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, August 31, 2009

Hurricane Jimena

Weather has been rough around here at times. This is probably why. It could be bad.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pan y Queso

These are my new neighbors, Pan y Queso (Bread and Cheese)
Queso was found in the market in Etla last week. Etla is famous for its cheese, hence the name. My neighbor, Pat, after thinking about it all day, went back and found him lying in the walkway and saved him from sure death. All he needed was a bath, food and some love and he was a happy go lucky puppy. But two pups are always better than one, so yesterday Pat went to the vet in Etla and picked a friend for Queso. Pan is a tiny Golden Retriever, we think.Many dogs live a hard life in Mexico. These two will probably never know how lucky they are to be adopted by such a kind and compassionate human being. Pat seems pretty happy, too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tlacolula y San Marcos Tlapazola

Sunday, market day in Tlacolula, is always a joy. There is such a diversity of people, languages, items for sale and food, food, food. We found ourselves back at our favorite barbacoa right in the center of a bustling area filled with places to eat. These are mostly family run operations and it was great to watch the young girls work the crowds "Sit right here, no waiting. We have it all."There were eight of us so we ordered a kilo of borrego and some of the rich lamb consomme. Meanwhile, someone had gone over to the meat area and purchased a selection of meats to throw on the charcoal grills which were right in front of the meat vendors.You buy it, you cook it, you eat it. All were delicious.Then it was off the ten k. to San Marcos Tlapazola to look for some of their prized deep red-orange pottery.On the way out of town, we passed this sight and stopped to ask directions. The man pointed out the way with a huge smile on his face. He was obviously pleased with his purchase. It was "Look at this cow. Can you believe it?" The smile never left his face. We speculated that he and his son had ridden the bikes into market, bought this vaca for a great price and were happily walking home to fatten it up.We drove south across the valley to San Marcos Tlapazola and a place run by a group of women all of whom make this beautiful and famous pottery. Some just fired. This is highly prized and utilitarian stuff and they know its value. The prices were high, but the quality was exceptional. I bought a few things, the most important being two casuelas, clay cooking pots. The next day, I broke one of them in by cooking a large batch of chiles, tomatoes, onions and garlic with just a touch of fresh orange juice. There is something very satisfying to cook in clay, in the same pots they have been using for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

A message

for politicians everywhere, the words found on a building in San Bartolo Coyotepec, from Benito Juarez:"Damn those who with their words defend the nation and with actions betray it."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

La llorona

"La llorona" is a song one hears all the time. There are lots of versions of it by many different artists. Chavela Vargas, Lila Downs, Susana Harp, all sing it beautifully.

Here is an interesting flamenco version.

Here is Chavela Vargas singing it in in Julie Taymor's "Frida" with Salma Hayak.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

San Bartolo Coyotepec - Barro Negro

The village famous for its black pottery, barro negro, San Bartolo Coyotepec, is just a few km south of the city. Like Atzompa, the village on the other side of city, there are many families who make all sorts of items, both utilitarian and decorative. However, even the untrained eye can recognize almost immediately from which village a piece comes. The ones from Atzompa are all in the tan to light orange range, some painted or glazed with a very distinctive green. Those from San Bartolo are all a deep and often lustrous black.

I was lucky enough to accompany Rosa Blum Perez, the owner of Corazon del Pueblo, which was one of the finest folk art stores in Oaxaca for many years. So not only did I had an expert as guide, but on top of that, Rosa's comadre, Adelina Pedro, is a fabulous potter, a famous member of a large artesano family and she gladly joined us and took us through the streets and back roads of San Bartolo to visit several homes.

We were searching for classic pieces. The contemporary ones can be quite shiny, with a bright reflective quality, while the older styles tend to have more of a matte finish. We were also after classic shapes or forms. And we saw plenty, stuff that is not in the markets, things that it was a privilege to see. But what was even better was to be invited into people homes and to meet them. As one could imagine, every one was different. These were the village elders, maestros, and the heart and soul of this famous village.

Adelina told many stories about each artesano and filled the day with anecdotes and information. Based on an ancient myth, now tradition, only men are allowed in the mine to get the raw clay. Recently one of the village officials tried to take his wife into the mine. After a heated confrontation, not only was she denied entrance, but he also lost his access to the mine.

While only men dig in the mine, everyone works the clay and creates the pottery that has brought world fame to this village.

Here is Miguel Fabian Pedro and the pieces I got for the house. Absolutely exquisite!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Caminita al Cielo - The little road to Heaven

I spent part of the afternoon in a cantina yesterday. The Caminita al Cielo is located right next to the huge cemetery, el Panteon General de Oaxaca and is a tiny place with only eight or nine tables.

