Thursday, June 2, 2022

April and May 2022

Just two weeks after returning from Mexico, we headed east by plane to visit friends in both Connecticut and Massachusetts. All was well until we were almost to Chicago for our plane change. In Chicago the weather was very bad (tornado warnings and lightening storms) in and around the Chicago area, and our plane wasn't going to be allowed to land. After hanging out in the sky for hours waiting for the weather to improve, we were finally diverted to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we sat for some more hours near the runway. Eventually, we were given a gate. The flight attendant advised that we could deplane but no restaurants were open and those who got off would have to take all their belongings with them. We stayed in our seats.

Amazingly, not one person behaved badly during this diversion and lack of available food. Eventually, we arrived in Chicago where we managed to just catch our connection to Hartford because not one plane was able to land in Chicago during the weather issue. We arrived in Hartford about 3:00am the next day, finally. We were six hours late but safe.

The next day we drove to Norwalk where our long-time friends Lou and Cathi live. Lou and Cathy put us up almost 33 years ago when Dan's parents refused to let us stay with them as had been planned because along the way east we deviated from the plan and acquired two sweet kittens (Smokey and Tennessee) that we found next to the road. Now the kittens were traveling with us. That was my first time meeting Lou and Cathi. We've met up several times since and each meeting always involved great food, wine, and theater visits with Lou and Cathi.

After visiting with Lou and Cathi, we thought we'd also visit Dan's cousin in Connecticut. But the day before we left home, Gary told us he had tested positive for Covid and disinvited us.

Our last stop was to be in Duxbury, Massachusetts to visit Dan's college roommate Bill and his wife Karen, but that was scheduled for the end of the week so we had some time for sightseeing along the way. Bill and Karen also housed us and our two kittens on that same trip in June 1989 when they lived in Boston.

Our first stop was a Mystic Seaport Museum. The weather was cool and damp and not too much was open at the museum, but we strolled around anyway. We toured the restored Charles W Morgan Whaling Ship which is the oldest wooden whaling ship anywhere. 

The restored Charles W Morgan whaling ship
In the shipyard, a beautifully shaped Viking boat was "in the repair shop." The Draken Harald Hårfagre is the largest Viking Ship built in modern times. Construction began in Norway in 2010. Materials used are Hull: Oak; Mast: Douglas fir; Sail: Silk; Rigg: Hemp

Draken Harald Hårfagre Viking Ship
The original Douglas fir mast broke. The Norwegians acquired another Douglas fir mast (one single tree trunk) from Scotland. That mast sits in the foreground of the photo below.

Our next stop was Boston where we stayed at the Encore Boston Harbor Hotel in a room on the 25th Floor with a view of the harbor. The decor is very bright and warm in contrast to the gray weather outside. The first and the mezzanine floors were decorated with large suzani (needlepoint in Persian) textiles from Tajikistan/Uzbekistan. 

One rainy day we took the hotel's shuttle to Chinatown in Boston for a walk along the waterfront and to some of the historic sites. Because we were on foot and because it was rainy, I left my camera at the hotel and used only my cell phone this day.

The location of the Boston Tea Party
We walked through the Granary Burying Ground established in 1660. Most of the grave markers are illegible at this point. Benjamin Franklin's parents, Josiah and Abiah, are buried here. 

Just down the street is the Old State House built in 1713 and is one of the oldest public buildings in the United States and the oldest surviving building in Boston. It is dwarfed by the skyscrapers surrounding it.

We strolled the Boston Public Garden which dates to 1839 and is the first public botanical garden in the United States. 

From Boston we drove to Cape Cod. We stopped in at the National Seashore and took a short walk before arriving in Duxbury to visit our friends. In Duxbury, we walked down to the end of their short street to see where he docks his boat when the weather is better. There are huge tidal swings in Cape Cod. We watched a guy with his child and dog gather shellfish at low tide.

Bill and Karen took us sightseeing in and around Cape Cod. We stopped in at Plymouth where the Mayflower II is mored. She must be stunning when her sails are up, but this day, she looked a little lonely.

This is also where Plymouth Rock is on display in a rather pretentious colonaded enclosure for a lackluster rock with "1620" etched on it. Once again my US history education has failed me because I expected something much more impressive than a broken rock.

Not far from here is where the Plymouth Colony (AKA the Pilgrims) settled after they made their way from Provincetown to Plymouth Rock. The Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620. On November 11, after finding dangerous shoals ahead, the pilgrims decided not to go on to the northern parts of Virginia, and instead landed at Provincetown Harbor. Scouting the land they had a first encounter with the Wampanoag and beat feet in the Mayflower to Plymouth Harbor where they took up residence on December 20 in an abandoned Wampanoag village called Patuxet.

We visited this 17th-century English village which is now the Plimoth Patuxet Museum. It is a living museum with actors playing the parts of the 17th-century English men/women doing their chores and discussing their challenges and some gossip as well. It was quite entertaining to listen to their banter. In addition to the 17th-century English village the museum also has the Wampanoag village with an indigenous person to explain how boats were made, which foods were gathered and eaten, and how they lived.

Also, this month we went to the Sacramento County Fair with my nephew and his kids and my brother and his wife. The fair had a Kid's Expo area that the kids loved. Lots of hands on games for them, and fair food for us. The duck races were a kick.

This month I renewed my driver's license in advance of my July birthday. One big change is that now I have to wear glasses for distance. I tried the vision test without glasses, but couldn't read the chart. The 1.25 magnification over-the-counter glasses worked just fine and I passed. This felt monumental because I've always had exceptional distance vision--no more.

