Norway, July, 1984

img526I flew to Hamburg, Germany and got the train to Oslo by way of Denmark. img530A lovely Dutch couple shared my compartment—we had a nice visit. When we got to Denmark, the whole train was put on a ferry. We spent img532img668several hours on this very nice ferry, eating open-faced sandwiches and drinking tea. When we reached land, the train rolled out of the ferry and we continued on our way to Oslo.img546



img542My first excursion, the next morning, was to Vigeland (or Frognerparken) via streetcar. I img739was studying my map when a young man got on, who was looking for a seat. I moved my map and myself over a bit and invited him to sit down. It turned out he was going to img753Vigeland Park, too, so we got off together and enjoyed the Vigeland statues.

img745These statues are unique. They are very true to life, warts and all! I thought the energy and movement in them made them outstanding! There are many, img748many and we enjoyed each one as we walked all around the park enjoying many of the 200 sculptures, all made by Gustav Vigeland, mostly between 1939 and 1949.

One interesting thing was that every so often, there would be some especially tall and very blond ‘Vikings’ img743that looked different than most of the people in Oslo, and different from my smaller relatives, too!  They really stood out in a crowd!

My Lebanese friend and I agreed to meet the img759next day to visit the Viking ships and other museums. The next day we took a boat across the bay, first to have lunch at an outdoor restaurant with perfect weather. The menu was in Norwegian and English, and each entrée was numbered. I ordered ‘number four,’ while my companion ordered ‘number two.’ I read the English under his entrée and asked him if he realized that he img761was ordering horsemeat. His eyes got very big as he repeated, “Horsemeat?” The waitress offered, “It’s very good!” The Lebanese immediately said that he would change to ‘number four;’ as the waitress walked away, he said to me, “In Lebanon if anybody tried to sell horsemeat or donkey, they would go straight to jail!” This young man was visiting his sister who had married a Norwegian man that was sent to Lebanon some years earlier as part of a UN Peacekeeping Force. He was here with his mother.img762

After an enjoyable lunch we looked at the Kon Tiki Museum. Thor Heyerdahl constructed a raft from reeds attempting to demonstrate that people could have reached Rapa Nui (Easter Island) from South America, a feat that he duplicated. Also on display was the Ra II, a raft that he used to cross the Atlantic in 1970.

img773The three Viking ships, on display in the Viking Museum, are awesome. They were built in the 9th century of oak and were used for burial for their chiefs.

A Norwegian Folk Museum contains about 150 buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries that have been gathered from all around Norway and img776reconstructed in this outdoor museum. Since img774my forbears came from Norway, I especially enjoyed this history. There was a stave church from Gol that was reassembled here. What a beautiful work of wood, built in 1200!

img765Other interesting buildings that I visited included the Parliament building (Stortinget), the Radhus with its beautiful img785murals, and the National Palace. The Palace img769made me smile as it is so ‘plain Jane’—typical of the Norwegian mindset. In my (Minnesota Norwegian farm) upbringing, ostentation was shunned as unforgivable. This is the least decorated palace that I have ever seen. It really looks like any other government building—hardly fit for a king—unless it’s a Norwegian king!

img781The Edvard Munch Museum was spectacular! He was known for his paintings img779with psychological symbolism (like ‘The Scream”). They kind of got under my skin, in a god way.

img794Then it was time to take the train from Oslo to Myrdal, img805into the heart of Norway. The scenery was breathtaking as we climbed up and up through semi-tunnels of snow caused by wooden wind breaks. img812Eventually we reached the tiny town of Finse, and the Finse glacier. All this snow, and the date was Julyimg822 3rd! Getting off at Myrdal, I got the spectacular train falling steeply down to img651Flam, really back of beyond.

From Flam, I got a ferry to Gudvangen, which offered such img654spectacular scenery—mountains, waterfalls everywhere, img657lakes, isolated farms, and hairpin turn img658roadways.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec. 1983

My daughter, Claire, my son, Alan and I spent a week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after img404Christmas, 1983. Getting settled in our hotel, we encountered a img374huge cecropia moth in our room, much to Claire’s consternation!  We’re in the tropics, now!

One of the first things we did was to take a cable car up img382Páo de Acücar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) to view the city. From there we could get a really good view of Copacabaña Beach.

img394I continued on, visiting some museums, like the Museuimg395 de Arte Moderna and other parts of the Historic district, while Claire and Alan worked on their tans on Ipanema Beach. One of the img458landmarks is the Igreja de Candelaria, an historic img414img413church. One night we attended a rock concert by a performer, unknown to us, but img515very enjoyable just the same.

