Saturday, December 31, 2016

Backward and Forward

We come to the end of the year 2016 and prepare with trepidation to begin 2017.

2016 was a horrendous year.  The political campaign seemed interminable and was the most bizarre and inane I have ever seen in my lifetime.  And when it was all over we were faced with the nightmarish reality that the most despicable and dangerous person to ever be a candidate for a major U.S. political party is about to enter the White House.  I truly fear for my country.  I hope that we will survive the next four years.  Even though he will control the House and the Senate, perhaps the fact that he comes to the Presidency with abysmal approval ratings will serve as a check upon his attempts to carry out his proposed agendas.

On a personal level, in spite of the cloud hanging over our heads, it was a good year.  My health (knock on wood) is good, and I continued to do what I enjoy the most... to travel.  During 2016 I took four trips outside of the country.  I began the year by taking my friend Frank to Mérida.  Over the years I have taken nine friends and family members to the capital of Yucatán.  All of them thoroughly enjoyed Mérida, and Frank was no exception.  After hearing my stories about my Mexican travels, he had no fear of going to a country that is so often portrayed as a "dangerous" place in the media here.  His mother, however, was quite fearful.  When Frank returned home and showed her the pictures from the trip, she had to admit that she never realized that Mexico was so nice. 

In April and November I took two trips to Mexico City to visit my friend Alejandro, and we took several excursion outside of the city.

The most memorable adventure of the year was my trip to Switzerland and Norway to visit cousins.  It is difficult to say which country is more beautiful.  They are both spectacular.

The Swiss Alps

A Norwegian fjord

The hospitality and warmth shown to me by my cousins made the trip much more special and elevated it far beyond the typical tourist experience.  I would have to rank it as one of the best trips of my life.

Looking forward to 2017 there may be some major changes in my life.  In my previous post I wrote about the trip I will take in January, and that I will be apartment hunting in Mexico City.  During the Presidential campaign I told people that if Trump were to win, I would move to Mexico.  I never really believed that the unthinkable would happen.  Now you might think, because of all the travel that I do, that I am an adventurous person who would have no trouble pulling up stakes.  But I have lived in the same house since I was three years old, and the thought of clearing out my house and selling it is terrifying.  Thus, I am planning on becoming a "semi-ex-pat" dividing my time between Ohio and Mexico.  I know Mexico very well and feel comfortable there, but I am sure that there will be many adjustments to be made as I set out on a new style of life.  Only time will tell what is in store for me in the new year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Getting Ready for Another Trip

After spending Christmas with family in Columbus, it is now time to get ready for another trip to Mexico.  I will leave on January 4th for Mérida, Yucatán. 

Accompanying me will be my cousin Gail and her husband Wes.  Although they have traveled extensively, this will be their first trip to Mexico.  They will spend four days with me in Mérida.  I have played "tour guide" there numerous times (I have chronicled several of those trips in this blog), but I never tire of introducing friends to this beautiful city.  Everyone that I have taken to the Yucatán has fallen in love with the place, and I hope that Gail and Wes will too.

According to the weather forecast, they will definitely escape the Ohio winter and experience tropical weather.  The high temperature will be hovering around 90 degrees while they are there.   

After they return home, I will spend a few extra days in Mérida, and then I will fly to Mexico City.

I will spend three weeks there and stay at the same vacation rental where I have stayed on several previous trips.  This visit to Mexico City will be rather different from others however.  I will spend much of my time apartment hunting.  It is my plan to become a "semi-ex-pat", and spend half the year in Mexico City.  We will see if I can find a place that I like at a good price.

Time for me to get back to packing my bags.  Hasta pronto.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ensalada Rusa

I am invited for supper at my cousin's house tomorrow evening.  Tonight I prepared a dish to take with me... "ensalada rusa".  Although the name means "Russian salad", it is Spain's version of potato salad, and it is a popular "tapa".  I always thought that it got its name because it is made with potatoes (a staple in Russia).  However I did some research and discovered that the original salad, (called Olivier Salad after the chef who invented it) was the signature dish of an elegant restaurant in czarist Moscow.  It contained many expensive ingredients such as caviar, grouse, veal tongue, smoked duck and crayfish.  The recipe was a heavily guarded secret until one of Chef Olivier's assistants stole it.  The recipe was published and spread throughout the world, usually in a much simplified form.

