Mexico City 2018 – Art, Food, Music, & Montessori

1 graduation

Graduation

Please join me for a return to experience AMI Montessori in Mexico City. The main purpose of my visit was again to serve as an oral examiner for the AMI Montessori A to I (Assistants to Infancy), birth to three, course. But as always in this Montessori world a guest is greeted with grace and courtesy and a desire to joyfully share culture, which includes food, as Mexico City is famous internationally for this element.

Above is a picture of the graduating class seated with us two examiners, the teacher trainers, their course assistants, and my translator. I was pleased to see that the medical doctor who graduated from this course in 2016 is now the guide/teacher in the infant community for children from one year to 2.5 or 3 years of age, returning to Puebla on weekends to take care of her medical patients.

2 santana and carrington

Santana and Carrington

This year I had an overnight flight from San Francisco so in order to stay awake we went to the Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park), one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring 1,695 acres. Large pictures of Santana and other important Mexican historical figures grace the black iron fences that surround the garden, and museum signs heighten our excitement as we approach the Museo de Arte Modern (Modern Art Museum) to see the special exhibit of the works of British/Mexican artist Leonora Carrington.

More on Santana here: here: Santana

More on Leonora Carrington here: Carrington

My hostess was surprised that I had never heard of this artist so I explained that since I love the Impressionists and Post-impressionists has crowded out a lot of art history and I need to be educated about surrealism. And my eyes were opened; what an interesting person.

3 carrington kitchen best

Saint Teresa in the Kitchen

This was one of my favorites of her painting. Carrington urged women, in both her writing and her graphic arts, to own their power. Saint Teresa, in the black and white tunic of the Carmelites, is seen as the patron saint of gastronomy. She was famous for her ecstasies and here she hovers over a boiling caldron in the center of the kitchen frying an egg in miraculous rapture. For Carrington the kitchen was an exclusive place for coming together and for experiments; the analogies between cooking, magic, and painting turned it into an alchemical laboratory.

4 frida

Frida Kahlo

Frida, Surrealist or Realist? Last time I was here the lines to get into the Casa Azul, or the “blue house”, the home of this famous Mexican artist, were around the block and there was no time to wait so it was a treat to relax and spend my second day exploring her home and art. If you do not know this artist the best introduction is the 2002 movie “Frida” staring Salma Hayek.

More on  Frida Kahlo here: Frida

5 staff and nogado

Chiles en Nogada

Again it is a treat to be here during the season of this famous dish. This year the AMI 3-6 trainer, who was in Mexico City for a month, brought each of us our on special blue and white plate from Puebla, and a Chile. We enjoyed them over lunch in the institute staff room.

Here is a little of the history of Chiles en Nogada. Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico from 1822 to 1823, signed the Treaty of Cordoba which granted Mexico its independence from Spain in 1821. The event took place in Veracruz and on his way back to Mexico City he stopped in Puebla. The townspeople of Puebla decided to honor the Emperor—and independence—by creating a special dish using local ingredients. The Augustinian nuns of Santa Monica convent came up with Chiles en Nogada, which means chile in walnut sauce. It is made of poblano chilies stuffed with a mixture of meat and dried fruit (a special vegetarian version for me) and decorated in the colors of the Mexican flag: pomegranate seeds (red), parsley (green), and a sauce made of fresh, carefully peeled walnuts (white). To this day the nuns earn money by the painstaking task of peeling the walnuts for local restaurants. It is considered very patriotic to order or serve this dish.

6 grasshoppers and fire ants

Grasshoppers, Fire Ant Eggs, and Tequila

We work very, very hard at Montessori exams. The trainers are not the ones who test the students so no one can be “prepared for the tests.” The exam questions are sent from the Association Montessori Internationale in Amsterdam, and the oral examiners are selected from around the world. This is one of the reasons why AMI Montessori teachers are so well prepared for their work. The pressure is on. But several times a week we manage to have our discussions over delicious meals.

A vegetarian eating insects you say? Well, I just tasted, considering it practice for the probably main source of protein in the future as Earth’s population grows and grows and grows; and no one argues with eliminating a few million of the eggs of the dreaded fire ants!

More on fire ants here: Fire Ants

And now for the tequila. I had tasted this drink before, but on this occasion it was served in the traditional manner. First one takes a bit of salt in one’s hand and licks it up. Then a little taste of fresh lime juice followed by a sip of tequila. Finally a sip of the famous sangrita. The combination was delicious.

