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, February 28, 2011

Kurt Elling

As I prepare to head south, I just want to say that it has not been all work and no play.  Boston has some fine clubs, Scullers being just one of them.  I was lucky to catch Kurt Elling, jazz vocalist extraordinaire on the weekend.  He appeared with Laurence Hobgood (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass), Ulysses Owens (drums) and John McLean (guitar).  All were exceptional, with Owens a real standout.

Kurt sang this one, the highlight of the night.
Here's a video of the same band (sans guitar) with Ernie Watts on tenor, who playing a pretty friggin' amazing solo.

Spring break? Not here

The numbers are way down for Spring Break visitors to Mexico's beaches.  One can understand why, however, the the beaches in Oaxaca remain safe and they are some of the best in the country.

from the Latin American Herald Tribune: (emphasis mine)
The Mexican Pacific resort city of Acapulco, which has been affected by a wave of drug-related violence, will likely be avoided this year by spring breakers from the United States and Canada, a Guerrero state tourism official said.

The thousands of students from the north who usually travel to Acapulco for spring break will not come to Guerrero’s beaches this year, Tourism Development Secretary Ernesto Rodriguez Escalona said.

“The spring breakers segment fell for many reasons,” including crime, Rodriguez Escalona said during a press conference held on Wednesday to announce an international diving competition in Acapulco.

Spring breakers have stopped visiting other beach cities in Mexico, including Puerto Vallarta, a resort in Jalisco state that has seen their numbers drop from 20,000 to just 800, Rodriguez Escalona said.

“We lost the spring break season completely in Acapulco, but also in (Puerto) Vallarta and Cancun,” a Caribbean resort city, over the perception that Mexico is dangerous, Rodriguez Escalona said.....

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Las elecciones tienen consecuencias

Yes, elections have consequences.  I was there the day of the election in 2004. Ulises was behind when the power went out.  I went to bed and when I awoke, un milagro, he had won.

What happened in his tenure was an unmitigated disaster on so many fronts.  Now this story from, the headline of which is "A beastly sacking,"  meaning he ripped the place off like you would not believe.

I can't translate the whole thing, but the first couple of lines read, "Deflections of public resources, white elephants, money to multi-millionaires, fraud, collections and contracts to relatives, all are parts of " the legacy"of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.  In 99% of the governmental offices there is evidence of sacking and corruption."

It goes on to describe the pinnacle of his thievery, a phantom hospital which appears to only exist in photos and "built" for only 35 million.

Oaxaca will recover from URO, but it will take many years.  The damage is done.

So as we look at the current state of US politics and behold all the damage being done to the social fabric here, we ain't seen anything yet.  Give it a few more years.

Party on Garth... maybe that should read Party on Galt.

Nailed it....

Absolutely perfect from Doonesbury

Remember when Tim Russert died and we had a week of apotheosis? No better example of the fact that they think they are The Story.  Meanwhile the real news goes ignored.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Something else to ponder

Hmmmmm..... whaddya think?..... which color should I go with?

I love how they have laid this all out.  How it would look on the gray or on white, the various tones and shades made by different combinations.

Something to ponder

From the NYT

While the country’s recessionary job losses skewed to middle- and higher-paying jobs, its job gains since then have skewed to lower-paying jobs.

That is the conclusion of an unsettling  report from the  National Employment Law Project.
America’s private payrolls shrank from January 2008 through February 2010, losing 8.84 million jobs on net. They have been growing every month since that nadir, adding 1.26 million jobs on net. (Public payrolls are another story — they’ve been falling over the last year.)

All this means, of course, that the private sector job market still has a long way to go before it returns to its previous peak. Worse, those jobs that have been created in the last year typically pay less than the jobs they’re replaced.

According to NELP:
  • Lower-wage industries (those paying $9.03 -$12.91 per hour) accounted for just 23 percent of job losses, but fully 49 percent of recent growth.
  • Midwage industries ($12.92 -$19.04 per hour) accounted for 36 percent of job losses, and 37 percent of recent growth.
  • Higher-wage industries ($19.05 -$31.40 per hour) accounted for 40 percent of job loss, but only 14 percent of recent growth.
What's interesting is that these read as pretty bleak numbers.  However, those "lower-wage" jobs at ten bucks an hour?  Compare that to $.45 US an hour.  That's more than twenty times the minimum daily wage in Oaxaca.  Most people make less than $20 US a day.  Stuff cost the same, too. Coke or Pepsi?

People have to work ten to twenty hours more to make what someone here makes in one.

Think about that.....

