Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ohio's Summer Playground

Before you know it, summer will be here.  Many Ohioans will be flocking to one of the state's most popular tourist destinations, the Lake Erie islands.

Western Lake Erie is dotted with numerous islands.  The largest of them, Pelee Island, is in Canada, but the others are in Ohio waters.  The most touristic of the islands is South Bass Island. 

Ferry boats depart from Sandusky and Port Clinton for South Bass.  Most visitors leave their cars on the mainland, and explore the island on foot, or by bicycle or golf cart.  Boaters sail their craft to one of the island's marinas.

The ferry boats dock at the only community on the island, the little village of Put-In-Bay.

Put-In-Bay is picturesque and has a number of lovely Victorian homes.

Put-In-Bay only has 138 year round residents, but the population swells in the summer.  Numerous hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops cater to the influx of visitors.


One of the most important battles of the War of 1812 took place near this island.  The Battle of Lake Erie was fought on September 10, 1813.  Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry commanded six U.S. navy vessels and defeated a British squadron.  After his victory, he sent the famous message... "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."

To commemorate the centennial of the battle, and to honor the subsequent years of friendship between the United States, Britain and Canada, the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial was built.

The monument, operated by the National Park Service, is 352 feet tall.  It is the largest Doric column in the world.  It is taller than the Statue of Liberty, and is the fourth tallest monument in the United States.

Visitors can ascend to the top of the monument for a splendid view of the lake and the islands.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


After our mild winter this year, the spring flowers continue to make an earlier than usual appearance.  It isn't even April yet, and the hyacinths are blooming.

The deer have also started to use my flower beds as their own personal salad bar.  They don't seem to be interested in the hyacinths or the daffodils, but they have been grazing on the tender leaves of the day lilies that are sprouting.   Time to get out the deer repellant. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Unique Ohio Attraction

Ohio is not thought of as a major tourist destination, but there are definitely a lot of interesting places to visit in the state.  One of the most unique places is the Warther Museum in Dover, Ohio, about eighty miles to the south of Cleveland.

The museum displays the incredible carvings of Ernest Mooney Warther.  Warther made his living by making handcrafted kitchen knives.  (The family still owns Warther Cutlery, and sells their high quality products at the museum shop.)  Warther's hobby and passion, however, was woodcarving... especially carvings of locomotives.  His work is absolutely astounding in its painstaking detail. Every piece is hand-carved from walnut, ebony and ivory.  Even the numbers and lettering on the trains are individually carved and inlaid.  Some of the locomotives have moving parts.


His dozens of carvings represent the history of the railroad.

Here the joining of the rails of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 is depicted... all carved in ivory.

A highlight of the museum is Warther's carving of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train.

Look inside the windows of one of the cars, and you will see Lincoln in his coffin.

Without a doubt, the Warther Museum is unlike anything you will see, anywhere in the world!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Planning the Itinerary

(image from the web)
Sognefjord, Norway

Earlier this month I wrote that I was planning a trip to Europe this summer.  I will go to Switzerland to visit my cousins and attend a family birthday celebration.  When I wrote that post, I was unsure as to where I would go from Switzerland.   I received an e-mail from one of my Swiss cousins who currently lives in Norway.  He and his family will return home after the party, so I have decided that for the second part of my trip I will go to Norway, a country that I have never visited before.  Although I have not yet made any reservations, I have started to plot out an itinerary.  I bought a couple of guide books, and I have been studying them.  Rick Steve's "Scandinavia" has proven to be the most useful with practical information.
My plan is to fly from Zurich to Bergen, Norway's second largest city.  This is where my cousin lives.  I will spend three days in Bergen seeing the sights and visiting my cousin.  Norway is notoriously expensive, perhaps more than Switzerland, but I found a hotel there whose price is not too outrageous. 
Then from Bergen I will take a couple trips to visit the spectacular fjords of Norway.  I found a day excursion from Bergen to the Hardangerfjord which is 50 miles to the south of Bergen.  Although I am not a big fan of guided tours, this may be the easiest option.  I will check with my cousin before I make a reservation.  Then I will make a several day trip on my own to visit the largest fjord, the Sognefjord.  I can take a boat from Bergen to Balestrand, a small town on the shore of the fjord.  There is a nice, reasonably priced hotel in Balestrand.  I will probably make the hotel reservation later today since it is nearly booked.  There is no cancellation fee, so I can go ahead and book it even though I have not made any other reservations at this point.  From Ballestrand I can take boats to visit various places of interest along the Sognefjord.
I will return by boat to Bergen, spend another night there, and then take the train from Bergen to Norway's capital, Oslo.  (The train ride is supposed to be one of the most spectacular in the world.)  I will spend a couple days in Oslo, see the sights there, and then fly home.
It should be a very exciting trip!

