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, November 23, 2009

Just curious

La curiosidad mató al gato - Curiosity killed the cat.

Now that Lonely Planet has put Oaxaca back on it's top ten list, I am just curious how people elsewhere view Mexico. So many times, we are the victims of the press or of stereotypes and it is hard to cut through all the inaccuracies.

So how is it with you and Mexico?

As I have said before, watching the US from the outside is unnerving. Unemployment, the sagging dollar, the polarized political scene, the gross ineptitude of those running the institutions - maybe it isn't ineptitude, but merely unfettered greed and to top it off, the terrible job that the media is doing in covering all of the above... well, it don't look good, but maybe that is just me. Am I in a bubble here? I follow lots of blogs and news sources, but maybe I am in an echo chamber, just hearing the same stuff over and over again.

So what is the word on Mexico that makes it into your bubble?

For those of us here, it is quiet and we are wondering when people are going to come and visit. Sure, there are problems, but where aren't there problems? Oaxaca continues to offer so much, culture, art, history, crafts, eco-tourism, food, beaches, mountains, its a long list.

What are you hearing about Mexico?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

We're back!

oaxaca-santo-domingo-church.jpgTime for a visit!! Full story:

Lonely Planet is one of the world's leading travel media companies. Drawing on the knowledge, passion and miles traveled of Lonely Planet's global team of staff and authors, Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2010 showcases a year's worth of inspiration to take travelers out of the ordinary and into some unforgettable experiences.

Oaxaca provides travelers with a variety of activities, from surfing the legendary ‘Mexican pipeline' at one of the world's great surf beaches Playa Zicatela, sweating it out in a temazcal, a pre-Columbian herbal sauna in Puerto Escondido or surveying the vast valley of Oaxaca from atop the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán.

"It is an honor for Mexico to be recognized once again, by Lonely Planet as one of the Top 10 Regions in the world. Oaxaca is one of Mexico's richest cultural regions, and we are proud that visitors around the world feel the same," said Oscar Fitch, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Market Day

More and more, I appreciate shopping at my local market in Etla on Wednesdays. The village is transformed and its normally quiet main drag is packed with vendors and shoppers. I am starting to do a better job of "seeing," meaning, I am not in sensory overload anymore. This all seems normal. I know I stick out like a sore thumb amongst these people, but at least I am a regular to some of them. Fresh garlic? Sweet fresh bananas. The produce varies from week to week depending on what is in season, but there are always great deals at good prices for all manner of fruits and vegetables.Good looking and great tasting turkeys and chickens. Doesn't get any fresher than that.Fresh fruit snacks.I like this shot with the father, in his hip pink shirt, a piecing no less, holding his son in his "Cars" outfit, while Christ overlooks the tomatoes.Fresh chiles and a winsome look.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Street Scenes

These two street musicians are probably two of Oaxaca's most photographed people. I have shots of them going back years. Many tourists stop and snap them and then deposit a peso in each of the cans. The only problem is that they never tune up together which always makes the music sound... well, out of tune. Maybe that is just the conservatory-trained musician in me, you know, a jerk. I think it was Miles who said, "Only college boys play in tune."

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today we went to the nearby tianguis looking for a car to buy. Tianguis are common throughout Mexico, set up in a specific place on a specific day each week. There are all sorts of these markets, ranging from the market days in the villages to huge ones in the DF that sell one type of item, like automotive. In today's case, it was the one for cars in Santa Rosa. The cars for sale are lined up on both sides of the road and people just walk up and down scoping out the wheels. There are cars in all shapes and sizes and all kinds of condition. I should have taken pictures, but I was in full shopping mode and could only contemplate one thing at a time. I did not buy, but I came close. I need another week of research and thought about what I really need. That beamer looked nice, but how will it do in the villages and on all those topes? A tricked out VW bug? An '84 Ford pickup? Any suggestions?
Oh, why the picture? You figure it out.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The story continues...

From the Latin American Herald Tribune - full story:

OAXACA, Mexico – A Mexican federal judge ordered the release of a man arrested last year for the October 2006 killing of U.S. independent journalist Brad Will in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Magistrate Javier Leonel Santiago Martinez described the evidence submitted by federal prosecutors against Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno as “false” and “fabricated,” echoing criticism of the indictment by Will’s family and organizations such as Amnesty International.

