Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

Yeghes Da!

Cheers and good health to all! We have completed our British Isles cruise and I thought a Cornish toast would be a good way to head this latest post. What follows is by no means a comprehensive travelogue of our trip, but it does capture some of the sights and insights along the way.

First port of call: Guernsey/St. Peter’s Port. We took a tender (red boat in lower right hand corner) from our ship into town.

 

The public seating outside the visitor’s center quickly became occupied as there was free wifi. Many people came ashore just for that amenity.

 

Our choice of outing was Candie Gardens – a lovely green space with a small but impressive museum. We saw displays explaining island traditions and superstitions and a section of Victor Hugo paintings and sketches. (Hugo exiled on Guernsey and while there did little writing but pursued visual arts, often incorporating his name and/or monogram into the work. They say he regularly went down to the seaside and wrote his name on rocks and tossed them into the waves. He said it was an effort to become known by the island.) My favorite exhibit was the blown glass models.

 

Stunningly beautiful. Science meets art.

 

Came around the corner to spy this colorful piece.

 

Upon closer inspection I find out that it is an entirely hand sewn canvas.
And then it’s back to the quay to get a return tender… and to stand in line. I have indicated Bob’s spot as he saved my place so I could take this photo. Already, on day one, Bob is saying he is unhappy with all of the queuing up. (Later in the cruise he also put his foot down regarding outings where people fall asleep in public. Our options for travel are becoming more defined.)

 

We skipped port #2 – Cork. The ship docked in Cobh and there was quite a bit of travel to negotiate to get into town. The main attraction was Blarney Castle, which I know many enjoyed. Guess we were just not into the mood for blarney – in any form. However, we did make a day of it at port #3 – Dublin. We had a great walk into town and then did a bus tour to get an overview of this busy city.

 

Sign sighted in a storefront near the center of town.

 

Lots of murals, but this one was exceptional in that it was 3-D. Made of recycled materials.

 

And, of course, the ubiquitous shamrock-themed street lights. There were a variety of motifs along the route.

 

Final stop of our day in Dublin was the tasting at Jameson’s. (All bottling is now down in Cork, but the original distillery is where we had our tour.) We have a loquacious and very witty guide and it felt like a real theater performance. Great fun; learned some new things – which always makes for a successful day.

 

Our next port was Belfast. We did a morning walking tour in the city center. The theme was the “the troubles” and our guide was exceptional. A former history teacher and now a conflict mediator, he regaled us with facts and stories. The long and deep conflict is mind boggling. In the photo you can see the “peace wall” on the left, a 42 foot barrier constructed to separate Republic/Nationalist Catholics from Loyalist Unionist/Protestants.

 

In the afternoon we went on a private taxi tour of the street murals. I have a number of photos of them but am sharing the one that represented the range of people involved – men, women, adolescents.

 

We stopped at a lovely cathedral, site of some of the reconciliation talks. Inside there were incredible mosaics.

 

One of the buildings that has not been rehabilitated.

 

Bob’s contribution to the peace message.

 

And mine.

 

And, ending our Belfast day on a humorous note; located atop a bin in the park outside Belfast City Hall.

 

Next port: Greenock, Scotland; a lovely little town where we caught a train into Glasgow. We walked the town from end to end to get to the train station and along the way I noted this storefront. I wanted to stop and take a longer look but was concerned we would miss our train (which it turns out we would have), so vowed to get at least a photo upon our return. And I did. My sons always tease me about my attraction to sparkles. They have even been know to try to distract me when they see shining things coming into our vision. Guess it’s the magpie in me.

 

We took a bus tour and then stopped at the Gallery of Modern Art (though the building was clearly not modern and the exhibits were not what I would call Modern Art. In a country with such a long history it’s relative, I guess). We happened to arrive when there was an organ concert in the grand hall of the building. What a sound!

 

This eye-catching display was in one of the long galleries – done by a museum curator to highlight the space. The exhibit celebrating the 150th birthday of Glaswegian Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a highlight but photos were prohibited. Guess you had to be there.

 

Next up: Kirkwall. The cruise lines bills this as a visit to Orkney Islands, but in order to do that you have to book a special excursion. Instead it was just a visit to town. Bob headed to the library where he found this unique sculpture.

 

And he was struck by the “handy” labeling of these rails. He is my partner in observation, sighting quirky things.

 

Our next day was to be at sea, but as we left port I caught my breath when I saw this phenomenon outside our windows. I have done some research and think it may be a circumhorizon arc, but I am happy to be corrected. I do know that it is NOT a rainbow according to the Atmospheric Optics.

 

On to Edinburgh. Of course there had to be a castle photo. As an aside: I have been reading Ken Follett’s Column of Fire, the third book in the Kingsbridge series. The first was Pillars of the Earth – a tremendous saga and a favorite of my book group chums. (You know who your are Sunrise Valley pals~) The juxtaposition of the actual place with events in the book was a nice serendipity. (Follett’s books are fiction, but heavily tied to historical facts.)

