Wrapping up my journeys in South America — following Peru and Chile — my sister and I elected to drive across the border from Puerto Varas, Chile, into the Patagonia region of Argentina. Renting a car provides a freedom when traveling that going by public transportation and by foot does not. We were free to take any road we wanted, to wander and explore. Plus, the roads were well maintained and most people seemed to obey the traffic laws (at least as much as they do in the U.S.), so driving around Patagonia was fairly easy.
We drove past lakes and up into the mountains, where we quickly went through the border checkpoints (since it was the slow, winter season). In between each set of checkpoints is the actual border, welcoming drivers into Argentina on one side and into Chile on the other.
When I saw “we drove,” I should really clarify and say that my sister was the one to do the driving — and she hates driving. I would have been happy to drive, but since the car we rented was a manual transmission and I don’t know how to drive manual, she was stuck with it. She didn’t complain though, because it was some beautiful driving.
Continuing on my journey to South America, I’ve already shared about Peru, so now we’re on to Chile.
For Love of Pablo Neruda
My main purpose for visiting Chile was the opportunity to visit the home of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He had three homes that were turned into museums — La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and his home in Isla Negra.
I was able to visit two out of the three homes, both of which feature an impressive collection of old maps, found objects, and artwork gathered together by the poet, who also served as a diplomat.
La Sebastiana is a narrow tall home, with a tight hallway leading up to each of its four or five floors. At the top was his writing room and his desk, with a few papers contained there under glass.
La Chascona is situated on a hillside in the Bella Vista district of Santiago. Neruda named the home La Chascona, which means “tangled-haired woman,” after his wife and lifelong love, Matilde Urrutia. La Chascona also featured some poetry in Neruda’s own handwriting, displayed at his desk, as well as a display of his published books in editions from around the world.
Pablo Neruda died from cancer shortly after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, overthrowing democratically elected Allende. After Neruda’s death, La Chascona was ransacked, items were stolen and destroyed, and the drainage ditches were blocked off so the house would flooded. Matilde held the funeral in the destroyed house and the funeral procession that followed turned into one of the first public protests against the military regime. Matilde continued to live in La Chascona, restoring it and the art within, eventually starting a foundation to preserve Neruda’s legacy. She was also a human rights activist, which brought her into conflict with Pinochet.
My poet heart soared walking through the spaces Neruda once walked. I adore Neruda’s words and the passion he had for his wife, his country, and the world. It was an honor to two of his homes and to see how his love of life translated in to the spaces Neruda and Matilde made for themselves.
The one home I missed out on, Isla Negra, was actually the home I had in mind when wanting to come to Chile. Somehow I confused it with the Valparaiso house, but that’s alright. I was thrilled to have visited the two homes I did and now I have a reason to return to Chile.
It’s been two weeks since my sister and I have been home from our trip in South America, and I’m still awed by all the places and adventures we were able to fit into our two weeks of travel. Our journey took us through Peru, Chile, and Argentina — all three beautiful places to explore. We did a lot of hoping around, which was perfect for this trip, but a part of me wants to go back to one or all and really settling in to a single country for a longer period of time, so that I can get to know it in depth.
Since I have a ton of photos, I’m splitting this post into three parts, starting with Peru, where we visited Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Our experience of Lima was a colored by how exhausted we were after our red-eye flight. But with only one day to explore the city, we wandered through the main city center. The Plaza Mayor was crowded — with two events happening simultaneously. At the Palacio de Gobierno some sort of changing of the guard was going on, with soldiers in dress uniform marching and parading horses while trumpets blared. On the other side of the square, a procession accompanied by music was pouring out of the Catedral de Lima — large pavilion after large pavilion, each held aloft by four men or women proceeded out of the entrance of the cathedral. They held elaborate pedestals adorned with the images of the Virgin, Christ, and various saints. The procession was accompanied by dancers in brightly colored, traditional Peruvian dress. The trumpets from the government building clashed together with the music from the cathedral in a wonderful cacophony.
Later we stopped in at Choco Museo to try drink hot chocolate flavored with chile. Afterward, our explorations took us to Casa de Literature Puruana (House of Peruvian Literature). Inside was a library with an old printing press on display, as well as museum exhibits introducing two Peruvian poets — Magda Portal and Louis Hernandez. All of the displays were in Spanish, of which I know only a little. Nevertheless, I’m excited to go looking for their work and for the opportunity to learn more about them.
We ended our day at the Basilica de San Francisco, a church and convent which houses underground catacombs.
I’ve done quite a bit of traveling over the past two-and-a-half weeks. I flew into Dubai and Singapore to attend conferences and exhibitions for work, and then took a bit of extra time in order to take the train up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All three places were quite a bit too hot and humid for me, but were quite interesting to explore.
It was a fantastic experience, one I could probably write many words on, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged and sleepy, so I’m going to keep things simple and just share some photos from the journey (more along with videos are on my instagram).
As we drove along the dark roads under the sheltering shadows of trees, the face of a mountain rose up before us like a monolith, ghostly in the blue moonlight, while the stars sprinkled the noctilucent sky behind. All of us in the car — except the one sleeping — gasped. The night could not hide the grandeur of the mountains that sheltered us in Yosemite valley.
It was the first time to Yosemite National Park for most of us (my mom, my sister, my sister’s friend, and I), and somehow entering the park in the dark, barely being able to see anything other than the mountain aglow was the perfect introduction.
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Visiting Yosemite in the winter is beautiful, but the cold can be exhausting. Our group was in a constant battle against the cold, grasping for every ounce of heat, the heater in our tent barely holding up against the drafts that slipped in through the door and window flaps. It was a good thing we brought our own sleeping bags and an extra assortment of winter gear.
My clothing was mostly California-thin, laughable as winter wear. The cold was a creeping thing, working its way through layers of clothing, to crawl along the skin, slip its way in to settle under the surface, nestle in my bones. I layered pattern upon pattern, not caring about hat conflicting with scarf conflicting with coat, in an attempt to maintain warmth.
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The only time we really got warm was on our hike, our bodies becoming furnaces fighting against the frost and wind as the trail inclined upward, leading us toward rivers and waterfalls and mossy stones and vistas.
Water was everywhere on this trip, sliding over rock faces in grand cascades glittering with a framework of ice or dribbling through cracks, rushing through rivers, leaving slick patches on the trails, nearly invisible and dangerous underneath our feet. It covered everything in during each night, making the whole world glitter.
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I’ve fallen in love with Yosemite. The place is too beautiful not to return to again and again. I hope I’ll get the chance to return again soon, whether in the frigid cold of winter or the heat of summer.
Thank you to the editors of Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! I’m looking forward to seeing my poem “Beware of Attics” reprinted within its pages sometime in 2017.
I’m enjoying Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about two sisters who move to a coastal town with a local population of specters. The artwork is bright with clean lines and slightly cartoony (as in the characters have large round eyes and exaggerated expressions. Fun, so far.
What I’m Writing
Mostly I’m dealing with end of the year stuff, figuring out just what I accomplished this year and what I need to finish up in order to clean out my files and prep for the new year. This will involve a considerable amount of gathering and editing and arranging, I’m sure.
