city at night

city at night

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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dancing on the Square

Earlier this month (wow, that seems almost like a lifetime ago!) I wrote about a performance I saw on the Zócalo in Mexico City.  Folkloric dance groups from a number of countries had come to perform.  It was an excellent show... until the last group which was from Mexico took the stage.  The performance by the Mexican dancers was so lackluster compared to the others.  I wrote that it was a shame that a nation so rich in music, dance, and talent should have been so poorly represented.  This weekend, while in Puebla, we saw some dance groups who would have done their nation proud at that event in Mexico City. 

On Friday evening, while Alejandro and I were wandering around the historic center of Puebla, we saw that there was a stage set up on a street adjoining the main plaza.  A group of young dancers were rehearsing for an event  that was to be held at 10 the next morning. 

On Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hotel, and by the time we made it to the plaza, it was past 10:30 and the performance was well underway.  What we didn't realize at first was that this event was going to last most of the day.  It was a contest with dance groups from throughout the state of Puebla competing.  (The city of Puebla is the capital of the state of Puebla.)  We watched the final two groups in the adult category.

We arrived at the contest while a group was performing dances from northern Mexico.

The next group performed dances from the Huasteca region along the Gulf coast.

We thought that the event was over, and we went back to the hotel to check out and to store our luggage.  We returned to the plaza and the show was still going on.  Now elementary school groups were performing.  We caught the last two groups in that category.

This group of youngsters was also doing dances from the Huasteca region.

The next group danced to the folk music of the state of Veracruz.  The little girls were decked out in the beautiful costumes of that region of Mexico.  They were all dancing their hearts out as they performed the foot-stomping "zapateados".

There were more categories to follow.  The plaza was filled with young people awaiting their turn to perform.  They were happy to pose for the camera.

I'm sure that the contest continued through the entire afternoon, but we had other places to go.  We were extremely pleased, however, to have been able to witness some of these talented performers.

An Evening in Puebla

In colonial times when Mexico was the Viceroyalty of New Spain,  Puebla was second only to Mexico City in importance.  Today it is a modern, industrial city with a metropolitan population of around three million people.  However, its historic center has been preserved and has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.

After getting settled in our hotel, Alejandro and I ventured out to have supper.  Puebla is one the culinary centers of Mexico.  Many of the most famous recipes of Mexican cuisine originated here.  Not far from the hotel is a restaurant called Fonda Santa Clara which specializes in those traditional dishes, and that is where we went to eat.

The interior of the restaurant is very attractive, decorated in colonial decor.

 Alejandro ordered an entree of three enchiladas, each one covered in a different sauce.

The dark enchilada in the middle is covered with "mole poblano", one of the most famous sauces in Mexican cuisine.  According to legend it was invented in a convent in Puebla.  When a dignitary was scheduled to visit the convent, the nuns did not know what to serve him for dinner.  They threw everything they had in the pantry (including chocolate) into a pot to create a sauce to serve with turkey.

The other two enchiladas on Alejandro's plate are covered with red and green "pipián".  "Pipián" is a sauce made with pumpkin seeds.  The red variety contains tomatoes; the green variety has "tomatillos".

 I had the pork in red "pipián" sauce.

(photo taken by Alejandro)

  Our meals were excellent!

After supper we walked around the center of the city.  A few days ago I wrote about the Festival of Light that was being held in Mexico City.   Frankly, I think that Mexico City could learn a thing or two from Puebla.  Here the colonial mansions and churches are illuminated every weekend of the year.

As in Mexico City, Puebla's main plaza is called the Zócalo.  Here too, the buildings were all illuminated.

The city hall which faces the plaza was lit with blue lights.

Puebla's impressive Cathedral also faces the Zócalo.

We were fortunate to be there just as they were starting a light and sound show in which images are projected on the facade of the Cathedral.  The show is presented every weekend.

It was a wonderful evening in the colonial heart of Puebla!