Tag Archives: tourism

Rebozos, Guitars and Masks in Michoacan, Mexico

I’ve been back in Oaxaca for almost two weeks, and my mind is still on Michoacan, the last leg of my September journey, and the rebozos woven there. When I came to Oaxaca years ago, I thought it would be the perfect place from which to explore other parts of Mexico, north and south. And so it is.


Sharing the Journey to Ahuiran, Paracho, Michoacan

Ahuiran is a small Purepecha village about an hour and a half from Patzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacan, high on the Maseta Purepecha (plateau) near Uruapan. It’s a beautiful drive through fertile farmland, green hills, pastures and tree-lined roads. And, it’s safe. For a complete discussion of Purepecha culture and history, click here.


Ahuiran rebozo concurso: And the winners are …

Ahuiran women are famous for their hand-woven rebozos made on the back strap loom. They wear what they weave. Not many in other parts of Mexico still adorn themselves in traditional traje. Rebozo-making and wearing is a dying art.


This winner has rayon fringe that looks like peacock feathers.

I joined a group of Patzcuaro women friends to go to a rebozo fair, which was really a concurso, or regional competition to select the best of the best. I could not pass up another chance to see great rebozos. I vowed not to buy another. Hah!

Travel with me to Tenancingo, Estado de Mexico, February 3-11, 2016, for the Mexico Textile and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos & More

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We discovered this competition was more than rebozos. It included wood carving and string instrument making, art forms that are translated to furniture, masks, violins, cellos and guitars.

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The judges came from Morelia and they took their time to make their selections. Patience is the keyword for being in Mexico.


We arrived around 1:00 p.m. and waited. Milled around. Fingered hand-embroidered blouses. Ogled the rebozos that were brought in by the weavers to display for the competition.


Watched the passing fashion parade of glittery pleated skirts and flashy fringe. I saw a mask I liked and negotiated a price and bought it long before the judging started. A lovely young man carved it and asked me if I needed a gardner.

I was assured by the lady who embroidered the animal on this blouse (below right) that it was not a dog but a personal spirit protector. Many women were wearing similar blouses that were finely embroidered. Just not my style.

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We looked for lunch. I had my eye on the fish sizzling in oil. (I knew it would be well-cooked.) I walked around the mask table a few more times and did the same to take a closer look at the Paracho instruments. Had an ice cream, and waited some more. In Mexico one learns the virtue of patience quickly.


The Ahuiran rebozos are different from the ikat technique found in Tenancingo de Degollado in the State of Mexico. Here, they are heavier cotton. The traditional rebozos are black with blue and white pin stripes. Now, the color palette is extensive and can include lots of shiny rayon.


The viewing stands filled up with villagers and I noticed a very regal, elegant woman with an extraordinary embroidered blue and yellow skirt. This turned out to be Cecilia Bautista, a Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art.

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Cecilia is proud that she was the first weaver to experiment with incorporating real feathers on the fringes. The idea came to her 22 years ago when she learned about feather work done in pre-Hispanic times by her people, the Purepecha (or Tarascans, as the Spanish called them).

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Cecilia’s family of musicians came to entertain the crowd by playing traditional songs on their string instruments, all hand-made. Women came forward to dance, including Cecilia. These are worthy of a major symphony orchestra performance.


At 4:00 p.m. the judges were ready to announce the rebozo winners. How did they choose? Density and intricacy of the textile weave. How it draped when they put it on. The soft, silkiness of the fabric. Whether it had a straight edge. The length and technical elaboration of the punta (fringe).  There was a special category for puntas that included feathers, too!

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And the mask I bought got the first place prize in the category!


There were six gringas who came from Patzcuaro for this event. Three of us left with a rebozo, priced between 1,500 and 3,000 pesos.

Best61_AhuiranMorelia-45Best61_AhuiranMorelia-48This was a festival day in Ahuiran. There were carnival rides, a special market, lots of vendors, cotton candy and barbecue. All the women came out in their best rebozos. The wives of the village leaders were totally decked out, complete with jumbo hair ribbons and the sparkliest skirts. The more confetti the merrier.

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We returned along the same route we arrived on, with volcano peaks on the horizon, men stooping over fields planted with potatoes, Purepecha villages with still a few of the original pre-Hispanic style wood homes called trojes (built without nails) still standing. It was a glorious day. Along the roadside, a spray of wildflowers, mostly cosmos, were coming into their color, necks stretching to the sun, heads waving in the breeze.

Here in Oaxaca, nights have turned chilly. Days are mild and sunny with a light breeze. We celebrate the Virgin of Rosario with bands, parades and dances. At this moment the firecrackers are booming. Soon, it will be time for loved ones to return during Dia de los Muertos. The cempazuchitl is in bloom. All is well in my world and I hope the same for yours.


Is Mexico Safe? My Experience

Is Mexico safe? I just got back to Oaxaca after traveling for three weeks in Mexico City, Estado de Mexico and Michoacan. In Michoacan there is a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory, (I include this link to safety vs. sensationalism.)

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I went to Morelia, Patzcuaro and rural villages. I traveled far out into the countryside in a car with two other women and walked gorgeous colonial towns. How safe was it? Was I scared?

Map of Mexico

The day I returned, a must read tongue-in-cheek post came in about safety in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), the nation’s capitol, from Jim Johnston who writes Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.  It triggered my wanting to tell you about my journey. Is Mexico safe?

