Saturday, April 16, 2016

León

Besides the wonderful El Convento Hotel, León had a great vibe—vibrant city with a rich past. The sights and sounds, the people, the beautiful weather made for a place that felt comfortable and inviting.

The beautiful cathedral was tranquil and quiet.

Carnival figures at a small museum.

One evening we walked out, through the main square and enjoyed the children, the lighted buildings, the cooler evening air.

On another evening we went to the beach to watch the sun set over the Pacific.

I could imagine that beach stretching northward, all the way to Oregon...

 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Getting old...

Yesterday was my 70th birthday. It seems so strange to actually be this old. Truly, my young friends, one does not feel, at 70, the way you always expected to feel at 70. Below is a post I wrote on my 67th birthday. It still holds true 3 years later, so it seemed like a good one to revisit...

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When I was very young, I thought 40 was old. It is true that the older you get, the further out "old" seems to be. Right now I think I might be old when I get to be 80, but we will see. Just a few years ago I thought 60 was old. I am well past that, celebrating my 67th birthday today. My granddaughter, in her straightforward and totally non-judgmental way tells me I am old. For her it is simply a matter of numbers of years, not my attitude or my physical condition, though she does point to my white hair as evidence.

That photo, above, is a picture of the aging journey. Starting at the left is my great-grandmother, Cora Shelton, a paragon of virtue, pillar of the Swink, Colorado Methodist Church, signer of the prohibition abstinence pledge. She was the quilter, from whom, perhaps, my quilting genes descended. She and the Methodist ladies met weekly to make quilts to send to the missionaries and heathens in Africa. I have often wondered if there are stashes of depression era quilts secreted away in huts in darkest Africa to this day. Cora, who homesteaded in Colorado, lived late into her '90s and was a pioneer woman for sure.

Next is my grandmother, Clarice. She was a bit of a wild child, who didn't sign the pledge, hated the name Clarice and preferred to be called "Tresa." I was named for her—sort of. As you can see, she was a fashion plate. Having little money for most of her life, she sewed most of her own clothes and they were outstanding! She was a divorced, working mother for most of her life and she worked hard, but I seldom saw the serious look above. Life was endlessly entertaining and she had a deep, cigarette raspy, hooty laugh that was truly hilarious. She taught me to sew doll clothes and made sure I finished the seams and made a hat to match each outfit. Hats were kind of a big deal with her. She never seemed old until the very end when she got very ill. Then she quickly faded away. Illness was never anything she had much patience with.

Next, Betty, my beautiful mother, only 20 years old in this photo. Whip smart, first person in her family to graduate from college, she never got old. She died at 72, but never seemed old to me. It still shocks me that she is gone. She was creative and busy and involved in everything and interested in everything. She was a force to be reckoned with, kind and compassionate and a hard act to follow, but my biggest fan and staunchest supporter.

And the baby, as you've guessed, is me, just a few days old. And now I am probably closest in age to great grandmother Cora, as she was in the photo. Now, that is sobering. I think about being old, but not much. I think that is the surprise. I guess some people my age are pretty obsessed with their age—either desperately seeking to escape the imagined stigma and image, or sadly accepting their roles as "old ladies" but really, for me and most of my friends, it isn't worth worrying or thinking about. Beth and I went to lunch to celebrate my birthday today. The order taker asked us if we wanted the "senior citizen plate." We looked at each other in disbelief and shock. "Uh, NO!" was the horrified answer!

So, what is it about—this getting old? A few physical challenges, but I am still the same person I was at 20 and 40—maybe more relaxed, more amused and less stressed by life and ready for another day, every day. Those women, up there in the photo were good models for me. Each one different, but each one truly her authentic self to the end. I hope that is what it is like to get old. If so, bring it on!

—as if I had a choice...

Sunday, April 03, 2016

León and my favorite hotel

After our short stay in Managua, I wondered what the rest of Nicaragua would bring. Our next stop would be León, a very old Colonial city, but first a stop at the hot, dusty ruins of León Viejo, the even older city that came first. Founded in 1524, it was destroyed by earthquake in 1610 and moved to the current location.

20 miles further on, León is a charming, well-preserved Colonial city.

We arrived at our hotel, an inconspicuous white-washed Adobe building with a modest sign out front, tired and hot from the day of travel and exploration of the old city ruins.

As we stepped inside to the interior courtyard garden and surrounding tiled gallery, we were greeted by a lovely girl bearing a tray of tall, cold glasses of refreshing fruit tea to welcome us.

 

 

It was a step into the past, where the Convent of San Francisco, first stood in the year 1639. The current hotel is a faithful reconstruction of the old building that was destroyed by a combination of earthquake and the civil war of the 1980s. Filled with antiques and artwork of the early Colonial period, the hotel is a refuge of beauty, peace and history.

I especially loved the early morning breakfasts in the elegant dining room at the back of the photo above—platters, piled high with fresh, local fruits, fried cheese, fried plantain, eggs, bacon, Gallo pinto (the rice and beans served with every meal) and wonderful, fragrant café con leche. All, with a view of the courtyard flowers and birds.

