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Island Adventures on Lake Huron

4 Aug

We did it.  We left the confines of our home and took our first cruise in almost three years.  I was a bit hesitant and anxious.  But we chose a cruise that stayed close to home, sailing the Great Lakes between the USA and Canada.  It was a cruise I had been thinking about for years.  This seemed like the perfect time to take it.

Two of my favorite stops on the cruise were islands that are adjacent or within Lake Huron.  Both were the home of the Ojibwe nation, but one is in the United States and one is in Canada.

Mackinac Island

Years ago my husband and I lived in Michigan.  We heard over and over again that we had to go to Mackinac Island.  We never made it there during our two-year time. But it has been on our list of places to see ever since.  We had a most delightful day!!!

I will start by telling you that the original native Ojibwe name was Michilimackinac.  When you say it, you realize that the name Michigan was also a native name. It means Big Turtle, because the island is somewhat shaped like a turtle. The entire island is just about eight miles around.  So it is easy to walk from one place to another.

In July we found out why people love it so much.

First, there are NO CARS on the island!  The only transportation is foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage.   WOW.  (Fire engines and ambulances are an exception.) It is interesting to go around an island on an open carriage. When we got off the ship, very close to downtown, we were loaded up into a carriage that had about 20 people.  This took us on the first part of the ride, through the downtown, past the Grand Hotel, and to a place where we were transferred to a larger carriage drawn by three horses for our tour through the park to the historic Fort Mackinac.

Second, there is the GRAND Hotel.   It is pretty darn Grand.  With its stunning Victorian décor; the large veranda with excellent rocking chairs (yes I checked them out); ice cream parlor; excellent views; the Grand Hotel lived up to expectations.  I especially loved the sign that said after 6 pm all men must wear jackets and women must wear dresses.  To be honest, I would never stay there because my husband would not want to dress up each evening.

However, we did go the Gate House Restaurant that is part of the hotel and had a delicious lunch sitting outside and enjoying people watching and horse watching.  There is a little stone church across the street from the restaurant that we also visited.  It is actually called the Little STONE Church.

Third, there is lots of history surrounding the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the lives of the Native Americans and how the changes from French to British to American impacted the First Nations Peoples, especially the Ojibwe nation, which is also based in Canada.  We spent an hour or so walking around the Fort and we even got to see a cannon fire.

After we at lunch at the Grand Hotel, we walked into town to visit some of the sites, including  the Biddle house which is now a small museum about the impact on the Native Americans.

We had an excellent time walking around the downtown, doing a bit of shopping, and finding an ice cream store for my husband.  Mackinac Island is known for its many fudge shops.  And we did enjoy the free samples. But we stayed strong and did not purchase any.  I could only that that with eight days left on the cruise, it would be too tempting.

Manitoulin Island

The other Island we visited was quite different. First, it is in Canada. Manitoulin Island is also known as Ontario’s Island Retreat. Its original Ojibwe name is Manidoowaaling, meaning the Spirit Cave, which we did get to see. It is a big island, over 100 miles long. In fact, it is the largest island in a fresh water lake, Lake Huron. In the island of Manitoulin is the largest lake in the largest island in a fresh water lake. That would be Lake Manitou in Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. But there is also Treasure Island, which is the largest island in a lake in the largest island in a Great Lake. But it was not in Lake Manitou. I LOVE these descriptions. They should be part of a children’s song!!!

The island was also first inhabited by the Ojibwe people, who still inhabit much of the island.  But it was also the site of the first European settlement in Canada.

We docked in Little Current, which is the largest city on the Island. It has been a resort town for a while and has many bed and breakfast accommodations, much like Mackinac Island.

We visited the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, which was a great experience.  My husband was concerned that it would be ‘hokey’.  But it definitely was not.  The young man who met us at the Center gave us a great presentation about the First Nations and the Island.  He explained what we were seeing in the museum section, which really was fascinating.  We then went to a work area where people can come to work on their crafts like beading and porcupine quill art.  We also met with a young woman who explained the sacred herbs such as sage and how they are used.

Finally we were welcomed to an outside theater where we got to see authentic First Nation dances and the drummers.  I so enjoyed this experience.  My favorite were the jiggle dress dancers.  Finally we were invited up to dance with them and learn a bit.  I had to get up there.  One of the dancers stepped with me and showed me how to do it correctly! 

We did notice along the way that the cities in the USA were much smaller than the cities in Canada.  But then I had an enlighten moment. For the Canadians, these cities were among their furthest southern border, while for the US these were at the northern border.  Makes a difference when you take in this factor.

We loved our island experiences in Lake Huron. 