The word sangrita means little blood and was probably invented in the 1920’s as a way to cleanse the palate between sips of tequila and it was thought to be made up of the leftover juices of fruit salad. So it could contain pomegranate, tangerine, orange, mango, papaya, and so forth. Again this way of serving represents the colors of the Mexican flag: lime juice (green) tequila (white), and sangrita (red). I felt very patriotic.

7 soup and mole

Squash Blossom Soup and Mole

After this delicious traditional Meal meal I came home looking for squash blossoms to make soup, and since it is late in the season could only find enough to decorate the top of soup, but next season I shall plant zucchini and do it properly.

Mole contains chocolate and many spices; it comes in several colors, and is famous in Mexican cooking, and again it is the nuns of Puebla who might have invented it. Our version, Enchiladas de Mole Negro with cheese at the restaurant Azul Condesa, was a special treat. And it was followed by even more chocolate for desert.

More Mole information here: mole

8 hot chocolate

Champurrado

This is a delicious Mexican version of hot chocolate made with chocolate, flour, cinnamon and flavored sometimes with anise, vanilla, ground nuts, orange zest, and more, to make a variety of interesting drinks. The chocolate is packed into little individual tablets for storage that are melted, mixed with or milk, and then blended or whipped with a wooden whisk called a molinillo. The whisk is rolled between the palms of the hands, and then moved back and forth in the mixture until it is aerated and frothy. Then it is poured into a bowl made of cocoanut shell and drunk. There are many recipes on the internet ¡Buen provecho!

9 tea made by children

Two-Year-Olds Make Their Own Herb Tea

Things have changed in the Montessori 3-6 classes with the introduction of the Infant Communities for children from age 1, or walking, to age 2.5 or three. Pouring rice, lentils, or water, from small pitchers is common for other children who have not had much experience using their hands with challenging tasks. But in the Montessori A to I world children begin pouring their own water before they are a year old, yes, before they can walk. They water plants, fill basins with water to wash their hands, and want this work to be real, collaboration with the group, not mindless, repetitive activities.

I asked the Infant Community guide to show me how the tea-making was carried out by a 2-year old in her class. There are many steps, beginning with measuring and adding loose leaf tea to the pot, adding (previously prepared) hot water, waiting till the water reaches the correct color, setting the table with a place mat, napkin, cup and saucer and spoon, carrying the pot to the table, sitting down and enjoying the tea, putting the used tea leaves in the compost, the placemat and napkin in the laundry (to be washed and ironed by another child), and the tea-pot, spoon, and cup and saucer with the dirty dishes (to be washed by another child), all the time concentrating deeply and not being interrupted; and then going on to choose the next physically and mentally challenging and satisfying “work”. I have just described a series of skills included in the list of “executive functions” which are a more reliable predictor of academic success in later life than IQ, and the basis for real Montessori practice at any age “meaningful work and uninterrupted concentration” that produces happy people who then reach out naturally to care for others and the environment. Thank you Margarita.

10 church and market

Coyoacán (the “place of the cayotes”) 

The last afternoon after graduation I was hosted by the brother of the head of the AMI affiliate organization in Colombia, South America who lives in Mexico City. We went to Coyoacán to see the cathedral, the crafts market, and to enjoy Middle Eastern food. We were joined by the head of the AMI affiliate society for Peru. Both of these women were students in this course.

I was pleased to see a statue of San Martin de Porres who, along with Santa Rosa of Lima, is patron saints of my old home (for a short time) Peru. Coyoacán is the second most visited site in Mexico city, but the real pleasure was in enjoying it with friends after the intense week of exams and the graduation.

More on Coyoacán here: Coyoacán

11 algajores and friends

Peruvian and Colombian Montessorians

Here I am with these two women who will be first to take AMI Montessori Birth to Three information back to Peru and Colombia. They are passionate and inspired and I look forward to see what they, and all of the other students, do with this precious information. Yes, the picture on the left is more food, alfajores, my favorite cookie from Peru.

More on AMI Affiliated Societies here: AMI

12 susan

Back Home in California

Now I am back home, catching up on writing a 6th book Montessori book, and preparing for work in Europe in the fall. I don’t usually enjoy shopping, but this beautiful hand-made blouse and amber earrings are gifts and memories of that fascinating local crafts market on the last lovely day in Mexico City.

Stay tuned . . .

Hugs,
Susan

More here: Susan’s Home Page

Montessori Dream in Morocco

For my third trip to Morocco I was honored to have a part in the first AMI Primary course to be given in this part of the world. This is something that I have dreamed about for years, to be part of Montessori teacher training for children from age 2.5 to 6 where I could share what I learned in my very first course at The Maria Montessori Institute (MMI: See more here Montessori ) in London, England almost 50 years ago. I wanted to do this in a place where I can be 100% behind the efforts of the people who are bringing AMI Montessori to their country. Morocco is this place. A dream come true.

