Tuesday, July 16, 2019

For Cat Lovers

You might have noticed that there is a new blog listed under my Blog List.  It is not about the usual topics you will find here... Mexico or travel... but about cats.  "Mighty Kool Kats" is a blog written by Kathryn, one of my former students, and, as the title suggests, it is devoted largely to photos of her cats.

Kathryn was a very good student.  Perhaps I shouldn't tell this story, and I hope she doesn't get upset with me, but I remember that she would always say, "I'm never going to use a foreign language."  I would tell her, "You never know where life is going to take you."   I had lost track of her for a long time, and when we made contact some years ago, she was teaching in South Korea.  Well, she might not have been using her Spanish, but she was definitely using a foreign language!

I had not heard from her again for a number of years.  Then a couple days ago I had a comment on this blog signed by "Kathryn".  When she referred to me as "señor" I knew that the comment must be from my former student.  I clicked on her name, and I was directed to her blog which she had recently started.  Kathryn is once again living here in suburban Cleveland. 

So, if you would like to see some adorable pictures of cats, click on "Mighty Kool Kats" under my "Blog List" on the right hand margin. 

Good to hear from you again, Kathryn!   

Monday, July 15, 2019

Musical Fireworks

The Fourth of July has come and gone, but last Saturday there were fireworks, of a musical sort, at the Blossom Music Festival.

Each summer I try to get to at least one concert at the Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Saturday, my friend Cliff and I attended a concert that promised to be very good.  It turned out to be spectacular.

I forgot to take my camera. but Cliff snapped pictures of the Blossom pavilion and the interior prior to the beginning of the concert.

The Blossom Music Center was built in 1968 twenty five miles to the south of Cleveland in  forested countryside surrounded by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  More than 21 million people have attended concerts of all kinds, from classical to rock, since its opening.

I chose this concert because the program included Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, one of my favorites.  The symphony, which was the concluding work of the concert, certainly did not disappoint, particularly climactic final movement.  However, the highlight of the evening was Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3.   The soloist for the concerto was Conrad Tao, making his Cleveland Orchestra debut.

(image taken from the internet)
 I had never heard of him before, but apparently the 25 year old musician and composer from Illinois has created quite a stir.  He was a child prodigy.  He gave his first recital at the age of four and began his studies at Julliard when he was nine.  He is described as iconoclastic.  Indeed, he appeared on stage without shoes and performed the concerto barefoot.

(Cliff surreptitiously snapped a photo during the performance.)

In recent years, Blossom has added two large screens on either side of the stage, and cameras give concertgoers close up views of the performers.  I was fascinated watching his fingers fly across the keyboard.  I could also watch his body movements and facial expressions while he played.  This is an artist who is not shy about abandoning himself completely into the music.  Cliff and I agreed that we had never seen anything like his performance.  The audience, of course, gave him a thunderous ovation, and after returning to the stage several times to acknowledge the applause, he gave us an encore, a portion of a Bach sonata.  

It was another glorious evening with the renowned Cleveland Orchestra! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Garden Quiz

It has been a long time since I have posted a quiz on the blog.  Since most of my posts lately have been about gardening, I thought that it would be appropriate to do a quiz on some of the famous gardens that I have visited on my travels.

1. This garden belonged to a famous French painter who immortalized it in his paintings.  Name the artist and the town where it was located.

2.  The river running through this city frequently overflowed its banks, so the city fathers diverted its course, and created a garden that runs more than five miles along the old river bed.  Name the city.

3.  This botanical garden is located within a former market building.  Of special interest are the modern stained glass windows. Name the Mexican city in which this garden is located.

4.  This English palace, built in 1515, is surrounded by extensive gardens.  Name the palace.

5.  This park was the site of an exhibition in 1992.  Name the U.S. city in which it is located. 


My former student Meredith sent me an email with her answers rather than commenting on the blog, and her answers were 100% correct!

1.  Claude Monet was the artist who owned a home with extensive gardens in Giverny, France.  The water lily pond was the subject of numerous paintings.

2.  The Turia Gardens follow the former course of the Turia River in Valencia, Spain.

3.  The "Cosmovitral"... gardens and beautiful stained glass windows... is the major tourist attraction in the Mexican city of Toluca.

4.  Hampton Court, outside of London was one of the favorite palaces of Henry VIII and his ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn.

5.  Franklin Park in Columbus, Ohio, was the site of an exposition called AmeriFlora to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage in 1492.

Way to go, Meredith! 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Random Blossoms

July is the month when my garden looks its best.  There is a wide variety of perennials in bloom.

Here are a few of the flowers that are now blooming...

Different varieties of coreopsis...

