Wednesday, February 28, 2007

cascada: contents for February, 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

cascada post 7

Álamo Veracruz

There is a small town near the coast in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, called Álamo. The Internet says the population is 40,000 but to me it seemed smaller. You can see it on this map, near Tuxpan:

I really don't know much about the place, except that it seems to be the 'national capital' for oranges. My wife and I passed through there with Rita and Louie back in August, 2005, when driving back to Texas after a vacation in Xalapa. There is one incredible thing there in Álamo, and maybe more, but as I said we were just passing through. That is a huge concrete sculpture of a man emptying a large basket of oranges. Here is a picture just showing the oranges falling to the ground. Each orange is 2 to 3 feet in diameter and made of concrete.

Next is a picture looking up at the sculpture from underneath:

Next are a couple of pictures from further away which gives a better idea of the immense size:

Its really a shame how the electric wires and poles and signs obscure the view. On the other hand you wouldn't have believed how big it was.

Here is a detail of the oranges themselves. Remember, they are all made of concrete and 2 to 3 feet across:

concrete oranges 2 to 3 feet in diameter

Here are the guys that did it, inscribed on the basket of the sculpture itself, which you can see very small in the 'looking up' picture:

I need to find these guys because I would like to build some geometric sculptures (much simpler) myself, and I don't have a clue how to do it.

If you know about this kind of thing, or about Álamo, please chime in.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

cascada post 6

Frieda and Diego

In 'el centro' of Xalapa is a park called 'el Parque Juárez'. It is usually filled with people milling about, or sitting on benches, or buying balloons for their kids, or food from various vendors. There is restaurant, a movie theater, an art gallery and a very nice view. Check it out if you can. If you go down the steps on the west side of the park there is a street and there you will find another gallery, possibly called the 'Diego Rivera gallery', which for the last couple of months has had a show about Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. Picture taking is not allowed inside, but outside I snapped this shot:

That was invitation enough for me. Inside was a very nice exhibit with lots of works by both Frieda and Diego as well as a wealth of historical information. I won't try to give you any details here, just a flavor of those two Mexican artists who had interesting, if turbulent and painful lives. First here is a clip about Frieda which, if you click on it, will take you to the site where it came from and more information about both of these artists and there lives together, and apart.

Next, here is a 1985 image by Lucía Maya whose interpretation I leave for you to ponder:

Here is an honest photo of Frieda that I rather like:

This is a painting done by Frieda in 1931 in honor of her (first) wedding to Diego. I think it was done a couple of years after their marriage:

Here is a photo of Diego and Frieda taken at about the same time by Carl Van Vechten:

And here is one of many troubled and troubling self-portrait, 'The two Friedas':

Lest you thought border issues were new, here is that topic from 1932:

Now comes a painting which may surprise you, because it was done by Diego Rivera:

Diego Rivera - House over Bridge 1909

It was done very early in his career and bears little resemblance to his later work, such as his giant murals or his simple stylized pictures of people such as this:

Diego Rivera - Lo Molendera 1924

This last image is a 1914 portrait of Diego Rivera by Modigliani

In 2002 there was an excellent movie called simply 'Frieda' which portrayed the troubled life and time of Frieda Kahlo. Frieda was played by Salma Hayek, nominated for Best Actress Oscar that year. Diego was played by Alfred Molina and the movie was directed by Julie Taymor. The story is interesting, compelling and accurately told. I have heard that it was not well regarded in Mexico, but I don't know why.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

cascada post 5

Insects and Evolution

Here on the edge of the cloud forest there is more life and there is more death. Walking off-trail in the hills one quickly realizes why everyone owns a machete here. The variety and lushness of the plants is incredible.

So is the variety of insects. Those plants which could not survive the voracious insects are long gone. Those strains which could remain. This is part of the evolution of an ecosystem.

large grasshopper

OK, I confess, the above grasshopper is in Texas. But we have plenty here in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, too:

This is the backdrop, this is my mindset when I accidentally encountered the following curious old book:

Wow! I knew those little critters were tenacious and clever. You should see leaf-cutter ants attack a tree! They give new meaning to 'society' and surely insects will have the last laugh over all of us. But 'psychic life'? You gotta be kidding. This book is for real and you can
look at it yourself.

This book gives pause and raises questions. Even when I learned a little biology in high school around 1958 we learned that acquired characteristics could not be inherited. I believe this is true, and I think for good reason. But exactly when and why did the
Lamarckian view decline? This book seems to advance a middle ground not unworthy of consideration for historical if for no other reasons. Let us not forget that Lamarck was a respected and intelligent person, as was the author of this book.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744 – 1829)

Is it true as this book says that both Lamarck and Darwin accepted the "inheritance of acquired character"? Somehow I had thought that the last hurrahs of Lamarck had long since faded by 1920 when the original French version of Bouvier's book appeared. Is that wrong?

