Oaxaca mural

Oaxaca mural

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Zipping Through



I am writing this at the Houston airport, so I am part way home.  So far, knock on wood, everything has gone very smoothly.  Alejandro drove me to the airport this morning, and, although traffic was congested, we still had time to have breakfast there before I went through security.

My flight from Mexico City pulled away from the gate ten minutes ahead of schedule, and we arrived in Houston fifteen minutes early.  I had upgraded to a roomier "economy plus" seat, and there was no one in the middle seat, so my flight was very comfortable.  

Immigration and customs in Houston have always been quick and painless.  Today, however, was exceptionally fast.  My flight must have been the only international flight arriving at that hour because no one else was there.  No waiting at all.  The agent at immigration asked me where I had been and if I had brought any alcohol or tobacco.  By the time that my flight was supposed to arrive in Houston, I was already through immigration and customs.  Passing through security was equally easy.  No one else was there.  I didn't feel rushed putting all my stuff in the bins, and I could take my time putting myself back together. 

I have more than a three hour layover here in Houston, so I used one of my passes for the United Club to pass the time comfortably.  Hopefully the rest of the day will go as easily, and by early evening I will be home in Cleveland.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Another Trip Draws to a Close



It is hard to believe, but six weeks have passed, and tomorrow I will return home to Ohio.  I have left the apartment and I am now at Alejandro's home.  He will drive me to airport tomorrow morning for my 10 A.M. flight from Mexico City to Houston.  In some respects the time has flown by.  On the other hand, as I look through my photos, things that we did early on, such as going to the top of the Revolution Monument, seem as if they were a long time ago, even on a previous trip.

Yesterday and again today, I received emails from United Airlines informing me that if I have been in China in the last two weeks I will either be turned away (if I am not a U.S. citizen) or put in quarantine.  Fortunately I have been in Mexico the entire time.  Although there were a couple of suspected cases in Mexico, those people were tested and did not have the corona virus.  Passing through immigration at Houston airport is usually very speedy, but I wonder if tomorrow it will be slower since the agents will surely be asking more questions of each arriving passenger.




This Park Is for the Birds

Last Saturday I was at Alejandro's house, and we walked over to the nearby Bosque de San Juan de Aragón, the major park on the north side of the city.



With its sports fields, swimming pool, playgrounds and carnival rides, as well as countless stands selling snacks, it was easy to understand why the park is a popular spot for a weekend outing for the residents of this congested and gritty working-class neighborhood.  But it certainly could not compare with Chapultepec Park or even Bicentennial Park which I had visited the day before.





However, when we reached the lake, my opinion of the park rose, and I found myself snapping lots of photos.  




It used to be that you could rent rowboats to go out on the lake, but no longer.  The reason for that is that the lake has been made into a preserve for waterfowl.  It is the only man made aquatic preserve in the city.  In an exploding urban environment in which natural spaces are disappearing, this lake has become a refuge for many species of birds.  Some of them are migratory birds that use this lake as a stopping-off place.

Of course there are a lot of ducks.






There are also a lot of herons.





I did not know what kind of bird this was.  Fortunately there was a sign with pictures identifying the different kinds of waterfowl in the lake.  In Spanish it is called a "monjita" (little nun).  I looked up the Latin name which was also listed on the sign, and in English it is called a black necked stilt.





What surprised me most was that there was a large colony of pelicans.  I always thought of the pelican as a bird that lives along the ocean coasts, but apparently it also lives in fresh water areas.  Apparently there is plenty of fish in the lake to support the colony.




Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Bicentennial Park

One day on the Mexico City Forum on Trip Advisor someone mentioned "Parque Bicentenario", a place in the city which I had never visited.  I looked it up on Google Maps and discovered that, although it was removed from the main tourist area, it was next to a stop on the Metro line that runs closest to the apartment where I stay.  

So last Friday that was my destination.  The park is located in a largely industrial area of the city.  In fact it is located on the site where a refinery once stood.  As the name implies, it was built in 2010 for the bicentennial of Mexico's independence.



As you entered the park, the first area is a fairly large botanical garden.  There are three glass structures, each one housing vegetation from a different climatic environment... mountain cloud forest, tropical rainforest, and desert.





