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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Ahhhh.... I'm back.  My bag is somewhere else, but I am here, only slightly dazed and confused.
I got in last night to crystal clear skies and colder temperatures than any I experienced in Boston.  I would tell you exactly how cold it was, but the outside thermometer I just got.... is in my bag.

I shopped like an Egyptian, I mean Mexican, and brought back all sorts of good stuff... crunchy peanut butter, soy sauce, cheddar cheese, perelite....  Hope it all makes it here.

No better way to get going than market day in nearby Etla.  These gentlemen, down from Puebla, were set up right next to my car and the aroma of fresh garlic greeted me as I opened my door.  Talk about ahhhh....
What's more the street dog that I always try to buy lunch food whenever I see him, actually wagged his tail when he saw me.  He got a nice big fat tamale with pork and flor de calabasa from Doña Melisa, my tamale lady.  I told Melisa that there was no one in Boston who could touch her tamales.  She has no idea.  Hers are consistently some of the best I have eaten here and I have bought from her every week for a few years now.

 It is funny, but this all seems so much more normal to me than anything I experienced in El Norte.  And shopping for food?  Reverse culture shock.

Here's what I got for about $15 US.
Tortillas, five tamales, four chiles rellenos, cheese, salsa, avocados, tomatoes, tangerines, sweet rolls and of course, garlic.

It's good to be back.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vista Hermosa -Dia de los Muertos - Video

See what I mean? 


Vista Hermosa -Dia de los Muertos

One of the best things that we got to see and participate in was the early morning adventure with the danzantes from Vista Hermosa, which is just up the road... and I do mean up.

For Day of the Dead there are three groups of dancers in the area that go from house to house all night and into the morning.  I have been with each of the other groups a couple of times, from San Jose and San Agustin, but this was a first with Vista Hermosa.  I thought that all three groups met in the end, but Vista does its own thing.

They were not easy to find.  One has to stop and listen, to try and hear the band, to follow the sound.  However, there were other bands playing across the mountains and valleys.  Initially, we only heard them.  We had no sign of our guys so we asked a few people and they all pointed up a steep road.   Oaxaca is already at a mile in altitude and we were well above that, puffing our way up dirt roads until... "I think I hear something."  We made it over a crest and they they were.  This was the first dancer we saw so we knew we were in for a good time.

I did an earlier post on the band.  They were killer, laying down infectious, non-stop, fast rhythms and the dancers were in another world.

The whole thing had started the night before, so they had been dancing and playing for fourteen hours before we caught up with them.

These outfits, covered with bells and mirrors, weigh a ton.

Easy to see why the are so heavy.

Leg work.

And they come in all ages, showing great pride in their traditions.

I can't imagine walking with them on, let alone dancing for hours in them.

The group goes from house to house where they are welcomed and given food and drink.  The band plays for about 20-30 minutes and then it is off to the next house.  They knew all the back ways down.  It was a much shorter trek than the one we had followed up.  The band led the way and played while we walked.  Having a little mountain goat in you helps.... and some mezcal.

It all ends at ten in the morning in front of the church.
I'll be back next year, ojala.  However, I will head down a little earlier so I can catch the mosh pit melee between San Jose and San Agustin at the foot of the mountain.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Number of undocumented Mexicans in the US continues to fall

Elections have consequences.  Maybe this is the desired effect, but in my opinion we are moving in exactly the wrong ways.  If compassion was a part of people's thinking, things could be much different.
The Obama administration has deported more people than ever. No tiene verguenza?

from the Latin American Herald Tribune
The number of undocumented Mexicans in the United States continues to fall, and between 2007 and 2010 the figure declined by about 400,000, mainly due to the harsher immigration policy in several states and high unemployment....
The report says that the number of Mexican immigrants decreased in states such as Arizona (by 13.2 percent between 2007 and 2010), Florida (41.4 percent), Georgia (21.6 percent), Alabama (37.3 percent and Tennessee (31.9 percent), in which anti-immigration laws have been implemented or are being discussed.

