Posted by: ktzefr | May 6, 2015

Celebrating Mom and Making the World Go Round…

jockey's ridgeMy mother loved the beach.  She could sit for hours in the shade of a beach umbrella with her toes curled in the sand, watching the waves.  She got excited when she spotted porpoises leaping close to shore or a big ship coming into view on the horizon.  Yet, my mother was afraid of the water; she couldn’t swim, and she would not get on a boat.

When mom was a girl she had a bad experience on the river.  I vaguely recall that she fell out of a boat and almost drown or she almost fell out and worried about drowning.  I don’t recall the exact story, but getting water up to her ankles at the edge of the shore was as deep as she’d venture into the ocean.

She liked to collect seashells.  After our summer trips to the beach, we would gather all of her shells and stuff them into her suitcase for the trip back to Kentucky.  There were shells from summers in Duck, North Carolina and Ocean City, Maryland and the Delaware Shore.  She brought back pink sand from a pretty beach in Bermuda where we went on her 70th birthday.  On the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel the driver was talkative.  He obviously loved his island home.  “You have come to paradise,” he said, smiling in the rear view mirror.  “This is a beautiful place,” Mom replied, looking out the window at the passing palms and pretty bougainvillea, “but it’s not paradise.”  The driver looked disappointed.  Mom was a religious person whose image of paradise didn’t include taxis and boats and neon signs.

mom

In her 90s it became too difficult for Mom to walk from boardwalk to beach in the hot sand.  She was slow and apt to fall.  But, by then, the guard station had wheelchairs with big plastic wheels and one of the lifeguards would transport her over the sand and help her get situated in the shade.  Some people may have been too embarrassed to do this, but not Mom.  She liked to experience life and she did so in whatever way she could.

The last time she went to the beach, she and I went alone since my husband and son were back at work and school.  It was October.  Summer was long gone and she had spent the last part of August in the hospital getting a pacemaker.  She was 93.  Once the doctor said she was fit to take a short trip, we headed to the beach.  She didn’t have her beach attire with her (she usually brought a red bonnet to wear in the summer; it got a lot of attention, but she didn’t care in the least).  In any case, I didn’t have a red bonnet, but I offered her a big, floppy straw hat with a nylon sash in a leopard print (out of style, but it fit).  She snapped the dark lenses onto her glasses and off we went to the Eastern Shore.

Mom and I talked about everything and everybody.  We could laugh and cry and pray together.  We were alike in so many ways but still as different as day and night.  I was educated; she was wise.  I had a temper; she had “the patience of Job.”  I liked to cook ethnic foods and dream of exotic places; she cooked perfect fried chicken and talked about home.  Home had always been the hills of Eastern Kentucky.  When someone at a restaurant or shop in DC was intrigued by her accent and asked where she was from, she’d simply say “Barbourville” — nothing more — as if anyone and everyone should know Barbourville.  Her neck of the woods was the center of the universe.

Still, she did love the ocean.  On that last trip to the Eastern Shore we were crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, more than an hour out of DC, when Mom said, “Well!  Would you look at this.”  I glanced quickly toward her side of the car to see what was wrong.  She was pointing to her feet encased in pink terrycloth house slippers.  “I forgot my shoes,” she said.  The sun was already high in the sky and it was too late to turn around if we were going to do this in a day.  So we laughed all the way to the shore.

We had crab cakes with a view at Mango Mike’s in Bethany Beach and then sat on a bench on the boardwalk for a long time and watched the waves break.  Mom in her pink shoes and leopard hat.  We were an odd sight.  It was off season and there were no crowds.  Still, people smiled when they walked by.  Some stopped to chat, and they’d ask my mom where she was from and she’d ask them the same.  They’d never heard of Barbourville, of course, and she’d never heard of their hometowns in Pennsylvania or New Jersey or Maryland or Delaware.  But it didn’t matter.  “People are just people,” she’d say.  “That’s what makes the world go round.” She never met a stranger.

