Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Virgin de Guadalupe Celebration 2023

The small St. Kathrine Drexel Catholic Church in Hempstead, Texas holds its annual celebration for La Virgin de Guadalupe on the correct date each year, December 12th.

Refer back to my post on December 29th, 2022 for the complete story of how the homage to the Virgin de Guadalupe came about. https://www.ridingthehorizon.com/2022/12/virgin-of-guadalupe-then-today.htmlAccording to the Vatican Council report from 1999, the Guadalupe site near Mexico City is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world.


In the wee hours of early morning, parishioners of the St Kathrine Drexel Catholic Church file in, gathering to pay homage to our Lady of Guadalupe, or better known 
in the Mexican culture as la Virgen de Guadalupe.

The choir mistress prepares for the opening songs.

Backed by the church choir and three guitars, she leads the singing of several hymns.

After the choir, the Matachines, or Aztec Dancers, come drumming in.

Dancers are of all ages... all local families

From young children to grandmothers...

There were several dances with intricate, challenging footwork 
requiring focus and concentration.

As more people arrive, it soon becomes a standing-room-only option
 in this modest place of worship.

After the morning rituals, outside awaited tamales, sweet bread, coffee, and chocolate for those attending. Being a weekday, most attendees then headed off to work or home, for a few hours.

In the afternoon, the second half of the celebration organizes itself on a ranch seven miles outside of town. Those gathered will walk or horseback ride to the church for an evening meal and mass.

As you can see, some have highly trained show horses worth thousands of dollars, 
while others are riding their daily workhorse.  

With the many cattle ranches in the area, most horses here 
are not a hobby, but a necessity.

Lining up to start...

Leading the procession... are Escaramuzas, a Mexican tradition 
of ladies with their traditional outfits riding side-saddle.

 Fr. Xavier Bilavendiran, the parish priest, prays and blesses the crowd 
before the parade commences.

A flock of doves are released to signal the start of the parade. 
The loud bang of a starting gun here would not be wise as it would spook the horses. 

Many of the faithful have made this annual pilgrimage numerous times 
over the years, walking with family and friends.  Everyone is in a good mood as the weather is perfect, a pleasant 64 degrees and no rain.

Following the walking procession, come the fifty or so horseback riders 
who will shadow them back in to town.

Even Fr. Xavier gets to ride this year.

A middle-aged gentleman from Georgia stopped to ask what was happening. 
Said he had never seen so many horses all together at one time.
Though he was Catholic, he said he didn't know much about 
the Guadalupe story of the Virgin, but now wants to learn more.


These are just some of the photos taken that day. 

The bulk of the photos were donated to the church to be posted on their website.

Until next year, ride safe, ride long.


p.s. In a late-breaking twist to the story, I bought a few of the church raffle tickets to support this small country parish. The list of items included crucifixes, a painting of the Pope and the Virgin, potted plants, etc. 

Received a call around 9 PM that night saying that I had won their grand prize...   a five-year-old Spanish Andalusian mare... in other words...    a horse!    Get outta here... WHAT?

Well, that is going to require telling a whole new story...  later!

Thursday, November 30, 2023


Here are a few photos from Valladolid that did not fit in with the other stories.

How could you not enjoy being here when you walk out your front door to see this?
The Universidad de Derecho (Law University) administration and classroom building 
just across the street. You immediately know, this isn't Kansas.

As I made my morning walk in the City Centre, I quickly figured out 
that an open door was an invitation to come in. 
So frequently I did...

Was also frequently surprised at what lie inside. 

On a narrow sidestreet was the open entrance to Valldolid's first luxury shopping mall, 
Pasaje Gutierrez. It was built in 1886 with iron trusses, iron roof, gas lights, and glass skylights.  
Maybe a dozen shops in here. Most today serve as a cafe, bar, art gallery or travel office.

Then there are these small pleasant surprises scattered throughout the old city centre.
Fountains and bronze sculptures commemorating... what?
This one is called "The Traveler".

As I rounded the corner of the old cathedral, this combination of centuries-old stonework, 
a clear blue sky, the modern construction crane, the faded colors... grabbed my eye.

Nothing in particular to look at, no focal point, yet the scene was somehow attractive. 
Maybe it was the open gate inviting me in...

My favorite street in all of Valladolid for photography
Calle Santo Domingo de Guzmán.
Behind the high wall on the right is the Cloistered Convent de Santa Catalina.

This Spanish chef kept turning away as I tried to take his photo.  This was the best I could do. 
Even returned a few days later to try again, only to find out he had quit.

Why was the chef's photo so important?
 While in Valladolid, I was working on a photo project called "Barbudos de España", 
(Bearded Men of Spain).

 By the end of our stay, I had photographed over 180 different men with beards. Not the straggly unshaven look, but beards that are carefully groomed, shaped, that reflect the man's personality.

Once back home, I'll cull and edit the images, selecting the top dozen or so for an exhibition next Fall.

This is an example of one of the photos from the project that did not make the first cut, 
though I love the baby's expression.

A common Spanish street scene, a grandparent pushing a baby carriage, 
an elderly gentleman with a cane, two young university students.
We saw quite a few baby carriages and walking canes while in Spain. 
What does that tell you?