In contrast, in other states such as California, where the number of Mexican immigrants fell by 4.7 percent, as well as in Maryland (51.2 percent), Oregon (41.2 percent) and Arkansas (49.8 percent), “the high unemployment among Mexican migrants could be spurring their exit,” the report said.

In general, Mexican migrants “are moving to states with low unemployment, or to states near those that have toughened their actions against immigrants like: Texas, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington and Michigan,” BBVA said.

The poverty rate among Mexican immigrants is double that of the U.S. population in general, the report said.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Buffy St. Marie was one of my early heroes and this song is one of the reasons.  She has such a unique sound, one that probably is a mix of folk and her indigenous roots.  This song, "My Country Tis of Thy People You're Dying," performed on Pete Seeger's show, "Rainbow Quest" is so powerful, so passionate, one cannot help but be humbled and ashamed by the actions of our government in the past.  And even sadder, actions that still continue to this day.

Listen to the words.  It is a history lesson. An amazing performance.
Now that your big eyes have finally opened,
Now that you're wondering how must they feel,
Meaning them that you've chased across America's movie screens.
Now that you're wondering how can it be real
That the ones you've called colorful, noble and proud
In your school propaganda
They starve in their splendor?
You've asked for my comment I simply will render:
My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.
Now that the longhouses breed superstition
You force us to send our toddlers away
To your schools where they're taught to despise their traditions.
You forbid them their languages, then further say
That American history really began
When Columbus set sail out of Europe, then stress
That the nation of leeches that conquered this land
Are the biggest and bravest and boldest and best.
And yet where in your history books is the tale
Of the genocide basic to this country's birth,
Of the preachers who lied, how the Bill of Rights failed,
How a nation of patriots returned to their earth?
And where will it tell of the Liberty Bell
As it rang with a thud
O'er Kinzua mud,
And of brave Uncle Sam in Alaska this year?
My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.
Hear how the bargain was made for the West:
With her shivering children in zero degrees,
Blankets for your land, so the treaties attest,
Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored,
A hundred years of your statesmen have felt it's better this way.
And yet a few of the conquered have somehow survived,
Their blood runs the redder though genes have paled.
From the Gran Canyon's caverns to craven sad hills
The wounded, the losers, the robbed sing their tale.
From Los Angeles County to upstate New York
The white nation fattens while others grow lean;
Oh the tricked and evicted they know what I mean.
My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.
The past it just crumbled, the future just threatens;
Our life blood shut up in your chemical tanks.
And now here you come, bill of sale in your hands
And surprise in your eyes that we're lacking in thanks
For the blessings of civilization you've brought us,
The lessons you've taught us, the ruin you've wrought us --
Oh see what our trust in America's brought us.
My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.
Now that the pride of the sires receives charity,
Now that we're harmless and safe behind laws,
Now that my life's to be known as your "heritage,"
Now that even the graves have been robbed,
Now that our own chosen way is a novelty --
Hands on our hearts we salute you your victory,
Choke on your blue white and scarlet hypocrisy
Pitying the blindness that you've never seen
That the eagles of war whose wings lent you glory
They were never no more than carrion crows,
Pushed the wrens from their nest, stole their eggs, changed their story;
The mockingbird sings it, it's all that he knows.
"Ah what can I do?" say a powerless few
With a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye --
Can't you see that their poverty's profiting you.
My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Street Art cont.... I miss it

This is what I need.....
along with this
and this
and for sure, this

More Lila Downs

Because you can't have too much.

One of my absolute favorites. 

I play my own version of her arrangement.

A magical concert.  Rare for both audience and musicians.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The same, only different

It seems like I go from taking care of one place to taking care of the other, San Sebastian Etla to The Garden City, Newton, MA.  The differences are profound.  For various reasons, those being cultural, financial, spiritual, aesthetic and a few others, I prefer the former.

I am a campesino in both places, except that there are no campesinos here, so I guess I am the guy who shows up every now and then to take care of the house.

