Friday, February 27, 2015

I'm Sick of Winter!


Even though March is a couple days away, winter is showing no signs of loosening its grip.  As I write this, the temperature is a chilly 4 degrees Fahrenheit.  Last night it was below zero, and tonight once again it is predicted to fall to -3 degrees.  On Sunday, we are expected to get three to five inches of snow. Here in Ohio, we usually can expect snow well into March and even occasionally in April, but by this time normally the temperatures are beginning to moderate, and there are breaks in the winter weather that give us hope for spring.   The long term forecast (which is really just a guess by meteorologists) says that we might reach the low forties on Tuesday and Wednesday... but with a rain / ice mix.  Yuck! Then the temperatures are supposed to drop below freezing again. 

Even though I missed out on five weeks of winter during my trip to Mexico, I am sick of this.  A friend asked me just yesterday, "Why did you bother to come home?"  Well, as enticing as an entire winter in Mexico sounds right now, there are things that have to be done at home.  So I will just have to put up with it until spring decides to arrive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Half Way There

I put in several hours of work on my painting today, and the picture is about half way completed.  I should have no trouble finishing long before the charity auction on March 21st.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Progress on the Painting

After a couple days of work, my painting is progressing.  This is what it looks like so far...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time to Get Painting

Each year when I return from my winter trip to Mexico, one of my projects is to paint a picture to donate to the spring auction for the local chapter of "Los Amigos de las Américas".  In the past the auction has been the first Saturday in April.  The date worked out well because it fell just before I would leave again to be in Mexico City for Alejandro's birthday.  When I looked at the calendar for 2015, I realized that this year the first Saturday in April is the day before Easter.  I doubted that they would have the auction on that date.  I was hoping that they would not schedule it for the following week.  I would still be able to do a painting ahead of time, but I would not be able to attend the event.  It's a very enjoyable evening to which I look forward, and several friends go with me.  They enjoy it too.  It's become a yearly tradition.

A couple days ago, I received an e-mail from "Los Amigos" informing me that the auction would be March 21st this year.  Wonderful!  I'll be able to attend, but I have to get started on the painting.  In past years I have done Mexican landscapes, but I decided that this year I would do a scene based on a photo I took on one of my trips to Spain.  I knew exactly which photo I would use.

This is a picture of Chinchón, a small town to the south of Madrid that I visited last September.  I like the way the trees in the foreground frame and divide the view of the town in the background, and I think that it will make a nice painting.  So, last night, I printed a copy of the picture, and this morning I began work on the painting.

I will keep you posted as the work progresses!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Here in the United States, we are familiar with the Mardi Gras celebration that is held each year in New Orleans.  The term "mardi gras" (French for "fat Tuesday") technically refers to just today, the last day before the beginning of Lent, and not to the weeklong celebration.

In Latin America, the pre-Lenten celebrations are referred to as "Carnaval".  "Carnaval", similar to our word carnival, has its roots in Latin.  Carne = meat, Vale = farewell   From the Middle Ages on into the 20th century, Catholics were supposed to abstain from eating meat during the forty days of Lent prior to Easter.  "Carnaval" was the last chance to feast and be merry before the period of solemn penance. 

The most lavish "Carnaval" in the world is that of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  More than two million people participate in the yearly event, which includes street festivals, elegant balls, and extravagant parades and performances by the "samba schools" that prepare all year long for the festivities.

(image taken from the web)
Carnaval in Rio

Although no place in Mexico can equal the "Carnaval" of Rio, there are a number of cities that are noted for their celebrations.  Probably the most famous "Carnaval"  in Mexico, and the only one that I have experienced, is that of the port city of Veracruz.  Back in 1973 I was a student at the University of the Americas in Cholula, Mexico.  Another student and I decided that we should go to Veracruz for the weekend, even though we had no hotel reservations.  Back in those days, the University had classes only four days a week, so on Thursday afternoon, after our classes were over, we took a bus to Veracruz.  We arrived late at night, and we were able to find a room at a hotel next to the bus station.  It was a clean, modern place, but unfortunately there would be no vacancies for the weekend.  On Friday morning we set out trying to find a place to stay.  Finally we found a room in a very dingy and, perhaps, less than respectable hotel.  But at least we had a roof over our heads for the weekend.  During the day on Friday and Saturday we did some sightseeing in the city, and at night, we observed the celebration.  There we were, a couple of "nerds", amidst the revelers throwing confetti, the dancers in the streets, and the parades.  It was interesting, but, as I said, we were observers more than participants.  We did not stay out late at night, but headed back to our dump of a hotel.
Mérida, a city which I visit frequently, is also known for its pre-Lenten celebration, but I have never been there for Carnaval.  It just did not seem the best time to enjoy the usually relaxing city.  When I have taken friends down there, I have always avoided Carnaval because I feared that they would not see the city at its best during the crowded, noisy revelry.  I have read that recently Mérida decided to move the venue outside of the city center.  "Carnaval" is now being held at the fairgrounds some distance away.  Perhaps, one of these years, I will plan to be there for the festivities.  I can head out to the fairgrounds, and when I have had my fill of the merry-making, I can retreat back to the city! 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Arctic Chill and a Touch of the Flu