Goals for the Week:
Edit, edit, edit — and submit something
“The women in her stories are often constrained – by convention, by their families, by their own fears and subconscious desires. And beneath it all is a sense of powerful, hidden rage – a rage that belies the setting of so much of her fiction. Under the bland surface of these small, suburban communities, something dark is fermenting; something is about to erupt,” writes Joanne Harris on the Shirley Jackson centenary.
My trip to Nashville last week was necessarily mellow, because I fell sick halfway through. Nevertheless, my mom and I managed to get out, see some historical sites, and have some good eats. I could write a whole other post on the food in Nashville — bonuts from Biscuit Love and fried chicken from Hattie B’s (which has six levels of spicy including “Shut the Cluck Up”) — um, yum. But I really want to share some of the history we learned about and how it was portrayed.
There is a certain amount of rewriting of history in the South, a romanticizing of the antebellum era, giving the period a soft glow that blurs out the uglier aspects of slavery. Traveling to the South, I wondered how much of this I would see while visiting historical museums.
The Lotz House
Driving on a road trip to see the countryside, my mom and I accidentally discovered the Lotz House in Franklin. We were just exploring and didn’t have any destination in mind while we were driving, but the sign indicating that the house was a Civil War museum called to us.
Since we were there on a weekday, we were were the only two people on the tour. Our guide explained how the house was a center point for an epic battle in which thousands of Northern and Confederate soldiers died. The Lotz family, including the children, were present during the battle and hid inside a brick basement while events raged outside.
Johann Albert Lotz was a master woodworker and he used his home as a showpiece for his profession, displaying elaborate mantles and carved banisters. Following the battle, his family returned to their home, which had been battered and badly damaged, a home full of bullet and cannon holes. The evidence of his quick repairs to make the house livable again are still evident in the home. There are still scars in the brickwork, still bloodstains in the wood floors.
Despite all these repairs, Lotz and his family were forced to flee Tennessee when the KKK threatened to end Lotz’s life for carving a piano that portrayed an eagle holding a tattered confederate flag. He fled all the way to San Jose, California, as far away as he could get before hitting water. (My mom and I have plans to visit his gravesite, which is nearby where we live.)
What was interesting about the Lotz house was that it centered around an everyday sort of family. They were not rich. They were just craftsmen trying to get by and survive impossible circumstances.
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
The Hermitage is the home-turned-museum of President Andrew Jackson. The primary focus of the museum is the life of Jackson, his role as a general and as a president, and the legacy he and his family left behind. The tour of the manor house was interesting, although it also felt brief giving a perfunctory view of the household and how it operated (though this is likely because of the large number of tours and tourists coming through there everyday).
The Hermitage was a working plantation, which was made profitable by slavery. It was no surprise to me that, in being a museum dedicated to a former president of the United States, the museum glossed over much regarding the lives of the slaves. Most of the information stated or hinted at the idea of Jackson considered to have been a “benevolent” slave owner, who treated the slaves as his “black family.” Even the former slave buildings say little, explaining only that little is known about the lives of the slaves who lived there. Anything more than that is mostly related is subtle hints and insinuations, at best.
However, there was an interesting display about the life of Alfred Jackson, who was born as a slave at the Hermitage to the cook, Betty. Following the end of the Civil War, Alfred continued to work at the Hermitage as a caretaker. When the plantation was converted into a museum in 1889, he became one of the first tour guides.
The Belle Meade Plantation
We visited the Belle Meade plantation in a rush at the end of the day after returning of our tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. The Belle Meade plantation includes a manor house tour (which we did not take), a beautiful stables and carriage house, a large collection of antique carriages and sleds, and outbuildings. A winery has also started up on the site, with wine tastings available as part of the tour.
The collection of horse-drawn carriages was wonderful (although our experience of it was frustrated by the wedding that was being set up for the night). All of the carriages are beautiful and well preserved, and I enjoyed learning about the various uses of each one.
The plantation was known for its horse breeding. According to our Uber driver, all of the horses that have participated in the Kentucky Derby can trace their lineage back to the Belle Meade plantation. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s fascinating either way.
The thing I appreciate the most about Belle Meade, however, was how it handled the history of slavery. The property includes a reconstruction of the slave quarters, which is used exclusively to explore the lives of the slaves who once lived on the plantation with video recordings forming an oral history of black lives and excavated artifacts revealing fragments of how the slaves lived found in and around the Belle Meade site.
Belle Meade acknowledges that an important aspect of history has been erased and is making strides to combat that erasure through an archeological project called Journey to Jubilee. The mission statement of the project is “to preserve and interpret the African-American story at Belle Meade plantation while educating the public about the significance of the contributions made by African-Americans and their significance in American history.”
After seeing how the Hermitage glossed over this important part of history, it was so refreshing to see a historical site making efforts to share and discuss challenging topics. The three to five year project is ongoing and hopefully, they will put together an excellent historical resource as they work to tell more of the whole story.
On Saturday morning, my sisters and I crawled out of bed while it was still dark and outfitted ourselves as best we could to face the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) half marathon in Auburn, California — an event we all decided to sign up for while drunk during Fourth of July (because that’s how we roll) and for which only one of was in any way prepared for (I’m looking at you, C.).
Although, we all knew it was going to be a hard event (the title included “ultra” and “champions,” afterall), we really had no idea what we were about to face. Warning: Strong language ahead.
We started the event just as first light was filling the sky.
The first 5 miles were joyful. Sister P. and I decided we were going to treat the UROC as a hike rather than a run, due to our lack of training. Near the beginning, we met an adorable young woman who was of the same mind as us and the three of us cavorted over the narrow trails (some only about 1.5 feet wide with a steep dropoff on one side), awed by the beauty of the trail.
Later, we would figure out that our new friend was a lifesaver, in that she had brought a water pack and an extra bottle with her, while we had not.
“too scared of coming down, too scared of going up, too scared of rockface”
— from “Sugar” by Heather Nova
I spent the last week in Anchorage, Alaska, mostly visiting family, as well as spending a bit of time here and there going fishing and hiking. One of my favorite hikes near Anchorage is Flattop, a small (by Alaskan standards) mountain that is exactly as it’s name describes — flat on top. Every time I return to Anchorage, I try to fit in time to climb Flattop and last Tuesday, my mom, sister, and I took part in the hike together.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Anchorage when we set out for the hike. The air was cool, crisp, and fresh. My sister said that when she used to hike Flattop as a kid, she always felt like she had been whisked away to Ireland (a fair comparison.
The trail is steep at moments, with switchbacks and wood staircases that seemed to go on forever. We took it slow, breathing heavy and taking time to pause in order to look out and enjoy the scenery, which grew more and more impressive the higher we climbed.
Thing One: The printer works! It actually works! Honestly and for real! Huzzah!
Thing Two: Last nights Cito.FAME.us open mic was mellow and lovely. Performers had to rock without the mic, so a lot of fantastic acapella. Khaliah shinned with joy as she shared her Dance of Peace and Ang Whee read and sang some beautiful words. Everyone was wonderful.
Since there were only a few people signed up, so I was able to read a number of poems, rather than just one — a nice warm up for March 26th, when I’ll be featuring.
