Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mexico City, finally

I've been wondering why I don't post here like I used to, when I was on the road, working 32 hours a week, and taking long day trips on my days off. I think I finally figured it out - there was nothing much else to do in the evenings but edit photos of the places HH and I had been and toss them up here.

Since moving to and settling in Green Valley, I've been active beyond imagining. A much more active social life than I've ever had, plus twice-weekly physical therapy for a severed tendon in my thumb, keeps me on the go so much that a day at home with nothing on the calendar is an anomaly. I like it but it does take a toll on this blog, my self-taught Spanish, and other things that used to be higher on my priority list. I've turned into a slacker in certain departments but this morning is one of my empty-calendar days, so I thought I could catch up a little.

We traveled to Mexico City at Christmas last year, which was probably the best trip I've ever taken. The Angel of Independence was just down the block from our hotel. It was built in 1910 to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of Mexico's War of Independence. Atop the column is a statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, but it is commonly called The Angel. In her right hand she holds a laurel crown above Miguel Hidalgo's head, symbolizing victory, and in her left she holds a broken chain, symbolizing Freedom. The Angel is a landmark, as in "Let's meet at the Angel." I used it a few times when I was wandering on my own and had to ask, "¿Dónde está El Ángel?" If I could find the Angel, I could find the hotel.

One morning I joined a long line snaking away from a food cart to get a real-Mexican-food breakfast. Transactions were fast because offerings were minimal and everyone but me knew what they wanted. Luckily the woman in front of me spoke English and told me what the food was. 

The next few photos are what I took back to the hotel on at least a few mornings: tamales Oaxaqueños (wah ha KEN yos), steamed in banana leaves and so soft they are eaten with a spoon or fork; a couple of churros; cups of what might be champurrado, a hot chocolate drink thickened with corn masa; and fresh cut fruit from the food cart next door. All of this delicious food set me back about $5 US.

Thus fortified, we set off for what was at the top of the long list of places I wanted to see: the Museo Nacional de Antropología, the National Anthropology Museum. Because it isn't an art museum, I thought it would be a quick-ish trip in and out but oh, no. We spent the day there and went back a second time to finish. It's that good.

The entrance with ticket booth ($65 MX pesos each, about $4 US!!!) and fantastic gift shop are in the first building, which leads to a large courtyard and the entrances to the salas - huge galleries that are each dedicated to different anthropological and cultural collections. As a side note, Mexico uses the $ symbol for its money, which kind of freaks you out when you look at a ticket price of $65. Once you get used to it and start dividing it by 17, the rough exchange rate in effect for the three trips we have so far taken to Mexico, nothing seems so bad. Even the hucksters, selling any- and everything, say, "It's almost free!" in very good English.

This waterfall is in the courtyard. Museum policy prohibits playing in it, but people did and security was there to shoo them away. It was stunning, if only for its size.

On to the collections. I took so many photos it was ridiculous and will only show a few things here and not necessarily in chronological order.

Carved shell, Michoacán, 1200-1521 d. C. (después, or after, Christ).

Ceramic teapot, post Classical, 1200-1521 d. C. I don't know where the water and tea leaves go in. Down the spout?

Jester swirl bowl. Cute, huh?

Cut paper figures come from the Nahua, state of Hidalgo. The figures have historically been used in ceremonies, representing gods and nature spirits and used in rituals to ask for rain or cure disease. They're never based on Catholic saints, having come down from pre-Hispanic Mexicans.

This is at the entrance to the gallery.

I don't remember what this is from, other than a church in general, but I liked the shapes and lines, so here it is.

There were several figures like this around the museum. Aren't they chill? I loved them.

The caption next to the wood carving/etching below read:

Conca'ac. The People.
There was no earth, there was only the sea, the sky, and the sea animals. To make the earth the animals came together and decided to go to the bottom of the sea to bring the earth. But none could reach the bottom, until it was the turn of the giant turtle, the seven row turtle.

