Grasshopper’s Hill, the Carmelites and Santa Fé 

What a funny title is that. What do these words have in common? Some of you will already know what I’m referring to while others will know what it is. Last weekend, one of the quietest ones in Mexico City we decided to do some sightseeing in the city.

We started on the 25th of December to the South of the city and drove through an almost empty Avenida Revolución to San Ángel, which is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in town. This neighborhood is well known for its beautiful colonial buildings, its buganvillea leaning on the walls and its baroque churches. We left the car in an almost empty plaza and started our walking tour. On such a day Mexicans have a very late breakfast and usually visit their relatives to have the rest of the Christmas dinner warmed up, that we called Recalentado. The Christmas Eve dinner usually consists of dried cod fish in a tomato, caper, potatoes and chilies sauce called Vizcaina style or Basque style, remembering our heritage. There is a very traditional dish made of shrimp dumplings in a mole sauce with a vegetable called “romerito” because it resembles the Rosemary bush used in the Mediterranean kitchen. However, it has no aroma. These are usually very hot. There may be a real big turkey or maybe something else, besides the “Christmas salad” that has to contain apples and nuts. My grandmother had another version which contained red beets, oranges, peanuts and some sweets called colación… a strange and sweet mixture.

You can imagine that after these delicacies and a lot of noise present in every Mexican celebration, on the morning of the 25th everything is very calm… Silent morning, instead of silent night

We walked and passed at least two small squares full of Poinsettias and then got to a side entrance that didn´t really show where it was leading to. We entered the porch and reached the atrium with very big figures made of pottery representing the Nativity. We then heard people praying and a priest officiating Christmas mass. We got closer and went inside the church, a beautiful colonial church with a golden altar called San Jacinto. This church was built in the 17th century by Carmelites monks. This Catholic church has beautiful gardens in the front part and is very popular for weddings and baptisms. We stayed for a while enjoying the ceremony and the warm voice of the priest.

Yard

Inner yard, San Jacinto in San Àngel

Belén

The Nacimiento or Belén

We left San Jacinto and walked through the irregular streets of San Angel imagining the insides of the mansions we walked by. Some have enormous gardens where you could get lost in and many of them have huge libraries with all kinds of books…

We got into a small shop, the only one opened, and admire some handicrafts. However, we were not in the mood for shopping. We crossed the avenue and got into the yard of the El Carmen complex. This areal includes the church with its beautiful 3 domes covered in yellow tiles, the former monastery and religious school building. This monastery is now a museum and is very famous for its mummies in the basement. We didn´t visit it because it was closed for the holiday. But we will come back.

Leaving this beautiful neighborhood we drove southwards on one of the longest avenues in the city, Insurgentes. We reached a huge entrance that let us to a newer shopping center with restaurants, cinemas an amusement area for children, a Catholic chapel and a small park. This place used to be a paper factory, Peña Pobre, that merged with another paper industry called Loreto, so that they were known under the name Loreto y Peña Pobre. Nowadays it’s this new outside mall called Plaza Inbursa, a big Insurance company. Times change and investors, too.

We were amazed because besides the very big parking lot and park area there is this beautiful old central building with a light ceiling that lets in the light. There are the usual shops and well known restaurants, but they are well integrated in the area and we had a very good meal in one of those.

Next morning we had breakfast in a ‘Vintage Green’ coffee shop in La Condesa. The place is nicely decorated with wood, plants and wine bottles. There are vegetarian and even vegan dishes and we thought of coming back with one of my brothers for a gluten free meal. After a delicious coffee, hot chocolate, bread and eggs… for two, we continued our walk to Chapultepec park or the park with the grasshoppers’ hill. It was close enough for a walk, but the difficult part was to cross the three or four lane streets surrounding the park. Finally, we made it and got to the park. This is the biggest “lung” in the city and it has always existed. I mean, the area, the hill and the water were there in prehispanic times. The name is nahuatl or the language that the last civilization in the Mexican valley before the Spanish conquerors arrived in the 15 hundreds spoke. At that time the valley contained a huge lake where the Mexicas or Aztects built there first city in the 13 hundreds. The park the way we see it was made a park at the beginnings of the 20th century and the zoo was created. There is also the famous Castle of Chapultepec on the hill of the grasshoppers, that was the royal residence of Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife Carlota in the 2nd half of the 18th century. As we may remember, his reign was very brief and he was executed by the Mexican forces in 1867 in Queretaro. Carlota went crazy or had a monster depression and left for Europe where she was kept in a closed castle. There is a very good book telling this part of Mexican and European history called “Noticias del Imperio”, Fernando del Paso, who presents an accurate and interesting view of that time. More information on the Castle, click here.

To get to the top of the hill you can take a small train up and down. From the top you can get a beautiful view of the city and of the park with its small lake.

We went down and started walking through one of the main streets inside the park. However, we hot the feeling of walking in a marketplace of Asia or the Orient. There are hundreds of people selling their merchandise shouting to praise their goods: Globoooos, refrescos pa’ la sed, paleeeeeetaaas, algodones, quesadillas,,tacos and, and, and… My daughter just shouted: ‘ You made my day!’, when she saw the cotton candy machine and the cotton candy in all rainbow colors almost the size of a tree 😉 We had to buy a purple one that matched the color of her boots!

Chapultepec

Cotton candy and more in Chapultepec park

We then tried to reach the zoo entrance, but the many booths selling all kind of stuff to the people who were arriving at the park made our goal almost impossible and we decided to take a side way close to the zoo and left Chapultepec.

The third free day we had for the Christmas holidays we decided to drive to the Mecca of modern Shopping in the city: the famous and very popular Santa Fé neighborhood. It’s in the west part of the city that has become a very important business district. Many of the skyscrapers contribute to the attractive landscape with its original architecture. The Santa Fe shopping center is one of the biggest in Latin America. This part of the city is like being in the United States and it represents a big contrast to the Colonial Mexico and a bigger one to the pre-Columbian ruins scattered in the city.

Plaza Santa Fe

Santa Fe Shopping Mall

Good or bad, but visiting this mall you are not really shopping in the ‘Third World’. However, it also shows that the world is globalized and is getting very homogeneous… or maybe boring?

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No cow, no horns

Have you ever heard of a city called “Cow horns” or something like that? There is a beautiful city only about 80 km from Mexico City, on the way to the Pacific Ocean, called Cuernavaca.

Who thought of calling it that way? Are there many cows around? No, no cows. It was the way the Spaniards in the 16th century understood the name of the Aztec town which was called “Cuauhnáhuac”. This means “by the woods” in náhuatl, the language mostly spoken in the central part of Mexico and that had extended to the South of the country reaching even Central America.

Cuernavaca is known for its fabulous weather, never cold, never too hot, because of its privileged situation. It lies at about 1510 m above sea level. That’s why in the 19th Century Alexander von Humboldt called it the “city of eternal Spring”.