I like connections, too, and that’s why I ceased being a mere tourist a long time ago.  I’m a traveler; I go places and meet people.  Though I have always understood intellectually that we are all more alike than we’re different, it still amazes me each time it happens — when I discover the familiar in the foreign and make a new friend.  I realize, yet again, that Mom was right.  That’s what makes the world go round.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | April 25, 2015

Sweet Treats of Mexico’s Bajio

The occasions in life that make one feel “like a kid in a candy store” are special.  Urban Dictionary describes the feeling this way: “A state of utter fascination, with many good or tempting things all around you.”  Sounds a lot like the experience of walking into a real candy store in Mexico’s Bajio region.  Naranja Dulce in the International Mercado de Artesanias in San Miguel de Allende is just such a place…

Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Lorenzo Campos helps a customer at Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

There are almost too many choices!  Shredded coconut bars, chocolate dipped orange rind, palenquetas (discs of nuts, pumpkin seeds, or amaranth covered in honey).  But the really special treat here and in every candy store in the region is the cajetaCajeta (sometimes referred to in the US as dulce de leche) was born here in the nearby city of Celaya where they still make the best caramelized milk candy in the world.  The real deal is made with scalded goat’s milk or a mix of goat and cow milk, and there’s nothing like it. Various places offer cajeta on ice cream or in crepes or spread onto wafers to make an amazing cookie…and it’s superb rolled in nuts. 

Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Though dulce de leche has only become popular in recent years in the US, this sweet treat has been around a long time in Mexico.  During Mexico’s War of Independence from Spain, cajeta was an important food for the Mexican troops as it could be easily stored and transported, and it lasted for months.  In 2010 the candy was declared the bicentennial dessert to honor its history and tradition.  

I still have a few pieces left from last month’s trip. 

Cajeta, carmelized milk candy from Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Cajeta, carmelized milk candy from Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Behind the scenes in the candy shop…

Making candy at Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Making candy at Naranja Dulce, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

*****

Naranja Dulce has two locations in San Miguel de Allende — at the International Mercado de Artesanias and on Calle Loreto (No.38) in Centro.  Contact: naranjadulces@gmail.com; in San Miguel — 415-100-8027 and 415-113-2955

“Los Dulces de San Miguel de Allende” by Ana Martinez Casas has additional photos of some of the amazing treats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | April 20, 2015

The Poetry of Spring…

snowballAt first I disregarded the email saying thunderstorms were on the way.  Instead, I set up my outside office — laptop, chair cushions, umbrella, a pot of tea.  A stack of books.  Poetry.  By the time I finished drinking a cup of tea a cloud had darkened the sun and it had started to rain.  I quickly packed up everything and went back inside.  Then, sunshine again.  Birds singing.  Squirrels leaping across the tree “highway” that is my back yard.  From my open window I can feel the breeze, listen to the birds, and look out onto the green beginnings of a zillion snowball blossoms-to-be.  And read poetry…

I’m reminded of all the wild things growing in the Kentucky hills when I read Southern poets.  These lines are from Connie Jordan Green’s “Of the Wild” ~

“On the hillside beneath the power lines,

honeysuckle, blackberry, locust seedlings

have entered the third day.  Not all the mowers

in God’s kingdom nor all the spray in the devil’s

workshop will convince them life is futile.”

Last week we were sitting on the back deck and heard our first frog of the season.  Today, there was a frog chorus just before the rain started.  Mary Oliver’s kinship with the natural world is something I both admire and understand.  I sometimes talk to the critters, too, as she does in “Toad” ~

“I was walking by.  He was sitting there.

It was full morning, so the heat was heavy on his sand-colored

head and his webbed feet. I squatted beside him, at the edge

of the path.  He didn’t move.

I began to talk.  I talked about summer, and about time.  The

pleasures of eating, the terrors of the night.  About this cup

we call a life.  About happiness.  And how good it feels, the

heat of the sun between the shoulder blades.”

I’ve seen a number of new birds at my feeders the last couple of weeks.  A bunch of grackles migrating north.  A red-winged blackbird.  Chickadees.  I looked out a bathroom window a couple of days ago and spotted a new nest in a place that is not visible from other windows or doors.  The industrious robin couple was at work again early this morning forming the sticks and straw and strings into a proper design.  I noticed a few loose ends — a wide blue ribbon or plastic dangling from the nest.   Though spring is a busy time, it’s also a perfect time to slow down and take stock of what’s going on around you…as Billy Collins does in “A Question About Birds” ~

“I am going to sit on a rock near some water

or on a slope of grass

under a high ceiling of white clouds,

and I am going to stop talking

so I can wander around in that spot

the way John Audubon might have wandered

through a forest of speckled sunlight,

stopping now and then to lean

against an elm, mop his brow,

and listen to the songs of birds.”

