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Archive for the ‘Family Travel’ Category

— 1 —

Not from Tokyo…as of this writing…no. Ahem.

Check Instagram for more current updates….

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Random links first:

I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that. It’s unplanned, but very fitting for what’s I’m doing at the moment. For more like it, check out the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days. 

Related: Scripture Passages that Changed My Life –  a collection of essays by Living Faith authors – is now available. I’m in there. And yes, they are essays – not the 150-word Living Faith entries in the quarterly devotional. Full-length reflective essays. For you!

Also – last week I noted that the robins were trying again. Well…it seems as if someone else was watching. Report here. Sigh. 

 

— 3 —

Here’s some fantastic news: Perhaps you know about Horrible Histories – the great British kids’ show based on some off-kilter British kids’ history books. I’ve written about them a lot, and we love the series around here. The same crew produced another show called Yonderland  – of which we’ve only seen the first season, and enjoyed – and a fun take on young Shakespeare called Bill. 

This is a great post with a list – and video links – to some of the best musical numbers from Horrible Histories. Including, of course…

(Did I ever tell you about the time my daughter ran into Mat Baynton on the very last day of the Edinborough Festival Fringe, where she’d been working for a month? Well – that happened – this young American woman breathlessly saying, “My little brother can sing the whole Pachacuti song!”)

They’re back! With, it seems a fun-sounding variation on The Canterville Ghost. 

Ghosts is a multi-character sitcom created by the lead cast of writer-performers from the award winning Horrible Histories and Yonderland, and the feature film Bill.

The crumbling country pile of Button Hall is home to numerous restless spirits who have died there over the centuries – each ghost very much a product of their time, resigned to squabbling with each other for eternity over the most inane of daily gripes. But their lives – or, rather, afterlives – are thrown into turmoil when a young urban couple – Alison and Mike – surprisingly inherit the peaceful derelict house and make plans to turn it into a bustling family hotel. As the ghosts attempt to oust the newcomers from their home, and Mike and Alison discover the true scale of the project they’ve taken on, fate conspires to trap both sides in an impossible house share, where every day is, literally, a matter of life and death.

— 4 —

More serious random links:

Why is Rome sidelining Ukrainian Catholics?

First, there was the consistory for new cardinals announced on Pentecost Sunday. Leading the list of 11 new cardinal electors was Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Chaldean Church, Iraq’s principal eastern Catholic Church. Creating the patriarch a cardinal was widely seen as sign of solidarity with the suffering Iraqi Catholics.

In 2016, Pope Francis did a similar thing for Syria, though that time he did not choose an actual Syrian bishop for cardinal, but rather the Italian serving as nuncio in Damascus.

Yet in five consistories for the creation of new cardinals, Pope Francis has passed over Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the UGCC and major archbishop of Kiev. Shevchuk’s predecessors have all been cardinals dating back to time when the UGCC – liquidated by Stalin – was the largest underground Church in the world.

Pope Francis is charting a new course in the selection of cardinals, but even given the idiosyncratic nature of his choices, it is evident that suffering Churches and suffering peoples are favoured with cardinals. That Ukraine has been overlooked now five times in five years suggests that Ukrainian suffering resonates less in Rome than the objections of the Russian Orthodox, who regard the very existence of the UGCC as an affront.

Secondly, a good look at Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic Catholic school teacher formation program. Popular, but evidently lightweight – no surprise there. 

The advice is banal, the language clunky: “The people you surround yourself with, and how you let their positivity or negativity influence you, impacts the kind of teacher you are.”

At times it is saccharine: “There is no national monument for teachers. I have never seen a statue of a teacher. But we all build monuments for teachers in our hearts.”

It can be pedantic: “Education is a wildfire. And a single educator is but a flickering of this timeless flare, hoping to shed some light where there is darkness.”

Or condescending: “Let me throw a little theology at you.”

Some of it reads like motivational business-speak: “We respect forever the leaders in our lives who were tough but fair.”

And every so often it calls on a weird source to make a point: “As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’”

You get the idea. Matthew Kelly manages to evade the hard questions mostly by ignoring them. How should I include “Jesus in [my] lesson plans?” Keep “an empty chair” for him, to “remind students that Jesus is always at their side.” What is evil and how should I respond to it? Make “holy moments”! How do I deal with the exhaustion, fatigue, frustration, and pain of teaching? “There is no limit to the number of holy moments you can create.” The prose is as limp as the cloying optimism it promotes. It often circles back to his usual refrain: Be the “best-version-of-yourself.” That was more or less what Eve was told in the garden.