I got my second Covid booster this month three months after recovering from my Covid bout in February. A little tenderness in my arm, but nothing else. In local Covid news, the number of cases has increased due to the Omicron variant that has made its way to the west coast. In April and May there were 331 and 1130, respectively, reported positive cases bringing the county total to 28,249 reported positive cases and 217 total deaths. Just 61.1% of county residents are fully vaccinated and as a county we are behind both Sacramento's vaccination rate and California's average vaccination rate.

It was a busy month, but I had some time to catch my breath and get a little more caught up on all the things I put off because we were traveling. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Quema de Judas, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: April 17, 2022

It's Easter Sunday and today's big event in San Miguel de Allende is called Quema de Judas which translates literally to Burning of Judas. Each paper mâché figure has a wooden ring around its waist with firecrackers attached to the ring. The event begins at noon, but you really have to get there early. We staked out our places in the Jardin Principal only to be moved back several feet as a safety measure. We still had a great view of the burning/blowing up. I recommend that if you go, you wear earplugs as we did.

In 2016, the paper mâché figures had names on them. Sometimes the figures stood for narcos or politicians or even Donald Trump. In fact in 2016, there were several Donald Trump effigies. This year I expected more Trump effigies, and for sure I thought I'd see Vladimir Putin represented. However, this year just the sponsors had their names on the effigies. It took some of the revenge fun out of watching the figures burn and blow up.

Before lighting any of the firecrackers, the street is cleared and spectators must stay behind the ropes at either end of the street. We were standing behind a rope just across from the hanging Judases. Only one Judas is lit at a time. The firecrackers pop and the figure begins to spin around eventually exploding when the last firecracker catches. Body parts fly in every direction. Firefighters are on hand to put out anything still burning when it hits the ground.

The paper mâché heads usually stay in one piece. Each head is collected and then sold at the end of the event to anyone who wants a souvenir.

Souvenir hunters can pick up body parts for free and kids run to grab the best pieces.

The devil is always a popular figure to blow up. 

That is the end of Semana Santa 2022. This morning before Quema de Judas we managed to get our pre-departure Covid-19 tests. We were negative despite all the close encounters. Tomorrow we take a shuttle to the airport in Mexico City and will be home that same day.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Corrida de Toros or Blood in the Sand, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: April 16, 2022

Matador (red cape and sequins on his suit) and Glorioso the Bull

When I visited San Miguel de Allende (SMA) in 2016 for Semana Santa, I went to the bullfight. I had never seen a bullfight and I wanted to see one. The highlight of the night was the Recortes. Recortes is a style of bullfighting in some regions of Spain. Bullfighters known as recortadores dodge and leap over charging bulls without the use of any props. They are acrobats and while if they misstep they might be injured, the bull is not killed and leaves the bullring intact and able to enjoy his remaining days. The low point of the night was the traditional bullfighting ending with the dead bull being dragged out of the ring. Despite bulls being killed, I thought Dan would enjoy the acrobatics so we went.

Bullfighting hasn't happened in SMA for several years and not just because of Covid, but the mayor of SMA brought it back. Grateful spectators had banners thanking him for the return of the bulls. The stands were packed. In Mexico City there is a movement to ban bullfighting. I can see both sides of the argument, but I also didn't want to see any bulls maimed and killed. 

The evening's schedule listed Forcados from Mexico City as participants at the bullfighting event. I confused Forcados with Recortadores. They are not the same! Forcados, like recortadores, don't have any weapons or any type of protection from the bull.  They are not the ones who kill the bull, but this is where the bull evens the score.

Forcados and Cavaleiros are unique to the Portuguese style of bullfighting. The Cavaleiros (horseman or horsewoman) ride beautiful, specially trained horses. From horseback the cavaleiro stabs the bull's back with small spears called bandarilhas. The bull tires from chasing the rider around while getting stabbed in the back. The rider will change horses multiple times so the horse is always fresh and he can buzz around like a mosquito annoying the bull. This night's bullfight seemed to be a hybrid style merging both Portuguese and Spanish styles.

Cavaleiro (horseman)

Banderilleros with gold and pink cape as a distraction (helper to the matador and cavaleiro)
Matador placing banderillas
The matador's performance is judged based on style, finesse, and proximity to danger
The second bull, Glorioso, faced the picadors. Picadors are riding padded horses who are also blindfolded. Picadors wear protective metal armor on their legs and carry long lances used to annoy the bull. 
Glorioso took an immediate dislike to the Picadors and their horses. He charged across the ring and upended the horse and its rider.

The Banderilleros got the bull's attention and eventually the bull charged the picador on the other side of the ring. While the bull was distracted, the horse was pulled from its upside down turtle pose into standing. Even though the bull was actually standing on top of the horse, all that padding kept the horse from being injured physically (not sure about mentally).

Then, there are the Forcados who have no apparent style. This is a group of eight men without any protection or weapons. The front man (wearing a green toque) first provokes the bull into a charge and as the bull charges him, he performs a pega de cara (face catch). He jumps between the bull's horns grabs the bull's head and his seven buddies surround and try to secure the bull until it is subdued. We did not see the Forcados subdue any bulls in the time we stayed although they gave it a good, old macho-male try. It should be noted that Forcados enter the ring after the bull is already very mad from his wounds.

Fresh, clean Forcados entering the bullring

Banderilleros distracting the angry bull
The Forcados lined up again to "Grab the Face"

And, then there were 7 Forcados. The injured Forcado left via ambulance
We saw no sacred processions today. We enjoyed a slow morning and a walk to a new neighborhood and a huge art gallery before our afternoon of blood sport.

Despite all the carnage, when we left the bullfight Michael walked us over to a wonderful restaurant called "The Restaurant." We hadn't had any excellent restaurant meals in SMA because of our long days and early mornings. The food at The Restaurant was amazing and a place to definitely return.