Saturday, July 13, 2013


La Ruta de la Amistad

Station #4 

Sol - Japan

Kiyoshi Takahashi: 1925-1996

The Japanese sculpture is made up of two spheres that have two fourth sections removed.  They stand 7 meters tall.  Their placement is such that an optical illusion is produced when passing automobiles speed past them: it appears that the two spheres are complete and they are rotating on their axis.

As a child, I found this effect mesmerizing.  However, as often was (and is) the case, traffic often slowed the passing cars so that the effect was lost.  I also did not like the fact that they were white.  The grime from exhaust became very visible on them and they were often vandalized.  I am not sure if they are  maintained and cleaned regularly now.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Las Tres Gracias

La Ruta de la Amistad

Station #3
Las Tres Gracias - Czechoslovakia 

Miroslav Chlupac: 1920-2007

The third station is made up by three reinforced concrete columns - two pink and one purple - that stand 12.5 meters tall.   Each has a contoured side that contrasts with the straightness of the other three sides.  They stand on an elevated median between the main roadway and the frontage road making them quite visible as one drives by.  

What I liked about this sculpture is how the two pink columns seem to be interacting because their contoured sides face each other.  The lavender one is the odd one out both because of the color and having its contoured side face the smooth side of one of the pink ones.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

El Ancla - The Anchor

Ruta de la Amistad

Station # 2
El Ancla - Switzerland

Willi Gutmann: 1927-

The second installment of the Route of Friendship is The Anchor.  It is 7.5 meters tall.  Originally it was painted purple with green highlights.  In 1997, the artist asked for the color to be changed to blue in order to blend in the completely transformed surroundings from what it was like in 1968.  

Driving past it, I recall liking the shape and how it resembled interlocking puzzle pieces.  I did not like the original colors, though.  I do think it looks better in blue.  But then again, blue is a color I tend to prefer.  Sometimes I thought it looked like some sort of cartoonish character.  Other times I thought it looked like a snail.  

Friday, May 03, 2013


Ruta de la Amistad

Station # 1
Señales - México

Ángela Gurría - 1929-

The first installation in the Route is a 18 meter high sculpture made up of two horn shapes colored black and white.  The colors alluded to the fact that the 1968 Olympics were the first to feature the broad participation of countries from Africa.  

This was the sculpture I saw most frequently, almost every Sunday when we went to my grandparents house.  It was placed on the overpass where we would get off the motorway.  Seeing it meant that we were close to our destination.  At the time, I did not know the name or the meaning of the sculpture, but I would try to figure it out.
Sometimes it looked like horns, at others it looked like teeth.  A few times I saw something resembling a bird.  I found it interesting how the sculpture looked very different depending on the angle you looked at it.  


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Ruta de la Amistad

In my last post, I recalled my journeys from my family's home to my grandparents' house on the other side of Mexico City.  I also have been reminiscing about my memories of the public art in Mexico.

As a child, I particularly liked driving to my aunt's house that was further south from my grandparents' house because we drove along la Ruta de la Amistad:  a large scale public art project along a 17 km route that followed the ring expressway along the southern perimeter of the city.  The project was part of the celebration of the 1968 Olympic games being held in Mexico City, where the notion of including a Cultural Olympiad along with the sporting one was put forth.  As part of the project, nineteen large artistic pieces designed and built by renown artist from around the world and measuring from 7 to 22 meters in height were placed along the route every one and a half kilometers.  These large sculptures were to be placed either on the lava beds or in the agricultural fields that are found in the area - this part of the city was not developed at that time.  Three other installations were to be placed at specific sporting venues, including the nearby Olympic Stadium and the Azteca Soccer Stadium.

When we would drive by these in the 1970s, the city had begun to expand into this area, but still seemed to be on the fringes of the urban center.  Nonetheless, I loved spotting each sculpture, seeing the small sphere that identified the country from which the artist came from, and trying to make sense of the abstract art.

Over time, these sculptures were neglected and were not cared for.  They were vandalized and eroded by the elements.  Recently, there have been efforts to restore them by having business, non-profit, and diplomatic entities "adopt" each and fund their rehabilitation.

Over then next few days I will be posting pictures of each and my memories of them.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Public Art and Private Architecture.