 

— 5 —

 

 

All right! So our great Japan 2018 Voyage got off to a rocky start. An aggravating, puzzling and somewhat infuriating start.

The plan was: fly out of BHM to DFW – land in DFW around 10:30, flight to NRT (Narita airport in Tokyo) departs at 1:30. Perfect, right?

Well, you would be wrong. You would not have taken into account the long wait on the Birmingham tarmac brought on by: weight issues, which led to a delay as people were asked to volunteer to disembark, people thought about it for a while, and a couple of people finally decided to accept the $700 offer. (These offers are never made when I’m able to accept them). Secondly, weather between BHM and Dallas, which required a changed flight plan which took about 30 minutes to work out and which would be a longer flight.

So we didn’t land in Dallas until about…1:30. We taxied right by gate D33. I saw our plane pulling away. Waves. 

Oh well – surely there’s another flight to Tokyo today? Surely they can at least maybe get us to Los Angeles or somewhere further west and we can go from there and still get there almost on time? Surely? 

Again – You’re wrong!

But there’s another aspect to this story that takes it to another level, to the level beyond, eh, things happen – it’s air travel. You expect it. 

It was hard not to miss the dozen or so Japanese young adults on our small plane from Birmingham. We wondered if they were also headed to Tokyo on the same flight.

As we disembarked and lined up in front of the rebooking agent in Dallas, they gathered behind me. I turned and asked if they were on flight 61 – they didn’t speak much English, didn’t understand me at first, so I showed my ticket, pointed to the number, they got theirs out – and yes, that was their flight too. They were…surprised that they missed it.

So here’s my question. There were, at my count, between 12-15 of us on a single flight ticketed for another specific flight.

Why did they not hold the plane? 

We’re not talking hours here. The planes passed each other in the gate area. There was no mystery about where a large percentage of the missing passengers were – Hmm….15 people haven’t showed up for this flight? Where could they be? Such a mystery! Shrug. No – they know exactly where everyone is and exactly when they’ll be coming in.

I’ve been on planes that have been held for one or two passengers before. This was crazy, and although I got scolded a bit on Twitter for this, told that I just “didn’t undertand” how these things work – I stand firm. As I said, I’ve witnessed planes being held. The AA supervisor who eventually helped us was aghast, as was her co-worker.

So – a bit about customer service. For some reason, I’m fascinated by stories of good and bad customer service – I slavishly read the Elliot site all the time. So it’s also instructive to be in the middle of something like this, observe the dynamic and see what works – and what doesn’t.

The first guy I went to for help was doing his job, but doing it without any energy or compassion. I wasn’t panicked or angry – I was amazed that the plane hadn’t been held, but was ready to move on. Fine. But the options he was giving me were terrible and he was using the same tone with me as if he were asking paper or plastic – and who cares.

So, you could fly out of Chicago tomorrow morning, I guess. 

When would we go to Chicago?

Tonight. 

Where would we stay – in the airport?

I guess. Yeah. 

I wasn’t biting on any of these options, convinced that there had to be a better way, so he offered to call a supervisor – obviously eyeing the 12 Japanese students behind me, as well. So he radioed for a supervisor, I stepped aside and waited.

And waited. And waited. Minutes went by, no one showed up. I stepped closer to the original guy and caught his eye. He waved to an open door across the hall and mouthed – go there. 

Okay.

So I went to this open door, where a man in a tie stood – he listened to me very politely,if clearly a little puzzled about why I was telling him about this. He poked his head back in the door, said something to a woman inside. She came out, they had a puzzled conversation, she agreed that she’d help me, but first, we had business with Guy #1.

Well, she had business. She was pretty ticked at him. Why didn’t you call a supervisor? I did. They didn’t come. They’re right over there – why couldn’t you just wave someone down? I’m busy – I tried. 

I sensed that her anger at this other guy just might work to my advantage, so I was just super nice. Not pathetic – because you know, this is a First World Problem in the extreme, and no pathos allowed, in my view.

