Thursday, December 31, 2020

So Long, Farewell... Good Riddance!


Today the year 2020 comes to an end.  I think that everyone would agree it has been a year that we will never forget but a year the likes of which we hope to never see again.

Earlier this morning I was looking at some of my old blog posts from the past year.  On December 31st of 2019 I bemoaned the sorry political state of the U.S., but I was looking forward to my long winter stay in Mexico City during January and February.  Little did I know that the trip would be the last one that I would take for over a year.   I read with nostalgia some of the posts from that trip... descriptions of meals that I enjoyed, special exhibits at the museums, some new places I discovered in the city, and a couple of delightful weekend excursions outside of the city with Alejandro.  In late January I went to Mexico City's Chinatown for the celebration of the Chinese New Year.  I made no mention in the blog of the virus in Wuhan, China, that was being reported in the news.  Alejandro joked that I would catch the "corona" when I visited Chinatown.  In retrospect, the joke now seems tasteless, but we had no idea at that point how the virus was going to impact the entire world.

When I returned home on February 20th I was already looking forward to my return to Mexico in April in time for Easter and Alejandro's birthday.  I did my shopping for birthday presents as well as for plastic eggs and wrapped candy so that Alejandro's nephew Ezra could have an Easter egg hunt.  The virus had by that time entered both the U.S. and Mexico but the cases were so few that I was not really thinking of the need to cancel my trip.  By mid-March, it was a pandemic.  Schools, restaurants and bars were closed here in Ohio, and even a trip to the grocery store seemed a bit risky.  I rescheduled my April flight... and later rescheduled the trips that I would normally take in August and October.  

And so we went through the year living in an alternate reality in which everything had changed.  The death toll climbed, and the economy was battered while a vocal group of idiots within the government and in the general populace proclaimed that it was all a hoax and that wearing masks was an infringement of liberty.  Indeed, as we went through the spring, summer and early fall, the virus was something I read about in the news.  I did not personally know anyone who had contracted COVID.  Then after Thanksgiving, as the numbers exploded, it seemed that every day I heard of someone who had tested positive... including some loved ones who fortunately have since recovered.  Mexico has been hard hit also.  Alejandro knows of at least twelve people in his "colonia" or neighborhood who have died of the virus. 

Set against the pandemic we went through the most exhausting, bizarre, vitriolic and seemingly endless Presidential campaign in my memory.  And we continue to be exhausted by the sore losers and petulant babies who continue to make claims of voter fraud and who would shred our Constitution even after conservative judges have dismissed their claims as baseless fantasy.  January 20th can not come soon enough for me.

In spite of the immense tragedy that has been suffered by so many, there have been for me some silver linings in this pandemic.  During this prolonged period of staying at home I have had some much needed renovations to my house done.  Unable to travel internationally, I have done some "local tourism", exploring some places close to home that I had not seen before,  I have done quite a bit of experimenting in the kitchen.  Some of my experiments have even been successful, and I have more choices when I ask myself, "What shall I make for dinner?"  And I have done a lot of chatting on Skype with my cousins in Europe.  I feel as if we have grown much closer than when our contact was mainly through my occasional trips across the "pond".  Even after the pandemic is over, I hope that we will continue to have our frequent video chats.

As the new year approaches, there is light ahead of us with vaccines for the virus and a new President.  Yes, there will be some more grim months in which COVID continues to rage across the globe, and, no, the poisonous divisiveness in U.S. politics is not going to disappear overnight.  But at midnight tonight I will open the front door, ring my great-grandmother's dinner bell, and hope for a better 2021!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Cookie Tin with a Story

Usually on New Year's Day I get together with my friends Katie and Olivier and their children Nina and Christian.  Katie taught French at the school where I taught, and her husband is from France.  Although we do not see each other as often as we would like, we have remained good friends through the years.  It has become an annual tradition for me to go over to their house on January 1st.  Katie cooks a big dinner, we exchange gifts, and I usually show them a DVD of pictures of my trips from the past year. 

