Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Tree of Many Nations

Today I was invited by my cousin Gail and her husband Wes to their annual Christmas brunch.  As always it was a delightful afternoon with good company and good food.

Their home is beautifully decorated for the holidays.  In the living room the Christmas tree represents the many nations that they have visited on their travels.  Gail has collected dolls from each country as well as the national flags.  It is a colorful and unique tree.


A new country represented on the tree this year is Iceland.

Their travels this year also included Austria...

… and of course Switzerland where I joined them in a visit to our ancestral village and introduced them to our Swiss cousins.

Mexico is well represented.  There is a doll in the traditional attire of Yucatán from a trip which Gail and Wes took with me to Mérida a few years ago.  There is a corn husk doll which I bought for her on one of my trips, and from Gail's recent visit to Mexico City a "catrina" figure which she bought at a handicraft market.

Our menu was also international with dishes representing each of the countries that they had visited this year.  There were Norwegian meatballs, Austrian schnitzel, a Swiss casserole, and a cake from an Icelandic recipe that Gail found.  (They were generally not impressed with Icelandic cuisine.)  And to represent Mexico, I brought guacamole.

It was a fun day!  Thank you, Gail and Wes for your hospitality!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Unveiling the Christmas Card

If you have read this blog over the years, you know that each year I do a small painting which I then use to create my Christmas card.  It is always a secret what the painting will be until the cards are sent.  I sent my cards the day before Thanksgiving, so I think that it is safe to say that everyone has received their card.  I can now share that picture with you.

My cards are usually based on a photo taken during my travels.  This picture is of Coyoacán, a very historic district within Mexico City.  Coyoacán, which in the Aztec language of Nahuatl means "Place of the Coyotes", dates back to pre-Hispanic times, and was once a separate town from Mexico City.  When the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés defeated the Aztecs, he used Coyoacán as his headquarters while Mexico City was being built from the rubble of the Aztec capital.  For many years it remained a rural town on the outskirts of the city.  By the 20th century it became absorbed within the urban sprawl of Mexico City, but its historic center remains one of the most  picturesque parts of the capital.  
I took a photo of this quiet side street lined with colorful, colonial houses last spring.  The street was decorated with paper banners (known as "papel picado"... cut paper) that are used for holidays.  (I believe that they were hanging in celebration of the saint's day for the local parish.)  Alejandro saw the photo and said that it would make a good subject for my Christmas card.  And so, I chose that picture for this year's card.

I believe that by now even my European cousins have all received their card.  My cousin in England wrote to me and thanked me for their card, and my Swiss cousin Brigitta even sent me a photo of the card sitting on the counter in their home.

So now I share my painting with you, my readers, with my best wishes for a very happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Winter Is Coming

This was the view that greeted me when I woke up this morning.

It was not the first measurable snow that we have had this season.  That was in early November, but I was in Mexico at the time.  The last couple of days there have been some snowflakes in the air, but this was the first time since returning that I have seen snow on the ground.

It makes me glad that I will be headed back to Mexico after the holidays!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Getting Together with Meredith and Chuck

If you follow this blog, you may remember that last January Meredith, a former student of mine, and her husband Chuck spent several days with me in Mérida, Yucatán.

The two of them were in Ohio last week spending Thanksgiving with her family.  On Sunday, we got together for lunch before they returned home to Wisconsin yesterday.  We met at a Salvadorian restaurant in suburban Cleveland.  The food was good, and the company was even better.  

(photo taken by Chuck)

It was great to see Meredith and Chuck again, and I hope that in the future I can give them another tour in Mexico.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Christmas in the Park

While I was in Columbus visiting family over Thanksgiving, we went to Franklin Park and its Conservatory to see the Christmas displays.

The area surrounding the Conservatory was festively decorated with lights.

A waterfall and a stream as well as elephants all done in lights.

Both outside and inside the conservatory, there were numerous glass sculptures by the artist Dale Chihuly.

Inside the conservatory there was an impressive display of poinsettias. 

It is a beautiful display to put everyone in the holiday spirit!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

(image taken from the web)
Tomorrow morning I will drive down to Columbus (a two hour drive from Cleveland) to spend the holiday with family down there.