We were just hanging to kill time before going back to Telcel to once again see if they could solve my modem problems. Just because I am posting doesn't mean they did, but rather than waste time complaining, I'll just say I will be going back on Monday and it ain't because I like waiting in line.

We were at the cantina in early afternoon. The road to Oaxaca had been blocked the night before and in the early morning as the people from Pueblo Nuevo, a nearby village, decided that they had waited long enough for a pedestrian bridge to be built across the main road. The road is wide and one takes one's life in one's hands when running across it. I speak from experience. It is dangerous. At any rate, the night before we had gotten caught up in the traffic trying to find a way around the roadblock. We were in a long line of cars, trucks and buses winding our way through rain soaked dirt roads. It was a couple of hours making past but we had fun and just rolled with the obstacles.

So we had no road block going into the city, we had time to visit this cantina. The owner, a woman in her late 70's shared stories with Amate's Henry Wangeman and me as she poured the mescal and brought beer and botanas. They spoke of their friend, Don Ishmael, the master mescalero from Santa Catalina Minas near Ocatlan who died last year. "Wasn't he kind to have left us all these wonderful memories." Here is one of mine with Ishmael.The cantina was quiet except for the music. She said people did not come to her place because it was so close to the cemetery. They were too superstitious, but I guess there must be a large number of brave souls like us because the place has been around for years. It had a wonderful atmosphere, very welcoming and comfortable. Time went by at the perfect speed and we left relaxed and content. As we left, we looked over at the large gate to the panteon over which were the words, "Here Begins Eternity."

Friday, August 21, 2009

In the meanime

I am still waiting for my internet connection to be cleared and registered with the government. Don't worry, I think they do the same in El Norte. They said it would be another 20 minutes. Right, I am still waiting for the donkeys to fly overhead and drop bars of gold on me, too.

However, I am reading David Lida's book about Mexico City for an upcoming trip there and am I psyched. Is is called First Stop in the New World and is a great read. Here's a link to his blog.

So just carry on with what you were doing. I will post something soon about a recent visit to San Bartolo Coyotepec, the home of barro negro, black pottery. Be slightly more patient than I am being with this internet thing. Of course, if you are reading this, you have it. It's me that doesn't. Aargh!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Border Shakeup

Full story - from BBC

Mexico has replaced more than 1,000 customs agents at airports and border crossings with newly trained inspectors in a major crackdown on corruption.

Officials said the agents had been let go after their contracts were allowed to expire.

They said the new 1,400-strong force had been rigorously trained to detect contraband, from guns and drugs to appliances smuggled into the country.

Health Care?

Full story -

NACO, Mexico (Reuters) – Retired police officer Bob Ritz has health insurance that covers his medical and dental care in the United States.

But every few months he drives from his home in Tombstone, Arizona, to this small town in northern Mexico to avoid the healthcare costs that aren't paid by insurance.

"I pay $400 a month for my health insurance, and it's still cheaper to come to Mexico," says Ritz, 60, as he stood outside a sun-bleached pharmacy in Naco, a few hours drive southeast of Phoenix.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Les Paul - The father of it all

Les Paul, musician, innovator, inventor of the the electric guitar. pictured here with his equally amazing wife, Mary. Just think of all that came from his inventions, all the music and all the equipment. Gibson Guitars has a great memorial on his passing.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rastrillo y Pico - Rake and Pickaxe

The name of my next band? Not quite.

The last three days I have spent working on the house. First, the cleaning neurosis kicks in and when that passes, the gardening one takes over. So I have been making gardens, pruning and adhering to the old, but true adage that "If it is brown, it is never going to turn green again." Hence, taking all the dead leaves off the yucca plants (man, you are neurotic) and fun stuff like that. Just pruning all the trees made a huge difference. I uncovered lots of hidden neglected plants. Nothing a good cleaning and radical pruning won't take care of. The place is transformed, but nothing like it will be if it ever rains. When, oh when?

But I digress, Rastrillo y Pico...

For the last two days, I have walked into San Sebastian to the ferretería, yesterday to get a rastillo or rake and today, for a pickaxe or pico. The words you have to learn... The rastrillo is a toy, but the pico is heavy duty. It has some heft to it. I carried the sucker back on my shoulder and by the time I got home, my shoulder was sore. The thing is weighted like a sledge hammer. There is going be some serious diggin' with this baby.On my walk, with the mountains in the background to the north, I passed fields of corn and alfalfa. There were a few houses and one glorious field I had watched them plant by hand the previous few days, a field of cempasuchil or marigolds for El Dia del los Muertos in November. What a blessing to be able to watch them grow knowing what their endings will be.

So there I am walking with a pico on my shoulder, listening to my ipod shuffle and what comes on but my latest CD "Here and Now" whcih I recorded just up the road in San Agustin in 2007.

