Monday, April 30, 2018

Days of Celebration

Today is "Día del Niño"... Children's Day... in Mexico.  It has been observed every year on April 30th since 1924 when a proclamation was made by President Alvaro Obregón and Education Minister José Vasconcelos.  Alejandro´s nephew has school today, but it will be a day long "fiesta" for him and his classmates.  Alejandro was somewhat surprised that we do not have something similar in the United States.

Tomorrow, May 1st, is Mexico's equivalent to our Labor Day in the United States.  It is one of the few legal holidays in which the date does not change in order to create a three-day weekend.  Schools, banks, federal offices, and many businesses are closed, and parades organized by labor unions are held.

Saturday, May 5th... "Cinco de Mayo"... commemorates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  (Hopefully, by this time, enough articles have been written about the day's significance that "gringos" no longer think that it is Mexican Independence Day!)  Outside of the state of Puebla, "Cinco de Mayo" is not a legal holiday.  However, in the Mexico City neighborhood of San Juan de Aragón (where Alejandro lives) a reenactment of the battle between the Mexicans and the French is staged, and the sound of rifles and fireworks is already a noisy annoyance to Alejandro and his family.

May 10th is Mexico's Mother's Day.  The celebration is a fixed date unlike Mother's Day in the United States which is always on a Sunday.  It will most surely be a sad occasion for Alejandro and his family since he lost his mother three months ago.   

My Words Come Back to Bite Me

Whenever I take friends or relatives to Mexico I tell them to ignore sensationalistic news reports about how dangerous Mexico is.  The greatest danger facing tourists are the terrible sidewalks.  A couple years ago I even wrote a post with pictures of the uneven and broken sidewalks and the gaping holes in the concrete utility covers.  

Last Thursday, in spite of the warnings that I always give others, I fell victim to that great danger.  I was walking to the supermarket.  As I stepped off the curb, the pavement had a depression that I didn't notice.  I twisted my left ankle and fell to my knees.  I got up, and, after the initial pain, I thought that no damage was done.  I walked to Superama, did my shopping, and returned to the apartment with no discomfort.  Obviously, no bones were broken.  However, after sitting for a while, the ankle started to ache.  I was hobbling around the apartment like an old cripple.  By the next day, walking was easier, but my ankle and foot were swollen and there were black and blue marks all over.

Each day it gets a little better.  I only suffer an occasional twinge of pain.  The swelling is starting to go down, and the black and blue marks have faded a bit.

Obviously, I am now being cautious to the point of paranoia as I walk down the dangerous streets of Mexico City!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Global Food Revisited

Last Wednesday after visiting the National Museum of Art, I walked over to the Plaza of Santo Domingo where the International Food Fair was still going strong with large lunchtime crowds.

I had been here the previous week, and I returned to sample the food from a few different booths.  I started with some couscous with vegetables from the Moroccan booth.

I continued on to the Haitian booth where I had a meat turnover.

From the Dominican Republic I had the "pastelón de papa", a ground beef and potato casserole.

From Bulgaria I had a red, stuffed pepper with a yogurt-garlic topping.

None of the dishes were all that great.  I guess my Polish ancestry from my father's side called me to Poland's booth where I had kielbasa and onion and a bun.  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What's Going On?

Wednesday after visiting the National Art Museum, I was walking down Tacuba Street when suddenly there were hundreds of firefighters marching down the street.  They were chanting, "Bomberos! Bomberos!"  (Firefighters!)

I have no idea what it was all about.  I just hope that there was someone at the firehouse to answer the call if there was a fire!

Friday, April 27, 2018

From Rome to Mexico City

On Wednesday I went to the National Museum of Art in Mexico City's historic center.

I wanted to see the current exhibition, "Caravaggio: A Work, A Legacy".  For the first time ever a painting by the Italian painter Caravaggio is on display in Mexico.  The 1594 painting "The Fortune Teller" is on loan from the Capitoline Museums in Rome.  

But before coming to the Caravaggio painting, the visitor passes through several galleries with paintings that show the influence that the artist had on other painters in Europe and even Mexico.

Caravaggio broke from the artistic standards of his era to create paintings that were considered quite shocking at the time.  Caravaggio espoused naturalism.  Instead of idealized images, he chose people off of the streets as his models, and he painted them "warts and all".  He also used "chiaroscuro"... the contrast between light and shadow.  His paintings were also filled with dramatic motion.

