Oaxaca mural

Oaxaca mural

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

If Only...

If only this damnable pandemic were not raging across the globe...

Today I would be on a plane headed back for another month in Mexico City...

Tomorrow I would be taking the Metrobus to the nearby supermarket, and then preparing dinner for Alejandro's family (probably his nephew's favorite dish... meatballs)...

On Friday we would be celebrating Alejandro's birthday.  Since his birthday falls on Good Friday this year, he would have had the day off from work, and we could have gone somewhere during the day.  Then in the evening we would have birthday cake and sing "Las Mañanitas" and open presents...

On Sunday while most of the family was at Easter mass, I would be filling plastic eggs with candy and hiding the eggs around the house.  When they returned from church Alejandro's nephew would have an Easter egg hunt...

For the next month I would be writing on my blog about all my experiences in Mexico City...

IF ONLY...

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Opera... Grand and Not So Grand

I have already written a couple of posts about the Metropolitan Opera performances that have been streaming for free.  Although I have not been watching every night, I dare say that I have now seen more opera than I had seen previously in my entire life.  Most of the performances have been enjoyable.  Here are some capsule reviews of what I have seen since my last opera post here.  (All photos, of course, are taken from the internet.)

The Land of Smiles


This production was presented, not by the Met, but by the Zurich Opera.  My cousin Brigitta told me that their website is also offering a couple of free, streaming performances.  The Met was doing an entire week of ponderous Wagner operas, so this seemed like a more pleasant alternative.  "The Land of Smiles" is an operetta written in 1929 by composer Franz Lehar (best known for "The Merry Widow").  The flimsy plot is a thread along which to string a series of melodious, romantic tunes.  The "big hit" of the operetta was "You Are My Heart's Delight", a song which was familiar to my ear.  

What I found most interesting was that the plot must have been somewhat controversial in those days shortly before the rise of Nazism.  It deals with an interracial romance... an Austrian countess and a Chinese prince fall in love.  However, in the end the countess breaks off the relationship, so I guess the message was that interracial romance does not work after all.


Tannhäuser



Although I had deliberately skipped the presentations of Wagner's four operas that make up the 14 hour long "Ring Cycle", I gave Wagner another try before the week was over by watching "Tannhäuser".  I watched mainly because the opera includes a number of melodies such as the "Pilgrims' Chorus" and the "Fest March" that I really like.  The work portrays the story of a legendary German knight who is torn between his pure love for the noblewoman Elisabeth and sensual delights in the cave of the goddess Venus.  Like most of Wagner's works it is too long, and there are slow stretches, but it was better than the grim, depressing production of "Tristan and Isolde" that I had seen the week before.


The Barber of Seville


After Wagner week was out of the way, I was looking forward to seeing Rossini's most famous comic opera, and it did not disappoint.  The story of the barber Figaro and his attempts to help Count Almaviva win the hand of the lovely Rosina is a silly, delightful romp.  The comic elements were played up with outright slapstick humor, and I found myself laughing out loud.  The music is wonderful, and I marvel at how the performers are able to sing the super fast paced lyrics of many of the songs.  There was barely a dull moment!


Dialogues of the Carmelites


I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one.  It was written by French composer Francis Poulenc in 1956.  There are a lot of modern serious compositions that simply sound more like noise than music to my ears.  However, Poulenc turned out to be a fairly traditional composer, and his music was generally melodious.  I had a hard time keeping track of a couple of the characters (the majority are all dressed in nun's habits), but the plot held my attention most of the time.  The story deals with the members of a Carmelite convent and how the French Revolution intrudes upon their lives.  There are a couple of very dramatic scenes which definitely make it worth watching.


Nixon in China


Well, I made it through Poulenc's opera, so I thought that I would give another modern opera a try.  "Nixon in China" was written by American composer John Adams, and premiered in 1987.  Obviously, it deals with Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972.  It has been called one of the most important American operas ever written.  Well, I turned it off after about twenty minutes.  The music was not especially appealing, and the lyrics seemed inane.  I know I didn't give it a fair chance, but I felt like I had better things to do.