As it turned out – there were no great options. Nothing was leaving from DFW later, and anything else she was able to work out would involve many stops and wouldn’t get us into Tokyo much earlier.

So – we got booked on the same flight, 24 hours later.

But she did give us a hotel voucher. I don’t think she was supposed to, since the reason for the mess was “weather”  – one of the many, many reasons airlines use to excuse them leaving you on your own (and I get it – they’d go broke if they compensated everyone for everything we feel we should be compensated for).

But she did anyway, saying, “It’s going to be a long day for you all.”

Quick version of the rest of the saga: I had hoped to get our luggage (just two suitcases – we travel light)  which I had CHECKED EVEN THOUGH I NEVER CHECK LUGGAGE…..GRRR – but was told by two different people that while it might take 30 minutes to retrieve the bags, it might also take three hours and there was no way to predict. We had most of our toiletries with us (aka the most important for me – my contacct lens stuff) and J had a pair of gym shorts in his backpack, so we just decided to grin and bear it.

I did rent a car instead of doing a shuttle to the hotel. I managed to get one through Hotwire at about half the cost they were quoting me at the rental counter. I wanted a car because it was still fairly early, and this would enable to us run and get a couple of t-shirts and anything else we needed and – if we had time – to see a bit of Dallas.

Which we did…

(And please know –  In my communications to AA about this – both via Twitter DM and through their system – I praised the helpful AA employee by name, several times. Do try to do that – when someone gives you good service, note their name and communicate their good work to the powers that be. It helps them. I did the same with the woman at the rental car counter – we had no problems, but she was just very nice and engaged, striking the perfect balance – helpful but not annoying – I noted her name and commended her to her company, too. It matters.)

(I do have travel insurance – both through the credit card I used to book the tickets, and a separate policy which I always get for these trips. I’ve never, ever filed a claim – and even though it’s not much, I think I’ll give it a shot, just to see what happens.)’

And may I reiterate? First World Problems. I’m annoyed that we lost a day of our time in Tokyo, but for heaven’s sake – we’re going to be in Japan.  I have nothing to complain about.

 

— 6 —

So…Dallas. 

When we started out, I thought we’ll get barbecue – but then they noted that In n’ Out is in Texas now, and they opted for that. It’s okay – I wasn’t hungry. We then made our way downtown – I’d probably been in the Dallas environs (outside the airport) once as a child, and probably only to a mall (that’s my vague recollection, anyway).

So we just shot downtown, parked, and walked around for about thirty minutes. It was hot, there weren’t a ton of people in the area – done and done.

 

 

 

— 7 —

 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his second set of stories, which are science fiction-y in nature. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, that didn’t last long.

I saw the mama Robin sitting on the nest Saturday morning…went out Sunday morning, saw no robins about, so I took advantage of the moment and stuck my phone up there to get a shot.

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Oh.

Well, whatever got up there did a clean job of it – there were no shells about, nothing amiss.

And, it seems, they might have nabbed at least one of the parents, too. For over the past weeks, every time we’ve ventured out there, one or both of the parents have perched nearby, letting us know we were in their territory and, if we refused to obey their warnings, swooping down in our direction.

This morning? Silence and not a robin in sight. Plenty of mockingbirds, as per usual, but this robin couple either was so demoralized that they gave up and move on, or…well.

I have absolutely no right to be sad about this considering a) I am not a vegetarian and b) one of the day’s tasks was going to purchase a rat for Rocky. And Rocky don’t play with warmed-up dead rats.

But I’m still sad.

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So, here’s an article about my Loyola books! The inspiration is the new one – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols – but the interview covered my thinking behind all of the volumes in the series, as well.

I’m not sure if you can actually read it without subscribing…but you can sure try!

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All right then: Japan. There, hope revives.

Brief recap: For some reason, we are going to Japan for our big summer trip. Leaving soon. Rented an AirBnB for Tokyo, legal issues mandated a change. (More here and here.)  So we’re splitting the trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. I have no idea what we’re doing except wandering around and eating.

Of all of the zillions of videos out there about 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN SOME NEIGHBORHOOD OF TOKYO THAT ENDS IN A VOWEL AS THEY ALL DO! I’ve settled, for some reason, on those produced by one Paolo de Guzman, aka Tokyo Zebra. His personality is quirky, but not annoying, he’s kind of fun and – most helpful of all – his videos feature maps, which he also has on his website.