Purple loosestrife...


Purple cone flower...


Balloon flower...

Fluffy clusters of tiny pink flowers on the filipendula and loosestrife in the background...

And, of course, day lilies...

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Thinning Out

For years I have said that I needed to thin out my crowded shade garden.  But I liked the solid blanket of vegetation, with various shades of green from a variety of hostas, ferns, grasses, and the "snow on the mountain" ground cover.  Astilbes, day lilies, and spiderwort would provide a touch of color from time to time.  This year I had no choice but to thin the bed out.  As I wrote a couple days ago some plant of unknown origen was taking over and choking out my plants.  Today I spent several hours of my 4th of July mercilessly ripping out the invasive intruder, at times sacrificing some of my established plantings in the process.  I repeatedly turned over the soil with a shovel and picked out the ubiquitous whitish strand sof roots.  It fear that any bit of root remaining will sprout again next year.  I am sure I did not remove every piece of root, and I will probably see this pretty bu nefarious plant again in the spring.  However, there should be a lot less of it to deal with next year.  

When I was done with the operation, there were actually patches of bare soil visible between the plants.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Visit with Meredith

Those of you who regularly read my blog may remember my former student, Meredith.  Last January I played "tour guide" for her and her husband Chuck in Mérida, Yucatán.  They live in Wisconsin, but Meredith came home to Ohio to spend the holiday with her family.  Unfortunately Chuck could not take off from work.  

Today she and I got together for a leisurely lunch at a restaurant not far from my house.  It was great spending some time with her.  Meredith was a joy to have in class (as were her two sisters), and she has grown up to be a great person.  I take pride in thinking  that I might have, in some small measure, inspired her interest in travel and foreign languages.  

After lunch, since I live nearby, and since she has read about my garden on this blog, we went to my house for a tour of the garden (which is still a work in progress).  

Meredith is a bit of a dinosaur, as am I, in that she has never been interested in having a smart phone.  She recently needed to purchase one for work, and her very first "selfie" was this picture of the two of us.

I was glad to see you again, Meredith, and I hope that I may once again be your "tour guide" in Mexico.  Mexico City is calling to you and Chuck.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Pretty Invader

Work on my final flower bed is going slowly because I am dealing with an invader of unknown origen.

A few years ago a new plant appeared out of the blue in my shade garden.  It had little white flowers in the early summer and looked quite pretty.

Now that mysterious plant threatens to take over my flower bed and strangle out the existing flowers.

So I have been trying to remove the invader.  It seems that it spreads through its extensive root system.  I am digging up the soil and removing the long, white roots.  I suspect that I have not seen the last of this plant, but, hopefully next spring there will be a lot less of this unwelcome guest.

Does anyone happen to know just what this plant is?

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Big Garden

We have gone three days without rain!  Saturday I couldn't do any work in the garden because rain the night before had turned the back yard into a swamp once again.  Yesterday, however, after eight hours of work, I was able to complete the largest of my flower beds.

The main problem area is to the side of this garden along the border with my neighbor's property.  It is a low area, and with all the rain that we have been receiving, it has been a pond for most of the month of June.  The standing water finally has dried up (until the next rain), but it is still a muddy mess.  It is the only route that my neighbor can take to get his lawn mower to his front yard, so there are deep ruts.  

I have been elevating some of the area on my side of the border with top soil, and I have started planting grass seed along the edge of the bed.  But since my neighbor weekly has to run his big riding mower through there, I don't know how he will ever be able to repair the ruts on his side of the property line.

I am now working on the flower bed along the other side of my yard.  It is pretty big too. Tomorrow is supposed to be another day of sunshine, and I will be out there working most of the day.  Then on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the forecast calls for more rain!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Coming Events

One thing that I have found annoying about Mexico is that the dates of upcoming events are usually not announced far ahead of time.  This is not a good practice if Mexico wants to promote international tourism for those events.  A potential visitor wants to make travel plans more than a few weeks ahead of time. 

On the Mexico City travel forum on Trip Advisor people frequently ask when the Day of the Dead Parade will be held.  And we have to reply that a date has not been announced and probably will not be announced until a scant month ahead of time.

Well it seems that someone in the city government wised up.  A few days ago the Secretary of Culture, promoting Mexico City as the "Cultural Capital of the Americas" announced a calendar of upcoming festivals for 2019.  The events include a Latin American Film Festival, an International Book Fair, and... the much anticipated celebrations for the Day of the Dead!

So, if you are interested in visiting Mexico City for the Day of the Dead, mark your calendars, because here are the dates for the big three events during that season.

