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, January 31, 2011

La Boda de Enrique y Fermina

Sorry got the light posting.  I always like to say one has to choose between living life and blogging.  Given the opportunity to attend and shoot a wedding in Teotitlan del Valle, the former kicked in.  Yesterday was the wedding, after days, weeks of preparation and it was spectacular.  Teotitlan is famous for maintaining its traditions and it was a real honor to get to see things from the inside, although there was so much to take in, I am dazed.  It also might be awakening at 4AM yesterday to get there in time for the early morning blessings and procession to the church.  I got in at 10:30 PM, but wimped out on the dancing which I am sure went on until 2 or 3 in the morning.  I don't know how they do it.  I am about to jump in the car for the last of the fiestas, so more later.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Quick breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle

No, those are not the snow-capped mountains overlooking the zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, just early morning clouds.

I am blessed to be shooting the preparations and the wedding festivities of one of the daughters of Zacarais and Emilia Ruiz this weekend.  This is a very traditional affair and it is indeed an honor to be invited and allowed to shoot.  They have been working towards it for weeks.  I will have plenty of posts and photos about all of it, but after yesterday's lunch in Tlacolula, I thought I would share today's breakfast in Teo.  I was out shooting the making of tortillas and tlayudas.  Yesterday, it was the shucking and sorting of the corn kernels.  Today, it was the finished product.
I have to say that a huge tortilla made from homegrown corn, hand ground with a matate and hot off the copal is simply indescribably delicious.  It was heaven.  I was handed two of them and given some atole and told to go sit and eat.  I will have more on the process in an upcoming post, but for now, let your eyes feast on these.

That is some queso fresco (fresh cheese) and a couple of delicious salsas, both from chiles pasillos.  Muy rico y picante!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quick lunch in Tlacolula

On our way to visit Teotitlan del Valle, we drove past, just down the road to one of our favorite spots in the market in Tlacolula.  Look at this lunch!

The richest consomme de borrego, BBQ lamb... Mmmm, so good.  Look at that color!!
Served by one our favorite ladies.
She always greets us with the biggest smiles.

 Look for her just on the left as you enter the market.

Nuevo Sombrero

Guess who got a new hat at the market in Etla?
A real campesino, no?  It is OK to be envious.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Face of the Day

Sitting on the north side of the zocalo.


Oaxaca seems to be in a constant state of restoration.  Whether it is on churches or streets or archaeological sites or as in this case, the facade of the Contemporary Art Museum, the work is always fastidious and takes months to complete.  You will recall the scaffold a few months ago, which was a changing work of art unto itself.

Then it became this.

The work continued for months.

The finished work. 

The detail above.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Smooth Crimminal

I have worked with many cellists in my life and it great to see young players incorporate modern techniques from jazz, pop and rock styles.  These two are exceptional musicians and they have the whole "showmanship" thing down. 

Love the pop and slap at 2'50".

State of the State

Here is a story from McClatchy about the mess that the new governor inherited. 
When Gabino Cue took the reins last month as the governor of the poverty-stricken, conflict-prone southern state of Oaxaca, he expected a Pandora's box of ills to confront him.

After all, he'd toppled a candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials), an entrenched force that had ruled Oaxaca without interruption for 81 years and employed patronage, vote rigging and brute force to exert its power.
But even the savvy Cue found himself stunned at the condition of state government that he inherited after he took the oath of office Dec. 1.
"There were no computers," he recalled. "We found that the staff payroll didn't match who actually was working. ...The bank statements were out of balance. The state automotive fleet was in terrible shape."
On his way out the door, outgoing PRI Gov. Ulises Ruiz installed dozens of loyalists in state jobs with union protection even though they had no jobs to perform, Cue said. Ruiz also offered gifts to key allies, among them the head of the state electoral commission, for unexplained "services rendered."
Read the whole story.  It is an interesting read.  Has a familiar ring to it, doesn't it?  Not only were the "W's" missing off the keyboards, but the whole computer was missing. I know, I know, a little snarky.

The previous administration was probably one of the worst in Mexico's history and that is saying something.  It will be interesting to see if there is any accountability, unlike the US. Sometimes a country must look backwards, as well as forwards.

Incidentally, the author of the story, Tim Johnson, has an interesting blog called Mexico Unmasked, one of my daily reads.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The hits just keep comin'...cont.