The recording process was very different here and in many respects, I was set free to whatever I wanted to and I was happy with the results. I have been learning to weave with sound for many years. Being in the land of the Zapotecs and their weaving skills gave me new inspiration.

So there I am walking there by the side of the road, listening to my music, with a pick axe on my shoulder, in rural Mexico and it just strikes me as funny. A line from Apocalypse Now comes to mind, when Mr. Clean says, "This sho nuf be some bizarre stuff out in the middle of all this shit." or something to that effect.

Maybe it was a mini-revelation or an epiphany, but it occured to me that life is very unpredictable. I could have never pictured myself doing what I am doing now. So good things do happen for those who wait. In truth, I did not wait. And I have discovered that by not waiting, life continues to unfold better and better. So here I am amazed and psyched about the future and just how unexpected, how sweet and happy life can be.

Cuarenta años

I believe there was a song that went, "It was twenty years ago today"... well, it was really forty and on that day I was sitting very close to the stage at Woodstock, maybe row 50, dead center. At the time, I lived in Upstate New York, not very far from the site, so we just jumped in the car and got there very early, early enough to watch setup and prep. I was a freshman in college and was there with my high school sweetheart. It was the time of concerts at large venues and I had been to a bunch. Plus, the Fillmore was close and many of the biggest names in the business were playing small intimate clubs and colleges. However, none of them prepared us for Woodstock.

I was interviewed for the 25th anniversary by Relix, the Dead's magazine. I can't remember what I say, but I bet I mentioned the first sound check and Richie Havens. The sound was so loud and clean, it was magical. This was long before the good equipment of today. We were used to hearing (or not hearing which was often the case) stuff through really crappy amps and PA's. So when Ritchie played his guitar and the sound was so clean, pure and powerful, we knew we were in for a good time. And sure, people were high on many things besides the music, but damn, it was a fine buzz - The Who, Hendrix, John Sabastian, CSN&Y, Sly, Santana... damn, I was there. Great memories.

Friday, August 14, 2009


It ain't like it is all sweetness and light here. Just like El Norte and damn near everywhere else, the place has problems. Folks in the US would be interested that folks here think the US politicians are almost like the South Koreans, you know, ready to punch each other's lights out. The best thing for most north americans would be to leave the country and look at it from the outside. Then problems would get solved instead of all the hideous stuff that is going on. I really don't want to have come back and solve everything once again. C'mon people, get it together.

Here, they deal with different problems and they deal with them differently. There are the narcos, the poverty, the political problems, the inequities between the haves and the have nots. So the government uses strong tactics and symbols. In Oaxaca and especially travelling in and out of the state, there are lots of military and police checkpoints. They are just an everyday part of life. For me, to see such large weapons and in such numbers is intimidating, but as i say, it is just a part of life here. Maybe that is something for the folks in the States to ponder. I hasten to add that these guys do not ever hassle tourists unless they deserve it by being jerks. I myself, who can be quite a jerk, generally am on good behavior when in the presence of a guy in black body armor with a big gun.
These police were part of an action just to north of the zocalo last week. I have no idea what the action was, but there were a lot of them. I shot all these clandestinely at hip level so they are all candids. No reason to stick a camera up in people's faces. I do find that the faces and expressions are fascinating. Click on the image to see them larger. One of these men has a smile way too reminiscent of Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Mi casita

That is one thing I like about Oaxaca, people like to refer everything as an "ita" or "ito", a little something. Cups of cafe, problems, all be come little here. It always cracks me up to run into Claudio Ojeda, the carver, famous for his huge pieces, from Arrazola, whose nickname is "El Dragón Negro." Even though he is a large tough guy, for many years I have called him "El Dragoncito" and at first he wanted to kill me, but now when we see each other, he calls himself the diminutive and we laugh. But I have learned and now I call him Don Dragón. He deserves the respect.

However, mi casa is a casita y claro si, mi casa es tu casa. Lots of work to do, but lots of progress. I had a request for some photos of the place so here goesThe plants are young and small, but in a matter of weeks they will be beautiful. I already have buds on the gardenias and the jasmine plants fill the air with their scent.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fireflies - luciérnagas

I was out last night just listening the sounds surrounding this place and I was surprised to find that it sounded like an Upstate New York summer’s night with gentle winds blowing and crickets galore, really just a symphony of crickets. The land here is low and flat compared to San Agustin. I am almost into the valley soil, but not quite. There is bamboo, flamboyant, orange and fig trees. I haven’t check it all out, but it is a beautiful quiet lot. Last night, there were a lot of stars and there were constant flashes of lightning beyond the mountains, but no thunder and no chance for rain, which Oaxaca needs. It’s a dry rainy season thus far. Still the land is lush and milpas and corn cover the countryside. And just outside this casita is a field filled with fireflies. I haven’t seen so many in years. Again, along with the crickets and these fireflies, it could any summer evening in the country in many parts of the States.
And speaking of lush and verdant idylls. Yes, this is Oaxaca, a few kilometers above Benito Juarez, way back in the mountains. They grow fine potatoes there. It looks like the mountain hollows of Kentucky or Virginia or some alpine setting
There are plenty of pine and wild flowers, but if you look closely you can see all the magueys have been neatly clipped. Maybe these plants are destined to be mescal. I purposely left these shots large so if you click on them you can pick up lots of details.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's hard out here for a

Blogger with no internet.