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Yesterday a friend of mine from high school and I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art to see the special exhibition "Pharaoh".  Presented in collaboration with the British Museum in London, the exhibit contains 150 objects, mostly from the British Museum, but supplemented by items from our own museum's collection.  The statues, carvings and jewelry portray the ancient Egyptian monarchs, the gods with which they were associated, and the life of the royal court.

I did not take my camera with me.   Although non-flash photography is allowed in the museum's galleries, it is usually prohibited at the special exhibitions.  So I was very surprised to see many people taking pictures, mostly with their cell phones.  None of the guards objected.  I don't know if it was because the exhibit was mostly composed of stone statuary (even flash photography would not harm them), or perhaps because the British Museum also allows photography.  Anyway, before we left, my friend tried to take a picture of me standing beneath a large fragment of a sarcophagus lid.  Alas the picture came out blurry.  All I have are a few images taken from the web...

A statue of Amenemhat III dating from around 1850 B.C.
A statue of Seti II from around 1280 B.C.
An enormous fragment from the sarcophagus lid of Ramses IV from around 1140 B.C.
It hangs on the wall at the end of the exhibit, and it was this piece that my friend unsuccessfully tried to photograph.
The exhibit was excellent.  It is amazing to see the artistic skill of these people who lived more than 3000 years ago.  It was also interesting to see how they tried to expunge all record of certain pharaohs.  There is a carving in which the image of the female monarch Hatshepsut was defaced.   In another carving the face of Akhenaton, the pharaoh who tried to introduce monotheism to Egypt, was scratched away because he was considered a heretic.  During its long history Egypt was on occasion ruled by foreign invaders.  Those foreign kings, such as the Nubians and the Greek Ptolemy family, are portrayed in the traditional manner to legitimize their authority as pharaohs of Egypt.
Ptolemy I, the general of Alexander the Great who took control of Egypt after Alexander's death, is portrayed making an offering to an Egyptian goddess.  From this representation you would never know that he was Greek and not Egyptian.

The exhibit will run until June, and I recommend it to anyone who is in the Cleveland area.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

One of My Crazy Concoctions

I enjoy cooking, but I don't care to fuss when I am cooking for myself.  One quick and easy dish which I concocted is something which I jokingly refer to as "Bill's mole".  ("Mole" is a type of Mexican sauce, and there are many different varieties.)   I can't say that I have seen any "moles" in Mexico similar to my sauce, but it is inspired by some of the ingredients used in Mexican cooking.  When I describe it to people, they often react with disbelief or disgust.  However I have made this dish several times for my Mexican friend Alejandro, and he really likes it.  (And, I might add, Alejandro is a connoisseur of "mole".)

I don't have measurements for this recipe.  It's one of those things where I throw things together to taste.  I begin by sautéing some chopped onion and bell pepper in olive oil.  Then I mix in a large can of tomato sauce and some bottled hot sauce.  Then I add the ingredients that people find strange...  a dollop of peanut butter, a squirt of chocolate syrup and some cinnamon.  (Peanut, chocolate and cinnamon are common ingredients in "moles".)  I thoroughly stir it all together, and let it simmer for a few minutes, and it's ready to go. 

I serve it over pasta or, as shown above, over rice with chunks of chicken breast.  It may sound strange, but it really is tasty!       

