Monday, July 31, 2017

My Late Great Prius

In my last post I showed you a picture of my new car.  Here is a photo taken by the insurance adjustor of my defunct car that was totaled in a multi-car accident two weeks ago.  

It actually looks better in this picture than it really is.  The adjustor estimated that it would cost over $11,000 to repair the car, and it was declared a total loss.

In the meantime, I am enjoying my new Prius.  It seems to be getting even better gas mileage than my previous car.  I have been getting anywhere between 59 and 80 mpg every time that I drive it.  Of course I do have to admit that after the accident I have been driving like the proverbial "little old lady".

Friday, July 28, 2017

My New Wheels

Last week I wrote about the terrible traffic accident in which I was involved.  Although I was already 99.9% sure that my car was totaled, I received word from my insurance agency that it was indeed a total loss.  Yesterday I went out to buy a new car.  Even though I have not yet received an insurance check, I wanted to get this over with before I leave for Mexico next month.  I wanted another Prius, and the dealership had several on the lot.  The styling of the new model is different from my old car, but I chose the same color that I had before.  I did not care that much for the other colors that they had available.  

I figured that once I had purchased a car, I would have to call a friend to follow me to the rental car agency so that I could drop off the rental, and then drive me back to the Toyota dealership to pick up my new one.  However, the salesman told me that I could leave the rental there, and that he would call Enterprise to pick it up.  So in a matter of a couple hours I drove away with a new car!

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Summer Evening of Music

(Photo taken by my friend, Cliff)

Every summer I try to make it to at least one performance of the Cleveland Orchestra at their summer home, Blossom Music Center.  Blossom is located in the forested countryside between Cleveland and Akron.  

Last Saturday, a friend and I had tickets for a concert.  The concert was longer than usual, beginning at 7 PM and ending around 10.  It began with a couple of pieces played by the Kent / Blossom Chamber Orchestra.  Each summer a five week institute for professional music training is held for select students.  It is operated by Kent State University in cooperation with the Cleveland Orchestra.  The institute culminates with a performance at Blossom.  The young musicians began the concert with a piece by the English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams based on British folk dances.  Then they performed Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 (the "Italian Symphony").

After intermission, the Cleveland Orchestra took the stage.  As good as the institute students were, once the seasoned professionals began to play, there was no mistaking that we were now listening to one of the greatest orchestras in the world.  The orchestra was conducted by Jahja Ling, a favorite of Cleveland audiences.  Mr. Ling was a longtime member of the conducting staff here, and he is now the music director of the San Diego Symphony.  He frequently returns to Cleveland as a guest conductor, and it is always a joy to watch his enthusiastic direction. 

They started with Rossini's lively overture to "The Barber of Seville".  Next was the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Paganini, masterfully played by one of the orchestra's own violinists, Eli Matthews. 

There was a another intermission, and then the two orchestras joined forces to play Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World").  The Czech composer wrote this work in 1892 while he was spending a year in the United States.  The symphony is influenced by Native American dances and African-American spirituals.  It has long been one of my favorites, and it was wonderful to hear this superb performance.

It was a great evening of music, and we are so fortunate to have this world-class orchestra here in Cleveland!

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Hills Are Alive...

image from the web

The very first professional theater production that I ever saw was when I was in the seventh grade.  My mother, my aunt and I went to a production of "The Sound of Music" which was presented at Musicarnival in suburban Cleveland.  Musicarnival was a theater-the-round in a large tent that seated over 2500 people.  Each summer between 1958 and 1975 they presented Broadway musicals and operettas.  I still vividly remember that performance.

"The Sound of Music"  premiered on Broadway in 1959 and was the last collaboration of the great musical theater duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  (Hammerstein died from cancer nine months after the premiere.)  The same year that I saw the stage production at Musicarnival, the Hollywood version of the show was released.  Today it is the movie that is indelibly imprinted upon most people's minds, and Julie Andrews will always be remembered as Maria.  (Most do not know that Mary Martin, one of the leading musical actresses of her era, originally performed the lead role on Broadway.)