From The Canadian Press
OAXACA, Mexico — Workers at world-famous archaeological sites in the Mexican state of Oaxaca are striking, shutting dozens of tourists out of pre-Colombian ruins, museums and former convents.
The strike affects 16 different locations, including Monte Alban and Mitla, which attract visitors almost year-round.
The unionized workers that called the 24-hour work-stoppage Thursday are employed by the National Institute for Anthropology and History.
They have called for the dismissal of an INAH manager who they accuse of changing rank-and-file jobs without the consent of the local union.
INAH spokesman Julio Castrejon said it was an internal union conflict. He said INAH "has nothing to do with it" but was helping to mediate.

I read the news today, oh boy

It was depressing.

So, a few weeks early, 'cause we all need it, the best singer in the world.....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I could write a book... follow up

A commenter wrote in that there was already a book on Oaxacan graffiti out there. There are probably several.   I know one, Protest Graffiti Mexico:Oaxaca.  I hung with the author, Louis Nevaer, when we were both doing book talks at Amate last year.  There has been a lot of street art since then so maybe a new book would be in order.

"What more do you want from me?"

I have years of photos and street art and graffiti are two of my passions.  Maybe there are equivalent graffiti scenes elsewhere, but I have not seen such power, creativity and output anywhere else.  I think Oaxaca just breathes and art appears.  Art in its many forms, is such a part of the fabric, the culture, the ethos, the traditions, it seems like it is everywhere, in everyone.  Well, that;s how I choose to see it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

East is east..... cont.

These two shots were taken from the roof just seconds apart last night.

"East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet."  Well, that's what they say anyway. 

In light of all the seemingly unresolvable problems and conflicts, which seem to suck us in and blind us, I offer these words from Korean master Songchol:
The world is based on the principle of relative dualities: good and evil, right and wrong, existence and non-existence, joy and anguish.  That's just the nature of conventional reality.  And as a result, this gives rise to contradictions and conflicts, which in turn result in misery.  If you wish to go beyond all of this and avoid conflicts, you have to rid yourself of all contradictions by transcending relative dualities.
Or as one of my favorite singers, Donnie, says, "You can go so far West, you'll wind up in the Western hemisphere." (Masterplan from his CD The Colored Section)

Una bendición - a blessing

Water is such a blessing.  We are in the dry season, not a drop since late September.... really it has been so long, who remembers.  However, San Sebastian Etla is at the base of the runoffs from the springs just above San Agustin Etla and water is plentiful.  There is a constant stream (pun intended) of 10,000 liter tank trucks on the roads from the many places right around me that sell water.  And remember that San Agustin  supplies about 20 percent of the water for the city of Oaxaca.  Roundabout way of saying it is green here while most other places are brown and very dry.  This is about 200 meters from my house.  That's San Agustin just out of sight, about four k.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The umpire calls it safe.

I was intrigued by the comments in response to my post about language schools in Oaxaca.  So I just want to say again, to reinforce, that Oaxaca is safe.  We go everywhere and never notice anything untoward.

Listen, the world is a crazy place.  There is crime and violence everywhere.  The media treats Mexico like it treats everything else.  They develop a conventional wisdom which is based on the echos in their own ego blinding bubble worlds.  Like they know something about the average person or the problems that "normal" people face.  C'mon, get real.  They blow everything out of proportion.

Sure there are problems here.... just like in Chicago or Prague or Cairo or Singapore or small towns around the world.  BUT Oaxaca is unique, just so beautiful and culturally rich, one would be crazy to miss it.  And it is as SAFE as any of those places.  I hope people will not drink the "kool-aid" that one of the commenters mentions and believe the hype.  It just ain't true.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It doesn't get any better than this.

I am always lucky finding parking places mainly because I love to walk the city.  What are a few extra blocks?  How lucky am I?  Eat your hearts out.  What a blessing it is to park on a street named after an iconic image, the Plumed Serpent.

As I walked, I popped into the courtyard abutting Carmen Alto, where they were preparing to celebrate the Christ of Esquipulas, with dancing and some of the best fireworks of the year.

I was early and caught these shots.

Hey, come back, niña!  You stole my heart!

I missed the fireworks.  I made the mistake of watching the NE Patriots get stomped by the NY Jets.
Do you like the large format for photos?


