Last weekend loomed long: the boys had friends, Alya and Will, sleep over, and the predictable late-night revelry left everyone sleep-deprived and grumpy in the morning. So even with a late start we decided to hit the road and visit Leon, the leather and shoe capital of Mexico, a city of 1.1 million northwest of San Miguel. (During WWII factories here outfitted the US Army fighting in Europe.) I thought it was about an hour and a quarter, a fact that made the trip more attractive when we set out. Two hours later we arrived in an odd town which bore no resemblance to my mind's image of it. Where was the leather market? The bovine theme? The huge display of shoes? The cool, leathery Mexican place I was picturing? Instead there was block after block of Plasti-Mundo places, selling cheap trinkets, hairbands, keychains and the like. Sam dubbed Leon "one big Dollar Store." Happily, the boys did find some wonderful cowboy boots, a bargain at $32. And I found a great bag whose authenticity I'm still trying to prove: is it real, or is it pleather? We passed the airport on the way home, and I tried to convince Sam to pull in and just see when the next flight left, and to where. The kids could wear their new boots and we could buy clothes when we got there, wherever that was. But daylight was now fading and it seemed perhaps a waste of time at this hour. So we kept driving, missed our exit, and spent two and half hours on some back-country roads through Irapuato, Salamanca and Celaya, making our way home.
Sunday arrived and we needed to make up for the Leon misstep with some in-town fun. An American volunteer named Elsmarie Norsby works with kids in an impoverished part of town called Ojala. They come to her house a couple of times a week to create art in her studio. She started out with a handful, and now has 70 kids, many of whom come from homes without running water or electricity. She says that they are so happy to be able to wash their hands and use her bathroom. Some sneak cookies out in their pockets to give to their siblings at home. For the first time she decided to sell their artwork, with all the proceeds going directly to the child who created the piece. The setting, her studio and home, is just ten minutes from our house, but feels like another part of the world. Each of the boys picked out a piece they liked: Bo got a bookmark with a squirrel drawing by Balthazar; Mason, an unsigned sponge drawing of a fanciful cat; and Redding, a pencil can by Enrique. I found a mosaic tile and another sponge drawing of two cats, and Sam grabbed a very realistic drawing for the kitchen of an avocado and a bunch of radishes, each between 30 and 80 pesos ($2.40-$6.80). Feedback from the sale reported the kids over the moon.
|Walking down the road to the art sale in Ojala. The sprays of color in the greenery are paper flowers tied to corn stalks.|
|A boy emerges from the field with his herd of sheep.|
|This is Brenda, who made the mosaic tile I purchased.|
At the art sale we ran into our friends, Tom and Janan MacDonald, their kids, Will and Alya, and Janan's parents who are visiting for 10 days. A plan was hatched to meet at La Gruta, the first hot springs we ever visited when we came to San Miguel five years ago. For some reason, we had never been back. A shame, because it's a fantastic place. Lots of outdoor pools and greenery, and then this fantastic cave that you access through a long, covered tunnel with chest-high water. Once inside, the only light is from a small hole bored through the top of the dome. The water temperature, heated naturally by underground springs, is about 100 degrees. You sweat for a while, get a massage under a pounding stream of water when the valve is opened, then swim back out into the sunshine. There are plenty of waiters, plenty of tables, and plenty of space for the kids to run around. It ended up the perfect day---culture, country, sunshine, swimming, and micheladas (beer with lime juice, salt, worcester sauce, and chili powder.