Tuesday, November 27, 2018


The first few days after my return to Ohio were fairly mild.  But yesterday afternoon the rain began to change to snow.  By evening, the snow was sticking to the ground, and this was what I saw looking out my bedroom window this morning...

It was a wet snow that clung to the branches of the trees and bushes.  Tonight we are supposed to get more snow, and even more tomorrow.  I guess that winter is here.

Looking down at the Rocky River from East River Park in my hometown of Olmsted Falls.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Legend of the "China Poblana"

One of the traditional female costumes of Mexico is called the "china poblana".  It consists of an embroidered blouse, a sash, and a wide skirt usually decorated with sequins.

The costume supposedly originated with and is named after a legendary figure from the 17th century who was known as "La china poblana"... the Chinese woman from Puebla.

There are contradictory versions of her life, but all agree that she was a young woman from India.  (I guess anyone from Asia was designated as Chinese??)  She was kidnapped by pirates.  According to some accounts she managed to escape, took refuge in a Jesuit monastery in southern India, and converted to Christianity.  In other versions was taken to the Philippines (then a Spanish colony), and it was there that she was baptized.  She took the name of Catarina de San Juan.  She ended up enslaved again, and was taken to Acapulco on one of the "Manilla galleons" that crossed the Pacific.  In Acapulco she was bought by a merchant from Puebla, and it was there that she spent the rest of her life.

In some versions of the story, her master died and provided for her manumission in his will.  She then entered a convent.  Others say that she remained a slave until her death, and that she died in this house, "La Casona de la China Poblana", which is today a hotel and restaurant.

She was buried in the Jesuit church "La Companía", which is just down the street from the "Casona".  (When we entered the church, mass was being said, so we couldn't search for the plaque marking her burial place.)

Caterina was a very devout woman and supposedly had visions of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus.  After her death she was venerated as a saint until the Inquisition prohibited devotion to her.

Whether she actually originated the costume named after her is in doubt, since some accounts of her life state that she continued to wear the sari of her native land.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Tale of Two Restaurants

The two nights that Alejandro and I spent in Puebla, we dined at two different restaurants and had two very different experiences.

A couple weeks previously, we had taken my friends Nancy and Fred on a day trip to Cholula.  For dinner we had driven the short distance to Puebla and ate at one of the branches of "La Fonda de Santa Clara".  It is a chain of restaurants that specializes in the cuisine of Puebla.  All four of us were pleased with our meals, the service and ambiance.

On our first night in Puebla, Alejandro and I went to the downtown branch of "La Fonda de Santa Clara".  We arrived shortly after seven.  The place was dead with only a couple tables occupied, and we were informed that the kitchen would be closing at 7:45.  We thought it odd that they were closing so early on a Saturday night.

We ordered our meals.  I had the same dish that Fred had ordered a couple weeks ago at the other "Fonda"... "manchamantel", a type of "mole" whose name means "tablecloth stainer".  Fred had really liked the dish, and it was very good here also.

Alejandro ordered the traditional "mole poblano".  His "mole" was OK, but the chicken breast was very dry.

Before we were done with our main courses, the waiter came to ask if we wanted to order dessert before the kitchen closed.  We ordered crepes with "cajeta" (Mexican goats' milk caramel) to share.  A Frenchman would have been incensed by the rubbery texture of the crepes that they served us.  I was going to pay with my credit card.  However, the waiter said that the credit card terminal wasn't working and asked if we could pay in cash.  I don't know what he would have done if we had not brought cash with us.

The whole experience just seemed very different from the other "Fonda", and we left the place rather dissatisfied.

The next night we dined at a different place... a boutique hotel and restaurant located in an historic, colonial mansion called "La Casona de la China Poblana".  (In a future post I will tell you the legend of the woman who was known as the "China Poblana".)  The setting is very pleasant in the courtyard of the mansion.

As a starter, Alejandro ordered rice with "mole poblano".  Alejandro is something of a "mole" connoisseur, and he said that the "mole" was one of the best he has ever had.

I started with "fideo seco" (a noodle dish) which was topped with shredded chicken and served with various garnishes.  It was very good.  Even the "chicharrón" (pork rind - not my favorite) was crispy and tasty.

For my main course I had chicken served with a "mole" I had never had before.  It was made with cashew nuts.  Excellent.