We hung out near Ipanema Beach a lot, enjoying lunches nearby.  Across from the img405beach we did visit the taverna where the song, “The Girl From Ipanema” was written. There really was a girl from Ipanema that Carlos Jobiem watched every day as she strode past this img516taverna and onto Ipanema Beach.

New Year’s Eve started with a lovely dinner at a nice restaurant, followed by a sojourn, img425following locals, walking all the way along first Copacabaña Beach (four miles!) and then to Ipanema Beach. This started at midnight and took until 4:00 AM! As we neared the beach, we could see hundreds of scooped out img431areas in the sand holding lit candles. Most of the people were wearing white img430in accordance with the Bahia img435religion, celebrating the New Year. There was music, much dancing, and ever present candles in the sand. We took img434off our shoes and carried img428them for the walk in the sand, noting vendors selling corn, sugar cane juice and img437other refreshments. What energy, excitement and fun!img424



img438New Year’s Day we took the cable car all the img440way to the top of Corcovado Mountain where Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) img441spreads his arms over Rio. Then we spent some time visiting the historic district, and img518cooling off with a nice glass of fresh orange img519img462juice.





img467Claire and Alan did spend quite a bit img466of time on Ipanema Beach, working on those tans. They were img486determined to go home with color to make their friends envious. They even hung out there on img491cloudy days!














img503On our last day, we took a house and buggy img500tour along the water to view the port, the Ponte Niteroi, and the comings and goings of the img524people who live there. img512




img525Then we jetted home, while those tans were still showing!

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Wales, May, 1985

Jeanne, Bob and I flew to London, rented a car and set out for Wales, where we would meet our friends, Gisela and Wolfgang, who drove from Berlin, Germany. They were also bringing another couple, Gisela and Peter. Our objective was to explore Wales, but especially the ‘Little Trains of Wales,’ which are narrow-gauge railroads, used previously for hauling, but now are really just volunteer-operated tourist trains. Wolfgang has a special interest in trains, so we shall see what that is all about.

img740On the way to Wales, we stopped for a night at Burford, staying at the Golden Pheasant Hotel. We were so impressed with this little hotel, as they set the breakfast table for three, especially for us, and gave us all free newspapers to read with our morning coffee.

We explored Burford some, discovering a plaque at the church that said that King img744Henry VIII’s barber was from Burford and was buried here. The barber was an especially trusted person, as every day the barber would be holding a straight-edged razor to the neck of the king—which might make a king nervous, one would think.

img750The next day we arrived in Porth Penrhyn, experiencing the exotic spellings of place-names that img752one encounters in Wales. We pushed on to Fairbourne where Gisela had rented a house. Although we really didn’t img753have explicit directions as to where we would meet, this was a small town and we assumed it would be self-evident. Well, it wasn’t! We booked rooms at the main hotel in town, and soon Gisela showed up there looking for us. It turned out that we stayed at the hotel, because the rented house was not big enough to accommodate all of us. When we were all united, we celebrated with a beer!img781

img754img756We took our first trainride on the Fairbourne img757Railroad—an ‘out and back’ excursion. It was very small but charming. img774

The next day we all took a boat to Barmouth, which was across an inlet from Faribourne. The weather and scenery were beautiful!


img775Another ride img797on a railroad—this time the Ffestiniog from Porth Madog Harbor to Blaenau Ffestiniog. This img787is quite a famous one of the Little Trains. It runs for 14 miles each way.


img837From here we could continue on to see the slate mines. There were piles of slate tailings from the mining industry from long ago.img843

img810Wolfie had a detailed map which allowed us to take a long hike to the Abergavenny Castle ruins, walking through sheep img803pastures, going over stiles, img815climbing over fences, etc. We continued on to St. Mary’s Priory, which was a country church img821built in the 13th century.

From here we came to Dolgellau Falls.

img859The town of Harlech and Harlach Castle were next on img858our ‘outing list.’ This is a huge castle, which we img865explored quite fully. There is a plaque in town, which explained that a more recent Lord Harlech had laid the stone of that house in 1908.img861

img873We explored Portmeirion, a bizarre town with elaborate img878Italianate architecture. It was created by a Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who fulfilled a childhood dream of building a village “to my own fancy on my own chosen site.”

From there we drove on to view Mt. Snowdon, the img884highest point in Wales. The countryside was img885very beautiful; we took walks to view the ‘just opening’ rhododendrons that grow wild on the hills. The pinkish img801hue on some hills would become bright pink in a few days.