Frogs, birds, wild things, flowers…all signs of spring.  I love the images in Muso Soseki’s “House of Spring” ~

“Hundreds of open flowers

all come from

the one branch

Look

all their colors

appear in my garden

I open the clattering gate

and in the wind

I see

the spring sunlight

already it has reached

worlds without number”

Sometimes I go in search of a poem that will give me something to think about while I’m doing things that require no thinking.  I rarely have to look any further than Rumi.  These lines from “The Music We Are” will work for now ~

Did you hear that winter’s over?  The basil

and the carnations cannot control their

laughter.  The nightingale, back from his

wandering, has been made singing master

over the birds.  The trees reach out their

congratulations.  The soul goes dancing

through the king’s doorway…

Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the

courtroom, and several December thieves steal

away.  Last year’s miracles will soon be

forgotten…

Poems are rough notations for the music we are.”

Back to Appalachia and to childhood.  Spring in Kentucky was all about the blooming redbuds and dogwoods, the snowball bush and lilac, bike rides and mud puddles, games at recess in the school yard.  Some days the most difficult decision to make was guessing the weakest link in the Red Rover chain and aiming for it with all the power one could muster.  We always chanted “we DARE (fill-in-the-name) over” — a bit stronger than this one from Charles Wright’s “Early Saturday Afternoon, Early Evening” ~

“Saturday.  Early afternoon.  High

Spring light through new green,

a language, it seems, I have forgotten…

Afternoon undervoices starting to gather and lift off

In the dusk,

Red Rover, Red Rover, let Billy come over,

Laughter and little squeals, a quick cry.”

**********

How are you celebrating National Poetry Month?  Do you have any favorites for spring?

Posted by: ktzefr | April 17, 2015

Of Mice and Freedom…

mouseMany years ago we lived in an old house with a crooked fireplace and an ancient, out-of-tune piano with a few notes that made no sound at all.  One day I opened the oven door and a mouse ran out.  We chased it through the house and finally caught it in a cardboard box. 

After dark we carried the box to the end of our street and set the mouse free.  We worried for a long time afterward, however, that we had turned it loose too close to the main road.

Over the years, we have saved other mice.  We’ve had to trap a few, too.  The time a mouse family set up housekeeping under the hood of my husband’s car cost us almost a thousand dollars in repairs.  The mechanic sent us a text with photo of the rather elaborate mouse mansion that circled the engine and wound round the wires and tubes, which the critters had chewed apart in various places as if following some elaborate mouse house blueprint.  Thus, the reason for all those flashing lights on the dashboard. 

Still, not too long ago we discovered a mouse in the basement and decided to rescue him.  So we took him to the park and set him free beneath a row of trees along the edge of the woods.  But it was raining and the mouse hesitated to leave the box.  Finally, he leaped out and into the tall wet weeds.  He seemed to be tiptoeing.  Lifted one foot, then the other, shook a wet leg.  Was he remembering his soft, dry condo in our basement couch, the only home he’d ever known?  He turned around and looked up at us as if we were scoundrels before hunkering down and disappearing beneath the wet ground cover. 

Freedom doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

***The cute little mouse in the picture is not one of our mice, but rather the mouse from the cover of Bats Sing, Mice Giggle: The Surprising Science of Animals’ Inner Lives by Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal, a fascinating peek into the private lives of animals based on scientific research. 

Posted by: ktzefr | April 15, 2015

San Miguel in Bloom!

IMG_3687I love visiting San Miguel in springtime.  The jacarandas are in bloom, bougainvillea blossoms drape over rooftops all over town, and the air carries the scent of oleander.  And a multitude of pots circling fountains and lining the rooftops are filled with geranium, roses, hibiscus.  Flowers fill the markets and streets and the backs of trucks.  During Semana Santa (Holy Week) carpets of flowers cover some streets and great bundles of blooms and herbs decorate altars in the churches and homes.