This year, of course, was a year when holiday traditions were cast by the wayside.  But we did have gifts to exchange, so a couple days ago I made a delivery run to their house.  We had a brief visit... all of us masked and I sitting at the opposite side of the room.  

One of the gifts I received was a tin full of cookies that Nina had baked.  The tin originally came from a "biscuiterie" where they had purchased some goodies on one of their trips to France.  The cover had a cool reproduction of an antique travel poster.

Rocamadour is a village in the Dordogne Valley of southern France, and Olivier told me its interesting story.  The town is picturesquely situated on a cliff.  A series of stairs climb from the river below to the summit which is crowned by a shrine.  The shrine is an important pilgrimage site, second in France only to the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.  Medieval pilgrims, including King Louis IX (St. Louis), often climbed to the top on their knees.

According to legend, the shrine was established by St. Amator (Amadour in French) in the first century.  In 1166 the perfectly preserved body of the saint was supposedly discovered and buried in the sanctuary.

It is alleged that embedded in the cliff of Rocamadour is the sword of the legendary knight Roland.  Roland, according to medieval lore, led the armies of Charlemagne to defend France against the invading Saracens.  His sword, Durendal, was magical and indestructible .  When he faced death at the Battle of Roncevaux in the Pyrenees Mountains on the border with Spain, he hurled his sword into the air rather than allow the Saracens to gain possession of it.  The sword flew hundreds of miles to Rocamadour where it embedded itself in the rock.  Yeah, right!   


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

But His Songs Will Live On

Yesterday Mexico lost one of its national treasures to the pandemic.  Armando Manzanero, one of the nation's greatest songwriters, died from COVID at the age of 85.  Shortly after testing positive on December 17th, he was hospitalized in Mexico City.  His cremated remains will be taken to his hometown of Mérida, Yucatán.

(image taken from the web)

Manzanero composed more than 400 songs which were sung and recorded by an international array of vocalists.  Since the 1950s he has been considered Mexico's premier writer of romantic music and one of the most successful composers in all of Latin America.  In 2014 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

For us in the United States (at least for those of us of a "certain age"), his most familiar song is probably "Somos Novios" (We Are a Couple).  It was reissued in the U.S. with new English lyrics as "It's Impossible", and it became a #1 hit for Perry Como.

Here is a link to a YouTube video of a much younger Manzanero singing the original Spanish version...


My favorite song by Manzanero is a beautifully melancholy song called "Te Extraño" (I Miss You).  The lyrics, although they do not translate very well to English, are very poetic...

I miss you 

When I walk,

When I cry,

When I laugh,

When the sun shines,

When it's cold,

Because I feel you

As a part of me.

Here is another link to YouTube with a video of a concert performance of that song by Andrea Bocelli...

Te Extraño

Rest in peace.  Your music will live on after you.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Tail of the Pony

Way back in March I stopped shaving my head and let my hair grow as a measure of how long this pandemic lasted.  I said that I would let it grow until I was once again able to travel safely to Mexico.  It was no surprise to me that my hair was now mostly white, or that there was not much on the top.  Nor was it a surprise that my hair is still a curly, unruly mess that seems to have a mind of it own.  That is why even before I started shaving my head I rarely let it grow very long.  Even in high school and college, during the "flower child" era of the late 60s and 70s, my hair was relatively short. 

I had no idea that nine months later the pandemic would still be raging.  I would have thought that by this point my hair would have been down to my shoulder.  It is not, but it is longer than it has ever been.  However in the last few weeks I have been able to tie it up into a small pony tail.  The picture is slightly blurry... it's not easy to take a picture of the back of your head in the bathroom mirror... but here is my diminutive pony tail.