 

The street artist in the park by the Prince Street Gardens was sending bubbles afloat. In the background is the National Art Gallery.

 

Favorite piece of the National Gallery visit. The interpretive sign alongside this painting suggests that, based on the position of his hands and the intent gaze, the lad was trying to memorize a lesson. Such a beautiful child.

 

On to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, housed in a red sandstone neo-gothic palace. Architecturally breath-taking.

 

Stained glass windows celebrate famous Scottish royalty, clergy, and laypersons.

 

The Hall of Heroes and Heroines was made up largely of men, but the last photos put special emphasis on the contributions of women, particularly during wartime. Those bare feet ~

 

Final port: LeHavre. Many passengers chose to take the trip into Paris (2.5 hours each way) but since we are headed to France next we decided to walk the town.  Bob takes off down the street, intrigued by the what looks to be a unique Lego-type structure.

 

Not Legos but shipping containers. The people walking (lower right) give a sense of the size of this structure.

 

Excellent visit to MuMa. This time the building was definitely modern.

 

Intrigued by how they hung their pieces – brackets rather than wire. Wonder who patches the holes.

 

Sometimes the thing that catches your eye in a museum isn’t the art. This time it’s the interplay of architecture and the public. This was taken looking across a high gallery and into the restaurant.

 

Name of this building?? If you guessed The Volcano (Le Volcan by Oscar Niemeyer) you would have been correct.

 

This lovely space is actually a public library. Very popular space on a sunny Sunday.

 

And on to Paris we go. Looking forward to a bit more sunshine, fewer lines to navigate and as many baguettes and pastries as I can hold.

We’re Back!

It has been 17 years (Millennium change/Y2K remember that?) since our last visit…way too long for a city we enjoy. We have made up for lost time by hitting the streets and seeing what’s new and appreciating what we loved about our first encounter with London.

A city on the grow. Bob is convinced that there is an architectural challenge in progress: how different can you make it?

 

And of course there are always the classic structures to appreciate. This is HM Treasury, next to the entrance for the Churchill War Rooms.

 

Underground, in the War Rooms themselves, there was a wall that reported what was going on above ground. This is the weather report. So much for Doppler radar.  Overall, the museum visit was an excellent experience; so much great history, but the best part was the sense of place and purpose conveyed throughout the maze of rooms.

 

Our VRBO hosts recommended a local pub which we had to try out.

 

The featured cuisine – which did not disappoint. We passed on dessert. The pies, mushy peas and mashed potatoes were aplenty.

 

And who doesn’t love a joint that provides a condiment basket with three mustards?

 

I believe our favorite outing was a day at Tate Modern. We managed to walk over before the rain started. Had a lovely brunch at the museum restaurant and than spent 5 hours going through the galleries. The cable clamps in the foreground are on the Millennium Bridge. Our table at the restaurant was next to the windows (sixth floor) and we watched river traffic as we dined. I must admit, eating at an art gallery or museum does makes me feel grown up. Food isn’t always exceptional but the experience is.

 

The majority of the galleries are free, but we opted to purchase tickets for the Picasso 1932 exhibit. This is called his “wonder year” and the creative output was incredible. Though I am not a committed Picasso fan (he had issues…) I had to admire the depth and range and brilliance of his talent.

 

In addition to the art on the walls, I was enchanted by this budding artists siting about on the floors. This young lady was quite serious in her efforts and kept checking the painting in front of her as she went about her work.

 

In interesting contrast, one of the galleries held broadsides that were plastered about NYC by Guerrilla Girls. This was my favorite “food for thought” morsel.

 

Kadar Atilla created a model of the ancient Algerian city of Ghardaïa –  made entirely from couscous. This was part of an exhibit on making art from everyday objects. There were comments relating to this piece about the motivation the artist had to create a representation that would not last.

 

Another artist created a bed of boulders out of burlap bags. When we initially walked into he room we were reminded of Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe.

 

And then there was the wall of wool. The knitter in me had to fight hard to not touch.

 

Ski Jacket by Peter Doig: Detail of a painting on newsprint. The story underneath was about a children’s ski school on a Japanese mountain.

 

And how’s this for a twist on a “radio tower”. Using that literal concept, what might a cellular tower look like?

 

And this… A Summer’s Day by Bridget Riley. It is a literary reference to Shakespeare’s sonnet, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The colors are meant to create an optical shimmer. Lovely.

 

One more fiber object – a ruffled jacket woven of jute and steel. Obviously heavy to wear but beautiful to behold.

 

And just a few random sightings from our neighborhood:

I know the proper spelling in Britain is different than it is in the USA, but it still made me do a double take.

 

One of the murals outside the primary school just a few blocks from our flat.

 

Signs on the brick wall at the entrance to our building. Not sure what anti-climb paint is, but they sure put up a lot of notices about it.