The great turtle took a month to go and come back, but when it reached the surface it had some sand under its nails and thus the earth could be created. That is why when the Seri catch a seven row turtle they do not kill it but take it alive to their village where they hold a festival in its honor to thank it for the feat of its ancestor, and then they return it to the sea.

A frieze fragment mirrored in the top of a shiny display case. Pretty cool, isn't it? From Yucatán, 250-600 d. C.

Mosaic disc from Yucatán, 1000-1250 d. C. 

In addition to artifacts from ancient cultures, the museum also showcases contemporary arts, like this carved wooden figure with its distinctive Oaxacan style. The colors are vibrant, almost neon. There is no mistaking Oaxacan art.

This oversized basket and interesting stand were at the entrance to one of the galleries.

Two painted pots that I did not get any info on. Similar styles but different when you really look at them.

The first thing that sprung to mind was The Queen of Hearts. 

This figure looks distressingly like Hitler.

This is the famous Aztec calendar that you may have heard about. Technically it's called the Sun Stone, Stone of the Five Eras and dates to the late 14th-early 15th century. It was straight ahead as I walked into the gallery and it stopped me in my tracks.

Here is a closer look, and the last of the museum photos for today. More from here and the rest of the trip to follow.

As we left the museum to forage for food, we came across this vendor selling snacks. All of it was more or less straightforward and I got a bag of pepitas.

However, I passed on this pile of delicacies, grasshoppers. I'd have to be pretty hungry and might like them if I ate one, but that will remain one of life's great unknowns.

I would much rather look at one in stone.


Thought of the day:

If Jesus was a Jew, how come he has a Mexican first name? ~ Billy Connolly

Saturday, April 2, 2016

It's been pretty quiet in these here parts

Hoo, boy, a lot has happened since my last post, way back in September.

My experience at Yosemite was not the best, for a lot of reasons. but it was a catalyst for a big move in my life. One day last summer I had my truck at the dealer in Fresno for something or other, and while waiting for it I started looking at real estate in Green Valley, Arizona. Why? I sure don't know, other than I love Arizona. There must have been some subliminal juju going on because I never, ever expected to settle down just two and a half years into my time on the road, yet that's exactly what happened.

When I was volunteering at Tumacácori in southern Arizona in the fall of 2014, HH and I drove by Green Valley on our way to Tucson but never exited the freeway to take a look at it. So it was kind of strange that I started looking in Green Valley and not Tucson, for example, but I found a townhouse in Green Valley that I fell in love with. It had been recently remodeled throughout and was turnkey ready for move-in. It had almost everything I wanted. The only problem was my work at Yosemite was nowhere near being finished to free me up to return to Arizona to make the deal, and the ex-husband and I had our Washington house on the market but no takers.

It was not long after this that HH and I went to San Juan Bautista Mission in California where I lit a candle to the Lady of Guadalupe, asking for help in getting the house sold, and two days later we had an offer. I'm not making any judgments about this kind of cosmic assistance, I'm just telling what happened.

I kept watching the Green Valley house online, sure that every time I looked it would show as Sale Pending, but it was always available. To this day I don't know how it didn't sell but when I finally got back here in late September there it was, waiting for me. After being yanked about by the buyer of the Washington house way too many times, she finally came through and we closed on that property, giving me the money I needed to buy the house HH and I now happily live in.

I had next to nothing to furnish it with and thereby began the mad rush to 1) drive to Wisconsin to pick up what belongings I still had in storage there, with a detour to Minnesota to see the grands, and 2) to start hitting the plentiful and darned good thrift stores around here for furniture, etc., etc. The drive up north was 4016 miles in eight days or something like it, and I had the best, if frantic time, shopping for and refinishing furniture, trying to get it all done before I moved in.

