Friday, October 21, 2016

I've Looked at Clouds (With Apologies to Joni Mitchell)

The Midwest sky is a place of constant movement. Perhaps due to the flatness of the prairie, steamrolled by glaciers eons ago, we see more of it than those that inhabit more undulating terrain. There is rarely a cloudless day. Almost always wisps of white drift overhead. The heat of a brutal summer sun about to be eased by a cool breeze from the north is foreshadowed by the floating markers which will shade the earth giving relief from the heat.

Sometime the clouds can be menacing. Dark cylinders roll up into an even darker plane above them. I have watched as storms moving over the lake create spouts. Cones of lake water swirl up and meet  the powerful darkness which permeates the sky.

 At sunset from our kitchen window the clouds add depth and color. The rays of the late afternoon sun break through them creating shafts of light which move cross the vista of an eclectic collection of modern and vintage highrises, church steeples and tree shaded streets lined with venerable four square homes. As the sun dips closer to the horizon the clouds light up in colors of red, yellow, orange and pink, sometimes brilliant, sometimes subtle.

Some, looking at vacation photos, for instance, remark on a clear, blue, cloudless sky. I prefer the random nature of clouds. Sometimes I enjoy being surprised.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - Pancakes, Malteds, Dinkytown and The Way Home

My final morning on this trip my nephew had a dentist appointment so I offered to watch the grandniece. We made pancakes, she mixing the batter, I cooking them in the skillet, a deal we had hammered out the evening before. Upon my nephew's return I took in the sun in the back yard playing a game of shirtless fetch with the dog until my nephew had gained enough feeling in his mouth for us to head to lunch.

Despite a wind strong enough to blow my baseball cap off my head, causing me to run half a block after it, we decided to eat on the rooftop deck of a diner in a neighborhood next to the University of Minnesota. The area is called, I swear this is true, Dinkytown. The menu consisted primarily of delicious, artery clogging, deep fried foods and malts.I could not remember the last time I had experienced that taste treat as I sipped and spooned my way through the creamy concoction. The area is like many adjacent to major campuses. A mixture of shops, many specializing in U of M specific merchandise, restaurants and bars. A drive through the campus afforded me views of the historic buildings encompassing an array of architectural styles which make up this section of the university. Across the tracks of the light rail system which serves the city the Frank Gehry designed University Art Museum sits next to the Mississippi River. It was interesting to see the relatively modest size of the waterway this close to it's headwaters. I am more accustomed to the "mile wide" dimensions nearer to Chicago.

In the late afternoon I bid farewell to my nephew and grandniece at the airport. I do not know how but I was afforded TSA prescreened status and attempted to not feel smug and over important as I strode past the long lines into the much shorter prescreened queue. Through the airplane window during the flight I watched as the green fields, forests and lakes of Minnesota morphed into the urban street grid and towers of the metropolis I call home.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Minnesota 2016 - Fort Snelling

First let me state that I am a pacifist. I feel, and have stated many times over my life, that after over 5000 years of civilization we should have come up with a better way to settle our differences than blowing one another to bits. That being said, the idea suggested by my nephew of visiting Fort Snelling appealed to me. When I think back on our visit to Puerto Rico the 16th century El Morro stands out as a high point.

Fort Snelling stands at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. At one time it was the furthest outpost of the U.S. military. After the war of 1812 a chain of forts were constructed to repel any further Canadian incursions. The fort was founded in 1819. John Emerson brought his slave Dred Scott with him during a stint at Fort Snelling leading to an early and important ruling regarding slavery in the U.S. During the Dakota War of 1862 women, children and elders of the tribe were captured and kept there leading to the deaths of many of them. It was decommissioned in 1946 and fell into disrepair before it's designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The walled portion of the fort has been rebuilt and restored to it former appearance.

The sun was bright and the weather warm during our visit. A stark contrast to the cool and rainy conditions of the previous couple of days. The focus at the fort that weekend was World War I. Staff in period costumes stationed throughout the fort provided information about the era. The subjects ranged from weaponry to Morse Code to the women's suffrage movement. My nephew and I played chauvinists stating that we still questioned the wisdom of the decision to give women the vote. Our joke did not go over well with the niece in law. My grandniece was fascinated by Morse Code. After tapping out several random letters on a vintage telegraph machine the staff member told her she had just spelled "I,m going to clean my room."  That joke did not go over well with my grandniece.

One room held a display about the history of conscientious objectors during World War I. Although I was aware of the Navajo language being used as code during World War II I had no idea that this idea was preceded by members of the Choctaw tribe using their native tongue as code during the last days of World War I. The men were sworn to secrecy about the operation, only being allowed to speak of it in their old age. My own family history came alive when a staff member spoke of German immigrants coming to the U.S. before and after the war. My own ancestor was part of that migration. According to the family lore he reversed his first and last names in order to downplay his then unpopular German heritage, although I have always felt that his presumed accent would have given him away. I and I think my nephew, who was standing next to me, felt a connection to our past during that moment.

We concluded our visit by taking in the view from the top of the fort's roundhouse. From the vantage point of the 200 year old structure the modern skyline of Minneapolis appeared in the distance over the treetops.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - A Sunday Morning Brunch on an Outdoor Deck

After returning from church, an activity I chose not to participate in as I would have felt extremely guilty had the holy building burst into flame once I entered, my nephew, grandniece and I left for brunch at a restaurant with a large outdoor riverfront deck space. My niece in law, remembering a theatre group meeting at the last minute, was to join us for our other activities later in the day. There, over mimosas and an ample cinnamon roll we began to play one of my favorite games. Who Are These People and What Are They Doing Here? A cheerful waitress took our order, a rather handsome in a hipster sort of way, humorless server brought us our food and the game was afoot.

A large, bearlike, bearded man, young enough looking for the waitress to ask for his I.D., shared a table with what were obviously his parents. Was he visiting them or were they visiting him? At another table was a larger group. A couple with a tiny baby, an older couple and two men close in age to the presumed parents of the aforementioned newborn. One of the younger men seemed to favor the baby's mother. He was handed the baby at one point. New uncle was the concensus between my nephew and myself. The other man was harder to read. His taut, athlectic body was clad in a tight fitting gray tee shirt. He wore his baseball cap backwards, although he was advanced enough in age where this look no longer really worked for him. He was accompanied by an extremely large, fearsome looking dog with a barbed choke chain around his neck. He seemed to maintain little control over the massive animal. There was some concern among us, not entirely unreasonable, that the dog, if allowed to, might eat the baby.

Later that evening relaying the story to my niece in law, she turned the tables on me. She suggested that other diners may have been playing the same game with our table as the subject. She suggested that they may have taken me for my grandnieces grandfather. I suggested that this was dismaying as it could easily be true.

Minneapolis 2016 - From the Outside In

Having now visited Minneapolis twice I made an observation. Wanting to make sure I was not projecting on to the city something that wasn't there I discussed what I had observed with both my nephew and a former coworker who had lived in Minneapolis for a period of time. I observed that unlike some U.S. cities, particularly sunbelt ones, Minneapolis seems unconcerned with expanding it's footprint. Instead it seems to have a knack for "filling in it's spaces".

For instance my nephew's home is a sweet, late mid century bungalow. Next door is a home similar in size and age to his. Yet on the same block are homes perhaps half a century older and much larger. My nephew explained to me his understanding was that originally some of the homes sat on much larger lots then they do now. He and his neighbor's home we built on what, at one time, may have been the side yard of one of the older homes on the block. This makes for a charming eclecticism.

