Posted by: ktzefr | July 15, 2016

Crossing Borders with a Book

bookI spent a year reading Caramelo

Why would anyone take that long to read a book?  Was it a thick tome requiring a substantial investment of time?  Was it a difficult read with challenging vocabulary and/or deep philosophical concepts?  Was it required reading for a class or job or book club?  No.  None of these apply. 

I spent a year reading Caramelo because I didn’t want to leave the party.

The book has been described as having “all the energy of a riotous family fiesta” (The Washington Post) and “a book to read slowly and savor and if you can find a listener to read out loud” (Santa Fe New Mexican) and “Cisneros writes along the borders where the novel and social history intersect”; she gives the “voiceless ones a voice” and finds “the border to the past” (LA Times).

One can easily point to geographic borders on a map.  But in this story the concept of borders is expanded to include not only physical places but places of the heart.  Emotional borders separate people. Time, too, as delineated by the links that hold together past, present, and future, has its own distinct borders. 

The narrative is told by Celaya Reyes, a young girl who is a keen observer of family life.  The story skips across generations as it leaps the boundaries of time and place.  In telling her grandmother’s life story Celaya also tells her own.  At one time home is Chicago; another it’s Texas.  But the true home of her family is always Mexico City, at least for the older generations of aunts and uncles and grandparents.  Every summer the extended family packs the cars and makes the long trek from Chicago to Mexico City.  Their journey is an exploration of history and family, love and lies — stories of lives that straddle the border and never feel entirely at home anywhere. 

Caramelo refers to a cherished rebozo, a pretty caramel-colored shawl that has been passed down through generations of Reyes women.  For Celaya it is also reminiscent of those wonderful goat-milk candies called cajeta that every Mexican grandmother makes.  And the red clay of Mexican pottery.  And the color of an Acapulco tan. 

***

Cisneros has the unique gift of being able to say a lot in a few words and she bestows this quality on the young narrator…

 “Spanish was the language to speak to God and English the language to talk to dogs.”

New immigrants from south of the border often find English to be strange and rude and to the point.  They are surprised that, in this country, people rarely precede a request with “please” or ask if the other would “do a favor” or “be so kind as to….”  To the ears of those who would not ask for anything without first offering a polite greeting, requests in English often sound more like commands.  Every time I visit Mexico I have to keep this in mind and remember to say “please” before making a request.  It’s a small thing, a small difference in customs, but it matters.  I’ve traveled other places where any request or statement is expected to be preceded by a simple “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.”  Sometimes, in some places, if the pleasant exchange is skipped, the request is…well, not heard.

***

Caramelo is packed with other terrific one-liners.  Here are a few favorites that could easily jumpstart a discussion about this book, any book, or life in general:  

hanging“All women have a bit of the witch in them.”

“Doubt begins like a thin crack in a porcelain plate.”

“I don’t know why people march into the disasters of the heart so joyously.”

“It’s no disgrace to be poor…but it’s very inconvenient.”

“Like the Mexican saying goes, he who is destined to be a tamale will find corn shucks falling from the sky.”

 

***

 

So, I spent a year reading Caramelo.  No, this wasn’t the only book I read.  I finished a whole bunch of others during that time.  But I regularly returned to Celaya’s story, keeping connected to the characters and the daily goings-on, not wanting to let go – sort of like the same way I used to call home to catch up on Sundays before text messages and email made catching up quicker and easier and cheaper.  Each reading session was a “visit” with characters so expertly drawn and so achingly authentic that days could pass with the book sitting idly on the shelf and I would not lose track of the plot.  The plot here is secondary, in any case, to the rich development of character and family relations and the changing ways of looking at life over time. 

The world changes us and we change our world for better or for worse. 

***

Note:

A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros, a wonderful compilation of nonfiction stories and other pieces, was published in October 2015. 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | July 13, 2016

Yucatan is for the Birds!

Eagles, hummingbirds, pelicans, and parrots.  Flamingoes, anhingas, flycatchers, tanagers. Chachalacas and frigate birds, herons and egrets.  The Yucatan Peninsula has more than 500 bird species.