We've been busy to the point of hopping since we moved in in November. It took a good two months to settle down even a little. There's so much to do here that I've had to jettison some activities to make room for those that matter more to me, and we're still discovering new places to go and things to see. It's really the best place I've ever lived, including my house, the neighborhood (a good HOA if you can believe it), my neighbors, and the Green Valley/Tucson area in general. We've done some traveling to Mexico, twice, and have another trip there coming up. We've been to the opera, a concert/ballet with a Latino flavor, another concert by the Green Valley Concert Band, and a performance of instruments called melodicas at Tumacácori (and now that we have, never have to again). These are just the tip of the iceberg of things we've done.

I'm still busy finding furniture to work on. My latest completed piece is this spinning chair I found at a consignment store:
 An overexposed shot of the original, after I gave it a scrub and put it outside to dry.

And the finished piece.

The chair has a stamp on the back. It says it was hand carved at the Studio of Arts and Antiquities in England. I just followed the carving which made it so much easier to paint.

The other two chairs are Goodwill finds, even better because I got a 20% Senior Citizens' Day discount. It's almost a sin to pay full price for most things here.

The prior piece I finished was a cherry cabinet that belonged to HH. We tried to send it home with his son and daughter-in-law when they visited a few months ago but they didn't want it. I finally got the idea to paint it in this design from a book of Mexican motif patterns, and just love it. It's in the office, storing supplies. Again, not a good photo and it has the cat in it. There's also an oval mirror that hangs above it, painted with the same kind of wavy line that's on the cabinet.

Mexico photos will follow. We returned from Mexico City, a fabulous place, with more than 1600 photos and I'm in the process of exerting some sanity on them. I'll try not to wait another seven months to post again.

Thought of the day:

My goal is to create a life I don't need a vacation from. - Anon (good old Pinterest)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Finding community

In late July HH and I flew to Boston to attend his grandson's wedding. The wedding was in New London, Connecticut, but we had the morning of the day before the wedding to ourselves in Boston, which I immediately commandeered for a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This is what I miss about not living on the east coast, when I could take Amtrak from D.C. to New York for a long weekend of museum-hopping and theater-going. I miss art museums a lot. The photos from the Boston museum are still in the works and would probably bore the socks off just about anyone, but I enjoy photographing the art even though I rarely look at it again.

That afternoon HH's son picked us up at the museum to drive us to New London to the bride's parents' house for a clambake. It was an amazing meal and I wonder why there are no photos of it - oh, right! I was too busy eating lobster, clams, mussels, and corn on the cob. The caterer did a fantastic job in an outdoor cook space, plating meals ahead of time so all we had to do was pass through the line and grab a plate. I refused to wear a lobster bib and came through, by sheer grace, without a drop of goo on me.

The following morning, the day of the wedding, we again had to ourselves because the wedding wasn't until 2:00. I had spied a church spire a few blocks away and wandered over to see if I could get in. I was testing doors, finding them locked, until a man drove into the parking lot and led me into the church, St. James Episcopal. He is an active, long-time member there and told me about its history and mission. There's a lot of information between his narration and the church brochure he gave me.

The original church building opened in 1732. It operated as Church of England, a break from the Congregationalists that had been the established church of the colonies. Ironically, this original "church of England" was accidentally burned, along with the city of New London, by British troops under the command of Benedict Arnold in 1781. Not only were the parishioners displaced, they were divided by split loyalties to the old and new governments. Also, Bishops, the only source for ordaining clergy, were all back in England, by then foreign and enemy soil.

Three years after New London burned, a new church building was being planned. It, too, no longer exists. They still needed a Bishop, though, and found one in Samuel Seabury. He had been elected Bishop in Connecticut in 1783 but of course had to go to England to be consecrated by the Bishops of the English church. A loyalty oath to the crown was required for ordination, but as he was a son of the New Country that was not possible, so he traveled to Aberdeen, Scotland and was consecrated there instead. He returned to the colonies as the first and only Bishop in America.

Seabury was an ardent rebuilder of the local congregation, traveling through New England confirming congregants and ordaining priests, working with them to found the Episcopal Church in America.