Likewise the mansion housing the Bakker Museum appears to have once been on a lot surrounded by gardens, most now turned over to the museum's expansion. On an adjacent street another large, older home which overlooks a park and lake has for neighbors spacious yet decidedly more modern homes. They too appear to have been built on what was once that mansions expansive grounds.

The mill district, once derelict, has been re imagined as an upscale mixed use area. Along with the loft apartments carved out of the old mills, other apartment complexes share space with the Guthrie Theatre and the city's stadium, all newly constructed. Near my nephew's home a fantastic, late 19th century brewery building has been reused, a portion of it turned over to the public library system. Turn of the 20th century riverbank commercial districts, spared demolition, have become vibrant with nightlife. Bars and restaurants fill the spaces behind blocks long strips of historic facades.

The Frank Ghery designed University of Minnesota Art Museum, with his signature sensuous, swooping metal facade, sits on the riverbank behind the tracks of the city's public transit light rail line. Proud yet unobtrusive it does not compete with the more venerable, historically important structures on the campus grounds. This stands in comparison with his bandshell in Chicago's Millennium Park, so blatant and visible it has become an iconic symbol of the city. As recognizable as the Picasso in Daley Plaza or the Lions which grace the steps of my beloved Art Institute.

There is some new construction on the city's edge, but it seems to be confined to the tracks of the light rail system. Tight apartment blocks built for convenience rather than bland sprawling subdivisions.

The city sits in a setting of lush, fertile land and glistening lakes. It seems to understand it's good fortune. It appears to be content within itself leaving that which surrounds it unspoiled.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - A Rainy Day, Hence Another Museum

I had looked at the forecast before I left and knew that rain was likely on Saturday. The prediction was  correct so we were forced to decide on another indoor activity It's parameters, it needed to interest adults and entertain and distract an 8 year old. We chose the Bakken Museum, an interactive institution emphasizing electricity, electrical currents and how they are generated and transmitted. This included how electricity can be conducted through the human body.

The museum began life in a gothic revival mansion built in 1928. Like mush in Minneapolis there is a connection between the mansion and the retailer Target. The home was built with money made from the sale of a dry goods store to the eventual founder of Dayton Hudson which through a  series of mergers and acquisitions eventually became Target, one of the largest employers in Minneapolis. More space has since been added to house additional exhibits which pays tribute to the gothic nature of the original structure.

There are games powered by brain waves and hand grips where one can measure their heart rate (mine is in the mid 50's beats per minute range). On a screen musical instruments can be dropped into the pictured heart which then emit tunes in time to one's heartbeat. There are vintage electrical devices on display, including several medical ones that illustrate how far we have come in that field. There is a book from the 13th century, an early polygraph machine and an early 20th century telephone housed in an small gallery which showcases pieces from the museums extensive archives. The gentleman that started the museum was fascinated by electrical devices and collected them by the thousands forming the core of the museum. In the mansion's grand hall are tables with batteries, cables and small electrically powered objects where children can play and learn how electricity is conducted through wires. In another room electricity is sent to a device which when touched will make one's hair stand on end. A good natured, long haired biker type agreed to demonstrate much to the delight of my grandniece who giggled at the sight of the rough looking character's hair flying wildly around his head.

While my grandniece built various electrical gadgets I took in the mansion's architectural details. It is as if a grand centuries old European castle had been transported to the U.S. and then scaled down. In one room there is a large copper hooded fireplace. A photo from 1975 shows it as the t.v. room where a caption states the family liked to gather to watch, as many others in that era did, Bonanza. Other photos show the home, despite it's grandeur, appearing lived in, homey and comfortable. A stunning carved wooden fruit basket decorates a newel post at the foot of a staircase in a small hall. Beautiful painted glass panels grace the tops of many of the windows. Outside is a small lovely garden where, despite the light rain, I was able to steal a few quite moments. Water trickling over rocks in an ornamental pond created a tranquil background as a tiny blue bird flew across the setting of lawn and flowers.

As we left my grandniece and two other children were treated to a conversation with a small tuxedo clad robot named Oscar. He was remotely controlled by a museum worker sitting in a corner. By texting he can make the robot speak. My nephew asked the robot if he ever had a problem with auto correct. "Ja, you betcha" came the robots authentic Minnesota reply.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - A Theatrical Labyrinth Followed by Ice Creme

The new home of the Guthrie Theatre stands nearby the Mill Museum. A blue glass structure my nephew thinks looks like an oversized IKEA store. Rather dark inside it is a complex of three stages and several restaurants and bars which were, as we were soon to discover, complex. As we entered there were posters announcing the shows playing at that time. "Disgraced" an excellent Pulitzer Prize winning drama. I had the good fortune to see it in Chicago. It opened the Goodman's 2015/2016 season. As well as the Oscar and Hammerstein warhorse "South Pacific". A deck on an upper floor affords one another excellent view of the river, the green expanse of a park along it's shore and the venerable arched bridge we had traversed earlier in the day.

We reentered the building prepared to make our way out and move forward with the adventures of the day. This is when things started to go a little south. In an effort to "conserve energy", a noble cause, the escalators, which we had used not 30 minutes before, had been shut down and roped off forcing us to find an alternative route to the first floor and the exit. We went down corridors which all seemed to terminate at doors marked "authorized personnel only" or "emergency exit, alarm will sound". Several elevators surveyed did not go all the way to the ground floor. If we had tickets to a production the pathways to various seating areas were clearly marked, however these were no help to us in our present predicament. We passed by the aforementioned bars and restaurants, all closed so there was no one we could ask for directions. I began to feel like a mouse whose intelligence was being tested by being run through a maze ala "Flowers for Algernon". Eventually we did locate an elevator which let us off at the ground floor just before my patience and sanity had reached their breaking point. Bear in mind I had gotten up at 3 a.m. that morning in order to make my plane. The 8 year old grandniece fared better than I, partly due to the fact that she had been bribed by the promise of an ice creme cone at a local shop after we left the theatre.

In a moment of irony the only time the sun broke through the clouds that day was the period of time when the ice creme was purchased and consumed. I left this activity to my nephew and his daughter while I copped a 10 minute cat nap on a park bench, my baseball cap, a memento of my trip to Italy, pulled over my face.

The trio of us returned home via my first UBER ride. It is an app unnecessary in Chicago, one of the few city's in the U.S. where an upraised index finger is just as effective, if not more so, than a cell phone.

Minneapolis 2016 - Mill Museum

Storms slowed down travel causing me to arrive almost an hour late. Once safely on the ground I was whisked away by my nephew and grandniece to a hipster restaurant in St. Paul where two thirds of the menu options were precede by the word "organic". The sky remained gray and a suggestion was made to walk from my nephew's home to the Minneapolis Mill Museum.

From 1880 and continuing for 50 years thereafter Minneapolis was know as the Flour Mill Capital of the World. The museum is built in the ruins of what was once the largest flour mill in the world. The structure was accidentally destroyed by fire in the 1990's set by squatters living in it after it had been abandoned. The riverfront during those years had fallen on hard times and was known as a dangerous area of town The destruction of the mill spurred redevelopment . New construction began and old mill buildings were rehabbed into loft style apartments. Some ruins of old mills along the riverbank were saved and serve as historical artifacts connecting the city's past with it's present.

We crossed the Mississippi on a 19th century arched bridge.Originally built for trains it is  now given over to pedestrians and bicycles. A breast cancer awareness walk was taking place that day. My young grandniece, sporting a pink necklace handed to her at the foot of the bridge, cheered them on.