After numerous attempts over the years, nuns and novice nuns simply refuse to be photographed. 
Luck came my way as I captured a rare portrait that is impossible to plan. I happened to have my camera waist-high, watching children play, when a novice nun stepped out of the convent to sweep the stoop. 
A slight turn with a quick click, resulted in this photo.

Then as I raised the camera for a better shot, she spun around,  
fleeing back inside, locking the door as she went.

That evening, as we were relaxing in a sidewalk cafe, enjoying the cool night air, 
observed these three men drinking in the cafe across the way.

The scene reminded me of the 1942 painting "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper.
Though sitting together, each is lost in thought.
Hopper stated his painting was a commentary on the loneliness of a large city. 

We are now back in Texas, enjoying the holidays with family and friends.

A month in Spain was a memorable, relaxing experience 
for both Amparo and I, where we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Until the next adventure, 
ride safe, ride far, and keep clicking.


Monday, November 20, 2023

VALLADOLID, SPAIN - Anger in the Streets

Being a lazy Sunday morning, went for a stroll, looking for the right light for a good photo. 
What I was about to encounter this day was more interesting...

But first... a historic building, once a royal residence.

As I wandered, started seeing people walking with purpose carrying 
what looked like flags or funny umbrellas. Waving a flag is popular here at football games. 
Football in Spain is what we call soccer in the US.

Hmm, young and old, they all seemed to be heading in the direction of the Plaza Mayor. 
That's not the direction of the football stadium. I'll tag along and see what's up.

Nearing the main Plaza, I spot police and TV news vehicles lining up. A patrolman was flipping up the steel mesh that protects the patrol car's windshield in case of a riot. This could get interesting!

More flags are being unfurled. Banners too. Some people were wearing Spain's national flag as a shawl, wrapping it around their shoulders. This doesn't look like a young rowdy group of sports fans either.

Seems more like a happy family gathering or patriotic celebration of some kind, at first...

As more people pour into the Plaza, the throng steadily grows in number and enthusiasm.

This sea of colorful flags of the various political parties, 
I later learned, represents the conservative right.  
They seemed joyous with the escalation of favorite chants and songs.

The intensity and passion shifted as speakers with megaphones became more adamant in their comments. 
Punctuating the words with strong, aggressive hand gestures.
My inner sense of self-preservation was awoken... could this turn ugly?

 Was it safe for me to be here?  Obviously, I am a foreigner, I stick out. 
Due to my height and blue eyes, I do not blend well.
 But what are they protesting about?

Now yelling, speakers grow bolder...
 Smiles have disappeared. The crowd's gestures take on a more aggressive tone!  

Some mature reasoning minds seemed concerned 
with where all of this was heading... like him.

And him... and her... 
having their doubts about what is being said... 
the mood of the crowd.

In the midst of all the action and commotion, I realized this one guy kept staring at me... 
Did the camera bother him, or was it...?

   In the next few photos, I noted he kept turning away, hiding his face from the camera.
Oh, oh, he suddenly turned, ducked down, and disappeared into the crowd. 
Is he circling around my way? Is he security? Or worse...

While the crowd itself did not feel threatening, individual actors might have other ideas.

The ever-growing crowd continued to press in, tighter and tighter, in order to better see and hear. 
I am in the middle of it all. My feet are being stepped on, it's so tight.

I finally determined that these people were members of several Spanish conservative political action parties. They were unhappy with a pact the acting Prime Minister had made with an ultra-left party to secure enough votes to pass an unpopular measure. An amnesty measure that this crowd strongly opposed.

Handmade signs calling the PM a traitor began appearing among the crowd.
The Spanish people are very passionate about many things, politics being one of them.

The Plaza continued filling up with protestors and onlookers. As the size of the crowd grew 
so did the passion and anger in their voices.
After grabbing a few more photos, I thought it best to quietly slip away.

Having been in similar situations in Latin America, I learned when in doubt 
about what's happening around you, trust your gut instinct. 
Keep your back against a wall, plan an escape route, then be proactive. 
The moment onlookers are distracted, slip away. 
I did.


What started as a slow, lazy day, 
became an intense, passionate display of political anger and emotion.
An experience to remember.


Sunday, November 12, 2023

BILBAO, SPAIN - Famous Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain hosts more international visitors each year than those coming from Spain. It is the principal reason to travel there.
Surprisingly one of the most visited art museum in the world, was built on riverfront land where a decrepit industrial shipyard stood that had fallen on hard times. 

In the early 1990's, when the Guggenhein Foundation was shopping for a site to build a second museum, Bilbao was facing high unemployment, poverty with poor economic prospects. Many major cities in Europe and Orient did not have the land available near the city center for such a large complex. With the shipyards closed, Bilbao was anxious to gain a major tourist attraction that could help rebuild its economy.

The Foundation offered put up a major portion of the $89 million cost to build if the city of Bilbao could raise the rest of the funds needed to make this museum happen. The citizens from Bilbao and the surrounding areas, government entities , businesses and foundations all pitched in and pledged to raise the necessary funds to build the museum. Which they did.
The museum, designed by Frank Gehry, a Canadian-American architect, was inaugurated on October 18, 1997. As part of the Guggenheim system, some of the world most famous works of art are here on loan from the New York City museum. Original works by Spanish and International artists were added to the permanent collection.