Dancing with Flamingos, Celestún, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

One of my favorite moments on trips to Mexico is waking up that first morning to the exotic bird-song serenade outside my window.  This is especially so in winter in the Yucatan.  I have a zillion photos of birds in which I am the only person who knows there is a bird in the picture — somewhere.  In other words, more often than not, I point and shoot and get lots of photos of tree tops.  Sometimes there are interesting epiphytes or colorful blooms amongst the branches, but the bird has flown by the time I click or it’s too far away or too high up to get a clear picture without a more powerful lens.

IMG_4721 - CopySo, I don’t have a photo of the painted bunting.  Or the pygmy owl.  Or the vermillion flycatcher.  On an early morning hike, I was stopped in my tracks by the colorful bunting; it looked like a Christmas ornament — too pretty to be real.  A Maya guide “talked” to the tiny owl in the trees until we were in range with the binoculars.  The owl was still, except for its roving eyes.   One morning we spotted the red flash of a vermillion flycatcher along a back road.  Though the bird kept its distance, we let down the tailgate, opened the picnic basket, and enjoyed  breakfast by a field of flowers.

The birds that didn’t get away:

Anhinga by the Ria Celestún enjoying a perch in the sun…

Anhinga; Photo:KFawcett

Anhinga; Photo:KFawcett

The beautiful white pelican is North America’s largest flying bird.  It breeds in Canada and the northern U.S. and thousands come to Mexico to winter.  In Yucatan white pelicans are found on the Celestún River and estuary.  They are graceful swimmers and, rather than dive for fish like their brown cousins, they float on the surface and scoop them up.  They’re pretty good boatmen, too…

White Pelican; Photo:KFawcett

White Pelican; Photo:KFawcett

A friend of a friend with a house by the sea has too many hummers to count.  This is one of several feeders…

IMG_4778

Hummingbirds, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

In the silence of the mangroves…

Snowy egret, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Snowy egret, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Heron, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Heron, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

A boatload of pelicans at the salt flats…

Brown pelicans, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Brown pelicans, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

 

Ah…the freedom of a bird.  It needs no passport.  A bird crosses borders wherever and whenever it pleases.

IMG_2440

**********

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | June 18, 2016

On Father’s Day: Dreams and Other Things

Image (5)

 

In the spring of 1976 my dad was diagnosed with heart failure.  When he asked the doctor about the prognosis, he said this: “a year is a long time.”  A year for Dad turned out to be only a few weeks.

When I talked with my dad that spring his one big sadness, other than the obvious illness, was that he couldn’t plant his garden.  It was May, time to plant corn and potatoes and beans.  He and Mom had planted a garden every spring since they were kids.  It was hard work.  He used a wooden push plow to do the final tilling of the soil by hand, but he was proud of the rewards — dozens of tomatoes, rows of potatoes, and a field of corn.

Twice my mom and dad came together to visit us in the city in the years prior and had ridden up to DC with friends.  They filled the trunk of the car with tomatoes and onions and beans and squash.  The vegetables were better than anything I could buy at the store. 

The year he became ill I was relieved that he wasn’t going to be out in the sun doing such strenuous work.  Everyone told him to take it easy.  Rest.  Don’t exert himself.  He didn’t need a garden.

I didn’t realize at the time what a great loss this was for him.  Of course, he didn’t need to plant a garden since he and mom could buy fresh vegetables from the neighbors.  But he had a great emotional need to work the soil.  Since that time I have heard other people speak often of some profound sadness they felt about no longer being able to do something they enjoyed.  These very real losses, caused by age or illness, are hard to accept.

When I was growing up my dad liked to fish and hunt and play checkers.  He enjoyed game shows and wrestling and westerns on television.  He read the newspaper every day, poetry on occasion, and the encyclopedia in winter when there was not much business at the store where he and mom spent 10 to 12 hours a day.  When fresh oysters were available, he made oyster stew.  Occasionally, he made doughnuts.  He’d once worked in a bakery.  Every November, when the hogs were slaughtered, he supervised the sausage making, doing the seasoning himself.  As a young man, he had also worked for a time in a butcher shop in the city.

I sometimes went with my dad to deliver groceries to people who didn’t live in walking distance and didn’t have a car.  I remember an old woman named Phoebe who lived with her middle-aged “girl” and “boy” in a tiny house in a hollow.  As a child, I was amazed by all the pictures she had tacked to her walls — clippings from glossy magazines of faraway places and advertisements.  We always had to stay in the truck until her “boy” locked the dogs in the cellar.  And on Christmas Eve every year, after closing the store, my dad delivered and gave away the last cakes and pies that had not sold to his customers.    Sometimes he let me drive the truck.  My legs were not long enough to reach the pedals, so I turned the steering wheel and he worked the gas and brakes. 

