Friday, February 28, 2014

My painting so far

In my last post I mentioned that I was going to do a painting based on a landscape by the nineteenth century Mexican artist José María Velasco.

Well, I have started work on it, and I just finished the sky, which is perhaps the most difficult part of the painting.

Here is my work so far...

The canvas is 24 x 18 inches, and I, as always, I am using acrylic paints.
If you compare it with the original work by Velasco...
(image from the web)
... you can see that I am not attempting to do an exact copy of his work.  Also I know that my colors are different. Seeing as I am mildly colorblind, it would be very difficult for me to try to duplicate the colors.  I suppose that my colorblindness is the reason why my colors tend to quite vivid.
Next step is to paint the mountains.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

José María Velasco

I guess I am revealing my "old-fashioned" taste in art, but my favorite Mexican painter is not any of the internationally known muralists of the twentieth century, but a nineteenth century landscape painter by the name of José María Velasco.  Velasco lived from 1840 until 1912, and was the most famous Mexican artist of his time.

(image from the web)

 Self portrait of Velasco

Velasco concentrated primarily in landscapes, particularly views of the Valley of Mexico (where Mexico City is located) and the two snow-capped volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, which loom over the valley.

(images taken from the web)


 A few of his paintings of the Valley of Mexico

(image taken from the web)
 His painting of the ruins of Teotihuacan gives an interesting glimpse of what the archaeological site looked like before restoration.

I have mentioned previously that landscape painting is one of my hobbies, and that each year I donate a painting to the annual charity auction of the local chapter of Los Amigos de las Américas.  The auction is in early April, and it is time for me to get started on this year's painting.  I have chosen this work by Velasco as my subject matter...

(image taken from the web)

Although I do not pretend to have even a fraction of Velasco's talent, I hope that my painting turns out well and earns some money for my favorite charity.  It will be entitled "The Valley of Mexico - Tribute to José María Velasco".

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Garden

After a couple days of moderate temperatures and sunshine (which melted almost all of the existing snow), the frigid air has returned to Ohio and it's snowing again.

As a reminder that eventually winter will end, I thought that I would post some pictures of my flower garden. 

                                           Azalea and lilac bushes in the spring.

                 Every year this columbine comes up along the edge of the driveway.

                                         I have loads of Asiatic lilies and day lilies.

                                  Goose neck loosestrife is pretty but very invasive.

Coleus and tuberous begonias.
I have three knockout rosebushes.
Last summer was the first time I tried planting gardenias.  They are very temperamental,  and in spite of repeated applications of acid fertilizer, the leaves still tended to turn yellow.  I did have some very nice blooms, but I did not attempt to bring them in over the winter.

                                   The patio and flower box behind the bedroom.

It will be interesting to see how many of my perennials survived the arctic cold.  Hopefully one benefit of the cold will be a reduced population of Japanese beetles this summer!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Teotihuacan - the Place of the Gods

Long ago there was a great city, built by an unknown tribe, home to hundreds of thousands of people.  It was a city carefully planned with broad avenues and monumental architecture; its structures rose to the sky.  It was a city of art with mural paintings covering its buildings.  It was a bustling center of manufacturing and trade; its influence spread far and wide.  Then, for reasons unknown, the great metropolis, after flourishing for centuries, was abandoned.  Later peoples would look upon its ruins and marvel that it had surely been built by the gods.

This is not a fairy tale or a story of science fiction.  It is the story of the first great urban center of the Americas, the city of Teotihuacan.  This archaeological site is located about thirty miles to the northeast of Mexico City, and is a "must-see" for any visitor to the Mexican capital.  Going to Mexico City without seeing Teotihuacan, would be like going to Cairo and not seeing the Pyramids of Giza.  In fact, Teotihuacan rivals the ruins of ancient Egypt. 

No one knows who built this great city.  We don't even know its true name.  Teotihuacan is the name which the later Aztecs gave to the place.  In their language it means "the place of the gods", for the Aztecs believed that it was here that the gods were born.  

