Author Archives: methompson12

What had happened was…

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Well, we have been VERY neglectful of our blog lately! For those of you avid fans (if in fact there are any out there:), my apologies. We have been really busy with various things including getting our internet fixed, which was out of commission for two weeks; trying to leave México, which is becoming increasingly more difficult (no really, that is a literal statement!); and making plans for next year. More on both of the latter things at a later time 🙂

Besides those things, I have been busy actually doing what I came here to do! I have had a lot of performances lately and even more coming up in the next two weeks, and Jeff as well. More gigs with the rock band Mal’Akh:

On stage at the Fonoteca Nacional

Stage at the Film Club Café

And another solo recital, held at the Casa del Lago (House of the Lake) in the Bosque de Chapultepec:

View from the room where I played

We have also sadly had to say goodbye to some of our dear Fulbright friends whom we have gotten to know and spend time with during this year. Due to some conflicts, we missed seeing Liz once more when she left at the beginning of May:

With Liz in Xochimilco back in early November

But we did get to see Doug and Theresa before they left at the end of May:

Dinner with Doug and Theresa

And also Sara before she left at the beginning of June:

Sara came to my Casa del Lago recital!

We went to dinner with Sara her last night here in D.F. and we all tried something we’d never had before–helado de elote (corn ice cream)! It was actually quite good!

It even came in a husk!

And though we have not yet had to officially say goodbye to Chris, we did meet up with her and some of her friends for dinner and dancing/drinks. We opted out of salsa dancing after finding out how expensive it was so we just decided to go to a bar with some good music and have a great time, which we did.

Also, our dear friend Eric who was here in México in December returned for a visit, so we had a really nice time hanging out with him.

At El Colegio Nacional for a concert

Right now, the Foro Internacional de Música Nueva Manuel Enríquez is being held in D.F. It is an international festival of new music that happens here every year. Jeff and I both submitted applications to perform in this festival and were accepted. Jeff had his recital this past Wednesday, June 13, and he was awesome!! My concert is tomorrow so I am a little nervous, but looking forward to it. Jeff will write more about the Foro later but in the meantime, check out programs 8 and 17!

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Silver City

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When I say Silver City, I don’t mean Silver City, NM, from one of my favorite movies:

Really, if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now!

Instead, I mean the city of Taxco in the state of Guerrero. Taxco is famous for its silver jewelry and it is *the* place in México in which to buy this type of jewelry. We had been wanting to visit and finally just decided to take a day trip there. It is about a 3.5 hour bus ride, so it is a long trip for one day but in the end, we were really glad that we decided to come back. Staying longer would have only meant spending more money!

After arriving at our bus station in Taxco (which was practically just a small house with a large parking lot), we hopped in a cab to take us to the centro of the town. I really wish I had taken a picture of the cab. It was a Beetle and quickly, I realized that all of the cabs in sight were Beetles. This particular one had no front passenger seat. It had been removed to allow more “room” for people in the backseat, I guess? Anyway, so that the driver doesn’t have to wait for his passengers to enter the vehicle in order to shut the door, he ingeniously rigged a rope tied to it so he can just sit in the driver’s side and when his passengers get in, pull the rope in order to shut the door behind them. So creative. Anyway, it was immediately obvious that practically the only type of car that can navigate the incredibly narrow and steep streets of Taxco is a Beetle, hence the reason that it seems to be the car of choice of the local cab drivers.

It really only took us a few minutes to get from the station to the centro and when we got there, it was as lovely as one would expect.

As always, there is a big church in the centro

Gazebo and garden

After walking around for a few minutes, we stopped at a tourist booth to get a map and made our way down to the silver vendors. You can certainly buy silver products in the centro, but they are actually real stores and though their products are basically the same, they are much more expensive than the silver vendors you find a little farther away. I really wasn’t prepared for how mountainous Taxco is. I tried to take a picture to show how steep and narrow the streets are, but it still doesn’t quite do it justice.

Trust me, we got our hiking in for the day

I also didn’t really get pictures of the silver vendors. Many of them were along the side of one of the main streets and all under tarps, so I couldn’t really get the camera at a good angle to show the sheer number of them. Let’s just say that as far as the eye could see, there was silver. Silver bracelets, earrings, necklaces, cuffs, pins, hair clips by the thousands (not exaggerating–thousands). We walked through the vendors on the street for awhile until we discovered that there were alleyways off of that main street as well, and they were also filled with jewelry. We made our way down one of them (not wide enough for one person to walk through at a time, so it was chaotic as well) and then discovered an entirely different building with two or three more FLOORS of silver vendors. It was completely overwhelming.