I’ve been reading guidebooks and discussion forums for weeks, but the city hardly made sense at all until I started watching these videos. So thanks to Paolo, I finally sort of have a plan – for Day 1.

And beyond that?

Are you kidding? Me? Plan??! 

Check out Instagram for updates…soonish….

 

 

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Perhaps you recall this year’s Baby Robin drama…

It began when I noticed a nest being constructed between a downspout and an eave.

 

Soon, the robins had laid their eggs, and just a couple of weeks ago,  they hatched.

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We watched them the best we could – we of course didn’t want to disturb them, but even if we did, the parents were vigilant guards, perching on nearby branches and wires whenever we came near, squawking repeatedly and even swooping down towards us if it all became too much.

A week and a half ago, we checked on the babies on Sunday evening, and saw their little heads.

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Monday morning:

Carnage:

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What made it even sadder was that the parents were still around, perched, chirping, squawking and swooping. You have to wonder – what did they “think” – if anything?

I thought that was the end of it. I left the nest on the ground for the moment, intending to take it up later. Before I could do anything with it, the yard guys came and just put it back up atop the downspout.

Nice, I thought. But why?

The next day, I noticed that the parents were flying around with grass in their beaks – they were rebuilding the nest.

And now, a few days later – look at that.

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They’re trying again. I had no idea that would happen.We will probably be in Japan  by the time they hatch – but depending on when that is (they say 12-14 days) – we might be back for part of the infancy, although my daughter will certainly be here and can keep us posted.

I just hope the hawk has moved on to other parts of the neighborhood….

(Six years ago, in our previous house, we had a fantastic view of the entire process, as robins built a nest on a window ledge. Here’s a post summarizing what we were privileged to witness.)

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My mother grew up in Maine. Born in New Hampshire, but grew up in Maine.  The aunt and uncle who raised her lived there (in Sanford, in case there are any small-world moments waiting to happen out there) and for all of my childhood, a month every summer was spent in that lovely little spot of southern Maine.

My best friend there was named Lesa. (spelling is correct, btw). She lived across the field lying between my great-uncle’s house and her family’s, and was the only girl in a family of about 6 or 7 boys – that is until her little sister was born when she was around 13, I think. Very French-Canadian family, her grandparents barely spoke English. Being an only child, I was always mildly stunned after being with them for a while, alternately taken aback and entranced by the energy, the earthiness, and things that were so odd to me – like making a whole meal out of nothing but ears and ears of fresh corn.

Her oldest brother was probably about ten years older than she was (and she was a year older than I). He was a pretty dashing guy, although if you’d asked me at the time, I would have confessed that I thought he had a rather strange name.

“Nobbit,” they called him.

Nobbit graduated from college. Nobbit was a ski instructor in the winters. Nobbit was coming home.

Nobbit?

What kind of name was that, I wondered..for years.

Until one day, as an adult, I happened upon…

St. Norbert.

Well, theyah ya go.

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— 1 —

We’re back! Life has slipped and tumbled back into the normal paradigm: school, sort-of-homeschooling (Hey, there was a lot  of learning that happened in Mexico, wasn’t there?), work, music….etc.

— 2 —

Here’s a post I pulled together with links to all the entries on the trip to Mexico, with some thoughts on safety and links to our accommodations. It’s called I went to Mexico and didn’t die

—3–

This coming Sunday is, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Faustina is in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. Here’s a page:

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–4–

In case you didn’t know it (er…I didn’t) – the Feast of the Annunciation is being celebrated on Monday – (because the actual date fell on Palm Sunday)  You can download a free pdf of my Mary and the Christian Life at this page (scroll down a bit). If you want to spring .99 for a Kindle e-reader copy, go here. 

And hey – with First Communion/Confirmation/Mother’s Day/Graduation season coming up – check out my books for gifts! 

–5 —

From Atlas Obscura – I’d never heard of this – it sounds similar to our local Ave Maria Grotto. The grace in the found object. 

Brother Bronislaus Luszcz, a native of Poland, spent 23 years building this collection of large grottos. He used local Missouri tiff rock to create beautiful statues and mosaics freckled with found and donated objects like seashells and costume jewelry. He began the work in 1937, though the seeds of his endeavor were planted long before.

