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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Classic Olla - Oaxacan Pottery

I loved watching this guy making ollas while carrying on a conversation. He was in the zocalo just cranking them out, all so effortlessly. Such a simple setup, but what magnificent results.

This is a classic shape and size olla and can be found everywhere. Oaxacans have been making pottery for hundreds of years. This artesano was working in the zocalo and carrying on a conversation while working. Pottery and ceramic figures are produced in many villages, each with a different style or color. In San Bartolo Coyotepec they create the classic black pottery. Atzompa is known for using tan clay w/green glaze, Ocotlan de Morelos for sculptural pieces, Santa Maria Tavehua for orange clay and San Marcos Tlapazola for red clay with silica flecks.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bruñuelos - A Christmas Tradition

There are many different forms of bruñuelos throughout Mexico and Latin American. Actually, they exist in some form in almost every culture - fritters, funnel cakes, etc. In Oaxaca, at Navidad, they are sold in stands near the cathedral and are often served with a thick syrup of piloncillo, Mexican raw sugar. Nothing like some good Oaxacan chocolate and some of these big, sweet treats. After finishing, one is supposed to break the ceramic dish they are served in by throwing it back over one's head. This will bring good luck. Some also think it has to do with letting go of material things, something one is supposed to do every 52 years in keeping with the early calendar cycle. Everyone's got a theory. Better to just shut up and eat!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Amate's Best Seller List

Gee, right in there with the adults...... wheee!

1 Oaxaca Moon Handbook Whipperman
2 The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly Davies N
3 Oaxaca Journal, Oliver Sacks Sacks
4 Viva Oaxaca: An Insider's Guide Viva Oaxaca
5 Seasons of My Heart: A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca Trilling
6 Mexican Folk Art: From Oaxacan Artist Families Rothstein
7 Short Stories in Spanish (Bilingual) King
8 Carvers of San Martin Tilcajete Stowens, Christopher
9 Mexican Dream Clezio
10 Mexico Style Taschen
11 One Hudred Years of Solitude Garcia Mar
12 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Mann C
13 Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein Klein, Naomi
14 Compact History of Mexico Villegas
15 Exploring Colonial Oaxaca Perry R
16 Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Diaz, Junot
17 2012:Return of Quetzalcoatl Pinchbeck, Daniel
18 Other Game: Lessons from How Life Is Played in Mexican Villages Dahl-Bredine, Phillip
19 Escape To Mexico Nickles
20 Zapotec: Weavers of Teotitlan Stanton
21 The Secret History of the American Empire Perkins, John
22 Aura Fuentes C
23 First Spanish Reader Flores, Angel
24 Perfect Red Greenfield
25 Mexico ( Traveler's Literary Companions ) Mayo
26 Labyrinth of Solitude Paz

What a great list. Kinda makes me want to read all the ones I haven't read yet. The Diaz is next for me after I finish 2666 by Roberto Bolaño - what a wonderful book and a lot of it takes place in Mexico. Can't wait to read it every day, a real page-turner - all 800+ pages.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Last year I posted a thing about dogs in Mexico that rambled on as to the importance of dogs in my life. I have always had dogs, but not now. It is a very different life without them. (Pssst.... life is better with dogs than without them.) Last year I had Lucky to care for and learn from. This year I am pretty much on my own - just occasional random canine encounters. I'll probably get a dog when I know better where I will be for a while, because, Lord knows, they are a commitment.

Maybe by now you have seen this video. If not, it is sad, but powerful.

Humans tend not to realize that all living things have feelings and thoughts. We like to think that plants and animals are incapable of "higher thought," that none could possibly feel as we feel. As soon as one realizes that all sentient things are just that "sentient" - feeling, the richer life gets.

Man, I love dogs.... and most sentient and non-sentient things as well. Yeah, I 'm lookin' at you...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


and painting walls and ceilings, but towards a goal of getting back to Oaxaca ASAP. In the meantime, in between time, here is a video to enjoy and ponder. i will try to get some Rabanos video up soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Water into Fire

I keep learning and experimenting with music and video. When I get back on the road, all these new techniques and technologies will be of good use. In the meantime...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The Dead have returned to their homes until next year. After experiencing El Dia del los Muertos so intensely last year in Oaxaca, my perspective on death and culture has changed dramatically for the better. I regret not setting up an ofrenda. The Dead are gracious guests, but they need an invitation.
Just recently, Don Ishmael of Santa Catarina Minas, just west of Ocotlan, died after a long and prosperous life.
He was a master mescal maker and his family's palenque will continue to produce some of the finest mescals. Mescal is at the very heart of Oaxacan culture. The maguey or agave is a magical plant and has provided Mexico with water, paper, needle, thread, clothes, building materials and alcohol for hundreds of years. Don Ishmael was a living connection to those centuries. They drank his mescal at his graveside.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Leaves - Hoyas

Yesterday was the day when the leaves fell. It is always a treat to watch as the sun hits them after a night with a good freeze. It was 19 degrees.There must be some layer of ice that holds them to the tree because as the sun hits them, they all let go and it rains leaves and that is what has been happening. At six in the morning, the trees were full and by six in the evening they were almost bare.It reminds me of the closing clip of "The Third Man."

