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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Planton - update

I believe today was relatively quiet as the teachers discussed whether or not they would accept the latest offers from the government.  They had planned another shutdown of roads and businesses, but held off while negotiations proceeded.  However, the anti-teacher movement has a petition demanding remuneration from Section XXII to the tune of 50 million pesos each day. Uh, that's 3,475,000 US per diem. 

And yesterday, the concrete union blockaded Cinco Senores intersection and threw some molotov cocktails.  The union president was arrested and others detained.  Negotiations are underway.  I believe it is about non-union workers, salaries and benefits.

So I guess I would say things are tense, but stable.  Someone will have to come up with a solution soon because the status quo will not hold for too much longer.  The hotels are taking a hit as well as many other businesses.  It is not hard to imagine how angry and resentful folks could get.

Who knows what lurks right around the corner?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ah.... Etla

It is that time of year.  I go from fruit to fruit.  "Mmm.... this is the best mango I have ever had.  "Mmmmm..... this is the best melon I have ever had."  "Mmmmm..... this is the best pineapple I have ever had."  It just keeps going.

I went early to the market in nearby Etla.  I still maintain that it is one of the very best markets and not just because of the cheese for which it is so famous.  I am blessed to live so close and to have vendors there who I can now call friends.

However, the truth of the matter is, look at this stuff from this morning!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Success.... well, not really. More like half of success.  Sucks.  Forgive my cynicism and feeling a little down, but this whole planton thing.... well, it sucks.

I keep going in to check out the action, but really how many shots of tents and tarps can one take?  All the streets surrounding the zocalo are filled with teachers camping out and vendors selling everything from food to clothes, dvd's, trinkets, hammocks, miracle cures, you name it.  There are ropes and strings holding up the tarps and tents and of course, everything is at neck or lower level.  At one point in the zocalo I could not get through the cat's cradle of ropes, so I just retreated.
Yesterday it was marches and there was a counter demonstration and march against the teachers and their marches.  Yes, it is getting ugly and as I said yesterday, it smells bad, too.  However, there has been some progress.
Today, it was shut down the important offices, banks and shopping centers.  We are talkin' the vital services for the city like the major Coke and Pepsi distributors.

So it is hard to do business.  Hey, it is hard to even get to the business to do business.  You can't get there from here.  It is not helping the tourists cafes, that's for sure.
Of course, it could be worse.  You might need to carry bricks by hand through the maze because the truck has to park ten blocks away.  Fourteen bricks!!! 
Unbelievable how strong and steady these workers are.  I bet I would have a hard time with six bricks and I know these bricks.  I have used them a lot.  Fourteen??  For ten blocks??  Dodging ropes???  Now that is success.  Insane, but success.
Nice Orange County Choppers shirt.

Monday, May 28, 2012

El planton continues

El planton, the annual sit-in by the state's teachers will continue for another week.  Last week I wrote about the "smell of fear" in the air.  Well, yesterday, when I ventured into the zocalo to check things out, there was a smell in the air and it wasn't fear.  Whatever it was, it was bad, like garbage, piss and poop.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, living in the zocalo.  There surrounding streets are all filled with tents and vendors.  Thirty percent of the people there are just folks taking advantage of the situation and selling all sorts of stuff from food to crafts to pirated dvd's.
As I have said before, I do not understand all the issues here.  For one, the teachers want the competency testing done away with and the government's continued assurance of support, meaning money.

This is an annual event for the teachers.  There are those who do it every year and have for years.  However, there are many maestros that do not participate.  They do not attend the meetings or marches.  Whether or not they support the actions of their union, Section XXII, is a point for speculation.

While walking the streets, I had the thought that it was kinda like Burning Man for Oaxacan teachers... without the painted faces and craziness... something to do each year, a time to hang with friends and colleagues and just chill.  Just a thought.....
At any rate, the teachers are marching again this morning from the five points around the city, so I am sure traffic is chaotic.  Then, they are going to shut down the banks, shopping centers and government offices at some point this week.  It should be fun. 

I wish I could understand better their demands, because I just don't get the whole thing.  The only thing they seem to be successful in doing is pissing off everyone.  That and causing chaos and costing the city, state and individual businesses millions of pesos.

Meanwhile, the kids are not in school.  They continue to be hurt by the actions of those intrusted with their education.

What a world

I often wonder that by living in Oaxaca, if I am blind or oblivious to certain things, certain attitudes.  I mean, this is life, normal.  I am used to the people's faces here, to the lay of the land, to the fresh produce, the mountain air, to poverty, to marches, strikes and protests, all of it.  As I say, it's normal life.  However, I know that the indigenous are still thought as second or third class citizens in their own country, much like their counterparts in many parts of the world.  Man, I just don't get it and I never will.
 From the LA Times - read the whole story.
Rolando Zaragoza, 21, was 15 years old when he came to the United States, enrolled in an Oxnard school and first heard the term "Oaxaquita." Little Oaxacan, it means — and it was not used kindly.

"Sometimes I didn't want to go to school," he said. "Sometimes I stayed to fight."

"It kind of seemed that being from Oaxaca was something bad," said Israel Vasquez, 23, who shared the same mocking, "just the way people use 'Oaxaquita' to refer to anyone who is short and has dark skin."