Gone are the sunshine and warmth to which I had grown accustomed.
I just took this picture a few minutes ago of the gray, cold morning here in Ohio.  We have had nowhere near the amount of snow that New England has received.  (You can tell from the snow accumulated on top of the planter that the snow is not very deep.)  Just after I took the photo, we had a brief, heavy flurry, but as I write this the falling snow is almost imperceptible.  The big weather news here is the extremely cold temperatures that will be moving in this weekend.  At the moment the temperature is 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but tonight it is supposed to go down to -5 F.  Tomorrow's high temperature is predicted to be 1 degree, with a low of -10 (that's -23 for readers who are used to the Celsius scale).  Brrrrr.
Two days after my return from Mexico I woke up with what I can only explain as a mild case of the flu.  I had my influenza shot last fall, as always, but the experts who make up the vaccine did not do a very good job in predicting which strains would be prevalent this year.  I read somewhere that the vaccine was only 23% effective.  There was quite a bit of flu going around prior to my departure for Mexico in January, and I was keeping my fingers crossed that I didn't catch it right before my trip.  Thanks goodness, I didn't!
But on Thursday morning, I didn't wake up until 10:30... very unusual for me.  I got up and I had an extreme case of the chills.  Although I had no congestion, sore throat or coughing, I felt achy and tired.  I took my temperature, and I had a mild fever. 
I've spent most of the last two days in bed.  The fever subsided, but I still felt worn out.  Today I woke up at a more normal time (7:30), and I feel like I have more energy.  So, hopefully, I am just about over whatever I had!
I would also like to send out a "hello" to my friends Nancy and Fred who are currently on a trip to Australia and New Zealand.  I have noticed some visitors from that part of the world, so I suspect that they have been following my blog.  I hope that your trip has been fantastic!
Happy Valentine's Day to all my readers. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Back Home

I am now back home in Ohio... back to the cold of the northern winter.

My flights yesterday went exceptionally well.  With all the traveling that I did last year, I have attained Premier Silver Status with United Airlines.  I doubt if I will still have that status in 2016 (I have no trips to Europe scheduled for this year), but I am certainly enjoying the perks while I have them.

On my flight from Oaxaca to Houston, I was given a complimentary upgrade to business class.  On the flight from Houston to Cleveland there were no first class seats available, but I was given an upgrade to Economy Plus (economy seats with more leg room).  Given the fact that there was no one else seated in my section of three seats, I was just as comfortable as I would have been in first class.  The flights all left and arrived on time.

When I went through security in Mexico City, I was asked to open the carry-on bag in which I had my Oaxacan pottery, all bundled in bubble-wrap and newspaper.  I thought, "Oh, no, I hope I don't have to unwrap all those pieces of pottery."  But the security fellow only asked me what was in the packages.  When I went through security in Houston no one asked me to open my carry-on luggage.  There was virtually no wait at all to go through customs.  Houston used to have very long lines.  I don't know if Houston has improved their system, or if it was because of the day of the week that I was travelling, but I was through customs in no time at all.  I didn't even have to wait long at the carousel for my checked luggage.

It was one of the most pleasant hassle-free days of flying that I have experienced! 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Adiós, México

I have been in Mexico for five weeks.  Tomorrow I will return home.  I think to myself that I should make these winter trips even longer, because Ohio is still in the grip of winter.  Tomorrow's high temperature in Cleveland will be 25.  Wednesday the temperature will go up to a relatively balmy 39, but then on Thursday the low will go down to a frigid 3 degrees.  Ohio has had plenty of snowfall, but at least it has not been hit as badly as New England. 

Oh well, it is time to say farewell to temperatures in the mid-seventies, and hope that the winter up north does not continue as long as it did last year.

Dinner at the Top

Alejandro had obtained coupons for us to have dinner on Sunday at Bellini restaurant at Mexico City's World Trade Center, the third tallest building in the city.  I didn't realize that Bellini was the revolving restaurant on the 45th floor.  I didn't bring my camera with me, but fortunately, Alejandro was able to take some pictures with his camera.

(photo taken by Alejandro)

The restaurant, which is supposed to be the largest revolving restaurant in the world, takes an hour and forty five minutes to make a complete revolution.  In spite of the smog (the volcanoes to the east of the city were not visible) the view was quite spectacular.

