Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Most Hated Man in Mexico

It goes without saying who the most hated man in Mexico is... even more hated than their current President.

I found this picture of the cover of a Mexican literary magazine to be quite interesting.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Something New in the Living Room

I do not by any means have an enormous library of DVDs and music CDs.  Nevertheless, my storage unit had reached its capacity.  Also, it was rather cheap, and the shelves were starting to bow.  So I decided that I needed to find something new for my collection.  I went to a few furniture stores, and I was disappointed that none of them had what I was looking for.  I went online and found something I liked... a swivel multimedia storage tower.  It was modern in design and black in color so it went well with the other furniture in the living room.

The storage tower was delivered last week, and my CDs and DVDs now have a new home.

It is around five feet tall, and should provide more than enough storage for the rest of my life.  As I said, it swivels, and the side facing the wall is completely empty.  Even the three sides that are visible still have plenty of room.  I took various knick-knacks... mostly handicrafts from my trips to Mexico... and books to fill in the empty shelves. 

Everything is now neatly organized.  The DVDs that I have made of pictures from my travels (36 in total) are all on the top two shelves to the front and arranged chronologically.  My classical music CDs are all together and alphabetized by composer... Mexican music CDs are all together... etc., etc.

The only downside is that now I will be tempted to buy a lot more stuff to add to my media library!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Autumn Blooms

Today is the first day of autumn, although the weather is still summery with sunshine and a high temperature of over 80 degrees.  The long term forecast calls for continued warm temperatures for the next ten days.  The first frost is nowhere in sight.  Nevertheless, I have begun to clear out my flower beds.  It is a big job, and I need to be finished by the time I leave for Mexico in late October.  But I will hold off on cutting down a number of plants which are fall bloomers.

I have three different varieties of asters which are now either in full bloom or which are beginning to bloom.

These asters with white daisy-like flowers are over four feet tall.

I planted two other kinds of asters this spring, and they have started to bloom.

The toad lilies, which have beautiful, small, orchid-like flowers, have begun to blossom.

Some of the annuals, such as the petunias in the flower box, are still going strong.

It's hard to believe that within in month they will all be gone for another year.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Crazy Spanish Teacher

As I was sorting through my pictures on my new computer, I ran across this old photo of me from back in my teaching days.  I don't think that I have ever posted it on the blog before.  (If I have, excuse the repetition.)

A number of times on my travels, I purchased traditional attire from the countries that I visited.  I had a complete "gaucho" outfit from Argentina, Mayan clothing from San Cristobal de las Casa in Chiapas, Mexico, and this native Andean outfit from my trip to Peru.  When we studied one of those countries in my advanced Spanish classes, I would get dressed up in the appropriate attire. 

My Peruvian duds included a pair of scratchy wool pants and shirt, an alpaca poncho, and two traditional hats, one worn on top of the other.  I even had an Andean panpipe.  In between classes I would stand in the hall by my door.  I don't know how to play the panpipe, but I would be tooting away on it.  The passing students would look at me in disbelief.  My students would come into class chuckling and probably thinking, "Crazy 'señor' is at it again!"

Those were the days, back when teaching was actually fun!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Season's Greetings!

I felt very productive yesterday because I finished two projects on which I have been working.  First, I completed the slide show of my photos of Norway on my video program, and I successfully burned a DVD.  Second, I finished painting the picture which I will use for my Christmas card this year.

I know, it's only the middle of September.  I'm worse than the stores which start putting out their holiday merchandise before Halloween even arrives.  However, I need to have the cards printed before I leave for Mexico at the end of October.  I always take the cards and envelopes with me to Mexico, and make them out while I am down there.  They are all done by the time I return home and ready to send out after Thanksgiving.

Usually the picture I paint for the card is based on someplace I have traveled during the course of the year.  So what will it be this year?   A colonial church in Mexico?  A medieval Norse church?  Or perhaps a landscape of Alpine scenery in Switzerland?  I won't tell.  It's always a secret until I send them out, and there are a number of frequent readers of this blog who are on my Christmas card list.

I have been painting my own cards since I retired in 2004.  As I was organizing my files on my new computer, I came across the first one I did, one of the few cards which was not based on my travels.  It is a New England winter scene.