By the middle of the 19th century, New London had become the country's second-most important whaling port, with corresponding increasing fortunes, and this church became one of the beneficiaries. English architect Richard Upjohn, who had already built Trinity Church in New York, developed an early version of Gothic Revival design, and the church was eventually filled with medieval symbolism and elements such as crosses, candles, vested choirs, divided chancel, and stained glass.

The building became home to a "procession of memorials," as the brochure puts it, including an assortment of stained glass representing the craft's development in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is said to to include the largest number of Tiffany windows in any single New England building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Once again, I had to shoot handheld and kind of on the fly, as the nice gentleman who gave me the tour had other things he had to do, so these are not up to the standards I prefer for churches. They do, however, give a glimpse of this beautiful structure built with love and devotion by its parishioners. When it was dedicated in 1850, it even, already, contained a shrine. The body of Bishop Seabury was interred in a burial chamber beneath the high altar. 

Some years later, the body of Rector Robert Hallam, the man who led the challenge to erect this building and who was one of the largest contributors to the cause, was interred in the same crypt as Bishop Seabury. The space is used for worship and is known as Hallam Chapel.

The "marble" below is in memory of Bishop Seabury. It is somewhat subdued, more so than what you might expect for this father of the Episcopal Church in America. I show it here because I love the fifth line from the bottom, which says, "[he] was translated from Earth to Heaven..."

I look now at the brochure I got when I was leaving the church that describes its different features like the baptistry, a painting attributed to Bellini, and the Seabury and Hallam cenotaphs, and I see that I missed so much because of the necessary quickness of my visit. 

The description of the windows in the brochure says most of the windows use larger pieces of glass and less leading than traditional styles. Some of its shading is achieved by varying the thickness of the glass, or building up various colors. Tiffany windows are translucent and when light shines through, the picture is illuminated like glass slides. Even when not illuminated, the picture is visible, albeit quite different from when it is lit. If no light passes through ordinary stained glass, the picture is dark with nothing really visible. 

So now, forthwith, the windows, the crowning glory of this special place.

The Lawrence Memorial Window, commemorating Joseph and his two sons, Francis and Sebastian Lawrence. It shows St. Sebastian, St. Joseph holding Jesus, and St. Francis. Tiffany, installed 1910.

The Lyman Allyn Window, depicting the Holy Family. Tiffany, installed 1910.

Betsay Ingram Whittlesey Window, Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tiffany, installed 1910.

I don't know what window this is, other than it being about the Resurrection. And I also can't seem to get it centered.

George W. Whittlesey Window, depicting the Angel's appearance to the shepherds, announcing the nativity of Jesus. Tiffany, installed 1910.

The Stark Window, depicting the Resurrection. Cox and Sons, London. Installed in 1881-2 in memory of Robert Hallam; donated by Benjamin Stark. I wasn't allowed to close the open window.

Ironside Window, Appearance of Christ on the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection. Tiffany, installed 1911. Not my best work, but the color is magnificent.

Mansfield Window, depicting two friends who died in action in World War 1. J&R Lamb Studios, installed 1922.

Hilliar Window, Angels singing and praising God. Susan K. Van Heukelom, installed 1993.

The organ is an Ernest M. Skinner from 1914. It has four manuals and sixty-five ranks of pipes.

There are other windows there that I could not get at because of the angle or light fixtures hanging in the way.

This final window is behind the altar. What I like to do when I have a tripod is to take three to five shots in sequence at different exposures, then blend them into one when I process so I get all the lights and all the darks. I didn't have that luxury so this window, believed to be by the Henry E. Sharp studio in New York, is not at its best.

