city at night

city at night

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Another Trip Comes to an End

 


After almost two months here in Mexico City, tomorrow I will fly back to Ohio.  The time has flown by, and yet, when I look at my old posts from January, I think, "Oh, yeah, that was on this trip."  I will not be gone long.  I already have my flight reservation to return in early April.  I will be back down here for Easter and for Alejandro's birthday.

This time I am returning home as a married man.  The simple wedding was a milestone in my life, but only the first step in the changes that I hope to make this year.  The owner of the condo I rent will be retiring in March, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be able to purchase it in a timely manner.  Then comes the even more daunting task of selling my house in Ohio.  The real estate market back home is no longer hot as it was before.  I hope it does not take forever to sell it.  Then comes the permanent move to Mexico.  

I hope that well before the end of the year I will be changing the name of this blog from "Travels of a Retired Teacher" to "A Retired Teacher in Mexico City".      

Monday, February 27, 2023

A Family Gathering

I have mentioned on previous trips Alejandro's Aunt Araceli and Uncle Salvador.  One of their grandchildren, Eric, lives in Guadalajara with his wife and children.  This weekend they were back in Mexico City for a visit, so that, of course, called for a family gathering.  The group included not just Araceli and Salvador's family, but the in-laws from Eric's wife's family.  So, I did not know half of the group.  Even Alejandro didn't know many of them.


The setting for our get together was Cuemanco Park which is in Xochimilco on the south side of the city.  


With more than 1000 people in the park enjoying a Sunday afternoon outing, it could hardly be called an idyllic location.  However, it is a nice place for family gatherings.  A spot had been reserved for us.  A canopy, tables and chairs were provided. 



In addition to the pop, beer and snacks which everyone brought, Eric had ordered "tacos de canasta" (basket tacos).



"Tacos de canasta" have that name because they are transported and sold from baskets.  They are tightly packed into the basket to keep them warm.  It is amazing how many tacos are in one medium-sized basket, up to 150.  There were enough to feed us all, and each of us probably had at least four tacos.


The fillings for the "tacos de canasta" were the traditional frijoles, potato, "chicharrón" (pork rind) and "adobo" (a kind of sauce).  The tacos are bathed in oil, so they are very greasy... but very tasty.  I've always considered the "tacos de canasta" that are sold on the street, to be a good way to get "Montezuma's revenge", but (fingers crossed) I have not had any ill-effects.

At these large social gatherings, I always feel a bit like a wallflower.  My mind can't keep up with all the rapid-fire conversations going on in Spanish all around me, and I feel ashamed that I can't remember the names of all of Alejandro's relatives.  Nevertheless, it was a pleasant afternoon.  And hopefully, someday I will be able to keep track of the names of all the members of Alejandro's large family.  

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Jaguar

Let's continue the theme from the last couple of posts, and talk about another animal, the king of the Mexican jungle, the jaguar.  At the entrance to Chapultepec there is currently a photographic exhibit dealing with that beautiful but threatened animal.


The threats to the jaguar are loss of habitat, fragmentation of habitat, poaching and illegal killing by ranchers in retaliation for attacks on their livestock. 



As you can see on the map, the historic range of the jaguar extended from the southwestern United States to Argentina.  Today, the jaguar's habitat has been cut by 50%.  The greatest concentration of jaguars in Mexico is in the Mayan Forest.



The Mayan Forest which encompasses parts of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, is the largest tropical rainforest in Mesoamerica.





However, every year unplanned expansion of agricultural lands using slash and burn methods cuts into the Mayan Forest.



A jaguar skin and a shotgun hang on the fence of a ranch in the Mayan Forest.



It is not unusual for a stuffed jaguar to decorate the homes of "ranchos" in the Mayan Forest.



A park ranger is responsible for monitoring large mammals, including jaguars.




A biologist records in his field log the discovery of jaguar tracks.




In pre-Hispanic times the natives held the jaguar in high esteem as a symbol of power.  This mural from the ruins of Cacaxtla in the state of Tlaxcala dates from around A.D. 700 and portrays a man wearing a jaguar headdress.


 
From the Nazca civilization of Peru (7th century A.D.), a piece of fabric portrays a jaguar.




The jaguar continues to be a part of the culture of Mexico today.  This jaguar mask was made in the 19th century.  It has been passed down from generation to generation and is still used in festivities in Oaxaca.



