The here and now... and what and why

Complacency is a trap. At least that’s what I was thinking when I up and left the comfort of a Yankee prep school gig, where I taught music, amongst other things, for 28 years. There was also that life long career as a composer, musician and artist.

First, it was a year in St. Thomas, USVI, working as a reporter and shooting photography and then, a year in San Agustin Etla, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Time passed.
More time passed and a year back in the Athens of America followed by a hasty return to Oaxaca where it is all happening.
This time in San Sebastian Etla just down the road from San Agustin.

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For additional photography please visit my flickr page.
You can find my music on Jango (World & latin - Worldbeat) and at iTunes and most online stores.
¡Soy consciente de todas las tradiciones del Internet!
If you are coming to Oaxaca, please contact me for tours or advice.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo
The view from Corazon del Pueblo

The hereafter re me

My Photo
Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
Musician, photographer, videographer, reporter, ex-officio teacher, now attempting to be a world traveler

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

¿No tiene verguenza?

Have you no shame?
It is getting real ugly here and I am not talking about the 6.3 earthquake at about 5:45 this morning.  No, I am talking about the ongoing political situation with Seccion XII, the teachers, and the normalistas, teachers to be and their current marches, sit-ins and blockades.  Yesterday, they tried to shut the guelaguetza down and were met with a phalanx of police.  There are blockades in many places, making traffic a nightmare.  It ain't like is ain't crazy on a normal day.  Today, they are blocking the airport and other offices.  They also pitched tents on one of el centro's main streets.  Things are escalating.

Luckily, I don't have to deal, but I have paid my dues already with this stuff.  I'm am staying on this side of the city unless my curiosity gets the better of me.  I know it is a complex situation, but come on, are there no viable solutions out there? Uh, I guess not.... as I contemplate the Middle East, Ukraine, El Norte.  Apparently, people are not interested in working things out, better just to give into the darker side of life.

As I say, it is getting ugly out there.

I mean, it is tough out there for a protester in Oaxaca,  24/7 on the street, sleeping in a tent, amidst trash and really, really bad smells.  Wouldn't you just like to end this and resolve to work things out at the conference table?  No, better to incur the wrath of the general population, which has been forced to put up with an awful lot in the last two weeks; the two most important weeks of the year, those surrounding the guelaguetza.  Again, I know there are many sides to these issues.  So I guess it must be hopeless, right? 

And you know, karma is a bitch.  I love the guelaguetza and all the events that occur in July.  I had a blast, for the most part.  And duh, I love this place, its people, its culture.  But this had to have been the worst guelaguetzas in years.  The teachers antics ruined everything and the government did not cover itself in glory, either.  I have to question the ineptitude of the politicos and the government to deal with these problems.  I am way too cynical and/or ignorant, I won't even go there.

However, an example:  the desfile, or parade of guelaguetza delegations, is a huge crowd favorite and thousands show up to watch the dancers and cheer like hell when they go by.  On Saturday, of course, the teachers had to march and so the parade route was changed.  However, did it occur to anyone to make an announcement?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but I was up at the original starting place along with many others, including performers... waiting ... for Godot.  I had to run across the city to find the new route.  The desfile came off fine, because Oaxacans are used to this stuff and just roll with the punches.  But, still...

So as for the politicians, I dunno, but I sure wouldn't want all of this on my resume.  The word most used in comments on Facebook, is "pestilence"  as in "a pestilence has descended on the city."  And what terrible timing for all of this.  Oaxaca deserves to shine in all its glory.... and let's get real.  As one of the poorest states in Mexico, it seriously needs the money, a fact which you would think the teachers could grasp. Nose/spite/face.

It remains to be seen how this works out.  School starts in a few weeks.  There were minor violent situations today, a truck was burned, a taxi had its windows broken.  People are pissed... and nervous.  2006 is on many peoples' minds.  And we all know that did not turn out too well.

