Tag Archives: tourism

Bully Pulpit: Why Not Fly Aeromexico to Oaxaca?

Aeromexico, are you listening? Why is it so hard to have a decent customer service experience with your airline company? I’ve been debating whether to publish this and decided to go ahead. Maybe it will get a decision maker’s attention. There is no customer service feedback link on your website!

I arrived in Mexico City from the U.S. on June 4 from San Francisco on United Airlines, in time to get from Terminal One to Terminal Two and the Aeromexico counter. I wanted to buy a ticket to arrive in Oaxaca on the same day, despite the one-way ticket cost of $217 USD.  I rationalized that the cost was worth the wear and tear to avoid the overnight bus.

At the Aeromexico counter,  I pulled out my passport and credit card and gave it to the agent to buy the ticket. I signed the voucher and put my bags on the scale to weigh.  She said, I need your credit card back to charge you $50 USD for the second bag. (She was holding my ticket and my passport behind the counter.)

I said, you still have my card. She said, No, I gave it back to you.  I said, No you didn’t, and searched my wallet and handbag six times. We went back and forth: I gave it back to you. No, you didn’t.

A supervisor ( whose name is Mr. Cisneros, I was told) came out and watched as she rifled through papers and searched the counter. He did not help in the search for my missing card. In frustration, I pulled out another credit card to pay for the second bag and pushed my luggage around the side of the counter.

No, he said, blocking the way, you have to put it on the scale. I said, I already did that. She knows how much it weighs. I was traveling with my cane because of my recent knee replacement surgery, but that didn’t seem to matter either.

By now 30 minutes had passed and the window was closing on when I could board the plane. The scale was blocked by another customer.

I said, please hurry. Is there enough time for me to get through security and get on the plane? I heard him mutter under his breath, I don’t care.  

I was startled. What did you say? Did you say you don’t care if I make the plane or not?  He stared at me. I said, As a courtesy you should put my second bag through at no extra cost. You lost my credit card, I’m going to have to call the company to cancel it, it’s a huge inconvenience and I’m going to have to run to make this flight.

Mr. Cisneros was steadfast. Crossed his arms. Glared, then said, I don’t believe you. You hid the card in your purse so you could ask us to send your bag through free. Then he turned on his heels and walked away to the back.  I asked the agent to cancel the ticket and give me his name.

When I got to TAPO regional bus station and after I bought my bus ticket. I called Chase and cancelled the card. The card never turned up in my bags or luggage when I unpacked. Chase sent a new card via UPS Express to Oaxaca and I received it within three days!

What to do? Fly Volaris or Interjet to/from Oaxaca and Mexico City? Take the ADO GL or Platino bus (a six-and-a-half hour ride when there are no roadblocks)? Fly directly to Oaxaca from Houston on United Airlines? Avoid Aeromexico at all costs?

I did not buy an advance ticket on Aeromexico because if you don’t check in two hours before scheduled flight departure, they have the right to bump you. That’s happened to me before and I lost the value of the ticket. Planes are delayed. Lines at immigration and customs can be long. Odds are not good you will make a connection if you are not flying on a Delta codeshare with Aeromexico.

My friend Lee Ann who lives part of the year in Puerto Escondido, says, When you cross the border, never ask why and always look down? In many places in the world there is an attitude of why try, it is impossible to change the system.

We always look down here to avoid the potholes and pitfalls on the sidewalks so as not to stumble and fall. The subtle connotation is to look down to avoid confrontation. One becomes acculturated not to challenge authority based on upbringing and country of origin. Never asking why means accepting things as they are, of knowing that it’s not your right as a visitor to effect change. It’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Bilbao, Spain: The Guggenheim Museum and More

Jump to now, North Carolina, USA, where I am this weekend for Becky and Al’s wedding. She is a Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat friend. (Registrations for 2016 are coming in. If you want to attend, make your reservation soon.)

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And, now I’m going backward in time: To choose and edit more Spain photographs from the recent trip. My sister and I made it a point to go to Bilbao to see the spectacular Guggenheim Museum designed by architect Frank Gehry, opened in 1997. It was well worth the three-night stay on many levels.

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The New York Times thinks so, too. They just published 36 Hours in Bilbao, Spain. They have covered Bilbao and surrounding Basque country in several travel publications. Bilbao is in the fold of a river valley ringed by mountains.

