CDMX

Something I didn’t know until recently: Mexico City, which has more autonomy than it used to, is no longer in the Distrito Federal, which it had been since 1824. Two years ago, the federal government of Mexico signed off on a name change, which the city’s government had wanted, to simply Ciudad de México, abbreviated CDMX.

On Wednesday, December 27, Lilly and I flew to Mexico City, returning on New Year’s Day 2018 — or actually early January 2, since the return flight was late. We stayed at a hotel in the Zona Rosa, just south of Paseo de la Reforma, a major thoroughfare, but also within walking distance of the Roma neighborhood.

We spent our time as dyed-in-the-wool, first-time tourists, seeing impressive places and structures, visiting grand museums, walking along interesting streets, eating a variety of food, taking in as much detail as possible.

Considering that Mexico City is a vast megalopolis — all too apparent from the air as we arrived in the daylight and left at night — we experienced only the slimmest sliver. But an endlessly fascinating sliver.

Adding immeasurably to the trip was the fact that my old friend Tom Jones — known him nearly 45 years — was in Mexico City at the same time. In fact, I’d suggested the trip to him on the phone last summer, when I called him to hear about his experience in seeing the eclipse. He’d been a fair number of other places in Mexico over the years, more than I have, but not Mexico City, so he was open to the suggestion.

So the three of us went a lot of places together in the city. Tom has an impulse for photobombing.
The first place Lilly and I went, not long after we had arrived, was the enormous Zocalo (formally the Plaza de la Constitution), which was packed with holiday revelers enjoying a temporary ice-skating rink and amusement-park slides. We circumambulated the square, said to be the second largest in the world after Red Square, and spent some time inside the vaulting Catedral Metropolitana, which opens onto one side of the Zocalo.

The second day, with Tom joining us, was for large museums in the even larger Bosque de Chapultepec, the city’s equivalent of Central Park: the Castillo de Chapultepec, a grand palace along European lines and now a history museum; and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, an epic museum devoted to the many and varied cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico (or more precisely, pre-Cortez).

All that makes for tired feet, so the third day was less intense. Even so, we got a good look at a small part of the charming Coyoacan neighborhood, which includes the Museo Frida Kahlo. The lines were too long to visit Frida, but not to get into the Museo Casa Leon Trotsky a few blocks away.

The next day, December 30, was exhausting, but completely worth all the energy and money we spent, because we got to visit the renowned Teotihuacan, which is to the northeast of the city, in the State of Mexico, and climb its pyramids. From there, we went back into the city to see the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe — the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe — a pilgrimage site I’ve been curious about since I encountered The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Des Plaines.

And as if that wasn’t enough for a day, we returned to Castillo de Chapultepec on the evening of the 30th, along with four of Tom’s friends from Austin who were also visiting Mexico City, for an outdoor performance by the astonishingly talented dancers, singers and musicians of the Ballet Folklórico de México.

On the last day of 2017, we slept fairly late, but were out and about after noon, for a visit to the Palacio de Belles Artes, a striking building with art exhibits and some astonishing murals, especially the Diego Riveras. More Rivera murals were in the offing at the Palacio National, the last large site we visited.

We were tired on the evening of the 31st, but not too tired to walk a few blocks from our hotel to the Paseo de la Reforma. One of the city’s two main New Year’s celebrations was being held around the Angel de la Independencia, a famed gold-colored statue atop a tall column in the center of a Paseo de la Reforma traffic circle. The event featured live music by well-known (I was told) Mexican bands, a countdown just like at Times Square, except in Spanish, and then fireworks: a bang-up way, literally and figuratively, to start 2018.

O Tannenbaum Where Art Thou?

Something I didn’t know before, courtesy of the National Christmas Tree Association: “Christmas Trees were added to the federal agriculture census in 1997, when the responsibility for census shifted from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The agriculture census is conducted every five years.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture results were released by USDA in May 2014.”

That means that for this year’s census, we’ll have to wait until 2019. Then we’ll know for sure whether there was a Christmas tree shortage this year, as has been reported.

The association says: “Recent price increases are due to a tighter supply of harvestable size Christmas trees. The current tight supply situation results from fewer trees being planted 7 to 10 years ago. This was due to a combination of excess supply at that time and the recession both pushing prices downward, along with some growers exiting the business.”

I will say that all of the Christmas tree lots I’ve visited in recent years are gone. Even the nursery that sells trees not too far from my home has none this year. But it didn’t have too many last year.

So this year I went to a big box store, my last resort when it comes to trees. I was late anyway, only getting around to it on Monday. Even that store only had a few. The price was right, though: about $16 plus tax for something not so different from last year’s. Guess the store was trying to get rid of its remaining inventory.

Back to the census. In 2012, there were 309,356 acres of Christmas tree farms nationwide, down from 446,996 in 2002. That could indeed help account for a paucity of trees this year. The number-one state when it comes to acres of Christmas trees under cultivation? Oregon, at more than 53,600. North Carolina is next at about 40,300 acres and then the state I’d have guessed at number one: Michigan, nearly 38,000 acres.