He told me I could do anything I wanted to do.  The only caveat was to stay in school!  It never occurred to me then to ask if he was living his dream.  Later, I learned that he had wanted to continue his education but had to drop out of high school to help support his family.  I imagine there were many things he would liked to have done, but I don’t recall him ever complaining about missing anything. 

Lately, on a number of occasions, I’ve heard people say that parents do their kids a disservice by telling them they can do anything they want to do or be anything they want to be.  But I can only vouch for my own experience to rebut this sentiment.  I am eternally grateful that my childhood, with its ups and downs, good moments and sad ones, challenges and opportunities was also marked by encouragement and continual boosts to my self esteem.

My dad believed that dreams really could come true.

So do I.

*****

Happy Father’s Day!!!

Posted by: ktzefr | June 16, 2016

5 Reasons to Drink…Golden Monkey Tea

Chinese painting on silk; Photo:KFawcett

Chinese painting on silk; Photo:KFawcett

An ancient Chinese proverb says “the finest teas come from high mountains.”  Golden Monkey (also called Panyong Wang and Jin Hou) is grown in both the Fuijan and Yunnan provinces.   Yunnan, an ancient province in southwestern China, borders Vietnam, Laos, and Burma.  It’s a cloudy, misty, mountainous place where tea has been grown for almost 2,000 years.  Some varieties are the size of large trees!

Golden Monkey tea is hand-processed every spring and only the bud and first leaf are picked.  There are differing opinions about how the tea got its name.  Some say it’s because when the leaves unfurl they resemble monkey claws, while others contend that it used to grow on steep, treacherous peaks that were difficult to reach, so monks trained monkeys to climb up and pluck the tea leaves.  Another legend goes that monks threw rocks at monkeys in tea trees, which caused the animals to fall and the broken branches and leaves fell with them.  Though most tea drinkers question the monkey myths, we are certain of this: when someone mentions a tea that is “monkey-picked,” they are referring to premium leaves, the finest grade available.

**********

tpot5 Reasons to Drink Golden Monkey

— It looks good.  This black tea with golden leaf tips or threading makes for a lovely golden-brown brew.

— It tastes great!  Tea connoseiurs have described the flavor in a variety of ways — as having “chocolate undertones” or a hint of roasted apples, walnuts, apricots, peaches, and/or honey.   Depends on the palate.  Or, perhaps, this tea is so exquisite that the tea drinker associates it with his/her favorite flavors.

— There is an old Irish saying that “a cup of tea should be strong enough for a mouse to trot on.”  Although this brew is rich and full-bodied, it’s also smooth and leaves a pleasant aftertaste.  It’s low in tannins and has no astringency or bitterness.  Just about perfect.

— Though it is a complex black tea, it can be enjoyed with multiple infusions.  I usually add an extra pinch of leaves to the second cup.  However, I NEVER add sugar or honey.  This is a wonderful tasting tea that can only be harmed by adding anything but hot water.

Golden Monkey tea leaves; Photo:KFawcett

Golden Monkey tea leaves; Photo:KFawcett

— Golden Monkey has won numerous awards at the annual World Tea Championship.  I’d say that’s reason enough to try it one time.  Though the leaves have been harvested for almost 2,000 years in China, it has only been developed for export in the last two decades.

**********

I read somewhere that in ancient times rich landlords and Taipans claimed that this tea provided them with agility and sexual powers.  I looked up “Taipans” and found multiple images of large, venomous snakes.  This couldn’t be right!  On Wiktionary, however, I found the answer.  A taipan is a tycoon, a rich businessman in China.  So, in the old days, the good stuff was reserved for the landlords and other big shots.  Today, however, anyone can drink the monkey tea, but it’s not cheap and not always easy to find.

Here are some good sources — click and buy:

(Don’t be coaxed into buying the blends — Golden Monkey/Strawberry, etc!  Chances are you’ll get lots of strawberry or rose petals or cinnamon and very few actual Golden Monkey tea leaves and won’t get the value for your money.)

