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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Music to my ears.... El Bajo Qunito

This is my kind of story from NPR with music, traditions and Oaxaca all mixed together.
Almost 20 years ago, a young student at the National University of Mexico went in search of a very old instrument in the mountains of the southern state of Oaxaca. Today, he has become a leading force in the revival of the instrument called the bajo quinto and the music played on it.
Ruben Luengas was working on a research project at the National School of Music in Mexico City in 1995. He wanted to focus on the music of his hometown, in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, so he asked his 97-year-old grandmother to tell him about the music played at her wedding.
"She tells me it was played on violin and bajo. That's what they played at the parties," he says. "I imagined an upright bass, then I thought an electric bass, so I asked her if she could describe the bajo to me. I had no idea what she was talking about."

Friday, June 29, 2012

Back to normal

Look at me now after a wonderful day in the city.  The sun was out for what seems like the first time in weeks.  Sister blogger spixl took me out for a fine lunch.  I found a nice new bakery. 
Actually, this is the first day I have felt OK after a feverish week.  I guess it must be the healing powers of this place, the food, the friends.  I love this sculpture!  I am going to have to find out where it is from.  It was back in a courtyard and we spied it as we walked by.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

You say "tomato" and I say "jitomate"

I guess it is a slow news day in El Norte, but I did hear something about a Supreme Court ruling and a Contempt of Congress vote.  Hey, I'd vote for that.  I hold contempt for Congress, too.
Here, sure there is tons of political news with the election coming on Sunday.  And of course, everyone is talking about the weather and all this rain, but this story from El Imparcial caught my eye.
In the last 15 days, a kilogram of tomatoes rose from 6 to 21 pesos, affecting the economy of the housewives of the capital. A seller of vegetables and legumes, Alejandra Riveras, noted that imported tomatoes from the interior of Mexico State are a more expensive product.

This is due - said the seller - to resellers in the State of Puebla who are hoarding all the tomato production of the State and other entities and "what little is left for consumption is very expensive."
 Think about that... hoarding tomatoes.... you can see from the photo that just a few weeks ago one could buy three kilos for ten pesos.  Now, one kilo is 21 pesos!  You know what this means... war!

Actually, this is no joking matter.  People and businesses can't afford that dramatic a price increase and tomatoes are almost a staple here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This is sick...

OK, I am back in Oaxaca and very happy for it.  El Norte is a very nice place to visit, but....

Here, it looks like it has been raining everyday since I left.  Some things have grown huge and others could not handle all the moisture and rotted.  Such is the nature of gardening, life, for that matter.

I don't know if it was the amazing heat in Boston and the AC, but I spent the last few days in a feverish daze... probably didn't help falling off a ladder while sawing off tree limbs... but man, I was ill and not in a good way.

After somehow managing to get everything done and packed, I took my heavy bag to the airport, discovered that they now charge you $200 for an overwieght bag on international flights.  Unloaded those four extra pounds into a extra knapsack I always have with me and then breezed through security, yeah, right, and discovered that the flight was delayed.  Two hours later, we were off and into Houston with all of thirty minutes to make my Oaxacan connection.  Ran through the airport.  It was 105 outside.  Made it to the gate... flight delayed, but less than an hour.  Made it into Oaxaca, through customs with all my cheeses, peanut butter, soy sauce, Miracle-Gro, etc., jumped in my car, which actually started after weeks in the pouring rain and was back at the house by 11PM.  Que milagro!

The thing is that I was so sick and feverish, semiconscious at times, that the whole trip seems like a dream, a long, not altogether good or bad, simply weird dream.  How did I end up here?  What happened?  Had I discovered the key to air travel?  Be semi-comatose and slightly delusional?

Note to self: Remain delusional, but without the fever.

Into bed, into a deep sleep.  I awoke drenched with sweat.  The fever had broken pretty much.  Henry Wangeman of Amate Books picked me up for breakfast in Etla, salsa roja con carne, arroz, frijoles, a big glass of fresh orange juice, a quick stop at the market to see mis abuelas.  Loaded with tamales, chili rellenos, tortillas, fruits and veggies, I returned to the house and promptly passed out and slept.