Lest you mock me as some ridiculous, aging hippie, the pony tail helps keep my errant hair in place.  And, besides, in my opinion, I don't look like an "over-the-hill" rock star, but rather, a retired bullfighter or a slightly disheveled 18th century gentleman. 😁

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Book Was Better

Quite a few years ago, I received as a Christmas present an English language translation of the novel "Cathedral of the Sea" by contemporary Spanish author Ildefonso Falcones.  It was just the kind of book I like... a big, fat, meticulously researched, historical novel.  It takes place in the 14th century, when Barcelona was at its height as a commercial and military power in the medieval Mediterranean.  The story begins with a downtrodden serf who, carrying his infant son in his arms, escapes the brutal, feudal lord and seeks freedom in Barcelona.  After  the father's death, the young boy eventually works as a porter hauling stones for the construction of the Church of Santa María del Mar.  His entire life will be inextricably connected with that church.  Critics compared Falcones and his novel to the British author Ken Follett whose best-seller "Pillars of the Earth" dealt with the building of a medieval English cathedral.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and the next time that I visited Barcelona, I made it a point to visit the Church of Santa María del Mar.  

It was built in the space of only 54 years, an unusual accomplishment in that era, and it displays a unity of style that is unique for medieval buildings.  It is considered the purest example of Gothic architecture in that region of Spain.  It is also unusual in that it was built with the contributions of the common people, rather than the nobility.

I was quite excited when I learned that Netflix was streaming a TV adaptation of the novel.  The miniseries was originally broadcast by "Antena 3", one of Spain's major broadcasting networks in 2918,

(image taken from the web)

The first episode was promising enough, but after watching the second and third episodes, I gave up on the series.  I thought the acting was mediocre and the script was even worse.  It felt like a low-quality soap opera trying to be an epic historical drama.  It is definitely one of those frequent cases where the book is much better.

I did not know that Falcones had written a sequel to his novel, entitled "The Heirs of the Earth".   Apparently there are plans to adapt that novel as a second season of the miniseries.  I think I will simply seek out the book rather than wait for Netflix to release the adaptation.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Mexican Christmas Eve

I was home alone for Christmas Eve and for Christmas, but I was busy preparing a couple of dishes that are traditional for Christmas Eve in Mexico.

There are many versions of "Ensalada de Nochebuena"... Christmas Eve Salad... but almost all of them include beets.  I followed, more or less, a recipe from one of my Mexican cookbooks.  

I used a bag of salad greens that was mainly composed of chopped Romaine lettuce.  Rather than cook, peel, slice and chill fresh beets, I simply bought a can of sliced beets.  I added the segments of one navel orange, and sliced up one banana.  (I dipped the pieces of banana in lime juice to help keep it from discoloring.)  Instead of "jícama" I sliced up an apple (also dipped in lime juice).  I made a very simple dressing with apple cider vinegar, a bit of salt, and a couple spoonsful of sugar stirred in.  The salad was garnished with pomegranate seeds and unsalted peanuts.  It was very good!

A very traditional dish for Christmas Eve, even though it comes from Spain, is "bacalao a la vizcaína"... Basque-stye codfish.  Alejandro gave me a recipe that his mom used to make.  It was much easier and cheaper; it uses canned tuna fish instead of salted cod.  I use the word "recipe" loosely, because Alejandro gave me no measurements or quantities... just throw things together.  

I started by sautéing chopped onion (I used one white onion) and minced garlic in olive oil.  (Alejandro said that the onion and garlic should be put into cold olive oil and that it should be heated together on the stove.)  When the onion started to get tender, I threw in a can of diced tomatoes, and I let that cook for a bit.  I seasoned the mixture with black pepper, thyme, oregano, and marjoram.  I added four 5 oz. cans of chunk, light tuna, drained.  Next came some fresh, chopped parsley; a jar of sliced, green olives with pimento, drained; a 3 oz. jar of capers, drained; and some slivered almonds.  I let it cook until thoroughly heated.

In Mexico this fish stew is often served on "tostadas" (crisp tortillas) or like a sandwich on "bolillos", the typical Mexican crusty rolls.  I toasted some split Kaiser rolls, and served it on them.  