A sign rises from one a tall tower of one of the converted mill buildings, a five pointed star with the word North Star Blankets. The sign is simple, elegant and inherently iconic. The building, like others in the area, dates from the last half of the 19th century. Build in 1864, by 1925  North Star had become the largest manufacturer of wool blankets in the country.

Visitors to the Mill Museum are led into a large freight elevator outfitted with seats that moves between floors set with tableaus and showing videos of what it was like working at the mill. Recorded voices of former workers tell their stories. A deck on what would have been the roof of the ruined factory boasts an impressive view of the section of the river that was engineered, via spillways, locks and reinforcement of the waterfalls which were once eroding at an advanced rate, to power the mills along it's shores.

By the 60's advanced automation and convenience foods began to toll the death knell for the mills.
Why bake bread, cakes, pies or muffins at home when you can simply drive to the store and purchase them ready made? Apparently housewives felt they had better things to attend to. You go girls!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - Group Two May Now Board

Airports are fascinating places. Who are these people?. Where are they going and why? Men with suit bags paraded by. It being a Friday it was not unreasonable to assume that they are bound for weekend weddings, rental tuxedos in tow. Perhaps some were even the grooms themselves, heading home for the big day where friends and family are more prevalent. A young girl walks through the food court. A red bandana covers her hair. Her ensemble is completed by brightly colored striped knee socks and a long white lab coat. An attractive, heavily tattooed young man with close cropped bleach blond hair waits at the gate next to mine wearing bright red headphones. He is what is sometimes referred to by gym rats as a chicken. He possesses a thick, muscular upper body, his sleeveless tee shirt revealing powerful looking arms, supported by thin, undersized legs. A more evenly proportioned specimen strode past him, his strong arms also bared. Summer travel does have it's advantages for the voyueristically inclined among us.

I suppose these days one expect air travel to be a horrific experience. Not so this flight. Public transportation was reliable and efficient. Security lines moved quickly and boarding was uneventful. The wait for this last made more enjoyable due to the close proximity of the aforementioned males. There was a short delay taking off due to air traffic backing up over Minneapolis but if this was the worst that happened I considered the hand I had been dealt that morning more than fair.

As we taxied down the runway the glow of the rising sun created a beautiful backdrop to the silhouette of city skyline of the place where I have made my home. The metropolis I have grown to admire, love and respect.

As we neared Minneapolis the clouds resembled drifts of snow as we began our descent.  

Minneapolis 2016 - Preamble

It was early. I mean really early. I mean the time I used to stagger home during my club kid days early. I was waiting outside an el station in the comfortable early morning late summer air for the first run of the day of the bus that would carry me on the next leg of my trip to the airport. I was Minneapolis bound to visit my nephew, his wife, I suppose she is my niece in law if such a designation exists, and grandniece. They are family, fortunately family so cool and fun I would hang out with them even if we didn't share a bloodline.

As I left that morning a small hare greeted me in the parking lot behind my apartment building. As I waited at the bus stop there was an odd bird call from a tree and a sizable rat dashed across the street. Chicago welcomes and harbors a large variety of wildlife.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Taxicab Confessions Parts 3 and 4

Part #3

Chicago's winter cold is legendary. That does not however keep the weather hardened population indoors. So it happens that one evening on the way to a night of clubbing years ago I stood in freezing temperatures waiting for a bus. A cab drove up and the driver leaned across the passenger seat lowered the window and said, "It's too cold to be outside, hop in and I'll at least get you close to a bus. The ride's on me." Grateful for his generosity I got in.

As we rode along he asked me what I did. I explained that I, at that time, managed the men's underwear department at an internationally known upscale department store. He gave me a quick once over through the rear view mirror and asked "You gay?" I said yes, it being past the days when I would lie about such a thing. He grinned and said "You must love that job." I admitted that it did indeed have it's moments.

We came to a strip of bars and restaurants. I offered to get out so he could pick up a paying fare. Looking around he stated "None of these people need a cab" and continued to head forward. Eventually we caught up with a bus which would take me to my destination. I thanked the driver got out and hopped on the bus.

Thank you my anonymous cab driver for that warm ride on that cold night.

Part #4

Two of the numerous things I have learned during my lifetime are, If you want to make friends with a tattooed guy ask him about his ink. If you want to make friends with a buff guy talk to him about his workout routine.

I walked out of the hotel and eased into the back seat of the first cab in line, as hotel etiquette demands. The driver was cute and handsome at the same time, a rare combination. As I discovered shortly he was Romanian. His tee shirt was stretched tightly over an impressive torso. We began to talk and as is often the case with gym rats our conversation turned to our various fitness endeavors. He claimed, as his biceps bulged while turning the steering wheel. that he did not concentrate on weights focusing instead on cardio.

I came to the conclusion that he was either remarkably genetically gifted, or a really good fibber.

Cab rides are brief chance encounters. You never quite know what you're in for until you open the door. Sometimes it's just a ride, devoid of any interaction other than stating your destination and paying your fare. But every once in a while the ride becomes a story.

Taxicab Confessions Parts 1 and 2

Chicago is one of the few U.S. cities where cabs can be summoned by standing on the edge of the sidewalk and holding one's finger in the air. They pull up, you get in and are driven to your destination. A plain and simple act of vehicular commerce on which occasionally hangs a tale.

Part #1

I strode out of the club. A cab set waiting at the curb making it unnecessary for me to make the effort of sticking my finger in the air. As I climbed into the back seat the driver turned around slightly and inquired, "Is the music too loud?" Recognizing the soulful yelps and funky rhythms I replied "James Brown can't be too loud." The driver smiled and I began my journey home through the dark city streets. I don't remember how, but as we chatted the name of the late singer songwriter Laura Nyro came up. I had been introduced to her work by my roommate during my San Francisco days and have over the years collected several of her albums, which I still own. One however, her first, I have never been able to find, despite hours spent in used record stores pawing through bin after bin of vinyl. I mentioned this to the driver. As we came to a stoplight he quickly sifted thorough a box of cassettes, this was a number of years ago, and popped one into the dashboard player. The quirky, unmistakable, sometimes smooth, sometimes staccato voice of Laura Nyro filled the cab. As we pulled up to the dilapidated 6 flat that I called home at the time I attempted to pay and exit the cab. He insisted that I stay and listen to his 2 favorite tracks before I left. We sat in the car enjoying the music together before I paid the fare and left the cab.

I sometimes wonder if he recalls that short ride we shared that evening as I do.

Part #2

My mother had died and I had to travel to the Catskills to help my step father clear out the house and salvage what sentimental family mementos that I could. My mother was, to put it mildly, strong willed. The night she was cremated, as couple of days prior to my arrival, there was a violent thunder and lightening storm. My step father relayed to me how my sisters stood on the porch shooting photos as lightening strike after lightening strike lit up the sky. Schedules did not mesh and upon arriving I had to take a cab from the train station to my mother's home. The driver remarked on the storm, "Lived here my whole life and never seen anything like it" he told me. As my step father and I drove my sister to the airport in Albany we cane to a conclusion. My mother, strong willed even after passing, was, that night, taking her final bow.

