In the Teatro Santa Ana at the Biblioteca Publico in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a group of English-speaking schoolchildren are spending their Monday morning rehearsing a production of Macbeth.

“Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters,” a young American girl intones, fully as serious as Lady Macbeth. “To beguile the time, look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t.”

This evening, as most, the library’s intimate theatre will screen a film for the public, an American one called The Forgotten, subtitled in Spanish. As on most nights, the 75 seats will be filled mainly with non-natives, members of the huge expatriate community in this small, historic, 16th-century town in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, inland and up — at about 7,000 feet — about four hours north of Mexico City.

I arrived here Saturday evening, after a long flight from the U.S. and an equally long but much bumpier bus ride from the airport to the outlying town of Querétero, best known for being the site of Miguel Hidalgo’s famous call to arms that initiated the Mexican War for Independence in 1810. Another hour by car brought me to the home of John and Sheelagh Herron, on the Callejon del Pueblito, about two minutes from the historic city center.

San Miguel is surprisingly like an Italian hill town: an ancient gridwork of cobbled streets, markets, and huge public squares (or jardins), all of it dominated by a profusion of historic churches in which a Catholic Mass seems to be taking place almost every hour of every day. The city’s big expat community dates from the early 1940s, when artists, writers, and other creative types came to the town for its then-new Escuala de Bellas Artes. Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural-painting courses attracted artists of every persuasion, and the Instituto Allende, when it opened in 1951, drew hundreds of foreign students seeking to escape the stifling conformity of post-World War II America. These days, art galleries and theatres are nearly outnumbered by real estate offices, but there’s still a strong bohemian feel to the cafés, restaurants, and bars (which themselves may outnumber the churches, but only slightly).

They like their festivals in San Miguel. My first full day here, last Sunday, was also the Festival of Los Locos — officially known as the Fesividad de San Antonio de Padua. San Antonio, a disciple of St. Francis of Assisi, has his name plastered all over the place in San Miguel: on a church, a former convent, a street, and a neighborhood. On Sunday afternoon, I stood with thousands of Mexican residents along the Callejon des Insurgentes watching a parade of wildly masked townspeople dance along the street on their way to the Templo de San Antonio on the city’s south side, tossing handfuls of candy into the air and gyrating like maniacs to Mexican pop music blasting at impossible volume from vehicles that had been converted into imaginative floats (a graveyard, a devils’ den, a jungle, a church, etc.). The party stopped briefly for a public Mass in the early evening on the church’s steps and in the jardin that fronts it, then resumed again with food, dancing, and music on the same steps that lasted until midnight.

Eventually, I’ll make it out to the hot springs on the outskirts of town, and maybe to nearby Guanajuato or Hidalgo for some more Mexican history. For the moment, though, I’m happy to sit in the open-air Café Santa Ana in the public library, breathe in the humidity-free air, admire the play of the sunlight through the trees in the courtyard, and listen to a rehearsal of Macbeth.

This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air

Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself

Unto our gentle senses.