Then it was Tea Time in Snowdonia. We often stopped for tea on our travels through img886Wales.

img893One of our walks brought us to Gelert’s Grave. The legend was that in Beddgelert, Llywelyn the Great left his faithful hound, img892Gelert, to guard his infant son while he went hunting. When he returned he was horrified to see the cradle overturned, and Gelert covered in blood. Thinking that the dog had attacked his son, he slew the hound, only to then find his son unharmed under the overturned cradle. Nearby there was a dead wolf, which Gelert had killed to protect the child. Present day promoters of tourism had built a mound of stones with a plaque to commemorate this event.

img899That night the seven of us celebrated with a party at their rented house. Interestingly, we saw the sun setting in one direction and the full moon coming up in the other. Jeanne, Bob and I had brought a couple bottles of wine to the party, which we had bought at the hotel. They were soon gone, in spite of it being some of the worst wine that I have ever drunk. Still this seemed to img060be the only option in this little town for keeping the party going, so Gisela and Wolfgang made a run back over to the hotel to buy some more. We were dancing, singing, and having such a good time that we didn’t pay any attention to the quality of the wine!

img913Another excursion took us to the Hysbysrwydd, Siop and Parc. (Can you pronounce the name of this place? I can’t either!) From img916there we rode on the Welsh Hyland Railroad. These little trains are such fun to explore. They are mostly all run by volunteers, who give their time, expertise, andimg918 money to keep them going! Not far from here we encountered an accident that had just happened. A man had somehow run into the front of a shop!

img924Another castle—this time Caernarfon, the site of Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales in 1960. This is img922truly an impressive large castle with a lot of history.



At this point our friends from Berlin departed for home, and Jeanne, Bob and I carried on alone.

img933Another train—the Snowdon Mountain Railroad—gave us a chance to admire the img958img927scenery hereabouts. From here we explored the town of Tenby, with a little detour to see the Brecon Beacons.



Another beautiful sight was Raglan Castle.  The size of these castles is overwhelming.  We img976img991also visited the second century Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre, or what was left of it.  What a pretty setting!

Our last Wales sight was Tintern Abbey, a img004ruined HUGE church from many centuries ago.  What ghosts must live here!

img018On the way back to London, we went a bit out of our way to see Winchester with its wonderful cathedral. (Remember the song, ‘Winchester Cathedral’?) Inside the img013cathedral we discovered Jane Austen’s grave—she died in 1817, and further down the street was a house where she had lived her last days.

img030On to the London airport. While we were waiting to board our plane, we were delayed a bit while members of the British Royal Family (Princess Alexandra, I think) were being met and greeted. They were whisked away in a fancy car with flags flying. And soon we were jetting back across the Atlantic and home.

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Puerto Rico, April, 1985

img062My colleague, Jim Rice, invited me to join him in speaking to the Puerto Rico Hospital Association in April, 1985. We flew to San Juan, and attended the two-day meeting. Jim returned home after the meeting, but I stayed on a week and drove around the island after spending some days in San Juan.

I checked into an historic hotel, the Gran Hotel El Convento, which, of course, was a img063former convent. It was so enjoyable and fit in so well with the surroundings of Old San Juan, with it’s pastel-colored buildings from past centuries.



img160img094El Morro Fort was one of the main tourist sights and because of the windy April weather, img083there were many people building and flying kites. These kites were not the kind I was used to seeing—they were gigantic! They were made with long bamboo polls covered with light cloth, and yes, they managed to get them airborne!


img085El Morro dates back to 1539 and is said to be the oldest fort in the New World. Some of the walls are 140 feet high, and 15 feet thick. The lighthouse has operated since 1846, making it the oldest operating light house on the island. Just below the fort is the Cemetery of San Juan.


I set out to drive to the west side of the island, to Mayaguez, a town where one of the hospital administration participants at the hospital association meeting worked as the administrator. It was a beautiful drive, offering a surprising variety of landscapes.


img097img101I had lunch with him, then went on my way to Ponce.

img102There is a startling retired fire station, now a tourist information center there, with red and black stripes img123called Parque de Bombas. img125Near there was the Museo de Arte de Ponce, whch I wanted to see as there was a famous painting displayed there called “Flaming Jane,” by Frederic Lord Leighton. I looked and looked for it, finally giving up on finding it. I set out from there to visit El Yunque, the Carribbean National Forest, but got so twisted up on the back roads, that by nightfall, a big surprise to me—there was the Parque de Bombas again. I had inadvertently returned to my starting point! So the next morning, I did find and visit the Museo de Arte de Ponce, and “Flaming Jane.” It was well worth it—a very dramatic painting, that I’m very glad that I saw.img124

img140Back through El Yunque and through muchimg112 beautiful foliage, I wended my way back to San Juan.   A wonderful island and a lovely, img196but short visit.