It is always a treat to see this phenomenon and it leads to all sorts of profound thoughts.

Leaves have long been a focus of meditation for me. I like to think of every leaf as representing one of us. Look around. That's a lot of leaves - a lot of representing. Makes one think differently about that carpet of pine needles..... and raking.A heron? down by the Charles

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Seeing red - ver rojo

A bit of a break to watch autumn in New England. Also, the election campaigns, the financial meltdown and los pobres - Las Medias Rojas. What can I say? The world is going even more crazy than we thought possible. Still, everything is just fine. When we hit bottom, the only way to go will be up. Wheee!

Plenty of Oaxacan stuff to post shortly and some new video projects. El Dia del Muertos is right around the corner.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dos cobras

Claudio Ojeda and his wife, Teresa are two very fine artesanos from Arrazola, the carving village at the base of Monte Alban and closest to the city.
Their pieces tend to be very large, maybe the largest in all of Oaxaca. I remember seeing an anaconda of theirs that hung on two sides of a courtyard and was 37 feet long with a diameter of at least 2 feet in spots. Teresa's painting is some of the absolute best. She has developed a style using background colors covered with raised multi-colored dots of paint that is intensely time-consuming, but the results are spectacular. Claudio is a real character, a classic zapotec warrior, if you listen to him. He is tough and funny with strong opinions and a good knowledge of how things work in a complex world. He is worldly. I have several of their pieces including two atriles (music stands) one by Claudio and one by his son. When I first approached them about an atrile, Claudio said he needed an inspiration... and an anticipo, some money up front. I left and came back a few months later and Claudio said I had to come to the house to see the idea. I got there and he hooked up a very funky VHS machine and put in an even funkier tape and said "Karate Kid 2. Look at this"" What I sort of saw on that snowy TV was a large cobra or that's what Claudio said it was. And these are the results.
I was extremely happy with the first at almost two meters tall and a couple of hundred pounds. It has been exhibited a few times. Now the second one, a slightly different story. I showed up at their house and despite me saying I don't have room. What do I need with two of these babies?" They said "Seriously, you are not leaving without it."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Here and Now

Oh, and I put the finishing touches on my latest CD, which I hope to get up on iTunes and Rhapsody very soon. Of course, you can order one direct from the source if you want. It is a captivating music. Folks that have heard it have all loved it, but for me, it was simply a joy to work on because I was forced to learn how to make music in a whole new way. Now, how to market it, one of my strong suites.... not.

Here & Now

What have I been doing? I ask myself that same thing everyday. Just taking it all in and holding on as best as possible. I had a list of things to do when I returned from Mexico. Fixing gutters, scraping and painting a portion of the house -a side a year. The hail earlier this summer did so much damage, it looked bad. As in many things, prep is 90% of the work. In the last few days I have been putting on the final coats of paint and the job looks good. It feels equally good to have worked so hard for so many days and to have finally completed the work. Of course, I realize that it is Sisyphisian, never-ending, there is always something more to do or something falling apart, but still...
Its autumn in New England. Mornings are cold and the sun goes down earlier everyday. After being in the warmth for so long, it feels strange to be cold and to realize that paintingm which is actually fun for me, will be impossible in just a few weeks. Unless global warming kicks in. Who knows, maybe I'll be up on a ladder in December.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I have decided to unsuspend my blogging. As many of you must have noticed by now, I suspended it to address the national and now global, financial meltdown. I promised not to blog until I had fixed the problem. Now, obviously, I succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Problem solved. Oh ye of little faith..... shame. Let the good times roll... I'm back.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This is what I need

Things are proceeding very slowly, but even progress that is incremental is still progress.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Politcs, Politics, Everywhere

A key ruling from the Mexican Supreme Court

from McCatchy

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to abortion-rights legislation on Thursday in a decision likely to reverberate across the rest of largely Roman Catholic Latin America.

Girls have a right to not be mothers," argued Justice Genaro Gongora Pimentel, when he outlined his decision on Tuesday. "Criminalizing abortion discriminates against women, and it has never been proven that the product of conception is protected (by the constitution).

Sunday, August 24, 2008


This is a pretty definitive piece - a musical music stand.
The more I photograph the music stands (atriles) the more I like them and the more my appreciation for the artesanos grows. Each one has many hours/days/weeks of thought and work in it.
It is fascinating to see how the techniques and architectures developed over time. The early ones were more delicate. Over time we developed better ways to construct and ship them. The parts are small and all color coded unlike the first ones that were all glued together.These are all by Jesus Sosa Calvo and family. They have made 28 of them. All different and all wonderful.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

For every atril

For every atril there is a story and often there are many connections and much advance work.