A Latin American art form that I am in love with are the hand-carved Santos, especially the old, much-loved ones. In the years of the Spanish colonization of the Americas the Catholic Church established many churches and missions with the goal of "Christianizing" the native, indigenous populations. It was impractical and expensive to furnish these churches with the kinds of elegant statuary found in the Spanish churches, so they engaged local, indigenous artisans to create figures of saints (Santos) for the churches and religious residences. For me they have a wonderful, naïveté and heartfelt spirit. El Convento has some beautiful examples, that never failed to engage me as I encountered them.

This one, above, just outside the door to our room was my favorite. That face...

Most of these would have been dressed, originally, in fine velvet clothing and jeweled accessories, but I love the simplicity of the plain, wooden carvings.

Our stay in El Convento was a highlight of our trip for me. The quiet peace is something that will stay with me. I arrived feeling unsettled by Managua's sadness, and found what I hoped was a deeper, more authentic Nicaragua.

 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Managua

At the end of our week in Costa Rica we flew the short distance to Managua, Nicaragua. We had signed on for piggybacked, second Road Scholar tour of Nicaragua and we met up, at the airport, with our friend, Muriel, who was meeting us for this leg of the journey. Our guide met us at the airport and took us to our hotel in Managua. I found Managua a very different kind of city than any other Latin American city I have visited. An interesting, but contradictory place.

First impression: The van ride to our hotel took us through an area of small shops and residences, which were little more than shacks, built from cast off bits of metal sheeting, reclaimed plywood and concrete blocks. The streets were dirty and a canal, filled with garbage ran alongside the road. Children played in the streets and a wild assortment of bicycles, motorbikes, carts, ramshackle autos and beat-up pickups, as well as pedestrians competed for the narrow, dusty streets.

Second impression: our hotel was a Holday Inn on the edge of town, reminiscent of the 1960's—nice enough, and certainly comfortable, but oddly anachronistic, and seemingly out of place.

We checked in, then got a cold drink to take out to the pool area. It was hot and it felt good to sit in the shade and catch up with Muriel. At the pool a photo shoot was in progress, involving 6 - 8 very beautiful, barely clad girls. We never discovered what it was for. A beauty competition, perhaps?

Not all of our group had arrived and we were on our own for dinner. Our guide, Eli, suggested a restaurant he thought we would like and said he could drop us there on his way to the airport to pick up the rest of our group.

Third impression: The restaurant was lovely. We sat outside on a patio with flowers and stars overhead, while a man, with a beautiful voice sang and played guitar. We had met LeAnn, another member of our group, who went to dinner with us. The food was typical Nicaraguan fare and very good. "OK," I thought, "now we're here."

The next day was spent learning about Nicaragua's history, and visiting monuments and places important to that history.

Fourth impression: Nicaragua's history is largely tragic. There is a feeling of sadness that pervades Managua. The city has been destroyed by earthquake several times in its history— the last in 1972—and as a result almost none of its Colonial history or architecture remains. Looking out from a hilltop toward Lake Managua, you see one tall bank building that survived the last earthquake. The rest is new, undistinguished, construction.

On the same hilltop we were introduced to the greatest of Nicaragua's heroes—Augusto Sandino.

This huge silhouette of Sandino stands guard over the city. Sandino was the revolutionary leader of a rebellion against the US occupation of Nicaragua between 1927 and 1933, when he successfully forced the US troops out of the country. He was assassinated in 1934. He is still revered in Nicaragua and his image and statues appear throughout the country. The years that followed were filled with strife and Revolution, leading up to the civil war of the '80s. One of the leaders of the Sandinistas who took power as a result of that conflict, Daniel Ortega, is the current president of the country. There are still bitter feelings about the US involvement and support of the opposing Contras in that war.

We visited the central square and museum near the old Cathedral of Managua, which is a beautiful old building, but, as you can see through the upper Windows is a mere shell and uninhabitable due to earthquake damage.

The new cathedral is an unattractive concrete building with a strange, bubble- like roof.

It is somewhat better-looking inside.

As we were leaving, a group of students, some in traditional costumes, were filing into the cathedral for an event. They mugged for our cameras and one shouted "weird gringoes!" Which cracked them (and us) up!

Final impression: The weirdest thing about Managua are huge (5 stories high) lighted, metal trees.

There are more than 150 of them throughout the city. A project of Nicaragua's First Lady, they are called "The Trees of Life" and are roughly modeled after this Gustav Klimt painting. They seemed more Dr. Seuss, than Klimt to me...

They started going up in 2013 and more are being added all the time. They cost approximately $20,000 each to install, plus the ongoing electrical costs. In such a poor country this is controversial, as you can imagine. I found them neither beautiful nor ugly, but simply inexplicable and weird. When our guide was asked what he thought, he shrugged and said, "well, at night they look nice."

I tried to formulate an overall feeling about Managua—something I could say to express its character as a city—and I come up with nada. "Heaviness", maybe. It has lived through a lot.