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.
A couple of years in San Sebastian Etla and now, just down the road in San Pablo Etla. Life is good.

Click on an image to see it larger.
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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mayordomos de la Virgen de Guadalupe

Yesterday, we were honored and lucky to be invited to Casa Cruz in Teotitlan del Valle, the home of Fidel and Maria Luisa, the mayordomos for the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Actually, there are two mayordomos, the other being Bulmaro Perez Mendoza, whose house is just across the road.  Being a mayordomo is a big deal, full of responsibilities and obligations, a tradition going back centuries. It is also a lot of work and expense.  They maintain the altar in the church and give numerous celebrations like yesterday.  It is a way to give back to the church and to the village.
Really, there are so many aspects to the event, it all seems a blur, but a very organized, formal and wonderful blur.  Here, bread for breakfast and the velas, candles that will be carried to the church.  They are hand-crafted all from pure wax.
Everyone works!  It takes days of prep.  For the Cruz family, months of work.  It's a year long commitment.  The women prepare and cook the food.  Here they are making hundreds of tlayudas, the large crisp tortillas.
The men set up, serve and, for this celebration, killed 200 chickens, four steer, and six large pigs.  This morning's fare was sopa de oregano, made from beef stock, onions and oregano and big chunks of meat.  Notice, no utensils, only tlayudas and fingers.  Incidentally, the food was made by many of the best and most famous cooks in all of Oaxaca and Mexico... all in the family.  More on them later.
The danzantes arrived with their band.
The unmarried girls and women of the village were present as they woud process two kilometers to the church and then the convite, the traditional procession through the streets of the village, and then back to Casa Cruz, a total of seven kilometers!
Fidel and Maria Luisa were flat out, running around and directing much of the action.  They must be exhausted and I did not get a good shot of them, but I will.  However, I did get this nice shot of Fidel's proud parents.
More in a bit....

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The things I missed - Street art

It's like the streets here are an art gallery.  It never gets old, the ever-changing street art. It's just normal life.... and it's healthy and inspirational on several levels, both social and artistic.
Again, it's one of those things I missed in New England.  I know there are murals and graffiti in Boston, but I sure didn't see much... not like this
Here, they tell it like it is.  It's out there for everyone to see.... until it is torn down or painted over.
Then.... it's on to the next..
Frankly, Boston could use much more of this.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The things I missed - The market in Etla

One week ago, I was shopping in a supermarket in Newton, MA, which is pretty much a state-of-the-art store with almost everything one could want.  A few days later I was back in the market in nearby Etla and wow, what a different.
The presentation slightly different.... and the prices? So much lower. 12 pesos is .63  US... today.
I felt like I had come home....
Surreal... the differences between the two places I call home.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The things I missed - Bugambilias

It is good to be back..... I'm happy to see this plant.  I missed it.  It started out as the worst pruning job I'd ever seen and look at it now.  I've watched the gardeners here and they are masters at shaping plants.  I feel so lucky to have learned a few of their techniques.  In the front it forms this wonderful canopy that hides the house from the street.
And the back is a nice globe shape.  Front and back, all the same plant!

Friday, December 1, 2017

The things I miss... The Blues

The color palette of the houses in New England: white, gray, tan, pale yellow with minor variations. Nice, but...
I had a dream that I painted my house here this blue with green trim. What would the neighbors think?  Hmmm... maybe purple with pink trim.....  Oh, I miss these blues, too.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The things that I miss.... Everything

Yes, after almost a month in the belly of the beast, I'm really missing all things Oaxacan... well, almost everything, blockades and potholes, being a couple of exceptions.  Although Newton, MA is more of an enclave in the depressing insanity that is El Norte these days.  I've enjoyed being in New England, raking leaves, eating dim sum and going to the Newton Public Library, but I am so ready to head back.
I spent the afternoon, alone in the local art movie house, watching, "Coco," which should be required viewing for... well, simply everyone.  The film does a wonderful job of presenting so many aspects of Oaxaca and the things we love about Mexico.  It turned out that Coco looked very much like my abuelita from San Antonino, who I just eulogized.  I had tears in my eyes numerous times.... hey, there was no one else there.. what can I say?  I'm a softy.... and I loved the movie and this woman.
A couple more days.....

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Things I miss... Esperanza

A double meaning, here on a Thanksgiving Day in El Norte.... Esperanza, of course, means "hope."  And it's what this country needs in abundance.  It does seem to be missing in action, however, I'm confident, because hope is eternal.
The other hope is Esperanza, of the eternal beautiful smile, one of my favorite people.  She is a constant light in Tlacolula, dancing and serving barbacoa.
I'm not really sure where she is these days.  After working seven days a week for so many years in the market, she's on a bit of a vacation, parts unknown. 
I miss her smile.  Thanks for giving.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The things I miss.... Kids in graveyards?

