Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 19, 2005

Cathedral and ruins

The cathedral in Mexico City is in the background; in the foreground are ramps running through the Aztec ruins which were discovered only twenty some years ago. The cloud dropped a nice shower about twenty minutes after this picture was taken. Lucky for me, I had by that time left the group and gone back to the hotel room to rest my feet.


Museum courtyard



Museums are free on Sundays, if I remember right. This Sunday, this particular art museum was flooded with families. This guy was patiently waiting for his mother to figure out her camera to take a picture of him sitting on the fountain.


Our group

Here is what a group of pipe organ afficiandos looks like. Our guide Adolpho was pointing up at the magnificent dome of the Palace Des Belles Artes in Mexico City.


More kids



These two were trucking along on a sidewalk in Mexico City, one brother giving the other a ride, but they didn't mind being stopped for a photo. Notice how on all the photos below of children, they make a point of touching each other tenderly for the photo. Kind of sweet, if you ask me.


Little girl and the fountain



Hotel in Tlaxcala

Here is the lobby of the gorgeous hotel we stayed in at Tlaxcala. Such beautiful skylights were a common sight in Mexico. After we were given the key, we walked down many hallways, including this one to get to our room. Notice the old wall of the seventeenth century cloister on the right. At the end of the hall was a scene I enjoyed every time I passed by.

My room was off this little courtyard, one of many in the hotel complex. Notice the fountain burbling underneath the little cube in the middle. I even enjoyed the doorway to my room, especially in the warm January sun.


Mariachi

These two guys were playing on a square in Mexico City. Of course, they had CDs for sale. I didn't want to buy one, but after I got home I wished I had. I am sure they would have been cheap--and good grief, how often do you get to buy a CD from an authentic mariachi?

Mariachi originated from the era when the French controlled Mexico. The French introduced little bands which played at weddings. The French pronounciation of marriage was adopted as the name of the bands by the Mexicans.



February 18, 2005

Wouldn't it be funny if...

Whenever my realtor calls to say he's going to show my house, I get the urge to do some candid camera gag. Like...wouldn't it be funny to set an oversized rat trap in the middle of the kitchen floor, baited with about a cubic inch of cheese, and then have a film of the realtor trying to explain that away to the potential buyer. Or leave a note about the python that got out, so if you see him...or, have a cow in the basement chewing on hay, or somebody (a paid actor) in a cage downstairs chawing on a turkey leg apparently perfectly content, or a pile of four dozen beer cans next to the recliner, or a Volkswagon in the living room, or ...well, you get the idea.

It would be most fun if the realtor wasn't in on the act--for I think the best reactions would come from him or her. Of course, the potential buyers might have some interesting reactions, too--or, they could be in on the act and just take in the oddity as if it were perfectly normal, encouraging the realtor to try to get through and make the sale anyway by glossing over the elephant in the living room.

Or have the potential buyers try out things only to have them all fall apart and watch the realtor try to explain it away.

Candid Camera type shows get me every time. I laugh until I am sick. I laugh just sitting here thinking up Candid Camera gags.

It is probably time for bed.


Snowsnakes

Today was one of those mid-winter days that often can get me down--cold, with white snowsnakes on the highway. However, I was so busy that I had no time for lethargy or depressed thoughts.

Most of the day was spent in Bemidji. I was recently asked to join the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. My anarchist instincts go against joining boards, but this is a foundation which does a lot of good, and in areas I am interested in. For instance, they give loans and grants to new businesses, they give scholarships, they even have a fund for painting old churches--right up my alley!

So, today was the first board meeting and it was most interesting. The president of Bemidji State University spoke to us, and we got an update on the various foundation projects. I was clueless, of course, but said "aye" at the right times as far as I could tell.

We were treated like honored guests at the University, and there are benefits to that. Campus security even cordoned off an area with yellow tape for us to park! This may go to my head.

I was warned that the Dover sole dinner we were served today is the exception, not the rule, and that most meetings are held at the McIntosh community center in comfortable, but hardly posh surrooundings.

