Amazing and Rare: Festivities in San Miguel de Allende

By Nora Vasconcelos

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Weekends in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, are extraordinary. This colorful city, located in the State of Guanajuato, has achieved international recognition thanks to its beautiful architecture and quiet life that inspires artists from all around the world and gives a peaceful haven to foreign retirees who have made of this place their home away from home.

But when Saturdays and Sundays come, many visitors come along to join the creative and entertaining spirit that floods the city in a way that is not easy to find anywhere else.

This unique place is also a very demanded venue for weddings, so national and international couples who have fallen in love with San Miguel, book months (many months) in advance a place for their ceremony which, unlike any others, some times includes the religious ceremony at the magnificent San Miguel de Allende Parish, as well as a vibrant display of arts, crafts and traditions.

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With not many people expecting it, a local band starts playing music, and two very tall dolls, depicting the bride and the groom, appear in the main plaza, causing the surprise and admiration of everybody around.

Then, the two figures approach the Parish dancing in a way that make easy for the people watching understand the story they want to tell with their dances.

Discretely, they look at each other before entering the atrium of the church, like stealing a mischievous glance that shows the loving complicity of the couple.

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Then, they dance all their way to the main entrance , facing the public that stands at each side of the atrium with amazement and enjoyment.

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Before the enter the parish, the couple give one last glance to their audience, taking care of not facing each other.

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Minutes later, when some more dances have taken place, the happy newly weds finally get together, face to face, to start their new life as husband and wife, with all the cheers of the people who have enjoy a unique event, right before the “big event”, that is the actual wedding.

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Rare

A relaxing and fun afternoon

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Fun!

The Lost Art of Lending Books and Sending Postcards

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By Nora Vasconcelos

Last weekend I was all happy and excited because I had just bought a new book. Then, just a few seconds later, a somber thought crossed my mind, I wouldn’t be able to lend that book to a friend who, I was sure, would love to read it.

It was then when I thought of how much we’ve lost in terms of human touch due to the our fast paced lives, which have to adjust everyday to a world in constant change, as well as to all these new and admirable technologies such as electronic books and internet.

The advantages of ebooks are usually many, such as ‘packing’ onto your e-reader, tablet or smart phone as many books as you wish to read at any given time. These same gadgets allow us to take almost an innumerable amount of digital photos of our trips and daily adventures and encounters in our hometowns.

However, I get a certain feeling of nostalgia when I remember how much I’ve enjoyed lending a book to a good friend just because I wanted to share with them all the emotions, images, experiences and, many times, relief that a particular work of fiction, memoir or a non-fiction piece brought to me.

With e-books the experience it different. We can talk for hours with our friends about a title or titles we’ve read, but somehow, the sharing experience is different, mainly because there is an essential component missing, the physical book.

The same thing happens with the digital photos. We can share them by email, or upload them on social media. But unless you carry all of them on your phone or tablet and they’re well-organized, showing them to your friend during a gathering or while having a nice cup of coffee, the experience of sharing your travel adventures gets a little (usually, a lot) missed in the whole conversation.

Sometimes we can’t really take the time to look with all the detail those photos, because watching pics on a gadget usually comes with the urgency that we’re use to while dealing with anything that’s on our phone or tablet, our fingers automatically start passing all the images very fast which give us just a hint of what travellers have seen while visiting a place.

On the other hand, taking photos with a film and developing was a bit complicated, and totally limiting to 24, 32 or 48 pics. Many rolls have remained inside a box, but many other have become wonderful photo albums, which are always very nice to see and enjoy while bringing back wonderful memories of past trips.

The same happens with postcards, it used to be such a nice mission finding postcards to email them home, thinking how happy family and friends would be when they received that little piece of paper full of images of faraway lands, making them feel that even in the distance, they were in our minds.

May be more than the physical objects, what we’ve missed is part of the emotions and the feelings that are attached to sharing special intangible mementos which make us linger in time while holding a book or a postcard, and the solution to this particular nostalgia might be easily brought back just by taking the time to really be there when we talk about a particular book or when we see some digital photos, leaving behind the excruciating hurries that come with this contemporary life.

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Have you ever wondered why writers make incredible friends?

Why Writers Make Incredible Friends infographic

*Global English Editing is a leading online editing and proofreading company that provides book editing and proofreading services for all sorts of writers

Cruising the Mediterranean

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By Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

Guest Post

For those of us who love to travel, there’s rarely a question of why?

