Monday, July 29, 2019

They're Back

Before I leave for Europe next month, I wanted to go through my flower beds and give them a final sprucing up before my departure.  I had laid down Preen to keep new weeds from germinating, and, except for the occasional weed, it had worked pretty well.  I went through my beds quickly... pulling the random weed, deadheading my flowers, and laying down more Preen so that the beds should be pretty much weed-free until fall.  

It went smoothly, that is, until I got to my shade garden.

Earlier this month I wrote about an invasive plant of unknown origen that was taking over the bed.  It does not seem to be a common weed that spreads through seeds.  Preen would have taken care of that once the plants were removed.  Instead it seems to spread through its extensive system of roots.

The invader at the beginning of July, before clearing it out.

I cleared it out of the bed, and tried to remove the roots from the soil.  I figured that I had not seen the last of this unwelcome visitor, but I did not expect to see it return in less than a month.  I found that the few plants that I had missed before had now grown tall, and throughout the flower bed there were already new plants sprouting.

So instead of a quick go-through, I spent most of yesterday afternoon, once again trying to remove this invader.  I can see that it is going to be a constant battle in the future.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Mexican Venice

Water has long been a problem in Mexico City.  The city (and before it, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan) is located in a high basin surrounded by mountains.  Originally, much of the basin was covered with a system of shallow lakes.   From the Spanish colonial period onward, the lakes were drained off to avoid flooding... something which has destroyed the original ecosystem and has led to many other problems.

The demand for water in this metropolis of over twenty million people is enormous.  Although much of the city's water supply is piped in from beyond the valley, the aquifer beneath the old lake bottom continues to be exploited.  As a result, much of the city is literally sinking as the spongy soil subsides.  In the city's historic center, one can see many buildings which are tilting at crazy angles or which have sunk below street level. 

The summer rains should replenish the aquifer, but, because the valley has been paved over with construction, the rainwater has nowhere to go.  The drainage system is inadequate, and the many of the city's streets become canals.  I remember one evening when I went with Alejandro from my apartment to his family home. It had been raining heavily, and we did not realize until it was too late that the highway to get to his house was under water.  By the time we found a way to get to his home it was the wee hours of the morning.

Below is a video that a friend of Alejandro's sent him a couple weeks ago.  It shows flooding  on the east side of the city.  Just last night there were heavy rains that flooded many streets again.   Alejandro called while driving home from work, and described the policemen standing mid-calf in water trying to direct traffic.

As is so often the case, human efforts to modify nature have a tendency to backfire.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Past the Stereotypes

I found this on another blog, and since the author is unknown and the piece is being passed around and posted on Facebook, I am taking the liberty to share it with you too.
Gringo (a): – Hi, where are you from?
Mexican: – Hi, I’m from Mexico
Gringo (a): – Ah! The land of Chapo Guzmán, narcos, marihuana, crime and extortion.
Mexican -I’m sorry, are you a drug addict or a TV junkie?
Gringo (a) – No!!! Why?
Mexican -Because if you were an athlete or sports fan, you would have identified Mexico with Ana Guevara, Hugo Sanchez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Finito, Chicharito Hernandez, Canelo Alvarez, Rafael Marquez, etc.
If you were an educated person, you would have asked about the Aztec empire, the Mayan culture, the Olmecs or any other of the great mesoamerican cultures.
If you were a well traveled person you would have talked about our majestic archaeological sites, our tourist-friendly colonial cities, our megalopolis or our exotic beaches… the astonishing biodiversity of our rainforests, mountain ranges, deserts, conifer forests…
You could have identified Mexico with our great painters, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Frida Khalo, José Clemente Orozco; our composers: Agustín Lara, Consuelo Velázquez, Armando Manzanero, Juan Gabriel Jose Alfredo Jimenez, our writers and poets: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Juan Rulfo, Octavio Paz, Juan José Arreola, Elena Poniatowska, Amado Nervo, Jaime Sabines;
our inventors or scientists: Manuel Mondragón, Guillermo González Camarera, Luis Ernesto Miramontes; our cinematographers: Ismael Rodríguez, Emilio Fernández, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Emmanuel Lubezki, and even Luis Buñuel, who, being originally from Spain, chose to adopt the Mexican nationality…
If you were a gourmand, you would have asked about Tamales, Cochinita Pibil, Mole, Adobo, Chilaquiles, Chiles en nogada, Guacamole, Pan de Muerto, etc. Or our traditional beverages: Tequila, Mezcal, wines and beers.
However, I can see, the only thing you can relate to Mexico is the provider to American drug addicts.
I just want you to realize that México is a lot more than what ignorant people and fear-mongering media knows or chooses to propagate.
There are millions of honest Mexicans, who even without knowing you, will open the door to our homes, and that if you care to visit, you will love to get to know us and to visit us. Mexico is even more than I can possibly tell you!
Author unknown

Monday, July 22, 2019

Another Concert

On Sunday I attended another Cleveland Orchestra concert at Blossom Music Center.  I took Carol, a friend and former colleague who used to be the chairperson of the foreign language department at the school where I taught.  Her birthday is later this month, so this was an early birthday celebration for her.