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#4 (final) Oaxaca, Mexico, April 1, 2014

DSC02454Donna and I walked downtown at dusk and saw the Alameda and the Zocalo teeming with people. The Cathedral looked so majestic at night, even though balloon sellers were everywhere in front of it! We decided to eat at one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca, El Asador Vasco. We were seated at the railing on the second floor, overlooking the Zocalo. What a lovely view,DSC02453 although quite noisy. There were competing musical groups that would lie in wait for the other group to finish the last note, when they would hold forth. Interestingly, the musicians, especially the marimba players, are not very skilled, compared to my experience in times past. We have heard several marimba duos, and they have all been poor.DSC02460

DSC02461Early the next morning (our strategy for avoiding the HOT afternoon sun) we taxied out to Monte Alban. It is a Zapotec site, first occupied about 500 BCE. The mountain was leveled and houses were built as early as 300 BCE; however what we see now was mostly built between 300 to 700 AD, Monte Alban’s heyday. At that time, the population was about 25,000. The site was abandoned between 700 and 950 AD.DSC02530

The site is really big; we started at the Ball Court, that ubiquitous structure of most all of these sites. We went down a stairway (they have thoughtfully installed hand rails!) and came to the Gran Plaza, that huge expanse ringed by many pyramids and palaces. These people had developed glyphs, which were a written form of DSC02478communication. The dot and bar system of hieroglyphs probably means that these were the first people in Mexico to have a form of writing. There are a few faint glyphs visible on the site.

There were also about 170 tombs that have been discovered. I snaked down to the door of one, which wasn’t very deep. Some of the skulls from these tombs show that they had been drilled with holes, a treatment still used to relieve pressure from bleeding within the skull.

Some of the buildings had glyphs/pictures on them, which are records of their conquests.DSC02492 No doubt they were pretty blood thirsty, mutilating their prisoners of war as shown on a series of ‘pictures’ called ‘Danzantes’ DSC02499(Dancers) because they appear to be dancing. Later study showed that they were not ‘dancing’ but had been mutilated.

The site is quite high (1300 feet above the valley floor) which I could tell as we drove up the hill from Oaxaca—my ears were popping. Clearly they had a good 360-degree view to anticipate their enemies coming. I climbed up the Southern Platform (permitted—there is even a handrail) and got a good DSC02484view of the entire city. Imagine what it looked like when the temples and palaces were still on top of these foundations that we see here.  DSC02513

Having seen most of the highlights, we taxied back into the city to have breakfast, after which, we went to see a low-key photographic museum.

Friday we were planning to taxi to the village of Ocotlán to see their weekly market. DSC02549Donna didn’t feel quite well, so I went alone. The large plaza was covered with market booths; additionally there was a regular market building adjacent to the DSC02542plaza. There was also an attractive church that had a museum in the ex-convent. The museum had been assembled by an artist named Rudolfo Morelos, whose works here DSC02577were pictures on DSC02578columns. In this town the Aguilar sisters were renowned for their pottery statues of people. There were many pieces from their workshops in this museum.

The most fun was the poultry area where people brought DSC02574live chickens, turkeys, and chicks to sell. Some of the turkeys were huge! I wound up buying a straw hat, some flowers for our living room, and some lettuce.

On the way back to Oaxaca I asked the driver to stop in San Bartolo Coyotepec, a village that is famous for its black pottery. I had bought some pieces in a market in Oaxaca DSC02595(now to get them home without breaking them!) and was interested to see that in the town, the church was surrounded by a stone and iron fence. Each stone pillar had a black round vase atop it that today anyway, contained fresh flowers. There was a mass going on—maybe a wedding or a funeral—and a big food tent had been set up next to the church.

The pottery is black because of iron oxide in
the clay hereabouts, and because of smoke DSC02589trapped in the kiln. A very famous woman, Dona Rosa Real Mateo, invented the method of making this pottery using two saucers, functioning as a rudimentary potter’s wheel. The pottery is burnished with quartz stones, that gives it its special sheen.

DSC02602Donna and I had a superb dinner one day at Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante. It started with the waiter mixing our salsa (tomato or tomatillo?—we could choose) tableside in a mocajete. This was followed by the BEST large blue-corn crisp tortilla with cheese; Donna had soup and shrimp; I had salad and goat. The whole thing was wonderful, and we are regretting that we don’t have enough days left to eat out in enough places!

The next morning we had our breakfast in Itanoní, a place DSC02603that uses Oaxaca native corn for their hand made tortillas. Unfortunately my dish had been rushed (the fat not hot enough when she fried the tortilla) so it was a bit disappointing. I did try the ‘atole,’ a chocolate-flavored corn gruel drink.