So, a board meeting--and then I planned to go to Park Rapids to pick up some boards for the house. Another board meeting, pardon the pun. But it was so late by the time we got out of Bemidji that I just decided to go home and make the board trip to Park Rapids a separate event, preferably on a day when there aren't white snowsnakes on the highway.

I am in search of two 16 foot long lengths of oak for railings on the catwalk. The each should be in one piece.

I HAVE BEEN SO BUSY that I haven't even missed baseball this winter. What fun it will be when the Twins come back on again. Santana every four days! Mauer four days out of five! Win or lose, we get to see some premier players, and I am looking forward to it.


February 17, 2005

Windbreak history

I am doing some reading in preparation for writing an essay for the North Dakota Museum of Art Shelterbelts project. An exhibit will open in June. It will mainly consist of photographs by Jon Solinger of Moorhead.

The history of windbreaks I am reading consists of a doctoral dissertation done by a geography student at the University of Oregon in 1983. This one, unlike most doctoral dissertations, is readable.

Even so, I am only reading a chapter per day.

The most fascinating kernel of information is the notion which prevailed even up to the Depression that planting trees was a way to alter the climate and bring more rain. Climate alteration was the main motive of early federal tree planting programs--and there were many back in the late 19th century.

One of Franklin Roosevelt's first acts as president was to propose a belt 100 miles wide running from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in which there would be planted tens of thousands of windbreaks. He was impressed by the vast nothingness on his campaign trips across the Great Plains in 1932, and thought planting trees would be a good way to give people some work.

The program was ridiculed because some of its advocates trotted out the old climate change argument. Once those people realized they were making a joke of the whole project, both to local farmers and to the snoots out east, they dropped that argument.

Curiously, proponents of federal tree programs substituted the climate change argument with a typical New Deal motive: They were going to use the windbreaks to save the diversified family farm. Apparently, the family farm was already under threat during the 1930s, but somehow windbreaks were going to keep farms small.

It didn't work, of course. And the huge tree planting program, although it was more successful than previous tree planting programs sponsored by the federal government, died out by 1942. Almost no trees were planted under federal government auspices until the mid-1950s.

This gap interests me, for it is during those years that my grandfather was active planting windbreaks around the Red River Valley. I have always wondered how he competed with the feds planting windbreaks--it now looks like he was the only game in town for about a fifteen to twenty year period.

When the sixties arrived and a new round of government-sponsored tree planting hit, Grandpa raised the tiny windbreak trees and sold them to the government agencies doing the planting rather than taking a crew on the road to do the actual planting as he had done before. That business of raising windbreak trees is continued today by Lee Nursery, started by my Uncle Orville and Aunt Ede (Bergeson) Lee, and run at present by their son Gary on their ancestral farm north of Fertile.

At some point in the very near future, I am going to have to weave all of this into an essay for the general public.


February 16, 2005

One more picture from Los Remedios

Here is one final photo from atop the pyramid.The pyramid was covered in soil by the Spaniards, as far as I can figure. You couldn't see the stepping stone formations like you would expect on the usual Mesoamerican pyramid. They were excavating the old Aztec remains on one part of the pyramid.


Old man

The one thing this old man at the art museum wanted me to know was, "My grandfather was Spanish!" I wanted to know what he was going to do with those three Cokes, but I didn't get around to asking.



Street scene

How often in this country would you see a father and his sons walking down the street arm in arm? In Mexico, it isn't rare at all.


Wanna Coke?

A street vendor in Mexico City selling refreshments...


View from Los Remedios

Here is the view from atop the Aztec pyramid where the Spanish built the church of Los Remedios. If you look in the foreground, you can see the town of Cholula surrounding the pyramid. In the background, the volcano is issuing a plume of steam. As long is it gives off steam, nobody worries. It is if it quits that an explosion might be imminent.