We first went out for dinner at a restaurant in the picturesque village of Peninsula on the banks of the Cuyahoga River.

From there it was a short drive to the Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra.  We had seats in the pavilion, but many people sit on the lawn and have a picnic during the concert.  It was a very warm evening.  Ohio was suffering from the heat wave that hit much of the eastern half of the nation.  The forecast called for a 50% chance of thunderstorms that evening, and the skies were becoming overcast.

The guest conductor was Swiss-born Thierry Fisher, and he led the orchestra in a concert that had a mostly Spanish flavor.  The first selection was the popular orchestral suite from Bizet's opera "Carmen", Spanish-style music written by a French composer.  

The next piece was "Concierto de Aranjuez", a guitar concerto written by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.  This is my favorite piece of Spanish classical music.  The best known portion of the work is the beautiful second movement, "Adagio".   To me it expresses all the melancholy of Spain's long and tragic history.  

The soloist was one of the most famous classical guitarists in the world, 75 year old Pepe Romero.  

He along with his late father and two brothers formed the Romeros Quartet and were considered the "Royal Family of Guitar".  Señor Romero gave a beautiful performance... neither age nor sweltering heat tarnished his virtuosity.

Here is a YouTube video of Pepe Romero playing the "Concierto de Aranjuez"... although it is not with the incomparable Cleveland Orchestra.

"Concierto de Aranjuez" with Pepe Romero

By intermission the temperature had moderated.  I turned around and saw that it was raining.  The people on the lawn were either scurrying home or taking shelter under the pavilion.  A few brave souls were determined to remain where they were under umbrellas or plastic tarps.

The second half of the concert began with Rimsky Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol".  This is a Russian composer's interpretation of Spanish melodies.  It builds to an exciting climax and is another favorite of mine.

Finally, breaking from the Spanish theme of the evening, the orchestra performed Claude Debussy's "La Mer"... an impressionist painting in musical form portraying the many moods of the sea.

It was still raining when the concert concluded.  We trudged our way under my umbrella, up the hill to the parking lot.  In spite of the heat and the rain, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Losing a Friend

(photo from the obituary)

About fifteen years ago, after my retirement, I joined the Berea Fine Arts Club.  There I met an older lady who was a talented watercolorist.  Her name was Mary Jane, but everyone called her "MJ".  Over the years we became friends.  We served together for two years on the executive board of the club, she as secretary and I as vice president.  Besides our love of art, we both enjoyed classical music.  We went to a number of Cleveland Orchestra and Akron Symphony concerts together, as well as to the movie theater to see simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera.  

We both drifted away from the club...  I because I was traveling so much, and she because it was becoming too difficult to set up for the club art shows.  We still kept in touch however and would occasionally get together for lunch.

Early this year she was diagnosed with cancer.  In mid-May, when I returned from my latest trip to Mexico, I called her.  She was in good spirits, and I told her that I would call again and that we could make plans to go out for dinner.  I called, perhaps a week later, and left a message on the answering machine.  She did not return my call.  I called again, left another message, and expressed concern that she was all right.  I called a third time.  This time the answering machine was not working.  I wondered if she had left her home to stay with her son who lives out of town, or if she were in the hospital.  I had no way of reaching her.  

I feared the worst, and a couple days ago I did a Google search of her, and, sadly, the first thing that appeared was her obituary.  She had passed away on June 24th.  I am sad that we never had a chance to get together again.

I will miss MJ, and I will remember her each time I see a painting of hers that is hanging in my home.

Friday, July 19, 2019

A Painting for Switzerland

In less than a month I will be heading to Switzerland to visit my cousins, and my Ohio cousin Gail and her husband will be also be there to meet for the first time her Swiss family.   I will spend the first couple nights with my cousin Brigitta.  Some time ago I wrote about the special gift that I am going to give her... my great grandmother's wedding ring.  Then, my cousin Werner is going to take us under his wing.  I wanted to give him something special too.  A while ago I started a painting for him, and last night I finished it.  It is a picture of the house in Othmarsingen, Switzerland that belonged to his parents.

I hope he likes it.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Perfect Description

Readers of my blog know that one of my interests is genealogical research (although I have to admit that I have not worked on my family tree for a while).

My cousin Gail sent me this picture which I thought was a perfect description of us both.

I have been extremely fortunate to make contact with a bunch of distant cousins from the Swiss and English branches of my family.  That includes Gail, a third cousin who lives ten minutes away from me and whom I had never met until a few years ago.