The price of food and fuel is going up here, both in the US and Mexico, as it is elsewhere.  World food prices are making life almost impossible for many.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Question of the day

It is 36 degrees (F) and pouring rain here.  I guess that is better than snow or ice, but still....

It is fascinating to be in the US right now, because there is a sense of surreality to the place.  The anti-union, anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-other, anti-science, anti-you-name-it is awesome in its scale and depth.  The comment section of The Boston Globe is filled with such vitriol and hatred, it takes the breath away and this is liberal MA we are talkin' about. Hate is winnin' out, but wait...
Name an institution that is working.  The church, big business, Wall Street, manufacturing, the media, government including education, social services, infrastructure, name it and claim it.  Watching the three M's, the Mideast, Mexico and the Midwest, one can connect the dots if one chooses to.  It don't look good.  What can ya do?  I guess I will go to the protest in front of the statehouse mañana.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do you mean "blank slate" or "blank stare?"

If one looks up various definitions of "tabula rasa," one of which is, "the epistemological theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception." or "A need or an opportunity to start from the beginning."
Well, you would completely understand where my head is.  All the ice and snow has cleansed my soul, just plain ole froze all the bad parts out.  Not exactly like, but kinda like the paint jobs on the walls of some of my favorite graffiti spots, getting scraped down, primed and painted.

Even a little decorative framing around it.  Just waiting for that first poster or tag or stencil.

That's me, a blank slate, ready to start fillin' in the spaces.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In the meantime, in between time

Still hanging in the frozen north, counting the days until my return.  It is interesting to jump between realities.  In terms of time spent, I am in Oaxaca 90 percent of the time and somewhere else for the remainder.  As I have said before, I now feel like an alien in both worlds. In Oaxaca it is too painfully obvious, but here.... I guess it is all in my mind.  Not altogether a bad thing.

It all does make me think.  I have been using a form of the same tool in both places.  In San Sebastian Etla, I use the bareta to dig holes in the cement like earth to plant trees.  Here, I use almost the same tool to chip away slabs of ice.  The whole thing in a nutshell.

The day I left Oaxaca, the 15th, there were political protests.  Now that I am back in the belly of the beast, I see that things are astir in many places, the US, Mid East.  Having fast internet and cable sure makes a difference.  Not so much in terms of quality, but quantity does make a big difference when one has to sift through piles of daily bullshit to glean nuggets of the truth. 

I now realize that even though I was following the events in Egypt and the Middle East on the internet, there is nothing like seeing it as it it happening.  Clearly, Facebook and Twitter are being used to mobilize people, so maybe there is hope after all.  Start the revolution without me.  I have to dust off my black leathers and get the bike out of the shop, but I'll catch up. 

I may be slow and behind the times, but still I am ahead in so many ways considering that only a small percentage of the world is online and obviously that is how the whole thing is going to go down.  The old folks are and will remain clueless.  That's the way it often goes.

Oaxaqueños are and have always been politically active, taking to the streets.  Now, it is Wisconsin and Ohio.  Folks in El Norte are gettin' riled up.  What's next?

The Revolution will not be televised.... it will be twittered..... and I don't twitter. I don't even have a damn cell phone.  As my father-in-law used to say, "I used to be a Greek God, but now I'm just a Greek".... to which we used to add.... "I used to be a geek and now I'm a Geek God."
Hence, photos of anatomically more complete mannequins.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

As I mentioned earlier, the day I left, Presidente Calderon arrived in Oaxaca and there were demonstrations and some violence in the streets.

from the Latin American Herald Tribune
"More than 1 million primary students were left idle when teachers in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca walked out to protest authorities’ violent suppression of a demonstration earlier this week.

A score of people, including three journalists, were injured Tuesday as federal riot police forcibly prevented protesting teachers from entering the main square in Oaxaca city, the state capital, during a speech by Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

The teachers fought back, holding three cops captive for a few hours and punching municipal police chief Marco Tulio Lopez.

On Wednesday, teachers in Oaxaca city led a march from the state education department to the main square, while their colleagues in other parts of the impoverished state blocked roads with protests...."
As always, there are many issues involved and I cannot comment on any of it.  "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool..... "

However, I do have images from Shannon Sheppard, a fellow blogger (View from Casita Calibri) 

And this remarkable note from Henry Wangeman of Amate Books.
"Yesterday was interesting, very 2006. There were hundreds, perhaps a thousand, of heavily equipped riot police. The President had lunch in the botanical garden and protesters from the zocolo tried to get near. Most businesses on Alcala held there customers hostage behind large closed doors for at least an hour. The riot police outside shouted, "Keep you doors closed. Do not come out yet." The protesters were no match for such a professional and overwhelming police force. They seemed to dissipate into lonely