Teavana

Serenity Tea

Adagio Teas

Silk Road Teas

Golden Moon Tea

 

Happy drinking!

**********

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | June 9, 2016

Walking: 100 Miles a Month

St. John, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

St. John, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

I walk 100 miles a month.  At least.  Outside when the weather is good, inside when it’s not.  If the temps drop to the 30s or go above 90, I walk through the house, up and down stairs, round and round.  I hate the treadmill.  It doesn’t go anywhere and I like to be going somewhere, even if it’s just in circles.

Every six months I need new running shoes.  The last pair got holes in the toes after only four.  Though walking is one of the cheapest exercises, it’s not entirely free.    

Early morning, six days a week, I get up, drink eight ounces of water, and go.  Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone.  When I’m with friends we talk about politics, religion, kids, movies, books, food…everything.  Nothing is off limits.  We agree; we disagree.  It’s all good.  We walk.

I don’t get bored. 

When I’m alone I take photos.  The cherry blossoms and lilacs and forsythia in spring.  The sky on days when it’s impossibly blue and filled with white clouds.  Rose bushes and peonies and clematis.  The colors of the fall foliage.  Footprints in the snow.

I’ve seen many live critters on my walks – squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes.  One morning I came face-to-face with three deer galloping down a hill in my direction.  I got out of the way, didn’t have time to take a photo.  I listen to the birdsong – robins, red-winged blackbirds, blue jays, mocking birds, cardinals.  I don’t wear earbuds; I’m never “plugged-in” to music.  I prefer the sound of nature, even if it is interspersed every now and then with noise — a siren or airplane or the hum of a helicopter.

Some days I plan meals and make lists in my head when I walk.  I write stories and poems, practice conversations I want or need to have with someone, and muse over big stuff — try to figure out what I really think about something.  I pray.  I make phone calls, talk to people I don’t see often. 

The great thing about walking is that I can do it almost anywhere.  It’s one of my favorite activities when I travel.  I’ve walked in a lot of places.  The prettiest is St. John in the US Virgin Islands where every turn in a trail brings another stunning natural vista.  I like early mornings on the Delaware shore, too.  A walk on the beach or boardwalk followed by a stop at the coffee shop and bakery is one of the best times of day.  And I love walking in Mexico – cities, little mountain towns, botanical gardens, jungle hikes.  Merida, Yucatan’s lively historic center is so flat I can easily walk for miles without realizing the distance.  Though hilly San Miguel can be challenging, the incredible colors and scents that mingle in the morning streets make it worth the effort.  And there are surprises around every corner meandering through the alleys of Guanajuato. 

When I recount memories of the places I’ve been, I almost always see myself walking – pigeons taking flight as I crossed St. Mark’s square in Venice, the rows of purple flowers in Hyde Park, London, the fairy-tale town of Dinklesbuhl, Germany where storks nest in the chimney tops.  Walking on the Stroget in Copenhagen one day, I heard a woman talking to her little dog.  She was speaking in Danish, of course, and a rather bizarre thought occurred to me — this pup knew something I didn’t know. 

In Paris I learned that it’s easy to get lost, but sometimes getting lost can be…fulfilling.  I stumbled onto a great candy store in the process.  Ditto for walking in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Otherwise, I would never have spotted the tiny chocolate shop with its marvelous treats. 

I used to walk to eat when I worked in DC.  Sometimes a favorite lunch spot was only a couple of blocks away; sometimes it was fifteen.  I once got off the bus in New York City, dropped my backpack at a hotel, and walked fifty-two blocks because it was a beautiful day to be out and about and I wanted a real French macaron.  Mine is a walk-eat-walk world; walking both whets the appetite and burns the calories. 

I have a meniscus tear in my right knee and arthritis in my feet, but this doesn’t bother me much.  I have to limit the steep hills, take it slowly if my knee hurts, and wear orthopedics in my shoes, but I try to keep walking.  100 miles a month.  So far, so good.   

St. John sunset, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

St. John sunset, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | June 4, 2016

Orange Donuts at the Good Life Bakery

Celebrating National Donut Day!  In lieu of eating a box of donuts, I’m remembering eating donuts…

 

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

 

Doves coo, church bells ring, fireworks explode.