Last week we went on a short trip to stay there for a long weekend. The highway to Cuernavaca is usually very crowded on the weekends so we decided to leave in the early Friday afternoon making a stop at “Three Marys ” or the real name “Tres Marías” at about 3500 m above sea level. This stop is almost a must for everyone traveling that highway. There are hundreds of small booths, or mini-restaurants offering all kinds of Mexican delicacies served in tortillas or in other specialties made of corn flour. We ordered delicious quesadillas filled with cheese, the classical version and that’s why they are called that way. You may also order others filled with potatoes, beans, chicharrón that is “roasted pig skin”, a very hot sauce and fresh avocado. I promise, if you don’t know what “chicharrón” is, try it, you’ll love it.

After our break we continued on the highway to Cuernavaca. The highway is one of the best in the area and, without consideration of some of the not so experienced drivers, you’ll feel quite safe.  Mexicans are very brave, proud and family loving. They won’t hesitate taking their whole family, including the parrot and the dog, to spend a warm and sunny weekend in Cuernavaca. They also have a deep faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron virgin of Mexico, and counting on her help, they will drive their old cars with almost no brakes… Don’t be afraid, there are emergency lanes in the highways surrounding Mexico city especially marked as “Emergency route for cars with no breaks” =:-O

On the other hand you’ll find some of the Mexicans on the other side of the wealth scale driving their powerful German cars or motorcycles. I always think that the Virgin always has to be very busy…

An hour or so later we arrived with no problem to our destination, a nice neighborhood South of Cuernavaca and we spent the afternoon by the pool with a perfect view of the valley.

On the next morning after an excellent breakfast at home we drove downtown. My brother was a little bit afraid of our sightseeing tour because there have been some violent incidents in the city in the past year. However, we decided to go anyway as it was during the day, not by night.

Our first stop was at the “Palacio de Cortés” that is now the Museum of the State of Morelos.  This magnificent palace was built by Hernán Cortés as one of the official residences of the Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, himself, in 1535 and is one of the oldest residencial buildings in colonial Mexico.

Museo del Edo. de Morelos

Palacio de Cortés

The building itself reminded me of the medieval castles in Spain with some characteristics of the Arab architecture. It displays an array of objects from the prehistory to the contemporary rural state of Morelos. The most interesting work to me was the mural painting of Diego Rivera, showing the different stages of the “Conquista” starting from the arrival of the first Spanish conquerors to the Mexican Revolutions with its heroes Emiliano Zapata and José María Morelos. This Mexican state is named after him.

We left the museum with a mixed feeling of proudness and shame, and maybe only my Mexican readers will know what I mean…

We continued walking one of the main streets and entered a recent opened museum for modern Mexican Indian folk art, (Mmmmh, how do I translate this: Museo de arte Indígena Contemporáneo?)  It was too new and only the shop and the library were open. What a pity!

We walked to the Cathedral of Cuernavaca, dedicated to the assumption of Mary (la Asunción de María) that was built as a convent in 1537. We were quite shocked with the masses of young people and the food booths in the yard, but what shocked us the most was the pop music that was being played with very loud bass tones.

Yard

Inner yard

IMG_2616

The Cathedral

We walked through the gardens and entered the main building. What a surprise! There are very old wall paintings depicting the missionaries on their ships and boats cruising the ocean to the Americas.  We could also appreciate the first “Mexican” cherubs in the walls. The indians had to learn the sculpting techniques used in Europe at that time, 16th century, and decorated the monuments, created in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Virreinato de la Nueva España), that way. Some of the oldest ones are found here.

cherubs

Cherubs in the New World

However, it is a shame that the Catholic church abuses its power and organizes such big events in the Cathedral. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that they are destroying our historical patrimony with their parties. They had extremely loud music with the loudest speakers and sound mixing machines under the arches of the main building making everything vibrate and reverberate, not only our stomachs. Besides that, they also took down a wooden sculpture of a saint with no care, damaging the fragile wooden hands. It is valid to try to engage the youngsters and to give strength to their faith, but aren’t there any other safer places in town?

Worried and fascinated we left the Cathedral to walk to the “Jardínes de la Borda”, a nice house with a magnificent garden with all kinds of flowers and plants of the region. They were originally built by a rich miner José de la Borda of Taxco, the Silver City. This big house with its gardens were used later on as the weekend house of Maximilian of Habsburg and Charlotte of Belgium, later of Mexico. Though they couldn’t enjoy their residence for a long time…

It was quite hot and sunny so we decided to take a break and have lunch at a nice restaurant, called Hidalgo, just in front of the museum. I was a little skeptical because very often the eating places close to main attractions are not the best ones. However, I trusted my brother and we went there. It was the best choice we could have made! The food was excellent and we sat outside with a nice view of the Palacio de Cortés and to the small plaza next door. We had the best “sopes” ever! Sopes are made of corn flour, but they are smaller and thicker than tortillas. Some were mixed with black beans and other were mixed with baked banana, simply delicious! We also had some tacos with salmon “pastor style” and as a main course white fish in a mango sauce cooked in a big banana leaf and some tender grilled beef with guacamole. All this with a light rosé Mexican wine. Excellent!

Afterwards we decided not to walk very far, we couldn’t have done it after our meal 😉 We stayed for a while in the plaza with huge trees enjoying the live music, the dancing people, the smells of corn and sweets and the fair that took place there that weekend.

IMG_2633

Sweet and more in the plaza

We got home very happy with our tour and continued talking about what we had seen by the pool…

The fly that steals butter

A dear friend of mine, who loves German same as I do, read my last post on the butterfly. She dug around finding the German word ‘Schmetterling’ as very hard. She came across the etymology of the word and found out that the word ‘schmetten’ derives from a Czech word that is used to designate a type of cream. This linguistic road meets the English one, if we think of a ‘butterfly’. In old folk stories butterflies turned into witches and stole cream, milk and dairy products!  It’s really funny that in this case the development of the word almost turned into a cruel joke. Everyone forgot about the fairy tales and nowadays we may only think of the other similar term, schmettern, that can be associated with the battering of a butterfly 🙂

 

A modern family

Family, a nice and warm word in every language and in every culture.Who do you consider as being part of your family? Does a family have to be based on blood bonds? How much does culture and the country we live in affect our view of family? If you’re married or live with a partner, do your “in-laws” have become your family? Questions and more questions…

Some families are traditional and include mother, father and children. Depending on the culture you may include the grandparents or even a wider circle, the so called extended family. The traditional role of the father being the head of the family was found in the pater familias in the Roman society. He was the oldest male in the family and he was responsible for everyone under his roof. When he died, the oldest next male would inherit the role.