Update:  This from El Imparcial: However, despite that (the problems), 86% hotel occupancy, with an income of 23 million dollars and 130 thousand visitors during the festivities of the Guelaguetza were recorded.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Guelaguetza in Etla - 2014

Today is the last Monday of the month and so ends the two week celebration known as the Guelaguetza.  Really, there is a lot more to the word, but in this case we are talkin' about dance.  Dancers from all over the state descend on the city and simply dance up a storm.  There is something everyday, but the main events take place on the last two Mondays of the month.  The biggie is in the city, but I love the small versions that take place in several of the outlying villages.  Last week it was the one in Reyes Etla and this week it was in nearby Etla.  Etla is kinda my home base for all things food.  My favorite restaurant, Comedor Colon, is there and I always shop at the market where I know many of the vendors.  But today it was all about dancing and a crowd of about 750-1000 people thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  It was a great day!
This year, the dance floor was not covered and the sun periodically beat down, but then a nice breeze would cool us down.  However, I am sure the heat was tough on the dancers, but what the heck, the light was great for photographers.

I love, love, love this jarabe, always danced by a couple.  The woman always looks like a mariposa.
I cannot stress enough how nice and friendly everyone is.  One walks away exhausted, but very content, knowing that we have shared something very special and "shared" is the key word there, because that's one of the basic concepts behind guelaguetzas.
The ladies who danced the Flor de Piña dance deserve some serious props here.  First, those are very large piñas.  I know, because I received one as a gift after the dance and it was heavy.  I can't imagine dancing with one on my shoulder, but they did and their energy was infectious.  They always are a crowd favorite and people cheer and go crazy.  It's wonderful.
Also, in the city, the flor de piña dancers are always young and gorgeous, but in the smaller venues, ones sees dancers of all ages, each equally gorgeous in their own unique way. 
And man o man, the pride is always palpable.
I will post more in a bit.  I am way behind on things, but "Whew," what a coupla weeks. ..... Now's the time to catch up... after a siesta.


Gotta run.  Way to much to do, but will get caught up later.  In the meantime, the joy of sax.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Piñas or Plumas?

These are set up on the Alcala right at the entrance to the artisano stalls.  So which will it be?
Or piñas?
Kids and dogs... they always steal the show.


These are from a pretty steep little byway I huff and puff up every time I am in the city.  Ah... youth
Waiting for the way to clear...
Look out below....

Friday, July 25, 2014

Feria de Tamale y Tejate 2014

Another day, another taste treat.  Make that too many to sample taste treats.  And so it was at the annual feria of tamales and tejates, all presented and produced by the ladies from nearby San Andrés Huayapam and held in the Plaza de Danza.
I am not much on tejate, kinda a take or leave it thing for me.  However, this very traditional drink made from corn, mamey seeds, toasted cacao beans, and cacao flowers is very popular and one can find it everywhere, in every market, every day.  However, these ladies are las maestras of the concoction.
The other drink served is chilacayote, a drink made of stringy squash and pineapple pulp, usually sweetened with honey and cinnamon.  It is served with a spoon to best scoop out the delicious squash
Now the other half of the equation is tamales and those I know something about, like how to eat them. 
 Lemme at 'em.
Tamales are lots of work to prepare and these women had made hundreds and hundreds of them.  It's hot work.
 How can one resist?
There had to be thirty women selling tamales and the choices were overwhelming. 
In order to do it right, one would have to get one of each variety from each of the ladies and let's see, that would mean a mere 180 tamales.  I remember eating ten little ones out in Teotitlan del Valle while my host ate 28, but there were small, just a bite or two.  These were much fatter.  I got a couple of rajas, my favorites, but then I was full.
More or less, it was all about eating and people certainly were into it.
I love the look on this lady's face.  "Gimme that thing.  I cannot wait another second."
And I even got a couple of twofers, tamales and T-shirts. 
 This guy's shirt is gonna take a bit before he does.
 What a feast.  Oaxaca at its best.  A good time was had by all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

mas gracias...

