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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Look Ma, no hands

So there we have it.  Ulises on his way out says his hands are clean.  “Me voy con la frente en alto, con las manos limpias y el deber cumplido”.  I think that translates roughly, "I leave with my head held high, with clean hands and the job completed."
We live in a time when there is no lie too preposterous to utter.  

No really, I prefer it my way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ya basta!

Enough already!  I have been here long enough.  I'm headed for the airport.... unfortunately my flight does not leave until next week.  I guess I will head to the new American wing at the MFA.

Oaxaca is about to welcome in a new governor and of course, it is chaos, but maybe it is just normal chaos.  If URO follows Bush's example we can expect a self-glorifying book in a year or so.  Nuf sed.

I can't tell if things are more screwed up here or there, but if it is a race, both places are movin' fast towards that finish line.

Me, I am just happy to see the first ice of the season

all that green trapped, next year's silt.

while at the same time able to catch the tail end of autumn.

And all its colors.
Great day for reflecting

and reflections.

Yes, it was that blue.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day of the Dead - San Agustin Etla - The video

At long last, after having way too much fun editing and reliving the event. Click for full screen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mezcal Trippin'.... again? San Juan del Rio

As a non drinker, I love mezcal.  First, the plant from which it is made is close to magical.  The agave provides not only mezcal, but also needle and thread, water and paper.  How cool is that?
Second, drinking it is a part of the culture, a culture deep and ancient.  As my main man the Dali Lama says, "It is their ritual, baby.  You must roll wid it."  or something like that.

So I have respectfully learned to observe the traditions, while struggling not to get too buzzed.

Mezcal is made all over the state and everyone has an opinion as to where the best is made.  Santa Catarina de Minas?  Chichicapam?  Matatlan?  Mitla?  Villa Sola de Vega?

Well, this time it was off to San Juan del Rio, a village deep in the mountains past Mitla.

After driving an hour or so through dramatic country on decent roads, we arrived in San Lorenzo Albarradas, where we found several palenques right off the road.

The first was run by Santos Martinez Cruz.

It was a fastidiously clean place.  While we were there, a couple of folks stopped by to get mezcal.  Santos said lots of taxi drivers stopped there.  We wondered if it was the riders or the drivers buying.

This horse is indicative as to how healthy the animals we saw were.  There were no underfed or skinny burros, horses, sheep, oxen, or goats.  All of them looked great and that tells one quite about about the area and its inhabitants.

We turned off the paved road and drove 20 or 30 kms across the ridges atop the mountains.  We could see a river, but it was way down and we marveled as to how the road snaked its way there with lots of cutbacks and dust.

Eventually, we arrived in San Juan to discover that the recent rains had completely washed away the road and there was no way through.  Actually, there was, but it meant turning around or backing out a narrow road with steep cliffs off to one side.  We got out and walked.

Because the village was at the base of a deep gorge, there was not much land on either side.  Basically it was a house on one side of the road, one on the other side and then the river, so it was long and narrow village.  Even with the road washed out, one could tell that it was a prosperous town.  Houses were large and well kept.  Late in the day, the church was quiet, but 30 minutes later the patio was filled with kids playing football.

Dora the Explorer is everywhere.

Of the nine palenques in San Juan, all had been destroyed by the rains, except one, which was up and running. We got the tour.  Adolfo Hernandez Juan minding the fire.

Of course, people had mezcal to sell from stored stock.  We helped support the local economy.
A mound of dirt? No, roasting piñas.

Uncovered after a few days, they look like this.

Just to show the scale and size of the piñas.

They were working very hard to get things going again although it would still take a few weeks or months.

We had driven across the mountains and through several micro climates in which the plant life varies and changes greatly.  Deep in San Juan we found bananas and mangos.  It was a touch of the tropics.

There seemed to be a lot of community work going on to rebuild not only the palenques, but the central road.  The village had a very nice vibe, simple as that.

After a couple of hours, it was time to head back to San Agustin Etla, a pretty good drive.  So I backed the car up and managed not to fall off the cliff or hit the parked bus blocking the road.  A quick stop in Mitla to eat at a place run by some very happy women who had just set their comal up by the side of the road.

