Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscar Night

(image from the web)

I may, or may not, watch the Academy Award ceremony this evening.  It seems that the films that I am rooting for rarely win.  I have to admit that I can usually count on one hand the number of times that I go to the movie theater in the course of a year, and I have only seen two of the films that have won nominations this year.

Usually when I am visiting family in Columbus at Christmas, we will go to see a movie, and when I am in Mexico Alejandro and I may go to the movie theater.  This year at Christmas we went to see "Joy" which garnered Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar nomination.  I didn't like it.  I thought it was tedious, and I really didn't care that much for characters.  While I was in Mexico City this winter, Alejandro, my blogger friend Kim, and I went to see "Brooklyn".  I had not read anything about the movie, and I was not aware that it had been nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress.  (I had never even heard of its lead actress, Saoirse Ronan.)  We all agreed that the movie is superb in every way... the story, the acting, the photography are all excellent.  I am rooting for it to win, but knowing my track record, it probably will not.

I already have a favorite for next year's Oscars.  While Alejandro and I were in Columbus last weekend we went to see "The Lady in the Van".  The movie is based on the true story of an eccentric, homeless woman who parks her van in the driveway of London playwright Alan Bennett.  (Bennett wrote the original play, as well as the movie screenplay.)  The movie is at turns funny and sad.  Maggie Smith... whom I love as the dowager countess in "Downton Abbey"... gives a stellar performance.  She definitely deserves an Oscar nomination.  The problem is, will the Academy remember the movie when the time comes to make nominations for next year's award ceremony?  We shall see.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


While Alejandro and I were in Columbus, Ohio, visiting my family, a group of us went out bowling.  It was the first time that Alejandro had ever bowled.  Considering that it was completely new to him, I don't think he did too badly.   He managed to get a strike and two spares, and he ended up with a score of 93.

I had not been bowling for five years, and it has been twelve years since I bowled on a league.  I was never a good bowler.  When I first bowled in junior high school, and then took bowling as a phys. ed. class in college, I threw more gutter balls than anything else.  After several years on a league, I got my average up to 135, and on occasion I would break 200.  My high handicap was actually a benefit to my team.

This time was like starting all over again, but I did find my mark a few times and made three strikes. I won the game with a score of 97.

Even though all of our scores were lousy, it was fun, and Alejandro enjoyed the new experience.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Columbus Museum of Art

While Alejandro was up here, we spent several days in Columbus, Ohio, visiting family of mine.  My sister-in-law took us to the Columbus Museum of Art.

The Columbus museum is much smaller than our museum here in Cleveland.  I have to plead guilty to being a bit of snob and to looking down my nose at the museum in Columbus.  However they recently opened a new wing, and the additional space gave them the opportunity to bring many works of art out of storage.  Although it still cannot compare to the Cleveland Museum of Art, I must say that I now have new-found respect for the collection in Columbus.

I wonder if the designers of the new wing drew inspiration from the recent addition to the Cleveland museum in the way in which the modern section is connected to the original building.

The new wing contains space for special exhibits and for its collection of contemporary art.  I'm not a big fan of contemporary art, but I found these two canvasses quite interesting.  They are so large that previously there had been no place to properly display them.

The collection of Old Masters are displayed in one hall in the traditional "salon style" that was popular in earlier centuries.  It makes quite an impression as one enters the gallery, although I prefer the modern style of giving more space to each painting.

The noted, early 20th century, American artist George Bellows was a native of Columbus, and the museum contains a number of his paintings.

I bet that you would never guess who painted this canvas.  It is an early work by the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera, and dates from the period when he was experimenting with cubism.

In the Impressionist gallery there were four canvasses by one of my favorite artists, Claude Monet.

This Impressionist painting was done by a Columbus native, Earl Butler.  Butler moved to Giverny, France, the home of Monet, to study art.  There he married one of Monet's step-daughters.

In the basement there is a fun display of Columbus landmarks all built out of Legos.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hasta la Vista

This morning Alejandro departed from Cleveland to return home to Mexico City.  We were at the airport at 6:00 A.M. for his 8:00 flight from Cleveland to Houston.  Usually Cleveland is a very quiet airport without long lines, especially for early morning flights.  He checked in at the United desk without a long wait, but the line to go through security was the longest I have ever seen there.  I waited with him until I could go no farther.

He is now in flight, and his arrival in Houston is estimated to be 27 minutes early.

Although we didn't do much in the way of sightseeing here, Alejandro enjoyed his stay in Ohio.  He experienced cold, snowy, winter weather, as well as some days that were unseasonably warm.

I will see him again in a little more than a month when I return to Mexico City in April.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Change in the Weather

Here in Ohio we joke that if you don't like the weather, wait a while... it will change.