I have no idea how it compares with Alejandro's mom's recipe, but this faux "bacalao a la vizcaína" was very tasty.  I will definitely make it again... and I won't wait for Christmas Eve!


Friday, December 25, 2020

A White Christmas


I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,

Just like the ones I used to know...

I can't remember the last time we had a white Christmas, but we certainly have one this year.  Yesterday afternoon the rain gradually turned to snow.  By evening the ground was covered.  When I chatted with Alejandro's family on Skype, I carried the laptop to the window so that they could see the snow, and there was a chorus of "oohs" and "aahs".

According to the forecast, here on the extreme west side of Cuyahoga County, I wasn't expecting much more than three inches.  But when I woke up this Christmas morning, there was a heavy blanket of snow, and it continues as I write this.  Fortunately this snow is not as wet and heavy so we will not have the damage to the trees that occurred with our previous snowstorm.

Even last night, I was planning to head over to the park in the center of Olmsted Falls this morning to get some pictures of the snow.  Even though it is a drive of less than two miles, it was somewhat of an adventure.  I was able to get out of the driveway without running the snow blower first.  The streets had been plowed, but with the continuing snow, driving was a bit tricky.  

I went to the covered bridge and from there took some pictures of Plum Creek.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go out and run the snow blower.

May your days be merry and bright,

And may all your Christmases be white!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Fröhliche Weihnachten!


In the past I have written about my attempts to teach myself German on Duolingo.  After my trip to Switzerland, Austria and Germany in the summer of 2019, I lapsed, and I had not logged onto Duolingo in over a year.  A couple months ago, I got back to spending some time every day practicing my German.  I had to go back and review all the lessons that I had done before, but I was pleased by how much I remembered.  I was even getting the hang of some of the grammar that I had found so difficult.  I was doing better with the nominative, accusative cases and dative cases and the devilish prepositions that require a change in case.  Now, however, I have progressed to new lessons, and there are more diabolical aspects of German grammar that are driving me crazy.  Now I am learning that adjectives change not only according to the gender of the nouns they describe, but also according to the case.  It makes Spanish grammar seem like a piece of cake in comparison.  My Swiss cousin Brigitta consoled me and told me that there are foreigners who have lived in Switzerland for years who have still not mastered the intricacies of the language. 

During this year of the pandemic, I have been chatting frequently with my Swiss relatives on Skype.  It is one of the silver linings of this terrible year that I have grown even closer to my Swiss family than I have during my occasional trips to Switzerland.  For this holiday season I have sung to them two Christmas carols in German... "O Tannenbaum" (Oh Christmas Tree) and "Stille Nacht"  (Silent Night).  Brigitta said that my German pronunciation was excellent, and I am encouraged to continue my study.

Here is my singing debut on the blog.  Hopefully it is not too painful to your ears, and my rendition does not leave you forever hating one of the most beautiful carols ever written...

Best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

An Unusual House Plant

In the summer time I always take some of my houseplants outside.  I also plant a bunch of annuals, most of them flowers like petunias, in pots for the patio.  They are discarded at the end of the summer.  However, in one large pot I had a foliage plant known as an elephant ear.  Since that plant does not require full sunshine, I thought that it might survive the winter as a houseplant.  I brought it inside with the others before cold weather arrived.

Although it is not traditionally grown as a houseplant, it seems to be doing fine.  For the picture below, I moved it away from the window for a better photo.

The plant obviously gets its name from its enormous leaves.

I did some research on it and found out that it is also known as the taro plant.  You may have heard of taro.  The root of the plant was used by the early Polynesian inhabitants of Hawaii to make the sticky, starchy food called "poi" which was the staple of their diet.

The stems of the leaves have ridges.  Eventually those ridges separate from the branch and unfurl as new leaves.

After a leaf has given birth to a new one, it seems that it begins to droop to the ground.  Since I took the picture below, that leaf was dragging on the floor and I cut it off.