February 15, 2005

Four more years of Johan

I am astonished that the Twins decided to hand over $40 million to Johan Santana. The last time they did something similar, they gave $21 million to Joe Mays, only to have him blow his arm out. For the past two seasons, they have paid Mays millions to sit in the whirlpool.

Santana's arm could go out at any time. Or, he could put together some great seasons. It is difficult to imagine him doing anything like what he did in the second half of last season. You have to go back to Sandy Koufax's peak years to find any similar stretch of dominance.

Will Santana be ruined by his wealth? I doubt it. Most of it is going to be funneled into his impoverished Venezuelan hometown. He already is building a sports center there, as well as a set of ball fields, and he has provided funding for poor mentally handicapped people to attend the Special Olympics. Santana is a gem. I don't think we'll find out in five years that he's been beating his wife, either.

All in all, the Twins are sitting pretty good going into the season. It all comes down to pitching, and they have plenty. Their defense is going to suffer a little, at least in the infield. But every other aspect of their game should improve.

I wasn't much of a fan of the departed Christian Guzman and Cory Koskie. Koskie was a fighter--you couldn't argue with his attitude, preparation or desire--but his body is fragile. Guzman might grow up with a new team, but he might not. He was steady for the last half of last season, but we waited four years for those three months to happen.

I was disappointed that they signed Jacque Jones again. He's a likable guy who flashes a million dollar smile everytime he gets a base hit, but he strikes out too much on low inside curveballs. I don't know why pitchers throw him anything else.

Torii Hunter is a winner. His offensive numbers aren't wonderful, but his hits happen when it matters. Shannon Stewart in left field should have a better year this year. He's a hard worker who played hurt last year. Lew Ford should get plenty of playing time if one of the regulars gets hurt.

The real fun would be if Joe Mauer could catch a full season. I won't believe it until I see it. What a horrible thing it would be to see his knee go haywire again. I am afraid his knee injury will haunt him for whatever remains of his career.

Oh, and I think it will be fun to see if Justin Morneau starts hitting 500 foot homeruns. He tailed off at the end of last season. He has started with a bang every year he's played. We'll see if that happens this year. He isn't a blabbermouth like Mientkiewitcz, thank goodness.


Busy night

For some reason, I slept twelve hours last night, and it was a busy twelve hours. Don't worry, I am not going to start turning this weblog into a dream journal, but last night was a bit much: I gave two elderly women a ride to Luther League in Twin Valley. I got bored waiting for them at the church, so to fill the time I flew to New York and got drunk. I realized at 2 a.m. that I needed to get back to Twin Valley, so jumped on the subway to get to Penn Station. When I got there, I ended up out on the street and got mugged. A gang of drugged-up thugs took my wallet and injected me with heroin. With my pocket change, I tried to call home to get somebody to go down to Twin Valley and pick up the old ladies, but the coins wouldn't go in the phone. So, I managed to buy a ticket to Fargo on Amtrak with a credit card I found. I quickly lost the ticket. Never did get back to Twin Valley, so I am not sure what happened to the old ladies.

What a relief to wake up and realize that no matter what the day might throw me, it wouldn't be anything like I had gone through during the night.


House



Some of you have been wondering how the house looks. Here is a picture I took today. I like how the siding turned out. We are supposed to put caulking between each strip of siding to make it look more like a square timber house. I think we'll just skip that. It isn't needed for sealing purposes.

Now, just think how red geraniums will look against that siding! The only problem is, geraniums need sun, and there won't be much sun underneath those oak when they get leaves.

PICTURE MATTERS: Brother Joe taught me how to reduce the quality of the images I post here so they don't take so darn long to download. I know a couple of you have blown up some of the Mexico pictures. That won't work as well with reduced images, but I think I'd rather have them download quickly so people don't get frustrated waiting for the pictures to show up. If there are any you like enough to blow up, I would be happy to email them to you.


Geranium sighting



A geranium blooming in winter can make my day. This one at the tax office made my visit there today a little more pleasant.