Our Anniversary Museum Adventure

5 Apr

I just love museums!   In fact for our wedding anniversary, my husband agreed to a museum crawl. He took the day off from work for this adventure.  I did think of him when I planned our visits.  First, none of these museum took more than 60-90 minutes to visit.  Second, two of the three were a quick drive from our home. Third, they all were either new, newly renovated, and he had not visited. Finally, they had exhibits that I knew would interest, inform and entertain.

First was the new “Medicine’s Hall of Fame and Museum” in Shawnee, Kansas.  This museum was founded by Bruce Hodges, MD, with items he has collected over the years both medical and from his trips to Africa where he provided medical care.

Asthma and allergy remedies.

I knew this building well because for many years it housed the Johnson County Museum. It was exciting to see that it had been repurposed into a new museum.  I was sure my husband would enjoy it, as he is a physician.  And I was right.  My first choice was a pleasant surprise for both of us.  Included in the displays were many old remedies for allergies and asthma.  Perfect for my husband as he is a pediatric allergist, who treats asthma as well.

Other items we enjoyed were the two Iron Lung machines that treated patients with polio.  I had seen one for an adult before, but the one for a child surprised me.  But of course, children needed them as well.  We enjoyed the room set up as an early pharmacy with the original desk and many bottles and boxes displaying old medicines.  Military filed kits, Native American medicine bags and lots of items that were used by quack doctors over the years. 

It provided us with a fun hour of information. 

From there we drove to Overland Park, Kansas, where the Johnson County Musuem moved in 2016.  I still remember when they moved the first ‘electric house’ in Kansas to the museum, closing down roads and moving power lines.  The house is actually enclosed in the museum.  Although I had been to this museum many times since its move, my husband has not been to it since the move.  As, I said, I planned this day with him in my mind.

I also wanted to go because there was an exhibit on redlining, which was the way realtors kept people to separate areas enforcing segregation in a way that people did not realize. I was shocked.  The realtors not only redlined, they earmarked some areas blue and green for white Christians.  Yellow areas were for Jews, Italians, people of middle eastern descent and others.  While Redlined areas were for Blacks and Hispanics.  If you went to a realtor, they would only show you a house in an area that you FIT.  Horrible.  And worse is that it basically became federal policy as well during the Great Depression. 

The realtors also would add to fear and distress in a neighborhood if a black couple or someone different moved in, leading to white people fleeing neighborhoods.  My husband experienced this in St. Louis when he was a child.  He grew up in University City area, which was mainly Jewish.  Then as black families moved in, he remembers a realtor telling his parents that they should sell and move out.

“Redlined: Cities, Suburbs, Segregation” will be at the museum until January 2023.

Corinthian Hall!

Our final museum visit occurred a few days later.   We traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to visit the newly renovated Kansas City Museum in Corinthian Hall.  When our children were young, it was the Science and Natural History Museum.  I remember the dioramas in the back building as my children loved them. The museum is totally different now, although the lovely stained glass windows are still visible.

The ice cream parlor!

The museum now displays exhibits about the history of Kansas City on the top floor, also talking about Redlining!  While on the main floor several rooms of this 112-year-old mansion have been renovated to look back into the past when it was a home. I am glad that when they did the renovations, one important room remained, my children’s favorite from years ago, the ice cream parlor, which will be open this summer.  YUM!

It was great to see this building coming back to life.   I also understand that they plan to renovate the other buildings on the property as well.  It has a magnificent view of the city. 

While there we saw our first of the 100 hearts that were designed by artists and placed throughout the metro.  I have now seen two of the hearts, and I hope to see many more!

https://www.medicineshalloffame.com/

https://jcprd.com/330/Museum

https://theparadeofhearts.com/hearts/

A Pleasant Evening At Phoenix’s First Synagogue

25 Mar

I try to find something related to my love of Judaism wherever I travel.  This time, I did not have to look, as a group we meet with held its annual dinner at the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in Phoenix.   The Center is housed in what was the first synagogue in Phoenix, which gave me joy.  It mixed my love of history with my search for Jewish sites.

The two buildings have Spanish vibe.  They made me think of the Alamo!  In fact, the buildings were designed in a Spanish mission style when they were built in 1922 for the new Congregation Beth Israel, the first synagogue in Phoenix.  At its start it catered to all Jewish families in the area and did not have a permanent rabbi until the 1930s.

The original synagogue buildings.

The buildings hosted several congregations over the years.  By 1949, the Jewish community had moved out of the Phoenix downtown, and the synagogue was eventually sold to the First Chinese Baptist Church.  They held services there from 1951 until 1981. From 1981to 2002 it was the home of the Iglesia Bautista Central Baptist Church.

But in 2002, the Jewish community purchased the buildings to become the Arizona Jewish Historical Society’s headquarters.  Restoration of the buildings started in 2008.In the smaller building is a museum dedicated to the history of the Jewish community and the building.   Among the interesting artifacts in the museum is a violin that survived the Shoah. It was buried during the war, and recovered afterwards.  It is on loan thanks to the daughter of the survivor.