I went back into the city for the feria de tamale y tejate, which was totally worth it and will post about it shortly.  But I wanted to take a few more shots of the zocalo with the maestro's planton or sit-in and its accompanying madness.  You know, I dunno if this is typical Oaxaca or atypical of Oaxaca.  The zocalo can be such a serene place with the huge trees, cool breezes, concerts and people gently mingling.  At other times... well, you see.  This is the Almeda, the plaza in front of the cathedral... to the left.
 to the right.... those are little mini restaurants..... I mean,  they are substantial and they are there. Srsly, wtf?
The main entrance to the zocalo.  You can just see the teacher's tents in the background.  Normally, one can walk through, but they have blocked the entire area making the vendors areas even more congested, almost impassable at times.  You can infer what you want about the politicians and state officials who allow this to take place.
I prefer the serenity, but understand where this all comes from and it is very Oaxacan.  I just have to be extra careful so as not to get decapitated by the low lying ropes.
This is the northwest corner of the zocalo.  You can see how tough it must be for the cafes behind the vendors.  Normally, these are packed with tourists, but as you see almost empty now.
Not Oaxaca at its finest, but Oaxaca nonetheless.  Life can be quite visceral here.

Gracias, maestros.... not

The zocalo in Oaxaca is one of the most beautiful spot in the city.... sometimes.  This ancient park has been the central meeting spot for hundreds of years.  Here's what it looks like today, filled with tents as los maestros, the teachers, have once again established a planton, a sit-in (sleep-in,) closing the space off to everyone else.  And they brought with them the vendors that are a part of the union's movement.  It's ugly and not at all representative of what Oaxaca has to offer.
Of course, for the most important cultural and economic weeks of the year, weeks in which Oaxaca is the destination for tens of thousands of tourists, the teachers do their normal thing.  Ruin things as much as possible for as many people as possible.  Listen, I am a former teacher, but I have a very hard time supporting the antics and tactics of Sección 22 del Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE).  They march, they blockade, they act like nothing else matters.  All they seem to do is piss people off while at the same time doing an even greater disservice to the children and their families for whom they are supposed to be serving.  They have shut down roads, shopping malls, governement offices, all during the busiest month of the years.  Can we talk about chaos and inconvenience?  Nuf' said.

I am not sure what this newspaper is about, but I like the Freddie Kruger image, because sadly, sometimes, it's a nightmare.... but not on Elm Street.
Meanwhile, the government protects the protesters while ignoring the pleas of the majority of the population who have said repeatedly, "Ya basta!"  "Enough already!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reyes Etla's Guelaguetza

The guelaguetza in nearby Reyes Etla is one of my favorites.  It is always such a happy and intimate affair.  Sure, the main guelaguetza in the city is the big time, but more and more, villages are presenting their own versions of this wonderful pageant of traditional Oaxaca.  I go to Reyes pretty regularly because the setting is so beautiful.  There is a circular dance floor and the views are spectacular.  And the church is famous for being in "Nacho Libre,"  which was a point of distinction raised by a very able and entertaining emcee. 
I arrived right on time, meaning I was a minute late and got caught behind the procession of dignitaries and the diosa de maiz, the corn goddess and her princesses.  I did a quick bypass and caught their arrival.
La diosa.
As I said, these are intimate affairs with no more than 500 to 750 people in the audience.  Everyone has a decent view of the dancers and a really good chance of catching the regional favors the dancers toss into the audience after each dance. 
The dancers are from a grupo folklorico, a troupe that dances most of the dances with a couple of other groups that dance specific dances, like the danza de las plumas.   I am pretty sure these danzantes came from Zaachila.
 They all work mighty hard and just keep on dancin'. 
Costume changes are done very quickly and smoothly.  Trajes de Tehuantepec.
It doesn't get any better than this.  Valle centrals in action.
Lots of great audience participation and interaction.
Trajes, traditional outfits, from la Cañada region.
The look of concentration just before going on stage.
Always ready for a photo
And in action...