Thursday, September 28, 2017

Mayan Lords

After all the serious and depressing news that I have posted about the natural disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico, it is time for a bit of silliness.

On my latest trip to Mexico City, Alejandro and I visited the Anthropology Museum to see the special exhibit on the Mayas.  Along with the hundreds of Mayan artifacts, there were several interactive displays.  One of them, just for fun, was a screen on which you could create a portrait of yourself as a Mayan.  You would take a picture of your face and superimpose it upon your choice of Mayan attire and a background of one of the Mayan cities. 

So here are Alejandro and I... the lords of Uxmal!

Monday, September 25, 2017

We're Having a Heat Wave

The calendar says that it is autumn, but the weather feels like the middle of summer here in Ohio.  Today Cleveland had a record high temperature of 94 degrees.  One area school district even cancelled classes because of the heat.  That is something I have never seen before.  We have had a string of nine straight days of temperatures in the eighties or above, and we are going to have a couple more days of summery weather until a cold front comes through.  It will then cool down to the sixties for a few days before the temperature begins to rise again.

Mexico City, in contrast, was a pleasant 75 degrees today.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

More Updates

From Puerto Rico...

I continue to receive emails daily from my friend in Puerto Rico.  Emails are his only link with the outside world, since cells phones are not working and his land line, which was working sporadically, has crashed.  

There is still no electricity, but fortunately their building has an emergency generator so that each apartment is able to run a refrigerator, and they have one outlet for small appliances.  There is no air conditioning, and the temperatures have been close to 90 degrees each day with high humidity.  Stores are not open, and there is a curfew from 6:00 PM until 6:00 AM.  You are not allowed to drive anywhere, although the good news is that their cars are fine.  Even though their building's garage is at a basement level, they are located on a slight hill with good drainage, and the parking area did not flood.

Commercial flights are now arriving and departing from the airport, and they will be leaving the island soon.  I should have a chance to see them here in Ohio before I leave for Mexico.

From Mexico...

Yesterday morning Mexico was hit with yet another earthquake.  The epicenter of the 6.1 quake was in the state of Oaxaca, in the area hard hit on September 7th.  Some buildings weakened by the earlier quake, and a damaged highway bridge collapsed.  Two additional deaths were reported.

In Mexico City, the earthquake sirens aroused those who were still asleep, and people left their homes and went out onto the street again.  The tremor was mild, and did no damage in the capital.  However, it surely added to the shell-shock suffered by the residents of that devastated city.  Life is slowly returning to normal although at a quicker pace than in Puerto Rico.  Classes in the schools will resume tomorrow.

I received a call yesterday from the owner of the apartment where I stay in Mexico City.  She had already heard from the "Administrador" of the building and knew that the it had suffered no damage.  Yesterday she finally heard from the maid.  The maid has been in the apartment, and said that there was no major damage inside... just a few little things which had fallen from tables were broken.  So, at least I know that I have a place to stay when I return in October. 

Update to the update...
I just read that this morning (Sunday) there was yet another quake.  This one was of a magnitude of 5.9, and its epicenter was off the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Chiapas.  No further details at this moment.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Disaster Update

From Puerto Rico...
I was quite amazed, but my friend in San Juan was able to send out emails yesterday.  They are fine, although it was a terrifying experience.  All night the wind howled, and it felt as if their condo building was going to be torn apart.  One of their shutters was blown off, and there were a couple inches of rainwater blown into their unit.  Fortunately there seems to be no major damage.  However next door to their building there was a wooden house... that is now gone!

From Mexico...
You probably have been watching and reading the horrific news from Mexico, but here are some bits of information that I have gleaned from my contacts.

Regular readers of my blog may remember that I used to stay at an AirBnB rental on Amsterdam Avenue in the Condesa neighborhood.  I sent an email to the owner of the apartment to make sure that he and his family were all right.  He answered the next day.  They are fine, although the office building where his wife worked collapsed moments after she evacuated.  There is also quite a bit of damage to the building where I used to stay, but it is reparable.