Saturday night Donna and I hosted a cocktail party for six guests. They were Anthony and DSC02606his wife, Sandy (our landlord), John and Louise from second floor of our building; Fred, from first floor, and Gail, my LP Thornetree friend. Sandy had to leave early, as she had to drive her 14-year-old daughter on her first date! To tell the truth, one of
our motivators for having the party was that we had bought too much booze, and had a variety of drinks to serve. Luckily they chose different ones, as we didn’t have that much of each! Donna made great deviled eggs and I made small tostadas—three kinds—chicken with cheese and salsa; mole with crumbly cheese; and black bean with lettuce, tomato and avocado. I thought I had prepared a lot, but in the middle, I fried 40 more tortilla-quarters and made more of the same. Fred brought a wonderful pineapple and mango dish, Gail brought beer, and John and Louise brought Oaxaca Chocolates. We all had a lot of fun!DSC02614

At the party, Gail pointed out that on top of the mountain across the city from us, we can see Monte Alban! It appears as two ‘lumps’ on the top of the mountain, which are the South and North Platforms. In subsequent days, I couldn’t stop looking at them!DSC02617

DSC02645Another dinner at Casa Oaxaca El Restaurant on our last night made a suitable capstone on our trip. We had a lovely table on a second-floor veranda overlooking the Santo Domingo Church.

The next morning we heard our last squawks from our neighborhood peacock! That bird would emit the loudest, most piercing cries, starting about 3:00 AM. He lived on a rooftop of a house very near ours.DSC02640 But it only added to the cacophony of lots of dogs barking, sirens screaming, cats howling, and car horns honking. One has to be able to sleep through lots of noise in Oaxaca—and we did! Oaxaca has now made it onto my ‘short list’ of towns where I may want to spend a few months at a time, when I feel I can no longer jump on a bus every day. It, and the surrounding area, is a very special place to visit.

Posted in 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico | 3 Comments

#3, Oaxaca, Mexico, Mar. 25, 2014

What a nice day. I bought fresh tortillas from the tortillaria about six blocks from our DSC02254DSC02238apartment and Donna made a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs and all the trimmings that we rolled into the tortillas and ate with gusto! Then we walked about a mile to the Basilica de La Soledad, which was rich, huge and beautiful. We learned that the Vergin DSC02252
de La Soledad had been robbed of her two-kilogram gold crown, a large pearl and many diamonds in the ‘90s! We were able to compare her with pictures of what things looked like formerly.

From there we looked for a couple of religious stores as Donna was asked by her DSC02260daughter-in-law to bring an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on cloth. We weren’t able to find the right thing so we continued on to the Textile Museum of Oaxaca. We had one positive recommendation and one negative. Luckily for us we agreed with the positive recommendation. What interesting works of art! They were textiles, all right, but what imagination! Some had led lights
built in. It was definitely one of the most interesting museums that we have seen here.DSC02258

A beer on the zocalo refreshed us before we took a taxi to a supermarket where we were able to find Cointreau’s First Cousin, called ‘Controy,’ an orange liquer. When we got home we threw ourselves into making REAL Margaritas, and they really were great! Finally! The Controy label on the bottle imitates Contreau—a rip-off, but a good one!

A couple of corrections to make from my last email—-I had the dishes we ate in the market backwards. The Mexican pizza is a tlayuda and the corn fungus one is huitlocoche. (Thanks, Naomi!) Then I’m told that all orange tiger-striped cats are males, so I should have been calling it a ‘him.’ (Thanks, Carolyn!)

DSC02263The Templo y Convento del Carmen Alto is a very old DSC02265church in Oaxaca, especially the south doorway. An unusual side chapel to Santa Teresita had a sun-like altar, maybe to attract the indigenous people.

Moving on down the street, we came to a couple of street food stands. We thought the food looked really good, so we are planning to return here for breakfast some morning.DSC02267

Next on this street we visited the Salanueva home where Benito Juarez found DSC02269sponsorship when he first came to Oaxaca, working in their bookbindery. The early 19th C. house is furnished in typical middle-class fashion, and the bookbindery has been preserved as are many pictures and papers relating to Juarez. Donna and I viewed a video on his life, but had trouble understanding the Spanish. He came to Oaxaca searching for his sister, who was a DSC02272maid in the Meza household. He eventually married one of the Meza daughters—decidedly ‘marrying up,’ but of course he became President of Mexico so it turned out that she ‘married up!’