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The Guggenheim Bilbao is a radical departure from its backdrop, a medieval city near the Atlantic, once a manufacturing powerhouse going through a reinvention of identity. The region is Basque. They speak Basque. Their soul is ancient, deep. Gernika (Guernica), where Franco and Hitler bombed the living daylights out of the town. Pablo Picasso captured the horror in his famously stark painting, which I saw last year in Madrid. The town is only 25 kilometers north of the Basque capital of Bilbao.

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In Bilbao, stay in the medieval old quarter along the picturesque Nervion River. You might choose, as we did, the wonderful, clean, comfortable airbnb apartment owned by charming Luisma aka Bidebarietasiete Bilbao. He provided coffee, French press, a bottle of wine and fantastic hospitality.

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This was a block away from the picturesque river, walking distance to the Guggenheim (or take a nearby tram) and just steps from incredible gourmet cheese and wine shops, and great tapas bars. Try the yogurt with sweetened carrot puree. I loved it.

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Our intention was to do a day trip up the north coast of the Bay of Biscay along the Atlantic to the coastal town of San Sebastian. But, there wasn’t enough time. So, we are saving this for another trip. Throughout the region are Michelin star restaurants worthy of attention, small villages tucked into mountain valleys unchanged by centuries, narrow, cobbled walking streets flanked by tall, colorful stucco buildings adorned with wrought iron curlicue balconies trimmed in flower baskets.

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At the Guggenheim we were mesmerized by the architecture, which many consider to be THE attraction.  We were permitted to take as many photographs as we wanted of the building. No photos of the art installations were allowed.

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The special treat was a temporary exhibit of Nikki de Saint Phalle‘s Nanas and other works, there until June 7, 2015. What do these images of women represent? Find out by clicking on her name.

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It’s not just about being black, white, fat or thin. It’s about how we think of self and our role in the world.

BilbaoGehry28-3 Out on the street (I walked 16,000 steps this day), you come across pastry shops like this one with lines out the door. I wanted to … indeed … indulge, but the line was too long.

 

 

 

Diego Rivera Murals in San Francisco: Critical Guide for Visiting

There are three Diego Rivera frescoes in San Francisco, California. To get in to see them all is not easy, but it is well worth the effort. It was an incredible treat to be able to see these frescoes up close and personal. A word of advice: it’s very important to plan and confirm your visits in advance.

In Mexico, Rivera intended his murals to be accessible to the public. That was an important social and political premise of the Mexican Muralist Movement — art for and of the people. All are filled with consistent Rivera themes: the worker, the common soldier, the peasant farmer and industry. These murals mirror those in Mexico City of the same era (like Man, Controller of the Universe) and I recognize similar scenes and characters.

Looking for Diego Rivera + Frida Kahlo in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour

These are the three murals in order of their creation:

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Pan American Unity, left half

Pan American Unity, left half

Pan American Unity, right side

Pan American Unity, right half

These are the three murals in order of accessibility:

San Francisco Art Institute

The most accessible fresco is The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City at the San Francisco Art Institute, open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is a private, degree-granting university. Doors are open to students and to the public Monday through Friday. Check for weekend hours. The challenge is to find parking around the steep Cow Hollow hills. But if you are in a taxi or take UBER, no worries.

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The mural is at the end of a student exhibition gallery space on the main level to the left of the entry courtyard. We followed good directional signs to get there. Once inside, the floor to ceiling wall art dominates the space.

This is a painting within a painting. Rivera included himself (back to viewer, with his ample frame centered on the scaffolding) with helpers making a fresco. His patrons who financed the project are part of the set. It reminds me of the caricature portraits we see at the Palacio Nacional depicting the history of Mexico that Rivera started in 1929 at about the same time. In fact, this Mexico City mural was not completed for another ten years because of commissions like this one in the U.S. It is very Rivera with a bold figures, the central one wearing a red star. You will see a lot of similarities here if you are familiar with his style.

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There is a small donation box in front suggesting support for mural preservation. We didn’t find hand-out information, art history notes or guestbook. The best descriptions are online, which I suggest you read before visiting.

800 Chestnut Street (between Jones and Leavenworth), San Francisco, CA 94133. Phone: 415-771-7020

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Looking for Diego Rivera + Frida Kahlo in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour

City College of San Francisco

Located in the Sunset on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, City College of San Francisco boasts a comprehensive historical reference mural to The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and the South on this Continent.  Informally called The Pan American Unity Mural, Rivera painted it in 1940 for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.

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He was invited by civic and arts leaders to participate in the Exposition’s “Art in Action” program, joining other prominent artists. Fair-goers watched while Rivera and his assistants painted!