In my previous blog entry, less that a week ago, I posted pictures of the snowfall that had turned our parks into a winter wonderland.  Since then, the temperature rose into the 50s.  (Alejandro and I were in Columbus, 130 miles to the south, this weekend, and there the temperature made it to 70 on Saturday!)  Yesterday, after we returned from Columbus, Alejandro suggested that we take a walk in the Cleveland Metropark.  Although it was a bit chilly with temperatures back in the 40s, it was still above normal for February.  There were plenty of families in the park enjoying the day.

 Here was the wintry view in the Rocky River Reservation last Tuesday.

 And here is the same spot yesterday.

During his visit here, Alejandro has had a chance to experience the cold and snow of an Ohio winter and the tantalizing promise of early spring... all within a week.

We spent a couple of pleasant hours walking through a small section of the park.

 Yours truly, savoring the sunshine.

I realize that it is only February.  I know that we will probably have more snow and cold before spring truly arrives... but then again, thanks to El Niño, who knows?  Unlike the last two winters which were unrelenting, it's nice to have a change in the weather!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Unless you are an avid skier or a youngster hoping for a day off of school, SNOW is a four-letter word!  But sometimes there is no denying the beauty of the white stuff.  Last night we had a light snowfall.  Since the temperature was just below freezing, it was a wet snow... the kind that sticks to every branch and twig... the kind that creates a winter wonderland.

I took Alejandro on a drive to admire it all... sometimes we even got out of the car and walked around.  Here are a few pictures from the park in my hometown of Olmsted Falls, from the neighboring city of Berea, and from the Rocky River Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks.

In a few days this will all be gone.  By Friday the temperature is supposed to rise to an unseasonable 50 degrees.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Trip to the Natural History Museum

The middle of February is not the best time of the year for sightseeing... and besides, Alejandro has already seen many of the places of interest in northern Ohio on previous trips.  However one place that he had not visited is the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, so on Friday we ventured out into the cold and drove to the University Circle district where so many of Cleveland's cultural institutions are located.

I would not rank our Natural History Museum on the same level as our world-class art museum or our renowned orchestra.  However, it is considered a very good museum.  Its collection of gems and semi-precious stones, donated by Jeptha Wade II, the grandson of the founder of Western Union Telegraph, is one of the largest collections in the United States.  In 1974 the museum gained world-wide attention when Dr.Donald Johanson, the curator of physical anthropology, discovered in Ethiopia the skeletal remains of 3 million year old human ancestor which was nicknamed "Lucy".  "Lucy's" skeleton is on display in the museum.

A recreation of how "Lucy" would have looked. 

 Dinosaur fossils and mounted animals...


We also attended a show in the museum's planetarium.  The previous day the news had been announced that scientists have discovered gravitational waves.  The show included an explanation of what gravitational waves are... but, quite frankly, I didn't understand it at all.

It was a pleasant way to spend a cold winter's afternoon. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Cold and Boring Ohio

You will have to excuse me if I do not post as frequently as I was during my stay in Mexico. Ohio in February is not as exciting as Mérida or Mexico City.  After a very mild January in which temperatures sometimes reached 50 F, the weather gods decided that Alejandro needed to see what winter in Ohio is really like.  We have several inches of snow here, and as I write this, the temperature is 14 F.  Tomorrow's low will be zero! 

Alejandro was under the weather when we left Mexico, and by the time we were in Ohio, he appeared to have the flu.  He had a fever, and his body ached.  If it was indeed the flu, apparently my flu shot worked, even against Mexican strains, because... knock on wood... I have not come down with it.

Also, if it was the flu, it wasn't a very bad case.  On Wednesday, Alejandro stayed in the house and rested.  I made a big pot of vegetable soup. His fever went down, and he was feeling considerably better.  By yesterday, except for a bit of sniffling and coughing, he felt fine.  We ventured out into the cold and went to the mall to do some shopping for him.  He brought with him a very warm jacket and cap, but he didn't have any gloves or boots for trudging through the slush.  All the stores were having sales, so we were able to complete Alejandro's "winter in Ohio" wardrobe.

Such is our exciting time in Ohio... but it is good to have Alejandro here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Back to Ohio

After spending five weeks in Mexico, on Tuesday I returned home to Ohio... and my friend Alejandro came with me for a two week visit.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was upgraded to first class for the flight from Mexico City to Houston.  I had a window seat, and I was able to take this photo of the two volcanoes, Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl shortly after take-off.  For the past several decades  Popocatépetl (to the right) has been displaying more activity, and you can see that it was smoking that morning.

Upon arrival at Houston, passing through immigration and customs was a breeze.  There must not have been any other international arrivals when we got there.  I did not have to wait at all.  Alejandro, as a foreign visitor, had to go through a different line at immigration.  But this was the first time that he breezed through without waiting in a long line or having to answer a lot of questions.

