Merida is an architectural details freak’s paradise. Buildings from a few different centuries, the really old, the contemporary and the long neglected, sit side by side sporting fanciful wrought iron, eye popping tile patterns and ornate woodwork. Old stonework and masonry anchors the structures and looks as attractive today as it did a few centuries ago. The surfaces are layered in tropical colors and adorned with signage and typography that is distinctly Mexican, a combination of Aztec, Mayan and Spanish influences.
Our hotel is named after a saint and the rooms all have Mayan names. Our room is “Kabah,” named after the Mayan city that sat where Merida is today.. Our hotel took its name from the old church next door. And just a few blocks from it sits the oldest cathedral in the Americas, from the 1500s. As if that’s a big deal. The Mayans had an advanced civilization here well before the Spanish arrived.
I’ve added to my holy card collection since we arrived and we’ve been in and out of the old churches but we’ve also been to the Museo de Antropología e Historia and the Palacio del Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán with its magnificent but gruesome murals depicting the conquest with firearms, horses and the cross. The beautiful old stone “false idols” are destroyed and with their auto-da-fé’ the conquerors forced the Mayans to worship Christ. Even the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán threw these ugly truths in your face. Merida today is a wildly friendly and safe place but we carry a load of guilt around with us.
Catrin is a lively spot. There was a dj playing songs from a laptop in the front of the restaurant and the tables in the open air courtyard were all taken or reserved. We sat in the front room under a silent tv with the PSG vs Brestois game on. We had not seen a match since we left Rochester so we were thrilled.
We are in the habit of of making a meal out of sharing one appetizer and one entree and skip dessert. In Merida even that is too much. The tortilla chips were on the house and they were served with four distinctly different dips, all manner of hot sauce. The shrimp tacos were sensational and the catch of the day came with a fresh salad and a pile of cilantro. We tried anther local IPA, this one called “Mastache,” and we were very happy with it. The score was 1-1 in the sixty fifth minute when someone at the controls, switched the channel to Los Tigres, a Mexican team.
On the way back to our place we came across a guy singing traditional Mexican music in the park. Peggi had our swimming ear plugs in her pocket so we put those on for a few songs, not for the music but for the volume. We walked by a vegan restaurant with a Cumbia band playing. We could see and hear the band from the sidewalk so we stood there for a while. A four piece, the bass player sang and played in a dub style. Someone was playing congas and another guy a cowbell. A trombone player carried the melody.
I.M. Pei’s Johnson Museum, at the top of a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake on Cornell’s campus is real treasure. We make a point of visiting Ithaca every winter, usually in conjunction with a cross country ski but not this year. We park in the public lot behind the library and walk through the Commons and then uphill to the Johnson, the citadel. Ithaca is not only gorges it has some serious hills, like San Francisco. The alumni have contributed mightily to the collection and they have some real gems from Giacometti, Arthur Dove, Otto Dix and Philip Guston.
I’ve been reading James Joyce’s short story collection, “The Dubliners,” and am struck by how his vivid depictions of that era feel so contemporary. James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was inspired by the ancient Greek epic the Odyssey and Henri Matisse was hired in 1935 to illustrate an edition. The Johnson Museum has some of the original, soft-ground etchings on display. I love Matisse and found these to be especially beautiful. And then I read the nearby wall tag.
“Matisse seems not to have read Joyce’s novel, instead taking inspiration directly from the Odyssey. In the Circe and Calypso Matisse outlines an entanglement of limbs, representing Odysseus’s amorous encounters with both women. In each case, it is the female figure who seduces Odysseus, while his wife at home remains faithful. In the Odyssey, Nausicaä is self-conscious of being seen with the naked Odysseus, yet Matisse chooses to render the female characters nude. In fact, Matisse seems to suggest it is the women who are actually in the position of power, towering over Odysseus. While Calypso and Circe instigate their encounter with Odysseus, the relationship between Nausicaä and Odysseus is platonic in the original text. However, Matisse still chooses to illustrate Nausicaà as a sexual aggressor.”