On Thursday some friends and I went to a performance of "The Sound of Music" at the Palace Theater in Cleveland's Playhouse Square.  It was a touring production that has been traveling across the country since 2015, and their final performances are here in Cleveland.  
This was the Broadway, not the Hollywood, version of the show.  It was interesting to hear my friends' reactions to the differences from the movie that we know so well.  For example, "My Favorite Things" is sung early in the show between Maria and the Mother Abbess... not in the scene where the frightened children come into Maria's room during a thunderstorm.  Instead, Maria distracts the children by singing "The Lonely Goatherd"... and, no, there were no marionettes involved.  There are two songs which never made it to the movie.  In the wittily sophisticated "How Can Love Survive?", Captain von Trapp and his potential fiancée Elsa discuss the fact the all the famous love affairs have been between impoverished, struggling couples. ("In all the famous love affairs the lovers have to struggle, in garret rooms away upstairs the lovers starve and snuggle.")  In the cynical "No Way to Stop It" Elsa and Max try to persuade the Captain that he should collaborate with the Nazis who are taking over Austria.  In fact, here the break-up between the Captain and Elsa is due to their political differences.  It has been suggested that if those two songs had been included in the movie, the film would not have been criticized for being "too sugary sweet". 

So how was the production?  It was very enjoyable.  Of course, there is no way that the theatrical play can duplicate the movie's gorgeous cinematography of the Alps and the city of Salzburg, but the stage settings were very nicely done.  All of the actors had good singing voices.  I found the young actress who played the eldest daughter Liesl to be more appealing than the actress in the movie.  The Mother Abbess had a powerful voice and brought down the house with "Climb Ev'ry Mountain".  My only disappointment was with the actress who played the lead role of Maria.  I understand that she was trying to portray Maria as she is characterized by the nuns... "a flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, a clown."  But I think that she overdid the clownishness a bit.  In one review, she was criticized as being too "American".  Indeed, with her accent, at times she sounded more like a Kansas farm girl than an Alpine "fraulein".  In spite of this minor criticism, it was a wonderful show.

A couple bits of trivia about the real Von Trapp family.  Maria von Trapp admitted that she did not fall in love with the Captain; she married him because she had fallen in love with the children.  With time however, she did come to love her husband.  Also it was Maria, not the Captain, who was the disciplinarian in the family.  And finally, they did not escape across the mountains on foot.  They simply got on a train to Switzerland.  But, of course, that would be much less dramatic.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Harrowing Experience

Yesterday was a sunny, summer day that started out well.  By noon I had accomplished the chores that I wanted to do.  I fact, I had completed all the major gardening and yard work  that I wanted to do before I leave for Mexico again at the beginning of August.  I decided to reward myself and do some shopping.  I drove to a mall that I infrequently visit thirty miles away on the other side of town.  I found some good bargains, and in late afternoon I was headed back.

I was about one third of the way home.  I came to the ramp which leads from one interstate to another.  Rush hour was beginning, and, as usual, traffic was tied up in that spot.  I was creeping along at about five miles per hour.  Then in my rear view mirror I saw a terrifying sight.  A van that was going much too fast plowed into the vehicle in front of it.  That vehicle landed on top of the car in front of it.  The car was pushed into the next car, and it slammed into me.  I, in turn, was pushed into the rear of the SUV in front of me.  A total of six vehicles were involved.  The SUV that I ran into suffered minor (although I am sure very expensive) rear end damage.  Every other vehicle was TOTALED! 

The young lady in the third car in the chain (the one with the vehicle perched on her roof) was the only one injured.  She was unconscious at first, but was awake when the ambulance took her away.  I hope that she will be all right.  Everyone else was OK.

My air bags deployed.  I attempted to drive my two year old Prius to the side of the highway, but it would not move.  I got out of the car.  The rear end would probably be reparable, but the front end was smashed in.

Several police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck were quickly on the scene, and the ramp was closed to traffic.  The police officers were very courteous and professional, and gave all of us forms to fill out for the accident report.  The officers drove us to the local police station, and we were given the report number to give to our insurance agent.  Because of the severity of the accident, the police took possession of all the vehicles for the investigation.  One of the drivers, the one who was behind me, lives not too far from me.  When his wife arrived to pick him up, they graciously drove me home.  Many thanks to them.

This was the first time in my life that I have experienced a major car accident, an experience that I never want to repeat!  But the most important thing is that I am fine.   

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Two Cents Worth on San Miguel de Allende

Right now, the biggest topic of discussion among bloggers who write about Mexico is the news that Travel & Leisure Magazine has named San Miguel de Allende the top tourist destination in the entire world.  So I figured that I might as well jump in and give my opinion.