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Quiz Time: Stained Glass

It's been a long time since I have done a quiz on my blog.  The topic of today's quiz is stained glass windows.

Where, specifically, would you find these lovely examples of the art of stained glass?

Number one...

Number two...

Number three...

Good luck!

We quickly got an answer for photo #2.  Scott, the author of the blog Gringopotpourri correctly identified the picture as Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France.  The Gothic chapel was commissioned in the 13th century by King Louis IX as part of the former royal residence.
Congratulations to Scott!  This is his first time participating in one of my quizzes.

I'm still waiting for someone to answer numbers 1 and 3.  Come on, readers.  Don't be shy!  I know that there are some of my regular readers that have seen them,  but I will give you a hint.  Number 1 is in Mexico and number 3 is in the United States.

Well, three days have passed and I have not had any answers for pictures numbers 1 and 3.

The window in number 1 is located in Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City.  It is part of a corridor of lovely stained glass windows.

The window in number 3 is located in the Wade Chapel of Lakeview Cemetery here in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.  It was created by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and prior to its installation in the chapel it was displayed at the 1900 World's Fair in Paris where it won a gold medal.  Tiffany designed the entire interior of the chapel.  It is one of the few existing examples in the world of a complete interior space designed by him.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Spring Is Springing Early

My most memorable St. Patrick's Day was back in 1973.  On that day I was scheduled to return home after having spent ten weeks studying in Mexico. However, I ended up spending the night in Atlanta because Cleveland had been hit with a heavy snow storm, and the airport had been closed.

That is certainly not the case this year.  The mild weather continues.  Although the first day of spring is still a few days away, perennials are sprouting in the flower beds and spring flowers are blooming.

The crocus are already past their prime, although this clump still looks fresh and pretty.

And in the last couple days the daffodils have started to bloom early.

We do have some colder weather forecast for this weekend with a chance of snow on Sunday.  But, knock on wood, it doesn't look like anything comparable to the St. Patrick's Day snow of 1973.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Final Episode

(image from the web)

I have mentioned before that I am a big fan of the British television series "Downton Abbey".  I even got my friend Alejandro in Mexico City hooked on the program.  I have bought him the DVDs of the first five seasons, and he, in turn, has shown them to his mother. 

The series chronicles the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants downstairs through the early decades of the 20th century.  This year was the final season of the show.  Since I am usually in Mexico in January when the program airs here on PBS, I wait until the DVDs are available on Netflix.  I didn't have to wait long this year.  When I returned from my winter trip to Mexico the discs were already available. Last night I watched the last episode.  I am sad to see it come to an end, but I also realize that after six years, it was time to bring the saga to an end.

Although the program was wildly popular in the UK and here, there were those who pooh-poohed it as a melodramatic soap opera.  Yes, it was a soap opera, but a high quality soap opera vastly superior to the rubbish that fills so much TV airtime.  The writing, the acting, and the production values were superb.  Stealing the show was Maggie Smith, cast as the imperious Dowager Countess.

A more valid criticism of the show is that it idealizes and sugar-coats the reality of society in that era.  I doubt that there were many aristocratic families who were as benevolent as the Crawleys, who showed as much concern and kindness toward their servants.  In fact snobbery and disdain were more common.   The servants were portrayed tidily dressed and with clean-scrubbed faces.  Their accommodations were comfortable and they seemed to have plenty of free time.  It really did not seem that bad of a life.  In truth their work was dirty and grueling, their living quarters dark and cramped, and they were frequently abused by their employers.

When I watch a show such as "Downton Abbey" I cannot help but think of my ancestors from the English branch of my family.  In the British censuses they were listed as agricultural laborers... in other words, they were basically peasants who worked on the estate of the local landowner.  My great-grandmother, the daughter of an illiterate laborer, went into service for a short time after the death of her father.  The 1871 census records her as a general servant.  She was not working in a grand house such as the one in "Downton Abbey", but in the middle-class household of a brewer in a nearby town.  The next record that I have of her is three years later.  She was in the local poorhouse giving birth to a child out of wedlock.  I have no way of knowing who the father was.  It could very well have been my great-grandfather, who married her three months later.  But it was not uncommon for employers to sexually take advantage of their maidservants.  Then if the servant became pregnant, she would be dismissed and sent off to the poorhouse.   Could my great-grandmother's first child, my great uncle who died before I was born, been the result of such abuse???