Alejandro had red snapper in a tamarind sauce.  The ring is made of pastry and reminded me of Yorkshire pudding.  He said that it was very good.

So, for our two night stay in Puebla, "La Casona de la China Poblano" was definitely the winning dining experience.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Tale of Three Markets

During our wanderings through the center of Puebla last Sunday we came upon three outdoor markets or "tianguis", although these were not the typical "tianguis" selling produce and household goods.

First we came upon the "Plazuela de los Sapos" (The Little Plaza of the Toads).  The plaza gets its name from a fountain with a statue of a toad.  However on market day the fountain is hidden behind the many vendors' stalls.  Every Sunday the plaza is the scene of what the guide books call an "antiques bazaar".  Although there were plenty of antiques and collectibles for sale, I would call it a "flea market".  I didn't buy anything, but it was a very interesting place to look around.

I rather doubt that these pieces of Talavera pottery are antiques.

The glazed, ceramic pottery is one of Puebla's best known handicrafts and is found in shops all over the city.  Some pieces are beautiful works of art; others are tourist kitsch.

The message on this plaque is quite popular...
House of the Grandparents,
Hotel of the Children,
Day Care of the Grandchildren.

We walked a few blocks from the antique market, and crossed Boulevard 5 de Mayo, which follows what was once the course of the San Francisco River.  On the other side of the boulevard is the neighborhood of Analco, one of the oldest parts of the city.  It was settled by Tlaxcalan Indians who had allied themselves with the Spanish against their enemies, the Aztecs.  It was they who did the construction work of the Spanish city on the other side of the river.  

A sizeable park at the entrance to the neighborhood has been the site of an outdoor market since the 1970s.

It is classified as a handicrafts market.  There were some nice things here, and I did buy one small item, but for the most part I would classify the merchandise as cheap knick-knacks and trinkets rather than fine artesanal products.  Now that Day of the Dead is over, there were a lot of Christmas decorations for sale.

Again, it was a fun place to wander through.

Finally, back in the center of the city, we saw a Christmas market advertised.  It was held in the open courtyard of a cultural center.

Except for one vendor who was selling Nativity figures, the merchandise really wasn't related to Christmas.

However, generally speaking, the products for sale were good quality handicrafts.

Surprisingly, I was in a handicraft market and I refrained from buying anything.  (I was worried that what I had already bought on this trip would not fit in my suitcase!)  Alejandro, however, found a wooden carving of a dog that reminded him of one of the family pets.  He bought it for his sister.

Puebla at Night

As I said previously, although I am back in Ohio, I still have more to post from my trip to Puebla last weekend.

At night many of the churches and other buildings are illuminated.  Here are a few photos that I took...

The Municipal Palace

Buildings facing the main plaza

"Casa de los Muñecos", one of the colonial mansions

Church of San Cristóbal

"La Compañía" Church.
Notice the moon directly above the church tower.

The Cathedral

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving in Transit

On Thanksgiving Day I traveled home from Mexico City to Cleveland, Ohio via Houston.  I figured that it would be a quiet day for air travel, and although my flight from Mexico City was full, everything went smoothly and on schedule.  Passing through immigration and customs in Houston was a breeze.  I doubt if more than fifteen minutes had passed from the time that I got off the plane until I left customs.  

I was, however, slightly annoyed by the lady sitting next to me on the flight from Mexico City.  She was a Mexican lady, perhaps my age or older, with an air of entitlement.  I do not know If she had never flown on an airplane before, or if she felt that rules did not apply to an upper class "señora".  She kept her large purse on her lap through the entire flight instead of putting it under the seat in front of her.  ( Before take off and landing, I kept expecting a flight attendant to tell her to stow the purse, but they never seemed to look in her direction as they passed down the aisle.)  She had her tray table partially lowered so that she could drape her shawl across it.  Then, as we were taxiing, she pulled out her cell phone to answer a call.  "No se permite," I said. (It is not allowed.)  After I said it a second time, she put the phone away.  I then told her that her tray table had to put up.  I was tempted to add that her purse should be put under the seat in front of her, but I left it at that.  She was probably thinking that I was some crabby "gringo", while the schoolteacher in me was thinking, "Weren't you paying attention when they announced the rules in Spanish?"  When beverages were served, she could barely lower her tray all the way because of the purse in her lap.  Every time that she rifled through her purse, she jiggled the tray.  I half expected the cup of tea that she had ordered to spill all over me.  In fact, some of the tea did spill onto her tray.