Eight hours later.... ahhh.  It is good to be back.

Monday, June 25, 2012

This place is weird

I head back tomorrow to Oaxaca after a quick visit to Boston.  Bouncing between cultures is always slightly discombobulating.  Man, are these places different.  Mexico's election is next week after only three months of campaigning.  Esperanza y cambio?  En tu sueños!

El Norte is in constant campaign mode and, in case you hadn't noticed,  the fact that unlimited billionaire's money has completely warped the whole process, well, what can I say, wake up.  No wait, Bristol Palin has a new reality show.  Never mind.
I just don't get this place anymore.  It all seems like a really bad political thriller with a Congress that does more damage than good, ignores all the problems, but has plenty of time of insider trading.  A Supreme Court that has turned into a political force so far beyond the pale that is surpasses some banana republics.  The place is so polarized, there is no chance for anything good happening.  I mean, people cheer when contemplating the health care law being reversed.  So what if millions of people will be left without.  Student loans?  Fast and Furious?  Voter suppression? Contraception?  Anti-science?  Christians that believe in the death penalty.  The list seems endless.  I know where I stand on these issues, but let's face it, those on the other side would just as soon I shut up and die... immediately... and leave the country.

OK.  I'll leave, but I will be back to vote.  I know Mexico has its problems, lots of them, but El Norte is exceptional, right?  We are amazing!  Uh, no, not that way.  I mean exceptionally messed up.

Kinda like this building which we affectionately called a "remuddle."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

When in Rome...

Ain't no ribs like this in Oaxaca.  I am not sayin' that Oaxacan  costillas are not delicious, they are.. without a doubt... and I should know, because I sample them whenever I can.

However, these beauties are from one of my favorite rib places in Waltham, MA.  Of course, all the cooks are from Gautemala.
And the fries and slaw were both exceptional. 
They have numerous different sides and lots of special meats from pulled pork to BBQ chicken buffalo tips.  The place is called the Bison Cafe.  Soooo good.... finger lickin'.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Street art - Beantown style

Well, they sure not be stylin' like they do in Oaxaca, but maybe I am not looking in the right places. 
 They are trying, but
The color palette is too pastel.  Maybe the weather fades it faster.
"Love that dirty water.  Ah Boston, your my home."
Nice classic door frame.
It all seems pretty tame and lame after what I am used to, but really not many places can touch Oaxaca for the graffiti and street art.  See what I mean?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Out of the frying pan...

Into the fire.  Yes, I am full of all these lame, yet somehow pithy, post titles these days.  So it is pouring and flooding in Oaxaca, why not get outta Dodge for a coupla days?  So I jumped on a plane and headed to Boston... where it was 105 degrees yesterday and nice and humid. 
OMG! Is is hot!!!   It is never like this in Oaxaca.  Never!  Ahhhh...  maybe I shoulda gone to the beach, but the hurricane just did a number on the coast.  Time for a Maine lobster roll (or maybe two), some sweet corn, dim sum in Chinatown, decent pizza, get my visa stamped and head back early next week.  Uh... did I mention that it was HOT!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hot button issue - Immigration

I see many more kids these days like those in this story.  Immigration?  I am not the right one to ask.  I say open all the borders.  That reminds me... many years ago I collaborated on  a piece called "Air Space Borders,"  the point behind which was that those lines on the maps, the borders, extend all the way out into the atmosphere.  I am sure there are signs up there to let you know, just in case.

Here's the story from the NYT
Never before has Mexico seen so many American Jeffreys, Jennifers and Aidens in its classrooms. The wave of deportations in the past few years, along with tougher state laws and persistent unemployment, have all created a mass exodus of Mexican parents who are leaving with their American sons and daughters.
In all, 1.4 million Mexicans — including about 300,000 children born in the United States — moved to Mexico between 2005 and 2010, according to Mexican census figures. That is roughly double the rate of southbound migration from 1995 to 2000, and new government data published this month suggest that the flow is not diminishing. The result is an entire generation of children who blur the line between Mexican and American.