Frida Kahlo, who marries Rivera for the second time in San Francisco in 1940, stands front and center, while Rivera, his back to the viewer, holds the hand of actress Paulette Goddard. This mural is the most political of the three San Francisco pieces and is parallel in style to the Palacio Nacional mural of the same era, each featuring the founding fathers of Mexico and the USA.

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Because of state funding cuts, visiting hours at SFCC are limited. Please consult the website to see when there is a volunteer faculty/staff member scheduled to open the Diego Rivera Theatre where the mural can be seen.

This important mural is housed in a very cramped space. I was told that for years the intent has been to build a larger gallery to view it. But … the college depends on designated private gifts to realize project goals. A small donation box sits in front of the mural. We gave more than requested for a beautiful, thorough art history brochure with color photo. Thanks to the college for providing this!

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Notes: Be sure to walk upstairs to a small balcony (don’t trip, it’s also used for storage) to get the most expansive view of the mural. From above, the center view is obstructed by a large carved wood sculpture that obstructs the experience. Free street parking available.

50 Phelan Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94112. Viewing Hours are posted on the website. Phone only goes to voicemail: 415-452-5313

The City Club of San Francisco

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Rivera asked Olympic swimmer Helen Willis to model.

Our experience at The City Club of San Francisco, an exclusive, members only space on the 10th floor of the former Pacific Stock Exchange, proved that you can’t always trust what you read online, even from USA Today. We read the mural was open for viewing from 3 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Not exactly true.

We found out the hard way that you can only gain entrance to see the mural if you make an appointment in advance with a City Club staffer. Denied entry and after repeated phone calls from the lobby that all went to voicemail, we finally connected with a live person. When I introduced myself and requested a visit, I got a harsh scolding about not having an appointment, a tirade about this being a private club, a rant about not to trust internet information, then a reluctant agreement to allow us upstairs to see the mural for ten minutes. We were shocked by staff behavior because of the club’s great reputation for hospitality.

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As we emerged from the elevator, the staffer hid a candy jar from her desktop where she sits sentry on the landing in front of the mural. Seems other riffraff before us dipped into the candy dish and she is keeping a watchful eye.

Lobby, Stock Exchange Tower Building, Art Deco

Lobby, Stock Exchange Tower

The staffer we met is definitely the gatekeeper. You need to call in advance, make an appointment and purr. I wouldn’t say you know me.

Do you think Diego would roll over in his grave?

Stock Exchange Tower, 155 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104. Phone: 415-362-2480

 

 

Recommendations:

  • Call in advance to each site to confirm opening times.
  • Make an advance appointment directly with The City Club to see the mural there.
  • Educate yourself. Read about each mural in advance since only the City College of San Francisco may publish an art history description.
  • Devote a half-day for visiting the three murals. They are in different parts of the city and traffic can be difficult.
  • Be ready to pay at least $16 per hour to park near the City Club if you are driving a car. Park farther out and use UBER.
  • Be prepared to be disappointed. You may not get in to all venues.
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View from the rooftop terrace, SF Art Institute with Alcatraz.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Tour

Suggested Visiting Route:

  • 11 a.m. — San Francisco Art Institute (open 9 a.m.-7 p.m.)
  • 1 p.m. — City College of San Francisco (open 1-3 p.m.)
  • 3:30 p.m. City Club of San Francisco (by appointment only — call 415-362-2480 well in advance. Purr when you talk to staff.)

A BIG thank you to East Bay friend Mary Ann for organizing this day and driving to all parts of The City.

Coit Tower from the SF Art Institute rooftop terrace.

Coit Tower from the SF Art Institute rooftop terrace. See the Bay Bridge?

 

Iconic Frida Kahlo: A Look Inside Her Closet

Frida Kahlo is iconic. I have described her as the 20th century’s Virgin of Guadalupe. Her legend endures. The Huffington Post has just published a photographic essay by Ishiuchi Miyako of her personal belongings, along with letters and photographs, first revealed decades after her death.

These clothes and other life’s artifacts — letters, corsets, altered shoes to correct the leg length difference of childhood polio, family photographs — are part of a temporary show at Casa Azul where Frida and Diego shared a life together.  So popular, it will continue and you will see it as part of our fall 2015 educational arts programming.

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Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour. Click this link for complete program itinerary. This weekend walking tour also includes visits to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo with transportation.