Come December, I will share with you the 2016 card.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Independence Eve

Today is the eve of Mexico's Independence Day.
Early in the morning of September 16th, 1810, in the small town of Dolores, a parish priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo rang the church bell to summon his parishioners.  In an impassioned speech he called upon the people to take arms against the Spanish and to break away from their colonial masters.  His speech became known as the "Grito de Dolores" (the Cry of Dolores), and it marked the beginning of Mexico's struggle for independence.

The bell which Father Hidalgo rang on that fateful morning now hangs over the central doorway of Mexico City's National Palace. 

Each year on September 15th thousands of people gather on the Zócalo, the city's main plaza, in front of the National Palace.  At 11:00 P.M. the President appears on the balcony and gives the "Grito".  It's actually not the "Grito" of Father Hidalgo that the President recites.  He gives a number of "¡Vivas!" (Long live!) naming Hidalgo and the other heroes of the War for Independence.  He concludes with "¡Viva México!" and rings the bell.  The speech that Hidalgo gave included the phrase "Muerte al mal gobierno" (Death to bad government).  Wouldn't it be nice if the President actually governed by those words?

Mexico's current President, Enrique Peña Nieto, is the most unpopular President in recent times.  In opinion polls he had an approval rating of 23%... and that was before his invitation to the even more unpopular Donald Trump. 

My friend Alejandro told me that there has been a campaign to boycott the Independence Eve celebration so that Peña Nieto would give tonight's "Grito" to a nearly empty Zócalo.  However, the government has been paying people from outside the city and shipping them in to fill up the plaza.  So typical of Peña Nieto!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Falash Portuguesh?

For the past two weeks I have been faithfully going to the website "Duolingo" on a daily basis and doing my lessons on German and Portuguese.  After my trip to Europe, I went back to the very beginning of the German lessons and started to review what I had already covered.  I was surprised at how much I still remembered, and I have breezed through lessons with a minimum of mistakes (and most of those are typos from typing too quickly).  Nevertheless I keep going back and reviewing over and over again.  I even feel as if I am starting to get a handle on the pronunciation of those pesky vowels with "umlauts" over them.  I have still not reached the lessons where I was starting to hit a wall with the difficulty of the grammar.  But hopefully when I get there I will manage to overcome the obstacles and progress farther.

As I wrote previously, the Portuguese vocabulary and grammar have been a snap due to their similarity to Spanish.  However, I have become increasingly frustrated with the Portuguese pronunciation.  There are so many differences from Spanish.  For example, when the vowel "o" appears at the end of the word it seems to sound like the "oo" in "moon", or the "e" at the end of a word sounds more like the Spanish "i".  "Ele come" (he eats) is pronounced as if it were spelled (in Spanish) "Eli comi".  The letter "t" when between two vowels sounds like a "ch", and a "ch" sounds like a "sh".  An "r" at the beginning of a word sounds like a harsh "h".  "Roupa" (clothing) is pronounced "Houpa".  It was all starting to make my head swim. 

"Duolingo" uses Brazilian Portuguese rather than the pronunciation of Portugal.  That is understandable since Brazil has a population of over 200 million, whereas Portugal has a population of around 10 million.  However, I am teaching myself the language in preparation for a possible trip to Portugal next summer.  So I decided to look for a website on the pronunciation in the mother country, and I hoped that it would be easier.

I found a website with audio examples of the how the letters are pronounced.  Many of those Brazilian sounds are not used, but there are other peculiarities of pronunciation in Portugal.  For example, an "s" at the end of a word is pronounced like our "sh".  So, "Falas portugues?" (Do you speak Portuguese?) comes out like "Falash portuguesh?" 

And the vowel sounds!  There are nasal vowels, open vowels and closed vowels.  I get the nasal vowels, but, for the life of me, I could not hear any difference between the open and the closed vowels.  After visiting that website I only felt more confused and frustrated!

With sincere apologies to any Portuguese speakers that might be reading this, I was starting to believe something that someone told me long ago.  "Portuguese is sloppy Spanish."

I finally pulled out a book that had been sitting on a bookshelf for years.

I had purchased this book ages ago at a second-hand book store prior to a trip to Brazil.  I had learned a few phrases, but I had not continued.  The text began with a "Note on Pronunciation".  It mentioned that there were differences between Brazil and Portugal and even between northern and southern Portugal, but that for this book the publishers had adopted a neutral accent.  Also, except for the "tilde" (which makes a vowel "a" nasal) they had eliminated "the bothersome diacritical marks".  They listed a number of rules (most of which I already understood).  There was no discussion of closed vowels and open vowels.  (Perhaps Mr. Berlitz couldn't hear the difference either!)  In the lessons, under each word or phrase, they give a close approximation of the pronunciation in English.  It is all so much simpler. 