¡Viva San Juan del Rio!  We will be back.  And thanks for the 25 liters.  Incidentally, the prices were quite low ranging from $30 MP to $80 ($2.50 - 6.50 US)  We did buy some tobala ( a type of agave) for $120 MP, but it was exceptional.  A bottle of it could go for hundreds of dollars in the States.  Nothing like getting it from the source, eh? 

So, as a non-drinker, what do I do with all this mezcal?  Keep the tradition going, baby.  Every visitor or worker is offered a taste and they all begin to talk about where they think the best is from.  I'm keeping a list.  Lots of good places to visit.  The trip continues.....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A quick note

Yesterday it was in the 60's and partly sunny. Today it is crystal clear, in the 40's with a strong steady wind from due north. There are a few holdout leaves, but most of the trees are winter naked.

Today is travel day.  Lots of folks pulling suitcases. And no parking places near any of the markets. Not my problems. I can walk to where I need to be.

This trip gives me a chance to get caught up with photos and video. Lots of good stuff.  Wait until you see the latest from Mezcal country.  I have been working on the video of the danzantes from San Agustin on Day of the the Dead and the footage is so nice, it is almost impossible to edit. I am thinking up putting up the finale unedited. The energy and insanity deserve no less.

Again, as I wrote before, I feel like an alien here. No different from life in Oaxaca where at least I am an obvious outsider. There, I am trying to learn the culture and traditions. Many times I am doing or seeing things for the first time.  Here, I see things with those same eyes. 

Today, it is all about the country traveling. I walked over the Mass Pike and was glad I was not in the traffic.

The High Holy Day that has become Black Friday is just strange. Everyone is supposed to work themselves into a frenzy and get out there and spend, shop, spend, shop.  No comprendo.

Hmmm....Maybe once you go oaxaqueño, there ain't no comin' back.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I know what this place needs.

More of this.

Update: They are flamboyants.  The trees may be 10-15 meters tall and the flowers are very large.  I am not sure of the variety.  They seem much taller than the ones in front of Santo Domingo, but I might be remembering them wrong.  These are right next to the Super-Mini in San Sebastian, the place to get anything you need without driving into the city.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gogol Bordello: Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)

No human being is illegal!

Fo shizzle

Yes, this is for real and it is in nearby Etla. 

It will house a financial institution.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dia de la Revolucion, 20 de noviembre - Revolution Day

It is an important day in Mexican history. 
from Inside Mexico
On November 20, 2010 Mexico celebrates the Centennial Anniversary of its Revolution. On this date, in the year 1910 the revolutionary war to overthrow the dictator Porfirio Díaz, began.
 General Porfirio Díaz had been an important military figure during the wars against the foreign invaders, and had tried to overthrow President Benito Juarez in 1872. Then again, he rebelled against President Lerdo de Tejada in 1876 and won.
Don Porfirio, as he was called, had been in power for more than 30 years (1876-1911).  Under his rule, Mexico had political stability and grew in many areas, creating new industries, railroads, kilometers of railroad tracks as well as the increase of foreign capital. Non-the less, this progress was not translated into the peoples’ well being. 
 Soon there was political unrest.  The unhappiest sectors of the Mexican society were the peasants and labor workers. To defend these two popular sectors, Ricardo Flores Magón founded the Mexican Liberal Party.   Flores Magón was obviously persecuted by the Porfirist regime, and died in an American prison.    In 1906 the army brutally repressed a strike of miners in the Cananea mine in Sonora.  As you can see,  Díaz did every thing in his power to crush any uprisings.  The Cananea massacre is historically considered the spark that finally ignited Mexico’s Revolution.

I bet there is a 20th of Noviembre street in every city and village.

Street Art cont....

I love these shots. 




and social commentary.

Who knew? ...cont

Not only did I miss Lila. but apparently The Gloved One was in town the day I left.  Actually, now that I think about it, I may have seen him at the airport on my way out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Who knew?

It is much colder in Boston than in Oaxaca.

So I thought I would catch one just to be hip.  Yes, my first cold in a few years.  Ah, nature.