The Parade of Monumental Alebrijes
Saturday, October 19th 

The Alebrije Parade of 2018

Since 2007 the Museum of Popular Arts has sponsored a parade of "alebrijes".  "Alebrijes" are colorful sculptures of fantastical creatures made of wood, cardboard or papier mache.  The parade consists of BIG "alebrijes", some of them as tall as 12 feet high, and there are usually around 200 entries.  It is generally held on the Saturday two weeks before the Day of the Dead, and that will hold true again this year.  I have been to the last two parades, and I plan to go again when I am there in October.  It is great fun, and, surprisingly, there is not an enormous crush of spectators along the parade route.   

The Mega-Procession of "Catrinas"
Saturday, October 26th

The Procession of "Catrinas", 2018
Last year was the first time that I attended this event.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people march down the Paseo de la Reforma dressed and painted as "catrinas" (or the male counterpart, "catrines"), the elegantly dressed skeletons that are an iconic part of the Day of the Dead festivities.   The crowds are bigger for this event, but I was still able to get close-up photos of the participants without waiting for hours along the procession route ahead of time.  Last year the procession was held on Sunday, the day after the Alebrije Parade.  This year, however, it will be on the Saturday before the Day of the Dead.  I definitely want to attend again this year.

The Grand Parade of the Day of the Dead
Saturday, November 2nd

Day of the Dead Parade in 2017

This year will mark the 4th annual Day of the Dead Parade.  I have attended the last two parades.  It had an unlikely origin.  The 2015 James Bond film "Specter" opened with a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City... something that, in truth, had never been a part of the city's observance of the holiday.  But after that, tourists began asking when the Day of the Dead Parade would be, so in 2016 the city organized the first parade.  Some Mexicans still refer to it derisively as the "James Bond Parade" and say that it is a "fake" event. But it is hugely popular with Mexicans and tourists alike.  When I first attended there was a big crowd of spectators.  Last year, the crowd was at least twice as big.  I would not be surprised if there were a million people along the parade route.

Both years the parade was held the Saturday before Day of the Dead, but this year the holiday falls on a Saturday, and that is when the parade will be held.  I am not sure if I want to put up with the enormous crowds again this year, but the parade is definitely a great event... despite its detractors.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Japan Comes to Cleveland

Today my friend Gayle (not to be confused with my cousin Gail) and I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

We went to see a special exhibition of Japanese art called "Shinto - Discovery of the Divine in Japanese Art".  

The exhibit contains painted scrolls and screens, clothing, sculptures, offerings and religious objects related to the Shinto religion of Japan.  The collection included works from numerous museums in the United States as well as many from Japanese museums and shrines.  Some of the objects have never left Japan before and are designated as "Important Cultural Properties" by the Japanese government.  Cleveland is the only city where this exhibit is being shown because, I suspect, our museum has one of the largest collections of Oriental art outside of Asia.  

Since many of the pieces are actively worshipped in Japanese shrines today, out of respect, photography was strictly prohibited.  However, here are a few pictures taken from the Cleveland Museum of Art's website...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Taste of Things to Come

Regular readers of my blog may remember my friend Irma.  She is originally from Mexico, and she was the wife of one of my college Spanish professors.  She lives just a few minutes away from me, and we have kept in touch over the years... er, I should say, decades.

Yesterday I took her to downtown Cleveland for a taste of what I will be experiencing later this summer.  We went to the Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, modeled after the famous beer hall in Munich, Germany.  

The restaurant is a cavernous place, although not nearly as large as the German original, I am sure.  As in a beer hall, the patrons sit at long tables.  On the stage a couple of musicians were playing German music.

I am not a beer drinker, but Irma ordered a mug of dark beer.  We both started with "goulashsuppe"... goulash soup.  I have been looking online at the menus of restaurants in Vienna and Munich, and that is something that is found on many of the menus there.

Tuesdays are the Hofbrauhaus Cleveland are "Schniztel Tuesdays", so there was a special menu of schnitzel specialties.  Irma ordered something called a "Reuben schnitzel".  It was a pork cutlet covered with sauerkraut, corned beef and Swiss cheese.  German potato salad was served to the side.  I am not sure how authentic the dish is, but it was tasty, and, as you can see, the serving is enormous.

I ordered the "Paprika schnitzel"... schnitzel served with a paprika sauce... with a side of spaetzle.

I was certainly full by the time I finished the schnitzel, but I had my heart set on "Apfelstrudel"... apple strudel.  However, after looking at the dessert menu, the "Scharzwaelder Kirschtorte"... Black Forest cake, caught my eye.

It was a BIG piece of cake.