One unusual aspect of this plant is that occasionally the very tips of the leaves drip moisture.  I have no idea where this liquid is coming from.  It is usually as clear as water, but the fluid from the leaf I eventually cut off was dark in color.  Since the floor is tiled, this dripping is not harming the floor, and I wipe up any moisture when I see it.  However, because of this, I do not plan to continue to bring it inside as a houseplant in winters to come.  Elephant ear, consider yourself lucky that you had an extra year of life in Ohio!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

An End to the Middle Ages

When I last visited the Cleveland Museum of Art in November, just a day before it closed once again, I took lots of pictures as I went through the Medieval Galleries.  I have enough for one more post.  No one knows when the museum will reopen, so it may be quite a while before I can return and show you more of its outstanding collection.

One gallery is devoted to religious art from Germany and Austria during the Late Gothic Period (1300-1530).  The work from this era is noted for its realism and extreme detail.

Below are two polychromed and gilded wooden carvings done by a noted German sculptor of the era, Tilman Riemenschneider.  They were part of a large altarpiece created in the early 1500s for a Dominican convent in Rothenburg, Germany.  The convent was demolished in 1813, but these statues survived.

St. Stephen carries stones in the folds of his cloak, symbolizing his martyrdom by being stoned to death.

St. Lawrence has a grill which symbolizes his martyrdom by being burned to death.

Another piece by Riemenschneider is this statue of St. Jerome from an abbey in Erfurt, Germany.    It portrays the legend of the kindly saint removing a thorn from the paw of a lion.  It is one of the few figures which the sculptor did in alabaster.

This oil painting from 1470 shows an aristocratic bridal couple.  It was originally paired with another painting called "The Rotting Pair", which showed the couple as hideous corpses.  The contrasting paintings formed what was known as a "Memento Mori", a reminder of the vanity of youth and the inevitability of death.

This wooden carving of the Virgin Mary holding her dead son comes from Bavaria and was sculpted in 1515.  In Italian such statues are known by the name of "Pieta"... the great sculpture by Michelangelo being the most famous of all.  In German, however, they are known as "Vesperbild".  

This oil painting from the early 1440s by Konrad Laib portrays the "Adoration of the Magi".  Laib was born in Germany but did most of his work in Salzburg, Austria.

This stained glass window from around 1520 portrays the "Kiss of Judas" and came from a Cistercian Abbey near Cologne, Germany.  The abbey was closed down in 1807, and the windows were removed.  Some of the other panels are now housed in London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

The final gallery of Medieval art contains three large tapestries from early 16th century France.  They are known as the Chaumont Tapestries from the name of the chateau where they were found in 1851.  The wall hangings were commissioned by Pierre Sala, a wealthy courtier.  They were intended to instruct his daughter on secular and religious themes.

The first of the tapestries is entitled "Youth".  In the center, the French Queen Mother is
addressing a group of young people.  One of them is Sala's daughter Eleanore, who is playing a lute.  Directly opposite her is her future husband, Hector.  The verse at the top says that "youthful happiness is not eternal."

The second panel is entitled "Time".  Sala stands in the center and gives his daughter a bouquet which symbolizes knowledge.  Next to Eleanore is her husband Hector.  The persimmon in his hand symbolizes that his young wife is pregnant.  Behind Hector is his widowed mother.  In a few years she and Sala will wed.  To the right, the elderly figure of Time and Clio, the muse of history, are attacked by a young man.

The final panel is "The Triumph of Eternity".  It shows the Virgin Mary being crowned by angels.

Hopefully the museum will reopen soon, and I will be able to show you more of its treasures.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fudge Time

 Although this is going to be far from a typical Christmas, there are some traditions that must continue.  One of them is making home-made fudge.  I have been doing it for years... maybe decades.  Although I haven't made as much this year as I normally make, I still did six pans.

