Thursday, September 22, 2016

Traveling in place

Since going off the road just about a year ago, life has been pretty different. I sold my truck and trailer because the truck payment was a lot of money, and what's the use of a trailer without a truck to pull it with? I, however, admit to a continuing case of wanderlust. After replacing the truck with a cute little Ford Focus, though...

....which will not tow a thing, any domestic traveling we do is going to be via the motel route. Having once had a paid-for trailer, the thought of the cost of staying in motels and eating out is daunting, but putting it in perspective by thinking how much the trailer and truck cost, not to mention diesel fuel at 11 miles to the gallon, maybe not so bad after all. Even so, last Sunday, to dampen the wanderlust a bit, we took the opportunity to do some world traveling via a synchronized swimming show put on by the Aquabelles of Green Valley Recreation (GVR). 

GVR is an organization that has several centers around Green Valley with pools, tennis and pickle ball courts, and fitness facilities, plus silversmithing, woodworking, ceramics, and clay studios, an art league, and clubs like mad including computers, photography, quilting, different states of members' origins, cards - actually, just name it and it's bound to exist. Membership attaches to a property's deed, which means if your home's prior owner joined GVR, you have no choice when you buy the place; you have to join too. My house was already in GVR which was ok because I wanted use of the facilities, but it's not cheap. It's about $2300 to join and annual dues are $450. However, I use the well-equipped fitness center almost daily and I couldn't join a commercial place for anywhere near my annual fee. Plus the art league with studio space and many free workshops... but I digress.

The Aquabelles are one of the clubs here and they put on an annual show that's open to the community; this year's was the 51st. The members pay for their own equipment, props, and decorations for the show but pass the hat for a local charity. This year any donations they receive are going to DaZee's, a local shelter for victims of domestic abuse and sex trafficking. I had heard of DaZee's but did not know it was a fund-raising forum for a shelter. This is only one of many organizations that raises funds for local charities in Green Valley. 

I  was not in Green Valley last year at this time, so this is the first time HH and I, and our friend Kathy down the street, went to a performance. We had a blast. The theme of this year's show was Around the World in Eighty Minutes, so here's where my virtual traveling comes in.

This is the pool we look out on when we're in the fitness center, and was the venue for the three shows put on this weekend, with the Santa Rita mountains in the distance.

I admire these women no end. They're a lesson in enjoying life to the fullest; just get out there and have fun. This is their opening dance for the New York stop on their tour. The woman on the right? I want the muscles on her back.

Here they are in the pool at the beginning of their act,

and some waving-leg work. The emcee for the show mentioned the synchronized swimming performances at the recent Olympics, and added, "That's not us." But I couldn't do what these women do and thought they were wonderful.

Next up was a stop in England, with a performance by the AquaBeaus. They were a riot. Look at the last guy in line. How could you not laugh along out of sheer delight?

I think they maybe rehearsed for about 15 minutes but were obviously having fun.

Here they're performing their version of whatever the movement is called where each swimmer dives off to alternate sides. They just kind of fell over.

Next up was a trip to the Caribbean.

This might be the opening to the Italy segment.

This one is definitely Istanbul.

Here are their jangly ankle bracelets peeking above the water.

Zandra Pardi is a native of Mexico who now lives north of the border. She teaches Spanish classes via GVR and dances at functions like this one. HH and I first saw her at a Green Valley Concert Band's performance last spring.

I wrote to Zandra a few weeks ago about private Spanish lessons and from what I could decipher from her reply in Spanish, it sounded like she was too busy to take on anything else. After the show ended, though, I introduced myself to her and said I was the one who had asked about lessons, en español. She actually understood what I said and didn't laugh - bless her heart - and said she thought she'd have time on Fridays. I'm so excited and hope to start with her next month.

This is the last performance of the day and I lost track of what city it represented. There were other places they traveled, too, but I don't have photos of those.

The ensemble, in their wet and drying finery. We've already earmarked even better seats for next year's show.

Thought of the day:

When was the last time you did something for the first time?
– John C. Maxwell

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Many years ago, about 30, I was visiting family in Detroit, and one night we went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Xochimilco. I remember it being on Jefferson at the foot of the Belle Isle bridge but a search for it just now says it's in Mexican Town, a few miles to the northwest (I think). That's what memory will do for you: not much. Anyway, I had no idea what the restaurant's name meant at the time and for years afterward, but last year I learned it's the name of a borough of Mexico City known for its canals and artificial islands. I read about it in a guide book and decided we had to go there when we traveled to Mexico City last December.

HH and I hired a taxi to take us all around the city. There's public transportation but we're lazy travelers and the taxi was so convenient. The driver was bilingual and helped me with Spanish quite a bit. He needed very little help with English; mostly it was help with pronunciation. He was quite fluent. One day we had him take us to the canals of Xochimilco for a gondola (trajinera) ride. It was a beautiful, sun-shiny day and the crowds were out, so there were lines to board one of them. This doesn't look like many people, but there were queues like them in several places.

The canal was full of occupied trajineras, so it looked like it would be a long wait.

Luckily our driver knew a way to cut the line and got us on a boat of our own.

This has to be a hard way to make a living. There are no motors, just long poles used to move the boats along.

Many people come with their families and spend the entire day on a trajinera, bringing their own food and drinks. We may have been the only gringos out there that day, but that was also true for just about everywhere we went. Museums, cultural sites, restaurants, markets, churches - Mexico City and the surrounding areas are a magnet for Mexican tourists. They love their country. On the other hand, America, and other countries for all I know, have done a great job of instilling fear about the dangers of traveling in Mexico, but I believe I have a better chance of getting shot in south Tucson than anywhere I've been in Mexico.

Passengers can buy from vendors on chalupas, a kind of canoe, who get around the same way, using poles. Food, drinks, and souvenirs are all for sale.

Some people bring their own music in the form of boom boxes, but you can also hire mariachis, who travel around the canals, offering their services. Just flag them down and their trajinera will pull alongside for a serenade.

Here are two trajineras, nose to nose, sharing a mariachi band. It looks like the woman at the far right is protecting her hearing - they're loud!

There's a place there called Isla de las Munecas - The Island of the Dolls. Legend has it a girl drowned under mysterious circumstances and the dolls are possessed by her spirit. I've seen some creepy photos of dolls on the island, particularly in shots taken at night, but all I saw were some raggedy-looking toys hanging from trees and bushes.

I imagine that at night things look different indeed. It's possible to get off the boat and explore but, no. I could live without that experience.

As crowded as the canals were, there were still times when we found ourselves nearly alone. It was easy to imagine an earlier time, before it got so commercial, when the boats were used to transport produce from the gardens on the islands to markets in the city, when in early morning all was quiet except for the sounds of water lapping the shore and sides of the boats...

...and then, BOOM, there we were back in the fray, cheek and jowl with the rest of the folks looking for entertainment. It was OK, it was good. It was Mexico and this is what we came for - the sights, the music, the people - the experience of daily life in this marvelous city.


Thought of the day:

The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life. - William Morris

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