When I was two or so, my family (father, mother, and I) moved to Ciudad Satelite, a northwestern suburb of Mexico City (see the previous post).  The rest of my father's relatives lived in the southern suburbs of the city.  My grandparents lived in a upscale development development  built on the lava beds to the southwest of the city.  The area featured modernist architecture that was supposed to live in harmony with the landscape.  Gardens incorporated the lava beds rather than removing them (my grandparents' house certainly did - the lava rocks were great to climb on, but also left many a gash on my knees and elbows).  Houses featured large windows floor to ceiling windows that offered a direct connection with the nature outside.

However, most of the houses were surrounded by large and looming ivy covered walls that hid most of the architecture from any passers by.

Almost every Sunday, we made the trek from the north of the city to my grandparents' house for Sunday comida (a large meal somewhere between lunch and dinner) with the rest of the extended family.  The trip was marked by the recongnizable landscape and monuments we passed on the way.  These included the unfinished and abandoned bullfighting ring that was supposed to be covered, which marked the boundary between the State of Mexico and the Federal District,

the Central Military Hospital, the Oilworkers Fountain on an overpass,

the Chapultepec theme park with its giant rollercoaster that never worked,

Los Pinos (the President's residence), some random colonial churches,

a factory with a huge concrete smoke stack,

the Televisa (the only television network in Mexico) San Angel Studios, an AMC auto dealer with weird futuristic architecture, and then when we finally got off the motorway, the first of seventeen massive public art sculptures commissioned for the Olympics in 1968.  More on that later.

Once entering the development my grandparents lived in, we were welcomed by El Animal del Pedregal, a sculpture carved out of the local stone by Mathias Goeritz that stood by a fountain that was the original entrance to the development.

I never really knew what El Animal was, but it fascinated me.  It had a look of pain and sorrow reaching up into the sky as if calling out, "help me".  Sometimes I though it looked thirsty and was asking for someone to pour some water in its mouth.

As I write this and look for pictures to illustrate my memories, I realize that many of these markers are now gone, transformed, or not visible.  The toreo was torn down, a second level was added to the motorway changing the vistas, the fountain at the entrance of the development was replaced by an office building - fortunately El Animal was saved - maybe it is now bemoaning the loss of its old home and wallowing in nostalgia as I am now..

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nostalgia and Public Art

An old classmate of mine from when I lived in Mexico posted a old picture of La Torres de Satelite on FB     The picture was probably taken in the late 50s or early 60s.

The towers were a public art project by Mexican architect Luis Barragán, painter Jesús Reyes Ferreira and sculpturer Mathias Goeritz.  I grew up in Ciudad Satelite and lived not too far from the towers.  As such, they were part of my quotidian landscape and a landmark of home.  They also were an iconic marker of the suburban periphery of the ever growing Mexico City.  As one can see in the picture, they were built at a time when the area was just being developed.  Over then next 30 years, the city expanded to consume the suburb, incorporating it into the sprawling metropolis.

Inspired by this picture, I searched for a more contemporary picture of the towers and came across another old one.

This one shows the promotional billboards for the new housing being built in the area.

And here is the more recent one, yet it is already dated as the area has grown more and there is now a second level to the motorway.

Along with the towers, some of the advertisements perched atop the surrounding buildings became essential parts of the landscape.  In particular the Corona sign on the left of the picture, which lights up brightly at night.

These pictures sparked a certain nostalgia in me as I began to remember both the landscape of my childhood and the public art that tickled my imagination when I was young.  In particular, the local mall, Plaza Satelite, which was one of the first mall in Mexico City (and probably the country).  The logo for the mall was based on the aerial view of the road that swerves to go around the towers.

The logo was recreated on an immense scale inside the mall in the central area under a glass dome.  It rose up from the ground level up past the second level almost reaching the top of the dome.

I am not sure if it was intended as a form of public art.  It certainly was interactive.  I remember running around and through the gaps between each of the steel structures, almost like a maze, and occasionally looking up to see the gleaming structure.

During the holidays, a large tree was brought in (although I am not sure how they got it into the mall) and decorated.  It was accompanied by a life-sized nativity scene.