I have been in frequent contact by phone and by email with the owner of the condo where I now stay every other month.  She lives in Chicago, and has been anxious to know if there was any damage to the building.  Since that part of the city is built on bedrock rather than the old lake bottom upon which so much of the city is constructed, she was hopeful that the building survived the quake unscathed.  She finally was able to contact the "administrador" of the building, and he said that the it is fine.  However, she asked if my friend Alejandro could go over there and check out the apartment.  There probably is plenty of minor damage... pictures fallen from the walls, items which fell from tables and cupboards... but she is most concerned that the windows are not broken.

Something that is quite scary is that there are numerous buildings that have been structurally damaged and could collapse at any time.  You might remember that back in June I mentioned this building in one of my posts...

It was once a very elegant, high-rise apartment building along Insurgentes Avenue.  It suffered damage in the 1985 quake, and since then it has been partially abandoned and has fallen into disrepair.  Alejandro told me that the remaining residents and the stores on the ground floor have been evacuated because of the danger of imminent collapse.

The damage has not been confined to Mexico City.  The states of Puebla and Morelos were hard hit also.  One bit of news that Alejandro told me comes from the town of Cholula in the state of Puebla.  I know Cholula very well since I went to school there back in the 1970s. Located in Cholula is the world's largest pyramid in terms of volume.

Today it is covered with vegetation and it looks like a hill.  On top of the pyramid the Spanish built a church in the 17th century.  I have climbed that pyramid many times, and have sat in front of that church enjoying the view.  So I was saddened when I heard that the bell towers of the church collapsed in the quake.

It has been heartbreaking to listen to the news of this dreadful disaster... especially the story of the children trapped in the rubble of the collapsed elementary school building.  But amidst this tragedy is the solidarity which the people of Mexico City have shown as they  have united, volunteering their efforts and risking their lives to search for survivors amidst the ruins.  I salute them, for they represent the finest of that country which I have loved for so many years.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Disaster Upon Disaster

While Hurricane Maria was churning its way toward the Virgen Islands and Puerto Rico, news came of a 7.1 earthquake in Mexico.  From the first report I read, it sounded as if it were just another one of the tremors that Mexico City feels so often.  But then as more reports came in I became very worried. 

Unlike most of the earthquakes that hit Mexico, this one was not centered along the fault line off the Pacific coast.  Its epicenter was in central Mexico in the state of Puebla 76 miles to the southeast of Mexico City.  It came just two weeks after the deadly quake which hit the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, and, most ironic of all, on the 32nd anniversary of the catastrophic quake of 1985 which killed more than five thousand people.

I sent an email to my friend Alejandro in Mexico City to see if everyone was OK.  As time passed, and I received no answer I was becoming more worried.  There were reports of collapsed buildings and fatalities.

Finally around 6:00 PM I got a call from him.  He said that he felt the quake very strongly at work, and that as soon as it was over, he drove home.  Traffic was horrendous, and it took him two hours to get home.  Thanks goodness, his family is fine and their house suffered no damage.

At this point the death toll stands at 248, and about half of those are in the capital.  That number, sadly, will probably rise as the rubble is cleared away. The states of Puebla and Morelos were also hard hit.  In Mexico City, there are forty four buildings that collapsed.  Much of the damage was in the neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma, two neighborhoods that I know very well.  In fact, there was a building which collapsed just a couple blocks from the apartment where I used to stay.  Most heartbreaking was the news of an elementary school which collapsed in Xochimilco, in the southern part of the city.  Although two children were pulled out of the rubble alive, 25 people died, 21 of them children.

Hopefully the apartment which I am now renting every other month has no damage.  The lady who owns it (she lives in Chicago) called me last night, and asked if Alejandro could pass by and see if everything was all right.  She said that it should be OK since that neighborhood is built on bedrock rather that the old lake bottom upon which much of the city is constructed.

