If I had to spend every afternoon in Guanajuato at Café Tal, I’d be all right. I’d sit on the second floor, by the balcony with the bright pink flowers in hanging pots, to read and write. The only interruptions would be the cat – Tal, permanent resident and inspiration for the café’s name – and the waiter bringing a cappuccino that tastes almost as good as it smells. (I’m no coffee-lover, but I can sometimes finish a cup of coffee-scented milk.) I’d sit there, pretty much forever, and no one would mind. I won’t pretend that I’d get my homework done very quickly, because I’d take an hour and a half to read six pages for my history class, but going slow I’d be more meticulous. I’d look up every word and name I didn’t recognize and I’d make careful notes, only breaking for glances out the window at the street below.
But that’s all hypothetical, of course.
Nights here aren’t so relaxed. In the downtown center, mariachi bands play under the trees in the garden, singing to tourists seated in patio chairs outside restaurants. (Personally, I think I’d die if one of these mariachi groups came to my table, but the tourists seem to love it.) Also wandering around the park are people in black velvet costumes with gold trim and puffy sleeves, who’ll offer to give you a walking tour and oral history of the most famous sites in the center. Groups of these rowdy tours hike up the alleyways, and they always have to go to what’s known as the Alley of the Kiss. There’s a whole legend about the narrow alley with its balconies on either side of the street almost meeting in the middle – it involves lovers about as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet. I’ll spare you the rest. Now the alley is a popular spot for couples, because superstition says if you go stand in the marked spot and kiss your partner, you’ll gain several years of happiness together. However, there’s a catch – if you return to the Alley of the Kiss back-to-back years with different people, you’ll win yourself a few years of bad luck – in love, I’m guessing.
Rowdy tours aside, the city of Guanajuato shines at night. The Pípila statue up on the hill gets his own spotlight, Theater Juarez and similarly large and ornate buildings are illuminated – even the fountains in the Union Garden glow. Some of the sidewalks have imbedded lights to help guide pedestrians; walking these is as close to being a supermodel as I think I’m going to get. (And I think that’s also why so many women around here wear four-inch heels when they go out.) But by the end of the night, I’m usually ready to climb in the dark backseat of a taxi and watch the city from a quieter point of view. My $3 taxi rides home take me through Guanajuato’s underground tunnels, but it’s no frightening Aztec underworld down there, even if you might lose cell reception. Tunnels have served the city well – one level for relieving traffic congestion, and a second, deeper level to drain away water during the rainy season. Years and years ago, the city suffered nearly-annual flooding, and you can still find markers on the walls of the oldest buildings showing the heights reached by the floodwaters – at five feet or higher, the markers are usually over my head.
The mornings are my favorite times in Guanajuato. From seven to ten or so, there are hardly any cars in the streets and no tourists in the center – only local people preparing for the day. Women washing sidewalks, men sweeping up fallen leaves in the parks, shopkeepers washing the walls of their buildings, and vendors in the outdoor markets putting out fruit and bread for sale. Deliverymen park trucks and cart bottles of water, beer, and Coca-Cola on dollies stacked so precariously high that I’m always expecting one of these towers to tip and crash to the ground, sending bottles rolling around and fizzing on the cobblestones.
At this hour, a mist catches on the hills surrounding the city. The temperature is a little “chilly” at 65 degrees, so everyone has on their sweaters and jackets. The way people act, you’d think it was the dead of night – but days here do start later and the nights go longer. I’ve never visited New York, but I imagine that five or six a.m. there would be like morning here – not dead, but comparatively calm. Guanajuato, even if it’s up all night, takes its rest in the wee hours of the late morning.