Our casa, perched in the middle of a garden, with three glass walls…like waking up at first light inside a Monet painting!

Garden in San Miguel; Photo:KFawcett

Garden in San Miguel; Photo:KFawcett

 

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This lovely spot at one end of Calle Aldama is a favorite with the pretty shell fountain and bougainvillea…

Flowers, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Flowers, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

At the entrance to the Fabrica la Aurora — a tub full of floating roses…

Yellow roses; Photo:KFawcett

Yellow roses; Photo:KFawcett

Red powder puffs outside the chapel of Santa Cruz del Chorro

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Flowers for sale in the markets and on the streets…

flowers, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

flowers, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

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And from the backs of trucks…

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

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In the Botanical Gardens the cacti and succulents were blooming…

Cacti at El Charco del Ingenio, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Cacti at El Charco del Ingenio, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

And there was bougainvillea everywhere…

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san miguel 010

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Bougainvillea; Photo:KFawcett

Bougainvillea; Photo:KFawcett

 *****

Posted by: ktzefr | April 10, 2015

Jacarandas in Bloom!

Every view is blue.  Electric blue.  Deeper purple with the changing light.  In the distance the blossoms blur together into blue-lavender clouds scattered across the city and the hillsides, but up close you can see the distinct trumpet-shape of individual blooms.  I love this time of year in Mexico!

Jacarandas, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacaranda blossoms; Photo:KFawcett

Jacaranda blossoms; Photo:KFawcett

Mature jacaranda trees tower above the rooftops…

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

There are between 40 and 50 species of jacaranda.  They are native to Central and South America and the Caribbean Basin, though they have been planted around the world.  Their blue-purple splash of color against the pink sandstone, yellow, ochre, white, and a multitude of other colors gives this city a whole new look every spring.

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas; Photo:KFawcett

Years ago Sally Field played Gidget in a TV series, and in one episode she was distraught because the city was going to cut down the jacaranda trees on her street.  If you see a jacaranda in full bloom, it’s easy to see why one can be so passionate about a tree!

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San Miguel is well known for its Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations.  It’s all about tradition and color and pageantry beginning two weeks before Easter and lasting for several days afterwards.  The major events draw thousands of spectators from other cities in Mexico, as well as international travelers.  Schools are closed for two weeks, allowing the children to take part in all of the Easter festivities.  Most events take place within easy walking distance of each other and there is always something going on in the Jardin, the city’s main plaza, or at one of the local churches.

The most famous, most photographed, and most beloved building in San Miguel de Allende is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel.

The Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

The Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

The building was constructed in the 16th century and the facade renovated in the 19th century by Zeferino Gutierrez, a self-taught draftsman who based his design on a postcard depicting a French Gothic cathedral.  Mass is held everyday.  The bricks of pink sandstone change color with the sun and the huge iron bells are rung manually several times a day.

In the east transept there is a carved sculpture of Jesus made from cane bark…

The Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

The Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

The Parroquia was the final stop for a long procession to Noon mass on Palm Sunday…

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

A couple of blocks away, the Templo de San Francisco was the site of another procession and earlier mass…

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Palm Sunday Procession, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

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A special local tradition is Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Sorrows) on the final Friday of Lent.  This holiday is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows with special masses, millions of fresh flowers in the city’s fountains and parks and every building, and the distribution of aguas de fruta (fruit ices) by the local community to symbolize the tears of La Virgen.  In the evening the streets are filled with thousands of locals and visitors from all over Mexico and around the world, who have come to see the beautiful handmade altars in the churches and private homes.  Here are a few…

Viernes de Dolores, San Miguel de Allende,GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Viernes de Dolores, San Miguel de Allende,GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

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A glimpse at only a few of the other lovely old churches in San Miguel…

Iglesia de San Rafael, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Iglesia de San Rafael, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Templo de la Immaculada Concepcion, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Templo de la Immaculada Concepcion, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

 The massive dome of this church (above) dominates San Miguel’s skyline.  The church was originally funded by a young nun and heiress, Josephina Lina de la Canal y Hervas.  The dome, surrounded by a parade of stone saints, is said to be a copy of Les Invalides in Paris.