We arrived in Cleveland before dark, and winter was awaiting us.  There was a light layer of snow on the ground, and the temperature, although not extreme, was colder than the chilliest night in Mexico City.

My back yard this morning

Monday, February 8, 2016

Time to Go Home

I left Ohio on January 5th, and tomorrow, February 9th, after five weeks in Mexico,  I will return home.  It has been a great trip.  In Mérida, Yucatán, I introduced my friend, Frank, to Mexico.  Just as with every other friend that I have taken to Mérida, he fell in love with the city.  In Mexico City, even though I was under the weather a few days with a cold, I enjoyed spending time with my friend Alejandro and also with friend and fellow blogger, Kim.  But now it is time to go back home to Cleveland, where the temperature is currently 35 F, and where I might return to a dusting of snow.

I am not as sad as i usually am when I leave Mexico, because Alejandro is coming back with me for a two week visit.  He will experience winter in Ohio for the first time.  He has picked out plenty of warm clothing to wear. 

Our flight to Houston leaves at 8:00 tomorrow morning, so we will have to be at the airport at 6 AM.  I just received an e-mail from United Airlines informing me that I have been upgraded to first class for the Mexico City - Houston flight.  Last year I did not fly as much as I did the previous year, so my "Silver Premier" status expired this January.  However, I guess I was  eligible for an upgrade because the reservation was made while I still had the premier status.  I told Alejandro that we would not be sitting together, and he did not mind.

In Houston we will have a three and a half hour layover.  I've mentioned before, that I prefer to have a long layover rather than risk missing a connection.  The last time that Alejandro came to visit me in Ohio, a long layover was a blessing.  His checked suitcase was missing at first, and he could not go through customs until he had all his luggage.  After about an hour and a half his suitcase was found.  By the time that he reached the gate for his flight to Cleveland, they were boarding.

We will arrive in Cleveland tomorrow at around 5:30 P.M.  Back to the reality of winter!


Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Mighty Aztecs (Part Two)

In my last post, I concentrated on the more grisly aspects the Aztecs... their religion and the rituals of human sacrifice... something that always caught the attention of my high school students back when I was a teacher.  However, it would be wrong to dismiss the Aztecs as a tribe of bloodthirsty savages.  They had a remarkable civilization.  (Besides, one should also remember the things that were being done in Europe in that era in the name of religion... or things that are done in the name of religion in our own era.)

According to Aztec mythology, the tribe came from the north, from a place called Aztlán (hence the name Aztecs... the tribe actually called themselves the Mexicas).  They migrated to the south, and somewhere around the year 1325 they settled in the Valley of Mexico... the valley where Mexico City is located today.  Their patron god Huitzilopochtli had supposedly told them that they should settle when they saw an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus (some versions add that the eagle was devouring a serpent).  According to the story, they saw the promised sign on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, and so that it where they made their home.  It's more likely that they were forced to settle on that swampy island since the valley was already densely settled with other tribes.

  An Aztec carving with the image of the legendary eagle on a cactus

The town they built on that island was called Tenochtitlan.  The Aztecs, through war and through alliances, gradually gained control of the entire valley and beyond.  Eventually they dominated most of central Mexico, and their empire was the greatest of any pre-Hispanic civilization of Mesoamerica.  As their power grew, so did the size and grandeur of Tenochtitlan.  When the Spanish arrived they said that it was the most beautiful city that they had ever seen.

 A mural in the Anthropology Museum depicts Tenochititlan at its height, built on an island in the middle of the valley, with snow covered volcanoes in the distance.

 A model in the museum recreates the holy precinct in the center of Tenochtitlan.  It was dominated by the Templo Mayor (Main Temple)... a pyramid topped with twin shrines to their gods Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc.

This diorama in the museum depicts the great marketplace in the district of Tlatelolco.  The Spanish wrote that they had never seen such a well organized market or one offering such a huge variety of products for sale.

The Aztecs learned from the civilized tribes which already lived in the region, and became skilled craftsmen and artists.  Here is a sampling of some of their work from the museum...

 A jaguar carved from stone

A drum-like musical instrument exquisitely carved from wood

 A realistic carving of a rattlesnake

 Although the subject is grisly... a human heart, the most precious offering that can be made to the gods... there is no denying that this carving in green stone is beautifully executed.

These statues depict ordinary inhabitants of the Aztec empire.  There is a cavity in their chest.  They believed that the images would gain a life of their own by placing a carved stone heart in the cavity.

These statues of warriors show the artistic influence of the earlier Toltec civilization.