Image from classicsalaromana.blogspot.com

Paterfamilias

 (Image from: classicsalaromana.blogspot.com)

How has this changed in our modern society? Parents and children still living at home are considered to be the basic unit or the nuclear family. I think you all know a lot of examples of this constellation in your own families or with your close friends. Traditional ways have changed and couples don’t always marry and have children. There are lots of families consisting only of mother and child or children. Others, not so many, with only father and children. In our society we have now a mosaic of constellations and many different combinations, some of them known as patchwork families. The number of children that a couple has has also changed considerably. In the seventies three female friends of my mum had 7 children each, which meant, 21 little persons!  I also had friends in school who had five, six, seven or more siblings and who looked strangely at my brother and me for being only two. Imagine the compassionate sights that someone who was an only child would get… It wasn’t very well seen if couples decided to remain childless. Everyone in the family would like to intervene and give good advice on how to solve that nuisance.

I spent my childhood with my younger brother surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles and other friends of the family that we used to call “aunt” or “uncle. However, the first change in this relationships was when my parents divorced. I was in my early teens and at that time it was not very wise to tell everyone that you were a child of a divorced marriage… So we had to learn to keep our profile low 😉 and not to tell everyone about it. It was a difficult time and the fact of “hiding” something as heavy as that caused us for sure unseen trouble…

In the 21 century I sometimes wonder at the couples that are still married…  I’m not saying that staying married is the best way of living. No, I think that when a relationship doesn’t work anymore, it is the best to speak things out and to look for the best solution. If the best solution is to go apart, then do it. I remember some of my relatives who kept their marriages and were scattering bitterness and unhappy feeling all around. I believe in trying to talk and communicate to look for the best solution, and if needed, looking for external qualified help would be a way to improve a damaged relationship.

In my family there are a lot of couples older and younger ones that have split. The reasons are as varied as you can imagine. However, this is only a supposition, when my parents were young they had no time to get to know each other, there was no way of being alone with your partner and of course, living together without being married was impossible. Nowadays this has changed, but…  In spite of this, we still have a high rate of divorce. The couples that are not married “simply” split, without counting in the statistics of divorces… What is the the best way? Getting or not getting married? I leave it up to you and to your beliefs that will have a big influence in your decisions.

Image from  http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/File:Family_Christmas_portrait.jpg

The Simpsons

(Image from: http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/File:Family_Christmas_portrait.jpg)

Families, large, small, traditional. modern, patchwork… Some of us have been living for a long time in another place far away from the close family. Some of us were accepted by the in-laws as part of the family and we have tried to integrate in a family with other traditions and ways of doing things very different to ours… Can you imagine? Right, it requires a lot of effort, patience and good will on both sides. If you are not married or live in a partnership, who is then your family?  Sometimes we find a new family in a group of dear friends that to a certain amount share our condition. And can you count your pets as family? Sure, why not, if you don’t expect help to carry the groceries, of course you can. They give you love and comfort without asking for much.

In my case, my mother and brother formed a nuclear family and we included our grandfather, my mother’s father, as the pater familias for certain things. Nevertheless, my mother was a very independent woman who worked and was successful in her job.

My father always tried to keep contact. Although at the beginning our relationship was tense, I continued seeing him and I am very glad that he always insisted on seeing us. The shock of my parents divorced was followed by a very positive event in my life. My father formed a second family and I now have five more siblings. We didn’t grow up together, but we are now very close. When I say how many siblings I have, I now get the sight the other way around, people staring at me and asking: “Really? Do you have six siblings?” Especially, people in Germany where a lot of singles decide to stay that way and have no children.

As I was mentioning before, families with lots of children were quite common in the seventies. There were many TV-shows featuring big families such as “The Brady Bunch”, “The Partridge Family” among others. I also remember an old movie (1968) with Lucille Ball, “Yours, Mine and Ours”, about a patch work family. “http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063829/

In our modern television we now find a reflection of family life in many shows. A very popular one, “Modern family” with the divorced mature father, who is marred to a young and sex wife with a single child. His children are adults and have their own families. The daughter married very young and has now two daughters and a son. His son is gay, has a partner and they both want to adopt a baby. It’s a very funny American comedy show to have a light time and a good laugh.

There are other current shows that include all family members in the stories and are very successful, cops, mafiosi, etc… Even vampire TV shows rely on families to keep the audience interested.

Image from  http://www.impawards.com/tv/modern_family_ver3_xlg.html

Modern Family

(Image from:http://www.impawards.com/tv/modern_family_ver3_xlg.html)

In our family we also have dark secrets, lighter stories, sad endings, happy outcomes, and everything that keeps us together. I would love to tell you more about every single one of my siblings and relatives, but if I do so, I may end up with a single cat as my family. That’s why I prefer not to reveal so much, but, if you continue reading my blog, you may know a little bit more… I promise 😉

Nice to meet you

If you had the opportunity to meet someone meaningful to you, who would it be? Let’s say you get the one in a life time chance of meeting your idol, your guide, your inspiration, could you name this person? There may be interesting people you’d like to meet and you start looking for a way of meeting a special person… or maybe you just prefer to stay in your comfort zone and don’t want to risk a disappointment…

Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados

Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados

Let’s suppose you know of a guy who has a very old car, hasn’t got many days vacation, but has a great wish. He wants to meet the person who has inspired him to become a good teacher and to motivate the youth to follow their ideals.  This is the story of an English teacher in South Spain living in the sixties who desperately wanted to talk to the one and only John, John Lennon. On his way he offers a ride to two young people, who could even be his pupils, and starts his journey from Central Spain to the South. It’s a funny, warm, original story to be seen in the movie “Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados”, from David Trueba.

 

Javier Cámara plays the teacher, Natalia de Molina the young woman and Francesc Colomer, the boy. Thanks to a very good friend of mine, I could watch the German premiere of this film during the Munich Film Festival.

David Trueba

David Trueba, Film Festival Munich

Link to the Film

Who would I like to meet? And especially what for? To talk about what? Would I have the guts to talk and ask questions or would I just stare at my idol? Good questions and no easy answers. Would I like to meet a writer? Maybe, but if I think of many of them, I see them when they are famous and a little bit arrogant. I was thinking about Oscar Wilde, Ernst Hemingway, Johann Goethe, Miguel de Cervantes or William Shakespeare… Maybe a woman would be more interesting and less imposing to me… Mmmm, the feminist who didn’t consider herself one, Simone de Beauvoir? Or may be a contemporary writer of crime novels like Elizabeth George? Or maybe the Lady of Crime Agatha Christie?

Thinking of more altruistic topics, would I maybe like to have met Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi? Mmmm, I don’t know, and I couldn’t imagine what to say. Let’s try another field: politics. How about having met Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher or even Hillary Clinton or the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel? Well, difficult to tell. Some male politicians, let’s see… Obama, Clinton (but not alone in his office ;-)) or some rather unpopular like Vladimir Putin? Mmmm, the name makes me think of fiction. How about meeting someone who only exists in fiction… Dracula or Mr. Darcy? Oh, and I forgot to mention the scientists par excellance, Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, or  Dr. Koch? Mmm, I still don’t know.

