Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Who Would Have Thought...?

Magazines are always coming out with lists... the best, the worst, etc., etc..  They are usually very subjective and should be taken with a grain of salt.  For example, earlier this year "Travel & Leisure Magazine" announced that San Miguel de Allende was the best place in the world.  San Miguel is a lovely town, but I would not say that it is the best town in Mexico, much less in the entire world!

Now "National Geographic Traveler Magazine" has come out with their list of the 21 best travel destinations in the world for 2018.  I would tend to place a bit more faith in National Geographic than Travel & Leisure, but I was shocked to see that my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, is on the list.  Yes, Cleveland, that "rust belt" city that used to be called "the Mistake on the Lake".

Now, don't get me wrong.  If you have read my blog for very long, you know that I have often sung the praises of Cleveland, but I never expected it to be listed as one of the "must-see" destinations in the world.

Cleveland was listed as one of seven cities chosen for their cultural attractions.  I must say that, except for Vienna, Austria, and Oaxaca, Mexico, the choices of culture destinations were pretty much off the radar of the typical tourist.  The others were Friesland, Netherlands; Harar, Ethiopia; Labrador, Canada; and Tetouan, Morocco.

So what does Cleveland have to offer?  As I have written many times before, our orchestra is not only one of the best orchestras in the country...  it is one of the best in the WORLD!  Our art museum is not as large as the Louvre or the Metropolitan, but it is praised for its quality and for its comprehensiveness.  Here the entire history of art is on display from ancient Egypt to the 21st century.  The University Circle neighborhood boasts the highest concentration of cultural and educational institutions of anywhere in the U.S.  Our Playhouse Square is the largest performing arts complex in the U.S. outside of New York City.  I have heard often that travelers to Cleveland are surprised and impressed with our city.

The magazine article states, "Onion-domed churches and cold-brew cafes on streets a-flicker with gas porch lights might summon images of Krakow or Budapest. But this is Cleveland. The big-boned Ohio city built by Eastern European immigrants and Midwestern moxie ripples with new cultural energy."

I am not sure that I agree that my city is one of the top destinations in the world, but it is nice to have bragging rights, and to be able to say "touché" to all those who have been putting Cleveland down for so many years.

Monday, November 27, 2017

I Finally Saw It

(image taken from the web)

Disney / Pixar's "Coco" has in less than a month become Mexico's biggest box-office hit ever.  (Alejandro's little nephew has already seen it three times!)  Yet during my stay down there I did not have an opportunity to see it.  While I was in Columbus visiting family for the holiday, we helped make "Coco" the top movie of the Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S.  I finally saw it, and I was not disappointed.

It is a warm, tender movie that treats the culture of Mexico and the traditions of the Day of the Dead with great respect.  Young Miguel lives with his close-knit family in a small Mexican town.  It is Miguel's dream to be a great musician, but his family absolutely forbids music.  On the eve of the Day of the Dead, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, where he encounters his departed ancestors.  He unravels the mystery of his family's prohibition of music, and, I must say, the ending was a complete surprise to me.  The movie is a tear-jerker... but the tears are happy tears.  

Visually the movie is beautiful... especially the colorful, fantastical World of the Dead.

I am not a big fan of animated movies, but "Coco" is a winner!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lantern Festival

While I was in Columbus for the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited along with my sister-in-law and nephew the Columbus Chinese Lantern Festival.  This event which will run through the holiday season is held at the state fairgrounds.  There are 39 large illuminated displays made by Chinese artisans from the city of Zigong, China, the center for the making of paper lanterns.

There were also performances by Chinese acrobats and dancers, and Chinese handicrafts for sale.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Home for the Holidays

Yesterday I flew home from Mexico.  As usual, my flight from Mexico City to Chicago on Interjet Airlines was very comfortable.  And the United flight from Chicago to Cleveland was cramped with every seat on the plane taken.   Fortunately that flight is less than an hour in duration.

I will be home for the holiday season, but I already have my plane reservations to return in January.  Since Interjet was offering special deals during the "Buen Fin" weekend (Mexico's equivalent of Black Friday) I went ahead and booked my reservations online before I left.

Tomorrow I will drive down to Columbus, Ohio, to spend a few days with family for Thanksgiving.

I hope that all my readers in the U.S. have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Movie I Didn't Get to See

Usually when I am down here in Mexico City, Alejandro and I go once or twice to the movie theater.  This time, however, we never got around to it, even though there was a movie that we both wanted to see.

I am not a really big fan of animated movies, but I do want to see Disney's latest film, "Coco".  It takes place in Mexico and revolves around the Day of the Dead celebrations.  It will not open in the United States until November 22nd, but here in Mexico it had its premiere the weekend before the Day of the Dead.  The film has already broken box office records in Mexico with more than 16 million tickets sold.

However, when plans were originally made to produce the film, there was an enormous backlash from Mexicans and the Mexican community in the U.S.  Disney had applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for rights to the phrase "Day of the Dead" for its merchandising of the movie.  How do you get an exclusive trademark for the name of a holiday?!  Disney relented, and renamed the movie "Coco", the name of the main character. 