We know why: we want to see new places, learn about new cultures, try new foods, and simply have fun in a city or countryside where we’ve never been before.

The questions we ask are: Where do we want to go next? How can we get there? When can we leave?

My husband and I have had the travel bug since we were young. Now, well into retirement, our wanderlust is strong as ever. And the rewards are equally great.

Studies show that travel is good for the body, the brain and the spirit. And even though our older bodies lack the endurance they once had, we find that travel enlarges our concept of “home” and enriches our experience of wonder.

Imagine being awakened by the deep, resonant melody of church bells, bells that have rung each morning for centuries. That was our experience in Florence.

Or being enveloped in the fragrance of incense from a fortuneteller’s shop. We experienced that each afternoon in Barcelona. Our Airbnb apartment was right above her shop.

Imagine the flavor of dark chocolate gelato setting your taste buds dancing. That was our daily experience in Venice. That and the scene of shiny black gondolas sliding calmly through narrow canals.

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Our stunning world is immense. But our individual lives are brief. So if there’s something you dream of doing, our advice is do it now. While you can.

Sweetheart Al and I choose ocean cruising as our preferred method of long-range travel. There are many reasons for this, including our modest travel budget and our declining mobility. We can no longer hike like there’s no tomorrow, jump into sleeping bags, or pedal bicycles for miles.

But on a cruise we can see the world at our own pace and in our own way while sleeping in the same comfortable bed each night.

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And we’ve chosen to share our adventures through travel memoirs.

Our newest book, Cruising the Mediterranean, brings readers along on our 12-day cruise to Venice, Athens, Istanbul, Ephesus and three Greek islands.

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Even before we left California, we started our trip by adjusting our internal clock so that we’d be on European time when we arrived in Amsterdam. We added four days in Amsterdam just because Al wanted me to see that historic city, before boarding our cruise ship.

In Amsterdam, we used Airbnb. A first for us, and we loved the experience. We stayed in the heart of historic Amsterdam. Actually, our room was in the Red Light District, so our “window shopping” introduced us to the latest in sex toys, edible underwear and items we couldn’t even identify.

We cruised on Holland America. We’ve cruised on other lines, but this 12-day trip fit our pocketbook and visited places we really wanted to see.

At every stop, we experienced something wonderful, from standing on the Acropolis as the morning sun gilded its marble monuments, to watching a rug weaving demonstration in Istanbul.

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We discovered delectable Turkish Delight during a dinner cruise along the Bosphorous Strait. And enjoyed the largest piece of Baklava we’d ever seen in a family-owned restaurant on the island of Santorini.

We’ve done our best to capture in words (and a few photographs) the wonder of our trip. Our goal in writing travel memoirs? To share our fun and fabulous experience. And to encourage others to make their own travel dreams come true.

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*Sunny Lockwood is a retired newspaper reporter, columnist and editor. Her freelance stories and articles have been published in MS magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national and regional publications. Al Lockwood is a retired Silicon Valley engineer. He’s a fine art photographer whose work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

*All the images courtesy of Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

 

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Rubicon – Short Story

GUEST POST
By Ian Robinson

Last year, Ian Robinson and I met thanks to the NaNoWriMo event. Back then, he had committed to the challenge in order to complete a manuscript he had been working on for a while.

Now, 12 months later, Ian is participating again in the challenge, but many things have happened since that November 2014. One of them, is this magnificent short story he’s written and which he has been incredibly kind to share here on my blog.

Rubicon made the shortlist in a competition ran by No Exit Press to find a new voice for the publishing house.

This story may be shared but not reproduced or published anywhere else without Ian’s permission. (@imdambassador)

Never wear slippers to a shoeing. Ben Hamer should have listened to this advice but he didn’t. Big H is down two million. Now Hamer is no fool. He’s a yank and works with money. The only issue is he should have invested in property as Big H had requested. But he hadn’t. That’s where I come in.

I’m not affiliated to the big man but I have been subcontracted, on a few occasions, to rectify business transactions that have gone awry. It’s quite a simple contract; whatever you borrow from the big man you must give back with the agreed interest. Hamer is Big H’s accountant. He’d done good work until he decided to work both ends of the chain and start talking to the old bill about Big H’s money. You see, even amongst criminals there’s a code of conduct. Hamer has breached that line.