A picture of part of the first floor of this building

This particular vendor was across from the crazy street of vendors. It was nice to look at her things because the atmosphere was much calmer!

After looking around for awhile at all of the many options, we finally were able to do a little shopping. And by we of course I mean me 🙂

Purchases by lunchtime (some gifts not pictured as to not give anything away:)

We walked back to the centro for lunch and ate on the top floor at a nice restaurant with a lovely view.

View from our lunch table

One thing that really struck me about Taxco is how all of the buildings look the same They are all white with red rooftops and brown trim. It is particularly noticeable because every other place that we’ve been to in México has been a collage of different brightly colored houses.

Still gorgeous!

And because I am feeling a little nostalgic, a shot from what I was doing this past weekend a year ago: graduating from KU! What a year!

Dr. Thompson and Dr. Schubert

Last-xaca, pt. 3

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OK, so I said this Oaxaca series would be in two posts but as you can see, we did a lot, so it really deserves three!

On the last day of our trip, we decided to take touring matters into our own hands. One of the all-day tours that we looked at (but ended up not choosing) included a trip to the nearby pueblo of Coyotepec, famous for its barro negro (black pottery). This pueblo is famous for this craft just as Teotitlán is famous for its woven goods. We talked to someone at an information booth in the zocalo of Oaxaca, who assured us that if we went to X intersection in town (which we did), a bus would come by that we could catch to Coyotepec (which it didn’t). Luckily, this scenario is very familiar to us so after watching the scene for a bit, we figured out that there were taxis which said where they were going, and Coyotepec was one of the destinations. So, we hopped in one. It turns out that these taxis are colectivos, which function kind of like a bus, but obviously smaller. The taxi driver goes to the destination listed on his car and along the way, he picks up as many people that are going to the same place as he can fit in his car. Though it might sound uncomfortable, it was actually very easy and extremely cheap!

We got dropped off in the centro of Coyotepec, which is quite lovely.

Fountain in the centro of Coyotepec

There were several shops that sold the barro negro in the area but also, there was a big tent set up in the centro where different vendors sold their pottery as well.

Time to shop!

There were so many pieces in countless shapes, sizes, and designs.

We bought a LOT here! Everything was absolutely beautiful and very cheap. Though we found the same kinds of pottery in the city of Oaxaca, it seemed to be much cheaper to buy everything here and the quality was overall better than what we had seen in the city.

After returning to Oaxaca, we were pretty hungry and decided to get something to eat in the market, which we had done the day before. However, we entered the market from a different side and stumbled onto this awesome eatery.

It was a little confusing at first to figure out exactly what to do because the room was very full and people were shouting in all directions. However, someone shoved a basket of onions at us and we more or less figured out where to go from there. The idea in a place like this is that there are several stations set up in the room. The first one is to pick out what vegetables you want with your meat (hence, the onions). Then, you go to a stand and choose what kind of meat you want, which they grill for you right there on the spot.

Meeeeaaattt

While you’re waiting for your meat to be cooked, you find a seat. In this particular place, there were long booths that were meant for at least 8 people if not more, so we picked an empty one and were soon joined by a nice family on vacation from Puebla, MX. When your food is ready, someone brings it to you and usually that person is followed by a host of other people, selling you things to go with your meal such as tortillas (a must, obviously), salsa, guacamole, and possibly a delicious side dish of chapulines. Which are grasshoppers, cooked to death (thankfully, that is literal) and covered with salt and lime.

crunch crunch

Chapulines are very popular in Oaxaca and once we saw the little girl at our table chowing down, we decided we had to at least try them. One grasshopper each was enough. To be honest, they really just tasted like salt and lime and were crunchy. Maybe a little tooooo crunchy. At any rate, we can now say that we’ve tried them!

Just think, we are in this Mexican's family's photo album of their trip to Oaxaca, just like they are in ours!

And that folks, is a run-down of our trip to Oaxaca! If you ever have a chance to go anywhere in México, we would definitely suggest going there! All of the wonderful things that we heard are absolutely true–there is no other place quite like it!

