Home again

Screenshot_20171110-180315We left Mexico City International Airport at 3:15 p.m. Central Time) Friday and landed at SFO about 5:45 Pacific Time, 4 1/2 hours later. For the last half of the trip I had a window seat, giving me access to views and GPS satellites.

It’s hard to see in the photo due to haze, but at I shot it we were just at the head of the Gulf of California; that’s Baja California in the distance, and the U.S. border and Mexicali were just minutes ahead. The blue dot on the map was our position.

I also got shots of Santa Catalina Island off L.A., the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara, and gorgeous sunset-red clouds below us at Big Sur as we approached San Francisco.

I plan to discontinue this occasional blog for future trips unless there are special reasons to resume it. Readership and response are tiny compared to those my Facebook posts receive, though I like the blog better as a storytelling medium.


Nov. 9, Thursday, day of rest

In the end we discarded our list of remaining sightseeing destinations and decided to enjoy our lovely rooftop azotea (shown here as the sun sets and I write this) and stroll around the neighborhood. 

The most excitement I had today was this morning, watching a workman lower himself four stories from the roof of the neighboring high-rise, perform a brief task on an exterior pipe or conduit, and haul himself laboriously back up again. 

About noon tomorrow we head for the airport for our flight home.

Wed., Nov. 8: Happy blues

On our next-to-last full day in Mexico we’ve learned our way around a bit and are rushing to touch our remaining bases. First we took Uber to the Coyoacán neighborhood to catch our reserved admission time at the Frida Kahlo Museum. The house and its high walls are painted a brilliant blue as they were when she and Diego Rivera lived there from 1929 until her untimely death in 1954. They set off the rich green shrubbery nicely (here accented with a lingering Day of the Dead marigold arch):

A 10-minute walk then brought us to the last home of their friend Leon Trotsky, murdered there in 1940 on orders of his former revolutionary comrade and rival Joseph Stalin. Here’s Trotsky’s study where the fatal attack occurred:

Our last stop of the day was MUAC, the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo at UNAM, México City’s huge world-class university. It was another long cab ride, the first time in this whole trip that we’ve been overcharged. Live and learn.

There were several major exhibits at MUAC. The most photogenic was a retrospective of the life and work of French painter Yves Klein (1928-1962), focused on his signature deep blue pigment – he even patented it:

Another exhibit called Forensic Architecture was a 3-D computer recreation and timeline of the notorious 2014 disappearance and murder of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Iguala, Mexico, that was later found to have been perpetrated and abetted by police, army, and other officials.

After that grim experience our mood was lightened by an exhibit of iconoclastic work that reminded us of that of Ai Weiwei. The artist is Yoshua Okón, a Mexican, and I leave you with this working sculpture – with real running water – called “Toilet.” Look closely, and then turn to my post from yesterday to get the joke:

Nov. 6-7: Change of scenery

Yesterday (Monday) we jumped ship in Mexico City from the Hotel La Casona to the Red Tree House a half-mile away for a much more livable room and, as it turns out, a far more welcoming staff. The neighborhood is more to our taste too, the lively Hipódromo replacing the sleepy genteel Roma. Sleep-deprived, we immediately celebrated our move with naps so my only photo from our new digs was of a delicious dinner at the nearby La Capital (see Karen’s FB post).

Today was really fun even though our first stop was a bust: the cluster of art galleries we reached via Uber on the Avenida Obregón turned out to be closed almost without exception to set up for a big art weekend opening this Friday, the day we leave town.

We wandered off in search of a taxi to take us to our next planned stop and hit paydirt: a pair of museums in the Granada neighborhood.

The Museo Jumex, named for its corporate fruit-juice patron, currently hosts a group of multimedia installations by the Parisian artist Philippe Parreno. They’re large and complex, but here’s a brief sample of a wall-sized manga video segment, a double image of a woman talking in English. The two images and their soundtracks drift in and out of sync and the whole effect is hypnotic. Meanwhile, helium-filled fish balloons drift through the projection, launched by museum guards and by us viewers.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the neighboring Museo Soumaya. This modern building houses six floors of amazing art including a large collection of Rodin sculptures, paintings by the Mexican muralists, European art from the Middle Ages to El Greco, little-known works of the Impressionists, contemporary Latin American art, and more. Much of the collection is described as a project by the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to buy back Mexican art from private collectors worldwide, repatriate it and make it accessible to everyone.

