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, October 29, 2007

Medias Rojas!!!!

For all who know me and what a good athletic supporter I am, imagine me jumping around outside last night at around eleven as the final strikeout went down. Lucky, the black lab, was the only one around and she is figure skating fan, but she indulged me as I sang and danced like a maniac in the moonlight. There was a howling wind and I was so happy, that she joined in and barked and ran around the courtyard with me. I am sure the burros and cows next door thought we were loco.

I know people who went there whole lives never seeing the Sox win the World Series and here we are, twice in four years. Ain't life sweet?


One of my favorite quotes is “For the unenlightened, a thousand books of a thousand pages would be insufficient, but for the enlightened, one word would be too many” and maybe that is the case with the photos below. But as another of my favorites says, “fools rush in….” so if no one else will comment, I will.

People always figure out ways to express themselves, no matter how repressive the atmosphere. In the states, we have The Daily Show and Colbert. We have come to the fork in the road when we must ask, “Can a comedian do any worse as president?”

Maybe there is comedy resistance in Oaxaca, but I have not seen it, but they do have graffiti that has evolved into a high art, in my opinion. I have been taking photos of it for weeks.

These pictures are an encapsulation of life in Oaxaca right now. There is poverty and unrest, but the government has figured out a way to deal with it. It has amassed a vast collection of cans of paint in all the colors in the city, so when political graffiti appears, as it does every night, the city simply paints over it. Problem solved.

Sound familiar?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007



Just came in from eating misperos. I had never heard of them before. but I happen to be living in a relatively perfect climate for them and they are in abundance right now. Actually, they have been ripening over the last two months. They are nearing the end now as the rain has become infrequent and they are drying out before fully ripening. I think the flavor may be more intense because it is concentrated.

I am a plant nut and no matter where I am I always, somewhat obsessively, try to learn as much as I can about the plants I see. I love St. Thomas because the weeds by the sides of the roads are the high-priced houseplants in Boston. If you have ever read The Secret Life of Plants you will have an idea as to the depth of my interest and caring about plants.

But I digress…

Misperos. I remember my first sighting of them. In August, they were not quite ripe. but looked like small peaches or apricots. I wondered about the wisdom of picking unknown fruit off of trees – would I get sick? - and I wondered what they tasted like.

Now I know. I walk outside and pick them regularly. The dog eats them too.

They are quite small and they have a soft skin like an apricot. I peel the skin. The dog does not. The taste (I had to go out and eat one just now) is a combination of peach and mango with a nice tartness.

They are also known as loquat or Chinese plums.

A mispero is about 75 percent seed. There are two or three large shiny brown seeds in each one. The first time I saw the seed I thought it was animal droppings. They are large and actually attractive.

There are misperos for sale in the markets. I don’t imagine they travel well. I understand that they grow incredibly well in this area. As do gardenias. It would sure seem so. They are everywhere and the trees are completely laden with fruit.

As I walk the grounds here in San Agustin, I can pick pomegranates, limes, oranges and misperos. I even picked a tangerine this morning. There is a fig tree that is looking healthy too.

In the pueblos they are harvesting the corn and preparing for the Day of the Dead.
One sees fields of marigolds being grown. It is the flower of choice for those celebrations. I will go and shoot just before the harvest.

It has not rained for days now. The dry season is coming.

Henry says it gets so dry, you never think anything will grow again.....

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A day at a palenque

A palenque is a place where mezcal is made. It is not only the still, but the roasting pits and mash vats. It is the whole process area for turning that formidable plant, the maguey, into mezcal. Mezcal is one of Oaxaca’s trademark tastes and products. It comes in many forms and flavors and has ancient origins. It is still used in rituals and shamanistic healings. Often it is offered as a part of what could be described as a formal welcome one visiting someone’s home. Mescal is also one of the traditional gifts one brings from Oaxaca, along with chocolate and tlayudas.

More about mezcal and more.

The maguey is a remarkable plant. It provided the early indigenous people many important products including, food, water, paper, needle and thread and mezcal.

Most people do not know the difference between mezcal and tequila.
Well, Oaxaqueños do!!
So do the people of the town of Tequila in the state of Jalisco, which is just to the north of Oaxaca.

The Mexican state of Jalisco makes tequila, which is made from blue agave plants. To put it mildly, there is some little pride and competition between the two states and their liquors.

The only time I have ever been scared out in the country was the time during the piña shortage in Jalsico when we came upon a huge tractor trailer in the middle of a maguey field. There were ten men clandestinely loading piñas and one look in their eyes said we were not supposed to be there and their guns suggested we leave. We complied. Mezcal and tequila are very serious business here.