Being a true community church, St. James has an active ministry with other organizations in New London. It co-founded a shelter for homeless men, women, and families. It provides a monthly community meal for anyone who wants one, which was going on when I was there. There were more than a dozen workers in the parish hall, preparing hot meals, boxing them up, and handing them out with a bottle of water to whoever walked through the door needing a meal. They participate in a grass roots volunteer organization for the development of New London's commercial district, which is not the booming center of commerce it used to be. They work with Habitat for Humanity. The parish lends space to Head Start, AA groups, A Moveable Feast, and other faith-based and non-profit community groups, and in the past opened its doors to other Christian organizations which did not have a home. They organize an annual concert series and host other musical groups for concerts and recitals. And every other year, they send a group to Guatemala to build or renovate schools and churches.

I am no longer a church-goer. A Catholic born and raised with twelve years of Catholic education under my belt and the scars to prove it, I find organized religion leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However, I will say that if I were looking for an organization to call home, it would be a community like St. James. They are Christians - humans - in the most caring sense of the word.

The man who gave me the tour talked openly with me about his upbringing as a Catholic and not feeling accepted because of his lifestyle as a gay man, but had found a home here. I can understand why. As I left, I shook his hand, thanked him, and said, "You're a prince." He said, without pausing for breath, "No, I'm a queen." Now that's a guy I like.


Thought of the day:

I think tolerance and acceptance and love is something that feeds every community. - Lady Gaga

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Building and riding the rails

HH is a gem at going along with anything I want to do. He is unique among anyone I've ever known in that he is never, ever bored. Ever. And everything interests him. Granted, some things interest him more than others, but I've never encountered a topic that he won't engage in a discussion about. It's an impressive attribute, and he keeps me hopping.

The first photo I saw of him was with a group of fellow photographers. It was a casual gathering - those in the front row were lounging around in chairs, smokes in their hands, laughing and chatting. The rest of the group was standing behind. HH was at the far end of the back row and his expression of what I thought was bemused detachment I later understood to be what is now familiar: he was thinking. He doesn't remember that particular day, but agrees that there was some thing he was figuring out how to solve or build or move. He does love all things mechanical, from farm equipment to trains.

He most agreeably went with me to the Haggin Museum in Stockton several weekends ago. A docent there told us that the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento was worth going to, and I decided I could do that if he could suffer through an art museum for me. Come to think of it, though, there wasn't a lot of suffering going on because half of the Haggin is art but the other half is history, with lots of farm equipment on exhibit.

The railroad museum is in the Old Town section of Sacramento. It was a gorgeous day and there were swarms of people on the streets and in the museum.

Once inside, we split up and HH went to look at machinery and I took in the archival and museum material, occasionally getting back together when one of us would hunt the other down to say, You have to see this.

Like many museums, this one is kept dark and I could shoot handheld only, so just like at San Juan Bautista, nothing is as sharp as I'd like it to be.

I've often said I don't know how I got along without the internet. When I got my first smart phone I couldn't imagine any other use for its internet connection than to research prices of children's books (which I collected) when I was at an antique store or book sale. That narrow focus didn't last long, and thank goodness for unlimited data use then. I don't have unlimited data anymore, but then I'm not usually in a place where I can actually get data. This little discussion of changing technology segues me into the telegram below and its subtle boasting about the "new multiplex automatic system" and eight telegrams being printed automatically. I'm sure there was no less awe at this marvelous method of communication than there was when I realized what utility that first smartphone would eventually offer me.

If there's one thing they do really well at this museum, it's dioramas. They're so skillfully executed that I stood in front of this one for a while, systematically looking at the wall section by section until I could see where the 3-D snow shed left off and where the mural began. The reflection in the mirrored wall on the right added to the illusion.

The Central Pacific's first locomotive was a classic American type, and was purchased in 1862 from a factory on the east coast. After traveling around the tip of South America, it arrived in Sacramento and was named the Gov. Stanford after Central Pacific's president and the governor of California (at the same time?). It was donated to the Leland Stanford Jr. University in 1895 and, while this photo doesn't show its fine condition, it still looks nearly new after 30 years' service.
A giant poster on one wall capitalizes on the romance of California, the Golden State.