First of all I do not subscribe to Travel & Leisure.  I have leafed through a few copies while waiting in the doctor's office, and I can definitely say that I am not in the magazine's target audience.  I do not stay at luxurious, five star hotels.  (Why pay big bucks for a room when I am going to spend most of my time out and about seeing the sights?)  I am not interested in the hottest, new nightspots.  (Heck, I am usually thinking about bedtime when such places are starting to get busy.)  I enjoy good food, but I have found that trendy restaurants that critics rave about are often disappointing.  Although I am not a backpacker staying in frugal hostels, I am not an upscale traveler, and I do not look to Travel & Leisure for vacation guidance.

The blog posts that I have read generally mock the magazine's choice.  My friend Barbara, the author of "Babsblog", lives in San Miguel and adores the town.  But even her recent post is tinged with a bit of skepticism and a dose of concern over increased tourism in her adopted town. 

I have to wonder why it is necessary to proclaim someplace as the #1 destination, and who makes such a decision.  There are so many fascinating places in the world.  How can any one town be proclaimed the champion of the planet?  From what I have read, there was a good deal of misinformation in the Travel & Leisure article.  It makes one wonder just how much research was done. 

I am not badmouthing San Miguel.  It is a beautiful town, and I have enjoyed my visits there.  However the country is full of beautiful towns, and (sorry, Barbara) I would not rank it as my favorite place in Mexico, much less the world.  I first visited San Miguel in the 70s when I traveled to the colonial towns of the region known as the Bajío.  Back in those days San Miguel already had a sizeable ex-pat population, but it was not the busy tourist mecca it is today.  The couple days that I spent there were very pleasant, but the town in the Bajío that most captured my imagination was Guanajuato.  I would also rank Mérida and Oaxaca above San Miguel, and there are several lesser known towns such as Valle del Bravo and Malinalco that are on my list of favorites.

The sad thing is that when a place becomes touted as a "must-see" destination, the economy may benefit, but much is lost in the unique atmosphere of the place.  A good example is the Mayan archaeological site of Chichén Itzá.  When I first visited the ruins in the 80s, it was a magical place.  Then, when Cancún became a "mega-resort", hordes of tourists in tour buses arrived.  The problem was exacerbated when Chichén was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  Now the place is jammed with visitors, you are no longer allowed to climb any of the ruins, and vendors hawking tourist junk are omnipresent.

Barbara writes in her blog that there are days when the historic center of San Miguel suffers gridlock along its narrow streets.  How is the town going to cope with the possibility of an even greater invasion of tourists?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Senior Citizen

As a schoolteacher I was very fortunate to be able to retire after thirty years in the classroom.  Since then, the rules have been changed in Ohio, and regardless of the number of years of service, you must teach until you reach the age of sixty.  I know that doesn't sound very old, but I really cannot imagine being sixty years old and teaching six classes, sometimes with a total of 150 students.  Unless you have taught, you cannot imagine how stressful teaching can be.  There are those who say, "Yes, but you have the summers off."  This would irk me, especially from a person who works a 9 to 5 job.  They don't think about the hours spent in the evenings and on weekends grading papers and preparing lesson plans.  Besides, many of those summers were spent taking post-graduate university classes.  I had many very enjoyable years of teaching (and some that were less enjoyable).  I do not regret having gone into teaching, but I am glad to have been able to retire years ago.

We have a decent pension (Ohio's teachers' retirement fund is one of the more solvent in the country), and, combined with my investments, I have been able to travel extensively.

Very soon I will reach the status of "senior citizen", and I now have my Medicare card to prove it!  I hope that I still have quite a few years of travel in my future.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hanging Gardens

Something that I have seen quite a few times in Mexico City is a vertical garden on the façade of a building.  The wall of the building has hundreds of pockets in which plants are placed.  As the plants grow the entire wall is covered with vegetation.

This apartment building in the neighborhood where I stayed has a very nice example of that technique.  It included hoses that kept the plants watered with drip irrigation.  

I have not seen anything like it up here, but of course, in the land of winter, it would be a real chore to replant the wall every spring.  I wonder if this idea has caught on in the frost-free regions of the southern U.S.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

End of the School Year

My departure from Mexico coincided more or less with the end of the school year in Mexico.  Alejandro's nephew just completed the first grade. The Monday before I left, I was invited to join Alejandro and his family at the ceremony held by the school.