I have nothing to do with either of them but I do have my own set of morals. Morals are the Velcro of society. I see myself as a twenty-first century bounty hunter. In my work the first law of survival is to stay alive. The first rules of any hunt: don’t be seen. This applies to the hunted as well as the hunter, that’s why I’ve been so successful. I’ve never met Big H but he knows how to get hold of me. I drop my number regularly but I always make sure he is up to date.

A little tool Hamer would have been good to grasp. In the end it’s about discipline and Hamer lacks it. I was raised on discipline; something my old man was keen on. I’ve the buckle scars on my back to prove it. My mum also took her fair share. She shouldn’t have intervened. Childhood prepared me for the Army and when I left the service, after nine years, I was educated for life. Her Majesty also prepared me to kill; another bonus. Second rule: know your target. The Army was keen on this message as friendly fire is frowned upon.

When you’re getting paid to do a job, do it properly. Now this wasn’t too difficult with Hamer, as he’d never met me. I’d been left a photo in a bin drop at Kings Cross station. I knew Big H didn’t want this done as a knock on the door. This is not an Ikea self-build. The instructions must be clear.

Following him was a piece of piss. He’s an accountant not a villain. Hamer is slower than an amputeed sloth and this made following him easy. His portly frame exuded an odour that was distinguishable in crowds. He would stop frequently. This is easy to combat on a foot follow but tougher by vehicle. Hamer was often looking over his shoulder when he was out on the capital’s streets, but then who isn’t in London. Hamer wasn’t aware of me.

I know this as I have given up my cab for him and sat in the same food joints as him. He is oblivious to his surroundings. I dress up to dress down, because it helps in the hunt and fits with the first rule: don’t be seen. I can adapt in most places. I’m in an age bracket where you take a pride in yourself but no one really notices you.

Money hasn’t changed him. Hamer sticks with habitual routes, uses cabs and avoids public transport. His size and apathy for exercise means he stops frequently. He ends up in the same place most lunch times, a small garden area in Temple, protected by Chambers. He enjoys foot-long meatball Subs. The juices leak from his mouth like drool from a Hippo. It took a month to learn his rituals, lunch spot and favourite Titty bar. You may have money, work with money and wipe your arse with money but when it’s not your money, you can’t hide or keep the change.

I’ve rented a room in a converted Court House in Elephant and Castle. It houses a bunch of Buddhists on retreat. I sleep in what was a holding cell but has now been adorned in befitting decoration and locks from the inside. It’s sparse but there is a certain beauty in minimalism. This works well for me. No one speaks or asks questions, there’s no CCTV and I can meditate.

Meditation calms the mind. Teaches me patience, a necessary trait when you are about to end a life. Remember the second rule: know your target, mistakes cost lives.

I know where Hamer will be in the next hour, it’s a Thursday he’ll be at the Titty bar. He’ll be dressed in his only grey pin stripe suit, his trousers held up by braces that strain against his gut like a noose on a neck. He will leave around midnight and I know what route he will take to get home. I take my time getting ready. It’s easy in this small abode. I’ve chosen a black tracksuit, dark polo sweater and black peaked cap. I have the appearance of a running insomniac, which should blend in well with the surroundings and the route I’ll be taking to Hamer’s final destination. There is a peaceful serenity about the Centre, a calm abiding they call it. I feel it but not enough to stop me.

I leave the centre and turn left onto the main drag to Elephant and Castle. At the lights I cross and avail myself of the London Bike scheme.

The one thing this government has enabled is state endorsed crime. Santander may sponsor the bike but that’s not the message being ‘pedalled’.

I cannot tell you the amount of pushers I know who use this service to transport their commodities about the London streets, providing the poor unfortunate masses with their fast food. Big H controls their financial sector. He also provides the payment cards to facilitate the hire. A generous man.

The traffic over Blackfriars Bridge is sedate and I’m making good time. I travel light; a small compact backpack is all I need to carry my tools. At this moment in time Hamer is getting his fill at the bar and not all of it drink. I know from my times sitting opposite him that he will be playing with change in his pocket whilst he wipes his sweat strewn brow with a handkerchief that has seen better days. He consumes neat Whiskey and tips the ladies well. They in turn allow him a quick feel but nothing more.

I’ve become friendly with the inevitable although I don’t wish to meet my maker anytime soon. Looking at my watch face I am aware that I am the only person who knows Hamer’s time is coming to an end unless of course you believe in God, which I don’t.

I picked Thursday for his demise, as I knew he would have enjoyed his last hours before death. I could afford him this last luxury. I am a decent man after all. Big H sees it differently, which he can, it was his money Hamer gambled with.