I don't know if Berlitz is still in business, but at one time it was the biggest name in language instruction.  I figure if these are the pronunciation rules that they give, they must be acceptable and understandable.  So I will continue with my lessons on "Duolingo", but I will speak according to Berlitz.  And if I end up sounding like a Mexican trying to speak Portuguese, so be it!

Monday, September 12, 2016

My Poor Garden

When I returned home from my trip to Europe, I found that my garden was a disaster.  Here in Ohio we have had an unusually hot summer with below average rainfall.  Even though my house sitter watered the garden, many of my moisture-loving plants looked very sad.  In addition, the deer had a great time munching on the "salad bar".  They ate the leaves of my hostas, leaving nothing but the stems behind.  (My fault.  I should have told my house sitter to spray the hostas with more deer repellant.)

So even though the first frost is weeks away, I have started early to clear out the garden. I have already chopped most of the hostas down to the ground.

Oh well, better luck next year.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Movie Producer

After much frustration trying to get my "video studio" program to work on my new computer, I finally succeeded in burning a DVD of photos and videos from my trip to Switzerland.  (Long gone are the days when I would get out the projector and screen and invite my friends for slide shows of my travels.)

Out of more than 500 photos and videos which I took during my week in Switzerland I chose about half to create a 25 minute DVD.  I always add a musical background to the pictures.  While I was in Switzerland, I purchased a couple CDs of traditional Swiss folk music.  However, for parts of the video, particularly for the pictures of the spectacular mountain scenery, I wanted something less "folksy" and more majestic.  So I threw in one movement from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 (one of my favorite symphonies).  Mahler was not a Swiss composer.  He came from neighboring Austria, but I think that much of his music complements very nicely the grandeur of the Alps.  After burning the DVD, I then printed one of my photos to use as a cover for the case.  (That was also done with fingers crossed since I had a hassle getting my printer to work correctly with the new computer.)

I now have another volume to add to my library of travel DVDs, and I am now in the middle of creating one of my pictures of Norway.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Old Language Learner

The best time to learn a foreign language is when a person is very young.  The brain is not yet hard wired to one's native language and is more receptive to the sounds and patterns of another.  In most European countries the study of foreign languages begins in elementary school.  However here in the United States, in far too many school districts, the study of languages is not required and often does not begin until middle school or high school.  I did not begin to study Spanish until the ninth grade.  Even though I am fluent and have a good pronunciation, I am sure that nobody mistakes me for a native speaker.

Nevertheless, this old, retired teacher has embarked on the mission of learning some more languages.  Several months ago, I wrote a couple posts about my attempt to learn some
German.  Since I was going to travel to Switzerland, I thought it would be nice to be able to speak a bit of German.  I went to a free website called "Duolingo" and began their German lessons.  At first it was fun and a breeze.  I learned a number of phrases and a fair amount of vocabulary.  I could even conjugate a few verbs in the present tense.  "Duolingo" even said that I was 34% fluent, which is laughable.  But then I hit a wall.  As I continued, the grammar was becoming quite difficult.  I had accomplished what I had set out to do... learning a smattering of the language... so I figured that I would not pursue it any further after taking my trip.

Even though most everyone in Switzerland speaks English, I found it great fun to use a little German from time to time.  My Swiss cousins said that my pronunciation was pretty good.  As a result, I was encouraged not to give up on German.  I have gone back to "Duolingo", and I have started from the beginning.  I want to retain what I have already learned and to relearn what I have already forgotten.  Perhaps I will even manage to progress a little farther, and by the time I make it to Switzerland again I will be able to speak more.