Do you really have one public person that has inspired you that much? Apple fans wouldn’t doubt and would arrange a meeting with Steve Jobs whereas the opposite party would immediately say, nonsense, let’s talk to Bill Gates. In the financial area, you would maybe think of an interview with Warren Buffet or in Germany, with the founders of the successful chain Aldi, North and South…

We all have our preferences and some artistic persons would maybe chose a painter or a musician or orchestra director. However, I still find it  very difficult to decide what I would like to ask to or talk about with that person.

Now let’s make it more difficult. Let’s suppose that you are given 10 minutes to talk to whomever you would like to, ignoring distances, time, countries and other physical impediments, who would you like to spend those 10 minutes with?… The chosen one would know the weight and importance they may have in your life. Would you decide based on love, your job, admiration, importance, curiosity?

What questions would you ask? I hope you’re not thinking of getting the autograph of a pop star… or the used socks of a guitar player… Yuk!

Sometimes we have exactly 10 minutes to say something nice, something meaningful to someone at our side, let it be a loved one, a colleague, a neighbor or someone we have just met. How often do we rather stay still and don’t say anything at all?

Thinking about this I remember another film I saw during the Film Festival in Munich, it is called ‘the Seagull’ and is inspired on the play by Anton Tchechov. The plot is transported to New England and it shows how a family interacts without really communicating. Many truths are kept hidden and things that had to be said are never mentioned. This leads to a knot in the relationships and a very conflicted familiar situation.

There was a first filmed version inspired on the play from 1968 directed by Sidney Lumet, but the critics weren’t that good. This new version was released in the US in Spring 2014 directed by Christian Camargo with an interesting cast. The film is also known as “Days and Nights” and was filmed in Connecticut showing New England of the 80’s.. The cast and crew lived all there and got to get the surrounding very well. Even the music producer, Claire van Kampen, lived there and managed to create an impressive musical setting for the picture integrating the physical atmosphere by the lake with the sounds of a warm cello.

Link to the Film The Sea Gull

Back to communication and talking in a family. There are families in which there is a continuous flow of words, meaningless, but continuous. How many long time couples have you observed that have long conversations about absurd themes like ‘the color of the stone that will be laying close to the entrance door’ Topics that may cause distress or pain are not addressed or only slightly touched, like a breeze…

Addressing and talking about distressing topics, mainly about feelings, is usually difficult and requires a lot of courage. Some people go through life dodging difficulties and running away from pain and trouble.

To be able to grow we need to bravely put on with difficulties and if they involve more the one, trying to talk and listening to all parties.

Does this sound very dogmatic? It may… But looking around, even at a level where world conflicts, like the Gaza Conflict and the problems between Ucrania and Russia, are threatening our peace, we should remember this…

Have a communicative time!

Reloaded or Version 2.0?

What does reloaded really mean? Is it a remake? A new interpretation of something? Where does it come from? Another way of saying that something is a new version of something is to add 2.0. to its name. These are very new terms that have become so popular the they are even combined with classical themes.

Lats Friday I was at the premiere of Swan Lake Reloaded, an encounter of street dance and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. I hadn’t read any kind of critique or description before because I wanted to be surprised. I praise myself of being open-minded and what came really was something different.

http://www.swan-lake-reloaded.de

The show is Fredrik Rydman’s Swedish techno remix of the Tchaikovsky’s classic. Not only the music was remixed, the story was ‘modernized’, if you can call it that way. The play is full of coarse elements and the motto ‘sex sells’ applies ideally to this reloaded version. The story is loaded with “funny banana” allusions to the masculine organ while the swans have dedicated themselves to ‘the oldest profession in the world’. Rothbart is a drug dealing pimp and the prince is a softy guy. You have to know the original story to be able to follow this 2.0 version. Does reloaded have to be equal to coarse?

The music has a strong electro beat and is loud. Not every piece in the show is from the original ballet, they’ve included songs with interesting texts and sung by a nice woman’s voice.  The songs reminded me of alternative rock music.

To the visuals in the show, the choreography was very bright, lots of light effects, and a great visual simulation with lights and smoke at the beginning to set the time to our modern age. This very new age world with is street scenes almost always in black and white is in opposition with a scenery that reminded me of Paris, Toulouse Lautrec and the cancan. In this case, the music matched the era and it was bright and funny. The dancers were in big red “business” suits and they were performing with elements of street dance. Some of these scenes were also like a circus performance with circus humor.

During the show I had one or two good laughs. One was with ‘La Cucaracha’ reloaded, not the music, but the visuals. I don’t want to tell you more in case you watch the show… Another one was with the way the swans were dressed and especially with their white wigs… I made a note in my mind not to buy cheap hairdryers or I would end up looking like “a crazy swan”.

Image from Swan Lake Reloaded.de

A white Swan from Swan Lake Reloaded

All in all, this remake of the Swan Lake made me think of the Swan Lake Ballet in a psychiatric clinic, more or less… The play uses successfully the element of surprise presenting what you don’t expect to see or to listen to. It’s a big show, but neither the story reloaded nor the dancing left me an unforgettable impression.  I found the technical elements very impressive same as the price of the ticket, really impressive, too. ^^

One of the modern interpretations of the Swan Lake that I prefer is the talented interpretation by the “Taller Coreográfico de la UNAM” (National University in Mexico City) of Gloria Contreras and her creative and sensitive choreographies.

TCUNAM Swan Lake

Swan Lake by Gloria Contreras

http://www.tcunam.org/bienvenida.cfm

However, after the show we went to have a glass of wine and something to eat at the restaurant next to the theatre. The theatre is called “Prinzregenten” and it is one of the biggest theater houses in Munich.

http://www.prinzregententheater.de/de/willkommen.html

The restaurant was the best surprise of the evening. It is beautifully decorated and was almost empty although it was a Friday evening. In other places in Munich it is impossible to get ‘spontaneously’, with no previous reservation, a table for five.

Restaurant Prinzipal

Restaurant Prinzipal, Prinzregententheater

http://www.schuhbeck.de/gastronomie/prinzipal/theatercafe-gartensaal/

Now again to the ‘reloaded’ part.You may find the term attached to computer games, films and other entertainment media. I’m not very sure, but it may come from the science fiction film “The Matrix Reloaded”, 2003. The story continues six months after the first Matrix. As for the 2.0, the versioning my be from software development with its releases and complete new version of a software package.