 

Tomorrow it’s off to Notting Hill and the Portobello Market. Next day we leave for British Isles/Ireland/Scotland. Time to turn in our Oyster Cards, make sure we have no extra pounds in our pockets, and attach our luggage tags for the cruise. Cheerio, London! It has been wonderful.

Watch This Space!

A visual metaphor asking readers of this blog to be on the lookout for some upcoming posts. And, in the literal sense, an empty cupboard that will soon be filled by the people who will be renting our Reno home for the next 12 months.

Backstory: This adventure came about quite unexpectedly when we had a request from a visiting UNR professor to rent our Reno guest house for a year. There were some back and forth negotiations while she waited for her grant to come through but, by the time it did, the guest house was no longer available. We next worked with her to help her find a potential place to rent (considering price, nearness to the university, etc.) but no luck. At about this same time a series of life events brought reminders of how important it is to do the carpe diem thing, and we decided to offer her our home as a rental – if she and her family (husband and 2 children) were okay with they. They were. And that means Bob and I will be hitting the road August 1 for a year of vagabonding, adventuring, and immersing ourselves in a variety of locales.

We have converted my studio into a bedroom for the kiddos; done lots of researching, reading, list making and itinerary planning; culled through closets and cupboards to make our house renter ready; tied up local obligations and duties; and stowed away any remaining personal things we won’t be taking along on our journey.

 

We will stay in touch – through this blog, text and email.  We have suspended postal delivery, so please save those stamps!! NOTE: Beginning August 1 Facebook will not longer send out notices when a new blog entry is posted. (Part of the new Facebook policy regarding third party postings. This is what the 2016 election social media fallout has wrought, for better or worse…) Therefore, if you want to automatically receive notification of new posts you need to sign up for an email message. You can do it on this site using the button in the right-hand column. Just making sure you know of the changes…

As I work on final tasks I have been hearing Willie Nelson in my head; that endearing nasal twang of “On the Road Again”, and I am keeping in mind the following piece of inspiration:

 “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

Maya Angelou

A Weekend in the Basement

As I contemplated the heading for this post I started to wonder what readers would imagine it contained: a household cleaning task?  a recall of some sort of bizarre punishment?  an attempt at a horror story?  a retreat gone wrong?  All interesting guesses, but the fact is that I spent most of the last three days in the basement at Reno City Hall, working wardrobe duties for Bandaloop: a vertical dance company out of Oakland, CA, that was in town to kickoff Artown celebrations.

It was great fun even though the green room and sewing space presented a challenge. I set up my work space using a 1960’s vintage couch (looked very similar to the one in my Moorhead State University dorm lounge circa 1969) and a coffee table. My sewing machine was pretty low to the ground and that meant that getting to the foot pedal required me to sit in a modified easy seated yoga pose.  (Maybe that’s more plus than minus…) The overhead lights were low-level florescent tubes and I found myself using the flashlight app on my phone for detailed work. But the company – literally, the dance company – was a delight; easy to work with, appreciative, funny, inclusive.

The original wardrobe call indicated that I would be needed for light sewing repairs and then ironing and steaming of costumes to be worn for the main shows. That role expanded significantly, and I ended up doing some major construction: working on 6 out of 7 of the group’s costumes. One costume was entirely redone; 2 needed major overhauls and repairs; 2 needed new pieces made; 1 was just fitting and adjustments.

One of the more interesting tasks was creating bloomers out of a peasant dress.
The importance of those bloomers is evident from this photo of them being worn during a performance.  In addition, the pink dress on the top dancer is the one that was totally redone and new underleggings made.

 

My most unique request was to add a pair of suspenders to this pair of man’s Spanx. A first for me.

 

Fortunately, there were opportunities to go above ground and appreciate the amazing talents of this fabulous troupe.

 

 

 

Gives new meaning to the phrase, “All in a day’s work.”

 

 

 

The Allure of Fabrics and the Comfort of Friends


What better to do in the spring but take a trip back to the Heartland, in this case Nebraska and Missouri; and along with dear friends and fellow quilters, head out to see what delights the area has to offer? Our host and hostess had a full agenda of activities arranged for us: lunch and a walkabout in a revitalized and historically preserved section of downtown Omaha, car trips to local points of interest around Greenwood and Louisville, dinner at a nearby state park, shopping, and of course quilts, quilts, quilts.

We were fortunate to be in Lincoln in time to see the Ken Burns Exhibit at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum. This is the first time these quilts have been on display and the museum was delighted to have the opportunity to host them.

 

 

 

 


The docent who lead our tour made a great point of telling us how Ken Burns lived with the quilts on display. He has them hanging on walls and covering his bed.

 

In addition to the Ken Burns quilts there were two other galleries for us to enjoy. Singular Fascination had quilts that were based on the use of repetition, the idea being that each quilt was a reflection of a maker’s habits. Each of the quilts was amazing in their own right – so precise and artistically created. Two of my favorites are shown below.  The first is squares; the second triangles. And remember, each of these has been created by hand – piece by piece, row by row.