Here are a few photos that I took from the internet...

Here you see one of the city's main boulevards, the Paseo de la Reforma, jammed with people who have fled the offices and businesses along that thoroughfare.

A collapsed building in the neighborhood of Roma, an area which, as I said, I know very well.

More scenes of destruction...

I was watching numerous videos which have already appeared on YouTube.  Here is a link of one of the most terrifying...

Mexico City Earthquake - Sept. 19, 2017

I am relieved Alejandro and his family are fine, but my heart goes out to all that have suffered in this disaster.  I will return to Mexico City in late October, and it will be sad to see the destruction in this city that I know so well.   When I am there I will ask Alejandro which charities are the best... I am sure that even a month later donations will be needed and appreciated. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Out of the Frying Pan...

(image from the Weather Channel)

Last week I wrote about my friends who rode out Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach.  Fortunately the hurricane veered away from a direct hit on Miami, and they and their condo were fine.  They own two homes; their main residence is in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  On Saturday they flew back to Puerto Rico only to discover that a strengthening Hurricane Maria was headed their way.  

I received an email from my friend last night.  The emails that he had sent before and after Irma had sounded excessively nonchalant  ("Don't worry. We'll be fine.") perhaps to reassure worried family and friends. But in last night's email he sounded truly frightened.  The storm has intensified to a Category 5 and all the models show a direct hit on Puerto Rico.  They tried to book a flight off of the island, but there are no tickets available to anywhere. Everyone is trying to leave, and he described the situation as pandemonium.  He excoriated Puerto Rico's governor whom he describes as a "would-be Hugo Chavez" for having allowed the island's infrastructure... especially the electrical grid... to fall into disrepair.  There are still people without electricity from Irma.  He foresees that after Maria hits they will be without power for months.

I fear that it will be a devastating storm, and I am worried for my friends as well as everyone who is in the hurricane's path.  

Monday, September 18, 2017


Yesterday I posted a link to a YouTube video of the "Grito" (Cry of Independence) which is held each year on Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, on the eve of Mexican Independence Day.  Today I follow that up with a link to another video which shows the fireworks show following the "Grito".

The video, from Mexican television, has some great shots of the Zócalo, and you can appreciate its vast size.  The one thing that I found extremely annoying however is that the camera, every few seconds, moves from the spectacular fireworks, to the President and his family on the balcony of National Palace.  I'd prefer to see the fireworks uninterrupted rather than having to look at his mug, but there he is, waving to the crowd and smiling as if oblivious to the fact that he is one of the most unpopular people in Mexico. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"El Grito"

(image from the web)

In my previous post I wrote about the celebration held each year on September 15, the eve of Mexico's Independence Day.   The President appears on the balcony of the National Palace and gives "el Grito"... the "Cry of Independence".

I found a video on YouTube of the live TV coverage of this year's event. Of course it is all in Spanish, but even if you don't understand the language, it will give you an idea of what the "Grito" is all about.  Click on the link below.

The celebration began Friday afternoon at 3:00 PM on Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, with performances by numerous musical groups.  It wasn't until 11:00 PM that the President gives the "Grito".  In the video you will see President Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife, former soap opera actress Angélica Rivera.   Peña Nieto, who will finish his six year term next year, is the most unpopular President in recent memory, with an abysmal approval rating of 12%.  But I'll try to abstain from political discussion here.

The video begins with the President and First Lady in the National Palace.  It is an almost comical scene as they pass through one room after another with the doors of each hall closing behind them.  Finally they reach a reception hall overlooking the Zócalo.  Here, in a rigidly choreographed ceremony, the President receives the Mexican flag from a group of female cadets from the National Naval Academy.  He goes out onto the balcony, flag in hand, and rings the bell which was rung to begin Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain. Then he recites the "Grito".  It is not the call to arms that was proclaimed by Father Hidalgo in the early morning hours of September 16th, 1810.  Indeed, if he were to reenact the words of Father Hidalgo, he would probably be met with guffaws and catcalls when he would get to "Death to bad government!"  Instead, he lists the heroes of the War for Independence...  "Long live Hidalgo!", "Long live Morelos!", etc. etc.   He interjected, "Long live the solidarity of the Mexicans with Oaxaca and Chiapas (the states ravaged by the recent earthquake)", and concludes with  "¡Viva México!"  He rings the bell again (the Cathedral bells are now chiming in too), and waves the flag.  The national anthem is then played by a military band.