I’ve found that many of the remakes of either theatre pieces or films try to be extremely innovative and I imagine that they want to challenge the spectators. They include lots of violence and sexual elements in their performances. However, I don’t find them original or daring as all of them have more or less the same look. Am I misinterpreting something?  I used to go to the theatre and some of the plays I saw abused of these elements I’m mentioning. I remember having seen “The bitter tears of Petra von Kant” , a film of R.W. Fassbinder, 1972. In this “reloaded” version the scenery was scarce in black, grey and some pale pink, and everyone was wearing dark and S&M outfits. Is this original?? In one of the crucial scenes, the personal secretary of Petra hangs herself in a corset… Mmmm… I imagined Rihanna singing her S&M.  Another play 2.0 I watched was “Reigen”. This is a theater play from Arthur Schnitzler that was first performed in 1920 and it was a scandal in the conservative European society because of its theme. In the original play the dialogues always suggest sexual themes, but whether show or talk openly about it. In the reloaded version, the scenes were “shocking” because of the violence shown on stage. The colors were, of course black!, almost neon green and white flashes. In our 21st century, we are continuously in contact with all this, even in TV shows. Reading or writing about sex has become “in”, so I suppose that to be “original” the shock has to be visual or acoustic and everything has to be more shocking than before.

Back to the term reloaded or with second versions sticking only to the re-creating, re-designing, re-inventing something, not intended to shock. How is it with people? Have you had a makeover? Are you reloaded or V. 2.0? In my case I have started with Tona Reloaded, full of new ideas and plans that will radically change my life the way I’ve lived it in the past years… And I hope for good and without shocking 😉 When I finish with the process I will be then Tona 2.0

How about you?

Wish you a creative week!

What’s your sign?

Mankind has always been looking for ways of knowing what will happen in the future and trying to find ways to explain and classify their world. Religion and rituals have been part of our human development all along history. Even in our modern times we still try to find explanation in the “meta-world” for things that happen to us.

There are the complex philosophical currents that guide you through the unknown world, religious beliefs from the more established and traditional religions and there are other unorthodox methods that try to give us an orientation based on esotericism and paranormal phenomena. Some movements or may I call them disciplines include alchemy, spiritualism, numerology and astrology among others.

Can you imagine nowadays going to consult the alchemist? Not for sure! I have never even heard of one practicing… Have you? The only ones I’ve seen are depicted in movies or exist only as a book character. However, it would have been an exciting thing to do… Let’s go and ask Merlin!  What was an alchemist’s job? Their main goal was to pursue the creation of the “philosopher’s stone”, which wasn’t really a stone but was an alchemical substance that would have been capable of turning base metals such as lead into gold or silver, besides that they were engaged in astrology, chemistry and medicine. Now I’ve used a definition like the ones I hated in school, a definition that includes again the word to define: alchemist and alchemical. Let’s give it another try. Alchemy: it differs significantly from modern science because it includes Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, magic, religion, and spirituality. Alchemy was the precursor of modern chemistry and medicine.

Merlin (illustration_from_middle_ages)

Merlin

Next question what does Hermetic mean?  It is the adjective of Hermeticism, which is a religious and philosophical tradition based primarily upon the writing attributed to Hermes Trismegistus or (“Thrice Great”). As you may have also noticed, trying to define a term in this area leads to another definition full of other unknown terms… In case that you’d like to read more about hermeticism, take a look at the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism  Hermeticism was only open to the initiated and their knowledge was not to be disclosed by any means, it was a closed society.  Mmmm, is that why we call our Tupperware recipients hermetic? 😮

This kind of knowledge that we cannot really grasp or define, that stays kind of obscure and vague, but that requires a profound belief and sometimes a deep knowledge belongs to the area of esotericism. Let’s return to the definition in Wikipedia: “signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group of those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest.The term derives from the Greek ἐσωτερικός (esôterikos), a compound of ἔσω (esô): “within”, thus pertaining to interiority or mysticism…” Now we all know! They did it again, the defined term is in the definition… Grrr… Let stick then to the idea that esotericism emphasizes secret or hidden knowledge and includes a vast array of disciplines and movements.
What’s interesting is that all religions have a lot of esoteric elements that may have lost their meaning with the passing of time and the advance of technology… or who knows why…

I was mentioning before that we sometimes try to find an esoteric explanation to events in our lives or try to find guidance in the afterlife, if there is one… Maybe some of us would then go to a spiritist, others to a fortune teller while others would rather write a letter to Santa Claus and send it to the North Pole waiting for an answer that will never arrive 😉 Those would be the ones who don’t believe in anything at all…
Can people with an extra sense really communicate with the afterlife or can they “sense” your sorrows and worries without knowing you? Some maybe very skeptical and may attribute everything to common sense, for example. a young woman who looks for the advice of a card reader is for sure having “love” problems, an older one, is for sure having health problems, etc.
How do you call people who can communicate or channel with the “other” world? They are called psychic. This time lets take a look at Merriam Webster dictionary. Psychic is: “used to describe strange mental powers and abilities (such as the ability to predict the future, to know what other people are thinking, or to receive messages from dead people) that cannot be explained by natural laws. And of a person : having strange and unnatural mental abilities : having psychic powers lying outside the sphere of physical science or knowledge :  immaterial, moral, or spiritual in origin or force. Someone psychic is then a person who’s sensitive to nonphysical or supernatural forces and influences, and is marked by extraordinary or mysterious sensitivity, perception, or understanding…

We now know what alchemy is, but what is spiritualism? Does it have to do with faith? With spirits? With religion? This time, a clear definition: a belief that the spirits of dead people can communicate with living people.   Mmmm, by what means? Modern media like e-mail, telephone or as they have been maybe long dead only by ouija or cards or other older methods? Can spirits communicate with us if we don’t believe in them? This reminds me of many horror movies…

However, people with an open channel able to communicate with the dead are called mediums. They are the medium or channel that manage communication between this and the supernatural world.This phenomenon is a well known one and has been exploded in films, books and even a TV-show, called “Ghost whisperer”.
Do you know or have known someone like that? I’ve personally known two or three who have really impressed me. I’m a rather pragmatic and skeptical person, but in those encounters I couldn’t find a “logical” explanation to the experiences I had.

In the movements I was mentioning there is also the divinatory science of numerology. You may be already guessing… Let’s take Wikipedia: “Numerology is any belief in divine, mystical or other special relationship between a number and some coinciding events… Numerology and numerological divination were popular among early mathematicians, but are no longer considered part of mathematics and are regarded as pseudomathematics or pseudoscience by modern scientists. Today, numerology is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts. “ So don’t blame a bad combination of numbers if your bank account shows a negative sign in your monthly balance.

The other discipline mentioned above is astrology. Is it a science or a pseudoscience? It offers more feasible data, if you want to calculate your astral chart. This mathematical calculations are based on the position of the planets the day you were born. It requires the birth date with the exact time of your birth, the place you were born with the geographical coordinates. In this way the astrologer can locate the exact position of the starts at that time and can then calculate the birth chart. This is a very time consuming task and although this other alternative my not be as a exact as a handmade one, you may want to try the birth chart page on http://astrology.about.com/library/bl_freeAstrochart.htm. I was amazed at the results I got, quite true!

