Monday, September 26, 2016

Something New in the Living Room

I do not by any means have an enormous library of DVDs and music CDs.  Nevertheless, my storage unit had reached its capacity.  Also, it was rather cheap, and the shelves were starting to bow.  So I decided that I needed to find something new for my collection.  I went to a few furniture stores, and I was disappointed that none of them had what I was looking for.  I went online and found something I liked... a swivel multimedia storage tower.  It was modern in design and black in color so it went well with the other furniture in the living room.

The storage tower was delivered last week, and my CDs and DVDs now have a new home.

It is around five feet tall, and should provide more than enough storage for the rest of my life.  As I said, it swivels, and the side facing the wall is completely empty.  Even the three sides that are visible still have plenty of room.  I took various knick-knacks... mostly handicrafts from my trips to Mexico... and books to fill in the empty shelves. 

Everything is now neatly organized.  The DVDs that I have made of pictures from my travels (36 in total) are all on the top two shelves to the front and arranged chronologically.  My classical music CDs are all together and alphabetized by composer... Mexican music CDs are all together... etc., etc.

The only downside is that now I will be tempted to buy a lot more stuff to add to my media library!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Autumn Blooms

Today is the first day of autumn, although the weather is still summery with sunshine and a high temperature of over 80 degrees.  The long term forecast calls for continued warm temperatures for the next ten days.  The first frost is nowhere in sight.  Nevertheless, I have begun to clear out my flower beds.  It is a big job, and I need to be finished by the time I leave for Mexico in late October.  But I will hold off on cutting down a number of plants which are fall bloomers.

I have three different varieties of asters which are now either in full bloom or which are beginning to bloom.

These asters with white daisy-like flowers are over four feet tall.

I planted two other kinds of asters this spring, and they have started to bloom.

The toad lilies, which have beautiful, small, orchid-like flowers, have begun to blossom.

Some of the annuals, such as the petunias in the flower box, are still going strong.

It's hard to believe that within in month they will all be gone for another year.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Crazy Spanish Teacher

As I was sorting through my pictures on my new computer, I ran across this old photo of me from back in my teaching days.  I don't think that I have ever posted it on the blog before.  (If I have, excuse the repetition.)

A number of times on my travels, I purchased traditional attire from the countries that I visited.  I had a complete "gaucho" outfit from Argentina, Mayan clothing from San Cristobal de las Casa in Chiapas, Mexico, and this native Andean outfit from my trip to Peru.  When we studied one of those countries in my advanced Spanish classes, I would get dressed up in the appropriate attire. 

My Peruvian duds included a pair of scratchy wool pants and shirt, an alpaca poncho, and two traditional hats, one worn on top of the other.  I even had an Andean panpipe.  In between classes I would stand in the hall by my door.  I don't know how to play the panpipe, but I would be tooting away on it.  The passing students would look at me in disbelief.  My students would come into class chuckling and probably thinking, "Crazy 'señor' is at it again!"

Those were the days, back when teaching was actually fun!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Season's Greetings!

I felt very productive yesterday because I finished two projects on which I have been working.  First, I completed the slide show of my photos of Norway on my video program, and I successfully burned a DVD.  Second, I finished painting the picture which I will use for my Christmas card this year.

I know, it's only the middle of September.  I'm worse than the stores which start putting out their holiday merchandise before Halloween even arrives.  However, I need to have the cards printed before I leave for Mexico at the end of October.  I always take the cards and envelopes with me to Mexico, and make them out while I am down there.  They are all done by the time I return home and ready to send out after Thanksgiving.

Usually the picture I paint for the card is based on someplace I have traveled during the course of the year.  So what will it be this year?   A colonial church in Mexico?  A medieval Norse church?  Or perhaps a landscape of Alpine scenery in Switzerland?  I won't tell.  It's always a secret until I send them out, and there are a number of frequent readers of this blog who are on my Christmas card list.

I have been painting my own cards since I retired in 2004.  As I was organizing my files on my new computer, I came across the first one I did, one of the few cards which was not based on my travels.  It is a New England winter scene.

Come December, I will share with you the 2016 card.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Independence Eve

Today is the eve of Mexico's Independence Day.
Early in the morning of September 16th, 1810, in the small town of Dolores, a parish priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo rang the church bell to summon his parishioners.  In an impassioned speech he called upon the people to take arms against the Spanish and to break away from their colonial masters.  His speech became known as the "Grito de Dolores" (the Cry of Dolores), and it marked the beginning of Mexico's struggle for independence.

The bell which Father Hidalgo rang on that fateful morning now hangs over the central doorway of Mexico City's National Palace. 