Someone will surely let me know. In the meantime here is a well regarded modern book on insect evolution that I hope to examine some day:

Evolution of the Insects (Hardcover) by David Grimaldi, Michael S. Engel, ISBN: 0521821495

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

cascada post 4

Units and History

I suppose it is a truism that different countries have different cultures. Before I moved to Mexico I visited many times, usually for a week or 10 days. After I retired we stayed once for a month and once for six weeks. That was the longest visit and I remember toward the end of that stay really wanting to get back home to the USA, where the food and language and money and stores and everything else was familiar.

That memory worried me a bit when we finally made the decision to move to Mexico. Still, in spite of my beginner Spanish, I felt I knew Mexico pretty well. That six week stay was in Xalapa and our move was to be to a little place between Xalapa and Xico (in the state of Veracruz). Of course there would be an adjustment period.

Now that I have been here almost a year. I realize now how superficial my understanding of Mexico was. It is hard to be specific. What has happened I think, is that those things that were part of my persona in the USA, the neighborhood, the way people react to me, the things I liked to do, etc. are gradually being displaced and replaced by new things here. This must be acculturation. Not completely. I'm still me, it's just that my comfort level has gradually increased. I am beginning to feel at home. Tall, blond, light complected and with inadequate Spanish, I stick out like a sore thumb. But I don't FEEL like I stick out. That has been a gradual process which surely still continues. For me, a year is how long it takes.

One day perhaps I will try to describe life here, the people, the small community where we live, the bustling city of Xalapa, some of the people both expats and Mexicans that we have come to know, the climate, the countryside etc. Gradually I will hit on such things here, but lately I have been thinking and wondering how Mexico came to be like it is. Since I like books, especially old books, I have started to look at old mostly 19th century books about Mexico. On google books there are many of these. To see some yourself go to , click the "Full view books" button and search for Mexico. (You might have to register first if you don't use any google services, but it is free).

Many of these books are fascinating telling of a time of stagecoaches and riding horses. They describe Mexico as it was say in 1850. What a difference! There is no mention of miles or kilometers. Distances are measured in leagues and varas. What on earth are leagues and varas?

I remembered "20000 Leagues under the Sea" by Jules Verne from when I was a youngster.

Fighting the giant squid on the submarine Nautilus

Probably I thought a league was about a yard since "20000 yards under the sea" sounded about right. That is completely wrong! Jules Verne was French (1828-1905) and published "20000 Leagues under the Sea" in 1870.

I did some checking and found that in 1870 a league (called 'lieue' in France) was about 4 kilometers, so 20000 leagues was about 80000 kilometers, almost 50000 miles! There is no ocean that deep. The diameter of the earth is only about 8000 miles. What gives?

Well, the title page looked like this:

Original title page-in French

Notice that "MERS" is plural so the English title is wrong. It should be: "20000 leagues under the seas". So they weren't 20000 leagues deep, rather they made a journey of length 20000 leagues under the seven seas.

Leagues were not standardized. In Mexico, a league (legua in Spanish) was roughly: the distance a person can walk or ride (on horse or mule) in one hour. A more precise definition was: a league is 5000 varas, and a vara is 3 pies. Now 'pie' is Spanish for 'foot', not one of our large USA type feet, but a more petite 11 inches or so.

So a 'pie' is slightly smaller than a foot (USA unit), and a 'vara' is slightly smaller than a yard (about 33 inches instead of 36) and finally a 'league' is 5000 of these short yards, or about 4571 actual yards, or about 2.6 miles (= 4.18 km).

I guess they walked or rode pretty slowly. Anyway, now when you look at one of those old books about Mexico you will understand the units of distance.

An interesting side note: some deeds still valid today in Texas measure distances for plots of land in 'varas' !

Saturday, February 10, 2007

cascada post 3

A Bit of Art

For a change of pace, here is a bit of art. My view is that art is to be viewed and enjoyed. Some of these images are from scans that I made, others are from the internet and the scanner or source is unknown. I have not studied copyright law, if you see something that you think should not be here, let me know. If you see a scan that you made and want that mentioned, likewise let me know.

