Just Across the River Plate

Street Sign in Colonia del Sacramento

Buenos Aires is one of the most exciting cities in the world. What makes it more bearable is that, if you need to relax a bit, you’re just a short hop across the River Plate to Colonia del Sacramento in adjacent Uruguay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Colonia, as it is known to Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires), is a small city of some 27,000 souls and 17th century walls to protect the inhabitants from incursions by the Argentinians or the Brazilians. Until 1828, Uruguay was a football kicked around between Spain and Portugal.

In our 2006 trip to Colonia via a Colonia Express ferry, Martine found the place to be one of the highlights of our vacation. The town is eminently walkable, with old cobblestones being the rule rather than the exception. The town has a handful of small museums that are fun to visit in the Barrio Historico. M favorite was the tile museum with its small collection of ceramic tiles.

The Lighhouse Is a Museum Which One Can Explore

Now that I have seen Colonia and read W. H Hudson’s idyllic The Purple Land (1885), I would like to spend some more time in Uruguay. In Colonia, we met a British couple that traveled to Fray Bentos because of memories of the canned meat that originated there and was exported to Europe. Also, I would very much like to see the capital, Montevideo.

 

Greene with Envy

Front Entrance to the Gamble House

Yesterday, Martine and I drove to Pasadena to visit the Gamble House. No, it’s not a casino. It was the home of the Gambles of the Procter & Gamble fame. Situated on Orange Grove near where the Tournament of Roses Parade makes the turn onto Colorado, the area is a turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is) millionaires’ row. We had visited the house before, years ago, but it’s a good thing to renew one’s acquaintance with great works of art from time to time.

the house is the work of the architectural firm of Greene & Greene. While their works are usually characterized as “arts and crafts bungalows,” what we have here is a sizeable mansion.

Gamble House Exterior

There is something infinitely pleasing and subtle about the works of Greene & Greene when they are at the top of their game, and the Gamble house was definitely at the top of their game. The architects decided not only the exterior feature of the building, the room layouts, and the grounds—but even the furniture in many cases. In one room, everything is made to resemble a vase on the dresser.

Although the architects had never been to the Orient, they did stop at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago on their way to California, where they saw a number of examples of Japanese architecture. That glimpse was sufficient to get them thinking about how to use wood not only for weight-bearing, but also for decorative purposes.

Gamble House Sample Interior

Note the way all the features in the above room blend in with one another. The pottery, the lighting fixture, the table and chairs seem all of a piece. At one point where the servants would injure their hip by banging into a sharp counter corner, the architects made the counter trapezoidal, eliminating the sharp corner. At another point, the very short Aunt Julia Gamble had a special chair made for her to work with the fastenings on her high-button shoes. (Also note Aunt Julia’s little step stool in the above photo for her comfort.) In the boys’ bedroom, there is a low, wide drawer for storing their shoes. In the kitchen, there is a super-wide drawer for storing tablecloths without wrinkling them along the folds.

Everything is on a human scale. And strikingly beautiful.

 

Ten Classic British Film Comedies

George Cole as “Flash Harry” and Alastair Sim as Headmistress Millicent Fritton in The Belles of St. Trinian’s

In honour of the Royal Wedding—wait, belay that!—I would like to honour the British for what they made me do in my formative years, namely, to laugh my head off. I just watched one of Martine’s favorite films at her side, The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954). It starred the great Alastair Sim in two roles, as the Headmistress of St. Trinian’s School for Girls Millicent Fritton and as her scapegrace horse racing tout brother Clarence. You may recall Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge in the best version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1951).

It suddenly hit me that I have never written about the British film comedies that help sustain me through high school and college, while I was suffering from a pituitary tumor that almost killed me in 1966. Consequently, I have put together a list of ten films that I loved and that made me laugh:

  • Passport to Pimlico (1949), directed by Henry Cornelius.
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), directed by Robert Hamer. With Alec Guinness playing seven parts.
  • Whisky Galore! (1949), directed by Alexander Mackendrick. One of the very best.
  • The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), directed by Charles Crichton. Guinness again.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), directed by Anthony Asquith. On the importance of Bunburying.
  • The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954), directed by Frank Launder. Alastair Sim x 2.
  • Father Brown (1954), directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Guinness as Chesterton’s priest/detective.
  • Hobson’s Choice (1954), directed by David Lean. Charles Laughton and John Mills.
  • The Ladykillers (1955), directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Peter Sellers’s first film.
  • School for Scoundrels (1960), directed by Robert Hamer. Based on Stephen Potter’s books.

So you can wake up in the middle of the night at watch the pre-game show for the Royal Wedding, or you can laugh your ass off. Guess what I would recommend!

 

O Brave New World!

Maya Nose on Pre-Columbian Figure

The world opened up for me when I was thirty years old. It was the first time I even thought of breaking loose from my mother and father and exploring the world. For my first trip, I chose Yucatán in November 1975. And it was magical. First there was that cab ride to the Hotel Mérida past snack bars that were open to the street. It was my first experience of the tropics (other than Florida), and in the dark I saw men and women drinking beer and sodas. I was able to peer into houses and saw families watching television.