While Brother Bronislaus was growing up in Poland, he would watch as pilgrims trekked through his home village on their way to a shrine for the Virgin Mary. The memory of the pilgrims lingered in his mind even after he moved to the United States and inspired him to begin constructing his own shrine. 

–6–

In an era in which the only movies that seem to make it to the screen are remakes and comic book-based…you read a tale like this and you wonder…why not this story? Wouldn’t this be a fantastic movie – or even television series? Let’s do lunch and make it happen!

She zoomed over forlorn dusty roads, responding to the beckoning call of new adventures. The airborne sensation and the freedom of the road ensured that she climbed on her trusty Harley-Davidson time and time again. Long before the hashtag #CarefreeBlackGirl was coined, Bessie Stringfield was living her life freely on her own terms—riding her motorcycle across the United States solo.

Born in 1911, Stringfield got her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout, while she was still in her teens and taught herself how to ride it. As chronicled in the 1993 book Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road by Stringfield’s protégé and eventual biographer Ann Ferrar, at the age of 19, young Stringfield flipped a penny onto a map of the US then ventured out on her bike alone. Interstate highways didn’t yet exist at the time, but the rough, unpaved roads didn’t deter her. In 1930, she became the first Black woman to ride a motorcycle in every one of the connected 48 states—a solo cross-country ride she undertook eight times during her lifetime. But not even that satisfied her wanderlust. Eventually, she went abroad to Haiti, Brazil, and parts of Europe.

And you just wonder….how many other stories are there?

And the answer…one for every person. 

At least. 

–7–

It’s Easter Season! Below are related excerpts from our favorite vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook, part of the Christ-Life Series in Religion . The first is about the season in general, the second about next Sunday (before it became Divine Mercy Sunday, of course).

What I like about these – and why I share them with you – is that they challenge the assumption that before Vatican II, Catholicism offered nothing but legalistic rules-based externals to its adherents, particularly the young. Obviously not so

I also appreciate the assumption of maturity and spiritual responsibility. Remember, this is a 7th grade textbook, which means it was for twelve and thirteen-year olds at most. A child reading this was encouraged to think of him or herself, not as a customer to be placated or attracted, but as a member of the Body of Christ – a full member who can experience deep joy, peace and has a mission.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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And finally…it’s Easter. Sunday morning, rise and shine.

My body was worn out, but functional. I roused every one about nine and had them clean themselves, dress and pack. We’d be heading to ten o’clock Mass at the Cathedral, then returning to the hotel for any last necessities, checking out, and leaving our bags at the desk for the afternoon.

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Easter morning view from the hotel room. 

Our flight back home was early Monday morning. I had a room reserved at the Mexico City Airport Marriott Courtyard for the night. Good buses run from Puebla directly to the airport all day, so I knew that there was no need to reserve any tickets. Shooting for a general time frame would work just fine, so that’s what we did, the time frame being 4-ish – which would get us to the hotel by seven at the latest, we hoped. And ten hours later, up and out and on the plane home.

The zocalo (town piazza or square) was not as busy as on former days (yet), but there were magazine vendors setting up who hadn’t been there before. As I mentioned, the Cathedral was celebrating Mass every hour most of the day – wander in and you’d hit something guaranteed.

We slipped in a side pew just as Mass was beginning, the final strains of Pescadores de Hombres fading as we did so. The celebrant was, I’m presuming, of the archdioceses’ auxiliary bishops. It was an Easter Sunday Mass, with organ and small choir and the same stellar cantor who had sung on Thursday and, even though I couldn’t see him, I’m sure, at the Vigil. The only disappointing and honestly puzzling point was that the cantor led the Responsorial Psalm and continued to stand at the side, which led me to believe he was prepping to sing the Easter Sequence…but no. It was simply recited by some old guy. Why???? It’s so haunting, beautiful and expressive – and this fellow with the wonderful voice was standing right there! Why??

After checking out and stashing our luggage, we…as we do…wandered. Food was consumed – churros (excellent and fresh – there was always a line at the place around the corner), street tacos, the famous local cemita sandwich and street quesadillas and probably some ice cream. We shopped, not only for souvenirs – including candy at Puebla’s famed Street of Sweets –  but for clothes and shoes (as I was told, everything was open) as well. As I’ve said, the cost of living here is so low, it’s crazy how inexpensive even good shoes are.