The film crew visited Mexico five times to study settings for the film and to study the Day of the Dead traditions.  The skeleton characters in the movie are references to famous Mexican actors and singers of the past such as María Félix, Cantinflás, Jorge Negrete, and Dolores del Río... references that will be lost upon the gringo audience, but which will be immediately recognized by Mexican viewers.

Well, I guess that I will have to see the movie back home in the U.S.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Giving In to "El Buen Fin"

Back home I would never, ever venture out to go shopping on Black Friday.  I wrote in my previous post that this is the "Buen Fin", Mexico's weekend-long equivalent to Black Friday... and I succumbed to the shopping urge.

It all started this morning when Alejandro and I went out for breakfast at VIPS.  At a nearby table there was an older gentleman wearing a very snazzy sweater with the emblem of UNAM (the National University of Mexico).  I told Alejandro that I really liked the sweater, and I wondered if they sell them at the university.  Alejandro said that they probably do.  We had been trying to decide what to do today since, between the holiday weekend and the biggest shopping event of the year, traffic was going to be even more horrendous than usual.  We decided to take the Metrobus down to the UNAM campus and check out the university store.

From the Metrobus stop it was a good hike across the campus.  We finally arrived at the UNAM Store, and if was not what I was expecting.

This was nothing like the typical college bookstore that also sells college souvenirs.  This was a store like Walmart  or Target selling groceries, clothing, housewares and electronics.  It caters to the faculty and student body (who probably get a discount year-round), but it is open to the general public.  I didn't think that I was going to find what I wanted, but in the men's clothing department, there was a large selection of UNAM apparel.

I bought my sweater and several other items as gifts.  Surprisingly, this store was also participating in the "Buen Fin", and I got a 40% discount on my sweater!


The "End" Is Here!

On Friday I went downtown, and the streets were even busier than usual for a weekday.

Not only was a long holiday weekend about to begin (Monday is Revolution Day), but it was the first day of the "Buen Fin"... the Good (Week)End... when the Christmas shopping season begins with special sales.  Later on the news I saw coverage of crowds of people waiting for the stores to open that morning.  It was very reminiscent of Black Friday in the U.S.

All along Madero Street the stores had signs advertising their "Buen Fin" sales.

You could even buy this dancing, singing (in English) Santa Claus for only 5,445 pesos ($286 U.S.), discounted from 8,168 pesos!

Errands to Do Before I Leave

Sadly this trip to Mexico City is drawing to a close.  On Monday I return to Ohio.  If it weren't for the fact that there are things that need to be done back home, appointments to be kept, and friends and family to see, I would just as soon stay here.

Thursday I took care of some errands before I leave.  First I went to the "papelería"... stationery store... around the corner from the apartment.  (Do we even have stationery stores any more in the U.S.?) 

I have a Christmas present to leave here for Alejandro's little nephew, and I wanted to get it wrapped.  "Papelerías" down here will do gift wrapping, and for 35 pesos (less than $2) the lady did a very nice job.  Surpisingly she didn't have any Christmas paper, but it looked very "Christmassy" with red metallic paper and a green bow.

My next stop was at a coffee stop down the street... not Starbucks, but a Mexican chain called "Cielito Querido".   It is becoming quite popular down here, and seems to be giving Starbucks some competition.

The signs say, "Coffee helps the one who gets up early",
and "I'm going to take away your sleepiness".

My purpose in coming here was not to have a caffeine fix, but to buy one more gift to take home.  My friend who house sits for me while I am gone is a coffee drinker.  On my last trip down here I bought him a bag of Mexican coffee, and he really liked it.  I told him I would buy him some more, so I'm not spoiling a surprise if he reads this.

Later in the day I made a trip to Woolworths.  I found another store along Line 2 of the Metrobus that I like better than the one I have previously visited.  My reason for going there was not to buy stuff for myself...  OK, there were some things I could not resist.  I found a really nice polo shirt for $7 U.S., a turtle neck shirt for $4 and a couple of soccer shirts.  I also found a birthday present for Alejandro's dad's 80th birthday in January.  He's a fan of the soccer team "Club América", and I bought him a team shirt and hoodie.  Everything was made in Mexico too.

But my primary reason for going there was to get some stuff to donate to the collection center for earthquake victims.  When I was there earlier this trip, the lady said that they have had plenty of donations of used clothing, but that they needed underwear since that had to be new.  So I bought ten packages of men's underpants.  I hopped on the Metrobus again, and took them to the collection center.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Another Long Walk

Once again I must thank Scott, the author of the blog "Gringopotpourri".  He wrote about a pedestrian / bicycle path that follows the old railway tracks heading toward Cuernavaca.  On Wednesday I followed the route that he described in his blog.

I took the subway to the San Joaquín station, and went a couple blocks to the Grupo Modelo brewery (the manufacturers of Corona beer, as well as numerous other Mexican labels).  This was going to be my starting point.