The fudge itself is quite easy to make.  Probably the most time-consuming part is to cut it into squares after it has cooled, and pack it into gift boxes lined with wax paper.  So far I have delivered four of the six boxes.  In this era of social distancing, it has simply been a matter of ringing the doorbell, handing them the box of fudge, wishing them a "Merry Christmas", and then be on my way.

When I delivered the chocolate goodies along with another present to my cousin Gail, she had a gift bag for me.  It was filled with cookies and chocolates imported from Germany.

I rarely have sweets in the house, but when I do I tend to be a piggy.  I doubt that these are going to make it to Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Red Alert

As of today Mexico City and the State of Mexico (which partially surrounds the city and which includes much of the city's metropolitan area) have gone to the highest level of alert on the country's COVID scale.  Mexico City had previously been on Orange Alert.  

The head of Mexico City's government (a position which is actually more like a governor than a mayor) is Claudia Sheinbaum.  She is no dummy.  She has a PhD in energy engineering and shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for her work on an international panel on climate change.  She herself tested positive for COVID in October although she was asymptomatic.  However she has been in the delicate situation of effectively dealing with the health crisis but not angering President López Obrador who has been skeptical of the virus and wants the Mexican economy to remain open.  She has tiptoed around the President... she has called the situation an emergency, expanded testing, increased hospital capacity, ordered all bars to shut down and restaurants and stores to close at 5 P.M.... without declaring a Red Alert.

But yesterday she and the governor of the State of Mexico held a press conference in which they declared that their two jurisdictions would be under Red Alert until at least January 10th.  That means that all non-essential businesses would be closed and people are urged to stay at home.  They called on residents to cancel all holiday parties and gatherings, but it will be interesting to how many people comply.  As in the United States, there are many Mexicans who are not taking precautions, in part because their beloved President has not taken the pandemic seriously.

According to official statistics there are 34,000 active cases in the city, although the true figure is probably much higher.  The official death toll for Mexico City is over 19,000.  Hospitals are at 75% capacity, and there are more than 1,100 patients on ventilators.  Many of the ill are at home, and there are long lines for oxygen tanks.




Friday, December 18, 2020

More Snow

 The heavy snow from the 1st of December had melted, but the last two mornings I have awakened to a snowy scene once again.

Fortunately it was just an inch or two, and not the heavy, wet, damaging snow that we had at the beginning of the month.  (If you are very observant, you will notice that the branch of my maple tree that was bent to the ground in the last storm is gone.  The branch had partially snapped.  Earlier this week a tree company came out and cut it off.)  This snow did not even stick to the pavement, so I did not have to use the snow blower. Although there is more snow in the forecast for the next several days, I doubt that it will accumulate much more.  The high temperature each day is supposed to be above freezing.

This snow was the fringe of the snow storm that hit the northeastern portion of the United State.  Thank goodness we did not get the three feet of snow that some parts of New England received! 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Hope at the End of the Tunnel

(Image taken from the web)

Thank goodness for the highly effective vaccines from Pfizer, which is already being administered, and from Moderna, which is soon to be approved.  One of the worst aspects of this pandemic has been not having any idea when we could begin to return to a normal life.  In fact, if it were not for the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" this winter would be more terrifying and depressing than the previous nine months.  The daily numbers of new cases and deaths this month have been unprecedented, and the virus is sweeping through every state of the union.  In the previous months, the virus was simply something I read about in the news.  Now people are telling me about folks that they personally know that are infected or who have died.  Now a couple of people that are dear to me are infected.   We now have surpassed the number of U.S. combat deaths inflicted in the entirety of World War II.  Yesterday's death toll surpassed the number of deaths from Pearl Harbor, or from 9-11.  Yet there are still idiots (and, believe me, I am tempted to use a much stronger word) who believe that this pandemic is a hoax, or that it is an infringement upon their liberty to wear masks or to practice social distancing.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that as a senior citizen I will be able to receive my two doses of vaccine by February and March, and that I will finally be able to return to Mexico in April.  Alejandro gave me pause for concern when he said that just because the vaccine would keep me from becoming ill, it doesn't mean that I cannot spread the virus to others.  I certainly would not want to be a "Typhoid Mary".  I did read an article that said that it was not known if the vaccines then being developed provide "sterilizing immunity', that is, that they not only protect the vaccinated person, but also kill the virus.  However, I asked the pharmacist, when I got my shingles shot, and then my doctor, when I went in for my annual checkup last week.  Both said that it would be unlikely that I could spread the disease after I am vaccinated.  A friend also told me that he read about a study which showed that vaccinated people exposed to the virus were expelling dead virus.