I remember distinctly some geranium sightings in the past which have perked me up. Geraniums have such an intense color. They are stunning enough in the summer time. But to see one when one is color-deprived in mid-winter is downright memorable.

Last winter, I saw some red geraniums glowing in the skylight at West Acres in Fargo. I enjoyed them so much that I wrote the mall manager and told him to thank whoever it was that took care of them. Three years ago, I sighted a red geranium on a window sill of an old schoolhouse in North Dakota. Just last November, I saw a few in a window of a business in Grand Forks.

We can't keep geraniums over winter at the nursery due to disease. We are getting in our first new geranium cuttings next week. We buy them in new each year to guarantee the purity of the stock. If we had so much as one geranium on the place carried over, it might transmit a fungal disease to those new geraniums. Perhaps we are being paranoid, but there is no insurance for that sort of thing, so we don't want to take that risk.


Pipe organ at Los Remedios



Here Larry plays the Los Remedios pipe organ under the watch of Jose, a Mexican organist who is working to preserve the old Mexican pipe organs. Larry has a collection of old instruments in his home in Virginia, including a pipe organ. He is a part-time church organist, as well as a medical doctor.

The organ at Los Remedios made quite the sound, although the historians on the tour thought that perhaps the present sound was quite a bit louder than the original.


February 13, 2005

Suite 49

Lance and I decided to try out a new restaurant in Grand Forks last night. Suite 49 is located near the Ralph Engelstad arena and bills itself as a "fusion between fine dining and sports."

I am not sure whether that is a fusion which should be attempted.

The decor was sports bar in black and white. Black and white sports photos on the wall. Black wood. White walls. Black floors. Black duct work, showing. Incongruously, dozens of plasma television screens lined the walls.

The menu was sports bar fare with some foofy additions and twists. Blue cheese and steak fettucini. Horseradish mashed potatoes.

The most bizarre part of the evening, however, was the fact that we were visited at our table by no fewer than ten separate servers. Suite 49 is on some sort of computerized system, so, although we had our official server, she really didn't show up that often.

Our server registered our order on a little hand-held computer, and it took a while. It was sort of like watching the ticket agent at an airport tap, tap, tap. Once she finally pushed ENTER, the order went instantly to the bar or kitchen. Eventually, somebody else would bring the drink or the food item.

The system was far from perfect. First, we had to turn down a few drinks which weren't ours. Then, the manager visited us to say that he was so sorry, but they couldn't give us rare salmon. We had no idea what he was talking about. Apparently, somewhere the computer had printed out that we wanted rare salmon.

Then, Lance's tomato basil soup didn't show up. He asked for it after the meal arrived. Oh, it should have been on the computer. Eventually they figured out that the computer hadn't printed it out because they were out of tomato basil soup.

When the various waitrons arrived with what they hoped were our orders, they didn't confidently set the food or drink in front of us--they instead had to ask--did you have a Guinness? Did you have salmon? Did you have salad with bleu cheese?

All in all, I think it was a classic case of technology taking service two steps backwards.


Bus shot



I took a lot of shots from the bus one day, most of which did not turn out due to glare. I should have known. But I had a lot of fun with people on the street who would notice I was taking photos and would mug it up or get shy, one or the other. This little guy caught me in the act.


More kids



I don't remember the situation here, but these guys were having a pretty good time running around at the art museum. I motioned that I would like a photo, and they thought that was pretty fun.


Kids



The Mexican kids were completely cute. These girls were at an art museum in Mexico City. Later on they were less shy. They came up and gave me a hug. I took another picture and showed them the results on the display on the back of the camera. They laughed and ran away, only to come running back--they had forgotten to show dolly the picture. So, I showed dolly the picture. They tried to talk to me, but I said, "no habla espanola," and that got a huge laugh out of them.

Never once in Mexico did I see a parent yelling at a kid. The Mexican parents seemed to authentically enjoy their kids, even in the most harried of situations. Not all of the kids were well-behaved, although most were merely mischievious--not completely evil. No matter how mischievious, however, the parents did little more than laugh at them, or with them.