 

 

The final gallery was Eiko Okano’s Delectable World. Okano, a quilt artist from Japan, makes viewing quilts a delicious experience.

 

 

 

 

But just visiting the museum was only the beginning. In the afternoon we went on a behind the scenes tour and had the opportunity to learn about how the center does its care and conservation of quilts. Many of the objects we viewed do not go on display as they are too fragile to be hung or to be out of a controlled environment.

We got lucky, and our docent for the tour was the head of the preservation department. She started the tour by showing us the storage units. These racks of boxes are behind closed doors so that the temperature and humidity can be closely monitored. They also keep a close eye out for bugs.

 

One of the first quilts she showed us was this white on white wedding quilt, dating from the late 1700’s. The detailed stitching and stuffing of the shapes totally amazed us all. And the really interesting part is that the back looks identical to the front because the back and front were done simultaneously. The whole cloth fabric was hung vertically and quilters stood up and sewed on it. Boggles my mind.

 

This quilt will be part of an upcoming exhibit, War and Pieced. The fabrics are from 19th Century British military and dress uniforms and the quilts were done exclusively by men.

 

The stunning hand embroidery and lace shown on this photo and the one below was on the border of a Norwegian-made quilt. The background is silk. The tiny stitches that create the puckering effect are as small as pencil points.

 

 

The maker of the crazy quilt that is shown in the next three photos worked on the quilt top throughout much of her lifetime and the quilt never did get finished. Because of that, we were able to see the back side of her work and admire the way she did her piecing. From looking at it you would never guess that she was using a geometric pattern block as her base.

 

 

 

 

This quilt is a remarkable example of hand embroidery and quilt overlay stitching. The lighter brown/gold areas are actually metallic thread. We couldn’t use a flash (for obvious reasons) so while the colors are lovely they are not fully realized. Seen with direct light the overall effect is dazzling.

 

 

This quilt, from India, shows the influence of Chinese design and gives historical markers to the interplay of trade and commerce. The next photo shows what is thought to be the beginnings of paisley as a design motif.

 

 

And this beauty is a section of a full size quilt – cloth background with a quilting design made entirely of buttons. So heavy that it pretty much stays put in it’s storage space.

 

Yes, that outing to Lincoln was extraordinary, but now we were ready from some realtime quilting excitement. The next day we jumped into the car for a field trip to Hamilton, Missouri – home of the Missouri Star Quilt Company (MSQC).  This little town has been revitalized by MSQC and is pretty much a quilters paradise; some brochures even call it the Disneyland of Quilting. There are eleven quilt shops on the main street, each with an individual theme. It was hard to know where to start. But rest assured, we each came away with a bag (in some cases bags) full of good stuff.  I think I hear my sewing machine calling me…

 

 

 

 

Though not a quilt shop, I couldn’t resist throwing this one in for fun.

Post-Mexico Post – a Potpourri

Going through photos and recalling our Mexico adventure via the rear view mirror helped me realize that I had a mixed assortment of images that never made it into a blog post but were still ones that I would like to share. First off, a curiosity of museums: (BTW – there is no collective noun for a group of museums, but I figured “curiosity” would work).

Alhóndiga de Granaditas, a former grain storage building in Guanajuato Centro where the first battle for Mexican independence took place. The bullet damage to the facade is in sharp contrast to the fabulously curated interior.  The building has a large open courtyard and two floors of exhibits celebrating the heroes of the revolution and the cultural roots of Mexico. The hand-woven hat in the photo at the top of this post is in one of the displays.

 

One of the galleries featured family portraits and paintings. Love so much about this piece: the Primitive Style, the preponderance of religious iconography, the look of the Señor’s head laying atop the pillow, the chamber pot so casually included.

 

The large stairwells are filled with murals. This one, “Song of Guanajuato” by José Chávez Morado, represents the evolution of the city from the colonial period to contemporary days.

 

And while on the topic of museums, we did go Diego Rivera’s home. No photos allowed but that was okay as there were not many things that caught our attention. And why so little about Frieda? It was a good stop – but not great, frankly. On the other hand…

We really enjoyed the small modern art gallery that was just a few doors away from Diego Rivera.

 

When we were at the Museo de Arte e Historia in Leon we saw this huge cut-away map of the mining tunnels around Guanajuato. We vowed to spend a day learning more, which takes us to the next set of photos.

 

Once the source of most of the world’s silver and a financial cornerstone for Spain’s colonization efforts, many of the mines are now closed. Those that are still being worked are not open to visitors. Thanks to the efforts of the University of Guanajuato, we did find one we could tour.

 

Yes, they did make us wear hard hats. Yes, I did choose one that matched my outfit.

 

We were allowed to walk below ground into a shaft. Neither of us are claustrophobic, but it was beginning to feel a bit close down there.

 

The literal, not proverbial, light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Once above ground we visited an abandoned residential area on the hillside above the mine. This is a former church, complete with cactus growing out of the wall (upper right).