Along the cobbled streets, the old buildings,

like a box of spilled crayons, their colors lit

by the morning sun — raspberry and wine,

peach and plum and burnt sienna.

I’m dreaming of orange doughnuts.

IMG_2329

I hurry past the open storefront where lumps of dough

Become perfectly round, hot-off-the-press tortillas…

Past the candy maker arranging rows and baskets

Of caramels and palenquetas, sauces and jams…

Past the fruit vendor hidden behind stacks of ripe bananas

And yellow mangoes, limes, papayas, and plump, juicy

cherimoyas with their white-as-cotton flesh.

Jacaranda tree, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Jacaranda tree, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Jacarandas tower above garden walls, mingling

their blue blossoms with chains of bougainvillea

to match the bright dresses of the indigenous women,

who carry infants strapped to their backs and toddlers

holding onto their skirts.  They bring baskets of handmade dolls

to sell in the plaza as trucks park along the curb

to unload flowers for the market.  Dahlias and marigolds,

cosmos and lilies.  Roses, gladioli, birds of paradise.

IMG_3846

Photo:KFawcett

*****

El Mercado, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

El Mercado, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

At La Buena Vida the orange doughnuts are out of the oven.

Zest sticks to my fingers, spreading the scent

of just-peeled oranges.  I grab a coffee to go and walk uphill

on Hernandez Macias.  Birds singing in the orange trees

at the Bellas Artes; bright sun casting the dome of the nun’s

church in a perfect yellow glow.

IMG_3625

Photo:KFawcett

 

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

At Canal Street I’m caught — eye level with the clouds,

Big puffs of white, slung low over the distant Sierra Madre.

I could be walking into a mirage or a floating city,

Unfastened from the world.

I marvel at how the ordinary becomes

extraordinary here.  Small feats, moments, expand

to fill hands, mind, and heart to the brim.

IMG_3973

 

El Jardin, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

El Jardin, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

I might have stepped back into the 50s,

to my small Kentucky hill town

where everyone knew everyone else,

and on Sundays we heard church bells ringing

on the other side of the mountain.

We gathered round the courthouse square

to talk about this and that and nothing really,

And there was music from Jack’s Blue Room

above the Magic Theater on Saturday nights

and parades and cotton candy and balloons

on special occasions.

IMG_0973

Bell ringers in the tower, La Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Here, in the mountains of Mexico,

Every day is a special occasion.

Mariachis sing and kids play in the Jardin, tossing

rocket-shaped balloons  into the air to watch them

bounce across the cobblestones.

There are cotton candy and churro vendors,

old men playing chess, and bell ringers

in the bell tower pulling on those big ropes,

while people sit in the plaza and talk

about this and that and nothing really.

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

 

The difference has to do with language.

I trade my English with an Appalachian accent

for Spanish with an Appalachian accent,

And time rewinds , briefly stands still.

For a city that cherishes the past and its old places,

San Miguel has an uncanny ability to cast a spell

That holds me still, breathless, in the here and now.

Dreaming of orange doughnuts…

*****

If you’re ever in San Miguel de Allende, be sure to check out the Panaderia La Buena Vida in the Plaza Golondrinas across from Bellas Artes between Calles Canal and Mesones.  Be there by 9 a.m. if you want hot donuts!  There are several flavors, but the orange is quite special.

 

Posted by: ktzefr | June 1, 2016

10 Quotes from Coelho

Sitting in the trees on this hot, sunny afternoon…

desk

“Do one thing: Live the life you always wanted to live.”  ~ Paulo Coelho

I met Paulo Coelho in 1997.  Well…not really.  In 1997 I read The Alchemist.  I knew at once this book was bound for a life on my “special” shelf — the one with the re-read, underline, dog-ear tomes.  Since then I have read Coelho’s other titles and they’ve all made the shelf. 

Last summer I read Manuscript Found in Accra and came across too many good quotes to simply underline and dog ear, so I kept a notebook.  Today I picked up the notebook and picked out a few short ones to share: 

— “Only he who gives up is defeated.  Everyone else is victorious.”

— “Scars speak more loudly than the sword that caused them.”

— “If we are happy, we are on the right road.”

— “…to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say, try routine; that kills you far more quickly.”

— “If we resist the temptation to allow other people to define who we are, then we will gradually be able to let the sun inside our own soul shine forth.”