Templo de Nuestra Senora de la Salud, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Templo de Nuestra Senora de la Salud, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Men ringing the bells…in the bell tower of the Templo de San Francisco. 

Templo de San Francisco, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Templo de San Francisco, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

One of my favorite churches in San Miguel is the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri.  Inside, a series of 33 oil paintings shows scenes from the life of the Florentine St. Philip Neri.  On a sunny day, which is most days in San Miguel, the colors are stunning against the intense blue sky.

Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Posted by: ktzefr | April 3, 2015

Celebrating Semana Santa in Guanajuato:Part 1

First stop Guanajuato, Guanajuato (the city and state share a name).  My Moon handbook describes this city perfectly.  “As if plucked from the pages of a fairy tale, Guanajuato is unique and almost mythical in its beauty.”

The city was once the home of the world’s largest and most prolific silver mines, and it was also the site of one of the most important battles in the War of Independence.  Since 1988 the whole city and surrounding mines have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There’s no place quite like it.

(Note to readers: Sorry, but I have not quite figured out how to add the accents to Spanish words on this blog.)

The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato (center of the pic in bright yellow and red colors) was built in the 1770s.  Inside, the statue of the Virgen de Guanajuato was a gift from King Philip II of Spain in 1557 and is believed to date from the 7th century.  The huge white building in the background is the main building of the Universidad de Guanajuato, which is home to around 30,000 students.  To the right of the university is the Templo de la Compania de Jesus with its collection of oil paintings by the master artist Miguel Cabrera.  (The rooftop garden partially shaded by the tower of the Templo is Alma del Sol, our lovely inn with fabulous views of the city.)

Guanajuato's Centro Historico from the funicular; Photo:KFawcett

Guanajuato’s Centro Historico from the funicular; Photo:KFawcett

Guanajuato is a maze of twisting streets and alleys, an easy place to get lost but a great place to walk.  Cars have their own streets in tunnels below the city.  From the hillside the historic center looks like a “tossed salad” of colorful buildings, and there are many lovely old churches.

Templo de San Diego, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Templo de San Diego, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

The Templo de San Diego is one of the oldest buildings in the city with a beautiful Rococo facade.

Templo de San Diego, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo: KFawcett

Templo de San Diego, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo: KFawcett

A block away, the massive doors of the Basilica welcome everyone…

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato; Photo:KFawcett

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato; Photo:KFawcett

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato; Photo:KFawcett

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato; Photo:KFawcett

The Templo de la Compania de Jesus was directly across the narrow, cobblestone street from our casa.  We were awakened by the morning bells…

Templo de la Compania de Jesus, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Templo de la Compania de Jesus, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

The most amazing church in Guanajuato sits high on a hillside above town.  The Templo de San Cayetano in Valenciana was built in 1765-1788 by the Spanish co-owner of La Valenciana silver mine, Count Antonio de Obregon, and it is one of the greatest examples of Mexican Baroque architecture in the country.  The hand-carved wooden altars are washed in gold leaf.  Some call it the “gold church that silver built.”

Golden altar of the Templo de San Cayetano in Valenciana, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Golden altar of the Templo de San Cayetano in Valenciana, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

On the road again…

This time I did not want to take the usual route across the wide cactus-studded plains of the Bajio, but decided, instead, to travel up and across the Sierra de Santa Rosa.  In the mountains we stopped in the tiny town of Santa Rosa de Lima, which at 8,000 feet is cool and green and dressed in pine trees, to check out the lovely Mayolica pottery made here and amazing homemade jams (more about this in another post; here I’ll stick to the special occasion of Holy Week).

Winding roads and beautiful vistas.  Houses clinging to cliffs.  We arrived in the town of Dolores Hidalgo in time for ice cream on the plaza and a visit to the Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores.  It was from the steps of this parish church that Father Miguel Hidalgo raised his famous cry “Viva Mexico!” and the War of Independence began.

Parish Church, Dolores Hidalgo, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Parish Church, Dolores Hidalgo, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Inside, in the left transept, the hand-carved altar is washed in gold leaf.  On the right side, however, the altar has been carefully carved in walnut and left unpainted.  It shows the incredible craftmanship behind many of Mexico’s Baroque altarpieces.