Choose Your Dates:

  1. September 24-27, 2015.
  2. October 22-25, 2015.
  3. November 12-15, 2015.
  4. December 3-6, 2015.

Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Hawthorne Shafer accompanies all programs.

Visit for the weekend. Make it a getaway. Make this trip part of your Mexico City travel plans. Stop here with us and then go on to other parts of Mexico or wrap up your Mexico trip and explore Mexico City with us before returning home. This is a great orientation to Mexico’s art, history and culture, and to become more familiar with Mexico City .

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A Glimpse of Dali’s Jewelry: Surreal Glitz and Glam in Figueres, Spain

As you may have guessed, I’m back in the U.S.A. recovering from jet lag in my sister’s NoCal home, though missing my morning cup of Spanish espresso. Fuerte. Muy fuerte. My body is still in the state of “Does anyone know what time it is?”

We love those ruby red lips to wear. Would you?

We love those ruby red lips to wear. Would you?

Memories of Spain are swirling in my brain, especially the glitz and glam of Salvador Dali’s gem encrusted jewelry creations on exhibit at the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, a 15-minute train ride beyond Girona.

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Dali’s relationship with his place of birth is powerful, deep and intense. He rescued and restored the burned out theatre across from the church where he was baptized, and where he held his first exhibition as a painter. The museum is his personal design based on his own aesthetics.  It holds the representative range of all his works created during his lifetime.

The connotation of limp clocks. You guess why.

The connotation of limp clocks. You guess why.

This is why you go to Figueres and then on to Cadaques-Port Lligat, to explore the persona of Salvador Dali as translated through his art and antics.

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The museum brochure advises visitors to take any circuitous path through the museum if they wish — there is no chronological order to a visit. You get to create your own surreal experience, according to Dali’s non-plan.

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Travel Tips, What We Did and Should Have Done

Car Rental: we rented a Europcar online in advance and picked it up at the original downtown Figueres train station knowing we wanted to drive north along the Costa Brava. Fortunately, we arrived at the old station. We didn’t realize Figueres has two train stations, one for the AVE high-speed train and the older downtown station that serves mid-distance (older) trains. So, when we wanted to return to Barcelona on the AVE, we had to return the car to the original station and then take a taxi to the high-speed station. An added expense of 17 euros. Europcar does not serve the Figueres AVE station. To get to Cadaques on public transport is difficult.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-19 Dali Theatre Museum_24-4Sleeping: we booked and pre-paid for a charming bed and breakfast country inn online in advance using Booking.com. We thought, oh, great, a countryside experience. The inn is about 15 minutes beyond Figueres in a small rural village with one pub/eating place. We arrived early evening with the intention to spend two nights, but the inn was located on the curve of a main side road with constant traffic, so with little sleep we decided to leave the next morning, visit the museum and head for the coast.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-9Visiting Dali Theatre-Museum: If you arrive early, parking is plentiful in the adjacent garage. We didn’t need tickets in advance here but you might depending on season and time of day. The main entry is opposite the church on the square. Don’t miss the jewelry exhibit. It’s easy to miss since the metal door is obscure and is through a separate entrance. Your museum ticket includes admission to this part, too.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-11 Dali Theatre Museum_24-22Dali’s wife and muse, Gala, appears in many of his paintings. In this one, above left, is she fragmented or defined as floating eggs? Eggs as Dalian symbolism appear everywhere.

Recommendations: In hindsight, I would stay two nights in Girona, rent a car there, drive to Figueres in the morning and go directly to the Dali Theatre-Museum, and then go on later in the afternoon to Cadaques and spend at least three to five nights there.  It takes about an hour to drive from Figueres to Cadaques and road signs are good, although the road is narrow and curving. Pay attention to the roundabouts. It stays light until well past 8:30 p.m.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-7Salvador Dali is an enigma to me. I see and understand his creative genius. I question his non-political position in the face of two wars that destroyed his country and most of Europe. Surrealism was both an art and political movement. By eschewing politics, did he further his artistic career more than any other contemporary? More than Picasso or Joan Miro?

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Many in the arts world called Dali a fortune seeker, greedy.  In response, he created the Avida Dollars necklace, shown above left, as a snub to the critics.  His jewelry is one more testimony to his creativity and skill to reimagine the ordinary in a spectacular way. And, what can we say about those ubiquitous eggs?

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Let’s just create a Cadillac that rains on the driver and passengers each time the umbrella that floats above opens, to say nothing of the ship that floats alongside in the air. A buxom figurehead adorns the car hood, protecting all who ride.

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Where is your imagination?

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