Although I can feel a certain amount of pride in the fact that I have traced parts of my family tree back to the 18th century, it is the connections that I have made with "live cousins" that have been the most rewarding.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Another Schnitzel Tuesday

You may remember from earlier posts my high school friend Duffy and his husband Carlos.  They have homes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Miami, Florida.  I wrote about them a couple years ago when they went through the devastation of Hurricane Maria.  (Fortunately their building survived with no major damage.)  Duffy makes frequent visits back to Ohio to visit his mom, and this year they are both spending a good portion of the summer up here.  

Last night, along with Gayle, another high school friend, we all went to downtown Cleveland to enjoy "Schnitzel Tuesday" at the Hofbrauhaus Cleveland.  When I first went there a month ago, I wrote about it here.  The place is styled after the world-famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany.  Since then, Gayle and I went there after a visit to the Cleveland Art Museum, and we decided that we should take Duffy and Carlos there.

All four of us were something of heretics... we went to the Hofbrauhaus and none of us ordered beer.  However, we all ordered schnitzel.

The big plates of schnitzel did not keep most of us from ordering dessert.  Gayle and Duffy shared a slice of German chocolate cake.

Carlos was the only one who showed restraint.  He simply had a small taste of my Black Forest cake.

Next month I will have the opportunity to visit the original Hofbrauhaus when I go to Munich!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

For Cat Lovers

You might have noticed that there is a new blog listed under my Blog List.  It is not about the usual topics you will find here... Mexico or travel... but about cats.  "Mighty Kool Kats" is a blog written by Kathryn, one of my former students, and, as the title suggests, it is devoted largely to photos of her cats.

Kathryn was a very good student.  Perhaps I shouldn't tell this story, and I hope she doesn't get upset with me, but I remember that she would always say, "I'm never going to use a foreign language."  I would tell her, "You never know where life is going to take you."   I had lost track of her for a long time, and when we made contact some years ago, she was teaching in South Korea.  Well, she might not have been using her Spanish, but she was definitely using a foreign language!

I had not heard from her again for a number of years.  Then a couple days ago I had a comment on this blog signed by "Kathryn".  When she referred to me as "señor" I knew that the comment must be from my former student.  I clicked on her name, and I was directed to her blog which she had recently started.  Kathryn is once again living here in suburban Cleveland. 

So, if you would like to see some adorable pictures of cats, click on "Mighty Kool Kats" under my "Blog List" on the right hand margin. 

Good to hear from you again, Kathryn!   

Monday, July 15, 2019

Musical Fireworks

The Fourth of July has come and gone, but last Saturday there were fireworks, of a musical sort, at the Blossom Music Festival.

Each summer I try to get to at least one concert at the Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Saturday, my friend Cliff and I attended a concert that promised to be very good.  It turned out to be spectacular.

I forgot to take my camera. but Cliff snapped pictures of the Blossom pavilion and the interior prior to the beginning of the concert.

The Blossom Music Center was built in 1968 twenty five miles to the south of Cleveland in  forested countryside surrounded by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  More than 21 million people have attended concerts of all kinds, from classical to rock, since its opening.

I chose this concert because the program included Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, one of my favorites.  The symphony, which was the concluding work of the concert, certainly did not disappoint, particularly climactic final movement.  However, the highlight of the evening was Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3.   The soloist for the concerto was Conrad Tao, making his Cleveland Orchestra debut.

(image taken from the internet)
 I had never heard of him before, but apparently the 25 year old musician and composer from Illinois has created quite a stir.  He was a child prodigy.  He gave his first recital at the age of four and began his studies at Julliard when he was nine.  He is described as iconoclastic.  Indeed, he appeared on stage without shoes and performed the concerto barefoot.

(Cliff surreptitiously snapped a photo during the performance.)

In recent years, Blossom has added two large screens on either side of the stage, and cameras give concertgoers close up views of the performers.  I was fascinated watching his fingers fly across the keyboard.  I could also watch his body movements and facial expressions while he played.  This is an artist who is not shy about abandoning himself completely into the music.  Cliff and I agreed that we had never seen anything like his performance.  The audience, of course, gave him a thunderous ovation, and after returning to the stage several times to acknowledge the applause, he gave us an encore, a portion of a Bach sonata.  

It was another glorious evening with the renowned Cleveland Orchestra! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Garden Quiz

It has been a long time since I have posted a quiz on the blog.  Since most of my posts lately have been about gardening, I thought that it would be appropriate to do a quiz on some of the famous gardens that I have visited on my travels.

1. This garden belonged to a famous French painter who immortalized it in his paintings.  Name the artist and the town where it was located.

2.  The river running through this city frequently overflowed its banks, so the city fathers diverted its course, and created a garden that runs more than five miles along the old river bed.  Name the city.