Each year on September 15th thousands of people gather on the Zócalo, the city's main plaza, in front of the National Palace.  At 11:00 P.M. the President appears on the balcony and gives the "Grito".  It's actually not the "Grito" of Father Hidalgo that the President recites.  He gives a number of "¡Vivas!" (Long live!) naming Hidalgo and the other heroes of the War for Independence.  He concludes with "¡Viva México!" and rings the bell.  The speech that Hidalgo gave included the phrase "Muerte al mal gobierno" (Death to bad government).  Wouldn't it be nice if the President actually governed by those words?

Mexico's current President, Enrique Peña Nieto, is the most unpopular President in recent times.  In opinion polls he had an approval rating of 23%... and that was before his invitation to the even more unpopular Donald Trump. 

My friend Alejandro told me that there has been a campaign to boycott the Independence Eve celebration so that Peña Nieto would give tonight's "Grito" to a nearly empty Zócalo.  However, the government has been paying people from outside the city and shipping them in to fill up the plaza.  So typical of Peña Nieto!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Falash Portuguesh?

For the past two weeks I have been faithfully going to the website "Duolingo" on a daily basis and doing my lessons on German and Portuguese.  After my trip to Europe, I went back to the very beginning of the German lessons and started to review what I had already covered.  I was surprised at how much I still remembered, and I have breezed through lessons with a minimum of mistakes (and most of those are typos from typing too quickly).  Nevertheless I keep going back and reviewing over and over again.  I even feel as if I am starting to get a handle on the pronunciation of those pesky vowels with "umlauts" over them.  I have still not reached the lessons where I was starting to hit a wall with the difficulty of the grammar.  But hopefully when I get there I will manage to overcome the obstacles and progress farther.

As I wrote previously, the Portuguese vocabulary and grammar have been a snap due to their similarity to Spanish.  However, I have become increasingly frustrated with the Portuguese pronunciation.  There are so many differences from Spanish.  For example, when the vowel "o" appears at the end of the word it seems to sound like the "oo" in "moon", or the "e" at the end of a word sounds more like the Spanish "i".  "Ele come" (he eats) is pronounced as if it were spelled (in Spanish) "Eli comi".  The letter "t" when between two vowels sounds like a "ch", and a "ch" sounds like a "sh".  An "r" at the beginning of a word sounds like a harsh "h".  "Roupa" (clothing) is pronounced "Houpa".  It was all starting to make my head swim. 

"Duolingo" uses Brazilian Portuguese rather than the pronunciation of Portugal.  That is understandable since Brazil has a population of over 200 million, whereas Portugal has a population of around 10 million.  However, I am teaching myself the language in preparation for a possible trip to Portugal next summer.  So I decided to look for a website on the pronunciation in the mother country, and I hoped that it would be easier.

I found a website with audio examples of the how the letters are pronounced.  Many of those Brazilian sounds are not used, but there are other peculiarities of pronunciation in Portugal.  For example, an "s" at the end of a word is pronounced like our "sh".  So, "Falas portugues?" (Do you speak Portuguese?) comes out like "Falash portuguesh?" 

And the vowel sounds!  There are nasal vowels, open vowels and closed vowels.  I get the nasal vowels, but, for the life of me, I could not hear any difference between the open and the closed vowels.  After visiting that website I only felt more confused and frustrated!

With sincere apologies to any Portuguese speakers that might be reading this, I was starting to believe something that someone told me long ago.  "Portuguese is sloppy Spanish."

I finally pulled out a book that had been sitting on a bookshelf for years.

I had purchased this book ages ago at a second-hand book store prior to a trip to Brazil.  I had learned a few phrases, but I had not continued.  The text began with a "Note on Pronunciation".  It mentioned that there were differences between Brazil and Portugal and even between northern and southern Portugal, but that for this book the publishers had adopted a neutral accent.  Also, except for the "tilde" (which makes a vowel "a" nasal) they had eliminated "the bothersome diacritical marks".  They listed a number of rules (most of which I already understood).  There was no discussion of closed vowels and open vowels.  (Perhaps Mr. Berlitz couldn't hear the difference either!)  In the lessons, under each word or phrase, they give a close approximation of the pronunciation in English.  It is all so much simpler. 

I don't know if Berlitz is still in business, but at one time it was the biggest name in language instruction.  I figure if these are the pronunciation rules that they give, they must be acceptable and understandable.  So I will continue with my lessons on "Duolingo", but I will speak according to Berlitz.  And if I end up sounding like a Mexican trying to speak Portuguese, so be it!

Monday, September 12, 2016

My Poor Garden

When I returned home from my trip to Europe, I found that my garden was a disaster.  Here in Ohio we have had an unusually hot summer with below average rainfall.  Even though my house sitter watered the garden, many of my moisture-loving plants looked very sad.  In addition, the deer had a great time munching on the "salad bar".  They ate the leaves of my hostas, leaving nothing but the stems behind.  (My fault.  I should have told my house sitter to spray the hostas with more deer repellant.)

So even though the first frost is weeks away, I have started early to clear out the garden. I have already chopped most of the hostas down to the ground.

Oh well, better luck next year.