Thing Three: I’m off on a work trip to Orlando tomorrow, where I’ll be through Wednesday. Therefore, there will likely be little to no blog posting next week, unless I get a gumption.
When I was growing up, I saw a movie in which a girl pushes a pin into a map on her wall for every city she’d visited. I don’t remember the name of that movie or TV show, but I remember the longing for my own map and the desire to have so many travels that the map would be stuck so full of pushpins that you could hardly see the lines and designations underneath.
My travel dreams have always been of the large variety — a cross country road trip to visit ever state in the continental United States, trekking from China to India over the Himalayas, flying to the tip of South America and and making my way back up to the U.S. by car, train, bike, boat, or foot alone.
None of these dream trips have manifested as of yet. Life is full of obligations and I have not been good about planning ahead in terms of saving up funds for such a trip, but that has not stopped me from dreaming.
I must also admit that I have immensely lucky and grateful to have landed a job that has allowed me to travel on a smaller scale, such as with my recent trip to London. I may only be able to touch down into some places for a day or two, but it’s a gift to just be there for even that amount of time. I’ve had some beautiful experiences.
Though travel sometimes exhausts me and I always fun myself grateful for the comfort and peace of home, my wanderlust is never doused. Often the act of travel stoked my longing for more worldly wandering. The world is just so full of so many places to see and people to meet.
Where have you traveled and where do you long to go?
The playhouse alone is fantastic. Associated with the Shakespeare’s Globe replica, it has been built according to the plans for a 17th century style indoor theater. The theater is small and the stage performances are candlelit, making it feel intimate.
In addition to the amazing setting, Tis a Pity She’s a Whore was one of the best performed plays I’ve ever seen. The play, which I read in college as part of a Shakespeare’s contemporaries class, is about a young man who falls in love with his sister. When he comes to her to confess his love, begging her to kill him or love him, she matches his love and the two begin an incestuous affair.
Meanwhile, the sister is being courted by three different suitors. As the tale unfolds and the desires of each of the characters overlaps and conflicts, several plot lines of revenge evolve and unfold into bloodshed.
The play was funnier than I remember it being in college, as dry reading on the page bears less life than what was brought to the stage with these amazing actors and well planned direction. The result felt like a 17th century version of a campy horror flick with plenty of well punctuated humor and pools of blood puddling onto the stage. Though no campy horror flick could have featured the resonance and complexity of this story, which presents an even handed look at the brother and sister’s relationship. Although, I found the concept disturbing, I also found myself wanting the brother and sister to be protected from the doom coming for them.
The candle lit atmosphere fit the story perfectly. The playhouse had candelabras that could be raised and lowered during the performance, allowing changes of setting to be indicated and at one point for the candle light to be doused entirely to present a night scene, at which point the actors lit themselves with handheld candles.
Though the play was three hours long, it never once dragged. I left the playhouse feeling elated, having seen an amazing performance.
The program was also the best put together booklet I’ve seen, providing not just a synopsis of the play and a list of the actors, but also a look at the influences of the play when it was written, a biography on John Ford, a critical analysis of the storyline, and a historical look at house incest was perceived in the 17th century compared to today. It also provides information on the historical style of the playhouse and how the modern replica was built. The program was worth every penny of the four pounds I played for it.
I would almost travel back to London just to see another performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse — it was that good.
During my trip to London, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Tower while the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies was on display. Each of the 888,246 poppies that fills the moat represented a British military fatality during the WWI.
The view of the poppies pouring out of one of the Tower windows and filling the moat with bright red is inspiring, whether you know the meaning or not. It’s an installation to make passersby stop and take pause, and it’s no wonder that every walkway surrounding the Tower was thick with people doing just that.
The moat has since been emptied of the poppies and I am grateful for the lucky timing that allowed me to witness this spectacular remembrance of fallen soldiers.
As I was walking through the Tate Modern, I came upon “Untitled Painting” (1965) by Michael Baldwin, which is a work with a mirror attached to a canvas. The description noted that historically painting has often been referred to as window to the world, a perspective captured within the frame. However, the mirror in this piece shifts the gaze of the window, revealing the viewer in the act of viewing rather than an image the artist made themselves. In addition to being the viewer, you also become the subject of the painting as well.
As I stood observing myself, now the living and temporary subject of the painting, I started to think about the nature of art and the artists who create it. Since it’s been years since I’ve taken an art history class and I don’t tend to speak critically of art, bear with me as I may misinterpret some things.
When I walk through an art museum, I seek out works that move me, pieces of art that resonate in some way or in some way make me stop in my tracks and consider it further. The art that moves me is not always the most famous or most popular art. It may capture my imagination, sending me off into a story, or it may provide and emotional gut check.
I especially look for this in modern art museums, such as the Tate in London. I’m drawn more to modern art (much of the older art prior to the 18th century can sometimes all look the same to me no matter how beautiful), so local modern art museums are always a must when I travel .
The Tate has many great works of art in a variety of styles, from cubism to minimalism and everything in between. There are a few Picassos there among other well known artists.
Both artists are “paper architects” who created seemingly impossible designs out of paper. I plan to follow up and learn more about both of these artists and their work. But in the meantime, I think I’m going to have to go back to the Tate later this week and buy a print from their Projects series for my wall.
The National Gallery in London holds oodles of amazing paintings across many centuries, from the medieval religious works (including a piece by Leonardo Da Vinci) through to Renaissance to some expressionists (with some works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gough). But here are a few paintings I found amusing beyond the quality of the art. I admit that this post is partially inspired by Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History, which is far more hilarious than I am capable of being.
Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil (1468), painted by Bartholomé Bermejo, in which Saint Michael comes off as something of a dick.
It’s been a busy day in London, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tower Bridge Exhibit, and the Tower of London (including just about everything but the armory exhibit in the White Tower); taking Thames River Cruise; walking by Big Ben, Westminster Abby, St. James Park, and the Buckingham Palace; and then finishing up at London Bridge Experience.
My Favorite Bit of the Day: The Globe.
The Globe is as close of a replica to the original Globe theater as possible, considering there is not much beyond the information provided except in the travelogues of visitors. This is actually the third Globe. The first burned down only fifteen years after being built due to the genius idea to fire a cannon out of the attic as part of a special effect, which causes some of the burning cotton to set the roof aflame, though no one died. The second was rebuilt and closed down about 30 years after it opened, when the Puritans finally succeeded in closing all of the theaters.
This, the third Globe was rebuilt by Sam Wanamaker only 200 meters from where the original stood. Before starting the tour, an exhibition provides some background on the history of the Globe and how the replica was built, as well as including modern costumes designed to look like Elizabethan originals and recordings of famous monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.
Standing in front of the stage, learning about the tricks and understanding by being present really enhances how I feel about Shakespeare’s work. As the guide was speaking, just at her normal level, I could hear her voice reverberating off the rafters — the acoustics are amazing. Being there made me want to pick up and read some of his plays that I haven’t read before, or maybe just binge watch some of the movies.
The Globe is a working theater, too, putting on performances in (mostly) the old style with no electrical audio enhancement or special effects. The only lighting used is during evening performances, but it is used merely to allow the stage and audience to be lit to simulate the daytime experience, in which the audience and actors can see each other. In addition to Shakespeare’s plays, modern plays are also performed.