The next day we had breakfast at a food stand in our neighborhood. Memelas made of tortillas that the cook made in the stand DSC02276
were cooked on a grill, covered with asiento (pork lard with bits of chitlins) and cheese, a tasty breakfast, (our poor arteries!).DSC02273




We taxied on to the Mercado Abastos, the largest market that I’ve ever been in. It sells all kinds of food—meat, chickens, live turkeys, rabbits, and ducks, produce of all kinds, beans, squash blossoms, ready-made moles of different persuasions; it has restaurants, clothing, household items, artesania items like tablecloths, embroidery and pottery; it has furniture, tools, straw hats (I bought one) and every other thing you can think of. We asked directions to the artisania rugs, but couldn’t ever find them before we were completely exhausted mentally and physically. I hadn’t brought my camera (a rare event) as the market is known for its thieves. Still, I may have to go back later with my camera as it is really a sight to behold!

DSC02277Another breakfast we made at home was ‘Huevos Divorciados’ (divorced eggs) with beans. The eggs are ‘divorced’ because one has red sauce and one has green sauce. That day I met Gail for a DSC02278comida but Donna stayed quietly at home as she was not feeling up to par. Gail and I went to El Quinque, a lovely modest restaurant where we had the comida of soup, enchiladas, DSC02281salad, and guava juice. On the way home I passed by Los Arquitos, the remnant of an old 18th C. aquaduct that they used to bring water into the city from a mountain spring.

The cat is back! He visited us one night—the landlord said that he would put up a barrier to his path into our house. No big deal—he disappears soon after he comes in, in the middle of the night!

Our wifi is also on the fritz. It works intermittently. The landlord tried to get some action from the local wifi provider, but that’s not so easy to do here.

There is a big demonstration again by the teachers’ union here in Oaxaca. According to our landlord, the government is trying to reform teachers’ practices of buying certificates and also giving them to a daughter or son if a parent (teacher) retires. The government wants a competency exam as a prelude to being able to teach, but the union is resisting this. The union has 70,000 members so has lots of political power. I would be curious to hear the teachers’ side of things.

Donna had seen an article in the NYTimes telling about a micro-loan program in Oaxaca for women living in the villages around Oaxaca. Saturday we went on their tour. The DSC02290money we paid for the tour ($50 each) supports 85% of the money used for loans to micro businesswomen (15% is donations). The village is asked by the Fúndacion En Via people (mostly volunteers) if they would like this programDSC02302 to come to their village. If so, En Via advises women who would like loans to join into groups of three. This offers support to each woman DSC02295and keeps the payback rate at 99%. They are presently working with seven villages, and plan to expand this enterprise to more villages. The women are required to take several one-hour business classes before getting a loan.

DSC02328DSC02332The first loan is about $100; if successfully paid back, the next is for $200, and the next for $300. These are interest-free loans. If they want to continue building their business they can take more loans at 30% interest, which is the rate the Grameen Bank (that started micro-loans inDSC02331 Bangladesh) charges.

The tour took nine of us plus two volunteers in a van to two villages where we visited with five women. The businesses were a grocery store, a clothing store, and chickens in the first village of Diaz Ordaz, and in the town of Teotitlan, where everybody knows how to weave and does, DSC02349we visited a weaving business and another chicken business. Additionally one of the women’s daughter-in-law makes piñatas, DSC02341and will probably apply for a loan in the future to expand this idea. The women gave a short presentation and then were peppered with questions. They were very proud of their businesses and very hospitable to us.

DSC02350At the end of the tour we had lunch (included in the price) in Teotitlan at a restaurant with weaving that is owned by one of their loanees. We also visited the interesting church in that village. The church site had housed a Zapotec Temple before the Spaniards razed it and built a
church on top. There are stones from the
old temple incorporated into the church. One of the women spoke Zapotec, and,
when asked, made her presentation in DSC02362Zapotec so we could hear it. She said that her three children understand some, but really don’t speak it fluently. That’s the way with family languages, I think. BUT, she said she was teaching it to her two-year-old granddaughter. One woman made her presentation in rather good English! How did she learn it in that tiny village?

DSC02366On Sunday Donna and I went to the Museo de Arte Contemporáno, in a pretty old house. The art didn’t particular thrill us, but it was a pleasant outing as we ended it with a lovely dinner at Hosteria del Alcala, again in a lovely courtyard of an 18th C. house.




On the way home we negotiated with the taxi driver to take us on an excursion the next day. Unfortunately our taxi didn’t turn up at 8:00 AM, the appointed time. After waiting 15 minutes, we grabbed a cab that happened by, who was willing to take us on our excursion.

DSC02373Off we went, first to Yagul, an archeological site that Donna and I had never seen. The ball court is supposed to be one of the largest in Mexico, although it doesn’t seem
like that to me; the ‘Palaces’ are extensive—I could barely find my way through that labyrinth;DSC02395


DSC02381there are many tombs, now empty; and a statue has been called a DSC02405
jaguar, and a frog. I think it looks more like a frog, but I suppose a ‘jaguar’ is more
dramatic! Most of what is visible today was built about 750 AD. At that time it was a leading settlement in the Valles Centrales around Oaxaca.