Martinez Moreno is a member of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, or APPO, the grassroots coalition behind a months-long 2006 uprising against the state’s authoritarian governor, Ulises Ruiz.

Will was gunned down on Oct. 27, 2006, while covering the events in Oaxaca for the indymedia collective.

Transborder Migration Tool

Here is an interesting use of technology.
We looked at the Motorola i455 cell phone, which is under $30, available even cheaper on eBay, and includes a free GPS applet. We were able to crack it and create a simple compasslike navigation system. We were also able to add other information, like where to find water left by the Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centers that will wrap your feet, how far you are from the highway--things to make the application really benefit individuals who are crossing the border.
Read some of the comments. Full story at Boingboing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The beginning/end of the cycle

It seems as if the dry season has arrived right on schedule. The nights are cold and clear. Living in an adobe house, once again, shows its advantages, cool when its hot, warm when its cold. Looking out across this corn field just outside of Teotitlan del Valle and to the mountains brought back many memories. The corn fields in my life. One season ends, another begins.Beautiful use of corn in this altar at Jacobo and Maria Anegeles' place in San Martin Tilcajete.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Iconic and graffiti. These are shots from the other day. Here in Oaxaca, the graffiti comes and goes, so one has to shoot it while its hot. So these are all iconic images of Oaxaca, the knife-sharpener, the blind accordianist, the shoe shine boy, the man with the triangle, who you can hear from blocks away. I think he sells limonada. Also the hurdy gurdy man is there, but is already started to be covered up. I should add that the average hurdy gurdy man does not normally have an electric meter coming out of his back. He is the ever-ready bunny version, I guess.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Esperanza - Hope

I loved seeing this poster plastered all over the place. Keep hope alive!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

San Antonino

Imagine a sea of flowers. From the right angles, that how the cemetery at San Antonino appears. I had the pleasure of going there three times in the last week. I spent a rainy afternoon there by myself just contemplating all the right things. On this last trip, a day after el concurso, we had the place to ourselves aside from one or two families. There were also a couple of guys there snagging the best flowers for seeds for next year.
I feel very blessed to be able to go to this amazing place. It seems like no other I have seen. On top of the beauty, the people are always so friendly, engaging in conversations so freely and openly.
The graves are decorated in so many different ways. The uses of flowers and plant material rivals anything I have seen in all the flowers shows I have gone to in my life.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Altos y bajos

That's me with basura pointed at my head. Basura means trash. I love that I am looking into the wrong end of the camera and it is pointed straight down. Actually, I am using a small still camera, my back up.

It is funny how certain days can be filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. Yesterday was such a day. I will keep the lows to myself, like anyone needs to hear about them, but one of the insignificant ones was that I dropped my Nikon and messed up the only lens I have with me.

However, the highs were pretty high. The plan was to drive out to the cemetery in San Antonino for a concurso or competition, I think for grave decoration, but I don't really know. At any rate, it was the day before and we had the place almost completely to ourselves which was even better. It has to be one of the most beautiful panteones in all of Oaxaca. I visited it three times this week, each time it grew more beautiful. More on San Antonino later.

On the drive out we stopped at Jacobo Angeles restaurant where there was a feria of the woodcarving from nearby San Martin Tilcajete. Jacobo and his wife, Maria are real movers and shakers and are doing everything in their power to promote the artesanos.

I went with Henry Wangeman of Amate Books and as we went in, all the artesanos stopped what they were doing and gathered around us in a wonderful welcome. Henry has many years of promoting, selling, exporting and exhibiting folk art. He is a hero in many of the villages.

And little ole humble me? Moi? Not much other than collecting and commissioning pieces over the years and doing my best to encourage and promote this amazing art. I also wrote those directories and apparently after my talk last week, inspired a few people to visit the villages and buy pieces.So they were happy to see us. I love how Martin Melchor is holding the directorio open to his page.
These shots are all Henry Wangeman's. Gracias, hermano.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If this isn't nice

Many years ago, when I was starting my Buddhist studies, my teacher, a venerable man from Sri Lanka, told me, "Chris, there is no such thing as a western Buddhist so do the best you can and have fun."