In San Francisco, back in the early eighties, cabs, while not as plentiful as in Chicago, were still fairly easy to come by. Many, some nights it seemed as if all, were driven by the gay men that were ubiquitous there in those years. The money was good and drug testing was not yet in vogue. If your driver was chewing gum at a pace so rapid his jaws were a blur there was a good chance that he was speeding his brains out and you were in for a RIDE. I became accustomed to these adventurous sojourns however my mother, when she would visit, not so much. I remember her literally scream one night as we rounded a corner on two wheels before becoming slightly airborne as the cab descended the hill before us. Have you ever seen the car chase scene in the film Bullitt? On occasion a San Francisco cab ride was something like that.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

My One and Only....Bears Game

It had been going on for a couple of months. One of my husband's clients were going to be out of town during the weekend of a Chicago Bears home game for which they had season tickets. On Sundays over the years, as well as occasional Mondays and Thursdays, I have begun to understand, in a general sense, American football, When I am not working we often watch at least a portion of the Bears games. We have even watched them in Jackson Hole and Puerto Rico. This client's absence would be an opportunity to see a game live in the stadium. Two obstacles stood in our way.

Obstacle #1: Would we be the recipient of the tickets? There were apparently several possible alternate choices.

Obstacle #2: Would I have that Sunday off or. were we to get the tickets, would someone have to take my place?

We got the tickets and due to me being firm and unwavering with my coworkers I had the Sunday off. Once we had the tickets in hand and I saw their face value I realized that this could very well be the one and only professional football game I would ever attend.

It had poured rain the during the week and the day before the game. That morning, however, promised to turn into the type of fall day one relishes. Bright sun, temperatures in the low to mid 60's, in short, glorious football weather. Brilliant leaves clung to the trees and formed a multi hued carpet on the ground in the parkland that lines Chicago;s lakefront. The sunlight accentuated the colors as our bus made it's way down Lakeshore Drive.

We had given ourselves extra time. Too many details could go awry. Erratic bus schedules, extra security once we got to the stadium, finding our seats. As always when one displays an excess of caution things could have not gone more smoothly. We stopped for coffee and a roll figuring that even the overpriced environs of Starbucks would be less expensive than buying food at the game.We enjoyed the downtown scene, which often borders on chaotic. As we exited Starbucks a woman. face pulled overly taut in a vain attempt to recapture her youthful looks entered with a man with a wrinkled visage and scruffy long hair. obviously unconcerned with recapturing his. A zydeco band played in a plaza as we continued to the stadium.

We went through the long line created by the stadium's tight security when we arrived. The columns of the original Soldier Field are visible from the ramps leading to the seats that wrap around the newer structure. Views of the city are framed between them .Our seats were midway up, just off the 50 yard line. We reveled in the beauty of the day, taking pictures with our phones and then posting them on Facebook. We cheered on the team and discovered what occurs during the commercials on t.v. Young men run out on the field with flags bearing the teams insignia, then run back to the sidelines again. We "made noise" as instructed by the megatron signs and had a generally wonderful time.

Sadly, despite a couple of excellent plays made by Jay Cutler, the type the consistently inconsistent quarterback is occasionally capable of, in the last few seconds of the game we lost. Ah well, it's only a game. We left with smiles on our faces having had a wonderful time on an incredibly beautiful early November day.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - A Few Words About Mexican Churches

No matter how impressive every Mexican church I have ever visited exudes a certain humility. Many European churches, as well as North American ones, seem designed to flaunt wealth. Mexican churches, by contrast, appear to be designed not to be showcases for what a church owns but to beautiful spaces in which to worship. In one the gilded altar was juxtaposed against humble carved wooden wainscoting along it's walls. Images of saints, instead of being sculpted marble are painted wood. Exquisite examples of folk art inspired by deep belief and faith. While true that some 16th century cathedrals in the Yucatan were built using stone from Mayan structures demolished by the Spaniards, when the people of Mexico took control of their faith they created interiors that spoke of humanity and humility, not greed, fear and a lust for power. The addition of electricity in the more venerable churches is evidenced by almost ubiquitous Murano glass chandeliers, but even these are glass. not crystal. While beautiful they provide light, they do not exude it. Mexican churches, even the most grand, are monuments to a people's faith not an affront to it.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - The Light Fantastic

On Friday night I treated myself to the best meal of my trip. I chose a restaurant on the second floor of a building that stood on one side of the plaza in front of the Cathedral. My choice was made, for the most part, because from the menu at the entrance I discovered I could enjoy a glass of Chivas for the equivalent of $5.

The long windows of the restaurant afforded me a view of the plaza below from my table. Night had fallen as I descended the stairs after dinner. I was unprepared for the sight I experienced as I stepped outside. The fountain in the center of the plaza was flooded by spotlights which changed color, from bright red to brilliant blue to a deep orange, brilliant color after brilliant color illuminated the water. The cathedral was equally spectacular. The baroque elements of it's facade were highlighted and enhanced by bright golden lights. As I made my way back to the hotel I discovered the fountain in the plaza outside the university was lit in a similar way giving an almost carnival atmosphere to the evening.

I was determined to return the next night, phone in hand, to capture the sight. I have mentioned the hordes of people I encountered in Mexico's second largest city. On Saturday night these were multiplied several times over making the sidewalks feel like rush hour subway cars. Miraculously I managed to find enough space to shot a video of the cathedral fountain and buildings surrounding the plaza by walking in a small circle to capture a 360 degree view. A band played in an outdoor restaurant. A group of punks walked by donned in tight, torn, gaffitti covered clothing and sporting multiple piercings. I saw another wearing heavy eye makeup and a long leather trench coat waiting for his order in a Subway sandwich shop. A man was ranting into a mike about God knows what, a group of girls, wearing what appeared to be Quinceanera gowns hung out the sunroof of a hummer limo as it passed by in the street.

Just your typical Saturday night!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - The International Brotherhood of Jewelry Salesmen

I arrived in Guadalajara after dark. I caught a cab to my hotel from the airport. It took me through some rather desolate areas, a condition I was to see repeated a number of times over the following days, before dropping me off at the 100 plus year old doors of the establishment that was to be my base of operations during my stay. As I entered the lobby and was checking in, working as hard I as could to overcome a language barrier, I noticed a tiny jewelry shop off to one side. After depositing my bags in my room I returned to the lobby. It is, given my profession, difficult for me to pass up a jewelry store, especially since it was after nightfall and I, frankly, had nothing else to do. The proprietor, a smallish gentleman with prematurely silver hair heavily sprayed into place greeted me. He was dressed in jeans, long sleeve shirt and a stripped apron, his uniform of sorts as I saw him wear a variation of it every day I was there. After he greeted me it was ascertained quickly that my Spanish speaking language skills were, to say the least, limited. Fortunately his English was excellent. He was to become my unofficial Guadalajara guide.

I had intended to take public transportation while there. He suggested that, not being fluent in Spanish, this was not my best option. Taxis were cheap, plentiful and much, much safer. After later seeing the neighborhoods I would have had to traverse between my hotel, the zoo and Talqupeque this suggestion proved to be sound advise.

It was after my one of my outings that, upon returning to the hotel, I began to question his sexual orientation. Although I didn't, for various reasons, explore this aspect of Guadalajara, I knew from my research that it has the most active gay community in Mexico. My research also suggested that the epicenter of that community was close by my hotel. Rather tentatively I asked him which, bringing up a listing of gay establishments on my phone, if any, were close by. He knew of a couple, telling me one was a stripper bar where the strippers danced full on naked. It appeared that from his familiarity with the bar he had been there more than once. On a seperate occasion he told me, without prompting, about another bar I had read about. This one had a "back room". He suggested that I might have more "fun" there. Again his knowledge of the venue seemed more that just casual.

I did purchase a tourquise ring from him. The stone is unique in that it contains both the green and blue hues of the semi precious gem. He told me that all the jewelry was made by Mexican artisians. I took him at his word. True or not it does add a bit of romance to the piece.