Today is the feast day of Santiago, also known as Saint James (the Greater), Sante Jacob in Italy and Sao Tiago in Portugal. He is the patron saint of Galicia, Spain and Portugal. I got my box of holy cards out last night in preparation and found the I have ten of Santiago. My favorites are shown above. My favorite image of Saint James is this one by Guido Reni.
There were two apostles named James. The Greater is said to have brought the gospel to the Iberian peninsula. He returned to Israel and Herod the king had him beheaded, the first of the apostles to be martyred. His remains miraculously found their way back Spain and they are said to be kept in the cathedral of Santiago. During the reconquest, Saint James is said to have helped the Spaniards repel the Moors. In this grizzly role he is known as “Santiago Matamoros.”
We took a photo of the cards and sent it to my cousin, Maureen. She is, by far, the best Catholic in the family and I have two cousins who are or were nuns. We walked the Camino de Santiago with Maureen a few years back and have talked of doing it again.
I fired up a slideshow of our Spain photos (almost 4000 of them) on our tv this morning and it is still shuffling along. I set our LED kitchen lights to deep red. We had Spanish hors d’oeuvres, Quince paste on Manchego cheese, and roasted Marcona almonds with a bottle of Lan Reserva. Peggi made Gambas al Ajillo for dinner and Tarta de Santiago for dessert.
We were having dinner with Jeff and Mary Kaye last night while some of our photos from Spain played on the tv. We have an album from each trip and then one called “España” that has all of our Spain photos in one album. I was shuffling that one while we ate. Twenty seconds before a dissolve seems to work and the order was set to random.
One of these long shots came up, it wasn’t this one but similar, and I was struck with longing. The sensation of coming up over a hill and finding the path stretched out in front of you, a path that you have never taken before, leading to a town you have never been to before, with all of your belongings ( the things that really matter like a change of clothes, rain gear and a mobile device) on your back – you can’t beat that sensation.
Clifton Springs is one of those towns that time forgot. Except this one is well preserved, suspiciously so. Where does the money come from? Main Street has a covered sidewalk and a hardware store, a book store, restaurants and a pastry shop. We came out here to see a show entitled “Tangible Objects” at Main Street Arts, the sweetest little gallery in upstate New York.
About halfway between here and Syracuse, Clifton Springs made its mark a century and half ago with the sulphur springs sanitarium. We drove out here with our morning cup of coffee and took long walk around town and right out to its limits. The big homes are well kept and the streets are quiet and dreamy. There’s sidewalks and hitching posts with big concrete steps for dismounting your horse.
Seven artists are featured in the current show. I particularly like Becca Barolli’s wire pieces and Christina Brinkman’s silver utensils but my favorite piece was the concrete title type, The letters T A N G I B L E O B J E C T S, all cast in subtle shades of concrete by John Dodd and Lorrie Freer. We couldn’t resist handling them when the staff wasn’t looking.
The Jetty at the top of Skaneateles Lake in the town of Skaneateles had a low slung chain hanging across the entryway. It was apparently closed for the season. We stepped over it and walked to the end where a fisherman was happily casting about.
The Clintons had a summer place here. Listings in the window of a Real Estate office showed restored mansions, lake front properties and empty lots in the millions. There is a Talbots on Main Street and at least a dozen gift shops. The stuff they chose to put in their windows scared us so we walked north down the side streets where the townspeople live. We were trying to understand why people live here. The blocks of idyilic homes felt dreamy but unreal.
We usually come through here on our way down to NYC. We stop at the small bakery for coffee and then drive down the east side of the lake to Binghamton. This time we walked down the west side where we are guessing the Clintons stayed. We walked through a cemetery with a huge monument to the town’s Civil War dead. That felt real. I am sure the town was vital then. Today it is a resort town and that is why we were here.
We were meeting our friends, Matthew and Louise, for lunch and celebrating her birthday. Peggi and I came a whole day early and stayed at Mirbeau, a French style inn and spa. We had dinner in the dining and were expecting a health centered menu but it was meat laden. The room had a gas fireplace, a bath tub and a shower with enough water pressure for both Peggi and me to bath at once. But before that we put the white Mirbeau robes and slippers on and walked across the bridge in the courtyard to the sauna and steam room. We read by the fireplace and slept soundly in the king-sized bed.