The hits just keep comin'.  Everything is connected and the ripples reach far and deep.  Oaxaca depends on tourists and for many years this was one of the prime destinations for people from all over the world to learn Spanish.  There are lots of schools and institutes that are used to a steady influx of students.  So it is another blow to learn that the number of participants in these programs is down 80 percent.
The National Mexican Association of Institutes of Spanish revealed that the number of foreigners who registered in Spanish schools in nine Mexican states, including Oaxaca, has deceased 8o percent because of fears concerning security.  A warning from the US Department of State recommends that Americans do not travel to Mexico.

Harriet Goff Guerrero, president of the Mexican Association of Institutes of Spanish, said that the concern about insecurity and violence is affecting the segment of language school tourism, sometimes called idiomatic tourism .

" It is a fact that a university of the United States cannot tell students to go to a country where there is warning."

Idiomatic tourism generates important benefits for local economies since students have stays that go of two weeks to six months, generating a weekly economic special tax of 700 dollars.

We were talking this morning that given the news that comes out of Mexico, this is understandable.  However, I live here.  THIS PLACE IS SAFE!  So come and learn Spanish and bask in the warm sunshine.  Cause some ripples with those euro/dollars.  You have no idea how far into the economy they will sink and you will get back tenfold in experiences and happiness.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I could write a book...

And maybe I should... I have so many graffiti and street art shots.  And each day it changes or disappears.  One has to be fast and lucky.

Don't you dare park you thingamajig here.

What a trip! - ¡Un que viaje!

What an interesting video.  Not that I know anything about these things.

"If you can't see it, I can't tell you.  I feel sorry for you."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

T(h)ree Meters

As always, great street art.

A little context... cerveza, amigo?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's a dog's life

I have written about the lives of dogs here in Oaxaca several times.  They lead very different ones from those of their brothers and sisters to the north.  It is often a very hard life.

And I am a dog person so I am overly empathetic/sensitive to their plights and delights.  I see this one most every week when I go to Etla.  He is one sorry pup, a skinny street dog with a profound limp.  I buy him lunch whenever I see him and we carry on normal human/canine conversations.

Today, he was sleeping the sleep that only dogs can sleep.  He was dead to the world.  In fact, he was so still, I actually checked to see if he was breathing.  He was.  He was just out cold, dreaming dog dreams.

However, he smelled me coming a mile away upon my return from the market and he perked right up.  A nice fat tamale with pollo y rajas just hit the spot.

And that's the double truth, Ruth!!

When I used to teach, I used music/art/film/video as a point of departure to stimulate thought and discussion.  Spike Lee's films always did the job. 

I really only wanted the last ten seconds of this clip, but this will work.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sex or Internet?

I have been having all sorts of problems with my internet connection.  My phone has been out for a few days and my backup modem refuses to work with any reliability.  It made me think about a poll I read about recently which asked, "Which could you go without for two weeks?  Sex or the internet?"

I may have stumbled upon the answer.....

Hey, at least I may get a few extras hits just because of this post's title.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Just my opinion

Over midday meal, we were continuing our never-ending conversation about the state of the world. Someone said that when he moved to Mexico many years ago, he expected that Mexico would gradually become more like the US.  He went on to say that it appeared to be going the other way.

There are now regular articles about the growing poverty in Third World America.  The divisions between the haves and have-nots is growing.  The political scene is a hideous caricature.  Between the corporatocacy, the banksters, the Villagers and an obviously corrupt system, El Norte is in trouble.  Of course, that's just my opinion.

They say that living outside the country makes one more critical and alarmist, but I would argue that it also affords us a somewhat more objective perspective.

Here in Oaxaca, we live with poverty.  We live in close proximity to death and suffering.  In Mexico, the cartels are violent and powerful.  So are the army and the police. 

There are political killings every week.  I can think of several here in Oaxaca in recent weeks and months.  No one ever seems to be caught or prosecuted.  Municipalities declare autonomy out of frustration.  The back and forth continues, the conflicts are unrelenting.  And it is no different here.  It all depends on which side you are on, what your perspective is, what your bias is.  The divisions are firmly entrenched..... sigh.

As for the shootings in Arizona, one could see this coming a mile away.  I mean, c'mon, the rhetoric is a plain as the nose on your face.  Campesinos in Oaxaca can feel that Arizonian hatred all the way down here.  It is a topic of discussion here, as it is throughout Mexico.  Hatred breeds violence.