Agustin Cruz Tinoco is very well known and famous for both his carving and his painting. He and his family are the only artesanos of note in his barrio, San Agustin de los Juntos, which is relatively near the airport. His pieces used to be plentiful - and very expensive. I don't remember seeing much of anything by him last year.

Ramon Fosado, who was one of my Oaxacan mentors - I called him the repository of all things folkloric - took me to find Agustin the first time and he agreed to make this fine Christo from pine and cedar.Then, we agreed that he would make four more in exchange for a clarinet and a valve trombone for his sons. At the time, as a music teacher, I knew the ropes and had good access to fine instruments and I did my homework. I showed up with a beautiful wooden Selmer clarinet and a Bach (I think) trombone, but Agustin was away and had left his kids in charge.The instruments were expensive and I am no pushover when it comes to negotiations. I have paid gringo prices, willingly, sometimes, but part of the business is the banter that precedes closing the deal.So there we were, the kids and me, and I wanted an additional piece (a magnificent ark filled with animals) to balance out the deal. Both boys were good musicians, Miguel, the clarinetist in particular and they were so happy with the instruments they were willing to do anything. They said, "Our father will kill us, but he isn't here and he will have to catch us first. Let's do it!" They proceeded to play one of my favorite tunes, "La Pinotepa" and all we parted with smiles on our faces.

Monday, August 18, 2008

La Llorona - Lila Downs

Lila is a oaxaqueña. This is a beautiful version of one of Mexico's classics, one of her trademark songs. Check her out in Julie Traymor's movie "Frida."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Melchor Melchor Calvo

This atril (music stand) by Melchor Melchor Calvo of San Martin Tilcajete is one of the finest in the collection. It is remarkable in several ways. First, the main column with all the figures is carved from a single piece of wood. Secondly, it is an embodiment of many things Oaxacan: the base of three ollas (pots) is a traditional symbol, the ornamentation is based on the archaeological site of Mitla, but most importantly, the clothing represents the different regions of the state from the mountains to the beaches.So there you have it, an amazing piece. Woodcarving, for which Oaxaca is famous, cooking and ceramics, for which Oaxaca is famous and clothing and indigenous cultures, for which Oaxaca is famous.

Melchor Melchor Calvo is certainly one of the finest carvers in San Martin, but now he is a full time policeman and not carving.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Maria Jimenez Ojeda

Here is an atril by Maria Jimenez, who is one of the finest painters in Oaxaca. She has received numerous prizes for her work and is displayed around the world. She is a quiet and shy woman, but the strong head of a San Martin Tilcajete artesano family. Her brothers, Aaron, Candido and Miguel all are carvers, but it is Maria's painting that sets their art apart. Her detail work is magnificent. You need a magnifying glass to read her signature.
There are two more very different atriles by Maria and her family and I will post them soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dos atriles mas

Here are two more music stands or atriles.

One by Jesus Sosa Calvo y familia - flowers and hummingbirds (flores y colibri)And A Nahual

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Certainly a sad couple of days as two real giants and great influences left us with great memories.
Bernie Mac in Spike Lee's The Original Kings of Comedy is a must see, as is the whole film. It is such an insight as to how different cultures laugh at different things... and at the same things.
Shaft... nuff said

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sopa de Hongos - Cuajimoloya, Oaxaca

I have a series of videos of the cooks of Oaxaca and here is a special one. Normally, I filmed the most famous cooks from the best restaurants. I would spend all day with them, from early in the morning, when we would go to various markets, through a day of cooking and then, at the end of the day, eating everything they had cooked. I know, it's tough work, but....

This is a restaurant up in the mountains in a village called Cuajimoloya, which is famous for its mushrooms. All kinds of mushrooms. The village is about 40k northeast of the city and is 25k up from the weaving village of Teotitlan del Vaille. The food was very simple, but absolutely delicious. It was a blast to film this woman just like the cooks from all those five star places.

OK, so it ain't Mexico

But look at those colors!
Shots of Carnival in St. Thomas, USVI. It is almost a month long celebration in April and they really do it right. Similar to Oaxaca during the Guelaguetza, El Dia or Navidad.

Monday, August 4, 2008

El Atril Projecto - The Music Stand Project

People often ask what I find so special about Oaxaca. Obviously, many things, but one of the main things is the art. I have been meeting and collecting the works of many artesanos for many years. Over ten years ago I started asking the carvers to make music stands or atriles. In the beginning it was difficult and no one would make one, but now.... I am known as the crazy gringo who likes atriles and people come out of the woodwork to show me what they have created.

I now realize I have to better document them and plan on doing so in the coming weeks. No easy task as there are quite a few of them now - some 65 and many are packed up, but with better cameras, it has to happen.

This is Margarito Melchor from San Martin Tilcajete. He had just brought this one into the city and was not sure if I would like it. What a crazy thought!

Here's another made right around the same time.