 

Behind the Cathedral is the “House of Culture” which houses, among other spaces and institutions, the oldest public library in North America, the Palafaxiona Library.

When, in 1646 the bishop of Puebla, Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, donated a rich and select personal library of 5,000 volumes to the Tridentine College, he thought of the formation of the clergy, but also of the society of the city of Puebla. He therefore established, also, that anyone who could read was to be allowed inside this magnificent library. As a seminary library, it was also a library with a broad range for reading, one not limited to knowledge about God and his church, but to the study of all that might occur to the pen of man, and in order that man might have strong arguments to defend the faith.

By 1773, then Bishop of Puebla, Francisco Fabián y Fuero, established the principal nave of the Palafoxiana Library at 43 meters in length such that the population would have access to the collection of Bishop Palafox. The bishop also had two floors of fine shelves built in fine ayacahuite, coloyote and cedar.

The collection increased with donations from the bishops Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz and Francisco Pablo Vázquez, and by the inclusion of the library of the Jesuit College. Today, some 45,059 volumes dating from the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries coexist with a few from the 20th century.

Those darn obscurantist Catholics, up to their repressive tricks once more!

 I had determined it was open, so it seemed like a visit would be a quick, painless dip into culture – but wait – there’s more!

As we climbed the steps on our way to what we thought was the museum, we encountered an exhibit – an exhibit of devotional statues that had, at one time or another, been on display in the Cathedral. (Don’t worry – it hasn’t been wreckovated – there is plenty of art still there in every nook and cranny. It’s just that over five centuries, you collect a lot.) It was free admission, so we walked through and took some time with the emotionally expressive, finely wrought work. I was especially intrigued with the back of this Christ the King – that hair……

We were on our way to the library when we heard music, and discovered, down in the courtyard a floor below us, a dance performance happening in front of a large, appreciative crowd. Video is on this Instagram post.

On to the library, which involved a slow walk through – probably quite boring for some, but absorbing for me. Libraries are that way in general, but to be surrounded by centuries of exploring, meditation, research, creativity and pondering, hand-written, laboriously printed, carefully preserved – is humbling.

And so….quick version of the rest of the day:

Retrieved luggage. Got an Uber to the bus station. Arrived at bus station (different from our arrival station – this is the one for the airport buses) – tickets available on a bus in 45 minutes, purchased tickets, sat and waited.

Even though the station was busy, the experience was less confusing – there were fewer IMG_20180401_163516.jpgbuses leaving, so it was clearer which was ours. As we did before, we checked our luggage, went through security and then boarded – getting our promised first class snack – A WATER AND A MUFFIN – this time. Although this time, the movie screen wasn’t working – the bus driver even stopped the bus about fifteen minutes out, came back, took out a panel from the ceiling, fiddled around, squinted at the screen, shrugged, returned to the front and kept on driving – screen dark, but we did have wi-fi.

The bus dropped us off at Terminal 1, the originating terminal for most international flights (Inter-Mexico flights as well as Delta fly from Terminal 2) and the location of our hotel. I am so glad we stayed at the airport. Our flight was at 7 am, and I can’t imagine how more miserable we’d have been if we’d stayed any distance away. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was unnecessary, as we discovered afterwards when we walked to see how far we’d have to go in the morning – we could have just turned a couple of corners and eaten our choice of fast food at a third of the price (this was most expensive meal we had in Mexico…)…ah, well!

Departure was painless. I was glad we flew Southwest – the departure lines in the morning were non-existent there while the other airline counters were crowded, even at 6 am. Hobby Airport in Houston has an almost completely automated immigration system – US citizens didn’t even have to fill out customs forms – and the re-entry experience was a breeze. Back on the ground in Alabama by 12:30, in the Chick-Fil-A drive through by 1.

Success!

Come back in the next couple of days for a summary post and Deep Thoughts. 

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We are home now – first stop Chick-fil-A, second stop washing machine, third stop Zaxby’s.

Home.