Parish Church, Dolores Hidalgo, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Parish Church, Dolores Hidalgo, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

By late afternoon we were in Atotonilco.  This shrine, the Santuario de Jesus Nazareno, is one of the finest churches in all of Mexico.  It has been a religious retreat and refuge since the 1700s and has often been referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Latin America” because of the huge variety of artwork including frescoes on ceilings and walls by the colonial artist Miguel Antonio de Pocasangre.  Atotonilco is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Santuario de Jesus Nazareno, Atotonilco, GTO; Photo:KFawcett

Santuario de Jesus Nazareno, Atotonilco, GTO; Photo:KFawcett

 

Atotonilco, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Atotonilco, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Atotonilco, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Atotonilco, GTO, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

On the fifth Sunday of Lent (the day we arrived) a massive pilgrimage leaves Atotonilco carrying the sacred figure of the Senor de la Columna, along with La Virgen de Dolores and the Senor de San Juan from this church to San Miguel de Allende.  Pilgrims walk slowly and in silence arriving just before daybreak where families have stayed up all night lining the streets with palm leaves and flowers and balloons.

When the pilgrims arrive in San Miguel de Allende there are fireworks; huge explosions are heard all over town.  We were awakened at 5 am.   And the events of Holy Week in San Miguel began…

(See Part 2 for the beautiful churches and special processions in San Miguel leading up to, and including, Palm Sunday.)

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | March 9, 2015

Waiting for the snowbirds to leave!

No, I’m not writing from a beach in the tropics (though I wish I were), so I’m not talking about folks from the North heading my way in winter.  I like to head south in winter, too, and I’m tired of the white blanket outside my window.  My snowbirds are real birds.  The kind that fly with their own wings.

junco1

Juncos.  They’re pretty — dark gray on top with snow-white bellies.  They come in flocks and stay the winter.  One day in late fall, when the temps take a plummet or the first snow falls, they simply show up en masse at our feeders.   In the past they have crowded around our main feeder with its mix of seeds, and they’ve had to share with the cardinals and sparrows, the titmouse and doves.  I didn’t pay much attention to them until this year when they started to annoy me.  It’s all about bossiness.

Last summer I bought a thistle sock to try to attract goldfinches.  It worked.  A few days after hanging the sock in the snowball tree I spotted a couple of bright yellow male goldfinches swinging and eating.  I was thrilled.  Then it rained and the goldfinches disappeared.  I talked with an ornithologist friend who said the sock probably got soaked from the rain and the thistle mildewed.  So I bought a wire thistle feeder so the seed could dry out after the rain or snow.  Gradually, my goldfinches came back.  And that’s when the trouble with the juncos started.

It seems that juncos like thistle, too.  Most of the other birds don’t bother with this feeder, but the juncos have put themselves in charge.  They’re aggressive toward the smaller male goldfinches and run them away from the feeder.  They’re aggressive toward each other, too.  A bossy little bunch.  So, I’m waiting for them to leave.

I suppose, too, that I’m looking forward to their departure because it will be, finally, a signal that spring is here.  Meanwhile, I’ve been doing a little research in an effort to find something fun or interesting about them.  I’ve learned that, like everything else in nature, the juncos are just doing what juncos were meant to do.

Juncos at my thistle feeders; Photo:KFawcett

Juncos at my thistle feeders; Photo:KFawcett

1)  They breed farther north in the spring and come down to our area in the winter.  Studies have shown that these birds tend to return to the same area every year.  They apparently love ground feeders — created by making a flat platform or simply spreading cracked corn on the ground.

2)  They are programmed to be bossy.  Once a winter flock arrives, the members decide amongst themselves who is going to be top bird and this social hierarchy remains all winter.  In addition to the one top bird, everyone else gets ranked as well from the second-ranked bird on down.

3)  This behavior is often obvious at the feeder and, if you watch long enough, you can tell who’s in charge.  Apparently, there are occasional fights in the flocks, but I have not yet witnessed this behavior.

4)  Snowbirds talk to each other in a variety of sounds, depending on whether they are arriving, leaving, or arguing about the politics of the flock.  Though I recognize the songs of many birds, mostly the ones that fill our trees in summer, I don’t have a clue to the language of the juncos.

