Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A Polish Salad

My mother would occasionally make a cold side dish of sliced cucumber in sour cream seasoned with dill.  It is commonly served throughout central and eastern Europe.  My cousin Brigitta says that it is typical of Switzerland too, so maybe my mother learned the recipe from her Swiss grandmother.  

I usually have a big salad for dinner once a week.  I include half of a sliced cucumber in it.  Later in the week I will use the remaining half to prepare something similar to what my mother used to make... although if I don't have sour cream, I will use mayonnaise.  On my most recent trip to Mexico, I made it for Alejandro and his family.  The adults all liked it, although Alejandro's little nephew Ezra did not care for it much.

Today I am invited for lunch at the home of Katie, a friend and former teaching colleague.  I told her I would bring a "tortilla española" (an egg, onion and potato dish from Spain which is similar to the Italian "frittata").  I also decided to make cucumber in sour cream.  I found a Polish recipe for the dish in one of my cook books.  One thing that is different from what I was doing (and I don't remember my mother doing it either) is that the sliced cucumber should be salted and put in a colander.  It is allowed to sit for a half hour so that the excess water in the cucumber drains.  Then it should be rinsed and patted dry.  The recipe calls for a bit of vinegar and sugar in the dressing in addition to the sour cream (or mayonnaise) and dill weed that I use.  It has been sitting in the refrigerator over night allowing the flavors to meld together.  We will see this afternoon what Katie, her husband Olivier, and her children think of it. 


Monday, June 28, 2021

Christmas Shopping

 At the beginning of this month I wrote that I had completed the painting that I do each year for my Christmas card and that it is at the printer's.  Now I can say that the bulk of my Christmas shopping is completed.  I purchased some gifts on my last trip to Mexico, and I will buy some more when I return in August.  However, the item which I give each year to friends and relatives (including my European cousins) arrived a few days ago via UPS.

Every year I go to the on-line company Shutterfly and create a calendar using photos from my travels.  In 2020, of course, I did no traveling, so I picked out photos I had taken of my hometown of  Cleveland, Ohio, for the 2021 calendar.

This year, although I have resumed my trips to Mexico, I have not done much sightseeing.  So for the 2022 calendar I picked a theme, went to my photo files on the computer, and selected pictures from different parts of the world.

After completing my project on Shutterfly, the calendars were sent to me in just a few days.  What is the theme of the new calendar?  Well, just like the painting that I do for my Christmas card, that is top secret until Christmas.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Work Continues

I have written about the project that is being done in my front yard.  The work is going slowly.  I suspect that the landscaping company overextended themselves by taking on too many jobs, and our rainy weather has not helped with their schedule.  No one was here all week until Friday morning when the Mexican workers arrived.  However they had to cut their work day short when it started to rain in the afternoon.  On Saturday, Raymundo, the skilled craftsman of the group, returned by himself to complete the faux stone border.

I use to have an oak tree in front of the house, with an area of pachysandra as ground cover around it.  A few years ago I lost the tree.  Rather than planting a new tree I put in a few bushes.  The landscape timbers which surrounded the area were rotting, so I had them replace the timbers with the same kind of border that they put across the front of the house.

Although I will leave much of the pachysandra in place, I am thinking about planting some perennial flowers or some more bushes in the area, but that will probably not happen until next year.

Raymundo has a few finishing touches to do, but then they will prepare the ground and put in the new front lawn.  I hope that the project will be complete long before I leave for Mexico in August.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

A Stack of Books

My friend and former teaching colleague Carol came over and we went out for lunch.  When we see each other we have got into the habit of exchanging books that we have read.  I have been trying to clear out some of my collection.  I gave her a stack that included two classics of 20th century South American literature in English translation, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez and "The House of Spirits" by Isabel Allende; an American classic, "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck; and a thick historical novel which I finished on my last trip to Mexico, "Roma" by Stephen Saylor.  She brought me five books that she had read.

I was especially pleased to see Ken Follet's recent book "The Evening and the Morning" among them.  I enjoy Follet's historical novels.  This one is a prequel to his successful "Pillars of the Earth" which takes place in medieval England.

I am not familiar with the author Kristin Hannah.  Her historical novel "The Four Winds" takes place during the Great Depression.