There are plans in the works to travel to Portugal next summer.  Years ago I spent a few days in Brazil.  (Brazil speaks Portuguese, not Spanish!)  I taught myself a few polite phrases.  However this time I want to be able to speak more.  Two nights ago I started the Portuguese lessons on "Duolingo".   Portuguese, of course, is very similar to Spanish, so it will be much easier than German for me.  Most of the words I have encountered so far are easily recognizable.  For example, in Spanish the word for "book" is "libro", in Portuguese it is "livro".  "Woman" in Spanish is "mujer"; in Portuguese it is "mulher".  Even the verb conjugations seem to be almost identical.  The present tense conjugation of the verb "to eat" in Spanish is:  como, comes, come, comemos, comen.  In Portuguese it is : como, comes, come, comemos, comem.  The only stumbling block will be pronunciation.  Portuguese has a lot of diacritical marks which change the sound of vowels and consonants. There are nasal vowel sounds similar to French, and some consonants that sound more like Italian.

After just two lessons, "Duolingo" says that I am 6% fluent in Portuguese.  This is not nearly as preposterous as my supposed 34% fluency in German.  Although I still can't say much, I can already read and understand a fair amount.

We will see how it goes.

 Até logo.  Hasta luego.  Until later.    

Friday, September 2, 2016

The War with my Computer Continues - UPDATED

Just when I thought that I was getting used to my new computer (although I still hate Windows 10), the war has started anew.

I have a Corel Video Studio program which I use to make DVDs of my travel pictures and videos.  I sorted through all my pictures of Switzerland, and selected the ones that I wanted for the DVD.  I also ripped a couple of CDs of traditional Swiss music that I had bought there to use as background music for the DVD.  I went to the Corel program and made a slide/video show, but when I tried to burn a disc, I got an error message that there was not enough space on my drive. 

I should mention that the Windows operating drive on my brand new computer is almost full.  Windows 10 contains so much crap that I don't want or need.  I have gone through and uninstalled a bunch of apps, but most of the stuff cannot be uninstalled.  I have adjusted the computer settings so that all new downloads, pictures, documents, music, etc. are saved in the Data Drive which still has nearly a terabyte of free space.

I went to the Corel website and to get the phone number for support.  I called but you can't speak with a person!  You are referred back to the website to a "live chat" with support.  I did that, and the person asked me what version of the video program I have.  He said that it is not compatible with Windows 10, and said that I needed the latest version of the program.  I purchased that version online, and electronically uploaded it to the Data Drive. 

I still was unable to burn a disc of my slide show.  Back to the "live chat" on the Corel website.  I explained the situation, and the person said he would refer my problem to tech support.  (What?  The person I am chatting with is not a "tech" person?!)  He said I would receive an answer via email.

It wasn't until the next day that I received an email.  I was asked if I had uninstalled the old video program.  I said that I had not.  After a while I received an email saying that I should uninstall both the old and the new programs, and then reinstall the new one.

I did that.  After reinstalling the new program, I gave it a trial run.  I made a short project of just a half dozen pictures, and then attempted to burn it onto a disc.  No problem.  I thought that the problem was solved.  But then I tried once again to create my slide program of over 200 photos and videos of Switzerland.  The program would not even let me upload the photos... said there was not enough space.  I looked at the settings for the program and saw that the projects were being sent to the nearly full operating drive.  I tried to change the destination to the data drive, but it wouldn't let me.  I went back to "chat" on the Corel website, and explained what was going on.  Once again, I was told that the problem would be referred to a "tech" person, and that I would receive an email.

I really didn't expect to hear back from them today, but this evening I received an email.  "You need at least at least 6 gigabytes for optimal performance...blah, blah, blah", but he never addressed my problem.  I sent a reply stating the problem again, and I am sure that I won't hear back from Corel until tomorrow.  And I not optimistic that the answer will help me.

I guess I am going to have to bite the bullet, and shell out the money for a computer person to come to the house and sort all of this out!

UPDATE:  Well, in spite of a lack of help from Corel Support, I won the battle.  I found a setting where I could direct the pictures I wanted to import to my data drive instead of to my operating drive, and I was able to do my project.  However when I went to burn a disc of the finished product I once again got an error message saying that I did not have enough space.  I realized then that I could select where I wanted to save the project.  I changed the setting to the data drive, and I was finally able to successfully burn the disc.  I now have a DVD of my trip to Switzerland!  Next I will work on my pictures from Norway.

I think I have figured out the big problem with Windows 10.  I was talking with a friend who knows more about computers than I.  He said that on every computer he has ever had the operating system is on drive D, and C is the data drive for storage.  On this computer it is just the reverse.  My video program wanted to store my work on the crowded operating drive.  I have to be sure to always change the settings so that everything goes to the other drive.