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San Miguel de Allende: Starting at $10 Million

by Oscar Plazola

Either I don't understand what is going on, or what I was understanding is gone.
-Carlos Monsivais

Twenty years is nothing. According to the old tango lyric, everything depends on the glass you are looking through...and who makes the decisions.

Ramon hadn't visited San Miguel in 20 years. But during those years he had saved part of his salary to buy a little house "in that village," as he put it. Although his salary at the automobile company was not very good, he had calculated that with what he had saved, plus his pension, retirement fund, INFONAVIT, and a small bank loan, he could make his dream come true. He could retire in our picturesque, artistic, cultural town, where writers, poets, and musicians all gather in small cafes, not far from the Jardin: bohemians congregating to share the sunset. 

While the Primera Plus bus crossed the state border — "Welcome to Guanajuato, Cradle of National Independence" — Ramon indulged his poetic imagination. Then, surprised that the unpleasant smell of the broccoli plantations he remembered so well did not arise, he opened the curtain covering the window beside him and found himself confronted by a sign on the highway that read "El Deseo, your house from $3,300,000 just 5 minutes from downtown." They must mean $330,000, he thought, and closed the curtain. Later he reopened it and read, "Zirandano Golf and Spa, houses from $2,200,000 just 10 minutes from the Jardin." He exclaimed "Ay!" out loud and offered an apology to the other passengers. He spent the rest of the journey with the curtain open: "Rancho Spa, El Puerco Feliz, houses, apartments and studios from $1,400,000, with pool and clubhouse only 15 minutes from downtown." 

The bus went faster than his mind could absorb all the shit his eyes were seeing: the big avenue, the mall, the gringo-style businesses, and another sign, "Las Ventanas Fashion Club, golf, spa, tennis, stables, swimming pools and clubhouse, houses starting at $2,500,000." The bus stopped suddenly in a line of traffic just after the caracol's descent. No manches! He could not believe that there was so much traffic in the village. There, where the bus stopped, he could see a sign much smaller than the previous ones: "Casas Delaver, houses from $220,000. 80m2, 2 and 3 bedrooms, only 40 minutes from downtown." He closed the curtain and lowered his head, keeping it down until he reached the bus station. 

Leaving the station, he walked towards town, crossing the river, and then up Umarán. When he reached Hernandez Macías, he was not allowed to pass because they were shooting a commercial. He decided to go up Hospicio until he reached Recreo, and then down to the Jardin along Correo. I'll have a paella in the restaurant El Correo, he thought excitedly, until a wedding party of people from Monterrey crossed at Aldama and distracted him. Great was his disappointment on arriving at the corner of Recreo and Correo to discover that where El Correo had once been, there was a bakery — a boutique place that sold pastries with globs of cream, each for the same price as that of the memorable paella. 

His frustration was great. The knowledge that the sum he had saved all his life was barely enough to buy one of the cheapest houses in town hit him in the face. When he saw a Starbucks at the corner of Hidalgo, he reflected with a mixture of sadness and courage, understanding that everything was fucked. Compounding his misery, he noticed that the 30 peso enchiladas of the doñas had disappeared from the doorways, and that the restauranteurs had been given permission to sell them for 180. 

Feeling sad, he walked down Calle Aldama by boutique hotels, chic galleries, and real estate offices. "House in downtown one block away from the Jardin. On Jesus Street, surface 265 m2. 10, $903,000." He came to the corner of Nemesio Diez, and a bodyguard blocked his way, because there was an event at the Rosewood Hotel attended by a the son of a politician. He circled Cardo to the Ancha de San Antonio and turned downhill to reach the door of the Instituto Allende.

There he met Vicente, the old-time caretaker. He greeted the old man and suggested they have a coffee together in the cafeteria of the Instituto so that Vicente could update him regarding all the changes in the town. His old friend explained that the cafeteria was a thing of the past, and that he could not let him into the Instituto because there was a wedding of some people from Guadalajara, apparently very influential judging from the number of bodyguards.   

"What happened to the town?" Ramón asked the old man. Vicente responded that since San Miguel de Allende had been designated a "magical town," things had begun to appear and disappear. "You can make a neighborhood disappear, and make a golf course appear, all with the magic of the wallet, waving money around like a flag in front of the ones who make the decisions. Yes, it certainly is a magical town," Vicente concluded. 

They both leaned against the stone wall and stood in silence, watching the cars pass by.

May 2017

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Oscar Plazola, a Mexican, poet and writer who is spoiled, the Mexican poet Benjamin Valdivia baptized him, as a dictator of urban histories and his work as urbanizations. It is relatively easy to find in his work the influence of authors such as Chava Flores, Jaime López, or Joaquín Sabina, even of poets like Ricardo Castillo, Efraín Huerta or Nicanor Parra. However, he is an author with a voice of his own that does not deny the tradition of nonconformists and anti-silence. We are the news, we are the statistics, a grain in the governor's ass, the stain in history that is not talked about, a disposition that God forgets. (Universal Disinherited) The city and its letters go together with a casual and provocative voice, based on one's own experience and in the very perception of a paradoxical World. Nomad among urban conglomerates that he loves and hates at the same time. The critical charge of his work is, however, lightened by the action of the acids of irony, humor and mockery that he sometimes exerts against himself. And already at the gates of heaven, Saint Peter did not behave, here you can not go in, go to hell, mammon, here you have no place, you're a fucking pedestrian (The soul of a pedestrian) In short, risky and carefree author who has mixed his experiences and his vision of the world to create a simply different style.
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