"American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins is novel about a Mexican family forced to make the perilous journey to cross the border to the U.S.  It has stirred a controversy in which some say it is a case of cultural appropriation, that it is story that should be written by a Latino, not a white "gringa".  I will wait until I read it before passing judgement, but it seems to me that an author should be free to write outside his/her own cultural experience.

There are three non-fiction books among them.  "The Lost City of the Monkey God" by Douglas Preston details an expedition to find the ruins of a pre-Hispanic city hidden in the rainforest of Honduras.  "The Seine" by Elain Sciolino takes us on a journey along the rive that flows through the heart of Paris.  And finally, "The Girl Explorers" by Jayne Zanglein is about the exploits of female explorers and globetrotters whose stories are, in many cases, untold.

Carol has a knack for picking out good books.  Even the ones that I probably would not have selected for myself have proven to be enjoyable.  I still have some books from my last trip to the bookstore, so I now have a large selection for my bedtime reading and for my next trip to Mexico.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Decorative Arts

On my visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the last gallery that I visited was devoted to decorative arts from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  These luxury items would have adorned the homes of the wealthy.  Some of the companies are still in existence.

Here are a few of the items in the gallery...

A ruby glass vase from Bohemia dating from around 1850

A covered urn in jasperware from around 1890 by Josiah Wedgewood and Sons of England

A vase from around 1860 from the Sevres Porcelain Factory of France

Also from the Sevres Porcelain Factory is this large vase which was exhibited at the Paris World's Fair in 1855.

A cup and saucer of Sevres porcelain made in 1827

A lily of the valley comb designed around 1900 by Frenchman René Lalique

A vase decorated with frogs and lily pads also designed by Lalique from around 1910

A Lalique carafe from 1917 decorated with mermaids

A porcelain vase from 1903 from Limoges, France

A cut glass and silver claret jug from Tiffany & Co,, around 1880

An English earthenware plate from around 1900

A vase from 1873 manufactured by the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company, England

A French mahogany cabinet in Art Nouveau style from about 1910

A cabinet from about 1895 designed by the Italian Carlo Bugatti
(His son was the founder of the Bugatti Automobile Co,)

A French ice cream pail from about 1840
In the early 19th century, ice cream was a luxury dessert and was served at the table in elegant pails such as this.  The ice cream was kept in containers within the pail, and the wall of the lid was packed with ice to keep the pail cold.

Monday, June 21, 2021

A New Contraption

 Way back in the 1970s my father had aluminum siding put on the house.  For a number of summers afterwards he would literally wash the entire house with Spic n' Span and then wax it with car wax.  Eventually that became too much work for him, and I would just rinse dirt off the siding with the garden hose.  You may remember that last summer I had new vinyl siding put on the house.  I was not about to go through the laborious cleaning that my dad used to do, but I went out and bought a power washer.

Yesterday, we had a respite from the rain, so I decided to see how my new contraption worked.  I am not very mechanical, so, carefully following the owner's manual, I put the thing together.  There are three nozzles which each have a different level of pressure.  The nozzle with the lowest pressure was recommended for siding.  I put that on, put the special soap in the receptacle, and began washing one side of the house.  It was not doing any better than if I were cleaning it with the hose.  So after I had used up the soap in the receptacle, I put on the middle nozzle, which the directions said was OK to use for siding.  That definitely was doing a better job, even without the soap.  I continued around to the back of the house washing the siding until I came to the cement patio.  That nozzle can also be used to clean cement so I decided to try it out on the patio.  I was amazed by how filthy the cement was.

I decided that before continuing to clean the house, I should do the patio.  I almost finished with that when the first drops of another rain shower started.  I scurried to disconnect the power washer from the electric outlet and the hose and to get it into the garage.  By the time I was rolling up the garden hose unto the reel it was raining in earnest and I got soaked.

This morning we had another torrential rain, but we are supposed to have several dry days later this week.  I will have to continue work with my new contraption. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Snowy Volcanoes

I frequently post pictures from the Mexican webcam website, particularly those of the volcano Popocatépetl.  You are probably tired of seeing them, but I could not resist this one from the city of Puebla.  Puebla is on the other side of the mountains from Mexico City, about two hours away.  The view of the two volcanoes, Popocatépetl to the left and Iztaccíhuatl to the right, was exceptionally clear this morning.  You can see that both peaks have snow on top.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Romanticism and Realism

Continuing our tour of the Cleveland Museum of Art, we come to 19th century Europe.  Besides Impressionism, which has a gallery of its own, there were two movements of art which arose in that century... Romanticism and Realism.