I would LOVE to have been able to see a performance at the Globe, but since it’s an outdoor theater, performances are only in the summer.
Fortunately, as an alternative, there is also the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is designed to be like an indoor, candle-lit Elizabethan playhouse — where they will be playing John Ford’s Tis a Pity She’s a Whore. Ford is a contemporary of Shakespeare and this is a play I read in college, which makes it doubly exciting. Tis a Pity is a story about incest between a brother and sister, which ends in a terrifically violent and bloody fashion in true Jacobean manner. Should be uncomfortably fun.
The next leg of my travel will be work involved in an industrial city nearby and, thus, in a sense, slightly more mellow. So, I’ll be using the next few days to catch up on my London posts.
I was un prepared for how crowded and busy London was going to be, but it was a good kind of crowed and only certain spots. I mean, I was a pain to maneuver a suitcase or an umbrella down the sidewalk sometimes, but it was also wonderful to be able to listen to the many different languages (French, Spanish, and other languages I couldn’t name).
Tonight when I came out of the National Gallery, the rain was falling heavy. I pulled out my umbrella, but my shoes and pants were still getting wet. I was cold and could feel the water wanting to seep into my shoes, but I stopped worrying about it and just loved the rain. It felt like London blessed me (even though I know it rains here all the time).
Later, as I walked away down quieter streets to the hostel, with the lights reflecting off the wet streets, I was struck again by the absence of people after the earlier rushing crush of bodies.
And that’s about all I have the energy for in this post. I visited the National Gallery and the Tate Museum today, both of which had me thinking thoughts (one particular set of thoughts likely to turn into a very long post), but at the moment, the jet lag and exhaustion have caught up with me.
I am at the airport. Waiting for my flight to London via Chicago.
Will be boarding any second now. Any second.
Excitement is present beneath the tedium. I’ve never been to the UK (Well, actually, I spent three days in Ireland, so that’s not entirely true). First time in Britain.
Since this will be a work trip, I’ll have just a little time to visit and check things out. In the day and a half I have in London, I plan to visit:
– the National Gallery
– the Tate Modern
– Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
– a Thames River Cruise
– the Tower of London
– the Tower Bridge
– the London Bridge Experience (a horror history tour)
– and walk around a whole lot, seeing Buckingham Palace with the changing I the guard, Big Ben, and plenty of other stuff, I’m sure.
I’ll have another half day after the conference, but I haven’t planned that out yet. Expect many London posts over the next week.
So, yeah, still waiting.
I should pull out my laptop and Nano for a bit, because I promised myself I would use the waiting while traveling to write.
The sun is setting in Quedlinburg as I step out of my hotel in search of an ATM and food. The ATM is easy. I have a clearly marked map and even in the fading light, the streets are easy to follow.
I turn toward where I think the city center is an start walking, figuring I find somewhere to eat along the way. It’s a tiny town after all.
A shouting, laugh conglomeration of teenagers ambles down the street. Two ride rattling skateboards on the sidewalk.
A man sags past alone and lonely.
Then, a family of three generations, grand parents, youths, children rolling forward in strollers.
Other than these few encounters, the streets are quiet. Empty. The cobblestone are black and shiny with reflected streetlights. I am beginning to think every shop and restaurant is closed in the entire tiny town, when the image of Frida Kahlo in a window stops me. I adore Frida and feel a warm glow at the sight of her.
While my journeys in Corktown — the oldest neighborhood in Detroit — occurred over the course of two separate days, they really belong in a single post, since Corktown was so distinct compared to downtown Detroit. Corktown is where I started to see real signs of decay with many buildings and businesses nearby boarded up and dilapidated. But several great restaurants and a new brewery commingle, revealing signs of vibrant life.
Wednesday night, after day one of the conference I was attending for work, my new friend drove us out to Michigan Central Station, was built from 1912-1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad and was closed down in the ’80s. It’s been run down ever since and is currently surrounded by a chain-link fence with razor wire at the top to prevent anyone from going in. Through the open doorways, you can see signs of crumbling and decay, but it’s still such a beautiful building. There’s local debate as to whether it should be torn down or restored. I vote restored, though I know it’s never quite that simple.
Dinner that night was Slow’s Bar-B-Q, where we were served up some amazing, perfectly moist brisket and creamy, dreamy mac n cheese — so, so good. My second side was the green beens, which were perfectly cooked, but had a spicy sauce that I wasn’t digging. Just a bit to spicy for me, especially since I really like the taste of plain, lightly salted green beans.
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On my second trip to Corktown (on Friday , my friend Lorie was driving through and she pointed out what looking like a bar inside a warehouse. “I drove past here last night and it was jumping,” she said. “Do you want to check it out?”
I said, “Absolutely.”
As we were walking in through the back, we were greeted by a young woman named Courtney. She said the place was a distillery, called Two James, and she was one of the partners.
She showed us through the tasting room, where the style expressed a sense of old and new all at once, to a door leading to the distillery. I thought she was just going to let us peer through the window, but she said, “We don’t normally let people back here, but since you’re so enthusiastic…” Then she opened the door and showed us in, where several men were working at the giant copper pot.
“They’re brewing gin right now,” said Courtney. “I always think it smells sticky.”
“Sticky” is the perfect way to describe the heavy sweet scent that hung in the air. I wouldn’t know how to describe it any other way.
She led us over to a barrel, where there was an unlabeled bottle and some small plastic shot glasses and gave us a taste of the gin that was brewing. I’m not normally a fan of gin — this was the smoothest gin I’ve ever tasted. I would even consider just having it over rocks and sipping it slowly.
I told Courtney as much. “Yeah,” she said. “Most gins have 4-5 botanicals. We use 12.”
In the tasting room, I ordered a Manhatten, which I knew was a whiskey forward drink. It was fantastic, one of those drinks in which you can taste the good liquor.
My second drink was the Corktown Mule, a mixture of Old Cockney Gin, lime juice, and ginger beer. The drink was sharp with the taste of ginger and refreshing, a great summer drink.
From the tasting menu: “Two James Spirits is proud to be the first licensed distillery in the city of Detroit since prohibition. Our 500 gallon American made copper pot still resides in an old red brick warehouse in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. At Two James, our passion lies in creating small, handcrafted batches of premium spirit, using locally sourced ingredients that highlight Michigan’s agricultural abundance and more importantly the people and city of Detroit.”
According to the bartenders, Two James is named after both of the partner’s fathers, each of whom are named James. The distillery was named in tribute to their fathers. It’s been open for only around a year and only sells the liquor they brew themselves. For me at least, Two James distillery is a must-go spot in Detroit.
A food truck, names Katoi, parks out behind the distillery and serves Thai food to hungry liquor tasters. But Lori and I were in the mood for burgers, so we walked down to the Mercury Bar, which is directly across the street from Slow’s.
We were running short on time when we arrived at the Mercury Bar, as I needed to be at the airport in under an hour or so to fly home. But Gino, a man with warm smiles, a pink-toned plaid shirt, bow tie, and thick-rimmed sunglasses assured us that he could get our burgers out in a hurry. The burgers came out in perfect timing and were big and juicy and good eating after all our liquor tasting.