The "ensalada rusa" of Spain has no exotic ingredients.  (Thank goodness.  I have no desire to eat caviar, even if it's mixed in a salad!)  A few years ago I found a recipe on the internet, and it tastes like what I have eaten in Spain.  Actually it's better than in some Spanish restaurants, since some places overdo the mayonnaise.

Here's the recipe I use...

2 lbs. potatoes
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
3 five oz. cans of tuna packed in spring water
1/4 cup chopped hard boiled eggs
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise
1/2 tsp white pepper
salt to taste

Boil the potatoes with the skins on in salted water until fully cooked.  Cool to room temperature, remove the skins.

Blanch the carrots, peas and red pepper until al dente.  Refrigerate immediately.

Drain the tuna.  Place on a clean towel and wring out excess water.

Place the potatoes in a large bowl and mash with a fork until all large chunks are gone.  Add the tuna, vegetables, eggs, mayonnaise and white pepper.  Gently combine the ingredients with a large spoon.  Salt to taste.  Refrigerate.

Garnish with cherry tomatoes.

And here is my finished product...


Saturday, December 17, 2016

What Are the Russians Up To?

I tend to be rather obsessive about checking the statistics on my blog.  Every day I check to see how many page views I have received, from which countries those visitors come, and, of course, whether or not I have received any comments.

Back in July of this year I had a huge jump in the number of page views from Russia.  This occurred just after I had written a couple entries excoriating Trump and the news had come out about the hacking of the emails of the Democratic Party by the Russians.  It made me rather suspicious... OK, a bit paranoid... about what was going on with my blog.

Now it has come out that the Russian government was indeed trying to influence our election.  And guess what?  Even though I have not written anything political on my blog for over a month, the Russians are back.  This month I have received 1461 page views from Russia... more than from the United States.  It's not that my blog is wildly popular with the Russian public.  These page views are not from legitimate visitors.  Several times a day there will be a sudden spurt of views (usually 21 all at once)... and the map on my statistics page shows Russia as the source. 

I have no clue what is going on, or why some Russian is so interested in my blog.  I just went in and changed the password to my blog account.  It will be interesting to see if the Russian visits suddenly stop.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Holiday Concert

On Thursday evening I went with some friends to one of the ten annual Christmas concerts given by the Cleveland Orchestra. 

Severance Hall, the home of our orchestra, was beautifully decorated for the holidays.

The stage was full with the orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus Chamber Ensemble.


The two hour concert included many traditional and modern Christmas songs.  Santa Claus made an appearance and narrated  "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with orchestral accompaniment.  The program concluded with a sing-along of familiar carols.  There were then two encores... "Silent Night" (what Christmas concert would be complete without it?) and a rousing rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".

It was a wonderful event that would have warmed the heart of even Ebenezer Scrooge!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Seven Years of Ornaments

In my last post I wrote about the Christmas ornaments which I made to take to friends in Chicago.  I do this every year, and it was getting to the point where I could not remember what designs which I had done for them.

My friends go all out decorating their apartment each Christmas, and they have such a huge collection that every year the décor is a little different.  This year they pulled out all the ornaments that I had made.  They didn't put them on the tree but incorporated them into other holiday displays.

I have made ornaments for the past seven years.  I took a photo of one of the decorations from each of those seven sets.

Two of the years I took clear glass decorations, squirted different colors of paint inside and swirled it around until it created a nice pattern.

I asked my friend if he was getting tired of receiving ornaments each year.  He said, "No!  One of these days we will have enough to decorate the entire tree with just your hand-painted designs."

Now that I have taken these pictures, I have an inventory of what I have done, and I will be able to come up with different ornaments in future years.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Box of Decorations

This weekend I will fly to Chicago to attend the annual Christmas party of friends of mine there.  I always make a half dozen Christmas tree decorations as a gift for them.  I have done this for several years, and it is getting difficult to remember just what designs I have done for them.  So, this year I did something different.  I bought some white paint pens, and entirely covered six dark blue bulbs with intricate curlicue patterns.