Feast or famine

Months without rain and now, man, still rainin', still dreaming.  The plants are diggin' it, but the coast and mountains are super saturated.  Me, I rather eat this wonderful meal from our favorite restaurant in Etla.  The salsa roja is soooo good!  Man, I could live on the stuff.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oaxaca - From the Gray Lady

An article from the NYT is making the rounds today.  Good!  Oaxaca needs all the positive press it can get.
The past casts a sharp shadow here, wherever you look. You see it on mountaintop plateaus, where the ruins of ancient pyramidal staircases and capital-I-shaped ball fields hint at mysterious rituals that disappeared over a millennium ago.
You see it during market days in nearby towns, whose traditions may be even older than those Zapotec ruins. Stalls with cheap contemporary kitsch — SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirts and bootleg Snow White baskets — are juxtaposed with culinary offerings from other centuries: crunchy grasshoppers laced with chili peppers, and mounds of black mole paste used for making spiced sauces.
You see it too in this town’s astonishing botanical garden of native plants, whose exotic cactuses and succulents are bounded by the walls of a 1500s Dominican monastery, the Spanish colonial structure shaping plangent counterpoint with indigenous flora....
In Oaxaca, which lies on the southern end of the Mexican landmass as it curves eastward to the isthmus, the first impression may be that of a quaint Spanish colonial town set in a protected valley. There are more museums here than can readily be explained: museums devoted to stamps, to pre-Columbian statuary, to the region’s cultural histories, to contemporary artists, to archaeological sites.
But for all that immersion in heritage (Oaxaca has even received the Unesco seal of approval as a World Heritage Site), there seems to be no temptation to glaze over the past’s harshness and imagine a pastoral harmony disrupted by colonization and only now struggling back. Leave that well-worn narrative for back home, where it has, unfortunately, become one of the embarrassments of the museum world.
The other big story was the rain and devastation on the coast from tropical storm Carlota.  It brought heavy rains here, but did a number on Puerto Escondido and coastal areas to the north.  It has gone its way now, but three died and there were mudslides and flooding.

Where goest Mexico?

Interesting, albeit slightly depressing, article from McClatchy's Tim Johnson.  Read the whole story. It is well worth it.  It certainly adds to one's perspective.
Twelve years ago, Mexicans thought their country had been given a fresh start when, for the first time in seven decades, the political party that had been identified with a do-nothing bureaucracy, crony capitalism and a corrupt government lost its hold on the presidency. The defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known here as the PRI, opened the door, many hoped, to better government, fairer distribution of the country’s wealth, and a real start toward remaking Mexico into a booming nation of middle-class consumers, instead of its long-standing role as a source of cheap and often illegal migrant labor.
When Mexican voters go to the polls July 1, however, the PRI’s candidate is all but certain to win, exiling from power the business-friendly National Action Party, the PAN, whose two terms in the presidency ushered in scant beneficial change. Instead, the optimism that pervaded Mexico when Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox took power in 2000 has turned into a persistent malaise, where a drug war filled with public executions and horrific beheadings is the overriding image.
Why this resource-rich nation has become trapped in low growth is a story of political paralysis where entrenched monopolies remain in control, the schools fail to educate, and the development policies all but enslave workers in a cycle of poverty that threatens to trap future generations as well.
For the United States, Mexico’s future is more than just an idle curiosity. A booming Mexico could be an enormous boon for the United States as well. Its citizens would buy more U.S. products and services, demand better governance from their own leaders and not flee their country looking for better prospects north of the border.