Best wishes to all my readers (or at least the ones in the U.S.) for a very happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Mexico City's Version of the Macy's Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City is a tradition that has been going on for decades.  Of course it really has nothing to do with Thanksgiving; it's about the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

Mexico City has its own version of the parade sponsored by Liverpool, a department store chain that might be compared to Macy's (neither the most expensive nor the cheapest of Mexico's retailers).  This is the 5th year for Liverpool's Christmas parade, which is called Bolo Fest.  Just like the Macy's Parade, the Bolo Fest features big balloons, mostly of popular cartoon show characters.  

The Bolo Fest 2019 was held yesterday along Mexico City's main boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma.  There were 19 giant balloons.  This year at the conclusion of the parade there was a concert with popular performers by the Monument to the Revolution.

Alejandro's sister and her 9 year old son attended the parade, and here are a few photos and a video that she took of that event...

By the way, if you are wondering why the parade is called Bolo Fest...
Alejandro just explained to me that Bolo is the name of the bear that is Liverpool´s Christmas mascot.

(image taken from the web)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A Busy Six Weeks

I am home from Mexico, but it will only be about six weeks before I return for my winter trip south of the border.  I will escape the Ohio winter for most of January and February.  

In the meantime those six weeks are going to fly by.  During my brief sojourn in the north I will make two trips to Columbus to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with family.  There will also be a long weekend in Chicago when my friends there have their annual Christmas party.  In addition, there will be, I am sure, plenty of socializing with my friends here in the Cleveland area over the holiday season.

Fortunately, my Christmas cards are already written and ready to send out the day before Thanksgiving.  (I have established a reputation.  People expect my card to be the first one that they receive.)  As usual, the front of my card is a painting that I did based on a photo from my travels.  Last year I decided that it was too much bother printing the cards at home on my printer.  I took my painting to a professional printshop.  I was very satisfied with the results, and, when you consider the cost of printer ink, it was not that much more expensive.  I went back to the same shop this year, and I already had my cards months ago.  They were all made out before I left on this latest trip to Mexico.  As for the subject of my painting, that is always a guarded secret until the cards are sent out.  Sometime in December, I will share with you a picture of the painting.

The little bit of Christmas shopping that I have to do is finished also.  (Most of that was done on my trip to Europe this summer or on my last trip to Mexico.)  However, I do need to buy some gifts to take to Alejandro's family when I return to Mexico.  Gifts are traditionally given on the Day of the Three Kings or Epiphany (January 6th).  Since I go back on January 7th, they will receive my presents one day late.

Before you know it, the holiday season will have come and gone... and I will be packing my bags for yet another trip!

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Flight Home

Yesterday I had a long layover in Houston, but I always prefer to have long layover to having to worry about making my connection.  However my flights left on time and both arrived ahead of schedule.  I am now back in Ohio, where the temperature is 38 F, and wishing that I were still in Mexico.

Taking off from Houston airport

Clouds at sunset

A blurry photo as the plane descends into Cleveland airport

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Part Way Home

As I write this I am sitting in Houston Airport waiting for my flight home to Cleveland.

Alejandro drove me to Mexico City International Airport early this morning.  Because I used my frequent flyer miles for the flight, I had upgraded to business class.  The flight, however, started less than pleasantly.  I had in front of me one of those obnoxious passengers that you read about.  He had his seat reclined before take off.  I had dropped my book on the floor, and, in spite of the extra leg room, it was difficult for me to bend down to pick it up because of his reclined seat.  I asked him (in a perfectly pleasant, polite voice, I thought) if he would put his seat up. "Why?" he said gruffly.  I said, "Your seat is supposed to be upright for take off."  (My voice might have now been a bit less pleasant.)  "We aren't taking yet," he said.  While trying to pick up my book, my head pushed against his seat. "Stop pushing!" he growled.  He pushed back in his seat against my head.  "Please.  You're hitting my head!" I said.  At the end of the flight he quickly was up out of his seat and was the first in the aisle.  He looked back at me glowering, and i returned his stare. 

Oh well, other than that, the flight was fine and went quickly.  (It is a shorter flight from Mexico City to Houston than it is from Houston to Cleveland.) 

The sky in Mexico City was quite hazy (smoggy), so the nearby volcanoes were not visible.  Mexico City Airport is at capacity, and as usual, we had to wait a while for our turn to take off.

Looking down on the sprawling metropolis when we were in the air...

Just outside of the city, I could see below the unfinished new airport that was supposed to be built.