Last night I finished the last one, and here they are...

A little game that they can play is to try to find my initials on each bulb.  It is visible on one of the balls in this photo.  Can you find it?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holiday Brunch

I have written several times here how I made contact a couple years ago with my cousin Gail... a cousin that I didn't know that I had.  It was all because of this blog. Gail stumbled upon it when she was searching the internet for pictures of our ancestral town in Switzerland.  We share the same great-great grandparents, making us third cousins.  And she lives less than ten minutes away from my house!  Best of all, she and her husband Wes are very nice people, and I am so happy to count them as part of my family!

We see each other on a regular basis.  In fact, in a few weeks, they are going with me to Mérida, Mexico, where I will be their tour guide.

Today Gail and Wes held their annual Christmas brunch.  I was invited last year, but unfortunately I was out of town that weekend.  This year I was able to attend, and I had a lovely time.

Here are the three of us...

The food was great.  Between the food that Gail prepared and the dishes that the guests brought we had quite a scrumptious feast.  I prepared a "tortilla española" and a batch of my cherry fudge. 

Even better was the company and the conversation.  Among Wes and Gail's friends there were several retired school teachers, and all of them have traveled extensively.  So we had plenty to talk about.

Gail and Wes have traveled a great deal, and their beautiful Christmas tree is decorated with dolls and flags from all the countries that they have visited.

Next Christmas they will be able to add a doll and flag from Mexico!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Greetings

Regular readers of my blog know that each year I do painting which I use for my annual homemade Christmas card.  My painting was finished and the cards printed before I left on my November trip to Mexico.  While I was in Mexico, I made out all the cards, and I sent them off around Thanksgiving after I returned home. 

This year I did a painting based on a photo from my trip to Norway this summer.  The photo is of one of the beautiful fjords of Norway, the Fjaerland Fjord.

I had to use a bit of guesswork as to how the scene would appear in wintertime.  I didn't know how much of the steep, rocky mountains are covered in snow.  However, I did know from talking to a Norwegian that the deep fjords do not freeze in the winter.

Here is the finished product...

Best wishes to all of my readers for a very happy holiday season!

Feliz Navidad

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Popo Blows Off Steam

I have long been fascinated by the volcano Popocatépetl (usually referred to as Popo).  The 17,800 foot high peak stands between Mexico City and the city of Puebla and is Mexico's second highest mountain. 

My first trip to Mexico, back in 1973, was to study at the University of the Americas in the town of Cholula near Puebla.  I arrived at the campus at night, and got settled into my dorm room.  The next morning I looked out my window... and there was Popo!  For a person from relatively flat northern Ohio, the snow capped peak made quite an impression.

A couple years later, I returned to Mexico with my father.  A friend from the University drove us to the Pass of Cortés, at the foot of the volcano.  We had a chance to see Popo up close.

Except for an occasional wisp of smoke, Popo had long been quiet.  Then, beginning in 1994 the volcano came to life, and has periodically spewed steam, gas and ash.  On one occasion when I was in Puebla in the 90s, automobiles parked on the streets were covered with a light dusting of ash.  Because of its activity, visitors are no longer allowed to get as close to the mountain as we were in the picture above. 

Earlier this month, on my latest trip to Mexico, I posted this picture of Popo, taken from the 'Estrella de Puebla", a Ferris wheel on the outskirts of Puebla.

Just last week, Popo was at it again.  On November 25th the volcano erupted for twenty minutes, sending a plume three miles into the sky.  My friend Alejandro who lives in Mexico City did not see the eruption.  The city's air pollution usually obscures the view of the mountain.  However I found these dramatic photos on the internet.

  The eruption seen from Puebla

No damage was done, but it was certainly a spectacular show for the residents of Puebla.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


How many of you saw the title of this post and immediately knew what is was about?  Yes, good ol' Ludwig von Beethoven, whose Fifth Symphony begins with the four most recognized notes in all of classical music.