"Downton Abbey" supposedly takes place in Yorkshire in northern England.  However, Highclere Castle, which was used for the filming of the series, is located in southern England.  I did a Google-map search for the house, and discovered that it is located only twenty-five minutes by car from the Berkshire villages from which my ancestors came.  The house is open to the public in the summer, and I would love to visit it someday on a future trip to England.   But I will have to wait a few years until "Downton-mania" has subsided.  Admission tickets for this summer are already sold out!

(image from the web)
Although I am sad that the series is over, I will probably watch the final season again soon.  When I return to Mexico next month for Alejandro's birthday, I want to buy him the box set of season 6 as a birthday present.  Hopefully, it will be available at the music / video store in Mexico City where I bought him the previous seasons.  The DVDs that are available in the US do not include Spanish subtitles.  That would not be a problem for Alejandro, but then he would not be able to show it to his mother.
Farewell, Downton Abbey! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

More Stuff for the Auction

The painting that I am donating to the annual charity auction of the Ohio chapter of "Los Amigos de las Américas" is set to go.  I have applied a coat of varnish and attached a wire to the back for hanging.

Now I am sorting through some other things that I will donate.  During the course of my travels to Mexico, I always pick some small handicrafts for their silent auction.

These are some of the items that I purchased...

In the more touristy areas of Mexico City you will always find women sitting on the sidewalk selling these small handmade dolls.

I bought this small embroidered purse from Oaxaca at the Ciudadela Handicraft Market in Mexico City.

I found this lovely beaded ornament at the gift shop in Mexico City's Anthropology Museum.  It is an example of the handiwork of the Huichol tribe.

This exquisite lacquer plate is from the town of Olinalá in the state of Guerrero.  I found it at the Ciudadela Market.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Egyptians Are Coming!

image from the web

Today marks the opening of the latest special exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art... a show entitled "Pharoah".  The exhibit will feature 157 pieces of ancient Egyptain statuary (some monumental in size) and jewelry which portray the rulers of that civilization and the deities that were associated with them. 

Our museum has a noteworthy collection of Egyptian art, but the show was prepared in collaboration with one of the greatest archaeological museums in the world, the British Museum in London.  Ninety percent of the works are from that prestigious institution.

The exhibition is a part of our museum's centennial celebration and will run until June 12th.  I already have plans to attend with a friend later this month.

image from the web

Saturday, March 12, 2016


I have written a couple of posts this month about the painting that I will donate to a charity auction in April.  For the last week I have been working diligently on the project.  Last night I finished the painting.  Well, almost finished... I still have to apply a coat of varnish and hook up a wire for hanging.

So here it is...

If you look carefully at the photo that I used (posted earlier this month), you will see numerous differences.  Artistic license, you know.  The coloration is also different from the photo (the actual painting is much brighter than what you see here).  Chalk that up, I suppose, to the fact that I am mildly color-blind.  People have commented that they can immediately recognize my style by how bright and vivid my paintings are.  That might be a result of my vision problem.

I'm pretty satisfied with the way it turned out, and I hope it brings in some cash for the auction.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Trip Planning

(image from the web)

I have started to make plans for a big trip to Europe this summer.  I may have already mentioned that my Swiss cousins have invited me to visit.  In August three of my cousins will be celebrating their 60th birthday, and a celebration is being planned.  I have already met two of the three...  Brigitta and Hans Peter.  Brigitta is organizing the party, and it will be held at her home in Uster, a small city near Zurich.  She has graciously invited me to stay at her house.  I will probably stay there for about a week. 

It will be wonderful to see my Swiss family.  Many cousins will be coming to the party.  Werner, the cousin with whom I first made contact through my genealogical research will be flying in from Madrid.  Birthday boy, Hans Peter, will be coming from Bergen, Norway, where he currently lives. There is also Walter and his family who live in the Swiss city of Aarau, and Ruth who still lives in the ancestral town of Othmarsingen.  And I am sure that I will meet other cousins that I have not met before.