Once I checked in to my hotel, I stood at my sixth-floor window looking down onto Calle 60 and looking at passers-by walking on the sidewalk below. Suddenly one stopped and looked straight up at me. How did he know to do that? I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, staring at an optician’s office across the way called Optica Rejón.

I was entranced by the zócalo and the 16th-century structures surrounding it. I had my boots polished every day. There was endless people-watching, all those Maya with their distinctive noses.

How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!

 

Around mid-afternoon, I hung out at the main entrance of the University (also on Calle 60, just a couple blocks from my hotel). So many beautiful young women that looked so different from the ones back home! Young Maya women are astonishingly good looking.

Can you wonder that, feeling the way I did about travel, that it would become a major feature of my life. Even though, in the next two years, I would travel to Europe, there was something about Latin American that lured me—and still does.

Why I’m Stuck on the Maya

Maya Girls

My first real trip outside the borders of the United States was to Yucatán in November 1975. I was so entranced with what I saw that I kept coming back to Maya Mexico for years, until 1992. During that time, I also wanted to go to Guatemala, but a civil war between the Maya and the Ladinos (Mestizos) was raging until 1996; and Guatemala was on the State Department’s “Level 4: Do Not Travel” list until just recently. Even now, the State Department as the whole country classified under a blanket “Level 3: Reconsider travel to Guatemala due to crime” warning.

Why is it that I am so fascinated by the Maya that I would risk flouting President Trumpf’s State Department?

For one thing, the Maya are incredible survivors. The Aztecs were ground down by Cortez within two years. In Peru, it took forty years before resistance was smashed by Pizarro and his successors. And the Maya? That took a full 180 years before the last Maya kingdom (at Tayasal in Guatemala) was leveled.

Today, there are 1.5 million speakers of Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. There are some 6 million speakers of the 26-odd Mayan languages and dialects. Of course, the Incan Quechua language has even more speakers: some 8.5 to 11 million speakers in several South American countries.

In recent years, there have been several disturbances in the Maya area:

  • In Mexico, there was a Maya war against the Ladinos in Yucatán that lasted from 1847 to 1901 and a Zapatista revolt in Chiapas that flared briefly in 1994.
  • In Guatemala, there was a violent civil war against the Ladinos from 1960 to 1996. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Maya were massacred by the army.
  • In El Salvador, there was a civil war from 1979 to 1981. (Only some of the indigenous peoples involved in that one were Maya.)

The Maya are still there, occupying large parts of Mexico (Yucatán, Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, and Quintana Roo); Belize; Guatemala; and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. It is no small achievement for them to have survived so much persecution for upwards of 500 years.

That is what interests me.

 

 

Quiriguá

Zoomorph at Quiriguá

Now that Martine has returned for the time being, I can turn my attention to other things, like that dream of Guatemala that is taking shape in my mind. One of the Maya ruins that I hope to visit is Quiriguá, which is nestled close to the border with Honduras. As the crow flies, it is not far from the even more spectacular ruins at Copán just over the line into Honduras.

In the 1840s, John Lloyd Stephens and his artist Frederick Catherwood paid visits to Copán, Quiriguá, and Palenque. Below is one of the many stelae at Quiriguá as drawn by Catherwood:

Stela at Quiriguá

Quiriguá is actually a small ruin that can be seen within a couple of hours. The trick is getting there in the first place. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I have been informed that some shuttles that go to Copán also pay a visit to Quiriguá as part of the return trip to Guatemala City or Antigua. But as I look at the map of Guatemala, I see that the road network is nowhere near the routing of flying crows. It would probably add a couple of hours to the return trip. So I remain skeptical until I can get some information from someone on the ground in Guatemala.

Return #4

Martine at 2017 Scottish Festival

I am not used to being on an emotional roller coaster … but perhaps I’d better get used to it. As I was drinking a cup of hot green tea to soothe my laryngitis, I got a collect call from Martine to pick her up at the Greyhound Bus Station.

Within minutes, I was on the road; and Martine was there waiting for me. This was another escape attempt that didn’t quite pan out. It was to some unspecified location in the high desert. That was odd because my little girl hates the desert, ever since she spent two years at Twentynine Palms working at the Naval Hospital at the military base there. But, as usual, she didn’t want to talk about it. I think she is afraid that I’ll track her down and collaborate with police and social workers to have her returned to me. Actually, I wouldn’t do that, as it would erode her trust in me.

I suspect that she things that’s what I did during her Escape #2 to Truckee, California. Actually, it was the authorities in Truckee who contacted me and asked me to send them a Greyhound ticket via e-mail. They were the ones who took the initiative.

Will there be another attempt to leave L.A.? I suspect there will, even though she told me tonight that God apparently is putting up roadblocks in her attempts to get away from L.A.

Sigh!