(image from the web)

Last weekend a friend of mine asked me when I was going to return from my Thanksgiving trip to Columbus.  He said that the Cleveland Orchestra was going to perform Beethoven's Fifth this weekend.  He told me that he had always wanted to hear that symphony in a live performance but that he didn't want to go to the concert alone.  How could I refuse?  Besides, I had never heard it in a live performance either.  So I reserved two tickets for the Saturday night concert.

The opening movement of the Fifth Symphony is so familiar, and has been used and reworked in so many ways that it is... dare I say it... almost trite.  But imagine the impact it must have had when it was new and unfamiliar to the audience's ears.  The work premiered at a concert in Vienna on December 22nd and was conducted by the composer himself.  The debut was not auspicious.  The orchestra had not had time to thoroughly rehearse the piece, and at one point Beethoven had to stop the music and start over.  In addition, the concert, which included eight works by the composer, was excessively long... over four hours long!  And the concert hall was unheated and uncomfortably cold.  The weary audience was probably eager to go home to their warm beds, and did not realize that they were the first to hear one of the great works of musical history.  In subsequent performances, however, the symphony was quickly acclaimed as a masterpiece.

Our concert on Saturday night was not nearly that long, and the audience at Cleveland's Severance Hall was not shivering in their seats.  And of course the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra was impeccably prepared.

The concert began with a piece by the 20th century, English composer Benjamin Britten.  The Sinfonia da Requiem was written in 1939 on the brink of World War II.  I had never heard this work before, and I found it quite interesting.

The concert continued with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23.  I like Mozart, but, frankly, he is not my favorite composer.  I find his music to be lovely and beautifully crafted, but always restrained.  Mozart never gives me goose bumps.  (I prefer the unrestrained emotion of a symphony by Mahler, Tchaikovsky or Sibelius.  By the finale I sometimes experience what I jokingly refer to as a "musical orgasm".  I have tears in my eyes, and I am short of breath.)  The orchestra expertly performed the Mozart concerto, and the soloist, a young Russian pianist by the name of Daniil Trifonov is extremely talented.  He played the work with such heart and soul that it was a pleasure to watch him.  By the final movement with its familiar and lively theme I was tapping my foot.  But, sorry, no goose bumps.

After intermission the concert concluded with Beethoven's Fifth.  Our orchestra performed it superbly.  And there is so much more than that famous first movement.  The following movements are familiar but not that familiar.  I was eagerly following how the themes developed.  And then the finale... the joyous and rousing finale!  Beethoven's Fifth may be an old warhorse, but it hasn't lost its power.  And, yep, I had a "musical orgasm". 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

The holiday season is upon us.  Tomorrow I will drive down to Columbus to spend Thanksgiving with family.

There is one thing that is making me dread family gatherings this year... that someone will start talking politics.  I have strong opinions about this year's election, and I have expressed them here on the blog.  I don't think I have ever felt such a level of stress and depression over a political campaign.  However I really don't want to listen to more discussion at Thanksgiving or Christmas... even if the others share my beliefs.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if in every household across the nation there would be a "NO POLITICS!" policy enforced at all holiday gatherings?

That is perhaps an impossible dream, but I hope that my U.S. readers all have a happy (and non-political) Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

What a Difference a Day Makes

I mentioned that on Thursday, when I returned to Ohio from Mexico, the temperature was unseasonably warm.  On Friday it was sunny and the high was 73 degrees Fahrenheit.  On Saturday morning it was raining.  The temperature fell into the 30s, and by afternoon the rain had turned to snow.  Fortunately we did not get the heavy snow that some parts of the country received, but by early evening the ground had a light coating of white.

The view from my window this morning

So, in just 24 hours we had gone from summer to winter.  Here in Ohio we joke about how changeable our weather is, but this time the change was extreme even for Ohio!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Return to Ohio

On Thursday I returned home to Ohio.

My flights were on time and uneventful.  Now, at least when flying into Houston, U.S. citizens no longer have to fill out a customs form on the plane.  Houston has automated terminals on which returning passengers answer the questions which would have been answered on the customs form.  At immigration there was a much longer line than I have experienced in the past. (On my last couple trips through Houston I had no wait at all.)  However, the line moved quickly, and I passed through immigration, picked up my checked suitcase, and went through customs in less than a half hour.