Ah.... houses.  It is always something.  Problems and pests.  No, leaf-cutting ants here, but the temporary bane of my existence, squirrels. 
I had a friend that called them "rats with bushy tails."  I had not really ever cared one way or the other... until now.  They moved in and enjoyed the new insulation job I did in the attic and when I sealed that off, they moved into the roof over the kitchen, 

This was not good.  It was war.

I tried everything, but eventually went with a couple of Havahart traps, one of which was too small for the big boys.  However, I have managed to catch fifteen of the little darlings and relocate them in Norembega Park..... on the other side of the Charles River.  Plenty of oaks there and I hope they are happy.

I would add that I was surprised how dirty and disgusting the whole adventure has been.  Also, too, there were times when I felt like Travis Bickle.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What the US could learn from Oaxaca

The right to protest is a part of life here.  It is respected at all times.  Many times these protests cause disruptions in the daily flow of life.  What's more, it is a rare day when there are no protests, marches or blockades.  They may inconvenience people, but people adapt and we live our lives.  The over-arching principle being people's respect for the right of others to protest.  They may not agree, but protesting is fine.  Oaxaqueños are famous for their protests, their resolve and their political involvement.

At the same time, Mexico is a militarized country.  We see big guns every day.  There are checkpoints at various points on strategic roads and others that pop up randomly.  To go through them is just a part of normal life.  However, being way up in the mountains and hitting upon a group of soldiers, some of whom are wearing black ski masks... well, it can readjust one's thinking real quickly.  There is always a big "whew!" at the end.

With that said, I am watching what is happening in El Norte right now and certainly the right to protest is being trampled.  I feel more like an alien here than in Oaxaca.  Where am I?

Everyone knows that the US is #1 in military/police technology and seeing it in use on our own people is just plain scary. 

Oaxaca is so far ahead of the curve on this, the US should study it.  The protests in 2006 came after years of building tensions.  It was a perfect storm with Ulises as governor.  It all ended horribly in October of 2006.  People died.  The economy collapsed.  Everything changed.  For all the artesanos, the carvers, the weavers, ceramicists, it ended.. over.  People have adapted.  There has been a recovery of sorts, but let's face it, the world economy is in the tank, so it ain't great.

In hindsight, and no great revelation, sending in the troops to end the 2006 protests brought on a whole world of pain.  Violence and brutality versus the right to protest.  Look how that played out.

For now, Oaxaca has returned to normal and I say, ¡Viva Oaxaca! where the right to protest is inviolate and very well exercised. 

2006? Given the opportunity to do it differently, I think most would say, "Let's try."

And now, in the US, we have such blatant abuse by police, who look like they are from some sci-fi movie.  The images that the rest of the world sees......  Uh, guys, this is not a good thing.  Are you aware that everyone has phones that take pictures and video?  And can post them in seconds?  I mean, haven't you seen "The Bourne Ultimatum???" We are all on camera, all the time.  Pepper spraying someone in the face and arresting our grandmothers is not playing well.  It is a very difficult sell to a world that is very plugged in.  Egypt? Greece? Arab Spring?  As they say, "The whole world is watching."

One of the things I love about Oaxaca is its 10,000 year history.  It is a wonderfully rich and advanced history.  There were mighty empires here.  They came and went.  There are patterns there.  They are fascinating to study.

There are whispers from the past, "We were up and then we fell.  We may be down now, but we are still proud.  Look at what we accomplished.  And someday, we will be up again."

El Norte.  Calmate. Stop.  Think.... Learn something.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Santiago Apostal

Every church is different.  Just compare this spectacular edifice to the one I just posted from San Dionisio.  The painted churches in the Ocotlan area are really something, well worth the visit. 

It would be easy to see three of the best in Santa Ana Zegache, Ocotlan and this beauty in Santiago Apostal.

From a distance it looks as if it may be tiles or large bricks, but it is painted. 

Wonderful details. 

The pineapple is a symbol of welcome.

The belltower.