 From the hotel balcony, one can see the museum on the left, the sandstone tower in the middle and the big Red H bridge support on the right. The Red H offers an exciting light show every evening. We had a great view of the light show from our hotel window.

Gehry designed the museum's titanium exterior to look like a ship at sea, 
with waves, wind, and movement.

Here is a better close-up shot of the exterior. The highway in front is the main road coming off the high banks of the Nervion River to the south, filtering the commuting traffic into downtown Bilbao.

Between the Museum building and the Nervion River is a pedestrian walkway. Several times a day, white smoke emanates from under the walkway to emulate fog on the sea.

Various sculptures are not only inside the museum but outside as well.

While there are many art pieces here on permanent display, others are on loan from the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. They also have special touring exhibits for featured artists. The works there this month are sculptures by Picasso. Most people know of Picasso from his drawings and paintings. Many are not aware he also experimented with sculpture.

Jeff Koons created this oversized brightly colored tulips sculpture on display inside the museum. Each tulip is about the size of a 55 gallon drum. The material has a vibrant colorful shine, the finish like mylar...?

Then there are Richard Serra's larger-than-life steel sculptures that took ten years to create, build, and install in the museum. You are encouraged to walk through his sculptures for an unforgettable experience. You will feel the sensation of movement, of rolling waves, claustrophobia, walls leaning in or tilting out, clean white lights and deep dark shadows follow you as you make your way through the maze.You will experience all of these rising and falling sensations as you walk on a level concrete floor.

Serra's sculpture challenges your senses and how your mind interprets its surroundings. Serra is a genius in creating a work that required extensive engineering, mathematics, and a working understanding of physics to create this particular work. These freestanding sheets of steel weighing over several tons each, are stood up on edge, perfectly balanced and not falling on each other or on spectators though you might feel like they are. Every steel piece is exactly the same height, but you would bet your last dollar that they are not. That's all part of the illusion. Serra stated that his sculpture is more than just steel plates. It's the air and space in and around the steel pieces that are as much a part of the work as the plates themselves.

Due to the exterior design of the building, nothing is straight or vertical on the exterior 
or in the interior. Everything is curved. 
Only the floor is level, but it doesn't always feel that way.

The hand railing below is level, or is it?

At night, street light reflects off the Museum's titanium skin. 
Compare this photo with the second one above taken during the day.

You can now better understand why this museum attracts so many visitors
from around the world each year. By 2003, its reputation had grown so much that more international visitors than Spaniards visited the museum. The Bilbao city government has collected more than $100 million in tax receipts from these visitors over the years. That's more than the original cost to build the museum. Despite many critics of the design when it first opened, it was a great investment for Bilbao.

This economic fact has not been lost on architects and city planners internationally.
They refer to this as the Bilbao Effect.  It has motivated many city planners around the world to invest in the innovative design of public buildings. 

The Sydney Opera House in Australia is a prime example of the Bilbao Effect 
changing a city skyline and influencing public opinion about the city.


BURGOS, SPAIN - Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos

Today we drove under beautiful cobalt blue skies from Valladolid to Burgos, Spain. 
Had heard great things about the Cathedral here, so we decided go see it, 
wander around a bit in the old city and spend the night.

Found a great room near the Burgos Cathedral, in the NH Palacio de Burgos Hotel.
The hotel itself has quite a history as a major part of its structure was a 16th century monastery. It was acquired by the hotel chain in 1977 when the Jesuit school that was using it vacated to a larger facility in the city. 

The old church monastery is on the left, the hotel on the right, but the bell tower in the middle was built sometime between the two. Three different colors of stone and architectural styles.

Literally across the street from the hotel are the walls of the old city.  
The spires of the Cathedral can be seen rising up behind the outer wall. 
What started out for us as a warm day turned cool.

Immediatelly inside the walls, Amparo spots a statue dedicated to the pligrims 
who make the trek on the Camino a Santiago. 
Burgos is one of the larger cities on that route.

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1221, and was completed in 1267. It is an example of the evolution of Gothic style buildings, with the entire history of Gothic art seen in its architecture. Inside is a museum with a unque collection of art, paintings, stained-glass. 

The cathedral is an iconic example of Gothic architecture going all out.

From the cathedral we wandered over to the Plaza Major, 
which seemed small in comparison to others we have seen in Spain.

A building/gate making up part of the surround of the Plaza Major.

There were very few tourists here in November, which suits you just fine. A waiter in a neat clean cafe near the Plaza told us the tourist season was over until next year.
After a great meal of pumpkin soup and artisan bread, splurged on a tiramaisu dessert.


Pretty elegant for a small plaza cafe. It was very tasty.

Back out in the Plaza, Amparo made a new friend.
His name is Tinito.

Burgos is about half the size of Valladolid. In some ways Burgoa has older religious buildings, but not as many. Nor does it have the Royal historical significance that Valladloid does. 

The next day we drove on to Bilbao on the northern coast.