Day 3: The Christmas Symphony

Day three began, as apparently every day, with the sun streaming in the windows. I have yet to see a cloud. That is not hyperbole. I have literally yet to see a single cloud in the sky. It is constantly, uniformly, unbelievably sunny here.

Of course we’re at 7,000 feet, so that means by nighttime there’s no cloud cover to hold in the day’s warm air, and it gets cold at night. Really cold. Like 38 degrees cold. The days go up to the mid-70s, then quickly retreat to nippyville. The first two nights in my apartment were icy, but today was a warmer day and the place heated up to a decent temperature and is pleasant as I write this (11:15 p.m.)

I worked in the morning, until about 1:30 p.m., then went for the 25 minutes walk into downtown, where I scoped out the apartment I’m moving to tomorrow (maybe — I actually don’t think I found it after all) and the theater I was going to tonight. Guanajuato is a maze of twisty, narrow, cobblestoned alleys, winding streets, tunnels, bridges and hills. It’s like a European town was disassembled, flown to the highlands of Mexico, and then reassembled minus the instructions. Luckily, the signage here is excellent. Not so luckily, I have yet to see a map. 

Some of the streets are entirely closed to cars, and those that are open to cars have narrow sidewalks where people walk both ways (and walk in the street). It’s all very quaint, with a distinctly Mexican flavor.

Tonight I walked back into town and went to see the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Universidad de Guanajuato. The symphony plays at the Teatro Principal, a lovely theater that’s about the size of the Newmark Theater (for those in Portland). The original theater was built in 1788, but burned to the ground in the 1920s and was rebuilt in 1955.

The symphony was playing Programa Navideño … Con Sabor a Jazz (Christmas Program with a taste of Jazz). It was fantastic (and not a little bit bizarre listening to a symphony in Mexico play American Christmas standards).

The conductor was charming and genuinely having a blast. He gave a brief introduction to each piece, which I mostly understood. My Spanish is coming back every day. It was a brilliantly-constructed program.

It opened with five pieces from the Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky, of course), then the very bouncy Sleigh Ride (Paseo en Trineo), one of the very best pieces to hear any symphony play, complete with the clomping of hoofbeats (if I were in the symphony I would totally play hoof).

Then The Christmas Song (Canción de Navidad), by Mel Torme and Robert Wells (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”). Followed by a swing version of Good King Wenceslas called Good Swing Wenceslas. And then Winter Wonderland (Llegó la Navidad).

Then, brilliantly, the show closed with the same five Tchaikovsky Nutcracker pieces as in the opening, only in a big band jazz arrangement by Duke Ellington. It was an amazing way to bring the concert full circle and the symphony was having a blast playing, especially the brass soloists. A very portly trumpeter kept having to hike his pants up every time he stood to play, and he barely fit into his tuxedo jacket.

The audience demanded an encore, which was a reprise of Winter Wonderland.

Oh yeah, the ticket for the concert was 80 pesos, or $6.42.

After the concert I walked over to the main plaza, where I had a tasty dinner of chicken and rice with a Mexican seasoning and fresh squeezed orange juice ($6.24). The plaza was absolutely packed with people. In fact, all of the main downtown area was filled with pedestrians, teens running about, people on dates. It was just filled with energy and joy, with a newly-raised Christmas tree in front of the historic Teatro Juarez and a youth band playing Mexican favorites. Plus, inexplicably, a Christmas transvestite in platform heels. There’s a gentle sense of the holiday season here, but much more toned down than the US Christmasaurus. It’s a delightful light flavoring of Navidad.

I walked around a bit to take in the flavor and enjoy the evening, then walked the 25 minutes back to my apartment. Tomorrow I move to an apartment closer to the center of town, and a punishing walk up the side of the mountain. I should have packed a helicopter.

First Wanderings

Morning in Guanajuato. This is the view out my bedroom window. The sky is impossibly blue here. Then again, coming from Portland, my standards are not exactly stringent.

I’m in Mexico! It’s cold and dark. I managed to arrange a taxi to my place with my Spanish, and let the adventure begin!

Spent the flight from LA to Houston practicing Spanish with a podcast from Scotland. My Spanish comprehension isn’t bad, but my Scottish comprehension is awful. This is the most charming podcast ever.

At beautiful LAX airport. The United-Continental merger does not appear to extend to revealing information such as “What gate will your flight depart from.” I consider this a pertinent detail.

Ready to Rock and Roll

At the Portland Airport, ready to start on my trip to Mexico. The first flight to Los Angeles appears to be a code share between United, Continental and Canadair. Still waiting to see whether there are three logos on the plane, three different planes, or if the flight is going to go Portland-Ottawa-Cleveland-LA.

Follow my trip at

Lola assists with packing. Unfortunately my “travel light” philosophy does not have room for kitties.

Frequently Asked Questions About Andrew’s Trip to Mexico

I didn’t know you were going to Mexico.

That’s not a question. Did you not read the title of this post?

Where are you going?

A small colonial town called Guanajuato in the central highlands of Mexico. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site (whatever that means), former silver mining region and a university town. It’s supposed to be beautiful and filled with cobblestone streets and tiny alleyways. It’s at 7,000 feet elevation, so the temperature will range from 80 degrees down to 40 degrees. I am told there are scorpions.

How long are you going for?

16 days.

Can I rob your house while you’re gone?

No, I have house-sitters.

Business or pleasure?

Here’s the deal: I have this job where I work at home. But thanks to the Internet, “home” can be anywhere in the world. For many years I’ve been meaning to experiment with working from another country, and now’s the time. So I’ll be down there to enjoy the culture while I’m working my job. By parking in one place I can enjoy living instead of traveling. There will still be plenty of time for fun.

Aren’t you going to be murdered by Mexican drug lords as soon as you step off the plane?

Doubtful. I think I’m astronomically more likely to die on the taxi ride from the airport to my apartment. Or while jogging at 7,000 feet.

Do you speak Spanish?

I took two years of Spanish in high school, and a year or so in college. So … kind of?

Is Hadas going with you?

No, she has to stay home and work. 🙁

How many hours of podcasts do you have on your iPod for the flight down?

Approximately 1 billion.

How many of those will you likely listen to?

Approximately 45 minutes.

Why now?

There’s never a perfect time to leave behind all the fun things I do in Portland. But I’m looking forward to some different fun and massive helpings of culture shock.

How can I get in touch with you when you’re in Mexico?

The same way you do now. My phone numbers will all work the same, my email still works the same. One difference: If you want to text me, you need to use this number: (503) 828-3844. I will do a future post on the magical technological shenanigans I’m using to appear to be local while I’m really in another country.

What is Mary Todd Lincoln?

Now you’re just playing Jeopardy.