There are some good shots of the Zócalo, jammed with thousands of people.  You can see the holiday lights decorating the square and the illuminated Cathedral.  When the camera shows close-ups of the crowd they do not seem wildly enthusiastic about seeing their "Presidente".

Enjoy the video!

Click here... 
Grito de Independencia 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Independence Day

Tomorrow, September 16, is Mexico's Independence Day.  Two hundred seven years ago, Father Miguel Hidalgo, a parish priest in the little town of Dolores, rang the bell of his church to gather together his parishioners.  In an impassioned speech known as "el Grito" (the Cry) he called upon the people to rise up against the Spanish.  Thus began Mexico's war for independence.

Long before I left Mexico City just over a week ago, I saw the preparations for the celebration.  The city's main plaza was being decorated, as were many stores and restaurants.  Flags and other patriotic items in green, white and red were for sale in the markets.

Flags of all sizes were for sale at this stand.  I wonder if they were made in China?

The most important part of the celebration will be tonight.  The Zócalo, Mexico City's central square, is already jammed with thousands of people.  Later tonight, the President will appear on the balcony of the National Palace, give the "Grito" and ring the bell which Father Hidalgo rang.  Since it is the rainy season, many times the event is a soggy affair.  Pacific hurricane Max threatened to bring rain, but it quickly fizzled out in the mountains.  The weather forecast for tonight is for 0% probability of rain.

To all my readers south of the border...

¡Feliz Día de Independencia!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

In Harm's Way

(image from the Weather Channel)

It is always distressing to heart news of natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma, but they become much more terrifying when you personally know someone who is in harm's way.

I have a high school friend who is in south Florida at this moment.  He and his husband live in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but they also own a condo in Miami Beach.  While I was in Mexico, when it seemed that Irma was heading toward Puerto Rico, I sent him an email telling them to be safe.  He replied the next day that they had gone to their Florida home for Labor Day weekend.  They had planned to return to San Juan, but had decided to stay put in Miami Beach when they saw the predicted course of the hurricane just to the north of Puerto Rico.  But, by that time Irma was possibly going to hit Florida also, and they didn't know what to do.  I told them to get out of there... possibly head up to Ohio where his mom still lives.

As it turned out Puerto Rico did not receive a direct hit from the hurricane.  However, it became more likely that Florida was going to bear the brunt of the storm.  They did go to the airport to try to go to Ohio, but all flights were completely booked.  The interstates heading north are gridlocked with bumper-to bumper traffic (and good luck if you need to fill up the gas tank).  As it became more probable that Miami would take a direct hit, and as a mandatory evacuation of Miami Beach was announced, I became more worried.  Their condo is just two blocks away from the ocean, and they are talking about a 12 foot storm surge.  Another high school friend and I have been sending them emails and leaving phone messages urging them to get to a shelter away from the ocean.  

I finally received an email today.  In spite of the evacuation order, they have planned to ride out the storm in their condo.  He said they have a week's supply of food and water, that they are on the fifth floor of the concrete building, and that the windows are all shuttered.  There are others in their building that have made the same decision.  For their sake I was relieved to hear today that the hurricane will probably veer a bit to the west.  (Good news for Miami, but terrible news for cities like Naples, Fort Myers and on up to the Tampa area.)  But hurricanes can be unpredictable, and it will not be until tomorrow morning that we know exactly where Irma makes landfall.  I still think that they should head to a shelter, but time is running out for that.  I will anxiously await news from them.