Don Carlo


This epic work by Giuseppe Verdi, the master of Italian opera, is not as well known as some of his others and does not contain as many familiar songs.  However it is considered one of his masterpieces.  Its length (nearly four hours long!) rivals the works of Wagner.  But I made it through the whole thing, and I generally enjoyed it.  It deals with Prince Carlos, the rebellious son of King Felipe II of Spain, and his love for his stepmother Elizabeth of Valois.  The drama is compelling, but historically speaking, it is a mess.  It is true that the King of France originally offered his daughter's hand in marriage to Carlos, and but then later had her wed Felipe as part of a peace treaty.  But there was never any love affair between Carlos and Elizabeth.  In fact Carlos was mentally unstable (too much royal intermarriage?), and was imprisoned by his father.  He died, probably of natural causes, in confinement, but Spain's enemies concocted all sorts of conspiracy theories about what had really happened.  "Don Carlo" is junk history, but good opera.


The Pearl Fishers



The French composer Georges Bizet is best known for "Carmen".  This is his "other opera", written when he was only eighteen years old.  The story takes place in a fishing village in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).  The thin plot deals with two guys who have been friends since childhood, but who now find themselves rivals for the forbidden love of a Hindu priestess.  The recurring "friendship duet" between the two male leads is the opera's only familiar song.  The production was interesting, and the music was pleasant, but it will never replace "Carmen".


Aida


On the Metropolitan Opera website, there were no more operas listed after April 5th.  But then on Monday they scheduled another week of free streaming performances.  First up was my favorite opera of all, Verdi's "Aida".   This is the grandest of all grand operas.  The monumental stage settings and sumptuous costumes conjure up the glory of ancient Egypt.  The scene with the Triumphal March, complete with horse-drawn chariot on stage, is the epitome of opera as spectacle, as spectacular as Cecile B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments".  Woe to any producer who should ever try to stage a pared down, modern-day setting of this work!

The tragic love story tells of the Ethiopian slave Aida and her lover, the Egyptian commander Radames.  However the pharoah's daughter Amneris wants Radames for herself.  I used to have a recording of this opera which I listened to countless times.  I could have hummed along to the music throughout most of the production.  I loved it! 

Monday, April 6, 2020

in the Kitchen

It had been a long time since I had made soup, so I decided that while the weather was still on the chilly side that I would make up a big kettle.  I thought about making vegetable stock from scratch rather than buying it in the store, and I found a recipe on the internet.  Last Friday after making a morning run to the supermarket to buy the ingredients, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen.

The vegetables had to be chopped, and then browned in olive oil.  Water and spices were added, and then it was allowed to simmer for an hour and a half.


Then the vegetables had to be removed from the stock.  That seemed a waste, but I had a taste, and the vegetables were mushy and bland after cooking for so long.  The stock really wasn't that flavorful.  Granted, it was probably a lot healthier since it didn't contain all the salt that store-bought stock contains.  But I doubt if would go to all the bother of making it from scratch again.

I used the stock to make cabbage soup.  I didn't have a recipe.  I just through in things that I thought would go well together... a small head of shredded cabbage, some cubes of ham, as well as potatoes and carrots.  I put it in the refrigerator to sit overnight to let the flavors meld.  I had it for dinner the next day.  I thought that the ham would give it a richer taste, but it still was a bit bland.  Before putting my bowl into the microwave I sprinkled in some hot Hungarian paprika.  That turned out to be just the extra kick that it needed.  I had two big bowls, and I am having more today for dinner.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Empty

If the webcam photos that I found this afternoon are any indication, it may be that people in Mexico (or at least many of them) are finally taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously.

Here is the city's main plaza, the Zócalo, this afternoon, a place that is always bustling with activity... 