From the archaeological evidence, it would appear that the earliest buildings of this mysterious city date from 200 B.C., and that the city reached its peak around A.D. 450.  So Teotihuacan was contemporaneous with ancient Rome.  Like ancient Rome, its power and influence extended across a huge territory.  We don't know if the city militarily created an empire, or if the influence was more cultural and economic.  But we do know that trade goods from Teotihuacan have been found as far away as Honduras, and that the architecture and art of the Mayas and other civilizations, show Teotihuacan characteristics.  In fact, it would appear that the rise and fall of the Mayan "classic" culture was linked to that of Teotihuacan. 

In its heyday, Teotihuacan may have had a population of as many 250,000 inhabitants.  It was a center of religious pilgrimage, but also was a major manufacturing and trade center.  Implements of obsidian and distinctive pottery of a burnt orange color were sold all across Mexico and beyond. 

Just as with the abandoned Mayan cities, the reason for the fall of Teotihuacan remains a topic of speculation.  By A.D. 700 the city was abandoned.  There is evidence in the ruins of a great fire, which led archaeologists to think that the city had been invaded.  But now many believe that the city's own population may have rebelled against the ruling classes.  We know that in the 6th century there were severe droughts which were the result of climate change.  Skeletons from burials of that era show that malnutrition was widespread.  Perhaps the hungry masses rebelled against the nobility, and the order needed to maintain this complex society disintegrated. 

The present day ruins of Teotihuacan are crossed by a broad, two mile long road known as the Avenue of the Dead (Calzada de los Muertos).  That name was given by the Aztecs who thought that the earth-covered ruins on either side of the road were burial mounds.  In fact the avenue was lined with platforms upon which temples probably once stood.

At one end of the Avenue of the Dead stands a complex of structures known as the Citadel (la Ciudadela).  This name, given by the Spanish, is also a misnomer.  The Spanish saw the large area enclosed by walls, and thought that it was a fortress.  In fact, it was most likely an enclosed plaza (capable of holding up to 100,000 people) where the inhabitants could witness religious ceremonies.  In the center of the Citadel is the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl.

It was customary in the civilizations of Mexico to build pyramids on top of existing structures.  Many Mexican pyramids consist of numerous superimposed layers. This is true with the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl.  Archaeologists discovered that within the pyramid there was an earlier pyramid.  What they found was so interesting that they cut a cross section through the pyramid to reveal the façade of what had been covered.

This façade was decorated with alternating carvings of a serpent head surrounded by feathers, and another monstrous-looking creature.


 It is possible that these carvings represent earlier forms of two gods worshipped by the later Toltec and Aztecs peoples...

Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent...
and Tlaloc, the Rain God.
Half way down the Avenue of the Dead is Teotihuacan's most imposing structure, the Pyramid of the Sun.  In terms of volume, it is the third largest pyramid in the world   (The largest is the Pyramid of Cholula, Mexico, and the second largest is the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.)  Although burials have been found within some Mexican pyramids, unlike the Egyptian pyramids, their primary purpose was not as tombs.  They were platforms on which to build their temples closer to the heavens.

And, of course, each time I visit Teotihuacan, I feel obligated to climb the pyramid!
(Photo taken by Alejandro)

The buildings of Teotihuacan were once covered with a smooth layer of stucco and brightly painted.  In places there are fragments of mural paintings such as this image of a jaguar.

The Avenue of the Dead continues on to the Pyramid of the Moon.
Although the Pyramid of the Moon is not as tall, it is built on higher ground, and it provides a stunning vista of this magnificent archaeological site.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chapultepec Castle

Even though I am once again in the snow and cold of Ohio, I will continue to write posts about places that I have visited on previous trips.

One place that I have visited numerous times in Mexico City is Chapultepec Castle.  Today it is the National Museum of History. It is located in Chapultepec Park (known in Spanish as "el Bosque de Chapultepec" - "the Forest of Chapultepec").  The park is the most important in Mexico City, and is considered one of the great urban parks of the world. At one time the area was forested countryside some distance from Mexico City.  Now the city surrounds the park on all sides.