Actually, feeling a touch of frost and seeing the sun go down at 5 PM is refreshing.

In reality, the thing I am most struck by this time is the fact that this is such a consumer society.  Stuff and things, it is all out there, a whole lotta, "I want it. I need it. Buy, buy, buy"

Living in Oaxaca, has allowed me to lose the urge or desire to play that game.  First of all, the stuff is simply not available and/or is very expensive.  Secondly, the mentality is not there... yet.  Money goes for the basics.  Actually, now that I think about, Christmas stuff was on display at all the stores before I left.

Oops.... Gotta go... off to the mall.  Only seven days until Black Friday.

Update:  I made it unscathed through Best Buy and Target.  I did go to the Armenian market in Watertown for tahini, lebne and other goodies.  Also, the Indian market in Waltham for rice and more goodies, but it sure ain't Etla.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Why oh why?
Lila Downs is performing a free concert in Plaza de la Danza this evening and here I am, a mere 3000 miles away.  I have recorded her several times, but hey, new cameras, new equipment, I'm bummin'
(photo from Fernando Aceves)
There may be two schools, kinda like the Beatles or Stones thing, with Susana Harp and Lila.
I am Lila all the way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Real and imagined, it is still work

You remember the changing artwork covering the scaffolding in front of the ongoing (and going and going) restoration of the Museum of Contemporary Art?

I like these shots of the various workers.

I am doing a little of the same on a quick trip to El Norte.  It is good for the soul to rake autumn leaves and clean gutters.  And get a little culture of a different sort, not to mention some good Vietnamese food.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sara Lee now a Bimbo

 Mexican Baker Bimbo Buys Sara Lee
Mexican baking giant Grupo Bimbo SAB announced Tuesday that it is buying Sara Lee Corp.’s North American bakery business for $959 million.

The purchase of North American Fresh Bakery includes “a royalty-free perpetual license” to the Sara Lee brand in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Eastern and Central Europe, “as well as a portfolio of regional brands that are well-regarded in their local markets,” Bimbo, the world’s biggest baker, said in a press release.

Grupo Bimbo employs more than 102,000 people at 99 plants and 1,000 distribution centers in 17 countries in the Americas and Asia.

Sara Lee, based in Downers Grove, Illinois, has plants in more than 40 countries and markets products in more than 180 nations around the world. 

It is funny how different words in different cultures mean different things. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Creativity and connections

One of the best things art does is to stimulate the mind, which can go a myriad of directions almost simultaneously.

When I look at this installation of matates and manos, it makes me think of the women who used them.  of their lives, their stories.  Of the all the corn that was ground, all the tortillas.  Of the history of corn, which had its start here 10,000 years ago.  Of the precious water collected in all the depressions in the stone.  The years it must have taken to make those depressions.  The weight and heft of the pieces themselves.  The creatively of the artists who created the installation, their lives, their families, their stories... the mind races, just as it is supposed to.

This cactus with a base of zempasuchitls, marigolds, sat right next to the matates.  Again, a rush of thoughts....

Monday, November 8, 2010

You want me to put that where?

I think Freud called it "piccolo envy."  As a pianist/keyboardist, I always had to lug tons of equipment to gigs.  Hey man, I was in a lot of groups because I had a van or truck.  Drummers face the same problems, but nothing like upright bassists.  I remember seeing them wheeling their instruments down the streets with a wheel instead of a bottom peg.

So I smiled when we came out of a wonderful meal at our favorite restaurant in Etla and saw this guy loading his bass into or onto a mototaxi.  Actually, they were figuring out what to do with it.   Like all bass players, he was very friendly and posed for this pic with a big grin on his face.
I like the strap.  I bet he wears the bass while playing it, kinda like a guitar... make that a big guitar.
Looks like they came up with a solution.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day of the Dead cont....

Talk about having a big head.

One of the great things about this place is the constant flow of art that comes in many forms.

There is always something new to see, hear, smell, touch or taste.  These are large papier-mâché heads that lined the pedestrian walkway on Alcala for the week.  

They were all the same size, but each artist or group of artists could do what they wanted.  
A little dental detail.

This one in particular had some wonderful painting.