The larger building, which once was where services were held, now is a social hall with a stage. When they renovated the building, they found the area on the back wall of the stage where the Torahs were kept in the Aron Kodesh.   The area was covered again, and now the stage is set for community events.  I found it fascinating to find out that when the synagogue was built there were only 120 Jewish people in Phoenix.  There are now over 80,000 and 30 Jewish congregations in the great Phoenix area!

The event venue is open to the community.  Besides the indoor space, there is a lovely garden area where we had our dinner and music.  I had a great time both exploring the history of Phoenix’s Jewish community and enjoying the lovely outdoor space.

This is a quick museum visit, but the Historical Society does have an archive of materials about the Jewish community and holds programs at the site.  They are planning to build a Center for Hope, Humanity and Holocaust Education building on the grounds. If you live in Phoenix, I would advise you to join to get information on upcoming programs! Also the exhibits change and there are online exhibits!

https://www.azjhs.org/

Chihuly Double Dose

19 Mar

I do love Chihuly.  So when we were in Phoenix recently, I was delighted to learn that there was not one, but two, Chilhuly exhibits in town.  Luckily for me, my friends were willing and interested in an adventure,  seeing both exhibits in  one day! 

Friday, February 25, was Chilhuly Day for us in Phoenix. We purchased our tickets in advanced.  The morning was devoted to the “Chihuly In The Desert” at the Desert Botanical Gardens, where the art often imitated the nearby cacti.  The late afternoon was devoted to a tour of Frank Llyod Wright’s Taliesin West and the Chihuly pieces chosen to fit this unique architectural site.

I had been to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix many years ago.  Even then, there were a few Chilhuly pieces at the entrance.  But I had only seen a small part of the gardens. Since I came with a group, we were kept close by on the paths near the front.  This time my friends and I walked the entire grounds!!!  We saw everything that was outside; the Apache household and native crops; the cactus and succulent galleries; the Agave yucca forest and more.  In each area, we looked for and admired the Chilhuly glass that was selected to highlight the natural art.

My favorite natural beauty was the crested cactus.  That was truly something amazing.  As well as the giant cactus that were highlighted by Chilhuly purple reeds.  I also loved this smaller twisted cactus!  Another amazing cactus insight was that birds make nests inside the cactus.  All those holes in a cactus are often a birds nest! A special protection coating is formed to protect the cactus and make a home for the bird.  It looks like a boot!!  We were also lucky as the cacti were beginning to bloom.  So pretty!

From my friend, who lives in Phoenix, I learned that pretty cactus are not NICE.  Some can almost leap onto you.  While another, that looks like it has a soft beard, in reality has a white soft looking collection of barbs.  DO NOT TOUCH. She continued to tell us to STAY BACK.  DON’T get so close. 

As for the Chilhuly, my favorite pieces included a giant gold, cream and white swirling tall collection of twisted tubes that reminded me of a yucca in bloom. My other favorite was a grouping of red, orange and purple reed like glass that made me think of flamingos. Of course, for anyone who knows me well, I loved the blue reeds!

I will admit, that it was not until we were leaving that we realized there was another exhibit of Chilhuly glass in a  gallery.  But we did not have time to admire it.  We had timed tickets for our second glass adventure.

 I really knew nothing about Taliesin West before this trip.  I have driven past Taliesin East in Wisconsin and been to a Frank Lloyd Wright house at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. (See Blog Below about another Chilhuly adventure there.). But I really had not much information about Taliesin West until I learned about the Chilhuly exhibit.  Then I had to go and see the compound and the art glass.

Throughout the grounds, Chilhuly glass was displayed in ways to enhance the prairie style buildings.  My favorite, once again, mixed white gold and cream, with some sparkle right at the center of the complex, near the bubbling water pond.  The mass amount of red glass reeds displayed around the front of the home, some in dyed black water, was also fascinating.  And the view from the apex of the higher ground as spectacular.  Well worth the visit!

Drafting room

As for Taliesin West.  Wow.  His original plan to keep all the buildings open must have seen like a good idea.  But when I think about the heat in Phoenix, I am glad he gave in to his wife and closed the buildings in adding air conditioning!  I guess I am not a Frank Lloyd Wright purist.   For me the most interesting parts were the actual drafting room where other architects came to study with him and the small theater. 

I loved my day of Chilhuly, being with my friends, and enjoying these two special places in the Phoenix area. A double dose of Chilhuly was definitely worth it for me.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/06/10/chihuly-stunning/

Musical Instrument Museum Brings Magic and Joy To Your Soul

2 Mar

I found another favorite museum! 