5)  Although there’s only one species — the dark-eyed junco — the bird’s plumage varies in different areas of the country.  Male juncos that hail from the East (my birds) are slate-colored with snowy bellies; the females are browner.  There are Oregon juncos and Rocky Mountain juncos and birds from the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, all with slightly different colorings and markings.

So, as interesting and pretty as they are — especially in the snow — I’m waiting for the juncos to sniff spring in the air.  At some point they will start to chase each other and flash their tail feathers and the males will spend a lot more time singing pretty songs, a sure sign that the breeding season is approaching.

Then…one day I will look out the window and they will be gone.

I hope by then the goldfinches have their pretty yellow feathers and can easily take charge at the thistle feeder.

**********

The book by my window — The Bird Feeder Book: An Easy Guide to Attracting, Identifying, and Understanding Your Feeder Birds by Donald and Lillian Stokes

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | February 25, 2015

5 Amazing Beaches…or 5 reasons to love the tropics

I’m looking out at the snow and feeling cold, thinking about how the first snow of the year is always exciting and how snow at Christmas is a gift, surprising even when expected, and how walking in the night snow with the ground so white you don’t need a flashlight is pure magic.  But, after a snow or two or three, I’m ready for spring.  Spring fever seems to come earlier and hit harder when I don’t get away to the tropics in winter.  This has been one of those winters.

So I warm up with a pot of tea and music — steel drum, reggae, mariachi and trova — and I surf through my stash of photos taken closer to the Equator.  Sometimes friends and family and people I don’t know ask for travel advice.  There are many hot spots I’ve never visited and can’t say much about, but I’ve been a lot of places once and a few places many times.  I’m not always sure I give the best advice, however, as I have discovered that I often love all the stuff that tourists don’t usually like about a place.  This is especially true when it comes to the tropics.

British Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

Layers of blue before the rain…British Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

1)  Rain.  It’s the first thing people worry about when they’re planning a trip to the islands.  Will it rain?  How hard?  How often?  How long does it last?

I love rain in the tropics.  A heavy downpour at night is spectacular.  Afternoon showers are refreshing.  Morning rains often bring clear, bright skies and decorate flowers and foliage with brilliant beads of moisture.  Afterwards, the world looks and smells brand new.  The tropics are green and lush and full of blooms because…they get a lot of rain! 

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John; Photo:KFawcett

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John; Photo:KFawcett

2)  Shade.  Many people like to bake in the sun, but I prefer shade on beach vacations.  Sunbathing is both uncomfortable and unhealthy, but there’s nothing quite like spending the day in the shade of a seagrape tree, looking up now and again as the round leaves stir in the breeze to reveal patches of sunlight.

Hawksnest Bay, St. John, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

Hawksnest Bay, St. John, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

3)  Quiet.  Some people look for beaches with a lot of noise and action.  I don’t.  I want a strip of sand with few people, no volleyballs, no parties, and no umbrellas — that includes drinks with umbrellas.  Fruity drinks are fine at the bar and in restaurants, but I’m not partial to people walking up and down the beach all day juggling trays of treats for other people who get louder as the day wears on.  I like to hear the birds and the sounds of the sea and the breeze slipping through the leaves of the flamboyant and palm, the tamarind and calabash.

British Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

British Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

4) Critters.  Lizards, iguanas, crabs, birds, deer, wild donkeys, goats…the more the merrier.  Some people freak out if they find a lizard in their room at a “good” resort; we just give him a name and are careful not to step on him.  Last summer I was sitting alone on a beach in the British Virgin Islands listening to the waves, almost soundless as they came to shore, and I heard a rooster crow somewhere on the hillside behind me.  Hermit crabs made trails in the sand at my feet and hid amongst the rocks.  There were iguanas in the trees, sea gulls crying from the air, and a happy-sounding goat serenade coming from the same direction as the rooster’s crow.  Now, that’s my kind of beach.

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 5)  Sunsets.  I love sunsets in the islands.  I think most people would agree on this one.

Sunset, Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico; Photo:KFawcett

Sunset, Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico; Photo:KFawcett

 

 *****

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