Overlooking the plaza and the sweep of the valley.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

San Dionisio

 This is one of my favorite drives, preferably starting with barbacoa in the market in Tlacolula and then heading towards Mitla.  Just before Mitla, the road heads south across mezcal country and what beautiful country it is.
Any road trip with Henry Wangeman from Amate Books is a good road trip.  Henry has forgotten more about Mexico than I will ever learn.  I have a post to do about our mezcal adventure, but before we made it that far, we stopped in San Dionisio Ocotepec to see the church.
San Dionisio is one of Henry's favorite saints.  He loves telling the story of St. Denis, who ended up being beheaded, catching his head and then walking quite a ways, all the while preaching.  So he is often pictured with his head in his hands.
Each church is different.  This one had clean lines and very little ornamentation on the outside.
It has a tropical feel with the palms and the white benches underneath.
Inside it was quite colorful and refined.
 San Dionisio is just above Jesus over the altar.
 The interior dome or cupola.
 A gold tabernacle that holds the Host and Chalice.
Here is Dionisio with head in hands.
A wonderful and peaceful setting.  Well worth the trip.

¡Qué diferencia!

Lunch last week in Etla.  Two memelitas and tasajo

Lunch yesterday.  Dim Sum in Chinatown.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lila Downs in Oaxaca - La Llorona

Here's a short clip from the concert of Lila singing one of her trademark songs, the classic, "La Llorona."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Singing/Chanting - Day of the Dead - Teotitlan del Valle

I posted some stills from this event a week or so ago.

About that post, a commenter wrote:

"I agree with the previous commentor-a special moment- but a sacred moment-the photographer's veritable "decisive moment"- as a photographer and an observer- has this crossed the line from the sacred to the profane - am I entitled to record this moment because I have a camera in hand- when does the subject become the object- tricky question- but as for me- I'll pass on viewing the video."

Well, here is the video.  Watch or pass on it.  It's you're choice.  

These gentlemen arrived at the panteon or cemetery, in mid afternoon and went into the small chapel. I was alerted by friends that these were the singers and that I should go back into the capilla to listen and shoot. I have heard this singing before, but there was too much happening around them, there was other music  happening in the cemetery, so it was impossible to hear, to absorb the ethereal quality.

As a musician, I find the sounds to be fascinating.   They remind me of Korean or Tibetan chants and they do the same things for me.... they calm, awe and inspire.

Update:  The chapel is in the panteon just at the end of the path from the entrance.  So the families are with them.  Most are just outside preparing the graves or socializing.  Many cemeteries have little chapels so these singers were actually right in the middle of the action with people coming in and out taking pictures, listening and paying their respects.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lila Downs in Oaxaca

Here are a couple videos from what was truly a remarkable concert.  The energy, pride and love coming from the audience fed Lila's performances.  It was off the charts, just wonderful, sublime, inspirational...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tubas of Oaxaca

Man, I love these guys.  I have taken to filming them whenever I get the chance.  All the tuba players I have met have a certain aura around them.  They are almost always strong personalities, friendly and happy to aggressively show their chops.  I have seen them go head to head when bands meet, each trying to outdo the last guy.  They carry on wonderful conversations with their instruments.  With competing bands, the conversation is not always filled with niceties.  Kinda like a "your mother is so ugly" contest.  And they can swear with their horns, too.  I've heard it.  Enjoy!

¿Dónde estoy? - Where am I?

Peter the Other is correct.  It is Beautiful Beantown, Boston.  When I arrived the leaves were on the trees.  The next morning, they were falling like rain.  Now the trees are almost bare.  Where is that rake?
While here, I am going to post all the things that take too long to upload in Oaxaca and there is some good stuff, so stay tuned.  It does crack me up that it takes just a sec to upload pics while a mi casa oaxaequeña, it takes minutes.  Great to be here in the Athens of America.  Boston is such a great city.  And simultaneously,  it makes me appreciate Oaxaca all the more.  The best of both worlds... make that, the best of all worlds.

Friday, November 11, 2011

More hints

¿Dónde estoy? - Where am I?

Experiencing culture shock, that's where.  Or maybe that should be "culcha" shock.  Here are a few hints.