Recently my husband and I went to Phoenix.  He went to a meeting, while I visited with two of my wonderful college friends for a mini reunion. In this blog I will discuss one of the three sites that we decided to visit. 

Our first stop on our whirlwind tour of Phoenix was the Musical Instrument Museum.  I do not even know where to begin to describe this delight of the senses. 

Each display is a combination of color and sound, showing the clothes and the instruments of each area pictured.  The extremely wonderful added bonus  at most displays is a short video at showing how the instruments are played and their sound, also showing how the clothing is worn for ceremonies, rites, parades and events.

The museum is divided into geographic areas.  We decided to start with the music of Latin America and the Caribbean.  We spend two hours walking through this one section of the museum. It is overwhelming and informative.  Your headphones pick up the music of each display as you walk closer.  It draws you in and then the instruments catch your eye and sometimes colorful clothes catch your eye.

Display after display calls out to you.  At times you do not know where to look next, so you go to the music that is dancing in your ears. 

I was intrigued by the display of recycled instruments from Paraguay.  These are not instruments someone has passed down, rather they are musical instruments made from trash and scrap metal. Honestly, the Recycled Orchestra of Centeura drew me in.  I listened to the video several times. This children’s orchestra in Asuncion, Paraguay, is amazing.  All of their instruments are built from trash in a landfill!  I was so intrigued, I looked it up online.  The link to the Wikipedia article is below.

I have not been so taken by children’s music since I saw the children’s school for steel drums in St. Maarten.  (See blog below.)

When we had exhausted ourselves viewing all of Latin America, we decided we had to have lunch in Café Allegro before we tackled another exhibit hall.  We still had Europe, United States and Canada, Oceania, Africa, Middle East, four areas of Asia and more.  There was so much to see, we finally realized we were not going to see it all.

On our way to lunch, we heard piano music.  Below was a grand piano with people in line to play.  It was fun to listen to the different styles of music people chose.  Besides playing the piano, visitors can also go to the Experience Gallery where they can try all sorts of instruments.

After lunch we went to Africa and then we went to Europe and finally to North America.  We saw instruments made from every object possible:  tree trunks, gourds, pottery, ceramics, sticks, string, tin cans, steel drums, boxes. Imagination and talent can turn anything into music. 

 In my attempt to be truly honest, I will tell you that in the other exhibit halls we visited, we were unable to look at every display.  It is sensory overload.  I highly recommend just choosing one hall to go through and not to try to see it all. Instead plan to go back another time if you can. We never made it to any of the Asian exhibits or downstairs to the Mechanical Music Gallery or Experience Gallery or Encore Gallery.

As I looked through the Museum, one thing was obvious, no matter where people lived, or what materials they had, or what their circumstances were, everyone wants to make music. There are so many guitar-like instruments, and harp-like instruments, and wind style instruments.  All were representative of the continent and the culture of the people who use them.

We did not have the opportunity to go to a concert there.  But if I lived in Phoenix, I know its 300-seat theatre would be a favorite spot.

Even the bathrooms provide a musical interlude offering different songs to sing as you wash your hands!!!

On my way out, I purchased one of the magnets that reflects the Museum’s theme, “Music is the Language of the Soul.”  As we danced and sang and boogied our way through this museum, I can attest that this is a museum that enlightens bringing magic and joy to the soul through the language of music.

www.mim.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycled_Orchestra_of_Cateura#:~:text=The%20Recycled%20Orchestra%20of%20Cateura,collected%20from%20Asunci%C3%B3n’s%20Cateura%20landfill.

Captivating Sanibel and Captiva Islands

28 Dec

Sometimes you just have to go to a destination wedding.  Especially after two years of Covid cancelling weddings.  Knowing that this wedding of a good friend’s son would be mainly held outside, gave us the impetus to throw caution a bit aside to go and celebrate a happy occasion.

What a great spot to get married!

I will not write about the wedding and festivities, except to say It was wonderful and we were so happy to be there to celebrate!

But we also enjoyed the wonderful weather and beauty of Sanibel and Captiva Islands and the South Seas Resort. We had a wonderful room with a view of both the entrance to the marina and to the ocean.  Every morning I woke up happy to look out my window.  We loved walking the grounds and relaxing.

For me the best part was going to visit the manatees that took over a slip in the marina.  I visited the marina twice a day to just watch them float.  I was not the only one who found it relaxing and peaceful and magical. 

Standing outside on my balcony,  I often saw a dolphin swimming by.  I tried to get photos, but never actually got him jumping out of the water.  My mind still sees it.  The glorious sunrise outside our room was enchanting.  This is a vacation spot that I would love to revisit.  And to have the same room!