One painter who was greatly influenced by Caravaggio was José de la Ribera, a Spanish artist who spent his life in Italy.  One of the paintings by Ribera in the exhibition is "Sight" from his series "The Five Senses".

You can see that the model is an ordinary person, painted realistically, and use can see the dramatic use of light and shadow.

In Spain, Caravaggio's influence can be seen in the works of Francisco de Zurbarán, such as "The Penitent Magdalene".

From Spain, Caravaggio's style crossed the Atlantic to Mexico.  Francisco de Villalpando was one of the greatest Mexican painters of the Baroque era.  His "St. Francis Praying in the Desert" is included in the show.

A 19th century Mexican artist, Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez, traveled to Italy and was impressed with the Caravaggio and Ribera paintings that he saw in the Vatican Museum.  His portrait of St. Bartholomew reflects those artists' use of "chiaroscuro"

Finally you come to the room where Caravaggio's painting is displayed by itself.  Taking a picture of it was a bit like taking a photo of the "Mona Lisa" because there were so many people gathered around it.  I waited out the crowds and was finally able to move to the front and get an unobstructed shot.

"The Fortune Teller" is one of his earlier works.  The use of light and shadow is not as pronounced as in his later works, but it was still a shocking painting for its day.  The subject matter is not the typical religious or mythological theme, but a scene straight from the streets of Rome.  A young gypsy is reading the palm of a nobleman.  (Close observation of the painting shows that Caravaggio painted the gypsy with dirty fingernails.)  She is gazing flirtatiously at the young man, and, while she has captured his attention, she is skillfully stealing his gold ring. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Teacher's Pride

One of the greatest rewards of having been a teacher is to learn that you in some way positively influenced your students' lives.

A couple days ago a fellow retired teacher from the high school where I taught sent me an email with a link to an article from the online magazine of Ohio State University.  It was about a former student of ours by the name of Luther Nolan.  You can read the story here.

Luther has been working as a groundskeeper at Ohio State for the last sixteen years, and he has also been a full time student at the university.  In 2013 he earned his bachelor's degree in anthropology.  He continued with his studies, and at commencement ceremonies next month he will receive a second diploma... this time with a major in history and minors in Spanish and Andean and Amazonian studies.  Along the way he has also learned Quechua, the language of the Incas, and has some knowledge of Mayan hieroglyphics.  He has been accepted into Ohio State's doctoral program, and next fall he will begin work on his PhD in Latin American studies.

I remember Luther as a high school student in my Spanish III class.  Because of my travels and my interest in archaeology, I spent quite a bit of time in that class with units on the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mexico and Peru... accompanied with slide shows of my travels to archaeological sites.  Shortly after I started writing this blog Luther posted a comment.  He said that he had thoroughly enjoyed all those slide shows of pyramids and ruins. It was an influence on his decision to study anthropology with an emphasis on Mesoamerican cultures.

Luther, I am so proud of you... and humbled that I, as a teacher, had some influence in your life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Landscape from the Past

Yesterday I wrote about Chapultepec Castle and its ill-fated residents Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota.  Today I was in the National Museum of Art, and noticed this painting which ties in with yesterday's post.

The work is by one of my favorite Mexican artists, José María Velasco, a 19th century landscape painter.  This painting, done during the reign of Maximilian and Carlota, is a view of the Alameda Park.  The Alameda is today very much in the heart of downtown Mexico City, but in those days it was a bucolic spot on the city's edge. 

Velasco rarely included historical people in his landscapes, but in this case the Empress Carlota and her retinue are shown riding in the park.  

One assumes that they would have ridden from Chapultepec Castle.  In the background, far removed from the city, you can see the castle.  The white, diagonal line running from the castle is the road that Maximilian ordered to connect the imperial residence with the city.  That country road is today the skyscraper-lined Paseo de la Reforma.


The Alameda Park today

The Paseo de la Reforma today, as seen from the terrace of Chapultepec Castle

Fancy Food

I have written many times about my favorite restaurant in Mexico City, "Angelopolitano".  The owner and chef of "Angelopolitano", Gerardo Quezadas, has also taken on the responsibility as chef overseeing the restaurant at the Maria Condesa Hotel.  Saturday evening Alejandro and I decided to try out his new place.

Unlike "Angelopolitano" which features traditional, family recipes from the state of Puebla, the menu here is continental, mainly French-inspired, cuisine with a touch of Mexican influence.

We began by sharing an appetizer of codfish croquettes. 

Alejandro then had the French onion soup, and I had the roasted tomato soup.