When I then went back through security there was no separate "TSA Pre" line. (I have never applied for it.  However, perhaps because of my age or the frequency of my travels, I almost always have "TSA Pre" on my boarding passes.)   In spite of that, I did not have to take off my shoes or remove my computer from my carry-on.  A TSA employee told that it was because we had been sniffed by a dog prior to going through security.

However, I had my carry-on searched after it went through the x-ray.  The inspector removed much of what was in the suitcase.  I was silently upset because I had a number of pieces of Mexican pottery which I had very carefully packed to avoid breakage.  However, the gentleman repacked my carry-on with equal care.  I thanked him for that, and he said that he always repacks suitcases as if they were his own.  I hear so many complaints about the TSA employees, but, in my experience, they have always been courteous and professional.  

When I was back home, I found a note in my large checked piece of luggage, saying that it had been opened and inspected.  I had purchased an obsidian letter opener in Mexico, and that had been confiscated.  

The weather back in Ohio was unseasonably warm.  In fact yesterday the temperature rose to over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was warmer than in Mexico City.  I took advantage of the nice weather and cleared up the remaining leaves in the yard.  Today, however, the temperature has dropped.  It is raining, and we may get a bit of snow tonight.  (Not enough to use the snow blower.)  

I will be home for the holidays, but in January I return to Mexico.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Star of Puebla

Before leaving Puebla on Sunday, we drove to the modern outskirts of the city to take a ride on "La Estrella de Puebla" (The Star of Puebla).  This Ferris wheel was constructed in 2013.  It is 262 feet high (compared to the London Eye's height of 443 feet), and it is the fifth most visited attraction in the state of Puebla.  The cost to ride to wheel is $1.50 US (compared to $26.00 to ride the London Eye).

Looking across this modern section of Puebla which is known of Angelopolis.  It is certainly a contrast to the city's colonial center.  Across the street from the wheel are a very upscale shopping mall, and a hotel.

In the background you see the volcanic peak of Malinche.  With an elevation of over 14,000 feet, it is the sixth tallest peak in Mexico.

In the opposite direct Popocatépetl peaks out from the clouds.  This active volcano rises to an elevation of 17,800 feet and is Mexico's second tallest mountain.  

Using my zoom lens, I focus on the town of Cholula.  The arrow points to the Pyramid of Cholula, which in terms of volume is the largest pyramid in the world.  It is covered with vegetation and is crowned with a Spanish colonial church.  Back in the 70s, I studied at the University of the Americas in Cholula.  Back then the town was located some distance from Puebla.  Now it has been absorbed within the urban sprawl of Puebla's metropolitan area.

"La Estrella" was an enjoyable end to our visit to Puebla.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sunday Afternoon in Puebla

After watching the folk dancing on the main plaza of Puebla, Alejandro and I did a bit of exploration in the colonial center of this historic city.  A couple years ago I wrote a post about Puebla, but here are some more pictures.

The other day I showed you Puebla's main plaza, the Zócalo, by night.  Here are some pictures of it on a sunny, Sunday afternoon...

Puebla's city hall

Puebla's Cathedral has the tallest bell towers in Mexico.

A balloon vendor on the plaza

Some random shots of the beautiful architecture which has earned Puebla's historic center the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site...

Puebla is famous for its candies.  In fact there is a whole street which is mostly candy shops.  "Camotes" are the best known of Puebla's sweets.  These cigar-shaped candies are made from sweet potatoes.

Puebla is also famous for its ceramics.  In colonial times, potters from the Spanish town of Talavera settled in Puebla and brought the art of creating painted glazed pottery.

This complete set of gorgeous Talavera dinnerware can be yours for around $1000 US.  I was content with just buying one decorative plate.

Of the many colonial churches in the city, the one which is a "must see" for the visitor to Puebla is the Church of Santo Domingo.

The interior of the church is quite beautiful...

...but the real attraction is one of its side chapels, the Rosary Chapel.  Every inch of space is covered with ornate decoration.

I have posted pictures of this chapel before, but here are some more details from this masterpiece of Baroque architecture.