We did not spend all of our time at the resort.  I love exploring and museums!  There was one museum I just had to see, The Bailey-Mathews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island, which opened in 1995. The Great Hall of Shells is really a great hall filled with shells of all types.  The artwork made from shells surprised me.  Seeing live mollusks walk in their shells was also exciting for me.  I have seen shells, but I have never seen one moving in real life!

I learned why Sanibel and Captiva Islands are known for the shells that come ashore. The islands are in an arc shape that catches the waves and so the shells bringing them on to the shore.  I finally woke up early enough to go shell hunting one morning before the crowds.  Most of the shells were quite small, but then, just as we were ready to go, the waves brought me a lovely treasure.  And yes, just as I learned at the museum, I made sure it was a dead shell with nothing inside.

My husband and I enjoyed our time there, learning about shells; talking to the volunteers; and even touching a live mollusk.

My favorite sign.

My other excitement going to the Museum is that I finally got a photograph of my all time favorite road sign.  We had noticed it when we first drove to the resort.  But I did not have my phone ready to take a photo.  We passed a similar sign heading out to the museum as well.  On the way back from the museum I was ready! I had my phone out and started taking pictures before I actually saw the sign.  It worked.  I captured the sign that warned us about “Low flying Owls.”  To be honest, we never saw any low flying owls, but the sign was worth it.  It gave me a Harry Potter magical feeling and added to the enchantment of the islands.  Just whose owls are flying so low and what messages are they bringing.

Although we did eat several meals at the resort, which were delicious, we also ventured off site to try some local restaurants.  The Bubble Room, with its bakery/ice cream parlor and its gift shop, was a wonderful venue with both good food and fun places to explore.  I felt like I was inside a kaleidoscope. The gift shop was great fun as well with its vintage antiques and gifts.  I had to buy a t-shirt!  If you go, save room for desserts. The cakes are delicious.

Other favorite restaurants, included the Mucky Duck where we ate outside by the beach and  the Cantina Captiva with its dollar bills adorning the walls and ceiling (yes we added one!). The food at both of these was good, not special, but the atmosphere made them enjoyable.

I would not mind spending a week or more on Captiva Island.  The four nights there just gave us a taste of the island life.  I have a good feeling that we will be back on these captivating islands.

www.southseas.com

https://www.shellmuseum.org/

https://www.bubbleroomrestaurant.com/home

New Orleans Spirit

21 Dec

I was not going to write about our trip to New Orleans because I have been there several times.  But then I realized I had never written about the city, and it is one of my favorites!

I will touch only on the places I saw this time, with a little of the history of why I love it.

Jazz on the street.

New Orleans is like no other city in the USA, with its Creole and French roots, its diverse populations and its jazz.  I love walking down the streets in the French Quarter and hearing the music and watching the bands play on street corners. 

We cannot go to New Orleans and not have beignets.  Each time we go to our favorite shop and get an order of three to share.  I eat one, my husband has two.  Personally, we like Café Beignet.  I know that many enjoy a different spot. But this one right off the square and next to the police station is the best for me!

Our favorite beignet shop.

I also go to the same restaurant on the corner of the plaza by St. Louis Cathedral. The windows all open and you feel like you are sitting outside while inside. And yes we went there this trip as well.  I was especially happy that in New Orleans you had to show your Covid vaccine record to enter a restaurant.  It made me feel a bit safer.

I did visit the Audubon Aquarium of The Americas. The last time I went there was 20 years ago, before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the aquarium and released many of the sea life.  It is definitely different then what I remember, plus there is construction nearby, and renovation inside, but I enjoyed my hour or so walking around by myself. My favorite spots were the Amazon Rain Forest set up in a giant greenhouse structure, and the sea horses.  But the Great Maya Reef area was also fun.   For me aquariums are great activities for both the young and young at heart.

My second stop was more educational than fun.  I went to the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience, where I learned much about southern Jewish population and Civil Rights activism.  The museum did a good job in showing how Jewish men moved into the south as peddlers and then as store owners.  Their activities against racism were important to the Civil Rights movement.  Although I knew that they had played a part in changing how people were treated, I was not aware of the extensive work of the Jewish population of the south to help.  Another good spot to go!

During past trips to New Orleans, I visited the National World War II Museum/National D-Day Museum.  It is a wonderful spot that really takes hours to visit completely.   Wear good walking shoes and schedule yourself properly. Learning about D-Day and the boats that helped in the Invasion of Normandy was the information that still sticks in my mind. The Higgins Boats, which were used in the invasion, were designed by a New Orleans manufacturer Andrew Jackson Higgins.  The Higgins boats played an important role in the invasion, a fact that has stayed in my mind for years.

I love New Orleans because there are so many museums and historical sites to explore and so many wonderful restaurants to experience the tastes of the city.  The history of Mardi Gras and the diverse communities of New Orleans makes is interesting and delightful!

