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

Friday, April 30, 2010


I love watching the kids here. Maybe that how it is for everyone, everywhere, but somehow the children here seem extra special. Again, maybe that is how it is everywhere.
Here, however, many kids are entrusted with responsibilities at an early age, responsibilities that would be unimaginable in El Norte. Children are regularly put in charge of running a business or taking care of a brood of siblings. It is not unusual to see an eight year old child in charge of a group of five to ten kids and doing a good job. I regularly buy things at the markets or in villages from very young people who are running the family business and held accountable just like any other worker.
But they are still kids, having fun just being kids, making us all recall what it was like (like we can remember) and giving us hope or at least, making us hope that things will be better for them in the future.
The lives of the street kids in Oaxaca is a subject that is rich, sad, inspirational and poignant. I see them all the time. Some are vendors, some street musicians, some part of families who sell all the tourist goods for which Oaxaca is famous.
These two are probably Triquis, as they working on homework right next to the plaza between Alcala and Cinco de Mayo - yes, that is the sidewalk in front of the Camino Real Hotel. Looks like a fun exercise to help with cursive writing. I could use it myself.

With all the craziness going on in the world, all the cold-hearted and negative feelings out there,
hey, stop for second, we can do better....

They deserve better than this. Let's get it together.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For children who do not speak

While in Zapotitlan, I heard a very loud cicada-like insect, only even louder and more piercing. Maurino said that locals used it for a special treatment for young children who were not healthy, not talking enough, almost mute. The buzzing or singing insect is caught and put in the child's mouth for five minutes, until the sound stops and then released. The child then begins to speak normally and the freed insect is now mute, unable to make a sound.

I guess it is sorta a cousin to one of my favorite sayings down here and one I seriously take to heart (finally). "En boca cerrada, no entran moscas." or "Flies don't go in a closed mouth." Yeah, best to keep those lips zipped.

As Mark Twain said, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and leave no doubt."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Return to Zapotitlan

We went in search of the dishes we had heard about when we visited the cactus forests in Zapotitlan Salinas, Puebla earlier this year. They proved to be just the buds lightly roasted and were kinda like small okra, a little anti-climatic. The cactus, however, were spectacular. My good friend, Henry Wangeman from Amate Books, was once again, my guide and companion.

After a four hour drive, we had stopped at Yanhuitlan to see the progress on the church, the first thing we did was get something to eat. The botana was some fresh tomato, cheese and cactus buds. The owner of the restaurant, who looked like a Latino Earnest Hemiway, sat and chewed the fat with us and told us about the village culture which seemed to center around cactus and salt production. The salt was very tasty, a natural bromide and was different from sea salt. He bought out a couple of kilos of this amazing salt which we bought in an instant for ten pesos a kilo. Then is was off to find cactus. We had engaged one of the guys, Maurino Reyes, from the botanical gardens to act as guide and to take us on a couple of walks, one in the late afternoon and one in the morning. He knew his stuff and we proceeded down a wide dry riverbed and he pointed out many things about the environment. There was actually a little water in the bed even thought they only get a few centimeters of rain a year. We saw tiny fish along with rabbits, owls and the caves in which the bats that pollinate many of the cactus, lived. Needless to say it is really rugged country, but the sky had an overcast haze which was lousy for photos, but easy on the temperatures.

Eventually we climbed out of the river bed and we found ourselves overlooking the salt producing ponds, which are really shallow cement rectangles. There were close to fifty of them and there was salt ready to harvest.Maurino would stop and point out various aspects about the plants, what their uses were. He would pick leaves and let us taste or smell them. "This one is good for the eyes. This for the stomach. This for nerves. For the teeth." It was fascinating and proved just how knowledgeable indigenous cultures are about plants and their uses.

One of the most amazing aspects of these plants is their age and speed of growth. There are cacti, smaller than a dime that are three years old. A large visnaga can be four hundred. Same for the organum-style cactus. They were in flower, but are very tall and taking photos from 20 or 30 feet below the crowns, well, it made shooting difficult.The yucca were in flower, towering yellow spikes that stuck out across the vistas. They were about six meters tall. Yuccas are a huge family. I have dense white flowers on a very short stalk on the ones back at the house.

As I said, we touched, smelled, tasted many plants. I have years of working with plants and am good at picking up vibes. I was off by myself when I saw this one. I just stopped to see the bight white flowers and geranium-like leaves. However, there was something that said "do not touch" - maybe it was those deadly looking spikes on the leaves and stems. It turned out that this plant is known as "mujere mala" and causes rashes, blisters, fevers and general discomfort on a high order. However, Maurino said that it was used for scorpion bites, a natural antidote. It was also used for arthritis and rheumatism and that women in the village made a balm from it.

The soils up there can range from red to brown/black to yellow to orange to pure white. This bougainvillea really pops against an arid pale background.After a hot night in one of the cabins at the botanical gardens, the air was cool, but the cabin was a heat sink, we ate a good breakfast in the village and headed west a short distance out into the desert. Once again, Maurino was a font of information and led us to one of the oldest and largest plants in the area, this 2500 year-old elephant foot tree. These are the trees that absorb negative energy when you hug them. We were all over that. This tree was almost ten meters in circumference with shallow roots but the ability to store much water in its fibrous sponger interior.

Both Henry and I put this trip on our top ten of things to do when visiting Oaxaca, right up there with Monte Alban and all the others.