 

Bob clowning around with one of the repurposed pieces of mining equipment in the parque.

 

And of course there are the many flights of steps that led from the residential area to the mine itself.

 

New topic.  For those of you who remembered that I said I would post a few photos of our house and were wondering when I would get around to it…here goes:

A portion of the gorgeously landscaped walk up to our front door.

 

The beautiful bovega ceiling in the master bedroom. This ceiling, which is made by hand and without scaffolding, is classic Guanajuato. My first thought: How amazing. Bob’s first thought: What happens in an earthquake?

 

View from the lower level looking up to the third floor cupola.

 

The opposite point of view; from the top landing down to the main floor.

 

And from here on the photos are totally random.

This one is for my dad, mail carrier extraordinaire: the only post office in the city.

 

Not many public restrooms (sanitorios) in Mexico, but there was one conveniently located at La Comer, a supermarket/big box store of sorts. The toilet paper hangs on a large roll in the entrance to the facilities. “Do the paperwork first”, Bob reminds me.

 

My guideline for baked goods: never cookies, was debunked by these molasses treats that were on the breakfast bar at our hotel in Querérato. And while I am on the subject – all breakfast bars offer dessert options. I am so okay with this…

 

They may look friendly, but they are just another form of topes.

 

A fond adiós to a favorite place.

 

Hanging out in Querétaro with Maria.

Off on another road trip – this time to Querétaro, about a 2 hour drive from Guanajuato. (FYI: Querérato, like Guanajuato is both a state and a city within that state. This sometimes causes confusion as both the city and state are typically referred to by a single name. If you live here it doesn’t seem to be a problem; people pretty quickly figure which of the two you are talking about. It is the non-locals who have to scratch their heads a bit before getting the distinction.) Querétaro is pretty much the ying to Guanajuato’s yang as it’s modern feel and robust economy (largely based on IT/data centers and aerospace manufacturing and research) provides a young and progressive vibe. But that doesn’t mean it is without a wealth of historical, cultural and artistic opportunities to enjoy. In fact, we found so much to see and do that we extended our stay by one night and still feel like we have barely dipped our toes into the Querétaro waters.

We like to do our initial investigations on foot. Just blocks away from our hotel was Plaza de Armas with its wide variety of dining options. We decided to grab a quick lunch, staying with cuisine typico; Bob had chili relleno and I ordered enchiladas Querétaroan. Next we headed down the way to go to the artisan’s market/shop but found they were closed from 2-4p. Siesta time? So instead we strolled the Portal de Dolores, where we chanced upon Maria, the best known muñecas de trapo (rag doll) in Mexico. The story behind this doll is quite interesting and if you want more you can check out this link: Maria Doll.

On to Museo de Arte, housed in the former monastery of San Agustin; the building is a marvel of Baroque architecture.

 

Vividly colored vaulted ceilings.

 

Tiled domes.

 

Beautiful and highly detailed carvings on towers.

 

And pillars that camouflage water spouts!

 

On our way to Plaza Zenea for some bench time we passed shop after shop of wedding/bridal party dresses. Love the romance of a full skirt.

 

What the well-dressed Catholic bride is wearing this season: complete with rosary and Bible.

 

Some stores had more than one floor of dress options. The top of the building reminds me of a crown – like Prince Charming?

 

While at Plaza Zenea we admired the Temple of San Francisco.

 

And we wished we could have seen the view from one of these roof gardens that overlooked the square.

 

Fabulous idea noted: free Internet access sites that are moved about through the city. When we went by that little place was packed.

 

Alameda Hidalgo Park, across from our hotel, is about two city blocks square and filled with play areas for children and families. The park is undergoing serious renovation and updating so we couldn’t enter, but I did peak through the fence and was impressed with the extent of the changes being made.

 

The broad boulevards that surround the park are filled with people. There is music playing from overhead speakers. Fountains on the sidewalk tempt children to come and play on warm days.

 

Went on a hunt to find some of the delicious nut mix we enjoyed at happy hour the previous evening. Quite a few stores (clothing as well as food outlets) have popcorn machines near the front doors and the aroma was very enticing. Good gimmick!

 

Wandering through the side lanes and alleys often resulted in surprising sights. This fountain with a statue of a traditional dancer is one example.

 

And in Plaza de la Corregidora there is the statue of doña Josefa Ortiz, a hero of the revolution. The mother of 14 children, during her lifetime she was labeled an insurgent and radical. I think I would have liked her.

 

And following that, as an quirky synchronicity, I came upon this protest by telephone workers.

 

Adiós, Querétaro.  We will be back

Miguel & Dolores & Rosa – Oh, My!

Definitely not in Kansas… and this sweet pup is not Toto, but he sure was interested in what I was doing on the street below.