At five I went to the Mezcalteco with Jon. It is right in front of the drive-in gate at the botanical garden. We had to lie and say our hotel was right there to get through the police barricades. So we are all alone in the tasting room putting it to good use. Outside, there is a flurry of rushing activity across the street. I walked to the window and there is the President getting into the front passenger seat of the first large black SUV. The car pulls out slowly. The few people around are scuttling to their positions and respective cars. Making the turn onto Reforma the president is right in front of me, 7ft away, with only a glass window pane separating us. He looks at me and I lift my small jicara of magic brew in the air as if to bless him. He breaks into a wide generous smile and raises his open hand. I breathe, barely audible, "Don't mess things up".  He continues to smile and speeds off. So you know he cannot be all bad. The way he broke into a spontaneous smile means he loves mezcal too.
Or more sadly, perhaps he already knows, that like theology, Mezcal is the last comforting refuge of chaos."

Thanks to Shannon and Henry.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Juxtapostion- from this to that

Here where I was last weekend,...

and here's where I am today.
A quick trip to Beantown.  On my way out of Oaxaca, we were stopped and searched by plainsclothes police at the airport.  It turned out that Presidente Calderon was due in shorty after I left.  It did not all go well.  More about that later.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

U.S. the Only Winner in Mexico Drug War, Zapatista Leader Says

Interesting story for the Latin American Herald Tribune.

The United States will be the only winner in the Mexican government’s war on drugs, according to Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN.

President Felipe Calderon’s militarized struggle against organized crime will leave Mexico a “destroyed, depopulated, irreparably broken nation,” Marcos said in an essay, “On Wars,” he sent to philosopher Luis Villoro.

Though it still calls itself an army, the EZLN has not engaged in military operations since its initial January 1994 uprising in the southern state of Chiapas.

“Thanks to the sponsorship of Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, we need not resort to the geography of the Middle East to critically reflect on war. It is no longer necessary to turn back the calendar to Vietnam, Playa Giron (the Bay of Pigs)...,” the essay says.

Calderon’s war on crime was doomed from the start, according to Marcos, because it was “conceived, not as a solution to a problem of security, but to a problem of legitimacy, and it is destroying the last redoubt left to a nation: the social fabric.”

The “problem of legitimacy” refers to the circumstances of Calderon’s accession to the presidency, which followed months of protests after he narrowly won a July 2006 election marred by allegations of fraud.

The United States, as the “principal provider” of weapons to both the Mexican security forces and the cartels, is the only winner in the drug war, Marcos said.

Even as Washington supplies the Mexican military and police, the cartels acquire many of their weapons – notably assault rifles – from gun shops in U.S. border states.

“What better war for the United States than one that gives it profits, territory and political and military control without the inconvenient ‘body bags’ and war-wounded that came to it, earlier, from Vietnam, and now from Iraq and Afghanistan?,” Marcos asks.

The government says Mexico registered 15,273 gangland killings in 2010, a 58 percent increase over the previous year, and estimates the number of drug-war deaths since Calderon took office in December 2006 at more than 34,000.

Last month, Marcos broke a silence of two years to mourn the death of the bishop emeritus of San Cristobal de las Casas, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, a defender of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and one-time mediator between the Mexican government and the EZLN.

The subcomandante, a former professor, said the “On War” essay is the first of four he plans to send to Villoro, author of “The Challenges of the Society to Come.”

Mexico “needs a radical transformation and the only ones conscious of that are the Zapatistas,” Villoro said recently.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This is weird

This just popped up when I tried to read one of the local newspapers online.  Just like in the States, certain papers are aligned with certain political parties and this is the PRI aligned paper.  On previous days, it was unavailable saying there was too much traffic, which I had never experienced before. Kinda makes you go hmmmmm.....

Thursday, February 10, 2011


There are more posts to go up about the wedding, but one has to try and stay current.  Today, I ran the photos out to Enrique and Fermina.  There were close to 250 of them and three large prints of some of the nicest ones, ones of the entire family and some closeups just after they left the church.
You will notice a change.  Sure there's a baby, but I'm talkin' about Enrique's mustachio

As for children, they have two.  As far as I understand it, because weddings are such big events and require so much time and expense, they may be years in the making.  So it is not unusual to have children before the actual wedding date.

Getting to Teotitlan del Valle was tough today.  I was about 8k from the turnoff, when traffic crawled to a stop.  I immediately thought accident, because there are quite a few on this road.  However, it turned out to be something entirely different.  The road was packed with people and taxis.  A blockade?  No, but I had no idea what was happening.  Eventually, I made it by, driving in Mexico makes one very patient, and when I got to the road for Teotitlan, I found lots more people waiting by the side of the road and this altar.