As with moles, the sauces that define Oaxacan cuisine, every single mezcal is different depending on the plant, the palenque and the mezcalero. Those who know their mezcal can immediately tell if it has been bottled in large plastic bottles or in the traditional ceramic olla. The olla acts much like an oak barrel in making whiskey. It imparts a smoothness and taste that is recognizable to the knowledgeable palette.

We were with several “knowledgeable palettes” when we visited Don Ishmael, an 84 year-old mezcalero at his palenque in Santa Catalina des Minas, which is about 40 kms southwest of the city.

The palenque was not up and working, but there was plenty of work going on and plenty of mezcal. It takes seven years for maguey to mature and there are huge fields of it in various stages of development throughout the countryside. Maguey is a large and dramatic plant and when seen in the tens of thousands across a mountain valley – only in Oaxaca.

According to Don Ishmael, after the first two years, the plants are very hardy and require little work other than normal care. But there is an art to the brewing and Ishmael is one of the masters. He let us sample from various ollas. All were delicious, but strong -110 proof. There were two grades, normal and “pechuga” in which a chicken breast has been hung in the still during distillation. They say that the minute amount of fat added makes the mescal smoother, with a slightly fuller flavor. In other ollas, Ishmael has added small amounts of various fruits, each giving its own distinctive flavors to the wonderful smokey edge of the mezcal.

The fun came when it was time to purchase. I bought some for a friend who is reopening a restaurant, El Naranjo, in the city. The only way to get the mezcal out of the ollas was to siphon it off using a hose. Of course, there is a trick to siphoning that becomes more and more elusive as one tries to suck more and more air and 110 proof mezcal.

Alone in Monte Alban

Blue and green. The day we visited Monte Alban was a rare one. Crystal clear skies and the site was spectacularly green with all the rain of the last month. September is normally a quiet month in Oaxaca with schools starting there are no tourists. This is not a normal year. There are really no tourists. So we had the place almost to ourselves, To be almost alone in this large ancient city atop the mountains was surreal. The scale and grandeur of Monte Alban tell of how advanced a culture it was that created it.

The site sits high overlooking a convergence of valleys. It took hundreds of years to create. They literally took off the top of a mountain to build it. Not only did they take the top off but they created an expansive plane that would challenge modern technologies. And they did it all by hand. They did not use the wheel. It’s use was reserved for toys. Manual labor created the site originally and it created the restoration,
which has been done to the highest of standards.

I have watched workers at Monte Alban and throughout the city. I remember watching them work on restoring the museum in town. I could see how Monte Alban was built. Here were men carrying large blocks of stone on their shoulders and climbing hand-made ladders. The walls at the museum are eight meters high and are built with the same craftsmanship that one finds at Monte Alban, Mitla and the other archaeological sites.

Plus there is a remarkable sense of wonder and awe that one always feels in these spots.

Imagine being alone in Chichen Izta, Palenque or Machu Picchu. That was the day we had in Monte Alban.

The infrared photo is by Sonya.


Oaxaca is waiting. It is waiting for El Dia del los Muertos – The Day of the Dead. It is waiting with trepidation and expectations. The city looks beautiful and is filled with people – all Oaxaqueños. There are no tourists here… yet.

After over a year of economic upheaval and lack of income, El Dia is the first real indicator that things may be able to return to normal.

But for now, there are no customers in the shops, restaurants and hotels. As one walks the streets and looks into stores, most of the time, there are only employees there, no paying customers.

So everyone is waiting. Smiling and optimistic ….. a bit sad and hungry, too.

So there is hope, esperanza ..... and Oaxaqueña Lila Downs performs here later this month!!

Shovel, Shovel, Toil and Trouble

Well, it certainly has been an exciting and energetic few weeks. And with so much accomplished. Still, there are those nagging unfinished things and sadly, and more obviously, there are the ones that will never get done no matter what. This time of year seems to ramp up one’s energy levels and things do get done. And plans get made. It has been a good few weeks, productive and filled with much, both good and bad, positive and negative…… and that was your life.

As far as my life goes, I had a huge truckload of cow manure, abono, delivered and have been busy moving it by wheelbarrow. Sure is different from the stuff I used to shovel.

I wrote a couple of friends,

“So I got the music, photography, relationship, gardening, life-in-general happening and I have figured that I might as well simply enjoy the "here and now" without any reservations. This is an idyllic life I am leading right now. I figure I may end up paying for it at some time, but who knows, maybe it is actually merely a balancing out of the tough times I have already been through. Who knows? At this point, I could care less.

In a real sense, I am at peace, the 57-year old pseudo-monk, who shovels shit and carries bricks and thinks he is having epiphanies.”