During my layover in Houston, I planned to have lunch.  The restaurants in that area of the terminal did not really appeal to me.  I finally settled on a place that advertised itself as Vietnamese - Cajun cuisine.  It was one of those places where the menu is on a screen on the table.  You select what you want and pay for it by swiping your credit card.  I ordered General Tao's chicken.  It wasn't particularly good.  A tip of 18% was automatically added to the bill.  Well, I always prefer to give the tip in cash.  Although I always tip generously, I couldn't help but wonder, why should the server get 18% when most of his / her job (taking the order, bringing the bill, and taking the payment) has been done electronically?

I guess I sound like an old curmudgeon.  Perhaps I am grumpy because I wish I were still in Mexico.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Have a Great Holiday

To all of my United States readers... Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Time to Say "Hasta Luego"

Tomorrow I shall be flying back home to Ohio (although I am not quite sure anymore if home is there or here at the apartment I rent in Mexico City).  I will be celebrating Thanksgiving on the plane and in the airport, but it should be a quiet travel day.  I still have several posts to write about my long weekend in Puebla, so come back to read more and see more pictures from that interesting city.

Once I return, I will have less than two months before I return to Mexico.  During that time I will take a short trip to Chicago to visit friends, and a trip to Columbus to spend Christmas with family.  My Christmas shopping is done, and the Christmas cards are ready to be sent.  I will, however, have to busy myself with making numerous batches of fudge to give to friends and family.  I am sure that the time will fly by, and before I know it, I will be headed south of the border again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Rome of the Americas

The city of Puebla was founded in 1531.  Unlike many cities in Mexico, it was not built upon the site of a pre-Hispanic city, but was laid out from scratch by the Spanish.  According to legend, Bishop Julián Garcés had a dream in which angels traced out a city on the place where Puebla is today.  He took the dream as a divine message and established the city which he named Puebla de los Angeles.  To this day the city is nicknamed "City of Angels".

The city became a very prosperous city on the trade route between the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico City, and was the second largest city in the colony.  Because it was settled by colonists from Spain, it was devotely Catholic.  The diocese of Puebla was even richer than Mexico City.  Churches, monasteries and convents proliferated, and today it seems that wherever you are in the historic center of the city there is a church tower (or two or three) within sight. 

Here are a few of the churches that we saw during our wanderings around the city.  (Keep in mind, we did not even visit this time around the most spectacular church in the city... the Church of Santo Domingo with its incredibly ornate Rosary Chapel.  If you click on "Puebla" under the list of labels, you will find a post from a couple years ago entitled "Sunday Afternoon in Puebla" with some photos of that chapel.)

A couple blocks away from the main plaza of Puebla is the church referred to as "La Companía" which was the headquarters of the Jesuit order (The Company of Jesus) in Puebla.  This structure is the second Jesuit church to stand on the site.  It was completed in 1600.

One of the prettiest churches that we came across was the Church of San Jerónimo which adjoined the convent of the Hieronymite order of nuns.  We walked in just as a wedding was concluding.

At the rear you can see the screens behind which the cloistered nuns could observe mass.

Across the street is the Church of San Juan de Letrán.  Its interior is relatively austere.

Down the street a block, the Church of La Limpia Concepción was also part of a convent.

The Church of San Pedro

At the edge of the historic center is the neighborhood of Analco which is one of the oldest parts of the city.  The Church of Santo Angel originally dates back to 1560, although the present church appears to be of later construction.

There is a small chapel in the atrium of that church.  What caught my eye, however, is the mountain in the background just to the right of the chapel.

The mountain is La Malinche, a volcanic peak which is the sixth highest peak in Mexico.  This was the first time that I had seen snow on top of the mountain, a result of last week´s cold front.

The most important of all the city´s churches is, of course, the Cathedral of Puebla.  

The Cathedral was begun in 1575 and completed in 1768.  Its bell towers, nearly 230 feet high, are the tallest in Mexico.

The main altar was designed by Manuel Tolsá, the Spanish-born architect and sculptor who built many buildings in Mexico City during the late colonial period.

These are just a FEW of the many churches in the city of Puebla, the Rome of the Americas.