 

 

Oaxaca, pt. 1

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Semana Santa–usually spring break for those in school here in the D.F. For most schools, it lasts for two weeks-Holy Week and the week after. (For my school, it was sadly only Holy Week.) Semana Santa is a huge travel time here. Pretty much everyone in D.F. goes to the beach and the city is very quiet. Ever since we arrived here, practically every person that we have met has said, “Oh, you MUST visit Oaxaca!” After the third or fourth person to say this, we were convinced and we finally made our way to Oaxaca for Semana Santa, vacating D.F. like true chilangos 🙂

Oaxaca is a state on the southern coast of México. It has wonderful beaches that many Mexicans go to instead of the more touristy places, such as Cancun or Cabo San Lucas. Though I would love to go to the beaches sometime, we went to the city of Oaxaca, obviously appropriately named and located in the dead center of the state. We woke up early on Monday morning and went to the bus station to get tickets for the 6 hr. bus ride. We had planned on taking the first bus out, thinking that we would beat the rush. Not so! Luckily, we were able to get tickets for the noon bus but the five or six buses that left before noon were definitely completely sold out, and I’m sure that continued to be true for the rest of the day (and week)!

The bus terminals here look just like airport terminals

So, we boarded our bus and had a nice drive to Oaxaca. [As it turns out, there was actually an earthquake in Oaxaca, felt all the way in D.F., while we were on the road. We didn’t feel a thing!] The drive was beautiful but for the last two or three hours, we were just winding up and up mountain after mountain. And it wasn’t like driving in the mountains in the U.S. Though I’m not an expert, my experience with driving in the mountains in the U.S. is that you generally see the occasional house in the valley or on the mountainside, or that you pass a tiny town now and again. There was NOTHING and I mean NOTHING in these mountains!

Winding up the mountains on the way to Oaxaca.

We finally arrived in Oaxaca around 6:00 in the evening and checked into our hotel, which was a decent walking distance from the center of town. That turned out to be nice though because it was very quiet.

Our hotel, Hotel Santa Lucia

The first thing we did of course was to head to the centro of town, which is just absolutely gorgeous.

Santo Domingo, a beautiful church near the centro of the city

I loved the colors on the buildings and the palm trees!

These wooden statues were on side streets all over the centro. Of course, Jeff needed to pose with them--doesn't he blend in well?

As I said before, it was spring break for all of the kids, and we saw so many of them at all times of the day and night in the town square with the crazy balloons that are pictured below. I have never seen any quite like these before but the kids were having a blast, running around and playing with these things. You could buy them in any color imaginable and most of them had popular cartoon characters, cars, Disney princesses, etc. on them.

Very colorful!

Though Santo Domingo (pictured earlier) seems to be the most famous of the 40 or so churches in Oaxaca, it is actually not the cathedral in the centro of the town–the one you see below is. It is of course also very old and beautiful.

All right, I'm not an expert but this picture with the color of the clouds turned out really cool!

While we were walking around the centro the first night, we passed several people out on the street trying to draw people in to their tour businesses. We finally went in one and saw that we could take a tour of several places around Oaxaca for a very reasonable price, so we chose one to do for our first full day. The tour left at 10:00, so we found a nice, extremely colorful little restaurant for breakfast.

The red walls together with the bright blue plates was a little overwhelming.

Many of the places to see in Oaxaca are actually outside the city limits, so taking a tour was very convenient. Our first stop was the little town of Tule, which is home to El Árbol de Tule. This tree is the largest in diameter in the world and is probably around 2,000 years old. I can’t even begin to describe how ridiculously enormous it is!

El Árbol de Tule from a distance. As you can see, the gardens and church surrounding it are lovely.

It's impossible to get the entire tree in a picture up close, but at least here you can kind of see the scope of the trunk next to a person.

The next stop was the pueblo of Teotitlán, famous for woven goods. This community of indigenous people, the Zapotecs, still retain their language and customs, though they do speak Spanish also and allow visitors into their pueblo for tours and to buy their products. We had a short demonstration of how they dye material and how they weave the rugs. It takes about 25 days at 7 hours per day just to make one of these!