(photos taken by Alejandro)

Our four course set meal was very good.  I don't know how much Alejandro paid, but he said that if we didn't have coupons, a meal there can easily run $100 U.S. per person.  Even with the view, I'm not sure the meal would be worth the full price, but I am certainly glad that we had a chance go there on my last weekend in Mexico City.

Saturday in the Park with Alejandro

One of the blogs which I regularly read is "The Mexile".  It is written by Gary Denness, an Englishman who lived and worked for a number of years in Mexico City.  During the time he was in Mexico he wrote on his blog about "hidden treasures" of Mexico City, places that are not on the typical tourist track.  One of those treasures was Tezozómoc Park.  On Saturday afternoon Alejandro and I visited the park.

Tezozómoc Park is located in the gritty, industrial district of Azcapotzalco, but just a short distance from the very upscale neighborhood of Ciudad Satélite.  The park was opened in 1982.  The major point of interest is the large pond which is shaped like Lake Texcoco, the lake which in pre-Hispanic times covered much of the Valley of Mexico.  Along the pathway which encircles the pond there are signs which give the location and history of the towns and landmarks (like Xochimilco and Chapultepec) which once stood along the shores of Lake Texcoco.  

The pond is home to a large number of ducks, who are very well fed by the visitors.  (I have to wonder, however, if popcorn is a good diet for ducks!)

I was thinking of Gary Denness, "the Mexile", when I took this picture.  Gary loves turtles, and, if I recall correctly, in his blog he mentioned the turtle population of the park.  However, this is the only turtle I saw.

Many times I have been to Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, and the Retiro Park in Madrid, yet I have never rented one of the boats to go out on their ponds.  Here at Tezozómoc Park Alejandro and I rented a "pedal boat", and spent a very relaxing hour on the pond.

 In the center of the pond is a small island which represents the spot where the Aztecs built their capital.  According to Aztec mythology, their god had told them that they should settle where they saw an eagle, perched on a cactus, devouring a serpent,  On an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, the Aztecs supposedly saw that omen.  There they built their city of Tenochtitlán, present day Mexico City.  The eagle and the serpent are also the national emblem of the country and appear on the Mexican flag.

On the little island in the park pond, there are statues representing the legendary founding of Tenochtitlán.

Tezozómoc Park is certainly not one of the leading attractions of the Mexico City, but Alejandro and I, along with hundreds of local families, spent a very pleasant Saturday afternoon here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sunday in the Park with Diego

A couple days ago I wrote about the famous Mexican mural painter, Diego Rivera.  One of his best known murals was commissioned in 1947 for the dining room of the newly built Hotel del Prado.  The hotel was located across the street from the "Alameda Central", a large park in the heart of the city.  The park became the inspiration for Rivera's mural, which he entitled "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central".  In the painting, Rivera has portrayed a "Who's Who" of famous people from 400 years of Mexican history all promenading in the park.

When the painting was unveiled, it stirred one of those controversies that frequently surrounded Rivera's works.  One of the historical figures portrayed in the mural was Ignacio Ramírez, a well-known 19th century writer and journalist.  Ramírez was an atheist, and was portrayed holding a document with the words "God does not exist."  The archbishop of Mexico City refused to bless the opening of the hotel, and Rivera was asked to paint over the offending words.  The artist, who was himself an atheist, refused, and for nine years the mural was hidden from sight.  Finally, Rivera relented, saying that he did not need to hide behind the words of Ignacio Ramírez to affirm his atheism.

The Hotel del Prado was structurally damaged in the earthquake of 1985.  Fortunately, the mural was unscathed.  Before the hotel was razed (today a new Hilton Hotel stands on the site) the painting was transported across the street to a small museum which had been built on land that had also been cleared of earthquake damaged structures.  The famous painting can now be viewed in the "Museo Mural Diego Rivera".

The mural is fifty feet long.

Four figures dominate the center of the painting.

In the very center is a "Catrina", an elegantly dressed skeleton.  The boa that she wears around her neck is actually, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god of pre-Hispanic Mexico.

To the right of the "Catrina" is the late 19th century engraver, José Guadalupe Posada.  It was Posada who invented the image of the "Catrina" as a satire on the vanity of the upper-class Mexican ladies of the era.  The "Catrinas" and "Catrines" (fashionable male skeletons) drawn by Posada would become the emblems of Mexico's "Day of the Dead" celebrations.  A later generation of Mexican artists, including Rivera, considered Posada's engravings to be a major influence on their artistic development.

To the left of the "Catrina" is a self portrait of Diego as a ten year old boy.

Behind him, is his wife, the artist Frida Kahlo.