Romanticism was a reaction to the orderly and restrained Neoclassicism of the 1700s.  It was emotional, moody, and imaginative.  It dealt with exotic and even supernatural themes or the wildness of nature.  Realism dealt with people and settings from real life, and did not idealize its themes.  As I viewed the paintings I found it at times difficult to classify an artist as belonging to one school of art or another.  Some seemed to have characteristics of both movements, and there were some artists whose work evolved over the years.

Here are a few of the paintings in the museum's collection...

"View of the Gulf of Pozzuoli" 1803
by Philipp Hackert

The exotic vistas of Italy appealed to many romantic painters, including Hackert, a leading German landscape painter.

"La Cervera, the Roman Campagna" 1830
by Camille Corot

Another painter who was attracted to Italy was the Frenchman Corot.  He lived for several years in Rome and painted landscapes of the countryside around the city.  Corot however also used Neoclassical principals in his work (although I have to admit I don't see much difference in the styles of these two paintings by Hackert and Corot).

"Portrait of Mlle. Alexandrine-Julie de la Boutraye" about 1832
by Eugene Delacroix

Delacroix was the leader of the French Romantic School.

"Ruin by the Sea" 1881
by Arnold Bocklin

This Swiss painter came much after the height of the Romantic movement, but his ominous, dreamlike images are strongly influenced by the German Romantics of the first half of the century.

"The Young Eastern Woman" 1838
by Friedrich Amerling

Although the model is clearly European, her Turkish attire reflects the Romantic fascination of the exotic.  The Austrian painter went on to become the court painter in Vienna.

"The Eunuch's Dream" 1874
by Jean Lecomte du Nouy

This French painter is classified as a member of the Realist School.  Although this work is done with painstaking, realistic detail, the theme of the Middle Eastern eunuch dreaming of a beautiful harem slave after smoking opium fits in with what one would expect from the Romantic School.

"Feige Waterfall" 1848
by Johan Christian Clausen Dahl

This Norwegian artist was considered one of the leading Romantic landscape painters.  The landscapes of his native country fostered a sense of national identity among the Norwegian people who, at that time, were still ruled by Sweden.

"Rest" 1879
by William Adolphe Bouguereau 

The French painter Bouguereau was in his day one of the world's most popular artists.  He is a member of the Realist School, although with its sweet sentimentality, and the depiction of Italian peasants, to my way of thinking there is a streak of Romanticism in it.

 "Madame LeRolle and Her Daughter Yvonne" 1880
by Albert Besnard

The French painter Besnard was a realist who portrayed his figures in the natural setting of the world in which they lived.  The subject was the wife of a fellow painter, Henry LeRolle.  She and her daughter are pictured in her husband's studio.

"Madame LeRolle" 1882
by Henri Fantin LaTour

Two years later, Fantin LaTour did a portrait, in a more formal pose, of the same woman.  LaTour was known for his portraits of Parisian artists and writers.

"Portrait of Marie-Yolande de Fitz-James" 1867
by Henri Fantin LaTour

Another portrait by Fantin LaTour.  Although he was friends with a number of Impressionists, he always maintained the traditional method of painting portraits inside his studio.

"Seaside" 1878
by Jacques-Joseph Tissot

This is one of a series by the French painter which represent the months of the year.  The beach in the background suggests a summer vacation by the sea.  Tissot lived several years in England, and the model was his British mistress.

"The Boatyard" 1875
by Jean Charles Cazin

This French painter was clearly a member of the Realist School at the beginning of his career.  This painting portrays the boatyard in his hometown of Boulogne.  Later Cazin became an Impressionist.

"The Farm at the Entrance to the Wood" between 1860 and 1880
by Rosa Bonheur

Bonheur was the most famous woman painter of the 19th century, and she was the first woman to receive the French Legion of Honor award.

"Portrait of Mrs. George Waugh" 1868
by William Holman Hunt

Hunt was the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters and poets who looked to 16th century Italy for their inspiration.