Yes, kids in graveyards.  Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, is somehow lighter, dare I say, happier, because it can be such a family affair.  Everyone, from abuelos to babies, is there.
Children playing, the sounds of laughter....
Enough to make one's heart sing, adding such a different element to such a pensive time.
One of the things I've noticed while here in New England is how I miss seeing children.  They are everywhere in Oaxaca.  There are kids on my block, but it's different.
Children in Oaxaca learn independence and responsibility at an early age.
I wish they could have the advantages of the good schools we have here in Newton.
The differences in cultures.....

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The things I miss... empanadas

I am hiding out in the belly of the beast, raking leaves and cleaning gutters in New England. It has been cold with rains, which might be a welcome change from Oaxaca except... it's cold and rainy.  Actually, it's interesting being here as opposed to watching from the outside.  I can say one thing for sure, people are happier in Mexico than here..... maybe it's the cold and rain... no, it's the polarization... and a severe lack of empanadas.... like these from San Antonino, which are so good. And here is our absolute favorite doña.  Hers are simply the best.
Served up hot and crispy by her daughter, and like her mother, she is wearing examples of the embroidery for which the village is so famous.
So no empanadas..... hmmmm... there is always dim sum.... that'll work.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Muerteada in San Agustin Etla - The video

The muereada in San Agustin is one of the best.  It claims to be the cuna or cradle of the muerteada and they sure know how to do it right.  It's the same every year although the bands change. Two groups of dancers, one from San Agustin, one from Barrio San Jose, each goes from house to house, along with the band and dance all night.  After fourteen hours, the next morning, the two groups meet at the base of the mountain and go crazy.  It's one happy mosh pit with things always on the edge of going out of control, but never quite doing so.  After all, it's a family affair.  The groups are separated by two lines of security, one from each group.  They have their work cut out for them, but always do a great job. And.... a massive battle of the bands... this year, thirteen tubas!

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Many people I've met here over the years have had a profound effect on me, all for the better.  I have been touched by their wisdom, creativity, resilience and, yes, a touch of their holiness.  I remember first seeing this doña from San Antonino Castillo Velasco in the early 90's as she brought her amazing creations of dried flowers to La Noche del Rabanos.  And then, I saw her every year I was at Rabanos.   For some reason we connected and I always felt blessed whenever I saw her, like I was touched by the light.  I would give her photos of herself and I love seeing the rebozo I gave her in these photos.
I saw her most every year during Muertos and Semana Santafor the last ten years.  I always had to get on my knees to look her in the eyes.

I missed her this Semana Santa and then learned from her children this Muertos that she had died last January.  I told them how much she meant for me, that she was an important person in my life, but they already knew that.  Still, they cried when I told them as we stood by her grave.
And I don't even know her name even though I must have heard it at some point.  She was always just "La Doña, mi abuelita."
(gracias/spixl for fotos)

Friday, November 10, 2017

How It's Made - Quesillo in a ball

Here's Doña Vicki, the woman from whom I buy all my cheese.  She has a stall in the market in Etla.  Etla is the home of queso and quesillo.  All others?... well, they're not Etla. Watch how fast she can ball up a half a kilo of the freshest quesillo.  She makes it look so easy.  It's not.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Muertos in San Antonino Castillo Velasco

"An ocean of flowers," is how I always describe the panteon or cemetery in San Antonino Castillo Velasco for Muertos.  I think it is one of the most beautiful places to visit and not only now, but at any time, and especially for Semana Santa.  But for Muertos?... It just doesn't get any better.
People are so friendly and happy even though there is a touch of sadness in the background.  I just can't imagine anything this special happening in cemeteries in El Norte.
There is a contest for grave decoration and the work is like many things Oaxaqueno, creative and wonderfully artistic.  San Antonino is known for its flowers and produce.
The work is delicate and meticulous.
And so beautiful...
It's a family affair, often with food and music and kids running around. 
It warms the soul.  As I say, this is how it should be.  People are not afraid or sad because of death.  It's natural. They welcome the spirits back, the ones they remember, respect and carry always in their hearts and thoughts.
Such a wonderful tradition and this year was a particularly beautiful celebration.  Maybe it was all the rain, the flowers just radiated.
It was a blessing to be there as the sun bathed us all in its light.
And there's more to come.... but for now....