For the first time, thanks to an exhibit label, I understand what's meant by railroad gauge. It's the distance between the inside edges of the rails. In the US and much of the world, Standard Gauge is 56 1/2 inches. When track was first being laid in this country, what some called "English Gauge" was used, but because it varied between 56 and 57 inches it wouldn't have been useful nationwide.

Subsequent railroads in different parts of the US proceeded to use a half-dozen different, and of course incompatible, gauges. This meant that passengers and freight had to unloaded and reloaded whenever a different gauge track occurred at a junction.

In 1862 Lincoln set what was to become the national standard of 56 1/2 inches for the Transcontinental Railroad. On Memorial Day, 1886 the remaining odd gauge tracks were re-spiked to the "new" standard. The only other common gauge left is 36-inch narrow gauge.

No one knows how the 56 1/2-inch gauge originated. It may have been related to the wheel spacing of ancient Roman carts, and the early English tramways from which the railways evolved just adopted that spacing as well.

In addition to having a standard gauge for railroad conformity nationwide, railroads created Standard Time and time zones to bring safety and uniformity to train operation. The concept of clock time was still new to the US when the first trains began running. What was the importance of clock time to an agrarian society? If the sun was just coming up, go feed the cows. If the sun was directly overhead, it was lunchtime. For every 13 miles one moved east or west, Sun Time changed by a minute. But as railroads grew longer, coordinating accurate time became difficult; the Union Pacific used six different times on its route between Omaha and Salt Lake City. It took 50 years of being confused until the railroads agreed on a uniform, nationwide system of time.

November 18, 1883 was "The Day of Two Noons." At the prescribed hour, every railroader in the US and Canada awaited countdown to the new Standard Time when each railroad timepiece was set to the new Noon. Railroad time became America's standard time.

The monthly Official Guide was the standard reference for passenger train schedules in the United States and Canada.

Railroad torpedos were new to me and, surprisingly, to HH. A fellow museum-goer who heard us puzzling over them explained: when work was being done on a rail line, someone would go some distance up track and fasten the soft metal of the clips around the track. Then, when a train came chugging in the workers' direction and rolled over a torpedo, the small explosion it made could be heard in the engine car as a signal to come to a stop. Brilliant, really, and so simple.

Religious tracts were distributed to railroad workers in an effort to save their souls via the hell and damnation route. You have to admire the creative writing.

How realistic are these figures? This diorama demonstrates the tight conditions of a typical galley. Chefs could turn out four-star meals three times a day from spaces no larger than this.

A different view into the same galley as above.

This is one of three chandeliers that hung in the Oakland train station from 1912-1989. It is believed that the glass was produced at the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company. The Botti Studio of Architectural Arts in Evanston, Illinois has records from the early 1900s that show an order for "chandeliers for the railroad depot," leading museum staff to believe that that is where the three were designed and built.

A small exhibit label shows a photo of two of the globes in place in the train station:

Another realistic diorama shows workers swinging a pick and levering a pry bar while maintaining a rail line outside a small station building. There is no shortage of work: a mile of track may have over 3,000 cross ties, 1,000 bolts, and 15,000 ties.

The mail car was interesting because a former worker was there, telling the story of his years running the rails. This form of picking up, sorting, and delivering mail was discontinued in 1977. More photos of this particular car and a history of the railway post office can be found on Wikipedia.

A refrigerated car exhibited old fruit crate labels, a lost art form. The addition of the twitter icon on the peach box from Costco that serves as my fruit and vegetable bowl just isn't the same.

The long drive to Sacramento proved to be worth every mile. We found a nice restaurant for lunch, and on HH's suggestion, I bought three wooden train whistles to mail to my grands. Paybacks are bliss.


On a completely different topic, I forgot to add a photo of a rainbow that we saw as we left the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in July. It was spectacular, so much so that the highway came to resemble a parking lot as people pulled to the side to photograph it.


Thought of the day:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

              - Robert Louis Stevenson, From a Railway Carriage