Detroit was a delightful experience, not at all like the rumors would have led me to believe. I would definitely go back again and maybe next time, I’ll check out some more of the cultural sites as well as the good eats.
On my last day in Detroit (last Friday, Aug 22, as with previous night), we set out without much of plan, electing to wander around Greek Town and the surrounding areas. We checked out Saint Mary’s Church and had some eats at El Wood Bar & Grill.
While we were eating, we listed to the preparations for the Eminem and Rhianna concert going on across the street, including a sound check from Rhianna. At the gates, people were already lining up (it was only mid-morning).
Meanwhile, there were signs of people in jerseys, waiting for the football game that night. Since the arena is across the street from where the concert was being held, I can imagine how packed and chaotic the night would be — any restaurant and local workers were talked to just shook their head at what was about to enfold. Though Lori and I were well on our way out of there before the gauntlet fell.
The theme of the day seemed to be getting into places you wouldn’t normally be allowed, which started with our visit to Saint John’s Church. The door was locked as we were walking up, but as we were walking around the side of the building an old, young at heart woman came out a side door. We told her we were trying to see the church and she welcomed us in through the back offices, where she pointed out old photographs of the church whenit had been moved 60 feet back in order to allow a widening of the street out front. She also showed us portraits of the founder and his wife, let us into the original church chapel, and then let us explore the main church at our leisure.
My third night (last Thursday) in Detroit was dedicated to exploration. New friend Lori and I started out with the plan to walk around downtown Detroit and see what cool little spots we could discover in the area. To that end, we rode the Detroit People Mover (an elevated train) to Broadway station and just started walking.
Not far from the stop, we found ourselves at the Angelina Italian Bistro, across from the Opera House. Angelina’s featured a large marquee style front, which leads me to believe it might have been an old theatre — and since so much of Detroit has a history, I would not be surprised if it was. The bar and restaurant were virtually empty. Looking to try out a local brew, I ordered a Motor City Lager. The blonde beer was a little blander than I normally like, but it wasn’t bad. The appetizers, however, were excellent. The crab cakes were packed with flavorful herbs and the scallops were buttery melt in your mouth perfect.
On Eric’s recommendation, we walked a couple of blocks around the corner to Wright & Co. From the exterior, the only sign of a restaurant is a placard with the logo the phrase “Second Floor.” Inside and up a flight of stairs (or the elevator), which made me feel like we were discovering a secret, is the restaurant and bar, packed with people. The space is trendy with a great mix of old and new. I particularly liked the stamped tin ceiling.
It was a grey skied, muggy afternoon at the Detroit Riverwalk, but the river was beautiful and it was a perfect place for a run. The path was mostly empty when I started, but as the afternoon turned into early evening, more and more people filled the walkway, running, walking, chatting, hanging out, riding bikes, laughing. All around me people were out enjoying the evening.
As I ran along the trail, occasionally glancing out across the water, people would say, Hi, or offer encouragement. One young woman broke off from her crew of friends and ran along beside me, mimicking my movements with a big grin on her face. A younger me would have been embarrassed by the good-natured mockery — but today, I just smiled and fell into pace with her, exaggerating my own movements as she did, participating in the sillyness until she fell back, rejoining her group, all of them laughing and me laughing, too. The laughter invigorated me and I picked up my pace, feeling stronger and lighter.
I felt easy, like I could run for days — one of the rare times I feel this way on a run. The mileage tracker on my phone informed my that my pace was faster than it has ever been.
This was the first time I’ve gone running while traveling. The combined factors of packing the running shoes (extra weight), trying to figure out where to run, and a silly self-consciousness about the idea of being judged by the locals has kept me from trying it. Today I figured out that not only is running while traveling doable, but it can also be a rather pleasurable way to experience a new place.
A lot has been going on over the past couple of weeks since I last posted, so I’m going to sum things up in list format (in order of importance, rather than chronology) to make things easier on myself. I still have to do my book and movie round up for May, but that’ll come tomorrow probably.
– The biggest announcement by far is the birth of my nephew. The Monster (my niece) is being adorable around him, very gentle and loving so far. I can’t even express what a joy it is to welcome this tiny little person into the family.
– I also turned 34 years old in the past two weeks (on May 26 to be exact), and a Happy New Year to me. A gentleman recently told my friend that she should count her birthday as the true new year, since it announces another new year of her life. I love that, and it seems like a perfect time to reassess life, the universe, and everything. With all that’s been happening, I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but I’m planning to think about taking a serious look at my goals this week. It so happened that my birthday was marked by…
– getting rather sick. Oh the joys of coughs and runny noses, just as I’m launching into…
– a two week work trip, involving two conferences and an industrial plant visit. Travels took me to Detroit, West Michigan, and Montreal. There was a lot of work and a lot of trying to rest in order to recover from being sick, so I didn’t do much touring, except for two beautiful days in Montreal. I let my feet carry me around the city to here and there, exploring Old Town and other areas of the city center. It was beautiful out and I’d like to have more time to explore Montreal properly in the future.
– Being in Montreal, I had to go see Cirque du Soleil. It was a bigger expense than I had planned, but Kurios is a steampunk inspired show, so I couldn’t resist. They did a marvelous job with the aesthetic and it fit really well into the acrobat sequences. The first half, in particular, was astounding in beauty and stunts. The second half had a few weird bits that I didn’t get, but it didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment. Kurios is my favorite of all the Soleil shows I’ve seen.
In my fourth year of university, I journeyed into Mexico for a ten-week language study course. Not only was this my first trip out of the U.S., but it was also my first trip without any family (I can’t say alone, since I was traveling with a troupe of 24 fellow students).
Ten weeks – it seemed like forever to me. So, of course, I thought I would need a giant bag to haul the clothing and supplies needed for that great length of time. So, my parents bought me a suitcase 2.5 feet wide by 3.5 feet tall and about 1 foot thick. It was giant. It was monstrous. I didn’t even manage to fill the fu–, er, sucker; it was that big. Arriving at the airport and seeing my fellow classmates’ baggage, began to hint at the possibility of my mistake.
One classmate brought nothing more than a small, brown, standard-sized knapsack. That was it. For ten weeks. (I am still impressed with that feat.)
When you have to drag your over-sized bag down several blogs of cobble stones or haul that fu–, er, sucker up a flight or two of stairs, you learn real quick just how much it sucks to pack heavy.
Like Scarlet O’Hara, I pulled myself up and made a solemn oath — I would never over pack again.
Less is Less (and that’s a good thing)
I’ve done a lot of traveling since that first big trip to Mexico, for play, for work, and sometimes both at the same time.
These days, I can pack like a lightweight queen and can fit a week’s worth of professional work clothes and office supplies for conferences, along with a week’s worth of play clothes and accessories into a single bag (the play clothes and work clothes are not always compatible).
“This retreat has been designed for women writers of all levels, from beginning poets to well published. Sessions on creativity, generating work, publication, a Master Class workshop, and one-on-one mentoring are included as well as morning yoga.”
I learned about this retreat last year and loved the idea of going. I spent several weeks trying to plot out the time and money it would take for me to go, but the finances just didn’t work for me.
I’m considering it again for 2014, but I know I have at least two trips planned next year, which will eat up much of my traveling funds. I’m still hoping to make it work, but we’ll see.