— “It is the imperfect that astonishes and attracts us.”

— “Time and life have given me plenty of logical explanations for everything, but my soul feeds on mysteries.”

— “For the first time, I will smile without feeling guilty, because joy is not a sin.”

— “Stay close to those who sing, tell stories, and enjoy life, and whose eyes sparkle with happiness.”

— “…some words are elegant, some can wound and destroy, but all are written with the same letters.”

*****

Posted by: ktzefr | May 26, 2016

Bird Song as a Second Language

Maya Textile, Yucatan, Mexico.

Maya Textile, Yucatan, Mexico.

What an exciting morning!  I watched three baby robins being fed their breakfast.  I was in the right place at the right time, looking out the basement window to the nest tucked into a corner beneath the upstairs deck.  We had watched the robin parents come and go before and during the last 3-week deluge of rain and didn’t know if the nest held eggs or birds.  Yesterday, I thought I saw a beak.

This morning the three were in the nest alone.  Then the Mama bird came and perched on the side of the nest.  She quickly looked around, surveyed the surroundings, and flew away just in time for Papa bird to swoop in with a rather long worm.  Our back yard is woodsy, lots of trees and shrubs, and the ground covered in wood chips instead of grass.  So there are worms galore.  Great habitat for robins. 

So, Papa swoops in with the worm, and three heads pop up like tiny jacks-in-the-box with beaks wide open in anticipation.  Which baby would get the worm?  How would he choose? 

Apparently, robins are big on sharing. It was surprising to see how he managed by dangling it above one beak at a time and then pulling back at the right instant to divide the worm into three parts.  How cool is that? 

*****

Some years ago I was birding with a Maya friend in Chichen (Yucatan) and marveled at the way he “talked” to the birds.   He brought the pygmy owl out of hiding with his whistles and held a variety of “conversations” with the flycatchers and tanagers and kiskadees that filled the trees along the jungle trails. 

Why couldn’t I talk to the cardinals and blue jays and robins that fill the trees in my own back yard?

Instead of merely looking for birds, I started listening.  It’s amazing what one can learn from listening.  I’ve become rather proficient at mimicking the call of cardinals, for example.  We “talk” back and forth on sunny days when I work outside on the deck.  And, for the past few years, I’ve been whistling for the blue jays every morning and they (7 or 8 birds) come for peanuts.  I don’t know where they come from or where they take the peanuts when they go.  But they answer my whistle from somewhere in the neighborhood trees, and a few minutes later they appear like magic. 

Since we now have a family of robins living right at our back door, I figure it’s time to learn their language.  It sounds complicated.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (my “go to” place for bird stuff), robins have a dawn song and a daytime song, alarm calls and “cuck” calls and yeepsYeeps can vary, depending on the situation, and there’s a chirr that sounds like laughter.  Perhaps it’s wise to learn one sound at a time. 

I don’t have a clue as to what I’m saying to the birds, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve never been attacked by a feathered friend.

*****

Five Robin Facts

— The scientific name for the American Robin is Turdus Migratorius.

— Robins can have three broods a year.  Only about 25% survive until winter and only half the robins alive in any  year will make it to the next.  A lucky robin could live to be 14 years old, but the odds are against him/her.

— Robins are residents, for the most part.  They don’t migrate unless it’s for short distances.

— They can become intoxicated if they eat too many honeysuckle berries.

— Robins like to vary their diet, choosing worms in the morning and fruit during the day.  They are a good example of the early bird getting the worm.

*****

Info: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birding in Chichen, Yucatan

Audubon Guide to American Robin

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | May 23, 2016

Dancing at the Moose Lodge

dress

I wore the purple mini dress

With bell-shaped sleeves lined

in silver.  I imagine wearing it now —

too tight, too short, too purple

for a woman my age.

***

We danced until midnight,

And when we left the Moose Lodge,

A caravan of college kids in cars,

The cops were waiting.

Most went to jail.

All underage, drinking in a dry county,

Dancing to hippie music.

***

Appalachia in the 60s,

With Janice singing in my head,

“Freedom’s just another word

For nothing left to lose.”

***

I don’t recall ever wearing

The purple dress again,

So why is it still hanging

In my closet?

*****

What do you keep in the closet or trunk or attic?  Old enough to have anything from the 60s?  Do you know the WHY?