Lithograph of a face, Pablo Picasso, 1928

Head of a Woman, Pablo Picasso, lithograph, 1925

Salvador Dali, Portrait of the Artist's Father 1925

Orozco -- mujer mexicana

Edward Hopper - Monterrey Cathedral - watercolor 1943

Kees von Dongen - The Corn Poppy - 1919

That is it for now. I hope you liked the art.

cascada post 2

Beekeeping in La Mancha

We set out around 9:00 in the morning for La Mancha on the coast a bit north of Veracruz. We were with Norma, a young woman with boundless energy, Directora of Pronatura, a scuba diver, para-sailor and who knows what else. The project is to set up beekeeping and promote tourism. They were having a training class, and we were going mostly just to see La Mancha and the bees. First we went to Veracruz so Norma could return a wet suit at her friends scuba shop. I only took one picture there, this scene near the scuba shop.


Veracruz seemed pretty nice, at least downtown and near the wharf. Norma said there was a nice aquarium. We will definitely return to check it out.

We headed north on the coast highway and soon came to a vista overlooking the Laguna of La Mancha. Here is what we saw:

Laguna de la Mancha with the Gulf of Mexico in the distance.

We turned down the dirt road to La Mancha, which I thought would be a small town, but we never saw a town. Norma said there was one but that the whole area there was called 'La Mancha'. Presently we looked out the car window to the right and saw a field with several birds. Here are Ibis we saw:


A little further along we could see Mangrove trees along the far edge of the Lagoon. Pretty soon we came to the Pronatura place which consisted of seven or eight large round thatch-roofed huts. Each had maybe eight fairly comfortable cots, electricity, and round windows covered with mosquito netting. These were for eco-tourists, but I wasn't sure if that was the plan or if it was operational already. There was also an older more rectangular building which was a kitchen.

About ten people, some Pronatura staff and a few students, were suiting up with white bee-protection gear. They were about to head to the hives and we walked there with them. It looked like this:

Pronatura bee hives at La Mancha

Here is how we looked:

Learning about bees. Esther is closest.

The guides were very knowledgeable and answered all our questions and explained much about bees. All was home made, including the smoke makers. Bees retreat from smoke. We were told that each hive might have as many as 30,000 bees.

Soon our bee excursion was over and we walked back to the Pronatura site where a wonderful fish lunch awaited us. Here are the people we ate with. Norma is on the far left and Esther on the far right :-).

Fish lunch

Here is my fish. The red is a tomato sauce. (Esther says the picture makes it look like blood.)

The fish I ate

After lunch, which in Mexico is the big meal of the day usually eaten around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., we were entertained by Daniel, a friend of the instructor. Daniel played classical music for us, starting with selections from the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We all relaxed and listened in one of those round thatched-roofed huts. Here is Daniel:

Daniel, classical guitar

Norma, who was still energetic, then took Esther and me to the beach, where the La Mancha Lagoon meets the Gulf of Mexico. This was a couple of miles further down the road. There were some restaurants to one side in beach buildings with thatched roofs.

Restaurants at La Mancha beach

The beach itself looked like this:

La Mancha beach

La Mancha beach, another view

Walking in the sand back to Norma's car we saw these little guys busily cleaning house:

Sand crabs

Then we headed home, which took about an hour. And that is how we spent Sunday July 23, 2006.

Return to Mexico index of my homepage.

Return to my homepage.

Friday, February 9, 2007

cascada post 1

So today I learned that google lets anyone have a blog for free. That's fine. But I'm sure they bought someone out and that worries me a bit. I used once to like microsoft. I still like that Bill Gates puts money and effort to fight malaria and aids and stuff. But google starts to remind me of microsoft and I get a bit worried. Where does the other shoe fall when I set up this brand new free blog with google?

Since this is my very first blog post, with no expectation that I will talk to anyone save myself, I thought I should at least explain why it is called 'cascada'. That is best explained by a picture:

This is the view out my front window that I see every morning when I get up.

'Cascada', as you may know is the Spanish word for waterfalls. Hopefully, if you click on it, it will be 640 by 480 pixels. But I don't know this blog software yet, so who knows.

Anyway, I am retired and live with my wife and with Rita and Louie (mis mascotes) in Mexico in a small place not far from Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz.

Finally, I may as well tell you that using this blogger software has not been fun. It refused to insert the picture after the cursor and instead put it above the first paragraph. I had to cut and paste to get it where I wanted. That caused other problems.

And the preview and published product don't look much alike. Oh well! So far this is not fun, and I may just give it up and and put this on my homepage, without the ability to comment. So if this is the last blog entry from me, that is why.

Here is a picture I took recently in Xalapa. It is on my flickr page.

Scene in Xalapa

It is a photo taken on calle Ursulo Galvan, on the right near the bottom of the hill.