A rug in progress on the loom

From there, we drove about an hour to Hierve el Agua, an area of natural springs and a natural salt rock formation that looks like a waterfall.

A view of the springs

Salt rock waterfall. We *might* have been a little out of breath by the time we got to this point to take a picture. We were even higher up in elevation in Oaxaca than we are in D.F.

There were a lot of people there besides our tour group. Many people brought bathing suits and were soaking in the springs and swimming because it was a very hot day. But, the springs are not hot–the water was a little cold!

There are no fences or anything in this area. We are standing right in front of the edge of a cliff!

Just one more because it's pretty

After lunch at a Oaxacañan buffet, we visited the ruins at Mitla. It is not the biggest site of its kind in México, but it is the second largest in Oaxaca and the most important to the Zapotecs. It still has many of the original symbols carved into its structures.

Until 1970, this ancient ruin was actually the town market!

There are still Zapotecan symbols all over the outside and inside of the buildings.

Finally, the tour concluded with a tour of a fábrica de mezcal, which is a popular alcohol in México. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant and this fábrica is one of the many that make mezcal in this area. Of course, the tour concluded with a free sampling of any type of mezcal one could want 🙂

The maguey plant

The is used to crush the hard outer shell of the maguey and get the material out for making mezcal.

Drinks all around!

More on the rest of our trip to Oaxaca very soon!

Can’t see the forest for the trees

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At the beginning of this semester, Jeff and I made the goal of going to at least one museum every week for the rest of our time here. The time is flying by and there is no way we can see everything, but we want to make a concerted effort. However, life does get in the way sometimes and we have been bad at sticking to our goal. The last two Sundays though, we have tried to get back on track! Last week, we walked over to Bosque de Chapultepec (Forest of Chapultepec, the enormous park that we live by) in order to check out one of the museums, the Castillo de Chapultepec.

Aerial shot of the Castillo

The Castillo was turned into the Museo Nacional de Historia in the late 30’s/early 40’s but previously had several other uses, including as the home of former Mexican presidents. (Incidentally, in case you think it looks familiar, I just read that the Castillo was used as a set for the movie Romeo and Juliet in the 90’s starring Claire Danes and Leonardo Dicaprio.)

The garden

Beautiful view of the city from the garden

There are murals in some rooms of the Castle

Cannon...picture taken by a Canon, haha

Very old carriage

This side of the castle also has a lovely view of the city. The castle sits at the top of Chapultepec Hill so you can see quite far in all directions.

We decided to return again to the Bosque this past Sunday to walk around and find something to do. Here are a couple of scenic shots we took while walking around:

On our walk to the Bosque--these purple flowered trees are everywhere now and are beautiful!

Jeff in front of the Niños Heroes monument at the entrance to the park.

There are always vendors!

After walking around for awhile, we decided to explore another section of the zoo that we hadn’t seen before–animals from dry/desert environments:

Monkey!

Unlike some of the other animals that were taking a morning nap, the zebras were running around being very playful.

It was awesome to see this hippo so close but let me tell you, he smelled really bad!

They had a very cool snake house but it was too dark in there to take pictures. Though you would certainly see the animals that I have shown at zoos in the U.S., the snakes were particularly interesting because with the exception of a few, they were all native to Mexico, so I had never seen most of them before. And if I see them again, I hope it’s only in the context of a zoo, because most of them were poisonous and looked scary!

Are you ready to rock?!!

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It has been awhile since I have posted much about what I have been up to but in addition to eating and sightseeing a lot, I have actually been working! I have been lucky to be involved in a couple of really fun projects over the last few weeks. The first one began last semester but did not really get off the ground for regular rehearsals and performances until January. A doctoral student in voice that I shared a class with last semester, Cata, invited me to play in a project she was trying to get together–a performance of Kurt Weill’s opera/ballet,  the Seven Deadly Sins. As many of you know, with opera, staging and costumes can be up to interpretation, which is why you get “modern” versions of operas that were written a long time ago, such as by Mozart for example. After all, we have the music, but little knowledge of how things were staged back then. At any rate, my friend and the people she is working with decided on a cabaret style interpretation using Weill’s original text in German for the main character and translating the other voice roles into Spanish. So, the project grew to include Cata (playing the main role of Ana), three singers, a dancer, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and drum set, as well as a director and so forth. All in all, we have a cast of about 15 people and are giving a performance every Wednesday night in the month of February at a cabaret bar in Coyoacán.