I think it’s a fabulous retreat, though, and I hope some of my fellow female poets get the opportunity to go — even if I can’t join them this year.
I did not fall in love with Florence. I can’t fully explain why, but it was kind of dirty and crowded (also unexpectedly high levels of tourists for the season), which contributed to the feeling, I suppose. I also feel that Italy in general is a place to travel with someone, someone to linger over leisurely meals and share a bottle of wine. Ultimately, I guess I just didn’t resonate on some fundamental level or I wasn’t in the right headset (I actually think I love Mexico City far more, based on my experience of both cities this year).
I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are ridiculous amounts of stunning art and architecture throughout the city, so much in fact that its’ actually really overwhelming. I remember walking around a street corner and all of a sudden seeing El Duomo (the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) and just being momentarily stunned, because it stands out so clearly from any other building in the entire city with green, white, and pink marble. It really is gorgeous, and an amazing feat of architecture. Construction was started in the 1200s, the dome with first of its kind engineering techniques was completed during the Renaissance in the 1400s, and work was ongoing until the facade was finally completed in the 1800s. El Duomo is definitely worth braving the crowds to see, and you can climb to the top of both the bell tower (which I did) and the dome.
There were some really fantastic moments — I loved seeing Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and “Spring” paintings, as well as other masters, at the Uffizzi Gallery (also ridiculously crowded), seeing Michelangelo’s David, and exploring the archeological museum and both of the Medici family palaces.
Plus, I bought myself a gorgeous black Italian leather jacket. I wasn’t going to, at first. I knew I wanted one, but was put off by the cost as I’ve been trying to save money. But I was walking through a market in Florence with stall after stall of gorgeous leather jackets and bags, I made eye contact with the little old Italian lady, who ushered me around the corner to their small family shop.
The man in side had me try on the jacket, adjusting the sleeves and collar so that I can see how it fits perfectly — and oh, how it fit perfectly. “Fire proof and water proof,” he said, taking a lighter to the cuff to prove it, while my arm was in the sleeve (according to my brother-in-law, this proves it’s genuine leather since fake leather is made with polyester and will go up in flames).
“And the man who made it is right here,” the shop owner said, pointing to a man on a small couch in the corner, who gave me a little smile and a wave.
After the shop owner said he would give me a good deal, dropping the price from 440 Euros to 250 Euros, well, I couldn’t refuse. It was just too perfect. I handed over the money and haven’t once regretted it.
As I was leaving and walking back through the market, the little old Italian lady again. She saw me in the jacket and her face lit up in delight. She came running over, shouting “Bella!” and kissed me on the cheek. Just a perfect little story to go with my perfect jacket. (^_^)
So, yeah, the trip to Venice and Florence was really great (and the work conference wen well too). But I’m so glad to be home and be able to relax and try to put my life back in order after my trip. 🙂
I loved Venice. It’s a small city, which is actually made up of something like 120 islands connected by over 400 bridges. The only way to make your way through the city is by foot or by boat (the bridges make even bikes impractical). I’ve never seen anything else like it in any of my travels.
There were an unusual number of tourists while I was there (according to the locals), and this was mainly due to some new cruise ships that had come it. (The cruise ship, huge monstrosities, are so jarring to see sailing through the main canal, their bulk erasing the cityscape behind them.) But the tourists all stick to the main tourist areas, and it’s not hard to get away from them, as only a street or two will lead away from the swarms to quiet cobblestone avenues.
In fact, one of my favorite things about the city was getting blissfully lost. The city is like a giant maze with no streets crossing the city in a straight line. To cross from one side of the city to the other I would just pick streets at random and see where it lead me, letting them twist me this way and that, until I began to circle back or they dead ended at a teal-green canal. I might sit at the steps leading down to the water and watch a nearby boat, tied up to a 12 inch wide “dock” bob gently. And then I’d move on to another corner, tunnel, nook to discover.
It was in this way that I discovered the Ca’ Pesaro modern art museum, which had a lot of fantastic pieces (some by Gustav Klimt, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol) and a great Asian art collection.
I also waded through the crowds to check out the main sights, including St. Mark’s Square (including the Basilica and a tour of the government building, the Bridge of Sighs (not romantic, as it was really named for the sighs of prisoners being secretly transported to the prison), Rialto Bridge and other well known areas.
I’ve heard that men in Italy will sometimes follow women down the street and get too close in their attempt to flirt, talking and not taking no for an answer. My friend has experienced this, but I but on my last day in Venice, I met a man who started following me down the street. He asked me polite enough questions about where I was from and why I was in Venice, which all led up to his asking if I wanted to have company as I walked or if I wanted to sit and have drinks with him. When I said, no, that I would prefer to be alone, he smiled and waived goodbye and went on his way. It was all very tame and not the intense thing I had been lead to believe happened.
(I have a ton more photos, but haven’t uploaded them to flickr yet. I’ll provide a link when I do.)
I would LOVE to return to Venice. It evokes a kind of romance and mystery, the kind that leaves me spinning stories. It would be awesome to just stay a month or more there and sketch and write poetry and wander here and there.
Advice for Traveling in Venice:
• Since getting back and forth to the airport requires traveling by boat, keep this in mind while booking plane tickets, because it can be a pain to try to make early morning flights out of the city (as I discovered).
• Mestre is the town on the mainland directly across from Venice. The hotels are less expensive there and its a cheap, easy bus ride into Venice to see the sights.
• Wandering aware from the central tourist points is awesome and a great way to find less expensive places to eat.
• Speaking of good food, little pizzerias and cafes are everywhere in Italy. You can buy an drink (coke or water) and entire pizza or a panini for around 3-8 Euros (about $5-10), which is one of the cheapest ways to get fed, if you’re on a budget.
I also traveled to Firenze (Florence) while in Italy, and I’ll do write up on that tomorrow.
In other writing news, the short story I have currently circulating has been rejected again, but that’s the writing life. Time to send it to a new publication.
My biggest issue in my writing world right now is that I haven’t been writing much of anything at all, which is rather depressing. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, in part due to all my traveling and I’ve been trying to just relax when I get home. (I suppose it doesn’t help that my relaxation has lately taken the form of mainlining episodes of Fringe.) At any rate, I’m going to have to hunker down toward my goals once I’m back from work trip to Italy and into my day-to-day rhythm.
Oh, yeah, did I mention that I am going to Italy? No?
Well, I’ll be traveling to Udine for work, then spending three days in Florence and a day in Venice for fun. I am STOKED.
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In other, other news, my trip to Washington DC (a couple of weeks ago) was awesome. We did so much and saw so many sights. Here are photos I took of the Lincoln Monument, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
The amazing thing about the trip was not just the places we visited, but the people we were with. These women I traveled with are amazing women — books geeks, fabulous mothers, nerds, intelligent business women, joyful lovers of life, and so much more. I feel blessed to know them.
Spent last weekend hanging out in Pensacola, Florida, chilling on the beach and walking around the board walk with a good friend. Fun to see my old friend and relax in the sun.
I’ve been spending the week trying to make order of my life and catching up on things before heading off for the weekend again.