There is also the “newspaper” or “Cosmopolitan” astrology, the one you find in magazines or internet pages. I imagine that it isn’t difficult to find a software program or more modern app that can “predict” your day. Would you believe in such a prediction?  Some centuries ago in Greece, we would consult the oracle… Nowadays we sometimes also have to consult THE Oracle to get the prices, the address data or the description of items in our company’s database.

Back to astrology, you may know your zodiac sign, but in case you don’t, you haven’t missed anything at all 😉 My sign is capricorn and I find that some of the sign’s characteristics apply to me while others don’t… But the interesting thing is that many of the characteristics also apply to persons who aren’t capricorn… So it’s up to you to believe or not.

Zodiac sign, capricorn

Capricorn

I do believe in positive thinking and wish you a nice week!

Mexico and its food

Mexico’s cuisine has a very long tradition and an immense variety of dishes influenced by history and its geographical situation.

The very basic ingredients all over the country are corn, beans and chili peppers in all their varieties. There are many vegetables, fruits, herbs and animals that can only be found in traditional dishes in the country. Because of that mosaic of flavors and colors Mexican cuisine has been declared by UNESCO as one of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.

Although all Mexicans are more or less familiar with their specialties, there are dishes that are almost exclusive to one of the 31 federal states and can only be found there.

I can also say that there are the brave Mexicans, who eat almost everything and are used to eating very spicy or very hot food. There is also the not so brave kind… I have to confess that I belong to the second one because I don’t like chilies and I’m not used to eating very typical food.

In my last trip to Mexico I started the gourmet tour in a very well known restaurant called “El Cardenal” in the south of Mexico City. The cardenal, in English cardinal, is a red bird found in North and South America, and just to remind some of my European readers, Mexico is in North America, neither in Central nor “Middle” nor South America, and this last one is not to be confused with Latin America.

We were celebrating three birthdays on the same day and had a very large table. The friendly waiters shared their seasonal specialties and we ordered some starters and a small tequila shot with lemon slices and salt.

I was very excited to have my first Mexican dinner and looked expectantly to the plates that they were serving. They brought some guacamole, the very typical one only with creamy avocados, coriander, lemon juice and green chili peppers. This type of guacamole is usually used as a sauce for either quesadillas or chicharrón, which is pork rinds fried till it gets golden and crusty. Not the best dish for a cholesterol reduced diet 😉  And just to clarify the term quesadillas, those are corn tortillas filled with cheese. If they are hand made and the dough is a little bit thicker they can be filled with potatoes, or squash blossoms (flor de calabaza).

I knew these two starters and enjoyed them with white cheese and warm corn tortillas. Following these two, they brought two nicely decorated stoneware plates with some white stuff with herbs. I didn’t know what it was, but got a little bit suspicious asking my sister what it was. “Mmmm… escamoles”, was her answer rolling her tortilla ready to serve herself a big portion. I started unwinding my Mexican memory and remembered what it really was, saying aloud: “ Oh, my goodness. Those are ants’ eggs! I think I’ll pass!” Some of the guests were delighted and attacked the plate with lots of tortillas while I watched thinking, well, it’s like insect caviar. However, I was a coward and didn’t try them.

IMG_1369

Escamoles

The next dare was served in another stoneware dish called cazuela. In this case I had no doubt, they were what they looked like: worms! They served the specialty of the months of May and June in Central Mexico, the worm that only grows in the agave plant or maguey. They are called Maguey worms. One of the agave plants, the agave tequilana form the Tequila region in Mexico is used to produce tequila.
I could sit next to the escamoles and continue eating my tortilla with guacamole. However, the sight of this dish, was too much to bear for me, so I asked the Maguey worm fans to take them to their side of the table. I was saying that I’m a “bad” Mexican because I don’t like exotic things and I really admired our Russian guests that night who really tried and even liked the worms… not with vodka, but with tequila.

IMG_1370

Maguey worms

There were a lot of spicy dishes to my right and left, but as I had just arrived to Mexico, I ordered a medium beef steak with some beans and it was delicious. For dessert we had some tequila strawberries and guanabana sherbet. Guanabana is a fruit that tastes as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with some coconut and banana. Simply refreshing and delicious!

237px-guanabana

Guanabana, it’s not a mango.

My next culinary highlight was in Acapulco in the Mexican Pacific Coast. The day we got there we were served a delicious white fish steak in an Aztec marinade… This marinade is prepared with achiote (Bixa orellana) which is a small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. The name derives from the Nahuatl word ( language spoken by the aztects) for the shrub, āchiotl.  

Achiote can be found in the market or supermarket as a paste that is usually diluted in vinegar and some orange juice. It is a delicious marinade for fish, pork or white meat.

Another traditional recipe we had in Acapulco was “Pescado a la veracruzana” very similar to the “Pescado a la vizcaína”. It’s not scientifically proven ;-), but I dare to say that the style “ a la veracruzana” is quite hot and includes a lot of chiles of the chilaca sort. If you want to know more about chile you can read here http://www.eatmorechiles.com/chilaca.html

This dish was also delicious though it left my lips and tongue burning!

On our small boat trip surrounding the Acapulco bay we were served ceviche, or in other countries cebiche, made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with chili peppers. Additional seasonings, such as chopped onions, salt, and coriander, may also be added.

I was mentioning that the Mexican cuisine was influenced by its history. Before the Spanish conquerors arrived in the 16th century, there were no big animals such as cows, pigs, horses, etc. and therefore the native cultures covered their protein intake with insects, smaller animals and lots of fish and seafood. Nowadays we can also eat a lot of seafood in modern combinations such as the carpaccio of almeja (clam or mussel) that we had on our second day. The clam meat was very thinly sliced seasoned with a sweet, sour and spicy balsamico vinaigrette. Simply marvelous!

Back in the city… Two other excellent restaurants in Mexico City are “El Bajío” which can be found in different locations and where they don’t use chemical additives, such as artificial chicken broth, to their dishes. I had a mole enchilada, being mole one of the most traditional Mexican dishes with fried beans puree and rice cooked with tomatoes.  The word “mole” is also from the Nahuatl and it simply means sauce. We can find many different types of mole and in many colors according to the main ingredients. One of the best known, even out of Mexico, is a brown or reddish brown thick sauce that contains chocolate as a main ingredient. If we go back in history, one of the versions says that the word chocolate comes from the nahuatl word xocolatl, meaning “bitter water”. Xocolatl was a bitter beverage made from the cacao beans, not the creamy and sweet paste we know as chocolate. Other ingredients for mole are nuts, such as peanuts, almonds, and many spices such as cinnamon without forgetting the different types of dried chilies.   For more on mole, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(sauce)

If you cannot visit one of the very extense Mexican coasts you can go and eat or dine in the fish restaurant “ Los Arcos” in the Avenida Insurgentes in Mexico City. I had the best fish taco ever! It was fish “al pastor” or shepherd’s style. Its like the Greek gyros or turkish döner. You’d be disappointed if it weren’t spicy. So, yes, it was spicy, but not very hot. Tacos al pastor are usually of pork meat marinated with “adobo” which includes a red dry type of chili peppers called chile ancho. They serve it in corn tortillas with pineapple dices, raw onions and coriander. In this case instead of pork they used fish and it was a complete success.