Here’s the building with a few examples of its contents:

Botero “Walking Man”

El Greco “The Tears of St. Peter”
Rodin “The Gates of Hell”

Nov. 2-5: Oaxaca to Mexico City

Playing catch-up again Sunday evening…

Thursday, Nov. 2, was the actual Day of the Dead but it was quiet in Oaxaca – an official holiday, and apparently less celebratory than the nighttime events of Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

So Thursday, our last full day, and Friday morning were a sort of mopping-up for us, focused on Karen’s hopes for a future longer stay built around printmaking lessons for her and hiking and Spanish immersion for me. Thursday we hired a cab to take us back to San Agustín Etla to visit CASA (Spanish acronym for San Agustín Arts Center), a noted art school picturesquely situated in an abandoned textile mill near the mountains:

Alas, CASA was closed despite information on their website and a phone call before we left Oaxaca. So was the Oaxaca Graphic Arts Institute (IAGO) when we returned to Oaxaca.

Friday morning we did better, talking to staff at IAGO and tracking down an art teacher a friend had recommended at Ishuakara House Studio a short walk from our B&B. Here’s a daytime shot of the Templo de Santo Domingo across the street from IAGO:

Then we bade a regretful good-bye to the lovely family and staff at Casa Ollín B&B and headed for our flight to Mexico City.

The breakfast room at Casa Ollín

This is getting long so I’ll bring you up to the moment with a few photos from yesterday, Sat., Nov. 4:

Recently rediscovered and partially restored ruins of the Templo Mayor, the Aztec great temple beside the Cathedral; note the serpent in the foreground
Part of the Templo Mayor complex from above, from our restaurant table at the Porrúa publishing company

…and today, after our first stop to tour the house of the late architect Luis Barragán (very photogenic – for an additional $25 photo fee; we didn’t): 

Karen with one of the large series of whimsical sculptures by Leonora Carrington lining the Paseo de la Reforma in beautiful Chapultepec Park
The god Chac-Mool with Karen in the Maya Hall at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Chapultepec Park
The Sun Stone, commonly mislabeled the Aztec Calendar, with Karen and others posing

Wed., November 1: cooking class and another village

Yesterday our cooking instructor Karla (Ernesto’s wife and Judit’s daughter-in-law) was back. After breakfast she led us up the hill to do some marketing: vegetables, fruits, herbs, four kinds of dried chilies, and a tour of the meat and poultry stalls though that part of our lunch had already been bought.

We spent the rest of the morning at Karla and Ernesto’s lovely house, in the outdoor kitchen. We peeled and diced vegetables for chicken soup and pitted fruit for dessert. We made mole negro: we quick-cooked chili skins in oil in a clay bowl on the charcoal fire, reduced the chili seeds and a tortilla to charcoal on the same fire for the black color (this mole contains no chocolate), then pulverized them all in a blender with sauteed tomato and tomatillo wedges,  and finally strained the whole mixture into the clay bowl and cooked it on the fire. Finally we mixed masa of corn flour and water, flattened it in a tortilla press and cooked the tortillas on the fire in a large shallow pan.

I forgot all about taking photos during the cooking but Karen has offered to share one of hers. Here are some of the results that we enjoyed for lunch: 

After a long nap we headed out again at 8 p.m. in the hotel van for the Día de los Muertos celebration in the village of San Agustín Etla: a very good and loud (six tubas!) band with costumed dancers in the town square, the whole crowd following the band to the church plaza for a medieval-looking play (impressive costumes, inaudible dialogue) then another procession to another church about a mile away. 

Dancing in the Etla town square – note tubas at rear left!

We got back to Oaxaca about 2 a.m.

Oct. 31 – Nov. 1: hurry up and collapse

Yesterday and today have included lots of activity interspersed with necessary chunks of downtime. We’re both well despite my few lingering cold symptoms, but the schedule and sleep problems are squeezing us from both ends.

We had taken the last room at Casa Ollín B&B though they warned us it was right next to the front desk and breakfast room. It also looks onto the front patio and the doorbell rings outside our door, so it’s hard to sleep past 6:30 a.m. when someone sweeps up fallen leaves in the patio, or 7:00 when the kitchen crew arrives, even when (as last night and tonight) we’ve been out on late-night excursions to Día de los Muertos celebrations in villages outside Oaxaca.

The staff has been supportive, including a secret sleep potion that Judit the owner obtained for Karen – it actually worked! But the schedule for both of us for these two days has included welcome afternoon naps.

Yesterday started with a brief shopping opportunity in our own patio featuring two village craftswomen. Here one of them weaves on her back-loom.

We then headed out for about six hours of museums, shops, occasional passing comparsa bands and processions, and lunch. Here are some images from the day: 

The first of about a dozen Día de los Muertos altars at the main library representing regions of Oaxaca State
Karen with one of the lighthearted tableaux at the library
The patio of the delightful Museo Belber Jiménez
Karen with Federico Jiménez, co-founder of the museum

After walking for miles before and after lunch we enjoyed a needed siesta before the evening’s group outing to the village of Xoxocotlán where we joined huge crowds at the town’s two cemeteries: bands, costumed revelers, tourists, and people honoring their dead. 

It’s now past two a.m. Wednesday night and I have to leave the rest for tomorrow.