"Das Essen ist sehr lecker!"  The food is very tasty!  And the atmosphere is very festive. The only downside to the place is that, between the acoustics of the cavernous hall and the music playing, you can't expect to have a conversation with your dining partner here.

If the food here is indicative of what I will find in Austria and Germany, I am in trouble.  I am going to have to do a LOT of walking to burn off the calories!

Monday, June 17, 2019

When Will I Finish My Garden?

Here in Ohio the rains continue, and I am way behind on my gardening.  Last Friday we had a beautiful, sunny day, and I worked outside for eight hours,  But because of the rains earlier in the week, much of the time I was working in mud.

Saturday was a gray, chilly, drizzly day, and by evening the drizzle gave way to heavier rain.  Sunday saw more downpours and flood warnings along the Cuyahoga River.  Today the forecast calls for clouds but no rain.  However, the yard is a swamp.

My complaints are trivial, however, compared to those of the farmers in Ohio and much of the Midwest.  The heaviest spring rains in memory have been a disaster for them, and has  made it impossible for them to plant their fields.

The weather everywhere is crazy, but the Orange Pendejo says that there is no climate change.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Hopefully, the Plan is Finalized

If you have been reading this blog over the course of the last year, you know that my planned trip to Europe this August has been going through many twists and turns.  For those who haven't been following along, here is a brief summary.  My cousin Gail and her husband Wes had booked a guided tour of Switzerland.  I was going to meet them there at the end their tour, and they were going to spend several days visiting our ancestral town of Othmarsingen and meeting our Swiss cousins.  Then their tour was cancelled, and everything was up in the air.  But they found a tour with another company that fit into our time frame.  Meanwhile, I was thinking of visiting Iceland on the way to Switzerland since Icelandair had non-stop flights from Cleveland.  Then Icelandair canceled service from Cleveland, so I scratched Iceland off the itinerary.

I was going to stay with my cousin Brigitta who lives in Uster, a town not far from Zurich, and Gail and her husband had booked a hotel room in Uster.  During the weekend that we were going to be there, Brigitta was planning a big family get together at her home.  But, as I wrote previously, that plan was cancelled because her husband Peter was having an out of town reunion of his family that weekend.  Fortunately, Brigitta's brother Werner (who lives in Spain) was going to be in Switzerland and was going to take us under his wing during Brigitta and Peter's absence.  

So now for the latest twist...
Werner wrote to me a couple days ago that it would be very inconvenient for us to stay in Uster.  If you look at this map you see that Uster (U) is located to the east of Zurich (Z).

However, Othmarsingen (O), our ancestral town and where Werner will be staying, is to the west of Zurich.  It's a 50 minute drive from Othmarsingen to Uster… sometimes double that when the traffic is heavy.  It's too much time spent on the road going back and forth between the two towns.  So Werner  suggested that we stay in Lenzburg (L) which is a quick eight minute drive down the road from Othmarsingen.  He recommended a hotel there which located near Schloss Lenzburg, one of the best preserved castles in Switzerland. 

Here is our revised itinerary.   I fly into Zurich on a Wednesday. Brigitta and Peter will meet me at the airport and drive me to their home, where I will spend two nights.

On Thursday morning Gail and Wes finish their tour.  They will be dropped off at Zurich Airport where the other members of the tour group will catch their flights home.  Werner will drive to the airport, pick up Gail and Wes, and take them to their hotel in Lenzburg.  They will have the afternoon on their own, and perhaps they will visit Lenzburg Castle.

On Friday morning Werner will drive to Brigitta's house, pick me up, and take me to the hotel.  (I made my reservations last night.)  We will then have the rest of Friday and Saturday to explore Othmarsingen.  We will visit the town's church which was built in 1675.  

Our great grandparents were baptized there, as well as countless generations of ancestors before them. 

We will also take a short hike to the remains of the stone quarry which once belonged to our great great grandfather.  We will visit Werner's other sister, Ruth, who lives in the town.  And Werner will see if he can arrange for us to visit the house in which our great grandparents were born.  On Saturday we will have lunch at a traditional restaurant located in the nearby forest.  Joining us will be Niklaus, a former town councilman, who was the person who helped me find my Swiss family.

On Sunday, another cousin, Walter, and his wife Helen have invited us to their home in Aarau (A on the map above).  They are going to have a family barbeque, so Gail and Wes will have a chance to meet even more of the Swiss cousins. 

After that shindig, Werner will drive them to a hotel near the airport so that they can catch their flight home on Monday morning.  I will stay on until Tuesday morning, when Werner will take me to the Zurich station for my train to Vienna.

It looks like a great time, and hopefully, there will be no more changes to our plans.