If we go to the far left of the mural, we see some figures from Mexico's colonial past mingling with the crowd. 

To the far left, dressed in armor, is Hernan Cortés, the Spanish conquistador, who vanquished the Aztecs, and who built Mexico City atop the ruins of the Aztec capital.

Next to Cortés is Juan de Zumarraga, the first bishop of Mexico.

Below the bishop is one of the Spanish viceroys of the colony of New Spain... this particular viceroy was the one who laid out the Alameda Park.

The woman to the right is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun, scholar, and the foremost poet of colonial Mexico.

At the top a heretic is being burned by the Inquisition.  The western end of the Alameda was where the executions of the Inquisition were held.

Continuing to the right we come to some of the figures of Mexico's early history as an independent nation.

The fellow with the crown is Agustín Iturbide, who had himself declared the Emperor of Mexico, and ruled for a few short months.

Below Iturbide is Antonio de Santa Ana, the vainglorious and incompetent general who was repeatedly the President / Dictator of the country in the first half of the 19th century.  He is shown handing over the keys to half of Mexico's territory to General Winfield Scott, who led the American invasion of Mexico during the Mexican-American War,

In the crowd are the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota,  When the French invaded Mexico in the 1860s, Maximilian was put on the throne as a French puppet.  He ended his short reign before a Mexican firing squad.

Benito Juárez is Mexico's national hero.  He was a full-blooded Zapotec who became President of the country.  He passed a series of liberal reform laws, and fought against the French invasion.

Below Juárez is the atheist writer Ignacio Ramírez.  It was on the document that he is holding that Rivera wrote the controversial words "God does not exist."  You can see that the document has been painted over.  However, those who are familiar with the life of the writer know that "The Conference of Academy of Letrán" (written on the document) was the occasion when Ramírez uttered those words.

After the liberal presidency of Juárez, Mexico was ruled for nearly thirty years by the dictator Porfirio Díaz.  Although the Díaz era was one of stability and modernization, his oppressive rule brought on the Mexican Revolution.

During the Díaz dictatorship, the poor were even more downtrodden.  Here a policeman expels a peasant family from the park so that they will not be an annoyance to the "nice people".

During the Díaz years the country was opened to foreign investment (and exploitation), and foreigners enjoyed a privileged position.  Here a foreign couple is strolling through the park while their spoiled daughter sneers at the peasant child from the previous picture.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910 swept away the Díaz dictatorship.  The struggle for liberty and equality also brought a decade of chaos and violence.

At the far right end of the mural, Rivera paints a scathing indictment of modern Mexico.  The ideals of the Revolution have been betrayed.  The wealthy make vast fortunes with the connivance of corrupt politicians and churchmen.

In this one painting, Diego Rivera has given us in a nutshell the history of his nation. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Those Darn Sidewalks

This post is written tongue in cheek, but also with more than a grain of truth.

This is directed to all those know-nothing, "gringo" pundits who would have us believe that Mexico is the most dangerous, lawless place this side of Iraq... that no sensible person would dare travel there.  You are full of baloney!!  Yes, there are terrible things that happen in Mexico, just as there are terrible things going on all over the world.  But the chances of a tourist being decapitated by a drug cartel, kidnapped by a rogue taxi driver, or arrested by a corrupt cop are next to nil.

What the people have not been told is that the true danger in Mexico, whether you are in Mexico City, Oaxaca, or even idyllic Mérida is...  THE SIDEWALKS!  Everywhere you go there are sidewalks in a state of disrepair that are waiting to snare the tourist who is too busy looking at the sights to watch where he/she is going.   I have stumbled numerous times, as have friends who have come with me to Mexico.  Fortunately, neither my friends nor I have injured ourselves.  The most frequent injury suffered by tourists to Mexico (no, I don't have no stinkin' documentation) is broken arms and wrists suffered from trying to break one's fall after being attacked by an insidious sidewalk. 

Yesterday afternoon, in a spirit of public service, I walked around the neighborhood where I am staying (an upper-middle class neighborhood, mind you).  I have photographed the dangers which lurk on every street!

Look at these sidewalks!

 A major part of the problem is that the driveways leading from the garages to the street are never at the same level as the sidewalk... so there are constant dips and rises.

At least they were nice enough to put in a step and a handicapped ramp.

  Now that is just ridiculous!

And be sure to watch out for those metal posts sticking out of the sidewalks.

Scariest of all are the gaping holes.  Instead of manhole covers, most of the utility covers are made of cement... cement that is often crumbling.

I have no idea how women wearing high heels survive here!

You can imagine how many law suits there would be in the United States if the sidewalks were like this!  But Mexico is not a "sue-happy" country (which is a good thing).  I just wish, though, that they would do something about their sidewalks!