Friday, April 22, 2022

Semana Santa in Mexico, Day 1: April 12-18, 2022

Maguey Plants
We arranged a trip to San Miguel de Allende for a photo workshop with Michael Amici. I met Michael in 2016 for a Santa Fe Workshop class during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Although San Miguel de Allende (SMA) has 48 festivals a year, the reverence and flamboyance of Holy Week is not to be missed. This time, I let Dan come along since we were to be Michael's only students. 

SMA hasn't had their typically large Holy Week celebrations for the two years of the pandemic. Despite there being no end to the pandemic, the city went ahead with its festivities. Children and many, many adults were masked when in public.

Our first outing with Michael was to a Maguey Farm owned by Doña Beatrix in the small hill town of Lagunilla. Doña Beatrix harvests the agua miel (honey water) from the magueys. At room temperature, it doesn't take long for the agua miel to begin fermenting. The result is a mildly alcoholic drink (3%) called pulque. Arriving at Lagunilla the first resident we met was carrying two liters of just purchased pulque. The maguey is a member of the agave family.

A Satisfied Pulque Customer
The Church in Lagunilla
While Doña Beatrix prepared our lunch, we photographed the magueys and learned more about the process.

The Quiote (blooming stalk) of the Maguey

The lifespan of a maguey is about 35 years. It is only at the end of its lifespan that it blooms.

A mature maguey with the quiote removed
After removing the quiote (before it blooms), a well is made in the "pina" center of the maguey. This well collects all the agua miel the maguey is producing that would have gone to the quiote. At first, there are just a few milliliters but eventually it produces liters of agua miel. The agua miel is harvested daily until the maguey dies. Between daily harvests, the pina's well is covered with fabric and a rock to keep insects out. 

Maguey leaves were once harvested for their strong thread fiber used for hammocks, fishing nets, carpets. That use has been replaced by synthetic products. The fibrous threads are now sometimes used to embroider clothing and leather products.

After our photography session, we tasted the fresh, cold agua miel and pulque. The agua miel is sweet and the translation, honey water, describes it perfectly. Agua miel is said to be very good for digestion. Pulque, on the other hand, is an acquired taste. When it ferments, it becomes milky with a yeasty flavor; it seemed a little sour to me. To get pulque, the agua miel is fermented naturally in a cask. 

Making mezcal is a completely different process involving harvesting the pina which is mashed to yield its liquid and cooked over a wood fire to get that nice smokiness.

After a huge lunch of tortillas, molé, rice, salsas, sopas, tender chicken followed by Café de Olla and Doña Beatrix’ delicious pineapple pie we drove down the hill to the town of Jalpa. The streets of Jalpa were still decorated with palm fronds from Palm Sunday. 

Jalpa's Church with Crosses ready for Good Friday
The ruins behind Jalpa's Church look like they once might have been a monastery or maybe lodging for traveling pilgrims. 

Ruins Near Jalpa's Church

Before returning to SMA, Michael took us to Atotonilco. The Mexican Folk Baroque interior of the church is described as the "Sistine Chapel of Mexico." We did go inside, but due to the amount of people visiting during Semana Santa, only the main chapel was open to visitors. 

Main Chapel at Atotonilco
Church at Atotonilco Viewed from Adjacent Ruins
Because this week was dedicated to photographic improvement, on this post I am experimenting with a toned, black and white palette I rarely use. 

Tomorrow, Holy Week festivities begin in SMA.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Spring: March 2022

Spring arrived bringing with it .5" rain which was not enough to solve the drought issue, but certainly was a help to our yard. It seemed like the next day all of our plants had leafed into lushness. 

One highlight to the month was an invitation by my nephew Johannes to meet him and his three little ones as the Sacramento Zoo one overcast Saturday. We were the surrogate grandparents as my brother and his wife were in Ohio visiting another grandchild. I hadn't been to the Sacramento Zoo since I was a kid, and I don't think Dan had ever been there. The Sacramento Zoo was established in 1927. Over the years it has grown from 4.2 acres to 14.3 acres. This year it may move south to the town of Elk Grove to give it more space to grow.

Another highlight was the monthly Art and Ag event arranged by Yolo Arts. All events are at farms in Yolo County which is quite a distance from us, but it takes us to places we've never before explored. The March event, sheepdog trials, was in Zamora, California, at the Slaven Ranch. It was a beautiful time of the year to be there with the hills mostly spring green.

We didn't realize what a big deal sheepdog trials were. There were Border Collies and handlers from all over the west plus at least one group from Ontario, Canada. This was a final trial before the national competition. There are also international trials with host countries rotating each year. 

These dogs haven't had sheep trials for 2 years due to the pandemic so several were out of practice or this was their first competition. A few of the younger Border Collies were there for the run and missed the part about gathering sheep.

The handler whistling instructions to a Border Collie

When the dog has the four sheep "penned" and time is called, the dog happily jumps into the tub to cool off. Dogs release heat through their mouth and through the pads of their feet. After the 11-minute trial, this was the fastest way to cool down. All handlers had whistles around their necks and carried shepherds' crooks. 

One of the ewes next to the barn delivered a baby while we were roaming around. It looked like she might have another coming eventually. Returning to the barnyard after sheepdog trials we found that she had indeed delivered another.

Mama Ewe welcoming her twins

People aren't the only beings who enjoy watching Sheepdog competitions

Another highlight for me was having another photo accepted by asked its contributing artists to donate one image each for sale as an NFT to benefit Ukraine. 100% of the money goes to UkraineDao for food, housing and assistance of Ukrainian citizens. From over 1,000 works we received, our team of expert photography curators (over 100 years of combined experience) chose just 40 images to present in this collection. 

The 40 photographs available

In Velvet
Worry about Ukraine's survival was constantly on my mind in March and continues still. The two people that we still know who lived in Kyiv and Kharkiv were finally able to get out safely, but if ever to return may find all that they know of their cities destroyed. Both have family members and friends still in Ukraine. Слава Ukraine 🇺🇦!

So those were the highlights for March. Our normal life is filled with taking photos of our cats and Spring flowers. March marks the beginning of Lizard Season (it lasts as long as it is warm) and Turkey-mating Season (just a few weeks).

I came home one afternoon to find The Dating Game going on in our circle. 

The Bachelorette ignoring the Bachelor Contestants 
The Bachelors waiting for their questions
The Bachelorette did not make a selection-game over
Much of the year our landscaping is dry and dull, but in the Spring it is glorious.

The statistics for both our county and the state were very good in March. The cumulative total of cases/deaths at the end of March was 26,788 and 203, respectively. That's an increase of 223 reported positive cases and 8 deaths. Additionally, the number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions was zero on some days. The rate of fully vaccinated persons ticked up .2% to 60.4%.

We will be San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for Semana Santa (Holy Week).