Prior to leaving I made a point of thanking him for all his assistance and information. He insisted he did nothing special. His grace, humility and kindness left me with only one problem, how was I ever going to be able to pay this forward. Thanks my silver haired amigo.

A number of years ago when we were in Venice we ran into difficulty locating our hotel. Noticing a beauty salon on the street my husband, a hairdresser, exclaimed "The international federation of hairdressers! They'll help us!". Sure enough, despite a language barrier, one of the women led us down the street and pointed through an archway. We found our hotel, tucked away behind two courtyards. On this occasion I put my trust in the International Brotherhood of Jewelry Salesman.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - No Cars Allowed

On Sundays Guadalajara, like several other large Mexican cities, closes some of it's streets to vehicular traffic. The population walks, jogs, skateboards and bikes down avenues choked with traffic every other day of the week. In Merida this tradition results in a party air complete with musicians and dancing, literally, in the streets. In Guadalajara it conveys a feeling of the citizens exhibiting an air of freedom of movement, despite them being stopped at corners occasionally so that cross traffic can make it's way past the vast numbers of people enjoying an afternoon of activity untethered by cars and buses. As I walk through the historical core of the city I passed another hotel as venerable as mine, each of it's ground floor windows graced by caged tropical birds. I stopped in a store thinking I might purchase a suit for my new job, coming up empty handed. I took a photo of another stores long entryway. Vivid gowns with 4 foot wide skirts in colors not generally found in nature were displayed on manequins along one wall. One was barebreasted, clad only in a bright green bell shaped skirt. My mind reeled. I posted the photo on Facebook. People streamed past me and churchbells rang as I continued to my hotel to pack and prepare for my trip home.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - A Visit to a Museum - Art

Many people, when they think of museums, think of art, a selection of which can be found at the museum in Guadalajara. One long, narrow room contains religious art dating from the 11th through 18th centuries. In this gallery Jesus is depicted on a cross...repeatedly. One piece attempts to tell the story of the founding of the Carmelite order of nuns. Jesus is in the center, seen suffering through the agony of his crucifixion while in one corner is a group of sisters, all habits and rosaries. Cherubs, their naughty parts creatively draped, fly through the air. On the whole it resembled some overproduced, slightly gory, Broadway musical number gone terribly awry.

It was interesting to see the evolution of both materials and techniques between the older pieces and the more "modern" ones. The 11th century works were crude, their imagery flat and lacking in the concept of perspective, while the 18th century have more dimension. The colors are stronger, perhaps due to improvements in the quality of pigments available. Light reflects off of the draped fabrics and faces in the paintings. Art education is also most likely a factor. 11th century artists worked on almost pure inspiration and devotion to their subject while later artists were able to receive more formal training.

I wandered a bit more and came upon a true treat tucked away in a corner. It was a special exhibition of portraits of famed artist Frida Kohelo done by Mexican artists. The paintings filled two rooms. Each work evoked the reverence and respect the artists obviously felt towards her. Done in an array of styles, they each portrayed her and her odd beauty in their own special way. In one she is embraced by a Day of the Dead skeleton, another shows her surrounded by a group of cats. One envisions her on the cover of Vogue. In another she is imagined as a Hollywood screen siren. She wears a bright crown of flowers, rainbow smoke issues from a cigarette she is holding, a hummingbird hovers by her shoulder, I have no idea why.

I had two favorites, although it was difficult to chose among the works. There was an obviously Picasso inspired piece of classic cubism. The image is fragmented, the colors vivid and arbitrary. The other, by contrast, was quiet and subdued. It was a rather large, straight forward. sepia toned portrait. Not only visually lovely it also evoked an emotional response, one characteristic that defines great art. It radiated self confidence and serenity.

I returned to the venerable maze of courtyards and staircases. The dome and spires of the cathedral could be seen above the roof line as the bells pealed calling the faithful to mass.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - A Visit to a Museum - Artifacts

Sunday, my final day in Guadalajara, came in cool and overcast. Whatever I had contracted prior to leaving for Mexico flared up and I had started the cycle of antibiotics I had brought with me the night before. On my first day the museum, for a reason I never did ascertain, wasn't open. As I approached that morning I saw the doors were open and once inside discovered that admission on Sundays is free. I entered the venerable structure, built in 1701, and found myself in the courtyard that I had come to realize over the past week is an integral part of the architecture of the area.

The centerpiece of the museum's collection is a skeleton of a mammoth discovered nearby almost intact. Other prehistoric fossils line the walls. There is a rhino skull estimated to be 7 to 8 million years old, a the molar of a mammoth as large as a man's foot and the skull of a sabre tooth tiger with it's impressive fangs. Drawing on the walls above the bones depict how the animals appeared when alive. This was the only area of the museum where English translations, somewhat garbled, were presented next to the Spanish language ones on the description cards accompanying the artifacts on display. The closing paragraph of the last panel contains a statement that I think might be too controversial to be found in most American museums. It is a discussion regarding the different theories of the cause of the extinction of the creatures whose fossilized remains are housed there. The final paragraph addresses climate change and that man through his disregard for the earth and his rampant consumerism  could cause the next great extinction. It is a message both chilling and thought provoking.

The next galleries focused on artifacts of the indigenous societies of Mexico. The items on display dated from 600 to 1500 a.d., so far as I could tell, the signs were all in Spanish. Case after case contained examples of jewelry, household items and terra cotta figures, all beautifully presented. There was a feeling of respect for not only the items themselves but also for the cultures that had created them. One case centered on music. Clay flutes were shown as well as sculptures depicting people involved in the joyful activity of making music and dancing.

The museum is somewhat of a labyrinth with multiple courtyards ringed by covered walkways on two levels. Some exhibits appeared to not be open, perhaps the reason the museum was completely closed when I first attempted to visit it. In an upstairs gallery I found artifacts from more recent eras. Portraits of important Mexican historical figures, I presume, again the signs were all in Spanish, filled the walls. There were several rather primitive paintings of battle scenes from Mexican wars. In an odd juxtaposition items of finery are also housed here, Elaborate opera glasses, an ivory fan and a delicate cup and saucer graced one case. There were also examples of military garb. Brass buttoned tailcoats and dress helmets decorated with horsetails and feathers. After all, we want to look our best when we go off to war. A mark of a true gentleman is an understanding of appropriate dress for the occasion.

I left the gallery and returned to the maze of walkways, staircases and courtyards.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Talquepaque

In a word, well two words, Talquepaque is a tourist trap. A place to make money off of visitors to Guadalajara. However, when a tourist trap is as lovely as Talquepaque I am willing to be forgiving. It began life and still retains the character of a small historic Mexican town. As has happened with other major cities, as the urban area grew the town was annexed by the city of Guadalajara.

My half hour long, and remarkably inexpensive, cab ride began at my hotel in Guadalajara's Centro Historico. Just a short distance from the 17th century churches across the street from my hotel the scene changes to one of auto shops, abandoned buildings and rolling garage doors buried under layers and layers of graffiti. Closer to my destination the streets narrowed. The buildings which lined them are painted bright colors and although modest in size there seems to be a sense of neighborhood pride in those living there, perhaps because of their proximity to the battered no man's land that lies between them and the center of the city.

My cab driver, in an odd coincidence the same one that had driven me back from the zoo the day before, drops me off at the edge of the district. A building along a pedestrian walkway with an arched arcade is filled with restaurants and shops. At that fairly early hour, 10 a.m., the stalls hawking wares one finds in such places throughout Mexico, are just beginning to come to life. I crossed the main plaza with it's ubiquitous bandstand, every town seems to have one, and visited the two nearby churches. Construction began on both in the 17th century but neither was completed until the 19th century. The San Pedro Apostal Church, the smaller of the two, resembled several of the others I had seen on this trip. The other, The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary, was a different story. It features a stunningly beautiful interior of carved wood and stone and is filled with natural light which streams in from the windows around it's dome.