As I was journeying through these memories, my thoughts came back to other public art that was part of my youth and that I have been thinking of recently.  I will write about those soon.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Bodega DreamsBodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñonez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent glimpse into the social dynamics of the Puerto Rican community of East Harlem in the 1980s. Quinonez sophisticated character development exposes the protagonists' hopes, fears, desires, and conflicted feelings regarding personal goals and loyalty to the community. He also poses the question whether questionable practices can be justified if the profits are used to better the community.

I enjoyed this book.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a dynamic, young professional living in New York and working at the New York Post, Cahalan seemed to be living a charmed life. That is until something within her seemed to break. Her personality began to change, her behavior became erratic, and she seemed to lose direction. As she began to look for answers as to why she was experiencing these symptoms, no one seemed to have an answer. Cahalan's fluid prose quickly draws you deeper into the mystery of what might be ailing her and her descent into declining health and her precarious mental state.

What is wrong with this woman?

The narrative takes you on her trek from a neurologist to a psychiatrist in her quest to determine if her illness is physical or mental until she ends up in the hospital.

This book astutely presents both the triumphs and failures of modern medicine. A realm where doctors are continually learning about the complexity of the human body and mind so as to treat people's illnesses, yet concurrently doctors refuse to fully listen to patients, rely on stereotyped assumptions to make diagnoses, and access to competent and reliable health care is limited to those with resources and strong social networks.

Calahan's book also forces us to reconsider the mind/body dichotomy, in particular when it comes to health and illness. What is often perceived as two separate realms are in fact intimately interrelated.

The beauty of the book is that it tells an engrossing story that features complex medical issues and addresses broad social questions in such an accessible manner.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Why Italy is such a mess...

Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the FutureGood Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future by Bill Emmott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good overview of the current political and economic situation in Italy by a journalist. Nothing too dense or detailed. I bit too business focused in parts. Ignores some important cultural issues.

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Friday, March 15, 2013


Jerusalem: The BiographyJerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating journey through the long history of Jerusalem - the city revered by so many religions and sects. Montefiore highlights the major events and individuals through the different historical eras. He also presents the broader historical, political, and social contexts that have influenced the fate of the city. Given the ambitious nature of this project, it is only natural that he is forced to cover issues, events, and descriptions of individuals in a cursory way. At times this leaves the reader thirsting for more detail. However, it also allows the author to keep the narrative moving forwards without getting bogged down in details or going off on tangents, which would be all to easy to do. As the book progresses, Montefiore reveals the brutal and bloody history that is so gruesome that at times it borders on the farcical. For example, there were several occasions the Jews lost control of the city and ended up being slaughtered because the enemy attacked on the Sabbath when the Jews would refuse to fight. In a different instance, an incompetent invader tried to behead a resident, ineptly hacking at a prisoners neck who complained, "Ow, you are hurting me!"

The few illustrations provide vivid visuals of the places and characters involved in the city's history. Montefiore also provides key genealogies of the major families that controlled the city that I often referred to.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013


The past weeks have been difficult.  It has been one thing after another beating my psyche down - and I wasn't doing too well to begin with.

As if our financial situation wasn't difficult enough, we got a bill from New York State for $1400.  Apparently I miscalculated the taxes we owed; a mistake that stems from having income and having to pay taxes in multiple states.  I am not sure how we are going to manage to pay that, but I've added it to the pile of bills that are suffocating us.

Then came news that one of my best students tried to commit suicide.  I already wrote about that, but it hit me pretty hard.  It turns out that she is ok.  I talked to her mother, which was very difficult as she was crying and freaking out.  I know that there is only so much I can do, but the feelings of helplessness remain.

As I was to begin my weekend, hoping for a break from it all, I got an email telling me that I was not awarded a Fulbright for next year.  That application was one of the few things I had been optimistic about - wrongly so, apparently.  I had gotten a bad vibe from one of the people who interviewed me via Skype.  She seemed resentful that I had arranged to teach at a private university (one that many consider snooty) and not at la UNAM.  I have nothing against teaching at la UNAM, however, I chose La Ibero because that is where my network of contacts led me to.  It also seemed to be a good fit. Oh well...