"The Pond at Ville-d'Avray" late 1860s
by Camille Corot

Earlier in this post I showed a landscape done by Corot in 1830.  Later in his career his landscapes took on a soft, hazy quality, in contrast to the sharp, precise images in his early works.  These later paintings had an influence on the next big school of art to emerge in the second half of the century... Impressionism.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Back Where They Belong

Last week on my most recent visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art, I passed through a gallery which I described on this blog last winter... a gallery of Flemish, French and Spanish Baroque paintings.  When I was teaching I would take my students to the museum as a part of a unit on Spanish art, and this gallery is where we would always begin.  However, in February two of the paintings which were always a part of our tour were missing.  The museum owns two very fine examples of the work of El Greco.  El Greco was actually born in Greece, and his real name was Doménikos Theotokópoulos.  However his most productive years as an artist were spent in Spain, and he is closely associated with the Spanish city of Toledo where he lived for 37 years until his death at the age of 72.

The two paintings had been a part of a pre-pandemic exposition in Paris and Chicago, and, when I was there earlier, they had not yet been returned to their usual place.  Instead they had a work by a lesser known Spanish-Flemish artist... a painter that I had never heard of, Juan van der Hamen y León.  (Since only around 4000 of the museum's collection of over 60,000 pieces are on permanent display, there was no problem in hanging something in their place.)  Well, El Greco has returned, and Juan van der Hamen is probably in storage again.  Here are the two El Greco paintings back in their usual spot.

 "Christ on the Cross", painted between 1600 and 1610

"The Holy Family with Mary Magdalene" from between 1590 and 1595

El Greco's style is very individualistic and cannot be pigeonholed in any particular school of art.  Although he was capable of very realistic paintings, most of his work is about conveying a sense of spirituality rather than reality.  His art mystified viewers of the era, and was met with contempt by many critics.  It was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that El Greco came to be regarded as a great artist.

The two paintings in the museum are good examples of his style.  The dramatic, swirling skies, the elongated figures, and the acidic colors are all traits of his work.

As we move out of the pandemic, and schools are once again able to take field trips to the museum, the two El Grecos will be there for students to view.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

More Flowers

 Here are some more flowers that are currently blooming in my garden...

Some of the astilbe are have started to bloom.  I have quite a few of them.  They like shady, moist areas (perfect for many parts of my garden), and they are deer resistant.  One less plant that I have to spray with repellant!

The Mexican primrose are now in full bloom.

In one of my large flower pots I planted a hibiscus this year.

I planted two different colors of miniature dahlias in the flower box... plain yellow, and this bicolored variety which I really like.

I have several Oriental lilies planted in the flower beds.  Sadly, it is always a race to spray them with repellent once the buds form, because they are a favorite of the deer.  They only flower once, and if the deer eat the buds, there will be no flowers on the plant that year. 


Monday, June 14, 2021

Medieval Treasures

When I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art last Wednesday, there was another small, special exhibition.  On display were several precious objects dating from the 11th through the 16th centuries on loan from the Cathedral of St. Paul in Munster, Germany.

The oldest object is this gold "head reliquary" which dates from around 1050.  It supposedly contains fragments of the skull of St. Paul.  The gemstones and gilt silver filigree were added in the 13th century.

The second oldest object is this reliquary cross which which is from about 1100.  It supposedly contains pieces of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.  It is decorated with 14 gemstones and 50 pearls.  It was not uncommon in the Middle Ages to incorporate precious objects from  earlier non-Christian cultures.  One of the gems is an engraved, ancient Roman stone, and the rock crystal base comes from 9th or 10th century Egypt. 

This image of the Virgin and Child dates from around 1400.  The ivory was imported from Africa, and the canopy is of silver.

This object from around 1380 was originally a secular piece.  It was a costly drinking cup probably owned by a nobleman or high-ranking clergyman.  It is made of silver and has an ivory carving of nine historical and legendary heroes such as King David, Alexander the Great and King Arthur.  It was later given to the Church and was used as a reliquary. 

This gilded silver statuette of St. Agnes contains relics of the saint.  It dates from around 1520.

This gilded silver bust from around 1380 depicts Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher whose writing were highly respected by Christian theologians.  At the center of his chest is a piece of rock crystal which serves as a window to view supposed relics of Saints Walpurga and Vincent.

Another partially gilded silver bust from the same era depicts the Old Testament prophet Hosea.  It is one of fourteen busts which decorated the Cathedral's high altar until 1534 when it was destroyed during a rebellion by the Anabaptists, a radical Protestant group.  The busts survived the rebellion, and once again adorn the altar in Munster's Cathedral.