In the state of Guerrero, villagers dress in jaguar costumes for a ritual wrestling match.



In Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero, a man in a jaguar costume emerges from a parish church to participate in a parade.



Some photos of this beautiful animal in the wild...







Saturday, February 25, 2023

Munching on Bamboo

The last few times that I have been to the zoo in Chapultepec Park, the zoo's giant pandas have not been out for visitors to see.  Last Thursday, however, one of them was in its compound.  It was not really cooperating with the visitors who wanted to take photos.  Most of the time it had its back to us while hungrily munching on bamboo.  Occasionally we got a glimpse in profile.



 

Chapultepec has a long tradition of being the most successful zoo outside of China in breeding giant pandas.  


It all started in 1975 when China gave Mexico a pair of pandas, Pe Pe and Ying Ying.  Their first offspring, born in 1980, died after only eight days when the mother rolled over on the infant.  But the following year, Ying Ying gave birth to a female panda that was to be the first panda to survive to adulthood in captivity outside of China.  The birth was international news, and Mexico went "panda crazy".  A contest was held to name the panda, and the winning entry was "Tohui", which in the language of the Tarahuamara tribe means "child".  There was even a hit song, "El Pequeño Panda de Chapultepec" recorded by the Mexican singer Yuri.  (I actually found a music video of it HERE on YouTube.) 

A male panda was brought from London Zoo to mate with Tohui, and in 1990 they gave birth to a daughter, Xin Xin.  Pe Pe and Ying Ying had five more babies, three of which lived to adulthood.  One of them, the male Shaun Shaun is still alive, as is Xin Xin.  I don't know which one I saw munching on bamboo.

If you would like to practice your Spanish, here are the lyrics from that hit song inspired by Tohui...

Pequeño panda, aún no andas
Y ya queremos verte jugar
Con tu mamita que está orgullosa
Porque naciste en nuestra ciudad

En nuestro bosque maravilloso
Donde yo gozo y soy muy feliz
Viendo a los niños y mucha gente
Que van de fiesta a Chapultepec
Pequeño panda, no te imaginas
Lo que hay de cosas en este lugar
Tenemos juegos, árboles, flores
Y animalitos que viven en paz
Pequeño panda en Chapultepec
Todos queremos verte crecer
Y saludarte, también desearte
Seas muy dichoso con tus papitos
Pequeño panda en Chapultepec
(¡Un, dos, tres, cuatro!)
Pequeño panda, aún no andas
Y ya queremos verte jugar
Con tu mamita que está orgullosa
Porque naciste en nuestra ciudad
En nuestro bosque maravilloso
Donde yo gozo y soy muy feliz
Viendo a los niños y mucha gente
Que van de fiesta a Chapultepec
Pequeño panda, no te imaginas
Lo que hay de cosas en este lugar
Tenemos juegos, árboles, flores
Y animalitos que viven en paz
Pequeño panda en Chapultepec
Todos queremos verte crecer
Y saludarte, también desearte
Seas muy dichoso con tus papitos
Pequeño panda en Chapultepec
(¡Un, dos!)
(¡Un, dos!)

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Amazing Axolotl



The lake in the first section of Chapultepec Park

Last weekend Alejandro and I went to the zoo in Chapultepec Park to see the new museum of the axolotl.  However, there was a long, long line awaiting to enter, and Alejandro did not want to wait.  So, on Thursday, I returned to Chapultepec by myself, and there was no line at all to enter the museum.


So. what is an axolotl? ("ajolotl" in Spanish)


As shown in this mural at the entrance to the building, the axolotl is an aquatic animal in the salamander family.  But unlike other amphibians, it does not metamorphosize into a land animal (such as a tadpole which changes into a frog).  It is characterized by external gills behind the head.  I did not realize until visiting this museum that there is more than one species of axolotl. 


The Toluca axolotl (ambystoma granulosum) lives in a small area on the outskirts of the city of Toluca. It is one species of axolotl that does metamorphosize into a salamanderIn fact, this fellow in the aquarium has made the transition and has lost its external gills.



The Pátzcuaro axolotl (ambystoma dumerilii) lives in Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán.  This species remains aquatic with gills its entire life.