Wyoming is at the bottom at zero acres. Nevada, North Dakota and Oklahoma are all listed as (D) with no explanation. Maybe the data is incomplete. Remarkably, some 52 acres of Christmas trees were cultivated in Hawaii in 2012.

One more thing. The motto of the National Christmas Tree Association is “It’s Christmas. Keep it real.”

Pre-Christmas Christmas Items

Got a card from old friends Wendy and Ted today.

They do amusing handmade cards every year. I like this year’s, but my favorite, which I don’t have handy, was about Santa having to enter the Witness Protection Program.

Earlier this year, when Christmas wasn’t dead ahead, I acquired this card among a mass of old postcards that I bought from a resale shop that was going out of business. I was sorry to see it go, because the resale cartel — Goodwill, Salvation Army — doesn’t seem to deal in postcards.

Sent in Chicago in 1938.

From Dorothy to Violet May — at least I think that’s Violet, not Violit.

The 2300 block of West Montrose, and I assume the sender meant West Montrose, since east would be in the lake, probably doesn’t look so different nearly 80 years later.

One more thing, not related to Christmas, except this is the time of year when new calendars enter the house.

A desk calendar: The JAL Fleet Calendar 2018. It takes a different approach than yesterday’s fastener-oriented calendar, which was full of verbiage to mark the days. Except for making Sundays red, none of the days on the JAL calendar are distinct from any other — no holidays, nothing.

At 3¼ by 6¼ inches, it’s an unusual size, but I think I’ll use the months as they go by for postcards.

Branson 2012

Has it been all of five years since I was last in Branson? Seems that way. Quite a spectacle, that town.

Branson in early November was already lighted for Christmas because the late Andy Williams, Mr. Christmas, had wanted things done up by November 1. So let it be written, so let it be done.

A few trees at Silver Dollar City.

Branson 2012Branson 2012There were other seasonal decorations elsewhere.
Branson 2012Branson 2012And fall foliage in the rolling hills of southern Missouri.
Branson 2012And of course, French millstones.

Branson 2012 - French millstones, College of the Ozarks

What’s a major tourist destination without a few of those lying around?

Halloween ’17

A chilly Halloween. That might account for the seemingly low numbers of kids coming by for candy. As of about 8 p.m., a total of 22. Or maybe that’s about the same as every recent year. I haven’t been counting. This year I decided to, just on a whim.

Ann did not go out. As far as I can tell, no high school kids came by — unless a couple of those tall(ish) skinny kids in one party were in high school, but I took them for junior high.

This is a good development. When we first moved here in the 2000s, high school kids used to show up. But if you’re in high school, you’re too old to trick-or-treat. If it were true 40 years ago, it should still be true.

This year I sprang for a box a full-sized candy bars to give away. A bulk box of Mars products, acquired at a warehouse store: Snickers, Milky Way, M&Ms (plain and peanut) and Twix. A little more expensive, but the leftovers are better. We got an audible reaction sometimes: as two girls walked away, I heard them both squeal, “Full sized!”

A moderately interesting selection of costumes was on display among the kids who came to the door. I didn’t recognize all of them.

“What was that movie, set in Hawaii, with an alien and a girl?” I asked Ann.

I think I took Lilly to see it when she was four. Or maybe we saw it on tape. Anyway, I couldn’t remember the title, but I remembered what the character looked like. I assumed Ann had seen it at some point. I was right.

Lilo and Stitch.”

“Right. That kid had a Stitch costume on, though the hood wasn’t up.”

The very first kid, a little boy of about three with his mother at the door, wore some kind of blue dinosaur outfit. At least the purple dinosaur seems to be dead and gone. (Or is he?) Years ago, 1998 or ’99 I think, a little kid in a strikingly full Teletubbies costume came to the door. I expect he’s a grown man now. I hope his parents took pictures of his foray into Teletubbie-ness to embarrass him occasionally.

Like I documented Lilly in her paper space armor, ca. 2001.

She didn’t actually wear that trick-or-treating, though she could have. If I remember right, it came folded up in a Japanese magazine. Unfold it and you have a cheap costume.

Later a somewhat older boy came by fully dressed as Flash. Other kids mostly wore head pieces for the desired effect: a pirate hat, mouse ears, a karate band, a flower crown and antlers — a nice array, but odd — and a girl in a zebra coat and… a pork pie hat?

I didn’t get a good look at it, but that was my impression. Maybe that’s just because I finished Breaking Bad not long ago. And I don’t remember any zebra coats in that show. Could be from a kid’s show I know nothing about. There’s an increasing number of those, and I don’t mind.

Slacking Off For Summer

Back to posting around July 9. These mid-summer days — Juneteenth, the Solstice, Canada Day (150 this year), the Fourth of July — ought to be the High Summer Holidays here in North America.

