Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The End of Another Year

I thought that this dramatic photo that I took while in Columbus at Christmas would be a fitting final picture as 2019 draws to a close.

Personally it was a good year for me.  I continue to be able to enjoy my passion for travel.  I calculate that I spent approximately one third of the year outside of the country.  In addition to three trips to Mexico, I traveled to Europe and saw once again my cousins in Switzerland.  I also added three new countries... Austria, Slovakia and Germany... to my list of places visited.  During my trips to Mexico, I was able to play "tour guide" to friends and relatives on three different occasions. That is something that I always enjoy, and my guests all enjoyed Mexico too.  

I already have travel plans for 2020.  In a week I will head back to Mexico City for six weeks.  Although Mexico City's high altitude climate is definitely not tropical, I will escape a large chunk of Ohio winter.  (As I write this it is snowing outside.)  I also have my flight reservations for my spring trip to Mexico.  I will be down there Alejandro's birthday and for Easter.  I found a first class airfare to Mexico City that was so good that I had to snag it immediately.  There is just one fly in the ointment for my 2020 travels.  The owners of the condo I rent in Mexico City informed me that they are going to sell their property later this year.  So I guess that in the future I will have to go back to using Airbnb for my Mexico accommodations.

I only wish that things were going as well for our country and the world in general.  The U.S. is headed by an incompetent, narcissistic, immoral, bullying, erratic gangster, and yet 40% of the electorate blindly follow him.  Gun violence here is at an all time high.  (I honestly feel safer in "dangerous" Mexico.)   Hatred against Latinos, Jews, blacks, Muslims, and gays increases as bigots crawl out from their holes and spew their poison in word and deed.  Countries from Hungary to Brazil are veering toward authoritarianism.  Climate change is definitely upon us and threatens the survival of the human race, even though some in leadership roles would deny its existence.

Let us hope that 2020 will offer us better news! 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

A December Stroll

For the past week the weather here in Ohio has been abnormally mild.  A couple days ago the temperature reached a spring like 68 degrees.  While I was in Columbus to visit family at Christmas, we took a stroll through Schiller Park in the city's historic German Village neighborhood.

German Village is an area directly to the south of downtown Columbus. It was settled by German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century.  By the mid-twentieth century the neighborhood had fallen into decline, and the city planned to demolish the slum.  A group of citizens gathered to save the area's historic architecture, and formed the German Village Society.  More than 1600 buildings have been preserved, and it is the largest privately funded historic district in the country.  It is now one of the city's most picturesque (and expensive) neighborhoods and its unique shops and restaurants are one of the main tourist draws in Columbus. 

The area is filled with beautiful brick houses.

Schiller Park is named after Friedrich Schiller, the 18th century German poet, philosopher and playwright.  (You are likely to have heard one of his poems...  Beethoven used Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in the finale of his Ninth Symphony.)  The statue of the poet is a recasting of a sculpture that stands in Munich, Germany.

What brought us to Schiller Park on that December afternoon was to see a temporary art installation in the park.  A couple dozen sculptures by Polish artist Jerzy Jotka Kedziora are on display.  What makes his work so intriguing is that wires are strung between trees in the park, and the sculptures, seeming to defy gravity, are balanced on those wires.  They are an amazing work of engineering as well as art.

The exhibit will be in Schiller Park until March.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Movie Memories

My reminiscences about Christmases past in my classroom, led me to recall a movie which I used to show to my classes during the holiday season.  (As an aside to Meredith, a former student who is a faithful reader of my blog, this was WAY before you were my student.)

Long ago, before there were DVD players or even VCR players, if wanted to show a movie in class I would sign out a projector from the AV department and rent a film from the public library.  I would attach the reel of film on the front end of the projector, thread the film through the projector, hoping that it didn't get jammed, and attach the end of the film to the reel at the rear.  Afterwards I would have to rewind the film, and then repeat the process to show the movie to the next class.

(image taken from the web)

The apparatus looked something like this.

I remember many of the movies which I used to show my classes.  There was the documentary about the conquest of the Aztec Empire in which Kirk Douglas narrated as a Spanish soldier recalling those fateful events.  There was a movie about the Amazon River... perhaps a National Geographic Special.  (Remember those programs which aired from time to time on network television before there was a National Geographic Channel on cable?)
The scene where a school of piranha fish devoured its prey always grabbed the students' attention.