The best-known species is the Xochimilco axolotl (ambystoma mexicanum).  Its habitat was the system of lakes which once covered most of the Valley of Mexico where Mexico City stands today.  As the city grew, and the lakes were drained, all that remains of its habitat are the canals in the district of Xochimilco on the south side of the city.  Even that area is becoming degraded because of pollution and the introduction of tilapia.  Tilapia was brought in as a fish crop, but it eats axolotl and has become invasive.  The axolotl of Xochimilco is an endangered species in the wild, and it is estimated that only between 50 and 1000 of the creatures remain in the canals.  In the wild, the Xochimilco axolotl is a dark brown color, but when raised in captivity they display a variety of colors.






 
Upstairs there is a laboratory for the propagation of axolotls.  You can see tanks full of eggs, newly hatched axolotls, and adults.






 Although it is an endangered species in the wild, there is no lack of axolotls in captivity.  The animal is widely studied by scientists for its amazing regenerative properties.  If an axolotl loses a leg or tail, or even if part of its spine, heart or brain is injured, within eight hours it forms a little bag of mother cells, and within a few days the missing member or injured organ is completely regenerated.

WARNING!  Do not stare into the eyes of an axolotl for a prolonged period of time!

The first time I ever heard of this strange animal was when I was in graduate school and read the short story "Axolotl" by the 20th century, Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar.  In this fantastical story that is like an episode from "The Twilight Zone", the protagonist is fascinated with the axolotl and spends hours at the zoo staring at the animal.  At the end of the story he realizes that he has been transformed in an axolotl and is in the aquarium staring at the human form that was once he.
 



A Taste from the Past

On Wednesday after visiting the exhibit at the "Frontón México", I walked the 3.7 miles back to my apartment.  As I headed down Insurgentes Avenue I remembered a tiny restaurant I used to frequent back when I rented an Airbnb apartment in the neighborhood of Condesa.  I had not been there in years, and I wondered if it was still there.

I turned off of Insurgentes onto Tabasco Street, and there it was... Fonda Xnic.


The place consists of nothing more than a hole-in-the-wall kitchen and four tables on the sidewalk.  They serve basically one thing... "cochinita pibil", Yucatán's version of pulled pork.  The menu is about the same as it was before.


Other than a couple of soups and desserts, they have "cochinita" tacos, "tortas de cochinita" (sandwich on a crusty roll) and "panuchos de cochinita" ("cochinita" on a crisp, fried tortilla).  They now offer beer which they did not have before.

I ordered what I always used to order... package #1... which includes soup (I had bean soup), a "torta", two tacos and an "agua fresca"* (I had "jamaica" with peppermint.)




It was and still is a nice lunch.  With inflation the price has gone up from 110 pesos to 130 pesos... about seven dollars.  

* "Agua fresca" is water flavored usually with fruit and sugar.  "Jamaica", one of the most popular "aguas" is a tea made from hibiscus flowers, sugar and lime juice and served cold. 


Thursday, February 23, 2023

Surreal, Geometric, Colorful

Those three words... surreal, geometric and colorful... describe the art of Okuda San Miguel which is currently on display at the "Frontón" México in Mexico City.


I had never heard of Okuda San Miguel, and I had to do a little research.  He is a Spanish painter and sculptor and is considered one of the leading contemporary artists in Spain.  The exhibit, called "Metamorfosis", is the largest that he has presented, and everything was created on site in the "Frontón México".

The "Frontón México" is an art deco building built in the 1920s as a sports facility for jai alai games.  During its heyday, it attracted the cream of Mexico City society as well as international celebrities (Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, to name a couple) who came to watch and bet enormous sums on the jai alai matches. The "frontón" closed its doors in 1996 after the workers went on strike.

After years of neglect, the building was restored, and its doors were opened again in 2017.  Not only does it host jai alai games once again, but it also houses a casino and spaces for exhibits, concerts and private events.

Currently, the building is covered with murals that give you an idea of what Okuda San Miguel's art is like.  (I am not sure if these murals are permanent or not.)







Before you enter the exhibition hall, you are given slippers to put over your shoes.  This is to protect the floor which is painted with Okuda's designs.


There are no titles or explanations for the pieces on display.  Even though I am not generally a fan of contemporary art, I found it all to be quite interesting albeit bizarre.





















There was a large, mirrored kaleidoscope into which you could enter.


 



Finally, there is an enormous skull which is actually a house, with a kitchen and living area downstairs and a bedroom upstairs.




The exhibit runs through March 11th.