The park is named after an outcropping of volcanic rock which the Aztecs called Grasshopper Hill.  (In the Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, "chapul" means grasshopper and "tepec" means hill.)  The Aztecs considered the hill to be sacred, and the forests surrounding it were reserved for the Aztec nobility.

During the Spanish colonial period, plans were made to build a summer retreat on the hill for the viceroy, the king's appointed governor of the colony.  Construction was begun in 1775, but the palace was never occupied by the viceroy.  There were also plans to use the building as the general archive of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, but that never came to fruition either.

Chapultepec Castle atop the hill

After Mexico won its independence from Spain the building sat unoccupied for over a decade.  In 1833 the Colegio Militar (the Mexican equivalent of our West Point) was established at Chapultepec Castle.  The building was renovated and a watchtower was added.  In 1847, during the war between Mexico and the United States, the invading American army approached Mexico City.  One of the final battles of the war was fought at Chapultepec as the cadets of the military academy tried to halt the invaders' march to the capital.  Six of the teenaged cadets died in the battle.  They are now revered as "Los Niños Héroes", the Boy Heroes.  One of the young soldiers, Juan Escutia, is said to have wrapped himself in the Mexican flag, and committed suicide by throwing himself from the castle tower rather than surrender. (That story, however, is now generally dismissed as legend by historians.) 

An impressive monument in honor of the Boy Heroes stands at the foot of Chaputepec Hill.

A dramatic mural painting on a ceiling in the castle shows Juan Escutia plunging to his
                                      death during the Battle of Chapultepec.

In 1861 the army of Napoleon III of France invaded Mexico.  The French emperor, wishing to emulate his famous uncle, sought to expand France's empire in the Western Hemisphere.  The French were aided by Mexican conservatives who despised the liberal policies of the legal President, Benito Juárez.  After the French had taken control of much of the country, Napoleon convinced Archduke Maximilian of Austria to take the title of Emperor of Mexico.  (Napoleon was seeking to legitimize his invasion, and planned to use Maximilian as his puppet.)

In 1864, Maximilian and his wife Carlota, arrived in Mexico, and were crowned Emperor and Empress of Mexico.  They chose Chapultepec Castle to be their residence.  The building was thoroughly renovated in a neo-classical style, and lavishly furnished.

The entrance to Chapultepec Castle

Several rooms of the castle contain the furnishings which belonged to Maximilian and Carlota.  In the second picture, on the rear wall, you can see a portrait of Empress Carlota.

Another addition made to the castle during their reign was this roof garden.

Since the castle was at that time on the outskirts of the city, Maximilian had a broad boulevard constructed to connect his residence with the center of the city.  That boulevard is today one of the city's major thoroughfares, and was later renamed the Paseo de la Reforma, in honor of the reform laws of President Benito Juárez.

In this view from the terrace of the castle, you can see, just right of center, the green swath of the tree lined boulevard.  The tall building is the Torre Mayor, the tallest skyscraper in Mexico, and the six pillars of the Monument to the Boy Heroes are at the foot of the hill.

The coronation carriage of Maximilian and Carlota is in one of the halls of the museum.

In stark contrast, next to the coronation carriage is the simple black carriage in which President Benito Juárez fled the capital.  He traversed the country, keeping one step ahead of the French and directing Mexican resistance to the French occupation. 

Eventually, Napoleon III, faced with problems at home and pressure from the United States, withdrew his troops. Maximilian was alone with his small army of Mexican conservatives.  The forces of Juárez defeated Maximilian, and the emperor was executed before a firing squad in 1867.  (In spite of pleas for clemency, Juárez refused to commute the sentence because Maximilian himself had ordered the death sentence for captured Mexicans fighting against the empire.)

A mural in the museum portrays the triumphant return of Juárez to Mexico City.