Matthew bought us a loaf of French bread from the Patisserie, the best bread we’ve had in ages. I would go back just for another of those loaves.
It wasn’t a fast but but we slimmed down our news consumption when we left for NYC on Tuesday. Even posting here, the news-to-self was curtailed. Other than our overnight in the Adirondacks the trip to NYC was our first since the outbreak. We’re timid and it was reassuring to see most people in the big city taking more precautions than we do in Rochester.
I came back with a disc full of images that I will slowly work my way through. I know this one will be my favorite. Eyeballs fine tuned by three days of gallery hopping and these reclaimed boards, bound with rope, laying on the ground in front of a building in Tribeca looked sensational.
Pete and Shelley’s home in the Adirondacks is five hours and a world away. When the pavement ends their road continues with stone. It is just about at that point where the cell phone reception ends. And by the time we reach their property the electric and water lines have stopped. This is is off-the-grid and therapeutic.
Our first trip since the pandemic began took us out 104 and then northeast toward the mountains. In Speculator we fell in line behind a large RV that was towing a a brand new Jeep. The car immediately in front of us had plates from the Sunshine state. We stopped only to pee near the side of the road.
Shelley had given us a short list of items that had become hard to come by up there. Arm & Hammer unscented laundry detergent, a loaf of good bread and beeswax candles. We threw in some tomatoes and peppers from the garden, they are growing both but their season is behind ours, and a small bag of weed that our neighbor gave us to give to them.
We stayed up late talking and it seems all conversations lead to politics. One of the property owners on their road is flying a giant, “Fuck Biden, Trump Won” banner and that sort of sets the table. For discussion. We saw variations of the Fuck Biden flag on the way up, ones that spelled out the f-word in long gun silhouettes, and of course the tired Confederate flags. Everyone has a congressman or woman and we were in Elis Stefanik’s district where the Covid restrictions are scarce. Even in the woods it impossible to put politics aside.
Since we spent the last two Octobers in Spain and are especially missing it now I’ve been posting a photo from Spain to my Instagram page each day this month.
And we ordered our first take out meal since the pandemic started, the “Spanish Favorites” menu from Atlas Eats. It included a Tapas Sampler of tortilla española, blue crab pincho and olives & crumbs. Shrimp a la Plancha with romesco sauce, poor man’s paella and broccolini. Dessert was Bay Laurel Flan with dark caramel, toasted pine nuts and cinnamon cocoa nibs. We opened a Rioja for the occasion, Coto De Imaz and we cued up the Real Madrid vs. Levante, a La Liga match that we recorded during the week.
Real won 2-0 but it was sort of a struggle. The food was fantastic. I wish I could thank Gerry in person. We still marvel at how his recipe for tortilla, Spain’s national dish, a combination of the simplest of ingredients (potatoes, onions, eggs, olive oil, salt and pepper), is so close to the best we have had in Spain. It was always a hit for us back when we we would have parties.
We met our friends, Matthew and Louise, in middle ground, neutral territory, somewhere between their home and ours. B. Forman Park sits right on the lake on property that was owned by Samuel Cuyler, property that was used as a terminus on the Underground Railroad. From here, escaped slaves would board a ship bound for Canada.
We had never been here before but the name was familiar to us. B. Formans was one step from McCurdy’s. Both department stores were downtown along with Sibley’s, Edward’s and The National. Before the malls ruined everything and Amazon ruined them. The park was named after Benjamin Forman, a Rochester merchant and civic leader, who operated the B. Formans’ department store.
We drove out on Lake Road, easily one of the most picturesque rides in our area. The farms were all gearing up for apple harvest and crates were stacked everywhere. We wondered aloud whether the farms would have enough labor and whether they could be kept safe.
There has been so much going on in Rochester that we spent most of our time together batting around the local news, the mass shooting, the Danial Prude homicide, how much longer before the mayor resigns and what about the interim police chief and the cover-up. We stopped at a farm stand on the way back and bought blueberries, pears, plums and Honey-crisp apples.