But before we get to the pup, I guess it would be best to go back to the start of our great circle route: San Miguel de Allende to Dolores Hidalgo to Santa Rosa. This was going to be our first visit to San Miguel, though we know many folks who regularly visit here and rave about the town. It has quite a large expat population and there is deep history and gorgeous art. Bob and I were both wondering if we would be so taken with the town that we would feel differently about our beloved Guanajuato. We even had prepared a list of places to check out as potential winter lodgings in the coming year.

We were more than halfway to San Miguel when we started seeing lines of people walking up the road. This was pretty much in the middle of nowhere as there were no actual towns in sight. The lines went on for kilometer after kilometer; hundreds of people. We knew we were seeing something unique and special.  But what??

 

At one point religious flags and a large group singing and saying prayers aloud passed in front of us.

 

This group carried a reliquary, a glass box with their patron saint’s image inside. By now we are confident that we are witnessing a religious ritual or pilgrimage of some short. We figured that it would be impolite to call out a question to the marchers, but we planned to definitely ask about all of this when we arrived in town.

 

Overview of San Miguel. You can identify El Centro by the predominance of church spires.

 

First thing we did was find our hotel. This is the lovely inner courtyard. Our room was right across from the fountain.

 

Mural of Frida Kahlo in the hotel lobby. No information on the processional, but we did get a good recommendation for lunch – so off we go.

 

An example of the rooftop greenery that is everywhere in the city. Behind those pots is likely a lovely rooftop garden and/or seating area.

 

The houses we pass come right to the sidewalk and we see unique door ornaments and alcoves with art in them.

 

Priest behind bars?!?

 

After lunch we walk around the area to see the various offerings in the shops. We then head toward the plaza to check out one of the nine large churches/cathedrals within the main section of town. I liked the contrast of beautiful stone work and the signs of age on this one.

 

Inside there were five magnificent chandeliers.

 

And the bell tower was home to a number of pigeons.

 

Back in the car: we drove about town to check out those VRBO sites we had identified. Lots of stone-paved roads, narrow streets, construction (both of homes and of infrastructure), and market areas. Overall, we found it interesting enough, but nothing seemed to draw us like Guanajuato does. I am sure there are things we may have missed or overlooked. I would love to hear from my friends who come to San Miguel and truly enjoy it. Our minds are still open on this…

Oh – the good news is we found information about the procession. We went to a happy hour (mojitos and margaritas down the street from our hotel) and asked our server what the occasion might have been.  Between his understanding of my spoken Spanish and my interpretation of his spoken English we determined that we were seeing a sanctification of the saints by Saint Mary. Again – if someone else has anything to add to this – comment away, please.

 

Next morning we head to Dolores Hidalgo, “the cradle of independence”. It was here that Father Hidalgo first issued a cry for Mexico’s freedom from Spanish rule. As you can see by the sign, this area is famous for colorful ceramics.

 

Monument to the Heroes of Independence. The sculpture is 25 meters in height, carved from pink stone and boasts the colossal figures of Hidalgo, Morelos, Allende and Aldama.

 

Beautifully laid out streets with landscaped medians. These palms seem carved to resemble pineapples.

 

From Dolores Hidalgo we travel over a very, very windy and steep road to Santa Rosa. At this point we are just shy of 9000 feet. It’s not quite the vista we had in Norway this past June, but it is still quite breathtaking.

 

Getting close to a cactus patch.

 

We passed a forest firefighters camp and tower along the way. Hard to imagine fighting fires in this elevation and using these roads.

 

Here is our reason for including Santa Rosa on our outing.  All items are made on site, and they employ 30 painters who do all of the decorating by hand.

 

‘Story panel tiles” on the gate front of the house next to the ceramics store.

 

Another beautiful panel. And it is from the roof of this building that the dear pup peeped out his head to see what I was doing.

 

House with Mayolica adornments.

 

As we were getting in our car to leave we noticed that school was letting out. No school buses in this town of 1,085 residents. Interestingly, most every group of students had a adult who had come to walk them home. Guess that rather than the “Kiss and Ride” lanes at many American schools this would be a “Kiss and Walk”. I like it.

Feet on the Streets: A Saturday Walk-About and a Surprising Dinner Outing

 

Saturday in Guanajuato means tourists – lots of them; most from other parts of Mexico coming here to enjoy the historical and cultural offerings of this World Heritage site. And the number of visitors promises lots going on: more street performers, more music, more food stands, more sellers of souvenirs, more opportunities to people-watch. So a plan was hatched: I was off to city center to enjoy the activities and squeeze in a couple of errands. Bob would  remain at the house to scout out a place for dinner. We arranged for a meet-up spot for when I was finished and we would try out the restaurant that sounded the most promising.

What follows is mostly pictures. If you are the type that cringes when someone suggests you come over to see their travel photos, you may want to exit now as the first part of this post is pretty much that. Or, if you are someone that rolls their eyes when you realize that you are going to be clicking through food photos, you may want to skip the end portion of this post. Consider yourselves warned…

Looking back up toward our street. We travel 5 of these step sections (in various forms) to get down to the main area of commerce.