IMG_1475

A fish taco

I also had the best shrimps ever! They were coated in flour, eggs and coconut, fried and served with a freshly made mango sauce. My father had a fish stuffed with shrimps in a hummer sauce.

I could tell you for hours about Mexican food, its origins, exotic ingredients and family recipes such as the chicken in cilantro sauce or the white fish in green sauce…and… and… and… as you may have noticed, Mexican food is not chili con carne, nor nachos nor tortilla chips with sweet tomato sauce, nor any kind of salad with kidney beans, red paprika, sweet corn or yellow cheese…

Frankly speaking, after describing all these dishes I got hungry and will go to the kitchen to serve dinner.
Buen provecho! Guten Appetit! Bon appétit! Buon appetito!

 

The Other Senses

In elementary school and before that, we learn about our five senses.  We use them since the day we were born. We remember the sound of a song we used to listen to in our early childhood. When we smell something nice, for example, cinnamon and oranges, we think of Christmas. When we open the fridge and close the door because of the pungent smell like a blow to the nose, we suddenly remember the cheese we bought some weeks ago and we had forgotten because it was hiding, on purpose,  behind the big bottle…

In literature we find several references and associations to our senses as we come across metaphors. Some of these literary constructs may help us to read with more than one sense while others help us to get the whole picture, e.g. He (or she) is the black sheep in the family.

If you want to read about bad metaphors, and speak Spanish, you may want to read at the blog post “Malas metáforas” (http://boeneker.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/las-malas-metaforas-la-bici-lxix/) of a friend of mine, Heiner Boeneker.   For examples of sublime metaphors you can read the poetry of Ernesto Cisneros, also in Spanish. http://ernestocisnerosrivera.wordpress.com/page/2/

My topic is not metaphors or literature, but our senses, especially the other ones. The first sense that came to my mind was common sense. What does it mean? Why is it called common when it is so difficult to find? Is it true that some of us have more of it while others almost lack of it?

Does common sense have to do with safety, precaution or even fear?  Does it have to do with intelligence or education?   Here the definition: “Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.”  Mmmm, all people?  Do we learn it, are we born with it, can we acquire it?  What if we don’t have enough of it? And in our modern times we could ask, can I buy it?  or can I find it in the Internet?

You may laugh at the idea and wonder, but the answer is yes.  http://www.wikihow.com/Develop-Common-Sense.  There is another web-page full with common sense http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/common_sense.html

It’s maybe easier than I thought. However, I’m not sure if this would be the right way to get some common sense.

Another sense that comes to my mind is the so called sixth sense. With this concept I start with the first definition that I found in the all knowing Internet 😉 Sixth sense: a supposed intuitive faculty giving awareness, not explicable in terms of normal perception. As this doesn’t really clarify the term I found another definition in the Merriam-Webster: a special ability to know something that cannot be learned by using the five senses (such as sight or hearing). This one is much better. However, what do they mean with special ability?  Do we all have it? Can we learn it? Are we born with it?  Sixth sense, it is a special sight? Have you ever had premonitions? Are prophecies true? Have you ever had your future told either by a card reading, a coffee reading or maybe runes or bones reading? Well, I have, which doesn’t mean I believe in all that the psychic person told me. It was however very revealing…

There are many films based on many of these psychic abilities. I think of the Sixth Sense (1999) with Bruce Willis. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167404/?ref_=nv_sr_1   Another example is Carrie with telekinetic abilities, the first version from 1976, a horror classic of the seventies,  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074285/?ref_=nv_sr_4  which has been recently redone (2013).

The horror movie genre usually uses the idea of a sixth sense and “special abilities” in their plots to achieve fear and suspense.

Let’s leave the imaginary horrors and come back to reality 😉

Another sense I can think of is the sense of humor. I start from the premise that we all have one, good or bad, that depends on our definition.  A good sense of humor, how can we define what that is?  A person who makes a lot of jokes is a person with a good sense of humor? In my opinion, it’s not that simple and I would say no. Does it mean you laugh a lot or do you make a lot of “good jokes” or are your jokes cruel or sarcastic? Do you laugh at the expense of others?  Do you never laugh or almost never laugh?   Mmmm, this is getting more complex…

Is a good sense of humor defined by our house and family? By our nationality or rather the culture we grew up in? Have people who grew up in contact with many cultures a good sense of humor or is it really a personal matter?

Let’s take a look at the things that are considered funny in some cultures. What do we laugh about in Mexico or Germany or the USA?

If we take a look at comedies in TV or cinema, we find out that the most popular ones usually come from English speaking countries. I find it difficult to have access to comedies form other countries, even if I live in the so called “European Community”. What everyone can watch in free TV is American or, if we are lucky, British comedies. Among the newest American comedies we find “The Big Bang Theory”, “Two and a half men”, “Two broke girls”, “Modern family”, “Family Guy” or “South Park”. The brits have “Mr. Bean” and I cannot think of other examples.  Of the Golden Era we all know and enjoy “Laurel and Hardy”.  Are they international, can we all laugh at their jokes? I personally think that yes, indeed, some more, some less.  While living in Sao Paulo I was amazed to learn that a Mexican comedy was so popular there, “El Chavo del Ocho” and “El Chapulín Colorado”.  However, this show never made it across the ocean.

El Chavo del Ocho

El Chavo

Here in Germany there are some popular comedians, and by that I mean popular, which means “almost” everybody laughs with them. Some of the films are “Lissi and the Wild Emperor”, a parody of Sissi and Franz-Joseph which could be internationally understood. Another comedy of Bully Herbig is “Traumschiff Surprise” a parody of Star Trek. The humor is plain and sometimes funny, if you know the originals.

Lissi and the Emperor

Lissi and Franzl

 

Germans in general are not well known for their good or light sense of humor. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like to laugh or that they don’t laugh at all. However, to laugh with them you have to have a pretty deep knowledge of the culture and of the language 😉

German humor is heavy and they sometimes don’t know the limits. That is maybe why they are what in other cultures would be considered as rude.

Although I have been living here for more than 20 years I had to look away from the “humor” in one of the posters hanging these days in the streets. These are part of the political campaign to elect the Representatives for the European Parliament.