Since Switzerland is a small country, many places can be reached in about an hour by train.  After the celebration, from my base near Zurich, I will be able to hop on a train and take day excursions to do some sightseeing in other Swiss cities.

Obviously, I am not going to travel all the way to Europe and spend only a week.  I am trying to decide where I will go after my stay in Switzerland.   Hans Peter on previous meetings has said that I should visit Norway.  I have e-mailed him to see if he will be returning to Bergen after the party.  If so, I might fly there, spend a few days visiting him and his family, and then do some sightseeing on my own in other parts of that country. 

Of course, August is the month when Europeans take their vacations, so Hans Peter might have other plans.  If a trip to Norway doesn't pan out, I am thinking about other countries in Europe that I have not visited.  It is just a short hop from Switzerland to Germany and Austria.  I would love to go to Munich and Salzburg.  Although most Europeans speak English (most of my cousins are fluent), between now and August I should teach myself a few phrases in German or Norwegian.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Work on the Painting

In my last post, I wrote about the landscape that I was going to paint for a charity auction in April.  Well, I have been working hard on it, and I am almost half-way finished.  It is a fairly large canvas... 24" x 30".  As I said before, it is a picture of Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico.

As I always do, first I did a rough sketch of the subject with gray paint.  However, after I had started painting, I realized that I had placed the buildings in the foreground (the ruins of an abandoned hacienda) much too low on the canvas.  So, I have already started to raise them higher.  But they are a bit too high, so I am using artistic license and adding a dirt path and a stone wall at the bottom.

Hopefully, if I continue working at this rate, I will have finished the painting in about a week.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Time to Paint

Those of you who have followed my blog since its beginning know that each year I do a landscape painting which I donate to the charity auction for the Ohio chapter of "Los Amigos de las Américas".  "Los Amigos" is a non-profit, non-sectarian organization which sends high school and college students to poor communities in Latin America to do volunteer work. This year's auction will be held on April 2, so it is time for me to get busy with my painting.

Often I do a painting based on a photograph which I have taken on one of my trips to Mexico or Spain.  This year, however, I have chosen this picture which I found on the web.

It is a view of Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico.  Also known by its Aztec name of Citlaltepetl, it is located on the border of the Mexican states of Veracruz and Puebla.  The dormant volcanic peak has an elevation of 18,491 feet, and is the third highest mountain in North America.

Hopefully my painting of this scene will turn out well, and will bring in some money for a very worthwhile cause.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The First Blossoms

The beginning of spring is still three weeks away, but yesterday I thought I saw a speck of color in one of my flower beds.  I went out to investigate, and discovered that the first of the crocus had bloomed. 

I don't remember ever seeing any blossoms this early.  Fortunately, the rest of the crocus were not yet blooming because last night we had a light snow.  Those first blossoms quickly vanished.  But never fear... ol' man Winter has not had the tight grip that he had in the previous two years.  Next week the temperature is predicted to rise into the 60s again! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Downtown Medina

No, I'm not talking about the city in Saudi Arabia, but rather about a town in Ohio, located about twenty miles to the south of where I live.  While Alejandro was here for a visit, we took a drive down to Medina.

Medina has a population of about 26,000 people, and is the seat of the county of the same name.  It was founded in 1818 by New Englanders as a settlement of the Western Reserve, a section of northeastern Ohio that was originally claimed by the state of Connecticut. The town was laid out in typical New England fashion with a village green in the center.

The gazebo on the town square

The county courthouse faces the square.

Most of the wooden buildings of the town's downtown district were destroyed in a fire in 1870.  The district was rebuilt with stone and brick.  Unlike so many towns where the old commercial center has been razed in the name of urban renewal, Medina has preserved its 19th century downtown.  The buildings are occupied by a variety of specialty shops and restaurants.  As a result, Medina's downtown continues to thrive, and has become something of a local tourist destination for its picturesque atmosphere.