You can see the path next to the old rail tracks.  This photo is looking in the opposite direction from which I was going to walk.  The path extends in that way beyond the brewery for some distance, but for some reason it was closed off.

The first part of my route passed through a neighborhood that was not particularly attractive although it not feel dangerous.  There was however a great deal of litter and graffiti along this section of the path.

I have no idea what the deal is with these shoes strung across the electric lines, but there were dozens of pairs along this first part of my walk.

Before very long I enter the area known as Nuevo Polanco (New Polanco) with its new office and apartment towers.

Polanco is one of Mexico City's most affluent neighborhoods, but just to the north of it was a largely industrial area.  In recent years that area has had a radical redevelopment as an upscale center for business, shopping, and culture, It also has over 24,000 housing units.  There are also plans for the U.S. Embassy to move to this neighborhood.

The heart of Nuevo Polanco is Plaza Carso, a development owned by multibillionaire Carlos Slim.  It was built on the former site of a tire factory.  The centerpiece of Plaza Carso is the Soumaya Museum, which houses Slim's art collection.

The striking building was designed by Slim's son-in-law Fernando Romero.  It is covered with 16,000 aluminum tiles.

The museum is free to the public, and contains an eclectic collection which includes Old Masters, Mexican art, and sculptures by Rodin.  I visited it several years ago, and enjoyed it.  The museum however has its critics.  Some have said that it is a collection of second-rate art by first-rate artists.

Plaza Carso also contains the Jumex Museum, a contemporary art museum owned by the Mexican juice company.

I have also visited that museum and found it a ridiculous and pretentious assemblage of what passes for "art" these days.  I do, however, regret having missed the Andy Warhol exhibit that was there earlier this year.

Next to the Soumaya Museum is the underground Telcel Theater.  (Telcel is a Mexican telecommunications company owned by Slim.)

A couple years ago, Alejandro and I saw a Spanish-language production of "Wicked" there.  Currently "El Rey León" (The Lion King) is playing there.

There is also a ritzy shopping mall which includes a "Sak's Fifth Avenue".

Across the street from the Soumaya Museum is the newest attraction (which I visited earlier this year), the Imbursa Aquarium.  (Imbursa is an insurance company owned by... guess who... Carlos Slim.)

I continue down the path, leaving Plaza Carso behind me.

This flour mill, complete with grain silos, is a remnant of the industrial past of this neighborhood.

Crossing over from Nuevo Polanco to Polanco there is another shopping mall, this one anchored by Sears.  As I have mentioned before, Sears in Mexico is a much more upscale store than in the U.S.  And unlike its counterpart north of the border, it seems to be doing fine.  And Sears-Mexico is owned by, yes, Carlos Slim.

Next door to the mall is the Ferrari dealership.  I read that you have to make an appointment to go inside.

This kosher delicatessen is testimony to the fact that Polanco is the center of Mexico City's Jewish community.

The path crosses and goes under a tangle of major thoroughfares.

Once I have passed that traffic nightmare, I have entered the neighborhood of Lomas de Chapultepec, which is arguably even ritzier than Polanco.

The landscaping along this stretch of the path is impeccably manicured and free of litter.  The nearby businesses have taken on the responsibility of maintaining the gardens.

The signs make it explicitly clear that canine doo-doo is a no-no.

Whenever I am in a neighborhood such as this, I think of the ignorant people who think of Mexico as a backward hellhole, and I want to laugh in their faces.

The path ascends to become a bridge...

...in order to avoid another jumble of streets and freeways.  In the center of it all is the monument to the "petroleros", the petroleum workers.  

But since the view of the monument is not very good from the pedestrian bridge, I go down to street level, brave the traffic, and take a better photo.

 Next I come to a very striking office building called the "Torre Virrey" (Viceroy Tower).

At the base of the tower is a Starbucks.  I am not a big fan of Starbucks, but they do come in handy.  I went inside, ordered a smoothie, took a break from walking, and used the restroom (my main reason for stopping there).

The place was crowded with business people, both Mexican and foreign.

I come to another pedestrian bridge, and looking back I have a better view of the Torre Virrey's distinctive shape.

This bridge also takes me into the second section of Mexico City's vast Chapultepec Park.

I am approaching the end of my walk.  I want get on the subway at the Constituyentes station which is not far from this part of the park.

I pass by the amusement park, "La Feria de Chapultepec".

I am expecting an exit from the path to take me to the subway stop, but now I have passed Chapultepec Park completely and I am hemmed in on either side roads and freeways.  (I later find out from Alejandro that this path goes on and on for miles and miles.  He doesn't know if it actually goes all the way to Cuernavaca, but it does follow the old train route all the way up into the mountain forests to the south of the city.  It passes through some rough neighborhoods, however, so he doesn't recommend that I return to do more of the path.)

At last I come to a bridge that takes me up and over the traffic.

At this point I am not quite sure where I am, but I manage to find my way to the subway station without even asking directions from passersby.

It was a very enjoyable walk, and it wasn't as strenuous as I thought it might be.