Days when, if you have the time and inclination, you can watch the clouds drift by.
The sky is gray and white and cloudy

Or listen to silly electronic entertainment. Technically, we aren’t in the Silly Season, which is late August. But maybe like Christmas, the season creeps forward.

Here’s a song in the big genre of songs known as “nonsense.” Artful nonsense, but still nonsense. Thus the video that goes with this cover is just right for it.

I had no idea until recently that anyone had done a cover of “Turning Japanese,” much less the fetching Kirsten Dunst. Lately I’ve been watching her do a fine turn in the second season of Fargo, and she also did well as Marion Davies in The Cat’s Meow.

Maunday Thursday Misc.

A good Easter to all. Back on Easter Monday, which is a holiday in a fair number of countries, so why not here? Or at least something like in Buffalo, which seems to celebrate a thing called Dyngus Day.

The other day I noticed that I’ve nearly made 1,000 postings here. Not quite, but getting there. WordPress helpfully tells me the Top 10 Categories (out of 15, not counting Uncategorized) among all those posts.

Been There (526)
History (227)
Entertainment (160)
Over the Transom (152)
Public Art (105)
Food & Beverage (102)
Weather (100)
Family (83)
Holidays (66)
News (65)

I guess it’s fitting that Been There is first. It’s in the title, after all. Over the Transom is a little tricky: that’s any fool thing that comes my way without any plan, so it covers a lot of ground. Otherwise, I won’t put much stock in the ranking. For instance, I’ve posted more about weather than my family, but that hardly means I care more about the weather than them.

This made me laugh. Jonah Goldberg on the Trump administration: “I feel like I’m watching a Fellini movie without subtitles: I have no idea what’s going on.”

Here are some things young women get up to in Brooklyn. Or did in 2011.

Something to see in Denver. For the colorful art work, of course.

And maybe there is something new under the sun.

Lull-Time Entertainment

We opened our presents early on the morning of December 22, since Yuriko and Ann were off to Japan later that day. Christmas itself passed quietly, though we did prepare a nice dinner. As for New Year’s Eve, Lilly went out with friends — as you should do at 19 — while I stayed home with the dog, a more fitting evening for middle age.

In between those moments, work slacked off, and I enjoyed the lull. Among other things, Lilly and I watched various TV shows when she was home, such as episodes of Frasier (it holds up well) and the newer and considerably different, but also very funny Louie. I also had her watch the “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

We saw an episode of Bob’s Burgers that involved a gingerbread house contest. Could those really exist? I asked myself later. Yes indeed. Just Google “gingerbread contest” or the like and you get many hits about various events, such as the 2016 National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, held just before Thanksgiving.

“It all began with a small group of gingerbread houses built by community members in 1992 as another way to celebrate the holiday season with no plans to continue the following year,” says the competition’s web site. “There was no possible way to know that more than two decades later The Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition™ would be one of the nation’s most celebrated and competitive holiday events.”

We’ve tried to build those things before. We aren’t dedicated much to the task, so it usually ends up more like a gingerbread trailer park after a tornado.

On the evening before New Year’s Eve, Lilly and I went into the city to see The Christmas Schooner on stage at the Mercury Theater, a mid-sized Chicago venue on the North Side not affiliated with Orson Welles that I know of.

The play is a musical set in the 1880s, involving a German-immigrant ship captain in Manistique, Mich., who hits on the idea of shipping Christmas trees to Germans in Chicago. The trouble is, sailing on Lake Michigan in late November/early December is dangerous, especially in the days of small wooden vessels and no weather reports. Eventually the captain goes down with his ship but his widow and son figure out a way to keep the trade going. The story is a fictionalized account of the real Christmas tree trade between the UP and Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which claimed a number of ships and men, notably the Rouse Simmons, which went down with all hands in Lake Michigan in late 1912.

I’ve long been impressed by the level of talent involved in the Chicago theater, and The Christmas Schooner was no exception. The acting, singing and dancing — or rather, motions on the stage, not a lot of formal dancing — were all first rate. It reminded me that I need to see more live theater in the city, now that the logistics of parenthood isn’t quite as complicated as it used to be.

Xmas Oddities

From the December 21, 1976 episode of Laverne & Shirley, “Christmas at the Booby Hatch” or “Oh Hear the Angels’ Voices.”

Featuring Michael McKean (Lenny) and David L. Lander (Squiggy). I don’t think I saw it 40 years ago — I only watched the show intermittently — but nothing every really goes away on the Internet.

Next, “Ríu Ríu Chíu,” as sung by the Monkees on their show on Christmas Day 1967.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t see that when originally shown either. But it was an inspired choice for the Prefab Four.

Finally, something not about Christmas: “Sailing to Philadelphia” (2000), sung by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor. It’s about Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason.

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
The Mason-Dixon Line

Just how many songs are there about the Mason-Dixon Line? One, anyway. I happened across it not long ago. A delightful discovery.