 

Sometimes we take advantage of this park to catch our breath. I like they way the trees are shaped.

 

Stopped at the post office to mail a letter. This is the ONLY mailbox at the main post office in Guanajuato, and the only place we have found to send off our mail. Fortunately it’s not too far from the house.

 

A couple of winding blocks later I come to the Teatro Juarez. The steps were packed with people resting and listening to costumed University of Guanajuato students shouting out tourist information.

 

Festival flags on a street nearby.

 

One of the street artists portraying La Calavera Catrina.

 

Callejón Del Beso, the Alley of the Kiss. The passage is so narrow (27 inches) that a person can stick her/his head out the window of a building on one side of the passage and kiss the person across the way. There are many tales and legends that go along with this alley. One has it that if you kiss you lover on the third step you will have everlasting love. (Thus the long lines…) Not sure it this is confirmation or not, but Bob and I kissed on the third step last time we were in Guanajuato and we are still going strong.

 

On to Mercado Hidalgo and our favorite tortilla seller. Tortillas are made once a day. When they are gone, you are out of luck.

 

Passing the “candy aisle” as I head back out to the street. The international truth of the impulse buy.

 

One of the tunnels that lead up and down throughout city center.

 

Before leaving the area I stop at the bakery. First I pick up a tray and tongs.

 

Then I scout the shelves to see what will tempt me. We have developed a few guidelines: Never buy cookies. Pastries that have flaky (phyllo-type) crusts are much better than those that don’t. Any bread is amazing.

 

Down the street from the bakery I notice a mining cart used as planter.

 

And then I am at the Basilico do Guanajuato.

 

Where I notice a member of a wedding party waiting to enter the sanctuary.

 

One more stop before heading to our meeting place: the artisan’s gallery and market. This large space features artists from all areas of the state of Guanajuato, and the work is amazing. I am making a list.

 

At the Jardin de la Union – which is actually only about 10 minutes from our house.  You may have noticed the iron benches in all of the parks, These are the legacy of Portofiro Diaz, a former President of Mexico and a declared Francophile. He wanted the parks of Mexico to reflect the refinement of parks in France so he commissioned iron benches be made for them. Incidentally, his brother, who owned an ironworks, got the contract.

 

Mariachis getting ready to perform.

 

Our chosen dinner spot. We look over the massive and highly tempting menu and decide to go with Menu Degustacion: “A gastronomic tour of our restaurant in a twinkling of an eye.” It is seven courses paired with wine. We’re in!

 

Course #1   Shrimp ceviche with coconut milk, basil, cilantro, serrano pepper, citrus and mango; smoked at the moment.  I am embarrassed to say that I missed a photo of course #2 which was lychees stuffed with goat cheese and smoked salmon. I was just too into the experience I guess.

 

Course #3   Sweet corn cream with vanilla bean. When the martini glass came to the table there was just a cube of cinnamon and sugar in the bottom and the hot soup was poured over.

 

Course #4   Sesame seed encrusted tuna served with an oriental salad, accompanied by two styles of sauce.

 

Palate cleanser of lemon and mint sorbet. Truly, I could have stopped here but there was more to come.

 

Course #5    Beef tenderloin filet covered in Mole with corn, mashed banana and onion rings.

 

Course #6   Selection of cheeses with seasonal fruit, balsamic reduction and apple compote. Note: the green scoop is Gorgonzola ice cream. I loved it. Bob not so much.

 

Course #7 (and by now I am stuffed and sort of embarrassed that all this food came my way – but look at it!) Cinnamon and sugar Buñuelos with cinnamon gelato, piloncillo sauce, and caramel sauce.

 

And after a short respite over a cup of coffee we head back up the steps…

 

Up the inclined paths…

 

And finally to our street where the lights of the tunnels tell us we are home.

Roadtrip! Paracho, Michoacán

Paracho: Guitar Capital of Mexico for over 100 hundred years. The home to most of the world’s guitar factories – though this is changing as mass manufacturing has moved to other countries where it can be done cheaper. (Have we heard this story before???) The city is now remaking itself and rather than being the maker of many guitars it is the home of some of the world’s best hand crafted guitars. And so we journey out to find a guitar for Bob. He had purchased a guitar in Paracho just over 30 years ago and loved it. Unfortunately, he loaned it to a friend and it was never seen again. Ever since then he has been hankering to get back and buy another.

Statue of Vasco de Quirga, priest, and a luthier (maker of guitars). The story goes that de Quirga came to Michoacán to disperse Catolicism and teach economically viable craft skills. He encouraged the citizens to take advantage of the vast forests that surrounded Paracho and produce items made of wood. Some individuals went into furniture and kitchen implement making but many more took up the making of instruments. Currently there are more luthiers in Paracho than in all of the United States.

 

Walking up and down the streets, Bob checked out the various options. Our very last stop of the day was at David Caro’s shop.