Read more here:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Get your motor runnin'

The Camino Real hotel is always good for a photo or two.  The back courtyard was decked out splendidly.
A perfect place to race that hot car.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bought and paid for

The Mexican presidential election is in three weeks and I am shocked, shocked that there are allegations that one of the candidates paid for positive and extensive media coverage. 

from The Guardian
US diplomats raised concerns that the frontrunner in Mexico's presidential election, Enrique Peña Nieto, was paying for favourable TV coverage as far back as 2009, according to state department cables released by WikiLeaks.
Allegations that coverage by the country's main television network was biased in favour of Peña Nieto have triggered a wave of student demonstrations in the runup to the election on 1 July. The claims are supported by documents seen by the Guardian, which also implicate other politicians in buying news and entertainment coverage.
One cable, written shortly after US embassy officials were taken on a tour of Mexico State when Peña Nieto was governor, says: "It is widely accepted, for example, that the television monopoly Televisa backs the governor and provides him with an extraordinary amount of airtime and other kinds of coverage." The document, which dates from September 2009, was titled: "A look at Mexico State, Potemkin village style".
Another cable from the start of the same year emphasises the importance the then governor Peña Nieto was giving to securing convincing electoral victories for the Institutional Revolutionary party in his state in the upcoming midterm congressional elections that summer.

Maybe this explains why he was so far ahead in the polls.  Now, if they were just up front about it, kinda like Fox and the GOP, I am sure people would be fine with it.  Fair and balanced and bought and paid for works just fine, especially with unlimited corporate money.  C'mon, Mexico, you can do better.

Meanwhile, maybe some people are waking up.

from the LAHT
Thousands of people took part in protests in cities across Mexico over the weekend under the banner of the “Yo soy 132” student movement, rejecting the candidacy of presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Sunday’s protests took place hours before Mexico’s four presidential candidates participated in the last debate before the July 1 election.

Some 40,000 people, mainly young people, took to the streets of Mexico City, marching from the Zocalo, the capital’s main plaza, to the Angel of Independence monument in what organizers labeled the “Second National anti-Peña Nieto March.”
 C'mon, El Norte, you can do better.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"A" is for....

One thing that always amazes me here, is just how hard people work and how few machines there are to help with that work.  Most of the time it is pure grunt work, all done by hand.
This is a large version of a gravel/sand strainer that I see at every work site.  Because concrete is the material of choice, someone is always shoveling sand through one of these.  All day, every day.  Ouch.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Art Imitates Life

Well... sort of... aside from the fact that they are going in opposite directions... and one is only half there.

Any publicity is good publicity

From the you can't make this stuff files....
The admitted past marital infidelities of Mexican presidential front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto have become fodder for a new ad campaign by an agency that arranges affairs for married clients.

A billboard bearing Peña Nieto’s picture and the text “Unfaithful to his family. Faithful and committed to his country” appeared this week in Mexico City.

The ad was commissioned by the Mexican unit of Ashley Madison, which describes itself as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.”

“What we offer is that if you have an extramarital relationship through us, you won’t be caught, and so those people should use our (Web) page to do it secretly,” the president of Ashley Madison Mexico, Ricardo Castañeda, told Efe.

Peña Nieto’s dalliances didn’t stay secret, as he fathered two children with two different mistresses while married to his first wife, the late Monica Pretellini.

The photogenic politician has publicly acknowledged those affairs, but now presents himself as a model husband to soap opera actress Angelica Rivera.

With less than a month to go before the July 1 election, Ashley Madison decided the time was ripe for the ad featuring Peña Nieto, Castañeda said.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

El Planton - It's Over!... for now

It appears as if the planto, the sit-in by the teachers union, Section 22, is over.  They voted last night and 20,764 voted to end it and 7,371 to continue.  
Here is the story from Noticias.
A majority of the delegations that make up section 22 of the National Union of education workers voted last night, in consultation with their base, to now end the sit-i in the historic center of the capital, as well as the educational work stoppage.

On the 16 day of protests, the teachers arranged in open consultation to end their annual fight day, once they got the majority of requests for their list of demands.
So that's that.  They did have their demands met.  Several governmental directors were forced to resign and it appears like the teachers came out on top.... for now.

For an interesting read and a different take on the situation read sister blogger spixl's post in which she links to respected reporter, Nancy Davies' letter.

