Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Greetings

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mariposa Migration

Mariposa means butterfly in Spanish. Today we traveled about seventy miles into mountains east of Morelia in order to climb to the remote spot where most of the Monarch butterflies from North America spend the winter. We parked in an area of rustic but beautiful high altitude farms. Then, with a rag tag crowd of other visitors, mostly from Mexico, we huffed and puffed up another thousand feet or so through white pine forest into the firs favored by the Monarchs, topping out at about 10,500 feet. Suddenly, we began to see a few butterfies, on the ground slumbering or climbing on our clothes or faces. This young Mexican boy seemed to draw the butterflies.
But the butterflies on the wing are only a tiny percent of the Monarchs overwintering in this small mountain zone. We could look into the fir forests and see branches of trees weighed down by thousands of butterflies clustered together. This clustering in the winter allows the monarchs to sustain a state of semi-dormancy until it is time to return north in the spring. This curious quirk of nature was only described to the world in 1976, in a memorable article in National Geographic. Naturally, the locals had known about the butterflies forever.
With binoculars we could see the incredibly intricate and varied pattern made by thousands and thousands of wings in such a small space. We couldn't get close enough to photograph this ourselves, nor could we understand the complexity of the Monarch's migration pattern without help. This final photo comes from Monarch Watch, an excellent web site where you can read more about this quirk of nature.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Morelia: Old and New

Daily life here is a strange mix. We attend classes and study Spanish with vigor; much of the rest of the day we attend to the most basic of chores like cleaning, laundry, shopping and cooking. We shop in chaotic and lively central city markets, but occasionally take a taxi to the Superama or Gigante, the 21st century supermarkets at the edge of the city. We poke around three and four hundred year old buildings, then come back to our apartment and poke around the internet. Did we say this before – it’s a rich stew.
Last weekend, we journeyed to Patzcuaro and other places to the west of Morelia. We learned a lot about the pre-Spanish culture here, but also were introduced to the late 19th century artist and satirist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, who used the traditions of Mexican, Catholic, and indigenous culture at the time of Pancho Villa to make a new set of symbols that have come to seem familiar even to us Nordamericanos.

"I write because I am afraid of being forgotten."
From the Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech of Orhan Pamuk, as posted on, 20 December, 2006.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Morelia: Saturday Night

Just before nine on Saturday night, the main street of Morelia, in front of the Cathedral, is closed off to cars. Crowds flow into the newly opened space, and watch as the dramatic choral music begins, as the flood lights illuminating the catheral are turned on, and as fireworks explode. This goes on for only ten or fifteen minutes, but it is infinitely satisfying, like a dramatic punto - full stop - for the week.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Life in Morelia: Water

Each day in Mexico, we learn new things, about Mexican politics, colonial history, Spanish verbs and local vegetables – so much so that we are hard pressed to organize our impressions. So we take great pleasure in the very simple business of living in a truly Mexican neighborhood, where we are close to the school and can get to know the local shops and churches and characters (more later).
This is a densely populated area, and only by climbing up to the second or third floor can we begin to see exactly what is packed into each square block. We took the photo above from the roof of one of our school buildings (the terra-cotta colored building on the left is more of the school, and the place where our classes are held). While looking out from this vantage point, we noticed all the round jars and tanks on the rooftops you can see in the photo – some very handsome. Later we learned that each dwelling or business has its own rooftop water tank. The pressure and supply in the city water system is inconsistent, so each building has its own system to pump up city water when possible, keeping a full tank and delivering water to the taps and toilets below via gravity.
This all seems to work, even if the flow is a little less robust than back in the land of pressurized water systems. Technologically less sophisticated, maybe, but elegant in its own way. And you have to love those great big round jars.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Los estudiantes

It is a quiet Sunday morning along the streets of Morelia, as you can see in the photo. Today it is clear, and the air is crisp and chilly; we can sense the high altitude (we are above 6000 feet here). Weekdays, the city wakes early, and there is dense traffic everywhere, even along our narrow street. The air quickly turns murky with exhaust. Happily the drivers are patient and usually generous to pedestrians. Sunday morning is quieter.
Quiet is a relative term, since December 12th is the fiesta for the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, and all week there have been special church services and gatherings. Fireworks are set off at odd hours, beginning as early as 6 am and continuing until well after dark. So on top of the cacophony of daily street life there are sporadic booms that shake the walls and rattle our concentration.
Our daily routine revolves around Spanish classes, which occupy the morning and early afternoon, and roaming around the city. We are pleased and impressed with the classes, which are moving along at a challenging pace. Already we can make ourselves better understood in the markets and other conversations. Both of us find that searches for Spanish words have crept into our dreams. This little monk decorates one of the doors in the school – maybe he is a patron saint of los estudiantes. Regardless, we are immersed in Morelia, and finding it remarkable.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Introduction to Morelia

Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
N 19°42.05
W 101°11.12
Early Saturday morning, after a night flight from Portland, we unlocked the door to our apartment in Morelia. Just a corner of the door and the front window of our apartment show in this sketch made in the inner courtyard.
We are housed in an old but recently renovated building in Morelia’s historic Centro, a town center which is amazingly intact and made up of buildings dating as far back as the sixteenth century, all of the city center being a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Note for the Google Earth users: the lat and long above will put you right above our building, and give you an idea of the density and unformity of the center of Morelia.)
Saturday and Sunday we walked for miles, exploring markets and restaurants and providing ourselves with basics for cooking, studying, and relaxing here. We are, of course, on information overload, but here are a few things that have amazed us: One, we see hardly any Gringos; there are tourists here, but they are mostly Mexican, visiting from the rest of the country. Two, we must speak Spanish, or we won’t discover how to cook these beautiful vegetables and fruits. Three, in terms of the street life, events scheduled, and the way people dress and move about, this seems a very cosmopolitan place (there are three universities in Morelia, and it is the capitol of the state of Michoacán - perhaps this explains why).
Today, Monday, was our first day of classes. Best thing we learned was the Spanish word for being retired – jubilado – seems just right.
Special note to Rob – we lost your e-mail address. And we want to be in touch. Please post it here, or send it to us at the Captain’s OHSU address.