A fence appears to have been put up closing off the plaza.  But there are only a few people anywhere in the picture and hardly any traffic.


Here is the Plaza de la República in front of the Monument to the Mexican Revolution.


Normally on a warm, sunny, Saturday afternoon, there would be loads of people here, with children frolicking in the fountains built into the pavement of the square.  The fountains are off, and there are only a handful of people.

This intersection by the Palace of Fine Arts is usually one of the busiest in downtown Mexico City.  Normally when traffic is stopped for a red light, there would be a crush of pedestrians crossing at the crosswalk.



Even from the heights of the Latin American Tower you can make out the throngs of people strolling along pedestrianized Madero Street.  It is especially crowded on weekends.  At 6:00 P.M. today the street was eerily empty.




Today begins the Holy Week vacation time when many Mexico City families flock to the beach resorts.  So, have they all fled to the coast?  

No Holy Week crowds in Cancún


Xcaret on the Rivera Maya is devoid of vacationers.


In Playa del Carmen, Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), a pedestrianized street lined with shops, restaurants and bars, is the center of tourist activity.  Today the businesses are shuttered, and there are only a handful of people to be seen.


The colonial town of San Miguel de Allende is famous for its Holy Week observances, and is another popular destination for Mexican vacationers.  Those events have all been cancelled.  In this view of the town square there is only one lonely person to be seen.


Obviously Mexico's important tourism industry is taking a severe blow... as is tourism throughout the world.  But if it takes a few months of isolation to bring the coronavirus under control, so be it.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Letting It Grow




Ever since I retired, about 14 years ago, I have been shaving my head.  My hair is thinning, my hairline receding, and my hair when it grows out is curly and unruly.  I figured I would look better, and, oddly enough, younger if I just shaved it all off.  Even before I retired for several years I had been buzz-cutting it very short.  I haven't been to a barber in a couple decades.    

Since beginning my self-isolation a couple weeks ago, I decided to just let it go and see how much hair is still up there.  In the somewhat blurry attempt at a selfie above, I think you can make out the bit of fuzz covering the top of my pate and the thicker hair on the side.  I am still shaving my face and trimming my goatee, but I am going to allow my hair to grow for as long as the stay-at-home rule is in effect.  (Here in Ohio that has been extended until at least May 1st.)  I am hoping that this crisis does not last so long that I have hair down to my shoulders.  I'll look like an aging hippie!  Even as a teen-ager in the "flower child" era of the 60s and 70s I never let my hair grow that long!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Welcome April



The gray skies and heavy rains here in Ohio have only added to the gloom under which we live.  However the daffodils are in bloom.  In my garden the clumps of foliage all sprouted, but there are only a few blossoms.  I suspect that I will need to thin out and replant the bulbs.  Still the few bright yellow flowers that I have are a welcome sign of spring and a sign of hope for better days ahead.

Monday, March 30, 2020

An International Triangle

I wrote about how I have been doing video chats with some of my cousins in Europe and with my friend Alejandro in Mexico.  Yesterday I added something new to my Skype experience.  I've talked to my cousin Brigitta in Switzerland about my travels in Mexico and about Alejandro and his family, and of course I have talked to Alejandro about my Swiss family.  On Saturday Brigitta emailed me and asked if I would like to Skype at noon on Sunday, and I said sure.  I knew that it was possible to add more people for a conference chat, but it was something that I had never done.  When I talked to Alejandro I asked him if he would like to meet one of my Swiss cousins through a video chat.  He thought it was a cool idea and agreed to go onto Skype at the same time.

Brigitta called me a little before noon, and she was with her partner Peter.  I checked to see if Alejandro was on Skype.  He was, and I added him to our conversation without much difficulty.  We had, as Peter put it, an international triangle between Switzerland, Mexico and the United States.  We probably talked for an hour.  

   
Skype has proven to be a great asset in easing the sense of "cabin fever" during this period of self-isolation.