I am still waiting to hear whether I get sabbatical or not.  It's a bit moot, since I really can't afford to go to Mexico without the extra financial support.  A colleague told me that if I get the sabbatical, I can postpone it for a year.  So maybe I can re-apply and go next academic year.  If I reapply, I will probably apply for some other grants as well and apply to be in some place other than Mexico City.

As I was wallowing in this bad news, I heard that one of my mother's dogs, Zena, passed away.  She was a very sweet dog, one that Zeus spent a year with when we were in Italy.  It also brought home the fact that Zeus is pretty old.  There are daily reminders: his back hips are slouching more and more, he has accidents in the house several times a week, and he is going deaf.  Zena's passing just brought it all into focus.

On top of this all, it has been a long and cold winter that is sapping me.

I feel overwhelmed and lost.  I have lost all optimism.  So even when spring arrives, I feel like I will still be drowning in the debts and problems I face, with the tentacles of even more issues grasping at me from the depths to drag me down even further.  I'm looking for a lifeline, but I can't find one.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

1Q84 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intrigue and romance in a surreal alternate world. Murakami characters are well-developed and fascinating. The alternating narratives between the two main characters as they search for one another keep the rather lengthy story moving. Despite the suspension of logic that Murakami asks of us, some of the plot becomes too convoluted, leaving one not fully satisfied. There is probably some deeper social commentary on Japanese society that as a foreigner I missed. Overall, it is an enjoyable voyage into an unknown yet familiar place.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Students & Tragedy

As a professor, odds probably are that one will encounter tragedy among his or her students.

Last semester, a former student died after a skateboarding accident.  I had gotten to know him because he was in my Urban Anthropology class where we go on fieldtrips and I have the chance to interact with the students more than in the classroom.  

Today, I found out that another of my students tried to commit suicide.  All I know is that she is in the hospital.  She is an excellent student - very intelligent and hard working.  She was also very active in our program, which is how I really have gotten to know her.  However, last semester she began to miss class and failed to complete her assignments.  Towards the end of the semester, she came to see me and explained that she had been having problems with depression.  I told her that the important thing before trying to make up the work she missed was for her to heal and get to a point where she was healthy enough to focus on her work.  She assured me that she was doing better and that she was looking forward to getting back on track in the Spring.

She was enrolled in one of my classes this semester.  She showed up to the first class, but then disappeared. Yesterday, after she missed yet again, I sent her a message saying that I was worried about her and that I hoped she was doing ok.  I let her know that I was available if she needed someone to talk to.  I also suggested that she consider withdrawing from school since it seemed that she needed time to deal with her medical issues.  I pointed out that there was no shame in this.  I ended by saying that I missed having her in class and the great contributions she always had to offer.

Then today, a colleague called me and told me the news.  I had feared that this might happen - it was not a strong fear or else I would have let someone at the college know, but it did cross my mind.  I then had a panicked thought, what if my email contributed to her actions?  My colleague assured me that she had been in the hospital since Monday.  My thought, as probably is the case in most of these situations, was why did I not reach out earlier?  While I know there was probably little I could have done, there is still the feeling of maybe I could have done something.  

When we had talked at the end of last semester, she had explained how she had found it hard to get help.  The college's services didn't seem adequate.  She had a therapist at home, but she had to pay for the sessions out of pocket and could not afford them.  Last, it seemed like her parents were against her getting psychiatric help.  I know first hand the frustration of not being able to get the help you need, whether because a lack of resources, the difficult access, or the stigma of getting help.  

I have no answers here.  Just sadness and a flickering hope that she gets better, receives the help she needs, and gets to a point where she can (and wants to) return to be in my classes and she can pick up where she left off - being one of those students that make teaching worthwhile.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


The interview?  It's over.  It started on Mexican time - half an hour late.   There were two interviewers: one was a woman whose questioning was a bit aggressive and the other was an old guy who just seemed tired.  My Spanish held up - a slip into Italian here and not remembering the word for counterpart were a couple of the mistakes. Overall, I don't think I could have done anything differently or better.

Now I wait.

These days I find myself struggling, questioning, and just feeling rather blue.  It seems like I can't get my feet planted without challenge after challenge coming up.  It is rather overwhelming and taxing.