For my main course I had red snapper.  Although the portion looks lost on the large plate, it was a sizeable chunk of fish.  The little dabs of guacamole to the side seemed a little silly to me however.

Alejandro had a steak... with a pear on top.

For dessert I had a chocolate / orange mousse while Alejandro had a pear in white wine sauce.  (His dessert was the only truly disappointing part of the meal.)

Our food was certainly delicious.  Gerardo is without a doubt a talented chef whether he is doing a traditional "mole poblano" or a contemporary gourmet dish.  Our tab of 1000 pesos (around $55 U.S.) was pricey by Mexican standards but not exorbitant.  However, I doubt that we shall return.  This place is just another one of many fancy, continental restaurants to be found in Mexico City.  "Angelopolitano", however, remains an unique experience in superb Mexican fare. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Up At the Castle

On Saturday, Alejandro and I took the new Route 7 Metrobus to Chapultepec Park.

It was Alejandro's first time on the double-decker bus, and we had front row seats on the upper level.

When we got to the park, our destination was Chapultepec Castle which crowns Chapultepec Hill.

Throughout the castle's existence it has served as a military academy, an astronomical observatory, a royal palace, and a presidential residence.  Today it is the National Museum of History.

We have both been to the museum numerous times, but my reason for making a return visit was to see a special exhibit on Mexican ceramics.  The exhibit had been advertised on a large billboard along the Paseo de la Reforma , but in fact the exhibit was very small and very disappointing.  Well, as long as we were there, we decided to wander around a portion of the museum.

The castle's hilltop location provides one of the best views of Mexico City.

Zooming in on Mexico City's famous tree-lined boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma, you can see the Diana Fountain, and the Independence Monument with its golden angel.

Looking in a different direction you can see the World Trade Center on the horizon just right of center.  The apartment I rent is just a block away from there.

Of all the occupants of Chapultepec Castle, the most romanticized and tragic are Maximilian and his wife Carlota who briefly reigned as Emperor and Empress of Mexico. They were placed on the throne as figureheads by Napoleon III during the French occupation of the nation.

Alejandro poses in front of the royal couple's carriage.

A number of the rooms in the castle are furnished as they were during the reign of Maximilian and Carlota.

In one of the salons hang the portraits of the ill-fated couple.

From 1863 until 1867 they resided at Chapultepec, making it the only royal castle in the Americas.  It was Maximilian who laid out the Paseo de la Reforma (he called it the Paseo de la Emperatriz - the Boulevard of the Empress) as a direct route from the castle to the center of the city. 

When France realized that its imperialistic escapade in Mexico was too costly, the French troops were withdrawn.  The forces of the Mexican Republic, who had been fighting against the French occupation all along, defeated Maximilian and executed him.  Carlota, who was in Europe at the time trying to gain support for her husband, had a mental collapse... some say she went insane.  She lived in seclusion in her home country of Belgium until her death in 1927.

Even though the ceramics exhibit was a disappointment, a visit to the Castle is always an enjoyable experience.

Festival of Flowers

The Botanical Gardens of Chapultepec Park were advertising a "Festival of Flowers and Gardens" running for a limited time last Friday through Sunday.

I visited the Botanical Gardens a few years ago and I really was not impressed.  (I thought the Botanical Gardens of the University of Mexico carved out of the Pedregal, the lava flows on the far south side of the city, were much more interesting.)  However, last Friday, because of the Festival, I paid another visit, and I am glad that I did.  Beyond the special exhibits for the event, the gardens have been thoroughly renovated with new landscaping, and are very attractive.

There is, as might be expected, a sizeable cactus garden.

A few of the cacti were blooming.

There is also an agave garden.

Among the varieties there is the blue agave which is used to make tequila.

The national flower of Mexico is the dahlia, and there is a garden planted with various varieties of the flower including the original wild dahlia from which all the others descended.

There is a "wet garden".

There are a wide variety of succulents.

The colorful "pollinator garden" was filled with flowers that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

The orchid house contains a large number of different orchids, although not all of them were in bloom at this time.

For the festival, there were archways of flowers, similar to those set up along the Paseo de la Reforma.

There was also a tunnel covered inside and out with roses.

A whimsical feature was the garden created entirely out of recycled plastic.

I'm glad that I visited on Friday.  On Saturday Alejandro and I were in Chapultepec Park, and the line of people waiting to get into the Botanical Gardens stretched down the Paseo de la Reforma around the corner and down one of the park paths.