Tomorrow, I will be flying off to Washington, DC with another group of good friends. We’ll be checking out the Library of Congress, the monuments, and the Smithsonian, where there will be a book fair going on. Needless to say, I am filled with all kinds of SQUEE.
* * *
In entirely different news, there’s this horror movie called Escape from Tomorrow. Apparently a crew made the movie guerrilla-style inside of Disneyland. This is awesome.
What is more awesome is that Disney, in an attempt to avoid giving Escape from Tomorrow more publicity, is ignoring it, thus allowing it be released.
Seriously, though, I love Disneyland. And I love horror movies. Putting them together = ridiculous levels of awesome.
Welp, guess I’m finally getting around to writing up my trip to Mexico City (it’s only been 18 days since I’ve been back, but I’ve been crazy busy trying to get the magazine issue out and had no spoons left by the end of the day). The week in Mexico was packed morning to night, from my personal touring around the city to my day job and conference work, so that by the end of the trip my ass was pretty much kicked with exhaustion. But it was awesome all around.
Normally, when I travel, I like to get out the guide book and plan my days. But for this trip, I just wanted to relax and not have to think too hard about how I was getting from one museum to another, so I went looking for a company that conducts tours of the city and found Journeys Beyond the Surface.
Journeys Beyond was amazing and went above and beyond the call of duty. In addition to putting together two tours, both tailored to my personal interests, Mojdeh (the company owner) also helped me figure out things to do in my spare time and let me know how to get around safely. By the time I arrived in Mexico, we had exchanged at least a dozen emails back and forth and I felt I made a friend.
Both of the guides who took me on the tours were wonderful. Though they both had different personalities, they were very knowledgeable and passionate about Mexico and its history — this knowledge and passion showed.
Touring the Basilica de Nuestra Señora Guadalupe and Teotihuacan
This day long tour was hosted by my guide David, who kept me entertained the entire day. Not only did he provide a wealth of information about the sites we visited — he was very passionate about the history and culture — but we also talked about music and culture and various curse words in both English and Spanish. One of the other things he did that I loved was that he brought supplementary materials (an illustrated history book and his I-pad) to help explain and elaborate on the history.
On our way out of town (David drove), we stopped at the Basilica de Nuestra Señora Guadalupe, which is where the following of Our Lady Guadalupe began. The story goes that an indigenous peasant, named Juan Diego, was walking through the hills and the Lady Guadalupe appeared to him in a glowing light, speaking his language Nahuatl and with dark hair and features. She told him she wanted a church built in her honor on that little hill. So, Juan Diego went and told a local priest, who did not believe him.
When Juan Diego went back to the hill to explain to the Lady, she told him to gather Castilian roses (an impossible feat since it was the middle of winter) and pointed to a nearby bush where they were miraculously blooming. Juan Diego gathered the flowers in his cloak and carried them down the hill to the priest. When he opened the cloak, not only did several flowers fall to the ground but an image of Lady Guadalupe appeared upon the cloth — that cloak with her image hangs in the Basilica today.
The Lady Guadalupe has special significance in part because the indigenous people were able to relate to her due to her dark hair and features and how the story and symbolism aligns with the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, and sometimes she is also called by that name. (There’s a book called The Aztec Virgin: The Secret Mystical Tradition of Our Lady of Guadalupe by John Mini that apparently explains in detail these cultural and symbolic connections and I’m looking forward to reading it.)
Apparently, every December thousands of people come to this church and flood the courtyard in honor the Virgin Guadalupe. People from all over the Americas worship her and come to this church, many of whom who are not even Catholic. One of the guides told me that more people visit the Basilica of Our Lady Gudalupe than travel to Mecca.
It was very cool to visit the church again — which like many old buildings in Mexico is sinking* — and to be able to see the cloak with her image. It’s in the back of the newly constructed church and you go behind and stand on conveyor belts to see it, but its amazing to know that the original is there. (When I traveled Mexico with my university class, we couldn’t find the cloak and so missed seeing it. So, this was a wonderful completion.)
*Yeah, see Mexico City was built on the five lakes, which were filled in, and the colonial buildings made of marble are incredibly heavy. So many of them are sinking, some have since as much as 6 meters since the ’70s. For example, the main cathedral in the Zócalo (the last picture in this post) has windows in the ground in front of the building to show where the original walkways used to be (about 6 meters down). And some of them are tilted, because one side of the building is on solid rock and the other isn’t.
From the Basilica we traveled out of town to Teotihuacan, which was once massive city covering the entire valley and the location of the famous Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. (Though my guide pointed out that these names are misleading, as they imply that the people who built them worshiped the sun and the moon, which was found to not be true. It’s been learned that worship was of the god of rain and the goddess of the rivers and lakes.)
It’s important to note that the Aztecs were not a part of building these pyramids or the city. The Aztecs came hundreds of years after this city had collapsed and were so impressed by the city that they mimicked the culture and the construction when they built their own impressive city on the five lakes, where Mexico City now stands. And it was the Aztecs who named the location Teotihuacan.
Teotihuacan was not homogeneous, as it housed at least four main ethnic groups, each of whom spoke their own language. The city was a site for people in the North, South, and surrounding areas to come and trade, making it a hub of many cultures and peoples.
Above is the temple of Quetzalcoatl and another god (whose name I don’t remember). These images are so well preserved, because at some point the people of Teotihuacan built over the old temple, erasing the images on the outside, but preserving those within.
A temple, the red paint is original.
Pyramid of the sun.
Standing atop the sun with the moon in the background.
One of the pre-Hispanic murals. The swirls coming from their mouths is the people singing or speaking.
The tour of the pyramids was fantastic. I saw how some of the mural paints were made (with ant eggs on the back of a cactus leaf, which turn red when crushed and the cactus juice acting as a sealant). I climbed the pyramid of the sun (the larger of the two and quite a hike with an awesome view). And I saw the pre-Hispanic murals, which many visitors don’t see, because they don’t realize that they are there. Actually, the only downside to the day was that I left my sunscreen at home, which left me terribly, terribly sunburned.
Touring El Centro Historico
The second tour I took was a half day walking tour around the Centro Historico, where we visited the Alameda Central Park, the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the central post office, the blue tile house (built by the richest man, who wanted to show off his wealth, so covered his house in Chinese blue tiles, which is the equivalent of covering your house in gold today), and other local buildings and then we walked down to the Zócalo (where tents were setup for a teachers’ strike).
Alvaro, my second guide, was a bit more subdued, but incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about Mexico and its history. He was also not afraid to criticize aspects of Mexico, such as racism or political problems, while also telling me how much he loves his country. His passion was infectious and as he described the meaning behind the Diego Rivera murals we saw, the art and the history of Mexico came alive for me in a way it hadn’t before. Listening to him, I was drawn in I began to feel the pressure of tears behind my eyes. What an amazing morning.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes, which houses a museum of murals by Mexican artists.
Portion of the Diego Rivera mural (inside the Museo Mural Diego Rivera), depicting the entire history of Mexico within the Parque Alameda Central. At center is Diego as a child with Frida Kahlo as his mother.
The cathedral in the Zócalo.