Because of rampant corruption and environmental concerns, the construction was halted by the new President.

I settled down and read my book, and before long the barrier islands off the coast of Texas were visible...

And then we made our final approach to Houston Airport.

In a few hours I will be home again.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Reflections on the Trip

After more than a month in Mexico City, tomorrow I will return home.

In some respects this trip was disappointing.  Because of the illness of his father, Alejandro was not able to spend too much time with me.  Also, I was also looking forward to the Day of the Dead events in Mexico City... but the only one that retained its charm for me was the "Alebrije Parade".  The crowds were still relatively small, perhaps because people know that the "alebrijes" will all be on display for several weeks along the Paseo de la Reforma.  The "Procession of the Catrinas" was delightful last year, but this year about half way through the procession the rains came.  I had spent more time waiting on the street than I did watching the event.  The "International Day of the Dead Parade" seemed a superfluous copy of the main parade, and I still have no idea why they called it "international".  I spent a couple hours standing on the street waiting for the parade, and the crowd was enormous.  I heard that there were more than two million people along the route.  The light and sound show in Chapultepec Park held during the evenings of Day of the Dead weekend was mediocre, and, once again, there was a crush of people.  By the time that November 2nd came around I was tired of the crowds, and I didn't even attend the big parade.  Last year there were 1.5 million spectators.  I can only imagine how many people there were this year.

When the city government started promoting the Day of the Dead about four years ago, many traditionalists complained that the holiday was being commercialized.  I, however, defended the parade and other events as great fun and family friendly.  Unfortunately, the events have become a victim of their own popularity.  The crowds have become just too massive for the events to be truly enjoyable.  I am beginning to think that the Day of the Dead is not the best time to visit Mexico City.  

Fortunately, the post-Day of the Dead visit by my cousin Gail and her friend Annette went smoothly, and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy their time in Mexico City.   I was not worried that Annette would be intimidated by the big city since she lives in New York.  But Gail seemed unfazed by monstrous Mexico City; she said it reminded her of Chicago.  Most of the time we traveled by Metrobus or subway, and they seemed fine with public transportation.  Neither one of them felt unsafe at any time.  

The only misadventure that we had was a taxi ride from the Anthropology Museum.  When we were leaving the museum Annette tried to connect with Uber, but she lost the connection.  Against my better judgement we took a taxi.  I have read that the taxi drivers at the museum prey on the tourists.  I asked how much the fare would be and he said that it would be 250 pesos depending on traffic.  The driver took the route with the worst traffic... the Circuito Interior.  As we crawled at a snail's pace, the meter kept going up.  By the time we reached their hotel the meter was at nearly 300 pesos, an outrageous price seeing as we paid less to go from the airport to the hotel when they first arrived.  However, that was not the worst part.  When Gail and Annette paid him, he said that the 200 peso bill they gave him was counterfeit, and handed it back to us.  Indeed that bill felt different, and did not have the usual watermarks.  We gave him another 200 peso bill.   Afterwards I thought about it and realized that the driver had pulled a scam on us.  So that they would not have to bother with ATMs, I had sold pesos to Gail and Annette prior to the trip.  I had checked the watermarks on all the bills that I had sold them.  The biggest notes that I had sold them were 200 peso bills, so they could not have received that false bill somewhere in change.  Obviously, the "pendejo" had pulled a sleight of hand (I admit that I was not watching him carefully) and had pulled out a false bill.  I have never been scammed by a taxi driver in Mexico before, but I will never, ever take a taxi from the Anthropology Museum again!

Open at Last!

I have been waiting for two years for "Restaurante El Cardenal" to open its new branch just down the street from my apartment... ever since I saw the big sign at the shopping center saying, "Coming soon!"  It took forever for "soon" to arrive, but yesterday was finally the grand opening of the restaurant.  I made a point to go there for breakfast.  I arrived only a half hour after opening time, but there was already a crowd.  I waited about twenty minutes for a table.  When I left there was an even bigger crowd in the waiting area.

The two story, modern restaurant lacks the old-fashioned charm of the original location in the Centro Histórico and the glitz of the branch in the Hilton Hotel.

However, the food is just as good, and the service was super-attentive.  Staff was scurrying all over the place... not just waiters and busboys, but fellows with pitchers of Mexican hot chocolate, others with trays of freshly baked "pan dulce", and management going around and asking if everything was good.

