits I’ve picked up!!

The tour focused on the historic centre, featuring many churches, some houses, and finally perhaps my favourite spot in San Miguel, the Bellas Artes. First here are some random images of the centro historic area.

The final stop on our tour was Bellas Artes, an oasis of serenity in the midst of this noisy town. Along the way we had visited the grand Banamex building, originally the town home of one of the great Spanish San Miguel families, the Canal family. The daughter María Josefa Lina de la Canal y Hervás, lost her parents when she was sixteen years old. Her inheritance was significant but conditional on it being used as her dowry. Now María Josefa was a young woman with a mind of her own, who had decided at a very early age that marriage was not for her. She bided her time and when she came of age she took her dowry and between 1755 and 1765 built the beautiful Convent of Immaculate Conception. The high ceilinged cloister remains to this day a place of serenity and peace. The interior of the building houses some magnificent murals painted during the time the building was a world renowned art school, the original Institute de Allende. Currently there are exhibits, performance spaces, individual studios and classes and on Sunday mornings, La Danza in the mirrored dance studio, San Miguel’s version of our own Dance Temple which I enjoy at home in Victoria.

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The Instituto de Allende, art institute moved to a new location on San Antonio, appropriately enough to a building that used to be the country home of the Canal family. There David Leonardo a brilliant muralist installed one of his murals depicting scenes from the history of San Miguel.

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This town is rich in Spanish colonial history, with limited opportunities to learn about it’s pre-hispanic past. It’s current reputation is based on the cultural quality of the place, with an abundance of art in all its forms. During my time here I have wandered the streets admiring murals, doorways, painted houses, climbing flowering plants, finding much to delight the eye. I have attended poetry readings, book launches, concerts, and dance; I have explored some of the many excellent restaurants representing another aspect of San Miguel culture. On this my last day I returned to my favorite spot in the sanctuary of the Bellas Artes courtyard for a coffee and some reflection which led to me taking time this afternoon to write this blog sharing a small part of my experiences here  with you. More posts to come, but for now, enjoy!!

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