The event was held at a nearby theater.  It began with an elaborate presentation of the Mexican flag and the singing of the national anthem.  (I couldn't join in the singing since all I know of the lyrics is the first line... "Mexicanos al grito de guerra".)

Each grade presented a dance performance.

In between the dances, certificates were presented to outstanding students.  Alejandro's nephew is a very bright, little boy.  He received awards for Spanish, mathematics and English!

I felt very honored to share this occasion with the family!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Going Home

Yesterday I returned home to Ohio after a month in Mexico City.  

As I mentioned in my last post, the departure time for my Interjet flight from Mexico to Chicago had been pushed up by a half hour to 7:20 AM.  I really think the change was due to the amount of air traffic at that time.  The plane left the gate on time, but we waited on the runway for a half hour for our turn to take off.  So we arrived in Chicago at about the same time as originally scheduled, around 11:30 AM.

The flight was not too crowded, although, as luck would have it, all three seats in my half of the row were occupied.  But, as I have said before, with the additional legroom on Interjet planes, it was still a comfortable trip.  A light meal was served... a tasty turkey and cheese sandwich on a croissant, a package of cookies, and a beverage.  Nothing fancy, but more than you get on the U.S. carriers.

I zipped through immigration and customs.  No wait at all!  I spent more time waiting for my luggage than I did at immigration.   

I had a several hour layover in Chicago, but once again I used one of the passes that I get through my credit card for admission to the United Club.  The time was spent comfortably there with free food.  My United flight to Cleveland left on time and arrived a bit ahead of schedule.

It was a long day, but relatively stress free.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Time to Go Home

Once again my month in Mexico City has flown by, and it is time to return to Ohio.  Since I leave my clothes here in the apartment, there is not much to pack... just two carry-ons.  I already have the souvenirs I bought (mostly gifts for friends) packed in my larger carry-on.

This morning I received an e-mail from Interjet letting me know that my flight tomorrow will leave thirty minutes earlier than scheduled... at 7:20 AM instead of 7:50.  I am supposed to be there three hours before departure.  (4:20 AM!)  I find it odd that Interjet asks you to check-in an hour earlier than U.S. airlines on international flights.  On my last trip I didn't check-in that early, and I probably won't this time either.

I will have a lot to do when I get back to Ohio, but before long I will return to Mexico City, as I continue my life as a semi-ex-pat.  On August 7th I will be back in my home away from home!

Sunday in Condesa

On Sunday, Alejandro and I took the Metrobus up to the neighborhood of Condesa, the area where I had previously rented apartments.  We strolled around Parque México which is always an interesting place on weekends.

Hydrangeas blooming in the park

The duck pond

If you don't want to walk, and you don't have a bicycle, you could rent one of these pedal carts.

There are plenty of snack vendors to satisfy your hunger.

There were also vendors selling potted plants...

...woven baskets and bags...

... and even hand-made furniture.

There are tables set up where children can work on art projects.

You can even get a massage.

You can always count on there being some musical groups performing in the park.  This group was playing Dixieland Jazz.

One section of the park is a "dog park", where dogs are allowed to run loose.

After your dog has played in the park, you can get it washed and groomed at this mobile, canine "beauty shop".

Next to the dog park, the local animal protective leagues have dogs (and a few kittens) for adoption.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Saturday Bazaar

As I mentioned in my last post, during my visit to the neighborhood of San Angel I recalled the Saturday Bazaar that is held there each weekend.  I had not been to the Bazaar since the 1970s when I was a student in Mexico.  So the following day Alejandro and I took the Metrobus to San Angel.

The actual Bazaar is located in an 18th century house facing the Plaza de San Jacinto, the heart of San Angel.  However there is much more than that.  On the Plaza del Carmen and the Plaza de San Jacinto there is an art market.

The artists displaying their work here are largely the same ones who are at the Sunday Art Market at Parque Sullivan downtown.  (I wrote about that event on my last trip in April.)

Carlos del River, an artist with whom I chatted in April, was there, and we had another good conversation.  His work is done with water colors and black ink, to create an effect similar to stained glass.

One of his newer paintings, which I especially liked, is at the top.  It is based on a photograph that he took while visiting a marketplace (I believe he said in the state of Chiapas).  The native women in the market do not like to be photographed, so he took a picture of a woman's bare feet as she passed by the baskets full of market produce.  I still hope to buy one his paintings some day!