In Mexico, people have no idea when a vaccine will be available.  Obviously if Alejandro and his family have not been immunized yet, he and I will not be able to do the things we usually do when I visit... going out to restaurants and sightseeing.  But I will be satisfied if I can just finally return to Mexico and see my "Mexican family".


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

More from the Middle Ages

Fortunately, I took lots of photos when I last visited Cleveland Museum of Art in November just before the museum was closed again due to the pandemic.  I still have enough pictures from the galleries of medieval art to publish a couple more entries.

One gallery contains religious art from medieval Italy.  It is interesting to note that as Italy progresses toward the Renaissance, the artists are no longer working anonymously, creating their works simply for the glory of God.  Now their names are known to us centuries later.

This altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with Saints dates from around 1320.  It probably came from a Franciscan church since the artist, Ugolino de Neri di Siena, made his career painting for Franciscan communities.

This cross is from Venice in the late 13th century.  It is made from pieces of rock crystal that have been drilled through the center and connected with gold rods.  Venice at that time was an important center for the cutting of rock crystal.

This painting, done on a wood panel with tempera paint and gold,  juxtaposes the Madonna and Child with the Temptation of Eve at the bottom.  It was painted around 1400 in central Italy by Olivuccio de Ciccarello.

This sculpture of the Madonna and Child flanked by St. Catherine and John the Baptist is carved from alabaster and still has some traces of paint and gilding.  It was done by Giovanni de Agostino in 1340.

This Madonna and Child was painted around 1405 by Spinello Aretino.  The artist shows the influence of the famous painter Giotto, a precursor of the Renaissance.

Moving to another gallery, we come to this stained glass window from 15th century France.  The window portrays St. Catherine and a kneeling cleric.

This window comes from late 14th century England.  An angel collects the blood of the crucified Jesus in a chalice.  The grapevine reinforces the concept of the Eucharistic wine as the blood of Christ.

This 15th century alabaster panel comes from an altarpiece from Nottingham, England.

Moving on to objects from medieval Spain, we come to this large, decorative bowl of glazed earthenware from 15th century Valencia.

This wooden crucifix dates from the late 1300s and comes from Navarre, Spain.  It would have been suspended over an altar.

Dating back to around 1300, this walnut panel comes from a choir stall in the Convent of Pedralbes in Catalonia, Spain.

This painting of a Bishop Saint (perhaps St. Louis of Toulouse) is also from Catalonia at around the same time.  Notice the tiny figure dressed in black at the bottom.  It is a portrait of the donor who paid for the painting.

This painting of The Birth and Naming of John the Baptist was commissioned by Queen Isabella of Spain in the late 1400s.  It was painted by Juan de Flandés, a Flemish painter who was active in Spain.  It once hung in the Carthusian monastery of Miraflores outside of Burgos, where Isabella's parents are buried.  (I visited that monastery some years ago on one of my trips to Spain.)

Finally, this Book of Hours, a book of devotional readings, belonged to Queen Isabella.  It's amazing to think that this was held in the hands of that famous monarch.  Beautifully illuminated, it was created by Flemish manuscript painters around 1500 as the Renaissance is about to dawn upon Europe.

Still to come... German and Austrian medieval art and French tapestries from the early 1500s.