Radical poster

Controversial Poster of the right

Does humor have to do with taste? Good or bad?  I imagine that you will agree with me that this goes too far…  This party, a radical party of the far right, is asking “What a… are you going to vote for in September?” With this image they’re referring to representatives of the bigger political parties: the CDU/CSU the conservative right or the Black party, the Green Party, the social democrats SPD in red and the liberal democrats in yellow.

This radical party has not got the majority and is not representative of the country. However, it amazed me that such an offending poster could be used publicly all around the city! Have we lost our senses?

Good or bad taste? Good or bad humor? This last example is not an example of German humor, but only of one small group of people with narrow minds. They want to use hate and fear, if you see other posters in German cities,  claiming that the Islam and their mosques should be in Istanbul and not here in Germany.  Very populistic!

I’m sure that common sense will prevail in the elections so that we can continue with our good humor in this country.

 

Flammekueche or tarte flambée?

On Friday morning, my daughter and I started our Easter holidays short trip to France. We took the S-Bahn to the Munich Main Train Station and from there the ICE train to Stuttgart, our first stop. We were a little bit nervous because the time we had to change to the next train, the TGV, was exactly 8 minutes… The TGV was leaving at 12:55, sharp!  I can almost see your smile, if you are not used to the German (or French) time concept. But, yes, the train leaves at exactly that time. On the train they even warned us that the TGV closes its doors two minutes before departure… Oh, 8 minus 2… only 6 minutes to find the right platform and jump into the right train.

As you may see looking at the picture below, we made it! We got on time 🙂 and found our hotel at a walking distance from the Main Train Station. The city we visited was a fortress or a fortified settlement by the road or at the crossing of the roads. This beautiful city is very close to the river Rhine and is situated on the Ill river.

It’s been part of the European heritage since the beginning of human occupation and celts, romans, huns, francs and allemani lived in the region leaving not only their genes, but a big influence in the language.

medieval towers

Medieval towers, entrance to “Petite France”

During the last centuries Strasbourg ( as you may have already guessed…) has changed sides very often; it has been French, than German, than French again, etc.  It’s the main city of the Alsace, it’s the capital of the Bas-Rhine department and is the seat of many European institutions.

Our hotel was in the middle of the Medieval neighborhood, called “Petite France” which is surrounded by water. Walking through the Medieval streets you can really imagine the towns in the Dark Ages.  During our visit the weather was also kind of dark, cold, and windy. Brrr!

Some streets in the Petite France have very old traditional names dedicated to medieval occupations such as the Rue des Dentelles (= lace, fabric), Rue des Tonneliers (cooper), Rue des Charpentiers (= carpenters) or Rue des Serruriers (locksmiths) and other townsmen like Rue des Juifs (= judes), Rue des Frères (= brothers).  Another funny name that caught our attention was the Place of the Suckling Pigs’ Market?!, where you can find many traditional restaurants, gourmet shops and a weekly market.

One of the main attractions on the “Grand Ile”, as downtown is called, is the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  Why are so many churches called that way? Indeed, they are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady.  The construction of the cathedral began in the 12 century, was completed in 1439 and became one of the World’s Tallest Buildings.

A good reading to get an idea of what it took to build such a magnificent building is “Pillars of Earth” by Ken Follet. Another historical novel on that topic is  “La Catedral y el Mar” by Ildefonso Falcones. The former was filmed as a coproduction of German, French, Canada and other film studios.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1453159/?ref_=fn_al_tt_7

Although the cathedral is very impressive, we found another excellent example of Gothic art, the church of “Saint-Pierre-Le-jeune” or the Young Saint Peter. This smaller church is now a protestant church which shows that Strasbourg is one of the cities where you can find catholic and protestant churches hand in hand.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune_Protestant_Church

gothic church

Saint-Pierre-Le-jeune

The church is located in a small quiet street with a tiny garden in front of it and it’s only open in the afternoons. We went into the building and were captivated by the quiet atmosphere, the colored  light penetrating the stained glass windows and, very special, the paintings on the walls. The oldest part of the church was built in the 7th century!

 

wall paintings

Murals all over the walls

The organ is dividing the nave and is beautifully carved. It is placed in the middle of the church and is decorated in blue and red as are most of the walls.

At the end of the nave, there are two chapels, one with the baptismal font and wooden figures and the other one with a wooden angel with wide dark wings. The floor in both chapels is authentic and beautiful.

We went out to the cloister with a water well in the center and a very old stone cross.

stone cross

Old cross

It was getting dark outside, distant gregorian chants were playing and almost all visitors had left. In spite of being in a church, we were almost creeped out, so we decided to leave and have a nice dinner with live music.   No, no brass bands or Oktoberfest songs, we decided to go the Irish pub that is close to the cathedral, on the “Street of the Old Fish Market”.  Thank god, it didn’t smell of old fish 😉

On our last day we visited the cathedral and listened for a while to the Sunday Mass  (sorry we didn’t stay longer…) Afterwards we went to the Historical Museum of the City on the same street as the Irish pub.  The museum is located in Strasbourg’s former slaughterhouse built in 1588, in an area town butchers had occupied since the end of the 13th century… it sounds creepier as it was 😉

http://www.musees.strasbourg.eu/index.php?page=histoire-historique-en

It was a very interesting visit, especially considering the divided story of Strasbourg and the Alsace. The museum is interactive and you can touch, listen, watch and read. We had big fun trying on knight helmets and trying to carry a stone bomb.  We also got a good grasp of the history of the 19th and 20th centuries with its World Wars and their effect on the region.

Leaving the museum, we took a long walk along the river and decided to try a typical menu in the evening. Walking through the narrow streets we came across a small restaurant quite hidden from the tourists. It is called “Au sanglier”. Can you guess the name of the street?  Yes, right, Rue du sanglier (= wild boar). Exactly, this time like Asterix and Obelix.  However, as alsacienne specialties are not known for being light, we decided to skip the wild pig 😉

We made a reservation for 7 p.m. and got there on time… We first had a Kir as an apero. We chose different salads from the salad bar for the first course and a Flammekueche with crispy, thin sliced bacon, onions and sour cream on a very thin flat crust, almost like pizza, for the main course. I had a cold, fruity, but not sweet glass of white wine, called “gentil” with my meal. The name “gentil” or kind and gentle really matched the wine, which was excellent.

As a dessert, included in the menu, (Really, I promise 😉 ) we had a compote of rhubarb with some vanilla ice. I usually don’t like that vegetable in any combination, but I was delighted and enjoyed it very much.

The restaurant “To the wild boar ” is decorated in a traditional style that reminded us of typical German restaurants in Bavaria. It was a little bit macabre because of the wild boar’s head hanging on one of the wall and looking at us. The oddest part of it was, as it was during Easter time,  that some Easter eggs were hanging of nice colored ribbons from its tusks…

We felt transported to the Middle Ages, but we could finish our meal.

The next morning we had a late breakfast and waited for our train to leave this nice city at 13:47 😉

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour and the reading as much as we enjoyed our trip.