We get a good view of our neighbor’s backyard at the end of our street. Our street borders their yard on two sides. We stopped to chat with their son and his Russian bride and learned she had walked the Camino Portuguese. She is tall and skinny and wears small t-shirts with Russian logos and what looks like gym shorts, the short ones from our high school days. I’m not sure she understood all we were saying but we did compare notes on the adventure. She told us she was hoping to do the Camino Francés with our neighbor’s son.
I hesitate to even mention the walk across Spain that we were planning for this year. So many are missing so much more. But I do wonder if we will ever be able to travel overseas again. We have kept up our walking just in case. We are prepared for the rugged, northernmost Camino to Santiago, the Camino Primitivo. My backpack is ready to go. Our photos from Spain continue to shuffle on our tv each evening.
Spain was hit hard in the first wave. Their national lockdown was largely successful but but when the 17 regional governments reopened some, dependent on tourism, relaxed too quickly. Peggi and I always knew Spain would be hit hard. They are so outgoing. In today’s article about the resurgence the director-general of public health for the Spanish Government said, “We have this cultural factor related to our rich social life. People are close. They like to get to know each other.”
Every year La Tienda, the online Spanish specialty shop, features Pimientos de Padrón when they are in season. We ordered two bins this year and had some last night. We ran into a few hot ones and that slowed us down so we finished them this afternoon, poolside, at room temperature.
I’m already missing breakfast in Spain but our first day back was so beautiful I think I’ll get over it. We made it back in time for Fall’s peak and still have not had a frost so we raided the garden and brought back tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, kale and some bok choy.
Our dentist had called while we were gone and we thought it must be the bill owed but when I returned the call the receptionist told me they had found my jack knife down in the seat.
We emptied our back packs and strapped them on again to walk up to Wegmans. In the process we saw most of our neighbors. We were happy to hear Jared’s cancer treatment is not getting the best of him. Jerry at the other end had a bad cold but he had a lot of wood for us, stuff a tree surgeon took down in his backyard while we were gone. The stray cat Rick and Monica took in had kittens so we stopped in to look. We learned both of them had tick bites while we were gone and Rick’s tested positive for Lyme. Phil and Nancy saw us coming back with our backpacks full and asked if we were walking home from Spain.
Rick and I played a couple of rounds of horseshoes before dark. Netflix had delivered Buñuel’s “The Phantom of Liberty” so we’ll take that for a spin tonight.
It was a nice night when we arrived in New York, pretty much the same temperature as Madrid but it felt different. There was a crazy man shouting at an invisible adversary as we waited for the subway. On the F we sat across from a Russian couple. We were reminded why we thought Portuguese sounded like Russian.
Duane had the table set when arrived in Brooklyn, some French wine and a hearty vegetable bean stew. Rochester’s Wegman’s had just opened their first store in New York and the press was making a big deal about that.
The day had gone on forever. Spain went off daylight savings during our last night so we added an hour there and gained five more crossing the Atlantic. We were telling Duane about Antonio Saura’s painting of his sister-in-common law, Geraldine Chaplin, when Peggi started nodding off.
We looked at Duane’s Robert Frank books in the morning. Found pictures of Delphine Seyrig and Alice Neel in Pull My Daisy. Still connecting the dots. Duane made some killer cereal from dried fruit, brown rice, almond milk and a mixture of exotic seeds.
Fall’s foliage was at peak as we rode north along the Hudson. Always a dreamy trip and opportunity to reflect.
20 Euros for a month’s cellular usage seems like a good deal. We swapped the AT&T chips in Peggi’s phone and my iPad for a Vodafone chip when we landed in Lisbon and we used them through Portugal and Spain with a few gigabytes to spare. Why does the same service cost so much in the States?
We stuck our credit card in two ATM machines while we were in Europe. Some of the funkier places only take cash so we need a few Euros. Everywhere else I used my watch to pay for everything from coffee, bus fair to hotel rooms. I held it up to vending machines. Apple Pay is excepted everywhere. Why is this not the case in the states?