There is also an outdoor recreation of "chinampas", a agricultural method that predates the Aztecs.  Back when much of the Valley of Mexico was covered with a shallow lake, the natives would create islands for farming by piling dirt upon reed mats that were staked to the lake bottom.  These so called "floating gardens" still exist in Xochilmilco in the southern part of the city. 

The miniature "chinampas" in the park were planted with a variety of vegetables.




The botanical area also has a wide variety of cactii and agaves which are native to Mexico.







There was also a pine forest.  We don't usually think of pine trees when we think of Mexico, but in the colder climate of the higher mountains there are extensive pine forests.


The tree to the left with the very long needles is called an "ocote" or Montezuma pine.  It is very common in the mountains of Mexico.

There was also a large orchid house.  There are over one thousand species of orchids to be found in Mexico, and about 40% of them are endemic to Mexico.

















The park extends far beyond the botanical gardens.  There are sports fields, playgrounds, and plenty of open space for visitors to enjoy a respite from the congestion of the city.



There were a large number of magnolia trees in bloom throughout the park.


Bougainvillea



This replica of a Korean temple bell was presented to Mexico by South Korea as a token of friendship to mark Mexico's bicentennial.



The park is clean and quite well maintained.  It is a fine addition to the city's park system. The only criticism that I have is that very few of the plants in the botanical gardens were labeled.

Doing Tapas

Last month, in the early part of this trip, I wrote about a Spanish restaurant in the "Centro Histórico" that served so-so food but at a very reasonable price.  Last Thursday after doing a bit of shopping downtown, I came across a Spanish tapas bar called "Pata Negra".  I looked at the menu and it included many of my favorite Spanish tapas, so I decided to have my afternoon dinner there.





To drink I ordered a glass of sangría, which was excellent.  I began with gazpacho, the classic, cold Spanish soup.  It was good but it did not taste quite like the traditional recipe from Andalucía, Spain.  I don't think that they blended bread with the vegetables which would have given it a thicker consistency.  I also ordered "croquetas de jamón"... ham croquettes... which were quite good.



I continued my tapas meal with an order of "patatas bravas"... potato wedges with garlic mayonnaise and a spicy dipping sauce.  I also had "tortilla española", the egg, onion and potato dish which is similar to an Italian "frittata".  This was the most disappointing dish... the "tortilla" was not cooked long enough.  Although the top and bottom were browned, the inside was runny.



I would say that the food was generally better than the Spanish restaurant that I visited last month but it was considerably more expensive.  And it did not hit the mark as far as equaling the tapas that I have had in Spain.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Art Above

I recently posted photos from the Anthropology Museum of the artwork of the Huichol tribe from western Mexico.  Every time that I walk down Madero Street in the "Centro Histórico" I see in a balcony above, a display for a shop selling Huichol art.  I keep telling myself that I should go visit the shop, and last Thursday I did.

The balcony is on the last block of Madero Street before you reach the Zócalo, the main square of Mexico City.  According to the sign, you enter through #15 on the Zócalo.  At the end of the block I turned left, and found the doorway marked 15.  I went inside.  A man was seated at a desk, and I asked him where the shop was.  He directed me up a flight of stairs, and there I found several businesses including the art gallery I was looking for.  The place is called "Yawí Arte Tradicional".

The shop consists of two small rooms filled with incredible yarn paintings and beaded work, much of it by one noted Huichol artist.  In the second room there are also some high quality work from other parts of Mexico.  The lady in charge was very pleasant.  We chatted at length about the artwork, about pieces of handicrafts that I have, and about the display of Huichol art that I had seen in the Anthropology Museum.  The lady said that she believed that the artist had a piece on display in the museum.


Look at these large animal figures covered with intricate designs all done in beads.

It's not surprising that most of the items here cost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.  I found a reasonably priced, small, beaded item that I bought as a gift for someone back home.  It came with a certificate of authenticity from the artist.

The lady was then kind enough to take my picture standing next to a beaded figure of a mariachi musician.



Shopping for Ezra

Last Thursday I went downtown again, not to do any sightseeing, but to do some shopping.  Alejandro's nine year old nephew, Ezra, has seen all the Harry Potter movies, and now he wants to read the books (in Spanish of course).  His mom found a copy of the second of the novels, but not the first one.  I was sure that I had seen the Harry Potter series in the outdoor used book market in the narrow pedestrian street that runs beside the main post office.  So that was my primary destination.