Nothing much more to say right now.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Last summer I applied for a Fulbright fellowship to go to Mexico.  I would like to go there for a year to teach and do research.

I found out in November that my application was forwarded to Mexico following the peer review process in the U.S.  Then last month I was contacted by the Mexican Fulbright commission to schedule a skype interview.  That interview is tomorrow - and it is in Spanish.  Now this should not be a problem, but I will be nervous and it is quite a different thing to chat in Spanish and talk about your teaching philosophy and research plan.

Por lo tanto deberia estar escribiendo en espanol.  Un problema es que en esta computadora (es PC) no es facil poner los acentos.  En mi Mac, es mucho mas facil, pero no estoy usando mi Mac ahora.  

Pero bien, la entrevista.  No me gusta usar skype porque no me gusta verme en la pantalla.  Me distrae.  Siempre me pongo a pensar, de veras soy tan feo?  Ay, que pelon me estoy quedando.  Y luego me olvido de lo que tengo que decir.  Sin embargo, no hay de otra.  

Creo que se lo que me van a preguntar.  Porque quieres hacer este programa?  Como sera parte de tu formacion profesional?  Que cursos piensas ofrecer?  Seguramente habran preguntas que no puedo anticipar.  Deberia haber practicado mas para la entrevista, pero ahora ya es demasiado tarde.  Ni modo.  

Ademas de la solicitud a la beca Fulbright, he tenido que hacer mi solicitud para obtener sabatico de mi universidad.  En casi todas la universidades, un periodo sabatico es automatico despues de ciertos anos de empleo, pero en la mia no.  Solo hay un cierto numero de espacios y uno tiene que hacer la solicitud.  Este ano hay mas candidatos porque el ano pasado no se ortogaron ningun sabatico porque estabamos trabajando sin contrato.  El colmo sera si me gano la beca pero no me otorgan el sabatico.  Bueno, no puedo pensar en esto, tengo que concentrarme en la entrevista.  

Ya veremos como sale.  Sera muy breve - solo veinte minutos. Pasara lo que pasara.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Los Detectives SalvajesLos Detectives Salvajes by Roberto Bolaño
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strange book with a very different structure.  The story about the two main characters is told through a collection of narratives collected from other 50 or so characters who interacted with the characters.  These narratives are book ended by the journal of a different character who really does not appear in the middle part of the book.  At times, the structure could be disorienting, but overall I liked it.

There is a lot of social and literary commentary embedded in the story, some of it which was beyond my expertise (the literary part).

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New Year
Blogs seem to be a thing of the past.  There are a few troopers that carry on, but the wonderful community that existed some eight to ten years ago is long gone.  

But I think I will come back and do my own little thing here.  Maybe its old school , retro, classic...etc.

Life continues to be a struggle - mostly because of finances.  Some due to mental issues.  Things change, yet they stay the same.  

Moving on.

Random thought - first of the year.  What's with the new toilet paper commercials?  "Enjoy the go"?  "Are you getting everything you want from your toilet paper"?  

It reminds me of when I was in middle school, we had a drama class.  For the class we were broke up into groups supposed to come up with different sketches.  The small auditorium was mostly empty save for a few random things left laying about.  One day, our sketch was supposed to be some type of television commercial.  My friend Fred, the most outgoing and charismatic of my friends, found a light socket with a light bulb with a three foot wire attached to it.  I am not sure why that was laying about in the auditorium but it was.  For some reason, we thought we would do a toilet paper commercial.  Fred was going to be the announcer.  We got Chris, the kid that usually got pushed around - mostly by Fred, to be the tester.  I think I was the assistant.  The commercial went as follows:  Chris would do his business and then use toilet paper A.  After which he would bend over and Fred would hold the light bulb on the wire up to his butt.  He would indicate how toilet paper A had left scratches and not done a good job at cleaning.  Then Chris would do some doo again and use brand B.  Again he would bend over while Fred used the bulb to illuminate his rear showing how this time he was clean and had no scratches.  

The students all found this hilarious, especially because Fred could really sell it.  The teacher, however, was horrified.  She was also a friend of my mother, who got a call that evening.  All my mom could say to me was, "Why?"  

We were middle school boys - similar to the ones who now are apparently writing toilet paper commercials.