I weigh 69 kilograms in Europe. Weights and measurements here are in metrics like the rest of the world. Would it be too hard for the US to get with the program?
High speed trains are clean, affordable and they run on time. They have good food and good coffee in the bar car. There are copies of the days paper there to share just like in every other café. This place is so civilized! Trump talked about fixing the crumbling US infrastructure. He’s full of shit. It was nice to be away from him for a while.
We told Margarita at Antonio Machón that we would report back after visiting the Museo de Arte Abstracto in Cuenca, a museum that features many of the artists she represents. It was her suggestion to take the train there and our report was glowing but Peggi had to do all the talking. We told Margarita that we had also seen some dramatic Antonio Saura work at the Reina Sofia where they had reconstructed a show from Spain’s Transition. That got her going.
She told us every step the Reina Sofia takes is political. Political with the bottom line in view. It was her opinion that the Transition is overrated. It was not a dramatic shift but one that built slowly while Franco was still in power. She says the Spanish people were not so repressed under Franco. Almodovar was dressing like a women, Saura was painting wicked portraits of Franco while he was alive. In fact, she argues, Franco’s death and the Transition made artists lazy.
One day after watching Antonio Mercero‘s movie of Franco being sent to his tomb in a telephone booth we watched Franco’s remains get exhumed from Valle de los Caidos on the tv in our hotel in Madrid.
It was a perfect day in Madrid. Blue skies and in the sixties. A perfect day for art shows. We started in the Fundacion Telefonica where we saw an exhibition on the history of online gaming, a much bigger world than imagined. And a virtual reality show devoted to artists. Our favorite room was the one devoted to Paul Delvaux’s painting, “L’appel.” We were inside the paintings, moving around the nude figures and getting ever closer the more we stared. The future is looking pretty good.
We took a break for our mid-day meal and walked to an exhibition of two architects’ work, one Spanish and one Italian, their 1950’s Mediterranean homes, our next domicile.
Yes, this is how we spend our time in Madrid. Una exposición tras otra. A lot of walking, looking and next to nothing for admission.
Our final stop was in the Círculo de Bellas Artes Building where we took in the Carlos Saura photo show. After Buñuel and Almodovar, Saura is the third most revered Spanish film director. Until today we only knew the work of his brother, Antonio. I posted one of his pieces a few days ago. Carlos may be more famous. He lived with Geraldine Chaplin for many years and worked with Buñuel. All roads lead to Buñuel!
We waited until the last minute to make train reservations for the ride to Madrid. Three trains leaving at a reasonable hour were all booked so we set the alarm for 5 AM and took the high speed down here. We had an early dinner at our favorite restaurant and wandered over to the Bellas Artes building to look for a list of art shows.
We were in the midst of a Luis Buñuel binge when we left the states so an item in one of the pamphlets we picked up called out to us. Ángel Exterminador was playing at La Fundacion Academia de Cine at 5 o’clock, one day only. It was thirteen minutes to five and the theater was exactly thirteen minutes away from where we were. Too may confluences. We arrived to two minutes early. We have a better than average walking pace these days. It was a huge screen and the theater was packed. We sat in the second row. With no English subtitles to distract our gaze it played like a visual masterpiece on top of its conceptual brilliance.
Heading out of Tui this morning we saw fresh, long loaves of bread hanging on people’s doorknobs. Another reminder that civilization has not advanced equally in all parts of the world. Tui has some history. The town was here in Christ’s time. The Romans gave it its name and built a wall around it. Because of its location on the river and on the border it was a place of continuous fighting in the Middle Ages. The medieval Cathedral of the Assumption was built in the highest spot in town in the twelfth century.
We can’t get away from Trump. He has infected the whole world. We were having our main meal this afternoon in Porriño and the tv was on in the dining room. They were playing the cartoon video showing Trump shooting up the fake media. We were kinda hoping he would just go away while we were here.
Before falling asleep we watched the second half of Portugal vs. Ukraine in the UEFA EURO Qualifiers. Ronaldo scored once in the second but it was not enough to defeat Ukraine.