DSC02409After about an hour we pushed on to Mitla,DSC02412DSC02415
another archeological site. Mitla is quite unique in that it has wonderful geometric patterns in all its buildings that were made DSC02410form small stones. It was made by the Zapotecs, as was Yagul and many other sites, but someone clearly had some interesting and unusual ideas.

When the Spaniards came, they razed one temple and built a big church on those foundations, which still operates today. While we were there, a profusion of bell- ringings sounded over the valley, which was quite dramatic. This church, La Iglesia de San Pablo, seems to fit into the site and embellishes it, rather than detracting from it.
DSC02406The Zapotec Mitla buildings are beautiful; there are many, many panels of different geometric patterns.

DSC02448A most remarkable sight awaited us on our last stop of the morning. We went to the small village of Tule to see the ‘Tule Tree.’ It is a type of cypress, called ‘ahuehuete’ and is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old! I had seen it years ago, but now, of course, it is fenced off to protect it. The circumference of the trunk is 58 meters (about 188 feet) and the height is 42 meters (about 136 feet), truly astonishing! It towers over the pretty, little 17th C. church in its churchyard, and now one pays 10 pesos to see it!DSC02445

That was our last stop for the morning and we got back home about 12:30 before the strong heat of the day. We are noticing that the last few days are really getting hotter than earlier; should I be complaining after hearing about Minnesota’s winter???

Posted in 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico | Leave a comment

#2 Oaxaca, Mexico, Mar. 16, 2014

DSC01874We did manage to finish up the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca on a second visit. It is certainly a great museum. The funeral DSC01804figures are the most fun to photograph. This time we did rent English audio devices, but discovered that the information DSC01807was too general and quite boring. It was more fun just to look and look. Afterward, again we headed to the Zocalo to have a beer under the Portales and escape the few drips of rain that cooled us off. On the way we stopped in a Mexcal shop and bought a bottle. This is the most popular local drink, which is made out of agave cactus.

Living on this street is interesting. Throughout the day there are vendors that call out certain words or ring a certain bell. Of course we don’t know the codes! We were running low on drinking water when one morning I heard a couple of vendors. I stuck my head out of the window and a man saw me and called “Agua?” I called, “Si,” and two men brought up two huge bottles (up all three flights), lifted one and placed it in the dispenser, and for two empties and 34 pesos, the transaction was done. (34 pesos = $2.50). The garbage truck comes DSC01869every day, preceded by a man banging a wrench on a pan. Then people come out of their houses with the garbage and hand it up to two men in the truck. I notice they sort it, putting aside plastic bottles, and putting any treasures they find in three sacks that hang on the back of the truck. Other vendors seem to be selling propane gas, and I don’t know what.

Sunday at 4:30 we lined up for tickets at the DSC01898Teatro Macadonio Alcalá, an early 20th century theatre, to see a Russian ballet from St. Petersberg. We were in luck, and at 5:00 DSC01979we were treated to “Swan Lake,” without live orchestra, but very enjoyable. The stars were marvelous, the Corps de Ballet, less so. Still, we liked being in the crowd and seeing the theatre as well as the lovely DSC01940ballet.

One morning we walked, and then took a city bus, to the Mercado de Artesanias. Donna DSC01993and I each bought a hand-woven tablecloth. With so many beautiful things on display, it’s hard not to buy stuff! I photographed this woman in the market; the next morning I met her in my neighborhood, probably heading a mile away to the DSC01998Mercado de Artesanias. Right near the Mercado Juarez (the big central market) we stopped in to see the Iglesia de San Juan de Dios. This is a real working-man’s church.

DSC02048The Rufino Tamayo Museum is in a beautifully restored 17th C. house that had been demolished by an earthquake. DSC02020Tamayo, an internationally known artist from Oaxaca, had begun collecting artifacts from the Pre-DSC02017Classic Period (1200 BC to 200 AD) in the ‘50s. In 1974 he restored the house and donated his collection to be displayed in it to DSC02031the city of Oaxaca. Each piece is a treasure and it took forever for us to get through this small museum!