3.  This botanical garden is located within a former market building.  Of special interest are the modern stained glass windows. Name the Mexican city in which this garden is located.

4.  This English palace, built in 1515, is surrounded by extensive gardens.  Name the palace.

5.  This park was the site of an exhibition in 1992.  Name the U.S. city in which it is located. 


My former student Meredith sent me an email with her answers rather than commenting on the blog, and her answers were 100% correct!

1.  Claude Monet was the artist who owned a home with extensive gardens in Giverny, France.  The water lily pond was the subject of numerous paintings.

2.  The Turia Gardens follow the former course of the Turia River in Valencia, Spain.

3.  The "Cosmovitral"... gardens and beautiful stained glass windows... is the major tourist attraction in the Mexican city of Toluca.

4.  Hampton Court, outside of London was one of the favorite palaces of Henry VIII and his ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn.

5.  Franklin Park in Columbus, Ohio, was the site of an exposition called AmeriFlora to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage in 1492.

Way to go, Meredith! 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Random Blossoms

July is the month when my garden looks its best.  There is a wide variety of perennials in bloom.

Here are a few of the flowers that are now blooming...

Different varieties of coreopsis...

Purple loosestrife...


Purple cone flower...


Balloon flower...

Fluffy clusters of tiny pink flowers on the filipendula and loosestrife in the background...

And, of course, day lilies...

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Thinning Out

For years I have said that I needed to thin out my crowded shade garden.  But I liked the solid blanket of vegetation, with various shades of green from a variety of hostas, ferns, grasses, and the "snow on the mountain" ground cover.  Astilbes, day lilies, and spiderwort would provide a touch of color from time to time.  This year I had no choice but to thin the bed out.  As I wrote a couple days ago some plant of unknown origen was taking over and choking out my plants.  Today I spent several hours of my 4th of July mercilessly ripping out the invasive intruder, at times sacrificing some of my established plantings in the process.  I repeatedly turned over the soil with a shovel and picked out the ubiquitous whitish strand sof roots.  It fear that any bit of root remaining will sprout again next year.  I am sure I did not remove every piece of root, and I will probably see this pretty bu nefarious plant again in the spring.  However, there should be a lot less of it to deal with next year.  

When I was done with the operation, there were actually patches of bare soil visible between the plants.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Visit with Meredith

Those of you who regularly read my blog may remember my former student, Meredith.  Last January I played "tour guide" for her and her husband Chuck in Mérida, Yucatán.  They live in Wisconsin, but Meredith came home to Ohio to spend the holiday with her family.  Unfortunately Chuck could not take off from work.  

Today she and I got together for a leisurely lunch at a restaurant not far from my house.  It was great spending some time with her.  Meredith was a joy to have in class (as were her two sisters), and she has grown up to be a great person.  I take pride in thinking  that I might have, in some small measure, inspired her interest in travel and foreign languages.  

After lunch, since I live nearby, and since she has read about my garden on this blog, we went to my house for a tour of the garden (which is still a work in progress).  

Meredith is a bit of a dinosaur, as am I, in that she has never been interested in having a smart phone.  She recently needed to purchase one for work, and her very first "selfie" was this picture of the two of us.

I was glad to see you again, Meredith, and I hope that I may once again be your "tour guide" in Mexico.  Mexico City is calling to you and Chuck.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Pretty Invader

Work on my final flower bed is going slowly because I am dealing with an invader of unknown origen.

A few years ago a new plant appeared out of the blue in my shade garden.  It had little white flowers in the early summer and looked quite pretty.

Now that mysterious plant threatens to take over my flower bed and strangle out the existing flowers.

So I have been trying to remove the invader.  It seems that it spreads through its extensive root system.  I am digging up the soil and removing the long, white roots.  I suspect that I have not seen the last of this plant, but, hopefully next spring there will be a lot less of this unwelcome guest.

Does anyone happen to know just what this plant is?

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Big Garden

We have gone three days without rain!  Saturday I couldn't do any work in the garden because rain the night before had turned the back yard into a swamp once again.  Yesterday, however, after eight hours of work, I was able to complete the largest of my flower beds.

The main problem area is to the side of this garden along the border with my neighbor's property.  It is a low area, and with all the rain that we have been receiving, it has been a pond for most of the month of June.  The standing water finally has dried up (until the next rain), but it is still a muddy mess.  It is the only route that my neighbor can take to get his lawn mower to his front yard, so there are deep ruts.  

I have been elevating some of the area on my side of the border with top soil, and I have started planting grass seed along the edge of the bed.  But since my neighbor weekly has to run his big riding mower through there, I don't know how he will ever be able to repair the ruts on his side of the property line.

I am now working on the flower bed along the other side of my yard.  It is pretty big too. Tomorrow is supposed to be another day of sunshine, and I will be out there working most of the day.  Then on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the forecast calls for more rain!