I wandered the narrow streets, many restricted to pedestrians only, lined by beautiful historic buildings. The lush courtyards of mansions were visible behind iron gates. The goods in the stores ranged from souvenir kitsch to massive chandeliers and heavy wooden furniture. Colorful textiles were stacked in high piles. Cheap bead and plastic jewelry was juxtaposed against more pricey silver pieces. Sculptures dotted the tiny lanes. Some examples in this public art display were realistic and representative, some more abstract. I stopped in one shop to purchase a Christmas ornament, a small terra cotta pinata. Showing the young men helping me a photo on my phone of our heavily laden Christmas tree he grinned and said "one more!"

A cool breeze broke the warmth of the afternoon sun as I began to make my way back to the main square to hail a taxi to return me to my hotel with the fair number of bags I had collected during my shopping expedition. I stopped in my tracks and almost shrieked like a girl when I realized that 5 men were preparing to perform the Danza de los Valadores. I had seen this performed once before in Mexico City. An American couple nearby were speaking with each other wondering what was going on as the men climbed the tall pole one by one. I told them it was worth waiting for. 4 of the men launch themselves off of a wheel at the top of the pole operated with his feet by the fifth man. Ropes tied to both their feet and the wheel hold them upside down as the wheel spins and they are lowered slowly to the ground going around and around as the ropes wrapped around the wheel unwind. There is a video on YouTube that will give you some idea of the spectacle but nothing can compare with seeing it performed in person.

Did I behave like a tourist? Yes, unashamedly! Sometimes you just have to.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Guadalajara Zoo by Foot

A multitude of birds sang in the trees as I made my way down the shaded pathways. I soon encountered on of several innovative exhibitions at the zoo. In one area wire mesh tunnels, similar to hamster trails, run along an cross over the pathways. They are inhabited by some of the monkeys that, if they could talk, would call the zoo home. One peered down at me as another scampered along carrying her tiny baby on her back, something we were lucky enough to see in the wild when we visited Costa Rica. A peacock, indigenous to Mexico, roamed uncaged. I sought out the Bengal tiger. The black and white cat is one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. It appeared confident and self assured of it's magnificent presence as it lazed in the sun.

The animals seemed to be healthy and well cared for. Herd animals, deer and sheep for instance, had young of varying ages among their numbers. Toucans and Macaws also reminded me of Costa Rica. A black swan stepped over a low fence at the edge of it's pond and came after me, letting me know without mistake that I had overstayed my welcome while photographing it's mate. A goose sent me a similar message in an aviary. Geese, native to the Midwest, can be aggressive and downright mean, I guess swans are quick learners.

The crowds grew as the day wore on. 2 young Mexican couples joked and laughed as they strolled the grounds. A number of tiny school children, some hand in hand, ran through in their uniforms accompanied by harried adults attempting to keep them together. In the back of the zoo there were less people and I was able to quietly admire the vista of the river gorge before me. Ranges of mountains lined up one after another as far as the eye could see. The most far off appeared as mere suggestions of their shapes. A river, unable to be seen from my vantage point, over almost unimaginable years has cut the deep clefts that separate them. The area is a national park. Anywhere in the world it would be considered a national treasure. Tables and benches are located there so that the stunning beauty of this place can be appreciated over a picnic lunch. If I had children it would be the type of place I would take them so they could learn about and appreciate the magic and majesty of nature.

There are two other special enclosures at the zoo. In one you can enter a cage and find yourself face to face with a troop of small monkeys. They walk along the rails of the bridge that spans the floor of the cage. They swing from ropes over your head and climb down them to the small pile of rocks where their food tray is located. Their rapid and constant movements makes taking photos of them as they move about the cage a challenge. They might frighten very young children but older children and at least this adult found the interaction as fun as well, a barrel of monkeys.

A similar experience is to be had with the kangaroos and emus in the zoos menagerie. A path runs through that enclosure. All that separates you from the marsupials is a wooden log railing. In the heat of the afternoon all they seemed to be interested in was napping. They did acknowledge me by slightly raising their heads and wiggling their ears before returning to their former somnolent positions.

If one is so inclined there is a small amusement park containing 38 rides adjacent to the zoo. The roller coaster can be seen and the riders screams heard from several spots near the front of the zoo.

Beautiful animals, amusement park rides thrills and spills and wonders of nature. Who could ask for anything more?

Guadalajara 2016 - Guadalajara Zoo - Sky Zoo

I had looked forward to my visit to Guadalajara's zoo, regarded by some as the best in Latin America. I was not disappointed. From the cab windows on my way there I saw ragged, graffiti scarred industrial areas. On my return trip one of the garage doors had been raised revealing a tiny shop dealing exclusively in boxing paraphernalia. Heavy bags were lined up like soldiers, row after row of boxing gloves filled a wall, A bored looking salesperson sat behind a desk looking out at the street

The zoo is an expansive and beautiful space with a park like feel. A water feature stands outside the entrance. Water runs down the length of a tall blue monolith cover with bas relief images of animal faces. Beyond the entrance a long flight of stairs leads down to the zoo. In the center of them water cascades into pools dominated by pillars, the same pale blue as the monolith out front, with statues of monkeys on them. At the bottom a plume of water erupts from the pond surrounding the small island where the flamingos are housed. One final monkey perches on a pale blue pedestal in the water.

I began with the ski lift type attraction called "Sky Zoo". I had read that it was the best way to get an overview of the zoo's layout. My feet grazed treetops as I glided over the grounds below. It was fairly early in the morning, I was one of just a handful of people there at that hour. It was quiet and tranquil. I gazed at the animals beneath me. The wolf ran in circles. It had worn dirt tracks into the grass of it's enclosure. The Bengal tiger lazed in the early morning sun. Ahead of me appeared the breathtaking vista of the river gorge, a national park, visible from the back of the zoo's grounds. Returning to the terminal I alighted, a little clumsily, and began my terra firma exploration.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Tequila Tasting in the Desert and a Visit to the Town of the Same Name

We were driven next to a pavilion set in the middle of agave fields. It was an incredible desert landscape. Mountains rose in the distance. One is an extinct volcano, it's dome collapsed, a large outcropping of rock jutting up from one side near it's now vanished peak. The particular blue green of the desert succulent fanned out in all directions. We sampled several varieties of tequila, commenting among ourselves about the tastes and differences of the various types. It helped that several members of the tour spoke English. There was a demonstration of the harvesting of the agave showing how the ball is dug up from the ground. Then the leaves and roots are removed by hand with a sharp round spade like tool. Some members of the tour were allowed to try their hand at removing the leaves. We were treated to a small, chewy piece of the ball. It's taste is indistinct. It is perhaps best described as akin to chewing on a piece of softened wood.

Returning to the bus we continued to the town of Tequila, from which the liquor gets it's name. Legend has it that Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California, her home town "There is no there there." With the exception of the small, centuries old town square the same might be said of Tequila. There is nothing wrong with people making their life in such a place. I, in my youth, lived in Oakland for 2 years. Across the plaza from one another stand two churches. One, the chapel of the "Hospital de Indios" dates from the late 16th century, although it was remodeled in the 1940's. It's most unique feature are the mosaics of Mexican tile depicting the crucifixion, one of the 1940's renovations. The 18th century main cathedral boasts a lovely blue and white interior. There is a bandstand in an adjacent plaza as well as several other venerable structures in the town's historic center. The area is lovely and charming but small and were it not for the association with the "devil's brew" not particularly noteworthy.Taken on it's visual merits alone it resembles any number of  Mexican towns of it's size.