I get so fatigued in museums—I guess it takes a lot of energy to look closely at so many wonderful things. We went home by taxi but then took on our demanding recipe of Tamales de Mole DSC02051Negro. These are made by wrapping them in banana leaves and steaming them for 1½ hours. The problems were that we didn’t have a regular beater, which we needed to incorporate the lard into the masa along with the stock; and our pot in which to steam the tamales wasn’t really big enough. I was anticipating a debacle, but wonder of wonders, they turned out very well! Luckily we have about three more meals of these in the freezer—they are a lot of work. The night before we had made Chiles Rellenos Oaxaqueños with Picadillo, which are also a lot of work. Luckily we now have quite a few leftovers.DSC01999

Our street has many treasures. Just a few feet from our apartment is a purple and orange house, which has a religious shrine next to it. The other day when we walked past, several young men were drinking beer and painting the shrine. There were also flowers in front when we returned. I gather that the shrine-person lived in this house and was being remembered on this day.

DSC02066Donna and I spent some time around the Zocalo on Thursday, enjoying a Bohemia beer. We chatted with the man who rents the apartment on the first floor of our building who introduced himself as he had seen us walking near the apartment.DSC02052

Benito Juarez was the only indigenous president that Mexico ever had. We visited the church, Templo de Felipe Neri, where Benito Juarez and Margarita were married in 1843. Margarita was the daughter of the man that sponsored Juarez when he first came to Qaxaca. We also visited the Palacio with its Bustos murals about the history of Oaxaca, which clearly pictured Juarez. The murals also featured Sor Juana Inez DSC02068DSC02069de la Cruz, a 17th C. nun that is a hero of mine. We rounded DSC01748things out with a visit to the Oaxaca Cathedral, a huge 17th C. building with beautiful carvings on the façade.

DSC02078Friday we started our day with Huevos Motuleños before visiting the Cultural Center, where Donna spent a month in Spanish Class in 2002. We made reservations for a tour next week to support a women’s enterprise, which will take us to two villages where they have businesses. The Amate Bookstore—the best in all of Mexico—was also fun to visit. That evening we attended a DSC02085Guelaguetza show at the Camino Real Hotel. While this is a version put on for tourists, it is quite authentic. Each July the DSC02142many surrounding villages do their traditional dances wearing their native clothes for a big extravaganza in Oaxaca. This ‘hotel’ version included a nice buffet and eight of the village dances. We enjoyed the other people at our table, which included a Mexican couple (we sang Happy Birthday to her), a French woman and a young Japanese woman. The buffet featured three Oaxacan moles, along with many other traditional dishes. The setting was an ancient chapel that is part of the hotel.DSC02115

DSC02219Yesterday we visited the Belber-Jimenez Museum, which features pre-Hispanic jewelry, DSC02227post-Conquest jewelry and 20th century jewelry. Additionally there were classic huipiles, rugs and serapes. One lovely piece had been given to Frida Kahlo by Diego Rivera. The jewelry was exquisite!

We have had a visitor in the middle of the night!  About a week ago one morning we noticed that one of the big flower pots on our living room floor had been dug into and dirt scattered on the floor, as though a cat had been there.  It seemed unlikely since we are on the third floor and it didn’t seem to us that a cat could come through the open windows.  Nothing more happened for a few days and then it happened again, to the matching pot at the other end of our living room.  I asked the landlord about it, and he said that it was a cat that comes in through the windows.  DSC02228We thought maybe if we closed the bottom windows, but left the top ones open, which we like to do for fresh air, that it couldn’t get in.  Nothing further for a few days—but then one night I was not sleeping so I got up to go on the computer and as I glanced through the window, I saw a cat!  I grabbed my camera and with a flash picture caught the villain!  She didn’t come in as we had the bottom windows closed, but she eyed the flowerpot.  What a cute cat!

Sunday we met a new friend, Gail, by the Merced Market.  Gail writes on the Lonely DSC02229Planet Thorne Tree, as do I, and mutual writer ‘friends’ had called attention to the fact that we were both in Oaxaca at the moment.  We emailed and then met for brunch today.  Since Gail has spent several winters in Oaxaca, she was a font of information about the town, which she most graciously shared with us.  We started with interesting, good food at a little restaurant in the Merced market.  A small tlayuda (tortilla with black corn fungus) and a huitlocoche (kind of a Mexican pizza) with Mexican hot chocolate and fresh squeezed orange juice made a wonderful brunch.  On the way to the Zocalo, Gail pointed out many things of interest.  Once under the Portales with a beer at the Zocalo, we listened to a very good Sunday band concert.  They played classical music and show tunes.  I would like to have heard them in a hall as they were a wonderful band.  I did notice, however, that only two of the players were women—a piccolo player and a bassoon player. DSC02233

A Martini followed by some wonderful soup that Donna made finished off our day.  There are so many things left to see and do in and around Oaxaca that it will be hard to pack it all into the time we have left!  Still, we’re enjoying it hugely.

Posted in 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico | Leave a comment