After the hurricane and Covid issues, it is a city that needs support and love.  At one event I attended, the waitress told me how happy they all were that our convention was held, because it gave them hope and an income which helps keeps their spirits up.  With the rise in the new Covid variant, I know that people are nervous about traveling.  I understand.  I will say that New Orleans is doing its best to keep people safe.  I wish all cities were doing the same. In the meantime, I salute the New Orleans Spirit.

https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium

https://www.nationalww2museum.org/

A Cathedral, A Basilica, A Black Jesus, and Slowly Sinking Buildings

6 Dec

What is a trip to Latin America without going to churches?  You just cannot do it.

In Mexico City there were two church sites we had to visit.  The first was Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary Into Heaven.  They just call it the Metropolitan Cathedral.  I understand why.

Cristo Negro/The Black Jesus

There were several facts about this Cathedral that make it special.  The first deals with the tradition of Black Jesus/Cristos Negros of the area.  There are several countries that have wooden Jesus sculptures on a cross that have darkened and turned black over the ages.  The one in Mexico City has a story.   Supposedly the bishop always prayed at the crucifix as he entered the cathedral.  There were those who wished him to die.  So they put poison on the feet of the wooden Jesus, knowing that the bishop would kiss the feet when he was done praying.

The bishop did as he always does, and kissed the feet, but he did not die.  Instead, the Jesus sculpture turned black. 

To be honest this is not my first Cristo Negro, or Black Christ/Jesus.  I have been to Portobelo, Panama, and saw the one in the Inglesia de San Felipe. It is special because it was found in the town’s harbor and it wears a robe!   I have also seen the black Madonna in Montserrat, also known as Our Lady of Montserrat. Many go on pilgrimages to see these statues.  For me they have been a happy surprise. (See blogs below.)

This is not the only special site within the cathedral.  There is also magnificent altar and intricately carved wooden sculpture behind it.  Outside, in front of the cathedral, there is a statue of Pope John Paul with an image of the Lady of Guadalupe carved into his robes.  This foreshadows the second religious site we visited.

Statute of the Pope.

But the most obvious and unusual aspect of the building is that it is sinking.  Completed in the mid 1600s, the cathedral was built on land that was once the bottom of a giant lake.  It was also built in the area where the Aztec’s had their temples. In fact, the stones used in the construction of the church were parts of the dismantled Aztec temple.  The cathedral was built upon the ruins.  One way of saying to the Aztec, we beat you.  But not so great centuries later.  

Around the cathedral you can see the excavations of the Aztec sites. A model of what the plaza area looked like when the Spanish first came is near the excavations.

Part of the excavation of the Aztec ruins.

 Within the church, you can see how they have worked to stabilize it.  Marble stone stairs, now sit on a bed of concrete stairs.  A pendulum hangs from the high ceiling and shows if the building is still standing straight or sinking again.  By the lines on the floor, one can see how tilted it once was, and how close to straight it stands now.

Our second religious site was the Basilica of the Lady of Guadalupe.   This site is also sinking, and many of the buildings, the older basilica, the first church and the convent, were also tilting.  They have been stabilized. But you can see that much work still needs to be done.  The newer, larger, round Basilica built in the 1970s seems fine for now.

The Basilica and all the other buildings on the site, including the original basilica from the early 1700s were constructed to honor Saint Juan Diego and his visions and miracles of the Lady of Guadalupe. Sometime around 1530 a picture of the Lady of Guadalupe/Mary appeared on his cloak, which he said was a signal that the indigenous people should convert to Catholicism.  There have been visitors/pilgrims to this site ever since. And many buildings have been constructed to provide a place for them to pray.

Today the new Basilica houses the image.  Encased in two frames, one silver and one gold, it is mounted on the wall near one entrance of the Basilica. You must get on a short moving walkway to see it, which keeps everyone moving forward and no one can stay in front of it for too long.  The Basilica is constantly being used by the people for Mass.  Each hour a new Mass begins. 

Statue of the Pope along side the old basilica.

There is a large open plaza on one side of the Basilica.  It is here that Pope John Paul came to  dedicate the site. A statue to him stands between the old and new basilicas.  He also came here a second time to canonize Juan Diego.

The temple of the well.

We could not enter all the buildings. But I will admit my favorite was the one that covers the well.  It was a lovely little building.  And each of the windows was in the shape of a six-pointed star.  For my Jewish mind it was perfect.  Miriam, the sister of Moses, was known for her affinity for water. When they were in the desert, water followed Miriam.  So to know that here at the site of the visions of the Lady of Guadalupe/Mary/Miriam, there is a well with a temple with six-pointed stars, gave me a little joy.