Later, the castle became the presidential residence of the dictator Porfirio Díaz.  A number of rooms are still furnished as they were during his rule.

After the Mexican Revolution of 1910 deposed Porfirio Díaz, the castle continued to be used as a presidential residence.  In 1939, President Lázaro Cárdenas declared the castle the National Museum of History, and it was opened to the public in 1944.

Today, the museum contains not only a wide collection of artifacts pertaining to the country's history, but is also a showcase of  commissioned mural paintings done by some of Mexico's most famous artists.  Below is part of a series of murals done by David Siqueiros depicting the Mexican Revolution.

         Chapultepec Castle is today one of the outstanding attractions of Mexico City.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I'm home

My flights yesterday all went smoothly, and I arrived in Cleveland as scheduled at 6:30 P.M.  There are several inches of snow on the ground, and the temperature at this moment is 12 degrees Fahrenheit.  However, the sun is shining, and it's supposed to go up to a balmy 31 degrees today.  It seems hard to believe that the long awaited trip is over; the forty one days in sunny and warm Mexico flew by.  

Soon, however, I will be planning my next trip.  I will fill you in on the details later, but I will tell you now that my next adventure will be to somewhere other than Mexico.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Winding down

Today is my last full day in Mexico.  My flight to Houston leaves at 9 A.M. tomorrow, so Alejandro will drive me to the airport around 6:30 in the morning.  I'll have a three hour layover in Houston, and then arrive in Cleveland around 6:30 P.M.

The temperature in Cleveland right now is 9 degrees Fahrenheit (with a wind chill of 0 degrees).  The high today will be 14, and the low tonight will be 1 degree.  Brrrrrrrr.  However, tomorrow for my return, the temperature will be moderating; the high is supposed to get up to 30!  For the end of next week, they are forecasting a balmy 46!  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I missed the worst of the winter, but I know very well that we aren't out of the woods until midway into March.  Heck, we've been known to have snow in April!

Here in Mexico City, where the skies have been sunny and the high temperatures have been in the mid-70s, things have been winding down for me for the past several days.  On Sunday we drove to Alejandro's parents' house and had dinner there.  On Sunday evening we went to a nearby movie theater and saw "Philomena", an excellent film starring one of my favorite actresses, Judi Dench.  Yesterday I stayed in the apartment most of the day and did some laundry.  In the evening we walked to a nearby restaurant that we like called "Buena Tierra." Today I'm trying to get up the motivation to pack my bags.

It's been a long trip... 41 days.  The time I spent in Mérida seems a long time ago, and yet the trip has flown by.

Thanks to you who have been following my adventures.  But check back on the blog from time to time, because I will continue writing some posts about trips I made in past years.

¡Hasta luego! 



Monday, February 10, 2014

My eighth "Magic Town"

In previous posts, I have mentioned the "Pueblo Mágico" program of the Mexican tourism board.  Small towns throughout the country have been designated as "Magic Towns" for their cultural, historical and scenic qualities.  I had previously visited seven "Pueblos Mágicos", and on Saturday, Alejandro and I took an excursion to my eighth, the town of Tlayacapan.
Tlayacapan is located in the state of Morelos to the south of Mexico City, not far from another "Pueblo Mágico", Tepoztlán, which I described in earlier post.


Tlayacapan, like Tepoztlán, is located in a region of dramatic mountains.

Saturday is market day in Tlayacapan.  We parked the car on the edge of town, and walked toward the center along a street crowded with vendors' stalls.

At the center of town we came to the former Augustinian monastery of San Juan Bautista.
Construction on this religious complex began in the 1530s, little more than a decade after the Spanish conquest.  It has been declared a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO.


It is noteworthy for the remains of fresco paintings on the walls and ceilings of the church and monastery.

A colonial building which was once a candle factory is now a cultural center and small museum with some displays of the local pottery.

Tlayacapan was an interesting town, and worth a visit, but it didn't seem as "magical" as most of the other "Pueblos Mágicos" that I have seen.