1 atlas trip

On the first day the students, the director of Training Lhamo Pemba, and I were hosted at the home of the parents of Aicha Sajid for a delicious traditional French-Moroccan breakfast and then we headed south for 4 days to experience some of this ancient civilization before we settled down to work. This trip was a generous gift of our hosts and none of us will forget it—the wild argon trees with goats climbing to reach the leaves, the walls of ancient cities, the art, the food, the beauty, and the music. It was a unique and valuable beginning of a course as we were able to spend precious time getting to know each other and hearing the variety of stories about what brought each of us together in this place and time, sharing the belief that it is through gentle support of the potential of the very youngest that there is a chance to reveal the very best in humans, for the sake of these individuals and with hope for the future of the world.

2 trip students

The students came from several countries, Australia, China, Mongolia, Congo, Martinique, Morocco, and the United States, all to receive this Montessori teacher training.

3 my room and garden

Because it is almost time for Ramadan, the 40-day fast that is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, my hosts parents invited me to stay in a room in their beautiful garden so I could join the family each night for Iftar or the breaking of the fast. Here is a picture of the garden and my room.

4 ramadan

During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God. I joined in the fast; but for me not eating anything between sunrise and sunset was just a small reminder of how it must feel for so many people in the world today who actually experience hunger every day of their lives. And I was one of the fortunate, having a delicious meal to look forward to each day after sunset. The experience was confusing, thought-provoking, and valuable. I am still processing it.

For more about Ramadan click here: Ramadan

Each night some of the members of the extended family and I gathered at around 7:30 PM (the time changing a few minutes each night) to await the evening call to prayer heard from several directions of the city, only then beginning to eat.

The meal began the same every night. One soft-boiled egg sprinkled with salt and cumin, dates and nuts (both delicious in Morocco), and special honey and sesame seed sweets served only at this time of the year. A soup accompanied these, usually the traditional “Harira” made of lentils and chickpeas, spices, and vegetables and meat. The family very graciously always provided vegetarian versions of the soup and everything else just for me.

The second course is “salad” which is a broad term to cover a variety of delicious vegetable dishes, little meat or vegetable pastries, and sometimes fish.

The third course is the famous “tagine” which refers to both the mean/vegetable dish and the special pot it is slowly cooked in over hot coals. Click: Tagine

5 beautiful homes

Sometimes the meal was served in the home of a relative so because of Ramadan, and being invited to tea, I was able to see some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen in my life. Here you can see the mural on the wall of a woman who loves India, and the hand-painted ceiling of the grand dame of the family.

6 watercolor study

I was little worried about leaving my considerable work at home to be in Morocco for almost three months so I took along a very tiny watercolor set and two small watercolor blocks. Stealing moments from the 24/7 work on the course I finally was able to do a “study” of a piece of art a friend had shared with me that I had stored on my computer. She had photographed the original, a little known work created by the Japanese artist Tsuguhara Foujita, in Paris. It has been a long time since I worked in watercolor and ink and it was challenging and enjoyable.

Neyla is the daughter of my friend Aicha Sajid, who pulled all of this together, and I have gotten to know her and her brother Nacer very well since we traveled together on my first trip to Morocco. They and their friends often visited me after school to play music, read, sometimes work on math, or just talk about life. One day I asked Neyla to recite some of the prayers of the Koran she was learning. Here is a video of just a few of her words.

8 art neyla drawing

I think you can see why the experience inspired me to do a watercolor and ink drawing of her. I also painted one of her brother Nacer and gave them both to their grandparents as a thank you gift for hosting me. I think they are both on my facebook page “The Art of Susan Mayclin Stephenson”

9 physics

One of the subjects I lectured on during the course was physics. This has been a great love of mine, perhaps because of my physicist father who was interested in how everything works and, even many years ago, in non-coal based energy, including solar! I was thrilled to find that physics was part of the curriculum on my first Montessori training course in London in 1970. Because I loved this subject, so have all of my students over the years. And I hope also the students in the course in Morocco will learn to love it. It seems so in the picture above.

In this picture you see the first slide of a PowerPoint I prepared showing how the experience of physics begins early in life. The students in the picture come from a variety of backgrounds—a “Montessori Mama” separating sand and iron filings; Aicha (who studied computer science at Brown University the same years as our son Michael) and Leila, an artist, are completing the electric circuit; the student experimenting with a candle with limited air was a child advocate lawyer who realized that one must begin earlier in life to truly help children.
They all seem to be enjoying physics.