The ride along Pentonville Road is tough and the climb steep from Kings Cross. I remember life is tougher with every revolution of the wheel. I replace the bike at a rank near Chapel Market and begin my run. I check my watch, a ‘Rolex’ purchased on a beach in Thailand. The watch is fake but it provides genuine time.

It’s 00.30hrs. I have 20 minutes.

Barnsbury, respite for the hip and bohemian. An area populated by politicians and the head of a prominent crime family. It’s also where Hamer had chosen to rent a one-bedroom ground floor studio flat. The curtains still twitch here. First rule: don’t be seen. Even in a salubrious area the street lighting is poor and provides me with good cover. I pause by the steps of number 62a and undo the backpack. There are only four steps from street to door. The basement flat is vacant.

The petrol-filled water bottle I’d been carrying gradually becomes lighter as I thoughtfully dispense its toxic smelling contents over the front door and main step. If anyone were looking they would just see a man emptying a bottle after his run. The streets are quiet, the only visitor an urban Fox who has the sense and wisdom not to approach. I smile at him. There was many a time I would be lying in a hedgerow waiting for my foe and a Fox would stroll by, take a piss on me and move on. A rare skill To be invisible to the indigenous street dweller. I’m careful not to get any inside the letterbox. Insurance is high in this area. Time 00:40hrs. Hamer will be here in five. I carry on pouring the petrol down the steps and across the road where I stop at the entrance to a small secluded park.

A pair of eyes catches my attention and I freeze. The same hunters eyes I had seen earlier watching and waiting for any spoils. Headlights sweep through the park and I duck back. I remove a Zippo from my pocket. I hear the vehicle stop. The engine remains running. It’s a black cab. I know the engine noise. I hear Hamer’s voice and I move forward towards the gate to the park entrance. Voices emanate and formalities are exchanged. Only two heard, both male. The night is pleasant with very little breeze.

The eyes that were following me have disappeared. This is it. I am about to cross the Rubicon. I pull my polo neck over my lower face and my cap peak down. My gloves feel like skin and the grip on the lighter is good. Tick, tick goes the watch. The flame ignites with the first flick of my thumb. I move towards the end of the fuel line and look up with one final check. I hear another engine, not a car. Hamer turns towards me, his eyes briefly catch mine. I sense a glimmer of recognition then he looks away in the direction of the road. I freeze. Darkness turns to light and he’s gone. Lit up like a self-immolating Monk.

The scene has altered now. Police tape decorates the road at either end. A white tent has been erected thirty feet from the flats charred door. A 500cc Kawasaki motorbike lies on its side further along the road. A black cab with its passenger door missing is emanating steam into the night air and misting the portable lights. Fire has devoured it. Three Fire trucks remain, engines idling. The low hum of the generator ticks over and assists in the illumination of people in white suits and masks, some on their hands and knees, picking at the road and moving in one horizontal line, others coming in and out of the main door to the flat.

The smell of petrol is overpowering, which is fortuitous, as I haven’t changed clothing. There are no ambulances only local voyeurs. I’ve always enjoyed this moment, the return to the scene of the crime. The creation of chaos is an occupational hazard but one that keeps many in employment.

I see a Uniformed Police Officer standing by the scene tape looking bored. At least he’s had the heat of the fire to keep him warm. I decide to approach, I’ve seen what I need to see. My polo neck is rolled down and my hat on as befits the situation. I reach into my right pocket. As I approach, the uniform officer moves forward to stop me but is intercepted by a young female wearing a forensic suit. Her auburn hair is tied back in a ponytail; she doesn’t wear makeup and looks tired.

She moves in front of the Uniform and takes a clipboard from him. I continue forward and stop at the edge of the line. Some rules are vital to obey, implied or otherwise. She approaches me, confidence emanates from her protective garment.

” Looks like the bike rider lost control, mounted the pavement and killed the male as he was getting out the cab. The rider went over the top and the bike, deceased, and the door carried on in a ball of flame. Petrol from the bike engine ignited them both. The corpse we’ve established is a Ben Hamer. Next of kin informed but there’s not much of him to be identified. Motorcyclist is at the UCH not likely to survive. I’ve requested pre transfusion blood and started house to house. Cab driver is giving a statement. It’s all in hand sir.”

I nod. Sign the Crime Scene Log, hang my warrant card round my neck and duck under the tape. A forensic suit and shoes are handed to me. Final rule; keep your enemies close. They’re your greatest teacher.

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