And maybe it is the same for me and Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos. I am not a mexicano and I will never fully experience or comprehend the whole experience, but I did the best I could and surely had fun.

Sand painting in the zocalo.I had a plan before going in and even though when the time arrived I kind of forgot it, everything went incredibly well. All of it was made possible by the use of a car from Rosa, aka DF Rosa. Muchas gracias!!!

I made repeated visits to certain cemeteries and the zocalo to first, follow the prep and then, be there when things were happening. I will go back in a week or so to see the aftermath. I made impromptu stops at the panteones is San Bartolo Coyotepec and Ocotlan just because I happened to find passing by. I was lost coming from San Antonino when I stumbled across the one in Ocotlan.

Rebozo and flowers in San Antonino.And even though I had a plan, I never really knew what was happening when. Yesterday, I awoke at 5AM to go and find the dancers in San Agustin Etla. I had no idea where they were so I had to drive around, stop the car, get out and listen and eventually I found them by following the music.

I had been planning this for two years, to catch them in their mirrored and belled outfits as the sun came over the mountains. Success! They had already been dancing for 12 hours and were feeling no pain, in trance-like states of intoxication. Mezcal and dancing like crazy will do that. Try it sometime. There was a great band that played nothing but high energy infectious music. They would pack into the yard of someone's house and the dancers would follow them in and it was instant party. I stuck with them for a few hours, a part of a large parade of people joining them as they walked the streets going from house to house. It all ended in complete madness in the center of the town as one band was coming down the hill as the one I was following was going up. The music kicked into a whole new gear as did the dancers. They knew it was the end and I found myself in a mosh pit of incredibly happy and hammered peopled. Total insanity of the best kind.

I did get some great video of the whole thing that I will edit and get up soon.

It was all of 9:30 in the morning so it was back to the house to recharge batteries and get ready for the afternoon trip to Teotitlan del Valle where I joined my Zapotec weaver friends, Zacarias and Emilia Ruiz and their sons, Antonio and Beto, and Antonio's wife, Claudia for a meal of mole negro. My good friend, Henry Wangeman of Amate Books and his son Zack (named after Zacarias) and others were there.
The altar at Zacarias'.At 3PM a cool wind blew in as the dead departed. We paid our respects and then went to the panteon. It was cool and gray. There was a band playing contemplative music and people sat around and listened and talked, shared a story, a drink, a handshake or a hug.

As Henry always says, quoting Vonnegut, "if this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

El Dia de los Muertos (II)

Today I retraced my steps from yesterday and went back to the huge panteon in the city and out to San Antonino again. My thoughts were to try and catch the various stages at each place. San Antonino is such a special cemetery. I think it is my favorite. The people are always so friendly and their technique of mixing the soil to make a plaster and then using it to put a skim coat on the graves seems to be quite unique. I have not seen it anywhere else, anyway.Yesterday the sun was shining, but today, as soon as I arrived it started to rain quite heavily. I could see the sun in the distance and i kept hoping to catch some light at the end of the day, but no luck as the rain seemed stuck on top of us. I just sat and waited and eventually i was completely alone in the cemetery with the rain pinging off the tin arch I was hiding under. I enjoyed the solitude and contemplated many things, mostly the beauty and serenity of the setting.Mexico has so much it could teach El Norte if they would ever pay attention. In the US, death is to be feared, kept at a distance, often sanitized to the point of being easy to ignore. Here, it is with us all the time, a friend. I love watching families assemble around the graves, cleaning and freshening them up and then celebrating with the departed's favorite fooda, drink and music. Children laugh and play games on the graves. It is almost impossible to feel any sorrow, only happiness and a deep connection to the never-ending cycle.After the rain in San Antonino, I drove back over the mountains into cool, clear air and stopped at San Bartolo Coyotepec just to pay my respects and see what was happening there. Each cemetery is so different, but in all of them, people are celebrating this wonderful tradition. I renews the souls of both living and deal.

More mañana.....