Another painter with whom I talked was J. Espinosa, who specializes in landscapes.  We talked about one of my favorite Mexican artists, José María Velasco, who was famous for his paintings of the Mexican volcanoes.  Mr. Espinosa said that Velasco was one of his major inspirations.

I yielded to temptation and purchased a small landscape of the snow-covered volcanoes near Mexico City.

Around the Plaza de San Jacinto and beyond in the little Plaza Tenanitla there are stands where artisans sell their handicrafts.

This stall had different kinds of Nativity scenes for sale, including miniatures created within the shell of a walnut.  I bought one of those for a friend who collects Nativity scenes.

This fellow from the state of Guerrero had some very interesting items which he had created.  I really liked the wooden fish to the left with intricate designs in black and white.  However, I didn't have room left in my suitcase for it.  Instead I bought one of the little crosses, also decorated in black and white.

I was already very happy with my shopping experience, and we had not yet even entered the building of the Saturday Bazaar.  The items for sale in the Bazaar are generally rather expensive... jewelry, fancy home décor items and fashions.


However, there were some things in my price range...  including the merchandise in this shop selling Mayan chocolates.

A buffet restaurant is set up in the courtyard of the old house on Saturdays.

However, we ate elsewhere.  Just down the street is a branch of one of our favorite restaurants, "El Cardenal".   Here we had lamb in "salsa borracha" (drunken sauce).  
The sauce is make with "pulque", a mildly alcoholic beverage make from the agave plant.  I do not care for "pulque", but the sauce was delicious!

It was a fun day in San Angel!

Monday, July 3, 2017

An Afternoon in San Angel

On Friday I took the Metrobus south to one of Mexico City's most picturesque neighborhoods, San Angel.  San Angel was once a separate village, and it became a country retreat for wealthy city families.  In the 20th century it was absorbed into the sprawl of Mexico City, however it has retained a distinctive atmosphere.  The wealthy still live behind the walls of the grand, old houses.  But it has also become a center of fine dining, art galleries, and upscale handicraft shops.

An uphill walk from the Insurgentes Avenue took me to the Church of San Jacinto, the heart of the neighborhood.

San Jacinto dates back to 1580, making it one of the older churches in Mexico City.

The interior of the church...

The atrium of the church is one of the loveliest in Mexico.  In fact there are signs reminding visitors that this is not a public park, but church property.

In Mexico it is common for a stone cross to stand in the atrium in front of the church.  The stone cross here is one of the oldest, and its design, with a mixture of Christian and pre-Hispanic elements, reflects the indigenous artisans who built it.

I really was not intending to do any more souvenir shopping while in San Angel.  However I came across some shops that I had not seen before, and it was hard to resist.

This little store, "The Day of the Dead Shop", was filled with handicrafts, most of them related to the "Día de los Muertos" celebration.  There were loads of "calaveras" (skulls made of pottery, or paper mache) and "Catrinas" (the popular skeleton figurines).   At the entrance there was an "ofrenda" (a Day of the Dead altar set up in memory of someone who has passed away).  This "ofrenda" was dedicated to the celebrated painter Frida Kahlo. 

I ended up buying something here.

The door at the rear of the store leads to a separate shop which features hand-made crochet items.

And again I could not resist buying something small that will easily fit in my suitcase!

Down the street is one of the neighborhood's colonial landmarks, "La Casa del Risco".

This colonial house dates back to the 17th century.  In the closing days of the Mexican American war, it was used as a barracks by the invading U.S. army.  In 1938 it was bought by Isidro Fabela, a well-known Mexican politician, judge, diplomat and writer.  He restored the house to its former grandeur.  Prior to his death, Fabela donated the house and his art collection to the Mexican people.

Today the house contains several galleries exhibiting paintings, sculptures, furniture and decorative arts, mostly from the Baroque era of both Europe and Mexico.  There are also rooms for temporary art exhibits.

The highlight of this museum, however, is the incredible fountain in the courtyard of the house.

The fountain is considered an artistic treasure of colonial Mexico and an example of the ultra-Baroque style of the 18th century.  It is decorated with tiles, seashells, pieces of porcelain, and plates.

The fountain in itself is worth a visit to the "Casa del Risco".

While walking around San Angel, I noticed the building where they have the weekly "Bazar Sábado" (Saturday Bazaar).  I had not been to San Angel's bazaar since the 1970s, and I decided that perhaps a trip back to San Angel on Saturday would be a good idea.