My favorite was a beautiful film called "Piñata".  I would reserve it far in advance so that I could show it before Christmas.  It was filmed in Mexico, and, as I remember, the story was told without words.  There was just a lovely musical soundtrack.  It was about a little Mexican boy from a poor family living in the countryside.  He would hike the long distance into town where he would go to the marketplace.  There he would admire one of the piñatas. It was the piñata of his dreams.  Finally he had saved enough pesos to buy it.  He arrived at the marketplace just in time to see that someone had bought the piñata and was carrying it off.  He followed the person to the home of a wealthy family.  He climbed the wall, peered into the patio, and watched the privileged children break the piñata.  He sat on the sidewalk in despair.  Then the shell of the broken piñata was tossed over the wall onto the curb.  The little boy took it and went to the market to buy the materials needed to repair it.  Unfortunately he only had a few pesos left with which he bought a meager handful of candies.  Back at home, he patiently restored the piñata until it was as good as new. He put the few candies inside, hung it from a tree, and invited his friends to take turns trying to break it.  When the piñata was broken, magically a never ending stream of candy rained down upon the children. 

It was such a sweet, delightful movie.  I have looked on YouTube hoping to find it, but with no luck.  I would love to see it again.  

Friday, December 20, 2019

Memories from My Teaching Days

Yesterday's post about "Las Posadas" brought back some memories from my teaching days.  

Every year before Christmas I would set up a nativity scene in my classroom.  I would explain to my classes that I was not teaching them religion, but rather the culture of the Hispanic world and their holiday celebrations.   

Before the concept of the Christmas tree became popular, a large nativity scene was the focal point of the decorations in Hispanic homes.  At this time of year in the marketplaces you will find a wide variety of clay figures for the creche... not just Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, the shepherds and the Wise Men, but all sorts of people coming to the stable.  Many families have enormous, elaborate nativity scenes which have landscaping of hills and rivers, the town of Bethlehem and all the villagers and animals.   In Mexico the figures are sometimes uniquely Mexican in nature.  There are such figures as tortilla vendors and turkeys... things that you would not have seen in ancient Israel.

My classroom nativity scene was nothing so grandiose.  I had cheap plastic figures purchased at Woolworths.  But it was still pretty cool.

The day before Christmas vacation, we would do a "Posada"... the recreation of Mary and Joseph searching for room at the inn.  We would go through the hallways and visit several other classrooms asking for lodging.  At those rooms I would have one of my students planted to turn us away.  Then we would return to my room, and we would be welcomed in.  One of the students would have made or bought a piñata which we would then break.

I found some old photographs of our Christmas celebrations...

These pictures of my students ready to begin their procession are from 1975, my second year of teaching when I was at the junior high.
Imagine... these ninth graders (I still remember some of their names) would now be in their fifties!

I don't know the year, but this photo is from later in my teaching career when I was teaching at the high school.  Here, at the end of the "Posada", the procession is being welcomed into my classroom.

One of my Spanish III classes in 1989 posing for a Christmas portrait.  The bulletin board in the background is decorated with Spanish-language Christmas cards that I had collected over the years.

Those were the "good old days" when teaching was fun!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Nights of "Las Posadas"

As I write this, people all over Mexico are celebrating a "Posada".  "Las Posadas" are held for nine nights prior to Christmas from December 16th until December 24th.  The "Posada" represents Joseph and Mary searching for room at the inn.  (The word "posada" means "lodging".)  Each evening, neighbors gather together to form a procession that marches down the street.  At the head of the procession someone carries figures of Mary and Joseph.  The neighbors stop at predetermined houses, and knock on the door.  When the person inside opens the door, the neighbors sing the traditional litany of the "Posada".

En nombre del cielo
Os pido posada...

In the name of heaven
  I beg of you lodging... 

At each house they are turned away, until the procession comes to the home of that evening's hosts.  Here the neighbors are welcomed.

 Entren santos peregrinos...

Enter holy pilgrims...

Inside, refreshments are served, and one or more piñatas are hung for the children to break.  The children sing the "piñata song"...

Dale, dale, dale,
No pierdas el tino.
Mide la distancia
Que hay en el camino...

Hit it, hit it, hit it,
Don't lose your aim.
Measure the distance
In the path...

Alejandro and his family hosted the first "Posada" of the season on Monday night.  About sixty neighbors participated.  After the procession he and his sister served "tortas de mole"... thick rolls cut open and filled with "mole".  Alejandro made his mother's recipe for the traditional "ponche navideño", a Christmas fruit punch that is served hot.  (The hot beverage is perfect for the chilly December nights in Mexico City.)  They had four piñatas.  The piñatas were suspended over the street, and Alejandro was on the upstairs terrace controlling the rope.  At the same time he was trying to take a video.  Here is a snippet of that video...