I thought that I had seen the Harry Potter books at a stall of children's books at the beginning of the market.  But they weren't there.  I walked all the way down the narrow aisle and headed back.  Finally I spotted a stall with some of the series, and fortunately the first book was there.  It cost 120 pesos, about six dollars.  I gave it to Ezra this weekend when I was at the family's house, and his face lit up when he saw what I had for him.

There was something else that I wanted to do.  Earlier last week Ezra had asked me for my address.  He said that he was going to write me a letter.  (I suspect that he might have had a school assignment to write a letter to someone.)  I decided that I would surprise him and send him a postcard before I left Mexico City.

Finding a postcards for sale is not as easy as it used to be.  But I knew that there were vendors selling cards right outside the post office building.



I picked out a postcard of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán, which was appropriate since Ezra and his mom recently took an excursion there.

I then went inside the ornate post office... which I suspect is one of the most beautiful in the world.




I went to the stamp window.  The cost for sending a postcard within Mexico is nine pesos.



The postcard is ready to send.  Before I leave Mexico later this week, I will go downtown and send it to Ezra.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for him to receive it, and how long it will be before I receive Ezra's letter.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Spring Is Coming

Although the calendar says that it is still winter, here in Mexico City the weather is gliding pleasantly toward springtime.  The nights and early mornings have been less chilly.  In January the thermometer often struggled to make it to 70 F, but now the afternoon highs have been consistently in the mid to high 70s.  And the forecast for the next few days calls for highs in the 80s.  This evening Alejandro and I went out for supper after dark and there was no need to wear a jacket.  

The surest sign that spring is on its way is that the jacaranda trees have started to bloom!


Lunch in Bogotá

Some parts of the Mexico City neighborhood of Roma are very hip with lots of trendy restaurants, cafés and watering holes.  But other parts are more traditional, and the neighborhood is home to many immigrants from Colombia and Venezuela.  As I was walking around Roma a Colombian restaurant called "Pollos Mario" caught my eye.  I had noticed the place on an earlier trip when the exterior was being refurbished.  Now it looks like a quaint Colombian house with a wooden balcony on the upper floor.



I decided to give it a try.  The inside is cute but nothing fancy.



As I looked at the menu I saw that many of the dishes included "morcilla"... blood sausage... which, even though I have never tried it, does not sound appetizing.  I decided upon a dish called "ajiaco".  I later read that it is a favorite in Colombia's capital of Bogotá.



"Ajiaco" is a thick soup made with shredded chicken and chunks of potato.  There is even a chunk of corn on the cob.  It was very tasty.  The "ajiaco" was served with a plate of rice, a small salad of shredded cabbage, and slices of avocado and fried plantain.  Even though the rice looked very plain, it had a nice flavor.  To drink I had "maracuyá" (passion fruit) juice.

It was a filling and very good lunch, and a nice change of pace.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Walking Around Roma

In a little more than a century the Mexico City neighborhood of Roma has gone from being one of the city's most elite districts, to falling into decline, to becoming a trendy center for dining and nightlife.

When I was in Roma last Wednesday I walked around for a couple hours and took pictures of some of the architecture that remains from the neighborhood's glory days when grand houses in colonial or art deco style lined its streets.  Here is a sampling of a few architectural gems in varying states of repair...




















These colorfully painted houses remind me of the historic center of Mérida, Yucatán.

Unfortunately, even in this gentrifying neighborhood, there are old houses that are falling into decay.






Beautiful stained glass windows on a home that has seen better days.





One has to wonder if such buildings will eventually be razed and replaced with the modern apartment buildings that are springing up in the neighborhood. 


Or will they be protected from the wrecker's ball due to their historic status?

Many of the old buildings are seeing a second life.

This art deco building is in the process of being renovated, and divided into apartments.
The sign says, "Last apartments on sale".

At least the façade of this art deco structure was saved.
When you pass through the door you are in an outdoor garden center.

It's not surprising in this hub of fine dining that many of the old houses have been reincarnated as restaurants.