Our last stop on the tour was lunch at an outdoor pavilion restaurant. Although the buffet, by Mexican standards, was a little overpriced, the vista of wind carved mountains and the volcano with it's collapsed cone made it worth the price.

In this area the silhouette of the agave is ubiquitous. It appears on signs and buildings. It is worked into the wrought iron designs of fences. It is, after all, the economic life blood of the region. 90 percent of the world's tequila is produced there.

As we came closer to the city we passed neighborhoods of spacious, well cared for, walled homes and residential highrises. It provided a sharp contrast to the decay and poverty I had seen elsewhere. I imagined we would be dropped off at the same dusty parking lot where we had been picked up that morning. Instead members of the tour were delivered to their individual hotels by  the large tour bus. The giant vehicle squeezed through the narrow streets of Guadalajara. I wondered how preposterous it must look from the outside. I was dropped off at the hotel across the small park from mine, Hotel Morales. It was the only name I could conjure up when the tour operators asked where I was staying. The name of my hotel "Hotel Santiago de Compestela" was a mouthful. Throughout the entire trip I had trouble remembering it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - How to Make Tequila

I learned more about tequila on that tour than I thought there was to know. After 7 years of growth the "pineapple", it does resemble one, of the plant is harvested to create the brew. It is the pod from which the leaves grow above and the roots below. These are placed in large ovens and steamed for 48 hours. This is all explained to us by a slim young man wearing fashionably ripped jeans tucked into combat boots. The "pineapples" are then put through a device that mashes them into a pulpy liquid and placed in vats to ferment. The pulp falls to the bottom of the vats and the liquid on top is siphoned off for distilling. After distilling some of the tequila is bottled immediately. This is the Tequila Blanco, or loosely translated white tequila. Some is stored in wooden barrels and allowed to age from 1 to 5 years. The casks are kept underground in large caves to prevent evaporation. We were led through a dark space lined with the barrels stacked high on each side. The tequila takes on a woody flavor reminiscent of aged scotch. It deserves to be savored rather than downed quickly as a shot. The barrels are re purposed, sometimes used to manufacture charming folk art loveseats, tables and sideboards. At the distillery there is a chapel where the pews are all created from used casks. The agave fields are allowed to rest for one year between harvesting and replanting. Sometimes they are sown with corn or beans to help replenish the soil.

The name of this distillery was Spanish for Three Daughters. The owner has three daughters. One apparently is named Esmeralda. The name appears worked out in wrought iron above the entrance to the cave. Although we use the French spelling, Ezmerelda is also the name of our pampered cat. It seemed the perfect photo op!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Road to Tequila (With Apologies to Hope and Crosby)

I was told by the man at the desk of my hotel to eat a hearty breakfast as I booked my trip to Tequila. After all, what would be the point of traveling to the town for which the alcoholic beverage is named and visiting the factories where ti is produced without sampling the brew.

A shuttle bus awaited me in the street. I was the first of the passengers to be picked up. I was given the opportunity to see, through the windows, portions of the city I had not yet experienced. I looked down side streets, many, lined with late 19th century facades, appearing as they may have over 100 years ago. The bus traveled along broad 4 lane avenues then turned down streets so narrow there is barely enough room for it to maneuver past the line of cars parked along the side. Scooters shoot through the rush hour traffic resembling winged insects skimming across a pond. Some buildings stand empty, their history buried under a layer of dust and decay. A lovely baroque structure appeared bearing the name of the University of Guadalajara, next to it stands another of a multiple of beautiful churches. Further out we encountered the grand homes of the once wealthy. In this area bridal shops abound. In window after window white gowns wait for women dreaming and planning the wedding of their dreams. A day they will remember for the rest of their lives. A landmark yellow tiled arch, at one time marking the western of the city, spans a thoroughfare.

We were dropped off at a dusty parking lot which our driver claimed was a bus station. The desolate location began to make me wonder if this whole affair was an elaborate ruse and we would all be robbed, kidnapped or worse. There was a pristine Hummer in the lot, as well as a corvette with flat tires and a vintage 70's era  turquoise dodge with a cracked windshield. If this was a ruse it had apparently been going on for some time I thought. I inquired about a restroom and was directed to a decrepit building on the far side of the lot. Entering I saw in a corner of a room filled with broken cabinetry , a filthy toilet with no seat. It;s a good thing boys pee standing up. On the floor next to it was a cardboard box containing used toilet paper, a Latin American tradition I will never become accustomed to.

A large bus with "Tequila Tour" on the side rolled in to the lot which reassured me and we board. A video  played of a portly, older gentleman in traditional garb wearing a comically enormous sombrero singing ballads accompanied by a string heavy orchestra. As the bus began to move through the outskirts of the city familiar names appear, Walmart, Sears, Sam's Club, Home Depot, proving the words multinational global economy are not just words.As we left the city behind and moved out into the countryside the scene outside changed to one of dusty browns and greens, tiny towns and the aqua tone of agave fields. Wild bougainvillea provided occasional bright pops of color. Birds floated overhead searching for prey. Shortly the guide announced that we had arrived at our first destination, the Tequila distillery.

Guadalajara 2016 - Pasteleria Thoughts

I sat at a cafe table drinking extremely hot coffee and sampling a rich layered chocolate confection which bordered on decadent. A young man wheeled a motorbike, the name of the establishment emblazoned on a box on it's back, out of the tiny shop and past me across the front patio before taking off to make morning deliveries.

Despite it's hundreds of years of history, evidenced by it's wealth of venerable buildings, Guadalajara is a city, full of noise, traffic and masses and masses of people. In the morning hours men in suits rushed to work and casually dressed young people made their way to classes at the university just a few blocks away. People stand in long orderly lines waiting for buses, packed at that hour. I smiled thinking about how different this is than the sometimes chaotic scenes at the bus stops back home. Bells from the 17th century church across the street chime the hour. A line of students alights from a bus, backpacks in hand. The February morning is cool, by afternoon it will be pleasurably warm. The jackets and scarfs worn by some will be stuffed into bags or carried in hand. The shorts I wore left my lower legs almost uncomfortably cold yet I knew that by midday I would be enjoying the feel of warmth and air around them, a mid winter treat.  It would be 2 months, at least, before I would be able to wear them at home.

I sat, relaxed and savored the remainder of the coffee watching the world go by as I eased into the day.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - A Mexican Meltdown

It became apparent early on that the modest amount of money I had exchanged at the airport would not come anywhere close to covering my financial needs during my stay. I stopped by the nearest bank and inserted my ATM card. I went through the motions of entering my PIN, amount needed etc. only to be informed "this function", meaning giving me money, "can not be completed at this time". I tried the ATM next to it receiving the same response. I went into the lobby. "Habla Ingles" I queried, one of a small handful of Spanish expressions I know. A young, cute verging on adorable, bank employee replied yes and went out to the ATM's with me. With his assistance we achieved the same result. He reassured me, as I began to consider panicking wondering what was wrong and how I would get through the next several days, that their machines often had problems recognizing foreign cards. His wife, he further explained, was Belgian and had problems as well. Due to my many years of homosexuality my automatic internal response was "Damn, cute, straight and married!" He directed me to another bank 2 blocks away. I got my cash without further incident and returned to the hotel. I retired to the rooftop pool and, feeling the warm sun on my pale, winter white flesh, did experience a Mexican meltdown, but of the most pleasurable sort.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Churches Here, Churches There, Churches, Churches Everywhere

After breakfast that first morning I set out on foot to explore Guadalajara's Centro Historico. My hotel was located on the edge of it directly across the street from a 17th century chapel and cathedral dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. They and a set of arches off the side of the cathedral are all that remains of a Franciscan order convent that once sat on the site. The Aranzaza chapel is lovely and colorful. Carved wooden wains coating runs along it's walls. Outside is the Jardin de San Francisco de Asis. It is intended to be a oasis amid the noise and frenetic pace of the city, a task made difficult by the cars, buses and streams of people in this busy area.