A glyph representing the name of one of the Aztec emperors

The Aztec civilization was conquered and destroyed by the Spanish, but their culture still influences the Mexico of today.  Many words of Aztec origin remain a part of their language.  Their cuisine has pre-Hispanic influences.  Their open-markets, the "tianguis" harken back to the Aztec markets.  Their attitude toward death, and even their Catholic faith are tinged with Aztec beliefs.  The blood of the mighty Aztecs still courses through their veins. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Mighty Aztecs

I rarely go to Mexico City without paying a visit to one of the great museums of the world, the National Museum of Anthropology.  For the last couple of years, rather than attempting to go through the entire museum, I have been concentrating on just one hall of the museum on each visit.  Regular readers may recall posts that I have written on the displays of the civilizations of Teotihuacan, the Mayas, and Oaxaca, as well as the ethnographic displays on the upper floor.

This visit I spent a couple of hours in the centerpiece of the museum, the Mexica (or Aztec) Hall.  

The Aztec Empire was at its height when the Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico in 1519.  Their capital of Tenochtitlán stood where Mexico City stands today.  Even though the Spaniards destroyed Tenochtitlán, the remains of the Aztec capital remain just below the surface of the modern city.  The construction of the subway yielded a treasure trove of artifacts, and excavation projects to work on the city's utilities have resulted in spectacular archaeological discoveries.  It is no wonder that the Mexica Hall is the largest and most impressive in the museum.  

The most famous object in the hall is the enormous Stone of the Sun.  This carving weighs twenty four tons and measures nearly twelve feet in diameter.

The stone is often mistakenly referred to as the Aztec Calendar Stone.  It received that name because there is a circle of carvings of the glyphs for the twenty days of their calendar.  In the center of the stone is the face of the sun god.  His tongue, in the form of a sacrificial knife, is hanging out because he is thirsty for human blood.  To either side of his face, his hands hold human hearts.  Arranged around the face are four symbols for the four suns which the Aztecs believed existed prior to the current one.

Archaeologists believe that the Sun Stone was used as an altar for gladiatorial combats.  The Spanish buried the stone for fear that it would attract pagan worship from the locals.  In 1790, while repairs were being done on the Cathedral, the stone was rediscovered For many years it was displayed on the wall of the Cathedral.

The Aztecs had a complex pantheon of deities... and often the same god would have various identities.  There are carvings of many of their gods in the museum.

This enormous and rather frightening figure is of Coatlique, the mother goddess.  Her head is composed of two serpents.  She wears a skirt of serpents and a necklace of human hearts, hands and a skull. 

According their mythology, she was the mother of the moon and the stars.  She was then impregnated by ball of feathers.  The moon and stars believed that their mother had dishonored them, and were about to kill her.  At that moment Huitzilopochtli, the patron of the Aztecs, and the god of the sun and of war, emerged from her womb, fully grown and armed.  He cut his sister, the moon, into pieces (thus explaining the phases of the moon). 

Here is Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess.  Every night she and her brothers, the stars, do battle against the sun.


Among the many other Aztec gods were the goddess of maize... 


Xochipilli was the god of art, flowers, music and dance (as well as being the patron of male prostitution!).  Because of hallucinogenic plants carved on the base of the statue, it is believed that Xochipilli is portrayed here as being in a state of psychedelic ecstasy. 

Women who died in childbirth became "Cihuateteo"... deified women.

Human sacrifice was an important element of the Aztec religion.  It was deemed necessary to nourish the gods.

Victims, who were often prisoners of war from enemy tribes, were led to the top of a temple, and held down spread-eagled across a sacrificial stone, such as this one.

The priest would then use a sacrificial knife, such as the one pictured below, to cut out the victim's heart. 

The heart might be placed on the sacrificial plate of a "chac mool".  The "chac mool" is something which the Aztecs borrowed from the earlier civilization of Toltecs.  It is a reclining figure holding a plate or bowl over its belly.  The "chac mool" was a messenger of the gods, and would deliver the essence of the sacrifice to the deity

This large statue of a jaguar contains a hollowed out vessel where sacrificial hearts might also be placed.

Another form of human sacrifice was the ritual of "Tlauauaniliztli", a gladiatorial sacrifice.  An enemy warrior would be tied by his ankle to a circular platform called a "temalacatl"  Armed with a sword of feathers, he would try to defend himself against a series of Aztec soldiers.

This large stone, known as the Stone of Tizoc (named after one of the Aztec emperors) was probably just such a platform,  

Looking at the top of the stone, you can see the channel carved into the rock to drain the blood spilled during combat.

The side of the stone is intricately carved with battle scenes.

Auto-sacrifice was also practiced by the devout.  These tools were used for bloodletting.

In my next post I will discuss some lest grisly aspects of the Aztec civilization.