10 botany

Botany was another subjects of my lectures and the exploration of leaf shapes and attachments to a stem was rich indeed as I was able to deliver that lecture, followed by a long period of research by the students, in the lovely Sajid garden. The second picture here shows the excitement of two of the students when a few days later I discovered and took into class an example of “whorled” leaf attachment to the stem.

11 art day

Of course I was thrilled to be able to deliver the lecture on art, and to provide what was supposed to be a short art workshop but turned out to be a whole day. When lunch was announced none of the students even looked up from their work. And again at the end of the day no one was especially eager to stop creating and discovering. I had wanted them to see what it feels like to be deeply engrossed and concentrating on a project requiring the mind and the hands working together, moving in new ways with paper and scissors and glue and colored pencils and paint, combining them in an open-ended variety. The only requirement was that they use all of the materials (drawing, painting, print-making, cutting, gluing) and that they draw or paint at least one bird, and at least 5 flags.

This last requirement was to show the students that they can indeed draw and paint. Part of their “general knowledge” work back at home between the 2018 and 2019 blocks of the course will be filling in their knowledge gaps that we all have in preparation for working with children.

12 art framed for classroom

We all worked, under the direction of Lhamo, to create a beautiful primary class environment for the students to be able to carry out the many hours of practice on the materials in preparation for oral and written exams next year. An important part of a Montessori environment is art on the walls hung at the level of the child’s eyes. We had 10 frames and I was more than happy to fill some of them of images of my own art.

13 susan with desert

Twice we were treated by Aicha and her co-worked Leila Ouarrak Sfez, to a meal at an elegant French restaurant, “Le Relais de Paris”. When I ordered “profiteroles” the first time I was expecting one small one on a plate as the course of all meals are much smaller outside the USA. Imagine the shock when I was served a pile of profiteroles served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I was not the only one. And, yes, we had the same desert the second time, but ordered less food for the meal to save room.

14 hanane and hamza

As I think back on this experience I realize how fortunate I have been to be able to work with Lhamo, and to get to know a very special group of talented, hardworking and passionate women who are taking the Montessori course, the two women who are translating the course into French and Chinese, and the teachers and staff at Ecole Montessori Casablanca who helped us so much.

But I also now have other very dear friends in this part of the world, all from the home where I lived for two months.

Every year during Ramadan the king of Morocco invites scholars of Islam from around the world to deliver inspiring lectures on Islam. My host, Mohamed Sajid, as minister of culture for Morocco, is invited to attend. At each of these ten lectures the guests are presented with a beautiful piece of Arabic script in gold lettering to memorialize each of the talks. Mohamed kindly presented me with several of these documents. An American-Moroccan scholar from the University of Chicago delivered the lecture commemorated here.

I often shared meals with Mohamed’s wife, my dear friend Hanane, a Medical doctor who works as a volunteer for whomever needs her, and her son the artist Hamza. They taught me much about their country and their lives. And I now know more about soccer and the World Cup than I ever though possible.

Never will I forget this family and all of the others who contributed to my wonderful stay in Casablanca, Omar, Latifa, and especially Medeni and Hakima who never gave up trying to teach me Arabic and Berber!

15 culture book cover art

When I realized that the work load for the course (as I was writing and delivering lectures along with all of the regular course assistant work) left me no time for my regular work as a Montessori consultant, writer, and a multitude of other tasks I work on when at home, so I was forced to finish my lectures in a little over two months and return to California.

But this experience convinced me of the value of the Montessori primary culture work that were the basis of my lectures—physics, botany, zoology, geography, history, music, and art. Over the last 50 years I have shared this information in many countries, speaking and writing. And often I have been asked to write a book on the subject. So now it is official.

Hopefully in the next year there will be a book with the picture above on the cover. This painting of my youngest grandchild examining a flower with a magnifying glass is not yet finished, but I think it captures the essence of the projected book. Stay tuned . . .

16 art page image

Finally some of my prints and paintings are now available to purchase via the Internet. I updated this page before leaving for Morocco but only recently posted it. You can see more at this link: Susan’s art

17 romanian jc translation small

Just as I was gathering photos (I wish I could have posted 100!) for this blog post, news arrived that the translation of The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three will soon be available in the Romanian language so I might be back in that hemisphere of the planet earth sooner than I thought for a book signing.

Take care,
Susan