I started out with a cup of hot chocolate and a very yummy pastry that was somewhat like a cheese Danish.

I then had a plate of four enchiladas with "carnitas" (chunks of braised pork).  It would probably be too spicy for some people's palates, but it was delicious.

The restaurant opened too late for me to take Gail and Annette there... too late for Alejandro and I to have a weekend breakfast there on this trip... BUT it will definitely be at the top of my list of neighborhood breakfast places for the next time I have visitors in Mexico City!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Navidad" is on its Way

The Mexican Revolution began on November 20th in 1910.  But Revolution Day, a legal holiday, is now celebratedon  on the third Monday of November, creating one of those three-day weekends that Mexicans refer to as a "puente" (bridge).  There was, I suppose, a military parade downtown to mark the occasion.  However most people here were probably more interested in the fact that Revolution Day weekend is also the "Buen Fin", the weekend that is the equivalent of Black Friday north of the border.  All of the stores were offering big sales and extended hours.  Christmas decorations and advertisements started to appear as soon as Day of the Dead was over, but the "Buen Fin" is the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  

 An impressive, although artificial, Christmas tree was set up in "Reforma 222", a shopping mall along the Paseo de la Reforma.

A smaller (and also artificial) tree was set up in the shopping center down the street from my apartment.

The "Buen Fin" was begun in 2011 as a way to boost the economy with increased  consumption, but critics state that it has led to increased credit card debt among the Mexican people. 

After the Ballet

After the ballet on Sunday morning, I wanted to show Gail and Annette the mural paintings which are on display on the upper floors of the Palace of Fine Arts.  Admission to the murals is free, but we had to go outside and join a long line waiting to see the murals.  I had never seen a line like that before.  It must have been because it was a holiday weekend (Monday was the observance of Revolution Day), and there were many Mexican tourists visiting the capital as well as residents seeing the sights in their city.

While we were waiting in line, a young boy (probably in elementary school) and his parents asked if I would mind being interviewed.  The student had an assignment from his English teacher to ask questions of an English-speaking visitor.  While he interviewed me, his mother recorded the conversation on her cell phone.  This has happened to me several times on my trips to Mexico.  As a former Spanish teacher, I am more than happy to cooperate with their assignment.  

The line moved fairly quickly, and we went upstairs to see the mural paintings by some of Mexico's best-known artists.  The most famous mural is "Man, Controller of the Universe" by Diego Rivera.  In 1932 Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural for the lobby of  Rockefeller Center in New York City.  Nelson Rockefeller objected to the portrait of Lenin which was included in the painting, and when Rivera refused to remove it, Rivera was paid for his work, and the mural was plastered over.  Rivera returned to Mexico and using photographs of his original painting, did another version in the Palace of Fine Arts.

   In this portion of the painting you can see Lenin to the right.

From the Palace of Fine Arts we walked a short distance to the National Museum of Art.  On Plaza Tolsá, in front of the museum, local groups who are dedicated to preserving pre-Hispanic traditions were gathered there as they are every weekend.

In the museum, we concentrated on the newly renovated galleries of 20th century Mexican art since I knew that Annette's interest is in modern and contemporary art.

This painting by Gerardo Murillo (who went by the name of Dr. Atl) is called "The Shadow of Popo".  Murillo was obsessed with painting volcanoes, and this interesting picture shows the shadow of the volcano Popocatépetl stretching across the landscape.

An early painting by Diego Rivera

A canvas by Rufino Tamayo

We then walked over to a branch of "El Cardenal" located in the Hilton Hotel.  The original restaurant, located near the Cathedral, is in a lovely old building, but there is always a long wait on weekends for a table.  At the Hilton, we were seated immediately.  

This was Gail and Annette's last dinner in Mexico City, so I wanted to take them to one of my favorite places.  "El Cardenal" serves very good traditional Mexican cuisine.

Gail had a beef "Milanesa"... a breaded cutlet.

Annette had something more uniquely Mexican... "mixiote"... meat baked within a bag made from a leaf of the agave plant.

I had a dish which I had never ordered before on my many previous visits to "El Cardenal"... a pepper stuffed with pork and covered with a "mole" known as "coloradito".  It was delicious.

After dinner it was time to head back so that Gail and Annette could pack their bags for their flight home the next day.