As I always reiterate, I am a guest here and not clued into the complex inner machinations of the system, but... it is good to read an differing opinion from someone else, even though it is not how I see the situation.  I did work for thirty years in an equally complex educational system, New England prep school-dom, you know, Brigadon, so it is not like I do not have some experience in teaching.  One can find bright spots and horror stories in every situation.

I do know that it is very hard, make that, almost impossible, to restart classe and get kids interested when all the momentum is gone and it is so close to the end of the academic year, but... it is back to school time.

But first, the teachers are taking a victory lap, another march through the city today.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Elegance of Line

El planton continues.... and continues

I am curious as to how the rain and hail affected the planton.  There was so much water here in San Sebastian, if it rained that hard in the city, the streets must have been rushing torrents.  So as I say, I am curious, but not curious to go into the city as the teachers are shutting down roads today.
There was an anti-teacher protests yesterday one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  I guess I arrived after the morning one dissipated, even though I was there at 10:30. 
There was some residual action with press doing interviews and a state cop diligently taking notes. 
The afternoon drew 1000 people.

It was obvious that the teachers had gotten word of the protest because they spread out and blocked access to the center of the city.  They were a bit intimidating as they stood waiting for confrontation, but nothing happened.
Last night a molotov cocktail was thrown and four were arrested.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


We are in the midst of an incredible hail storm.  It is pouring, a real gully washer, rainin' cats and dogs....
It has not let up for a good half hour.  If this is sitting on the planton in the city....  an ugly thought to be sure.  Mother Nature will either add to the problems or wash them away.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Trash and chaos

The teachers effectively shut down the city and much of the state yesterday by erecting a series of road blockades. 
 from El Imparcial
Por más de diez horas, el magisterio oaxaqueño generó ayer un severo caos vial en los principales accesos a la capital, donde la inconformidad y desesperación ciudadana no se hicieron esperar.
Desde las 9 horas, miles de profesores iniciaron bloqueos en distintos tramos carreteros de la ciudad, al considerar insuficientes las propuestas de solución que la federación y el Gobierno estatal dieron a su pliego de demandas.
Think they might have pissed a few people off?  I do believe they might have done so very effectively.

As a former teacher I want to see some merits in their actions and arguments, but I don't.   It appears they are taking the city/state hostage and until their demands are met, everyone will suffer.

I just can't see it any other way.  Their actions are so punitive and inflammatory.  And for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So tomorrow there is a anti-teacher march.  It may draw thousands.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

Another interesting aspect, there was a story in one of the papers as to how this was the opposite of how oaxaqueños normally act.   The teachers have been lounging around, reading papers, eating, talking, hangin' and chillin' and camping out for close to two weeks now.  They are not working, teaching the kids, and they are still getting paid.  That sticks in a lot of people's craws.  The teachers look lazy and there is one thing oaxaqueños are not and that is lazy.  They are incredibly hard working and just watching the teachers do nothing except disrupt and damage the fabric of life here, really upsets folks.

And then there is the trash. 
This is the pedestrian walkway. 
Then there is the zocalo.  I tried to get shots of all four corners.
I can't believe it, but I am actually starting to think that the police should get involved and.... ugh, I can't believe I even have such thoughts.  This is not good.

Start the revolution!

The battle cry has been raised!!

Friday, June 1, 2012

El planton continues.... and continues

I did not make it into the city today, mainly because the teachers of Section XXII blocked all the roads.  If one looks at a map, one can see there are not really that many major roads in or out of the place and it ain't like they have not been doing this for years.  These blockades are old hat.  They know the pressure points and they hit them.  I am sure I could have gone through back roads and alleys, but mañana.  These blockades are a part of life here, but they sure cause chaos and add to the woes.
The teachers voted down the proposal that the government last Tuesday.  One of the key sticking points is that they want to get rid of competency testing.  Really?  Really!

I am a guest here.  I am hardly in the know as to how things work and what the real issues at hand behind all the smoke and mirrors are, but this ain't no way to run a biznez.