To the readers of this blog, I apologize for not posting for far too long, but do I have an excuse, sort of… no internet. I can walk to the neighbors yard and pick up a signal, but it feels strange standing out there with a laptop. I guess I could sit down. However, in a couple of days, actually tomorrow, I get a wireless card. Then it will be back in the groove.

And thanks to the people who have written asking if I am OK. Yes, I am, more than ever. I always say, at times, one has to choose between living and blogging and baby, this is living. It’s been tiring, but rewarding. I do look forward to getting back into some sort of routine that allows for regular posting.

It’s been an interesting few days. I have probably gone through a variation of what many people go through when they move into a new place, lots of running around, lots of shopping, lots of cleaning and a little apprehension, “Is this the right thing to do?’

And as I sit at the table after my first few night’s sleep in a new bed, drinking my first cups of coffee (of course, from Nuevo Mundo – there’s a link to the right,) listening to Keith Jarrett, it occurs to me, that this was a long time in coming.

For years, I dreamt about having a place in Oaxaca and I suppose there were people who were more confident than me, that I would actually do it. Well, baby. Here I are.

I have almost all the essentials, a few nice new gardenia bushes, some jasmine, lots of indoor and outdoor plants… ah, and yes, coffee, music, a bed, refrig, dishes, water, electricity, but no internet… yet.

My thanks to Antonio Ruiz, the fine weaver from Teotitlan del Valle, who gave me a pile of rugs to try out in the house. I can see now, I want bright colors throughout the place.

There is a very special rug calling my name for the upstairs room, but it will just have to wait.

Those of you who know me, know that this is like going cold turkey, like ripping those intravenous intertubes right outta my arm.

It is probably better because it disrupts my normal morning routine of reading the news and checking all the blogs I follow. I get to listen to the sounds around this place. No goats, sheep, cows, turkeys as there are in San Agustin. A few roosters, some dogs, geckos, wonderful birds… and very, very distant traffic.

I should add that the house is very close to a large federal police training center, so every now and then I hear them doing calisthenics and once a week there is target practice. It is all very cool... as long as they don't aim high.

I should be back posting later today or tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the band.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


It's been a few days with lots of movement and little sleep. Trips to the airport, bus station and lots energy expended as I get ready to move to a small house just down the road in San Sabastien Etla. The place needs everything except a stove and I have been, as is my manner, neurotically researching and comparing quality and cost.

I also had to wait for some inspiration for the place. It came at midnight a couple of days ago. Cost me a night's sleep, but it was worth it. Figured out how to put in a large vegetable garden. It involves oxen.... after that, the rest just fell into place

Of course the first things I took to the house were a couple of plants.

So I have noticed a few differences. I bought a refrigerator today and they loaded onto a truck and a guy followed me home with it, helped me move it in and disappeared, all in about 20 minutes. It was Elektra, not Sears - Sears wanted eight days for delivery and was more expensive. Duh?

Furniture has been tougher, but not bad. Most everything is very reasonable, most all of it pine and some very nice looking pieces. I ended up just buying everything at one place very nearby, Did it in one fell swoop (after going back four times - gotta play the game.) Free delivery immediately, but I had to tell them to wait until Tuesday so I could thoroughly clean the place... if/when I get water, which is supposed to be tomorrow.

All in all, in almost every store, people were very attentive and nice.... and I hit a lot of places from mattress places to Office Depot to small places out in the country. Not that much different from El Norte, I guess. (Psst... they were really nicer- just being diplomatic)

Driving to the airport? It occurred to me that after 30 years of driving to Logan in Boston, I still wonder where to go - they are always building or changing something. And Central Parking? Easy to lose your car and walk a long way with bags. In Oaxaca, yes, it is a small airport, but they are pretty efficient. Drop off, park, in two minutes. Check in amazingly fast, even with a crowd... only one word for it... weird.

Same for the bus station. Buses are the choice of travel and the nice ones are NICE.

With this amount of things to do, I work off lists and I checked a ton of things off today. Tomorrow.. cutting board, untility knife, pillow, sheets, trash can, jasmine, rugs, water, toilet brushes, lamps, black pottery, you know, all the vitals.