UPDATE:  Fortunately Irma was not as disastrous as it might have been.  I received an email from my friend in Miami Beach, and they weathered the storm with no problems. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Back Home... A Day Late

As I wrote in my last post, yours truly messed up on the date of my departure from Mexico.  I had it in my mind that I was leaving on September 7th, when in fact I was supposed to leave on the 6th.  Fortunately I had no problem getting a one-way ticket home for yesterday, and it did not cost too much.

My flight was scheduled to leave at 7:30 AM, and very early in the morning, Alejandro drove me to the airport.

The flight from Mexico City to Houston was pleasant.  The plane was not very crowded, and I had the section of three seats all to myself.  I scooted over to the window seat and took a few pictures.

While we were on the runway, awaiting our turn to take off, the silhouette of the volcano Popocatépetl briefly made an appearance from among the clouds.

There were still puddles from the heavy rains last week which temporarily flooded the airport.

There was a long line of planes waiting to take off, and after a half hour we finally were in the air.

As we made our descent to Houston, I could see no obvious signs of the disastrous flooding from Hurricane Harvey last week.  I had lunch at one of the restaurants at the airport, and I talked with a couple of the employees there.  One of them lost her home in the flooding.  The other said that her home was not damaged, but that there was flooding all around her.  She was stuck in her house for four days.

My flight to Cleveland was not as pleasant since the plane was very full.  But we arrived  around 4:30 PM, twenty minutes ahead of schedule.

When I got up this morning, I read the news on the internet about the earthquake which hit Mexico last night around midnight.  It was an 8.1 magnitude quake, about the same as the devastating earthquake which destroyed much of Mexico City in 1985.  The hardest hit areas were the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco, and the death toll at this point stands at 58.  In Mexico City the earthquake was strongly felt, but major damage was not reported.  

I immediately wrote an email to my friend Alejandro, and he called me a short time later.  He and his family are fine, and the house appears to have come through the quake with no damage.  It was, however, a terrifying experience.  Classes at his nephew's school were cancelled today so that the building could be inspected.

On top of this, Katia, a Category 2 Hurricane, is expected to hit the coast of Veracruz sometime tonight with 100 mph winds.  It is a serious threat to the coastal region, although once it comes to the mountains, it will break up very quickly.  By tomorrow afternoon it is predicted to be nothing more than a tropical depression.  Mexico City will probably get nothing more than rain.  (However, as I have written previously, Mexico City does not handle heavy rains well.)

I guess I made it out of Mexico just in time. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

I just pulled the biggest travel blunder of my entire life!

I had it firmly in my mind that my return flight to the U.S. was tomorrow, Thursday, September 7th.  It is not possible to print a boarding pass ahead of time for the Interjet flight from Mexico City to Chicago, but I can print the pass for my United flight from Chicago to Cleveland.  So today at 5:30 PM, twenty four hours before my flight to Cleveland, I went to the United website to check-in.  I received a message that I could not check-in because the plane was about to depart.  WHAT?!

I went back and checked my itinerary, and yes, indeed, I was supposed to be flying home TODAY!  I immediately went back to the United website and booked a flight for tomorrow.  I will fly with United for the entire flight via Houston, rather than going through the bother of making separate reservations with both Interjet and United.

Well, I guess I just didn't want to leave Mexico! 

More Handicrafts, More Music

On Sunday Alejandro and I took the Metrobus to Tlalpan.  Tlalpan, like San Angel and Coyoacán, was once a separate town in the countryside south of Mexico City, but it has been absorbed into the sprawling metropolis.  The old center of Tlalpan, however, still retains a small town feel.  We walked from Insurgentes Avenue several blocks to the old town square.

By pure luck, our timing could not have been better.  A handicraft and music festival was going on that weekend.

Tents were set up all around the perimeter of the plaza, and artisans were selling a wide variety of crafts.

This fellow's shirt is as brightly colored as the toys and other wooden objects that he makes.