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Me and Mary Anne (from the San Francisco Bay Area) teamed up to take this trip together. Yes, two women of some maturity and a modicum of wisdom traveling independently via bus, taxi, collectivo and sometimes, on foot!


We met up in Mexico City where we walked from our hotel to historic center destinations, often at night. Yes, it was dark. Did I feel threatened or at risk? No. I stayed on well-lit streets with good sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. Mexicans love to meander with their families at night, eating an ice cream cone or nibbling on a torta, pushing a stroller or walking arm-in-arm.

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We took a taxi, arranged by our hotel, to the regional bus station at Observatorio, and bought same day tickets on the Caminante bus line to Toluca. We were the only gringas on the bus. At the Toluca bus station, MA watched the bags and I bought a Taxi Seguro (secure taxi) ticket from the clearly marked stand inside the terminal to Tenancingo de Degollado. The worry was how we were going to get our five suitcases (three of them huge) into a small taxi rather than any safety issues.

Map of Estado de Mexico

Most of our trips in Tenancingo were via group van. But, when we/I (either together or separately) wanted to go to town, we went out to the front of our hotel and hailed a private taxi or jumped into a collectivo, sharing a ride with strangers.

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When we left Tenancingo, our next destination was Morelia, capital of Michoacan. So, we returned to the Toluca bus station and bought tickets on another bus line — Autovias — that serves that part of Mexico. Again, we were the only gringas on the bus (of either gender). It’s almost a four-hour bus ride to Morelia, whose tarnished reputation for being a drug cartel area has had a negative impact on tourism, even though it is safe by strict U.S. State Department standards.

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I don’t know if this is true or not. It didn’t seem like it. I did ask MA, when we were planning this trip, is it safe? Just once. She researched it and reported that the only possible dangerous areas were rural far from where we would be.

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I’ve never been to a cleaner, more pristine city than Morelia. It has an incredible Zocalo, classical music, great restaurants, 16th century colonial architecture, outstanding gardens, churches, universities, libraries, a comprehensive Casa de las Artesanias folk art gallery and is gateway to some of Mexico’s most amazing folk art. No one hassled us. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. Did I feel unsafe or threatened? Not for a minute. Neither does Guns N’ Roses!

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Nacho (Ignacio), our pre-arranged taxi driver, picked us up in Morelia and drove us to Patzcuaro, with a stop along the way to Capula, one of the craft villages.  I have friends from the USA who now live full-time in Patzcuaro. We hung out together during the time we weren’t going out to explore the Purepecha villages around the lake, and met the small, but mighty Patzcuaro ex-pat community, including photographer Flo Leyret (link to her photos below).

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Map of Michoacan

We spent the day poking around Santa Clara del Cobre — the copper mining village about thirty minutes beyond Patzcuaro where Purepecha people have been working the material with hand-forging and hammering since the 13th century.


Then, I got invited to go along to a concurso (juried folk art competition) in the village of Ahuiran, an hour-and-a-half north of Patzcuaro, where talented women weave rebozos on back-strap looms. Six of us, all women, drove in two cars over Michoacan countryside, through small villages, across rich farmland planted with corn and potatoes. At the entrance and exit to some villages there were guard posts and community-designated sentries asking us where we were going. It seems the villagers are protecting their territory and this is typical for rural Mexico where there can be land disputes or disagreements. Nothing to be afraid of.

Michoacan Artisans, Photographs by Florence Leyret Jeune

Patzcuaro 188-79 PatzLakeArtisans-16  [Above left is Purepecha ceramic artist Nicolas Fabian Fermin, from Santa Fe de Laguna, who I met this summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, with his wife. Above right is Teofila Servin Barriga, another award-winning Purepecha artist whose embroidery has won many international awards. She will be at Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, for the annual folk art market. This rebozo she is wearing will sell for 15,000 pesos.]

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In Ahuiran, we were the only visitors and the best potential customers for these stunning hand-made shawls that started at 2,000 pesos. The elaborate feather fringed rebozos (photos are still in my camera) were commanding a 5,000 pesos price tag, more than most of the local women could afford. But, then, they could weave their own or buy from a relative!

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Why go to Michoacan? For the folk art, of course, and then, there’s the landscape, and the people, the history  ….

On my return to Oaxaca, I took a taxi from Morelia center to the regional bus terminal and bought my ticket the same day. It was a five-hour bus ride to Mexico City Norte terminal. I was the only foreigner on the bus. MA flew direct from Morelia to Oakland, CA on a non-stop Volaris flight. Lucky her. I, on the other hand, got into a secure taxi for the 30-minute ride to the airport to board the Interjet flight to Oaxaca ($116 USD round-trip).

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Okay, so that’s the story. Or at least skimming it. Mexico is a treasure trove of history, archeology, folk art, contemporary art, intellectual discourse and culture. Her cities are beautiful. Yes, some parts are not safe. Most parts are. Some have reputations for being unsafe that have never been true and/or might have been true two or three or four years ago, like Morelia. Morelia is safe now. It is gorgeous. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Map of Oaxaca

Oaxaca has always been safe.

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Join us February 3-11, 2016 for Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More. 4 Spaces Left!

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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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


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




  • 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.

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?