It’s still a miracle, really. Will I ever stop feeling the wonder at being in Mexico City at breakfast time, then home in time for lunch? I doubt it, and I don’t want to. It is a wonder, I’m grateful for it even as I feel a sense of unease at the sense of obligation it brings. Previous generations had it so hard and produced such beautiful, truthful things. I have it so easy, I have so much more time…what am I doing with it?

A question that weighs especially heavily after experiencing the highs – and in a more limited way – the lows – of a country like Mexico.

So, back to Saturday morning.

It did not begin well. Montezuma got me, and I can’t figure out where we met. Nothing but bottled water touched my lips. I didn’t have any fruits or vegetables that might have been washed in the preceding days. The only thing I can figure out is that Friday morning, we had breakfast and I had juevos awash in mole – I didn’t eat it all (they just drown things in mole sauce (why???), and to my palate it’s definitely overkill) – but I think that the little bit I did consume might have been it. Perhaps the mole had been reconstituted with local water and not heated at a high enough temperature to Kill Things. I don’t know. I do know it was miserable for a few hours there.

It took the morning for me to (mostly) recover. I sent the boys out a couple of times to wander, buy churros – whatever – just go. And they kept coming back like fifteen minutes later. Why are you here?

I took solace in the fact that if I, indeed, couldn’t get going at all that the Puebla centro is safe and interesting enough that they could, if seriously threatened, spend the whole day out there themselves, without me. (they’re almost 17 and 13, remember). There was a movie theater, too, if things got desperate.

But by about 11:30, I was confident enough of my system that I decided that our original Saturday plan could happen, albeit later than planned: Cholula.

Cholula is a neighboring town, but really, driving there, it seems more like a suburb. It’s six or seven miles away, but there’s no empty space between the two. The reason for going is this: what they think is probably the biggest pyramid, by volume, in the world.

Except you can’t see it!

For it’s under a hill and on top of the hill sits a church.

You can read about the pyramid here – in case you don’t know the reasons the MesoAmericans, particularly in central Mexico, could build their pyramids to such a great size is that they periodically enlarged them by building over them every few decades.

So, we Ubered it over there, startled by the immensity of the church-topped hill right there, with the town spread out around it. The driver let us out at a plaza lined with food and gift stalls, filled with visitors (it was Saturday, remember!) and in the middle of which were voladores, ready to take flight.

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What are voladores?

 The ritual ceremony of the Voladores (‘flying men’) is a fertility dance performed by several ethnic groups in Mexico and Central America, especially the Totonac people in the eastern state of Veracruz, to express respect for and harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds. During the ceremony, four young men climb a wooden pole eighteen to forty metres high, freshly cut from the forest with the forgiveness of the mountain god. A fifth man, the Caporal, stands on a platform atop the pole, takes up his flute and small drum and plays songs dedicated to the sun, the four winds and each of the cardinal directions. After this invocation, the others fling themselves off the platform ‘into the void’. Tied to the platform with long ropes, they hang from it as it spins, twirling to mimic the motions of flight and gradually lowering themselves to the ground.

It was interesting to see, although I don’t think “fling” describes the actions I saw. More like, “sit suspended and slowly start spinning while your hat-holding companions work the crowd below.”

I’m not going to recreate the next hour or so of activity step by step. Just know it involved: Seeing a huge line to enter the tunnel that’s been excavated through the pyramid. Getting the very clever idea that since we knew there was a museum associated with the pyramid, we’d avoid the line, get tickets for the experience at the museum and do that first. Getting ice cream. Going to the wrong museum. Going to the right museum, but being told we had to buy tickets at the tunnel entrance. Senora. Gracias. Waiting in line for thirty minutes (me sitting on a bench next to a rotating series of old Mexican men and women) to buy said tickets. Going through the tunnel.  Coming out the other side. Climbing up the hill to Our Lady of Remedies. Praying for just that. Very convenient. Climbing down and, knowing that we were on the complete opposite of the museum, saying, “forget it,” and heading into town instead.

With Mom fighting cramps every time her body changed position, it seemed. Which, you know, when you’re walking around, happens a lot.  Which explains why “forget it” is not exactly what she said in her head when understanding where the museum was in relation to where she ended up.

In all seriousness, it is an amazing sight, even though it’s a hill – for you know that under the hill lies an enormous pyramid and there you are on top of it with Our Lady of Remedies. The church is a lovely bright yellow, and it really does dominate the landscape of the town. In fact, as we left Puebla on Sunday, our bus drove on the highway several kilometers north – and I could see it from there.