 

David, on the left, had Bob try out a few different instruments to get the feel for their sound and how they played. In the photo Bob is holding the guitar he eventually purchased – a beautiful instrument made of rosewood, red cedar, Canadian pine, and madera de Granadillo (an exotic hardwood).

 

Interesting backstory:  David Caro is quite a famous and highly-regarded guitar maker.  He is no longer making guitars but at one time he made 40 per year and they sold for $600 if purchased in Mexico and $900 if they were sent to the states. The guitar Bob purchased was made by his son, Salomón, who has assumed the family trade.

While Bob was finalizing his purchase I walked up the street to the Zocalo (town square) to take in some local color. My first stop was the cathedral. They have two very large mobiles hanging in the sanctuary – with guitars on them, of course.

 

Across the street from the cathedral I had a telephone siting! Another one for my collection.

 

I went over to look inside and noted the poster. My immediate reaction was to begin humming Manhattan Transfer’s “Operator”. For those of you who are not familiar I encourage you to go to this YouTube link – Operator by Manhattan Transfer

 

Each village in Michoacán has its own style of traditional dress. The garments are quite distinctive and colorful. Skirts are long and there are frequently layers of blouses, tunics (hupil) and ponchos (quechquémitl). This kind and handsome young lady agreed to be photographed. Though it is a bit difficult to see, her blouse is heavily hand embellished and embroidered. She is wearing a rebozo (shawl) as a belt. The color and pattern indicate that she is from Paracho. Her embroidered aprons is also typical for this region.

 

Other sites that caught our eye while we were in Paracho:

The view out the back window of our hotel. There is an interesting contrast of building styles and quality of construction.

 

The edge of the brick house in the right corner of the above photo is getting a patio. I was taken with the method used to put on the roof. Also interesting to me: most buildings that have columns begin with four, not necessarily equal, lengths of rebar. The rebar are set in and then bricks or other surround materials are added until the column is the height desired. Building on the column then stops and various portions of rebar are left sticking up out of the structure. This is common throughout Mexico. The lovely home we are staying in has rebar lengths atop all of the columns in the brick walls.

 

We stayed in a corner room and directly next to our little outdoor deck area was this electric pole. The wires were strung right next to the building making standing on the other deck impossible. I am familiar with overhead wire (Reno Midtown residents, don’t you know) but this was a bit close for even me.

 

I love the fact that Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are on opposite sides of the 500 peso bill. BTW: at the current exchange rate 500 pesos is approximately equal to $25. You should see the bundle of money the ATM spits out when we go to get cash!

 

Before leaving town we walked over to Los Arcos for a bite to eat. As we stepped up and down along the sidewalk I couldn’t help but think of my father, Roy, who was a mail carrier. He would have immediately commented on the curbs to be navigated. Turns out each storefront or building owner puts in their own frontage, thus the variation.

 

Bob ordered a rum and Coke and was amused by the way it was served. No ice, of course – by request. There are still water precautions to heed.

 

I ordered a coffee meil (coffee with cream). Our gracious server made a real point of bringing me cream – a packet of powdered Coffee Mate on its own saucer. So adorable.

 

And we are finally on our way back to Guanajuato. It is about a 4 hour drive, and we took different routes down and back so we had lots of time to take in the various cities and expanses of countryside. We drove through Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, on the way down. Morelia is a large city and currently experiencing rapid growth which puts it at odds with its historical roots and there has been controversy about how native forests are being overtaken. We were especially interested in seeing the beautiful Spanish buildings, most made of pink granite, which the area is known for. I believe my favorite building was the Palace of Justice; isn’t that a nice name for courthouse?

 

Wondering where your strawberries come from in January? I am guessing it might be from one of these huge agri-business areas. In addition to the miles and miles of green houses, we passed roadsides stands that tempted us with “Fresas and Crema” (strawberries and cream).  In many areas it felt like we were in a major California produce zone. One of our biggest surprises along the drive was the expansion of corn farming. It has been about 20 years since we spent a significant amount of time traveling through Mexico and the changes are notable. So much more mechanization and commercial farming. Dekalb and Pioneer corn signs are ubiquitous; huge corn shelling operations and storage silos frequently dotted the landscape.

 

And finally, another agricultural product – blue agave. We drove through one of the main areas for tequila production. Though not a drinker of tequila myself, it was interesting to learn about. The majority of agave is grown in the state of Jalisco, where the town of Tequila is located. The drink, tequila, has a “domination of origin status” (think Champagne or Manchengo cheese) so any liquor that says tequila on the bottle must be distilled (though not necessarily bottled) in government-designated areas of Mexico. In addition, tequila that is sold in the states must be 41%. Tequila sold in Mexico is 37.5%. Most distilleries bottle many different brands of tequila and the quality and price can very greatly – and a higher price does not guarantee a better drink. More than you wanted to know?  But, if you are interested in further information, here is a site that I found helpful: Taste of Tequila