This couple, members of the Huichol tribe, were making the beautiful objects of beadwork that are characteristic of their people.

I could not resist.  I ended up buying way too much at this market... and so did Alejandro.

In front of the former town hall a stage had been set up. 

All weekend traditional musical groups had been performing.  While we were there two different groups played "jarocho" music, the music of the state of Veracruz.

There was a sizeable audience listening to the music, and also quite a few people who got up to dance.  They were having a great time, and it was wonderful to see many young people who knew and enjoyed these traditional dances.  

It was one of those happy, wonderful days which make me fall in love with Mexico all over again!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Cultural Saturday

Last Saturday was another dreary, chilly day with the threat of rain.  So Alejandro and I drove to Chapultepec Park and hit a couple of the museums there.  I had told him about the fantastic Mayan exhibit at the Anthropology Museum, and he wanted to see it.  It was so good that I had no problem returning for a second visit.  The exhibit is so large... it's like a small museum unto itself... that I found that I noticed things that I had missed the first time.

Alejandro agreed that it was an excellent show.

After that we walked a short distance to the Museum of Modern Art.  I have never been especially impressed with that museum.  Considering that there have been so many great 20th century Mexican artists, I have found the museum disappointing.  However, the museum was having however a special exhibit of watercolors by a French painter by the name of Nicholas de Crecy.  De Crecy has traveled to Mexico extensively, and the country is the subject of many of his paintings.  We decided to check it out.  The paintings were very nice, but it was a rather small exhibit.

The museum had two other exhibits that proved to be more interesting.  There was a display of 180 objects collected by antiquarian and art collector Rodrigo Rivera Lake.  It was one of the most eclectic exhibits I have seen.  It included paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, furniture and even architectural details from all around the world and from many eras.

Here Alejandro is standing in front of a doorway from a palace in India.

Apparently the museum rotates its permanent collection with different themes.  The current selection is entitled "Scenes of Mexican Identity", and there were paintings on display which I did not see the last time I was here.

The "Big Three" of 20th century Mexican art were represented.

 Diego Rivera - "Day of the Dead"

José Clemente Orozco - self portrait

David Alfaro Siqueiros - self portrait

Other notable artist included Gerardo Murillo, known as Dr. Atl, who was obsessed with painting volcanoes.

An interesting multiple self-portrait by Juan O'Gorman

One of Frida Kahlo's most famous works, "The Two Fridas" was on display.

I enjoyed this visit to the museum more than previous visits.  However, I still feel that they should use their space to display more of their permanent exhibition rather than just offer a small sampling.  If I am coming to Mexico's Museum of Modern Art I expect to see much more than a couple Riveras and a couple of Kahlos and a smattering of other important artists.

Monday, September 4, 2017

More Art on the Street

I despise graffiti, and Mexico City, like most large cities has its share of it.  And I do not consider it to be art; it is nothing more than vandalism.

However, as I have written before, there is also much art to found on the streets of Mexico City.  Some of the street artists may have started out as graffiti vandals, but happily they have chosen to enhance their city instead of marring it.

The street art can be found in almost every part of the city, but there are certain areas where there is a high concentration of it.  Last week I stumbled upon a couple more areas.

When I was in the historic center of the city I was walking along Regina Street which in recent years has been pedestrianized, and is now lined with restaurants, cafes and bars.  I came upon this painting, on the wall of a children's playground, which is a parody of Diego Rivera's famous mural "Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central".

Continuing down the street there were several more paintings.

Another day when I visited the Vasconcelos Library, I saw that most of the facades of two city blocks heading east from there were decorated with artwork.  "The Buenavista - Guerrero Art Corridor" was a cooperative effort between the neighborhood and the borough government to improve the appearance of the rather shabby neighborhood.  

Even with the Vasconcelos Library and the glitzy Buenavista Mall a stone's throw away, It is still not a very good neighborhood, and I would not recommend wandering around here at night.  But if you are interested in street art, this would be one of the top places in the city to see it.