Seven Deadly Sins promo

The bar where we are performing

So far, the performances have been very successful! The bar is great and is a pretty intimate space, which is nice for both performers and audience. We have had probably 80-100 or more people each week and though we only have one more performance scheduled, it seems that the bar is going to invite us to stay for two more weeks, so I guess that is a good sign!

The band during a dress rehearsal before opening night.
A scene from the show: the sin of gluttony. As you might be able to see, the main character Ana is indulging in bags of chips and cookies.

The other great project that I have been involved in just took place on Thursday night. Last semester, I met composer Felipe Perez Santiago at an event at the escuela. Not long after that, he asked me to work in a project that he was putting together. A drive-in movie theater was just opening in Coyoacán and Felipe knew the owners. He talked to them and they invited him to get a group together to open for the movie The Wall. The idea was for Felipe to choose several short silent films and compose music to be played during the showing of those films. Felipe is already a member of a rock band, Mal’Akh, so he chose to write for Mal’Akh plus some extra players. In the end, we had a group of flute, clarinet/sax, cello, 2 guitars, drum set, and voice. I never thought that I would play with a rock band but I have to say, it was a really awesome experience! Everyone was great to work with and a lot of fun! The performance went really well and I have a feeling that if the audience liked it (which they seemed to) that we could be asked back again, which would be a lot of fun!

Mal'Akh promo

Action shot from a rehearsal

The drive-in (or autocinema, as it is called here) is very much what I would imagine a 50’s drive-in to look like. The music playing before the show started was all music from the 50’s and 60’s (some with video, like Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend); concessions such as popcorn, hot dogs, and malts; and you can even call a car service to rent a classic car for the occasion!

This is exactly what it looks like, even complete with classic cars!

You have to have a car to get into the autocinema (because you pay by the car), but they do have seats on the ground (the cars are parked on the raised cement level seen below) so that if you would prefer to get out of your car and enjoy a nice night, you can sit and watch the show.

This picture was taken from the stage. The guys standing are waiting to park cars.

Rehearsing before the show

I took some video that we are having trouble uploading to YouTube but when we figure it out, I will post so you can hear some clips 🙂

Morelia

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About a month ago, Jeff and I were able to visit Morelia, Michoacán for a few days and had a great time! Jeff was given the opportunity to do a composer’s residency in Morelia at CMMAS, which is the best electronic music studio in the country.

For people coming to CMMAS for residencies, they have a couple of rooms that you can rent for the week that are right across the street from the studio. Our room was gorgeous and my favorite feature of all was the sink!

I want this!

The studio is located in the Casa de la Cultura, which houses several organizations for the arts and even offers some classes in art and music.

Casa de la Cultura

Another very important center for music in Morelia is the Conservatorio de las Rosas, a music school in the centro of the city. It is actually a very good thing that I didn’t go to school here because I don’t know how I would have gotten anything done! It is a beautiful location and I’m pretty sure I would have been happy to sit outside and just admire the scenery all day.

The courtyard at the Conservatorio de las Rosas

The school has buildings on both sides of this street and is right next door to some nice restaurants and coffee shops.

Another angle of the Casa de la Cultura. Look at that beautiful blue sky!

Though Morelia is a large city, we only walked around the centro area. As with all of the centros of the cities here in Mexico, there is a large cathedral and several government buildings. The cathedral in Morelia is especially beautiful, particularly when its lights are turned on at night.

The main cathedral in the centro

One of the things I liked most about Morelia is that you can see the mountains from anywhere. I sometimes forget that we live in the mountains in the D.F. because a lot of times, you can’t see the mountains for the buildings. But the view from any place in Morelia was spectacular!

View of the mountains from the studio where Jeff was working.

Though we had fun, we both did actually get work done! I was with Jeff Monday through Wednesday and while there, I went to the flute studio recital of a friend of mine that teaches at the Conservatorio de las Rosas, Wilfrido Terrazas. Wilfrido also very nicely invited me to come sit in on his lessons the following day and give comments to his students, which I really enjoyed doing. Jeff got a lot accomplished during his residency, but I will let him write more about that later! In the meantime though, here is a picture of Jeff working in the studio that he had to himself all week long.

Jeff working hard!