Whirlwind Museum Visits
In the limited free time, I also took the opportunity to do lightning fast visits of the Museo Nacional de Arte and the Museo Soumaya. Both were great, though I sort of powered through them in the hour or two of time I had available — not normally how I do museums, which involves taking my time and stopping for several minutes to absorb and enjoy a favorite piece of art.
The Museo Nacional de Arte is the national museum of art and features colonial art up through Vanguardia artists, such as Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. It was a good collection in a gorgeous building. The interior courtyard was hosting some sort of summer camp, so kids were running around joyfully participating in creative projects and making a lot of noise, which was fun to see.
The Museo Soumaya is amazing for its architecture alone, which is a modern, curved facade made of aluminum hexagons. It was built by Carlos Slim (one of the wealthiest men in the world), who decided to put his private art collection on free display to the public. It houses a litany of artists from many areas and regions, including Salvador Dalí, Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, as well as Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo.
The trip was a great success, both professionally and personally. I adore Mexico and Mexico City and I hope I can return soon and drag some family and friends along for the ride.
So, I keep putting off posting other things, because I need to post about my Mexico trip and haven’t got around to it yet. It was fantastic, by the way, right up until I wanted to leave the country, arrived at the airport, and discovered that my flight no longer existed.
I ended up stuck and exhausted and frustrated, but a new flight was eventually found (which required me to stay the night in Guadalajara) and I made my way home, even if it was a whole day later.
The result has been me getting sick (sniffles and coughing) and right at the time when my day job is particularly swamped, leaving me not wanting to go anywhere near a computer at the end of the day. So, I’ve mostly just been recovering when I get home.
But since I went to the mailbox this morning and discovered a delightful surprise, I just had to post that my contributor’s copy of The 2013 Rhysling Anthology arrived!
So, even though I’m still sick and still recovering, I’m also filled with squee and find myself wanting to prance about the room, preforming somersaults!
I am currently in Mexico (since Sunday) doing a combination of fun visiting things and fun work things. I’ve been meaning to post about the sites I’ve visited, but I’ve been too sleepy at the end of the day (which means I have a lot of blog writing in my future).
So, anyway, I’m not missing in action, just doing things. 🙂
En Julio, yo voy a México, D.F. para mi trabajo y para turísmo. Estoy muy feliz, porque me encanta Mexico y puedo regresar a la Casa Azul de Frida Kahlo, el Zocalo, el Palacio de Bellas Artes, y la Basilica de Nuestra Señora Guadalupe. Pero necesito practicar my Español y tengo un pocos possibilidades para esto.
All of which means:
In July, I am going to México, D.F. for work and for tourism. I’m very happy because I love Mexico and can return to Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, the Zocalo, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe. But I need to practice my Spanish and I have a few possibilities for this (or that).
At least that’s what I think it means, because I wrote the above without using any dictionary translation. So I’m sure there are a few spelling errors, some missed accents, and definitely some screwed up pronouns (since they are all feminine or masculine, as well as different for singular and many), but on the whole I didn’t do too bad.
I have a strong base for Español, because I’ve had multiple classes in high school and college and even spent a semester (10 weeks) in México learning the language. But upon returning home and not speaking it for a while, I feel I’ve lost a lot of what I learned and don’t know anything anymore. But I’m always surprised to find that when I put my mind to it, I do have limited conversational skills.
I’ve always wanted to be fluent, though, wanted to read Pablo Neruda’s poetry in the original language and have legitimate and soulful conversations with native speakers. This trip to México, even though I’ll only be there a week, is spurring me to work toward this goal. Here are a few things I can (and plan) to do to make this happen.
1. Leer libros y escribir blog mesajes en Español — Reading books and writing blog posts in Spanish are kind of two sides of the same coin. Upside: They both have the potential to improve my vocabulary (especially the reading) and both can help me work on the grammar.
Downside: Neither will help much with pronunciation or being able to understand when someone is speaking Spanish a million miles a minute. Also, I’ve tried both for very brief periods of time and then gave them up. The reading is especially hard, because even with children’s books I have to look up words so often that it makes the experience kind of stressful. Reading is supposed to be fun relaxing time for me, so I end up giving up too quickly. Writing is a bit easier, but I’m limited by my vocabulary and so end up repeating the same ideas or phrases over and over.
2. Ver peliculas y telenovelas en la lengua original — Great for getting used to hearing the language, building vocabulary and an understanding of how words are pronounced, and learning slang phrases. Also helps in learning to think in the language.
3. Ir a un café y hablar con una amigo en Español — Definitely the best option, especially if I get to talk to someone who is a native speaker or knows more than me. Nothing builds language skills like speaking the language with someone who actually knows it.
4. Usar unu lengua aprendiendo programa para la computadora — Rosetta Stone is the language learning program that immediately comes to mind, though I’ve seen complaints about it, such as this review that recommends Fluenz instead. Both are on the pricy side, but handle the learning process very differently.
Rosetta Stone is a total immersion program, which means they don’t incorporate any English into the learning process. They go straight to the Spanish words and pair them with images, so that learners are supposed to pick up on it intuitively. The program also has interactive games that allow you to connect with other learners online and live sessions with native Spanish speakers (the real boon).
Fluenz on the other hand provides instructions in English and can pair the Spanish words with their English equivalent. It also provides English instructions for understanding pronoun usage and grammar. The review I linked above notes, “Fluenz believes that while full immersion might work with children, adults don’t learn languages as instinctively. Fluenz believes that adults learn best when they can relate the grammar and syntax of a foreign language to the structure of the tongue they already know — in my case, English.”
I’m sure it really just depends on your learning style, though. For me, I already have a good groundwork of the Spanish language and I understand the grammar and pronoun rules in theory at least, so total immersion is more up my alley. I internally debated for a while whether to spend the money, but Rosetta Stone was having a sale and they do payment plans, so I went with that. It should be here in a few days.
5. Todos los ariba — Really a mixture of all of the above will probably get me the best results, and conversing (or attempting to converse) while on my trip to Mexico will also be a great help.
Have you learned to become fluent a second (or third!) language? How did it work for you?
The “getting things done” thing did not go over too well last week. I did do some writing each morning, just letting brief poetic phrases flow out onto the page as part of a morning ritual. It’s a good warm up for the day, and sometimes a real poem actually comes of it.
The coming week is going to be interesting, because I’m 6 days away from arriving in Vegas. Much of this week will be spent in finalizing all travel plans and making any last final purchases for the trip.
My list of Creative To-Dos that get done will be like a bonus round above and beyond all the Travel To-Dos. They’ll have to all get done by Friday, as well, because once I’m actually in Vegas, I’ll be in pure pleasure seeking mode. 🙂
Travel Things That Need Accomplishing in the Coming Week
– get primped: hair cut and colored and eyebrows shaped
– buy bra clip thing-y for use with my fancy schmancy new tops
– get a chiropractic adjustment or two so I’m not totally whacked while I’m there
– figure out where the hell my luggage has vanished
– more will come up, I’m sure, as the week goes on
Creative Things That Need Accomplishing in the Coming Week (bonus round)
– continue to make progress on the story (actually finishing = triple bonus points)
– edit and polish 2-3 of my current poem drafts
– submit a set of poems or a short story for publication
– do 2 marathon training days (all I’ll have room for)
– post a youtube video *fingers crossed*
– art, doesn’t matter what, but something