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Caged Nativity

My friend Alejandro in Mexico City had told me about this, and I easily found a picture of it on the internet...

A Methodist church in Los Angeles has a nativity display with Mary, Joseph and Jesus separated and in cages.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Tree of Many Nations

Today I was invited by my cousin Gail and her husband Wes to their annual Christmas brunch.  As always it was a delightful afternoon with good company and good food.

Their home is beautifully decorated for the holidays.  In the living room the Christmas tree represents the many nations that they have visited on their travels.  Gail has collected dolls from each country as well as the national flags.  It is a colorful and unique tree.


A new country represented on the tree this year is Iceland.

Their travels this year also included Austria...

… and of course Switzerland where I joined them in a visit to our ancestral village and introduced them to our Swiss cousins.

Mexico is well represented.  There is a doll in the traditional attire of Yucatán from a trip which Gail and Wes took with me to Mérida a few years ago.  There is a corn husk doll which I bought for her on one of my trips, and from Gail's recent visit to Mexico City a "catrina" figure which she bought at a handicraft market.

Our menu was also international with dishes representing each of the countries that they had visited this year.  There were Norwegian meatballs, Austrian schnitzel, a Swiss casserole, and a cake from an Icelandic recipe that Gail found.  (They were generally not impressed with Icelandic cuisine.)  And to represent Mexico, I brought guacamole.

It was a fun day!  Thank you, Gail and Wes for your hospitality!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Unveiling the Christmas Card

If you have read this blog over the years, you know that each year I do a small painting which I then use to create my Christmas card.  It is always a secret what the painting will be until the cards are sent.  I sent my cards the day before Thanksgiving, so I think that it is safe to say that everyone has received their card.  I can now share that picture with you.

My cards are usually based on a photo taken during my travels.  This picture is of Coyoacán, a very historic district within Mexico City.  Coyoacán, which in the Aztec language of Nahuatl means "Place of the Coyotes", dates back to pre-Hispanic times, and was once a separate town from Mexico City.  When the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés defeated the Aztecs, he used Coyoacán as his headquarters while Mexico City was being built from the rubble of the Aztec capital.  For many years it remained a rural town on the outskirts of the city.  By the 20th century it became absorbed within the urban sprawl of Mexico City, but its historic center remains one of the most  picturesque parts of the capital.  
I took a photo of this quiet side street lined with colorful, colonial houses last spring.  The street was decorated with paper banners (known as "papel picado"... cut paper) that are used for holidays.  (I believe that they were hanging in celebration of the saint's day for the local parish.)  Alejandro saw the photo and said that it would make a good subject for my Christmas card.  And so, I chose that picture for this year's card.

I believe that by now even my European cousins have all received their card.  My cousin in England wrote to me and thanked me for their card, and my Swiss cousin Brigitta even sent me a photo of the card sitting on the counter in their home.

So now I share my painting with you, my readers, with my best wishes for a very happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Winter Is Coming

This was the view that greeted me when I woke up this morning.

It was not the first measurable snow that we have had this season.  That was in early November, but I was in Mexico at the time.  The last couple of days there have been some snowflakes in the air, but this was the first time since returning that I have seen snow on the ground.

It makes me glad that I will be headed back to Mexico after the holidays!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Getting Together with Meredith and Chuck

If you follow this blog, you may remember that last January Meredith, a former student of mine, and her husband Chuck spent several days with me in Mérida, Yucatán.

The two of them were in Ohio last week spending Thanksgiving with her family.  On Sunday, we got together for lunch before they returned home to Wisconsin yesterday.  We met at a Salvadorian restaurant in suburban Cleveland.  The food was good, and the company was even better.  

(photo taken by Chuck)

It was great to see Meredith and Chuck again, and I hope that in the future I can give them another tour in Mexico.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Christmas in the Park

While I was in Columbus visiting family over Thanksgiving, we went to Franklin Park and its Conservatory to see the Christmas displays.

The area surrounding the Conservatory was festively decorated with lights.

A waterfall and a stream as well as elephants all done in lights.

Both outside and inside the conservatory, there were numerous glass sculptures by the artist Dale Chihuly.

Inside the conservatory there was an impressive display of poinsettias. 

It is a beautiful display to put everyone in the holiday spirit!