My second favorite building was a small church that is still standing, but only with the help of metal beams.  In front of it was a small water way, with no water right now, except for a bowl of water that a mama cat was enjoying while her kitten struggled to reach it.

It is quite a site, much larger than I anticipated.  To be honest, I did not want to go.  We had spent the morning visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and I was both exhausted and not feeling well.  But our guide insisted that we had to see it.  As it was on our way back to the hotel, I figured I would say yes, but could always back out.

That did not happen.  I was hot, tired and feeling ill.  But I got out of the van and walked the many steps to the entrance of the site. And then for over an hour walked the grounds and through the buildings to see all that I could.  I was amazed that I started to feel better as we walked.  It was so interesting that I forgot to think about not feeling well.  So I have to commend our guide who insisted we visit.

Bosque de Chapultepec: Visiting Chapultepec Park

30 Nov

While we were in Mexico City, we stayed at a hotel that was located on Reforma, just a short half mile walk from the wonderous Bosque de Chapultepec.  We visited three important sites within the park, besides passing by many others and seeing all the activities enjoyed by park visitors.

rOur three main stops were: National Museum of Anthropology/Museo Nacional de Antropologia; The Chapultepec Castle: and Jardin Botanico del Bosque de Chapultepec/the botanical gardens.  We passed by the Ghandi Garden, the entrances to other sites like the Zoo and the History Museum; and walked through an open air market, where I purchased a straw hat.  We also ate in one of the restaurants within the park, El Lago Restaurante.

Honestly, we did not do these activities in one day.  The park is enormous with so much to see.  But I thought it is best to put it all together in one blog.

The first place anyone who goes to Mexico City must visit is the National Museum of Anthropology.  Besides its wonderful architecture, the museum galleries are filled with pre-Columbian masterpieces.  We had a tour guide who explained what we were seeing in English, which was extraordinarily helpful as almost all the signage is only in Spanish.

The building itself is built around a central courtyard with a large umbrella like structure providing shade. As you walk through the different galleries, you return to the center courtyard between areas.  I found that refreshing.  A way of clearing my mind before entering another new world.

We learned about the Inca, Mayan, Aztec, Olmec  and other peoples who once lived in the various areas of Mexico.  I knew that human sacrifice was a large part of the religions.  Owever, I was shocked at the brutal and almost daily sacrifices.  The artwork of these groups, especially the Aztec, focused on skulls, dismemberment and death.  We learned about the Goddess of Rain and the God of the Sun and the feathered snakes that adorned many of the buildings.  The immense stone carvings were beautiful and many were so intricate, you wonder how they were made centuries ago without modern tools.

The original Aztec Sunstone is on display, as well as many other majestic and large works of art.  The Statute of Chaichiuhiticue,  and the Olmec stone heads were immense.  Each were carved from one block of stone.  I don’t know how they moved them!

I honestly cannot tell you what was the most interesting thing to see because there were so many!  I did like learning about the game they played with balls that had to go through a stone hoop. However, I was sad to learn that after each game, someone was sacrificed. 

We spent three hours visiting all the rooms of this museum.  I took many photos.  But in the last room, I was exhausted.  I knew I had had enough because I did not take one photo.  I was mentally done.  There is just so much to see.  It is a museum you could visit again and again and still see and learn about things you missed on an earlier visit.

Needless to say, we left the museum exhausted and ready to eat lunch.  We knew we would be back to the park!

We returned the following evening for a dinner at El Lago Restaurant.  It is situated by one of the lakes in the park and is just lovely.  The food is delicious as well.  But the main reason I am mentioning it, is that while we ate, a young man asked his girlfriend to marry him!  It was quite exciting and everyone cheered when she said yes!  It added an extra bit of charm to an already charming trip.

With the park so close to our hotel, we knew that we would be walking back another day.  We chose the morning after we took our Covid tests to make sure we could return to the USA.  Even though we knew we did not feel sick in any way, having to wait several hours for the results would have made me anxious if I just sat around.  We started walking to the park.  Our first planned stop was the botanical gardens.  This one was filled mainly with succulents and orchids, two of my favorite plantsWe walked around the gardens enjoying the quiet.  We ended with walk through the orchid house and enjoying the many succulents planted in cement cinder blocks!  I want to do that in my garden.

Chapultepec Park is considered the lungs of Mexico City.  The acres upon acres of trees supplies the valley with clean air, which is important, because there is pollution in the valley that encompasses Mexico City.

After we left the gardens we continued walking through the park towwards the hill where the Capultepec Castle sits. The first building of the castle began in 1795 as a summer home for the viceroy.  Eventually it was enlarged and became the home of Emperor Maximillian and his family.  Maximilian did not survive for long in Mexico.  He became Emperor in 1864 and was executed in 1867. The unfortunate thing is that Maximillian seemed to care about the people of Mexico.  But it did not save him from execution.  