Then I remembered.  At the end of the wedding, the padre, who did a wonderful job, mentioned all the accidents on the main road and that there were going to be blessings and ceremonies all along the road all the way to Tacolula.   Lucky me.  Today was the day.

Henry Wangeman of Amate Books commented that in the States the priest would have admonished the flock to drive more slowly and carefully, but here, they blessed the road.  After sharing the photos with the family, I drove back safely on a newly blessed road.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

La Boda cont..... Gifts for the Wedding

Almost every aspect of the wedding was different in terms of what I was used to, so there is plenty that I don't understand.  Some traditions are complex with lots of connecting threads which one probably has to be a Zapotec to completely grasp.  One is those is the concept of the guelaguetza, which in the traditional sense, relates to different ways of paying off social debts. The word means reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services.

When a couple gets married, they receive everything they need to pursue a happy and productive life, land, house, car, furniture, appliances, food, services, everything.  In turn, they also incur debt as they are obligated to return the favors when others get married.  The parents of the bride, who have been married for over thirty years are still collecting on promises of food and services, promised at their wedding.  It is a system based on shared wealth, debt and labor.

At any rate, Enrique and Fermina received a roomful of gifts and the bride's family is responsible for all of them.

The groom's family provides other things, but all the gifts come from the bride's side.
The day before the wedding, at two in the afternoon, led by a band,

the couple arrives at the bride's house after parading through the village.

They are accompanied by a contingent of men from the groom's family, who arrive in trucks.  As in every part of the multi-day event, there is a formal presentation and blessing.

Here, Enrique's father, makes a presentation after which, the couple receives a blessing from everyone individually.

The gifts are loaded onto the trucks and taken to the groom's house.
The couple is, once again, led by the band through the village back to Enrique's house.

The gifts are assembled in front of the compound and there are more speeches and blessings.

The couple receives multiple blessings and congratulations from each and every person, men and women forming separate lines.

Mezcal and beer are essential and important part of these blessings.

A key element in the gifts is the baúl, which is a small chest or armoire.  That's it, the carved piece in the center.

Perhaps the idea of a dowry or bridal trousseau might fit in.  It is filled with bread, pan de yema, and chocolate to be distributed the day after the wedding to insure good luck and blessings.  I could be wrong on all of this, but that's the impression I got.

The baúl was heavy!  They struggled to get it on the truck.  After, the formal reception of the gifts, a miniature baúl was tied to little Antonino's back.

He is one of the bride's nephews.  He carried water and the herb we were constantly receiving, te de poleo, and then proceeded to dance with another of his aunts, I think,

 Here's a video, a sweet moment.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

That didn't take long

Once again the powers that be are painting lots of walls throughout the city, covering up graffiti and scraping off posters.  It is sysiphusian, but go crazy.... it's blank slate time.

No sooner was the wall painted, but posters appeared.

We're turning Japanese?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The art of making tortillas

It seemed as if everywhere I looked as the wedding preparations proceeded, there were women making tortillas.  There must have been thirty working at it Saturday morning, the day before the wedding.

These are large hand made tortillas and creating each is a labor of love and an art.  If you have ever tried to make one, you know what I am saying.  I asked all the men if they could do the simplest part, just transferring the tortilla from the press to the comal without messing it up and they all said no.  I have tried it many times and can never believe how effortless and easy the women made it look.

On Thursday, the great aunts of the bride were sorting the corn, which had been grown in a field adjacent to the house.

Certain kernels for tortillas, others for atole and still others for other uses.

Here ia the comal before starting.  It will get coated with a lime paste to prevent sticking.

Note the clay sides upon which the comal will sit.
After sorting, the nixtamal, which is the dried corn kernels that have been cooked with a little lime to allow the skin to be removed, is ground into masa.  Using a stone matate is a real workout.

After the masa is the right consistency, with each forward thrust, a tiny amount is pushed over the edge, which is collected in large mounds.
Here's mother of the the bride, Emilia going through the process necessary to make one tortilla.
Her setup.

First she grinds the masa again.

Then a small amount is patted between the hands to form a patty,

which in turn goes on the press.  Each is rotated and pressed a few times between the plastic sheets on the press.

Then it is peeled off the plastic, no mean feat, and deftly put on the comal.

Not only can the women make this look easy, but they can fix any flaws with a mere pinch of the fingers.

The tortilla is flipped and then removed and placed vertically up against the comal to toast to a crispy brown.

I would bet there were close to a thousand tortillas made.  Each one a work of art.