Happy musings on yet another rainy Monday.  Don’t let it get you down!

**********

Posted by: ktzefr | May 18, 2016

Roaming Yucatan’s Back Roads: Acancéh

Road to Celestun, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcettI grew up exploring the back roads of Appalachia, those curvy, mountainous ribbons of asphalt linking one small town to the next…roads that wander in a dozen different directions, never seem to end, and all look alike.  It’s easy to get lost, but getting lost is half the fun.  So I like to explore when I travel, and I look for a local guide who knows the back roads.  Yucatan’s roads are nothing like Kentucky’s hilly, crooked byways; they are as straight as an arrow and pancake flat.  Sometimes they lead to surprising places.

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The extraordinary town of Acancéh (ah-kan-KAY) is a place that could only exist in Mexico.  Though it’s main plaza and surroundings could serve as a picture-perfect example of the history of Yucatan, from its Maya roots to Spanish colonialism to the modern era, the town has been generally ignored by tourism.  The central square, like every plaza in every Mexican town I have visited, is dominated by a church.  In the case of Acancéh, however, the yellow 16th-century Franciscan church shares this grandest space in town with a large, centuries-old Maya pyramid.

 

Maya pyramid at Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Maya pyramid at Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

It’s fascinating to see these two standing side-by-side, especially when the hustle and bustle of the modern world is also happening around us.  People come and go to work and school and market.  There is laughter and music.  Barking dogs and birdsong.  The ruins are literally in the back yards of businesses and homes, and there’s a park across the street with fountains and gardens and a prominent deer statue.  Acancéh is the Maya word for “cry of the deer” or “groan of the deer” or “dying deer” or “lament of the deer” — depends who you ask.  Suffice it to say that it has something to do with a sad or sick deer.

The church on the town square — Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Natividad — is grand in size but simple in decoration…

Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de la Natividad, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcettIMG_4801

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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During the colonial period churches were often built with stones from the pyramids and many times they were constructed right on the pyramid site. But, for some reason, the Spanish allowed the pyramid in Acancéh to stand.  And there is a second one behind the first and a third ancient building a little ways down the street.  Archaeologists believe that between 300 and 600 AD, when Acancéh was an important Maya city, there were as many as 400 buildings in this area.

The pyramid on the town square…

Maya pyramid, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo: KFawcett

Maya pyramid, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo: KFawcett

The most fascinating thing about the plaza pyramid is the giant masks.  When one of the older layers of stone was uncovered it revealed several distinctive carved masks facing each of the cardinal directions.  They are some of the finest of their kind that survive.  The enormous masks are protected by corrugated fiberglass shelters atop a scaffolding with stairs that offer an easy climb up for a closer look.

Huge stucco masks atop the pyramid in Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

One of the huge stucco masks atop the pyramid in Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

IMG_4818We hitch a ride with a local taxi (Yucatan’s version of the 3-wheeler is used to haul supplies, firewood, food, and people — kids to school, grownups to work, travelers around town).  It’s just four blocks to the third restored building — the Palacio de los Estucos. 

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This palace of stuccos may have originally been a residential complex for the rich or some sort of administrative building.  No one knows.  Today, it’s deserted — except for the iguanas.  There is no scaffolding, so I get my first experience climbing a pyramid the hard way, stone by stone.

 

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

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At the top, an arched passageway leads to the stuccos, which give this palace its name.  There are a number of identifiable figures — animals and glyphs.  Is that a rabbit in the center?  

 

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Palacio de los Estucos, Acanceh, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

I am captivated by the ancient masks and glyphs and the eerie silence of these places void of other visitors in spite of the activity going on around them.  I don’t realize until much later that I didn’t take a single photo of the town and surrounding jungle from atop the pyramids! 

And so we are off to the next stop…Tecoh (more on this town later). 

Enroute we pick up a hitchhiker, a young boy headed from one of the villages into town to sell sweets that his grandmother had made. 

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Yucatan’s back roads are, indeed, chock full of all kinds of goodies!

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Note:

Some tour companies and private guides now offer visitors day trips along the Ruta de los Conventos (Convent Route), stopping at a number of small towns and villages to see the old Spanish churches, Maya ruins, and markets, including Maní, Teabo, Chumayel, Mayapán, Tecoh, and Acancéh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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