I walked down streets of 19th century facades abutting typical Latin American poured concrete buildings. I discovered early on that stoplights are only a suggestion. If you can cross the street you go, red light not withstanding. The grace of the art nouveau bandstand in the Plaza la Constitacion was somewhat diluted by the construction of an expansion of the city's light rail system taking place next to it. The Cathedral of Guadalajara, dedicated in 1618, is considered, because of it's architecture, to be one of Guadalajara's greatest treasures. The interior, though beautiful, was, as was true of all of the many churches I stepped into that day, strangely less inspiring than the small chapel across from the hotel.On the outside the cathedral's dome features a black Greek key design on a yellow background. The same yellow tile adorns the steeples of the venerable religious shrine.

The historic area of the city is a place of expansive plazas amid centuries old churches, government and public buildings. Looking through open doorways one sees colonnaded courtyards. Many people cross themselves as they encounter the churches, which seem to grace every block. I begin to wonder how there are enough people to fill them. The history of the area is juxtaposed against the masses of cars, buses and never ending torrents of people.

As the afternoon approached arcaded sidewalks provided cool shade from the tropic like heat. I thought back to the previous week of Chicago winter when I stood in bedroom, suitcase open, naively thinking I had over packed tee shirts as I felt the sweat trickle down my back.

I wandered back streets where the main industry seemed to be print shops behind graffiti scarred rolling garage doors on the first floor in fading historic storefronts. I used a t.v. antenna on top of a modern structure as a landmark until the dome and spire of the cathedral across from my hotel once again came into view bringing me back to my room after a stroll through 400 years of Mexican history.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Up, Up and Away

It's odd when you allow yourself to think about it. Odd, yet in these days, commonplace. You step into a machine, settle into a seat which provides varying degrees of comfort, and within a few hours are hundreds, if not thousands of miles from where you began. While in the air you generally have no exact knowledge of what is below you. The U.S, so much if it devoted to agriculture, resembles a rumpled quilt. You see rivers winding their way across the land beneath you. Small towns, sometimes cities with their outlying suburbs dot the landscape. Over water trips are odder still. Miles and miles of ocean, no end in sight. Massive ships appear like tiny waterbugs as they make their way.

Some sights from the air are impressive, if you know when and where to look. The
Alps are an undulating blanket of white. You can be amazed by the enormity of the Grand Canyon. There is the russet hue of Arizona's Red Rock region and the lake studded green of Minnesota. The mass of some cities can best be appreciated from the air. Mexico City sprawls outward until it ends, almost abruptly, half way up the mountains that rise above it. Chicago's lakefront towers mark the shore of Lake Michigan and the beginning of the city and suburban street grid which eventually dissipates into forest preserves and fields.

It's odd, when you allow yourself to think about while staring out the tiny window at the earth below.

Guadalajara 2016 - Thereby Hangs a Tale

I had been talking about it for some time, thinking about it for much longer. Guadalajara, the name rolls off the tongue. According to tourist web sites more beautiful than Mexico City, a place whose visual splendor occasionally awed me. I was, perhaps the best way to describe it, between jobs. I had left a position of three years to accept what, I hoped, was a better, upgraded position in the same field. So I had this week at my disposal to explore. Also I would not get another vacation for a year after my start date. One should seize opportunities when they present themselves.
Although the winter had been mild it was still 40 to 50 degrees warmer, at least in the afternoon, south of the border. Warmth, always reliable Mexican food and history lured me.

There were glitches, perhaps inevitable considering this trip was booked on the fly within 2 weeks of departing. I had developed a swollen gland under my jaw. Due to COBRA insurance being 3 weeks retroactive, I was forced to spend $200 the day before I left for a Minute Clinic visit and and antibiotic prescription "just in case". The online agency I booked my initial hotel through claimed my credit card charge had been denied, Citibank claimed otherwise. Volaris Airlines told me after I had gone through with the procedure of securing the outbound reservation that the intended return flight was no longer available, although it still appeared on the computer screen as available as they told be simultaneously on the phone that it was not. I canceled the outbound flight hoping I would not have to fight for a refund later. Holding my online head high, my online jaw firmly set, I eschewed small airlines and fly by night dot.coms and found a flight, both there and back via American Airlines where I earn advantage miles anyway, only slightly more expensive than the one I had tried to book first. Through Orbitz I booked a hotel, less expensive than my initial choice, and located, it appeared, only a block or two away. Since I, as an advantage flyer, would also be able to check my bag free, I came out pretty much even.

After snaking my way through the long understaffed security line and making it to the proper gate the plane took off 25 minutes late, on time by today's airline standards. I would be laying over in Dallas and then would continue on to the beauty and history of Mexico's second largest city.

Mexico is not new to me. I had visited Puerto Vallarta several times in the 1990's. The city was gay friendly then, not rainbow overrun as I have heard it is now. I and my travel buddy from those early visits also spent a week in Merida exploring jungle enveloped Mayan ruins and marveling at the extraordinary bird life and history there. Merida's cathedral, partially constructed with stones from the Mayan city originally located there, is, in terms of the date the Spanish began to erect it, the oldest in the Americas. Another cathedral located in another country was finished first so the title of "Oldest Cathedral in the Americas" is in dispute. My sister and I had spent a long 4 day weekend in Cancun's Intercontinental Hotel,  made affordable by free airfare provided by her employment at the time with the now defunct ATA. I also once spent a memorable week on my own exploring Mexico City. But Guadalajara, aside from airport layovers, was new territory for me. So, to quote Shakespeare in As You Like It, "thereby hangs a tale".

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Some Thoughts About Snow

It was more ice than snow. Hard sharp pellets pushed by fierce winds that stung the flesh. But is was still white, after the storm it looked like snow. The cookie cutter mid century suburban bungalows morphed into a multitude of variations, some lightly dusted, some wearing a full blanket of it which covered the roof. In the yards faded plastic figures of Mary and Joseph, suitably dressed for the cold, watched over a near naked baby Jesus. Surely, I thought, one of the shepards had a blanket they could have loaned them.

Some bemoan the appearance of snow. But in the Midwest it is a fact of winter life. Gazing out the window of the train on the way to work at the crisp field of white I feel differently. To me, snow, prior to it's transformation into the brown sludge that develops along the edges of the street, gives me a feeling of freshness. It covers the dry, brown, hibernating vegetation. It accentuates the jazz age ornamentation, resembling the icing on a wedding cake, of the venerable buildings which still abound in Chicago. The proud survivors of sometimes ill advised urban renewal. It catches in the branches of trees and provides a backdrop to the foraging birds, hares and even occasional deer as you pass close to the forest preserves which surround the urban area. The sun's rays glisten on icicles as they increase in length. Snow changes to water than reforms into the long spears in a show of nature's metamorphosis.

I rarely think of snow when it is not around me. But when it arrives, so long as it does not overstay it's welcome, it is a lovely occasional companion.