And seriously folks.... right vs left, the false-equivalency meme is simply absurd.  Only one side was bringing guns to rallies.  Only one side had "hunting licenses" printed up.  Only one side has fomented violence on radio and TV.  However, the media, which is the supplier and beneficiary of this endless stream of bullshit and negativity must keep the meme going.  "Everyone is doing it."  Absolutely absurd.   Imagine the reaction if PETA or Latinos showed up packing heat. There is no accountability, no awareness, no compassion, just blindness and the need to CYA. 

So brace yourselves for more violence, more calls for secession, more inequities.  One of my favorite lines from "Apocalypse Now" - "You needed wings to stay above the bullshit."

Here in Oaxaca, we live with poverty, corruption, violence and frustration and have learned to adapt.  But people are not blind or stupid.  They see everything.  They are strong, resolute and pragmatic.  But they do get off their asses and protest and march.  Maybe the US can follow their examples.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ladies Who (make me) Lunch: Update

I went back to Etla to get a shot of Doña Vicki, who makes such wonderful cheese.  When I got to my tortilla lady, I discovered that she had morphed into my (other) tortilla lady!  I always kinda follow the same path from vendor to vendor and could almost do it with my eyes closed.  I end by buying vegetables and turn, go down two steps and there on my right, is the tortilla lady, always in the exact spot.   You can see the steps and the spot in the shot.

I always say something, some wisecrack or comment, but today, I realized I have been buying tortillas from two different women, but only one is there at a time and they looked enough alike, so that I remained myself, you know, oblivious.  I would think, "Wow, she looks much different today," but c'mon... duh.  It never clicked in my pea-sized brain... until just that moment.

They look like they could be sisters.  I will have to ask.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Día de Reyes

It is Three Kings Day! The church in nearby Tres Reyes.

Any day with cake is a good day.  The traditional “Rosca de Reyes.

A little from Wikipedia
Mexico and Guatemala share Epiphany customs with rest of Latin America and Spain including gifts for children from the Wise men, and "Rosca de Reyes" or Three Kings Cake. (See below: Spain, etc.) In Mexico and Guatemala however, the person who finds the doll in their piece of rosca must throw a party on February 2, "Candelaria Day," offering tamales and atole (a hot sweet drink thickened with corn flour) to the guests. In Mexico it is traditional for children to leave their shoes, along with a letter with toy requests for the Three Kings, by the family nativity scene or by their beds. In some parts of northern Mexico the shoes and letters are left under the Christmas tree. The shoes may be filled with hay for the camels, so that the Kings will be generous with their gifts.
A toy giveaway in the zocalo.
I have no idea how it works... maybe a mad stampede.

No, I am sure the little oaxaqueños will be very good.  As a former teacher, I can tell you that they really are very well behaved... almost always.

Alerta!  King sighting.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Ladies Who (make me) Lunch

Some days I can't believe my life.  It is all too fine.  Today was one of those days.  The market in nearby Etla had a magical quality.  The fruits and vegetables looked radiant.

Tomatillos, anyone?

Everyone seemed as if they were in a pretty good moods..... or maybe it was just me.

I shop at this market several times a week, but Wednesday is the official market and the place is always hoppin'.   You can most anything you need and the prices are very reasonable. 

By this time, there are people who recognize me just 'cause I stick out like a sore thumb.  Not too many gringos around here.  I just love going there.  It is often other-worldly for me and at the same time, it is also normal.  I mean, this is my market.

And these are the ladies I buy from all the time.  I am very loyal to them and they treat me right, always joking with me and the other ladies around them, lots of cracks about "mis novias," my girlfriends.  Each one of them knows what I like and what I buy each week.  And their food is always the best.
My friend with her delicious tortillas.
A saint watches over La Doña del fruitas y verdugas.  I see her maybe three or four times a week.

Doña Melisa with her tasty tamales.  She and I go back a few years and she will simply not smile for a photo, but really she is a sweetie.  "Chris, take the picture, already."

She and her family make hundreds each week and each and every one is to die for.
This is my latest "novia."  Her chile rellenos (pollo en pasilla) are so good, it makes my mouth water just to think of them.  As soon as she sees me, she bags a couple up.
 I need to get a shot of Doña Vicki, who makes some of the best cheese in the village, a village which is famous for its cheese.  Next time....
You can see why shopping here is so much fun.  I always feel good while I'm there and on my way home.  The feeling lasts for days as the food slowly gets eaten.  Then it time to do all over again.  Only eight minutes from my house.  Envious?