Incidentally, Our Lady of Remedies, along with many other churches in the Puebla state, especially in and around Cholula, were heavily damaged in last fall’s earthquake. We saw a great deal of evidence of that – turrets and other features piled beside walls and so on.

 

What absorbed me most, though, was  the families. It’s not as if it were the first time  – in Mexico, that’s what you see most of – families, and most of the time, it’s multi-generational. Grandparents, parents, and children climbing the hill up to the church, waiting in line to enter the church, sharing a picnic, gathered at the top of the pyramid, under the shadow of Our Lady of Remedies. Little ones slung their buzzing, clacking toys around and wept at their dropped paletas, parents bounced babies in slings and grandparents, their stature usually about halfway between their children’s and grandchildren’s,  pointed out the features in the town spread out below and the volcanoes in the distance.

Deciding that our time in the two Archeology museums in Mexico City had probably been enough, we wandered into Cholula – as is the case with all Mexican towns, blocks of brightly painted buildings lined the streets and this being Holy Saturday, it was hopping. We did a bit of souvenir shopping, then found the Zocalo where we settled in for some lunch at a stand, then shopped a bit more – there was an extensive book section under the tent, and I bought several easy versions of classics in Spanish – probably 3rd-5th grade – the Iliad, The Invisible Man and a collection of Poe stories. We’ll see how serious our burgeoning MesoAmerican naturalist/scholar really is about learning Spanish, won’t we?

I then followed the lead of this blogger, found a taxi, and asked him if he would take us to two churches on the outskirts off Cholula and then back to Puebla – he agreed ($300 pesos was his price – about $15).

The churches?

First, St. María Tonantzintla. I got up at 4:30 am, and I’m tired, so I’ll let the other blogger fill you in:

Santa María Tonantzintla was constructed in the 17th century as a church for the local indigenous people. As was typical in Mexico, the local people incorporated many of their own beliefs into their religious symbols. This fusion produces a style which some refer to as “indigenous baroque”.

The church has a yellow body, but is nicely set off with red tile. The front ornamentation is rather simple, with figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary enclosed in niches along the front. The overall look is very pleasant.

It’s the inside where things get more interesting. A riot of figures cover every surface. The impact is stunning, your eyes are drawn over and over the surfaces, examining the many details. You can see children, birds, angels, flowers, and many other symbols. All are painstakingly crafted from plaster, then carefully painted or gilded.

I’ll go further than he does about the exterior – it’s not just “pleasant” – it’s distinctive and singular. The interior is as he describes it, and, as he continues – you aren’t allowed to take photographs inside. The people sell photographs and postcards and even a small book, and really, why not support them in their dedication to their own parish?

 

Our Cathedral rector traveled to this church a few years ago and snapped some interior photos after celebrating Mass – enjoy! 

Just a mile away is San Francisco Apatapec, fascinating and even startling because it’s so different than the first church – yes, the commonalities in structure indicate a proximity in construction, but instead of red tile, the second church is adorned with Talavera tile. I was a little restricted in photography because they had set up a tent that reached from the front door to the courtyard opening – I couldn’t get a good long view but I think you get the sense of it. Click on photos to get a larger version.

 

 

Aren’t they amazing?

And note – these are not located in the midst of grand cities or wealthy neighborhoods. What surrounds them may not be squalor, but it’s not a gated community either. It’s hardscrabble small town Mexico.

And of course, we were popping in on Holy Saturday afternoon, remember. Both churches were busy with preparation – people were dusting, scouring, trimming and arranging flowers. So here you have it: Beautiful – no, stunning – churches that are not imposed on or extracted from the sufferings of the poor by authoritarian hierarchs, but stand tall, rather, as expressions of the people’s love and worship of God, exploding with hope and trust in the Beauty that waits for them.

As I said…flight was at 7 am, which meant a 4:30 am wake-up. Thank goodness we were in an airport hotel. I might still be in Mexico City if it were otherwise. I’ll post on the rest of Saturday tomorrow. On Tuesday. Got it?

I’ll violate my general aversion to putting video on the blog (because you can’t resize them)  by sticking this one of the voladeros here:

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