The Castle then became the home of the President of Mexico and continued as the Presidential residence until 1939.  Now it is a museum. It does cost 85 pesos to enter.  I did not have that much cash, and they do not take credit cards.  However, if you are over 60, which my husband and I definitely are, you can enter for free!  The cashier said,  “Are you over 60?”  I said yes.  She said go in for you it is free.  Thank you Mexico!!  It would have been so sad not to have seen this building and its gardens!

You do have to walk up the hill.  But the slope is easy to climb.  However, I will say with the altitude of 7500 feet in Mexico City, I am glad I waited for the third day to make that climb!  We walked slowly.  You can take a bottle of water to go up the hill.  But once you get to the entrance of the Castle grounds, you cannot bring it in with you.

To describe the building, all you need to do is think about Vienna and St. Petersburg.  Maximillian was a member of the Habsburg family.  So, of course, his home reflected the elegance and grandeur that a member of that family needed/demanded.  It was a bit offsetting to see the grand carved furniture of Europe throughout the areas of the home.  But it was beautiful.  A major difference from a European home, is that each of the rooms could be entered from the interior of the house, but they also had large doors that opened to the outside.  To see the mansion, we walked along the perimeter of the home and looked into the rooms through opened doors.

The view of the park and the city from the top of the mountain is wonderful.  Even better was going all the way to the top and visiting the gardens on the roof and seeing the view from there.

Another added bonus to our visit to the park was finding a parade was in progress on Reforma!  It was Revolution Day in Mexico.  We spent almost an hour watching the music, the floats, the marchers in colorful outfits denoting their province of Mexico, before we discovered the underground walkway that enabled us to return to our hotel.

Visiting Chapultepec Park is a must.  We only saw a few of the many interesting museums and sites to see there.  Honestly, you could spend a week just visiting Chapultepec Park!

https://www.wmf.org/project/chapultepec-park

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapultepec

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapultepec_Castle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_Anthropology_(Mexico)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_I_of_Mexico

The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon: A journey to Teotihuacan

28 Nov

Wow.  My husband and I spent over three hours exploring the Teotihuacan site of the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and many, many other buildings, temples, and vast plazas.

It was incredible that such an intricate community was built in the early third century, around 200 AD. 

Nearly 2000 years later, the site is still spectacular.  I can only imagine what it looked like to the eyes of people so many years ago.  The wonder and disbelief to what was built had to be awe inspiring and truly a monument to the gods.

For me it was the completion of another item on my list of places that I needed to see in my life time. And it was well worth the journey from Mexico City to Teotihuacan. My husband and his family went to Mexico City in December 1978. He climbed the Pyramid of the Sun. It was on that trip that he realized he missed me. When we saw each other back at Missou, he proposed. I rally needed to see this site!!

When at first you see the Temple rising from the fields as you drive along the highway, I really could not image the massive height of these temples.  Even up close I was stunned.  And it is not just the temples. It is the entire complex of buildings, homes, and plazas.  Each plaza has its own temples and homes. 

The drainage system to keep the clean water from flooding and the waste water from combining with the fresh water was great.  We could see where the rainwater would travel continually downhill till eventually it reached the river.  Keeping the two waters separated made using the fresh water easy.  However, when they reached the river, they combined.  (The river, unfortunately, is quite polluted and smelly!!)

The welcoming plaza with its temples to other religions was grand.  I could imagine myself walking there and being mesmerized by the central temple to the gods surrounded by the many temples of the visiting travelers. Each plaza is so large.  Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine each one filled with worshippers on holy days.  We learned that they believe the priests would meet together before each mass gathering so that they would preach the same information to all the worshippers.   Good planning.

A pyramid’s original decoration rediscovered.

But really nothing can prepare you for the size of the Pyramid of the Sun reaching up to the sky. And also the Pyramid of the Moon strategically placed in front of a mountain that makes its size seem even more gigantic.  Someone had a great eye for drama.  The Pyramid of the Moon demonstrates that drama.

Originally these brick and stone monuments were covered with stucco and painted. There are a few areas where the art and color still remain.  It was interesting to have a local man show us how the colors came from the plants to paint the stucco.  That truly surprised me. But the mural of the puma lets you envision how the entire plateau once looked.

We did not just stay in the large plaza dedicated to the Sun and the Moon. We walked the entire two kilometer site. Climbing up and down the steep stairs to get to yet another plaza.  To be honest it made me think of the song that goes, “the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. HE saw another mountain.”  For us we climbed over another stairway to see another plaza to see another stairway to walk through to another plaza.  I kept saying to my husband, I think this is the last one.  And it was not.  Till it was.  But honestly, this seemingly endless trek through plazas and up and down steep stair cases was amazing, and worth the trip!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_the_Sun