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

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Return to the mixteca alta

Yesterday we returned to the mixteca alta, Mixtec country, to Noxchitlan, Yanhuitlan and Teposcolula. Check out this map.

Henry is back in town putting all sorts of new books in Amate Books. The selection is fantastic. You could just sit and read for days. So many of them are on Mexico, but he really has a remarkable and wide-ranging selection, full of jewels. Of course, he would be the first to tell you, he is addicted to books.
He had given me an out of print book Week in Yanhuitlan by Ross Parmenter, former music critic for The New York Times. Parmenter describes a stay in the village he had in 1953 in which he experiences village life and spends ten days drawing and describing the Dominican church and monastery. It is a great read. See if you can find it.

Even though I have an aversion to music critics after being in so many battles with them, Parmenter won me over with his keen ability for description and detail. And he genuinely loved Oaxaca as I do.

The book is steeped with history and detail, so it was a pleasure to return to the place where we had been exactly one month before, on February 2, Candeleria. My appreciation for the structure was greatly enhanced by the knowledge I gained from my reading.
The degree and diversity of detail of the site is remarkable. Everywhere is a seal or emblem carved in stone. The highly detailed doors are all different. The windows, all different.
It was fun to share with Henry that one had to walk a certain path to better see the details. The monks followed a daily series of prayers and services and the building was designed to enhance those moments. So if one walks counterclockwise, one sees niches and altars, but if one walks clockwise, one sees blank walls.
Above all, the sheer size and scale of the place is amazing. One good thing the current governor is doing is pushing to make the Mixtec region a new tourist destination. It should be, for the place is unique, the landscapes breath taking and the history runs back for thousands of years.
The church was started in the 1550’s and they were newcomers. The mixteca alta has some rich history and is well worth the visit.

We continued up the road for another 30 minutes to San Pedro y San Paulo Teposcolua where there is another Dominican church built right around the same time. The area is known for its pine forest and logging
The atmosphere that surrounds this church is entirely different. There is a sense of warmth that is completely lacking at Yanhuitlan. Here is a church that people still use where in Yanhuitlan the towns people basically ignore the church, choosing to attend services elsewhere.
The decoration at Teposcolula has more whimsy, maybe a more indigenous flavor to it. Again, the stonework is impressive.
Impressive also to see that they are restoring the church and hand carving the replacements on the spot.

The two churches are so different. Henry offered that Yanhuitlan was all about order and authority and Teposcolua was about servicing the people and making them feel welcome.

The most impressive aspect of the latter is the huge open area capilla or chapel area. It could accommodate thousands and was designed acoustically so that all could hear.
The Mixtec were a large and powerful nation, tough as nails, who gave the Aztecs and others real hard times. There was a need for a huge space to service such a population, but within a generation after the conquistadores invaded, that population had suffered devastation from the diseases that the Spanish brought with them. Some speculate there was a 95 percent kill rate.

Now it is one tranquil town. We both commented that it was unnaturally quiet.

Both churches are famous for their retablos, but both are currently under restoration and we could not see them.
But we did make our way through the museum and nosed our way into storage areas that were full of pieces.
While we were there, a service was taking place for someone who had died the week before. It was a follow-up to the funeral and the people left the church processed across the large open area.
They carried flowers and a band accompanied them across the field and up the stairs, down the street to a large tent where the celebration continued long after we were gone.

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