Monday, April 26, 2010

An editorial from The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic is a fairly right of center newspaper and that is putting mildly and here's what they had to say:

(full story)

A fundamental principle of law is that it should protect the innocent. Of all the damage made possible by Gov. Jan Brewer's signature on Friday to Senate Bill 1070, the worst is not the harm to the world's judgment of Arizona or to this law's economic consequences.

The worst effect is its grave potential for causing harm to innocent, taxpaying American citizens who no longer can feel certain of the law's blindness.

That is the terrible harm of it. SB 1070 lifts the blindfold of Lady Justice and commands her to see one different from the other, irrespective of innocence. Brewer's televised signing ceremony for this harsh, unnecessary legislation constitutes the low point of an administration we have come to admire for its often surprising grit in the face of hard times. We held out hope for more.

Whether Arizona pays a price for indulging the whims of state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, is no longer the issue. We are paying a price. Not since the dismal days of our nationally infamous fight over a holiday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has the profile of Arizona descended this low.

It isn't as though the potential consequences of this law are unapparent. We have been down this road before.

The terrible "Chandler Roundup" of 1997 still stands as a warning of what may lie ahead. Then, like now, local police officers demanded proof of citizenship of people they suspected might be in this country illegally. Scores of American citizens lacking "papers" were cuffed. An international outrage erupted. SB 1070 opens the door to the return of those brutal neighborhood-dividing days.

Also Friday, Brewer signed an executive order to establish law-enforcement training she hopes might mitigate the worst potential effect of SB 1070, racial profiling. A nice gesture, certainly. But a few hours of additional training is unlikely to alter the now-evolving relationship of local police to their citizenry, a relationship made infinitely more difficult and attenuated by the signing of SB 1070.

We are not blind to the political challenge facing Brewer. She is a Republican facing stiff competition in an approaching election, and not signing SB 1070 likely would have doomed her candidacy.

That is her political problem, however. Not Arizona's.

She is certainly correct on one count. The widespread popularity of this punishing legislation would be far weaker if Washington, D.C., would act seriously to do its duty regarding Arizona's southern border.

This is very bad law. And this is not the end of the fight against it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Boycott Arizona

For all planning a trip to see the Grand Canyon, please consider the even bigger and better Copper Canyon. Take the train from west to east for the best views. Image from Mexico Tourism.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Graffiti continued

Graffiti is a part of this city. Yes, there is tagging, but there are real artists here. Books have been written about the work here. Lots of photographs taken - guilty as charged. People have become famous. Careers have been made.

And of course, there is a constant battle between graffiti and the desire for a clean, pristine and colorful wall or surface.Here are remnants of International Women's Day, painted over earlier graffiti and erasures as the struggle continues on several levels.Neither saint nor whore.
Ni dios, ni amo, ni maripo, ni partido... neither god, nor master, OK, help me here....

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Working on my clandestine nights shots. Both these gentlemen had more happening than may seem apparent, a strange energy. They seemed like they were waiting for something or someone. Or maybe they were just uptight about the gringo trying not to be obvious that he was taking their picture.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A matter of perspective

As in all things, it just depends on how you see it. I like how different details emerge or recede like the "?" or the hole, or the corrugated metal, even the sky.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Santa Ana Zegache - Dos

I returned to shoot the church in Santa Ana Zegache this afternoon in search of the elusive shot I know is there. I took a different road, the one that heads for Huatulco, and the drive was quite easy, not nearly as rough. The sun was behind me and the light was getting nice. You can see what a difference the facing sun can make.The clouds, building, rolled in from the west and the sun was going fast for the day. Time to shoot fast.Everywhere I looked, I notice more detail. They really painted everything. Detail from under a window.Details from the stockings.I could see the rain moving in with flashes of lightening, all pretty dramatic. We had a nice rain last night and things are turning that vibrant green that was not even on the horizon even a couple of weeks ago. Maybe the rainy season is arriving. Every drop a blessing.
However, I did not get the shot I know is there. I plan on returning, maybe even tomorrow. Depends on el sol.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rewarding stupidity

If there is one thing I know, it is equipment, you know, stereos, amps, all that fun electronic stuff. It has been a constant in my life with lots of concerts produced and gigs all over the place. Back in the day, I was "the guy with the van" in the bands I played with and hey, my bio says I am "one of the pioneers of electronic music" so I must know my stuff, right?

So I was watching a movie and listening to the sound through the stereo and there was a weird delay. So I got out the manual and started reading. The manual is in Spanish and, in an effort to save money, is for six different Samsung models, of which mine is one.

I have had this system since I moved in last August. It was one of the first purchases for the place. When I got it home I was disappointed that it did not have a USB input for an ipod/ripped movies and only one aux channel, but what the heck, it sounded fine. I figured I got one of the models that did not have those options even though it appeared to have them according to the box. Oh, well.

Today, as I read the manual, it kept referring to things I just could not find on the unit. I picked it up. Looked at the front, back, sides. I could not find what they were talking about. This is a sleek looking unit, nice, with a shiny black front panel.

As I put the unit down I noticed that the front panel had popped open and there were all the things I had not been able to find for eight months. A USB input! Not only had I not been able to find them, but a few weeks ago I had gone out and purchased another unit that would play ripped movies. And the whole time it was all right there. Arghhhh!

It is not like I had not looked time and time again for these functions, I had. I just figured I got a different model. So when I ultimately found the hidden door, I laughed. Perfect! Not too dumb, eh?
I rewarded myself for my stupidity by buying these plants at the nearby vivero. There are fifty plants there - 30 different cacti. All for under $17 US, including a nice tall full gardenia plant.