Years later, indigenous leaders are fighting back against an epithet that lingers among immigrants from Mexico, directed at their own compatriots. Earlier this month the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project in Oxnard launched the "No me llames Oaxaquita" campaign. "Don't call me little Oaxacan" aims to persuade local school districts to prohibit the words "Oaxaquita" and "indito" (little Indian) from being used on school property, to form committees to combat bullying and to encourage lessons about indigenous Mexican culture and history.
 Seriously, WTF?  Hate is doing a number on the world.  Read the LA comments....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Snacking healthy

Doh.... it just occurred to me that most of the snacks you can buy on the street are healthy and mostly it is fruit.  You can find someone selling some on every block and people scarf it right up.
Grab a shopping cart, fill it with fruit.  Instant business.
Of course, you can always get chili on whatever fruit you buy.  That is the standard way to have it.  Yes, I know his T-shirt says "Mexico is a country of tacos"  but that could mean many things.
You can get nuts and candy, but most of what is for sale is fruit. 
 Oh, fresh juices
and ices, too.  How about that??? 
"Get your motor runnin'!"

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The ladies who lunch

I managed to catch some of the hard-working ladies taking a break and grabbing a quick bite.

This woman works at the little food stall that is always packed right next to Carmen Alta.
Popcorn.  I can almost feel it in my mouth.
A working lunch in front of the cathedral.
On the planton, the sit-in, front, it continues.  Trash is becoming a major problem.  It did not help that it poured last night.  Kinda a drag.

Friday, May 25, 2012

All the latest news... well, some of it.

There is lots happening.
The baseball game in the city was rained out and we did not get a drop here.

The planton, the teachers sit-in, continues.  Yesterday, they blockaded banks and commercial shopping centers and one of the local newspapers.  They also generated thirty tons of trash in the first three days.  I don't have a dog in this hunt, I was a teacher for Pete's sake, but these protests don't seem to be doing much of anything except upsetting people and costing money with businesses not operating and city services being stretched to the limit.
There is more going on that I will ever know.  It is all about money, power and corruption, because it sure as hell is not about teaching children and improving a woeful educational system.  The one thing I always kept in mind when I was teaching was that this was the future work force in front of me and if things needed to continue to improve they needed a good solid education.

Uh, guys, those kids that you are not teaching are Oaxaca's future.  They are being done a great disservice, but what do I know?

The big story of the day was the arrest of someone for the murder of journalist Brad Will in 2006. Well, color me skeptical. For one, Will was videotaping those shooting at him when he was hit.  There are so many threads to this story and maybe I have watched too many movies, but I remain unconvinced that this is closure.  It has been six years.  For the article to say that the newly arrested person has no political ties just does not ring true.  Everyone has political ties here.  Not to be repetitive, but it all about money, power and corruption.  Hmmm.... that sounds like it could apply to most anywhere.  Nothing can change the fact that Ulises and 2006 changed Oaxaca for the worse.  The lost lives, the millions of dollars lost, the hundreds of thousands of lives affected, it will take years to outlive the damage.  Oaxaca seems to be recovering, but there are aftershocks and we seem to be in the throes of some.

Well, maybe people are waking up.  It seems the students are not buying into the networks handling of the upcoming presidential election.  It is only five weeks away.  There is talk of a "Mexican Spring."

From McClatchy's Tim Johnson
A spontaneous student movement is bringing attention to allegations that Mexico’s media conglomerates offer biased and superficial election coverage, drawing a whiff of “Mexican spring” to a lackluster presidential campaign.
The movement has gathered steam through Twitter and Facebook, leading to student marches in the capital and half a dozen other cities across Mexico.
“Down with Televisa!” and “This is not a soap opera,” a throng of students chanted Wednesday night as they marched along Mexico City’s central boulevard.

Read more here:
On the bright side looks at these.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I am sure variations of this poster exist in most countries.  Elect this pig so we can continue to screw you or sumpin' like that.

It is interesting watching the politics here and in El Norte, the whole world for that matter.  I try to imagine what it would be like in Boston or LA if a union took over and essentially closed down the center of commerce.  Seeing as though the US dresses police in full military riot garb, heavily armed, even for grandmothers protesting, I don't think it would go too well.  The fact that the police in the States have adopted this as standard operating procedure is scary.

Maybe they learned it from their Mexican counterparts, although in truth, we all know that the US does everything bigger, better and scarier.  They make the police here look less scary, even though they are carrying big guns and are pretty frightening.  The police here don't have that attitude that the cops in El Norte have.  I mean, you can talk to these guys... some of them.

At any rate, things are happening here.  The teacher's sit-in continues.  People are not happy about it.

I think this Facebook post from the amazing woodcarver from Arrazola, Claudio Ojeda Morales, says it all.
Ulises ruin, los maestros, la appo, en el 2006 trajeron delincuentes de todos los rincones del estado,y de la república,les gusto Oaxaca y se quedaron,y ahora siguen desgraciando a oax, el zócalo es un nido de víboras, pobres turistas, pobre pueblo, pobre ciudad.

Ulises ruined everything, (with) the teachers, APPO, in 2006 they brought in delinquents from all the corners of the state and the country. They had a taste of Oaxaca and they liked it and left.  Now, they are back continue disgracing Oaxaca.  The zocalo is a nest of vipers.  Poor tourists, poor town, poor city.
They have not forgotten Ulises, the previous governor.  Many want him in jail or worse.  Yeah, they don't forget here, unlike in El Norte, which if I read the news correctly, it seems as if the Bush years never happened.  No one remembers anything.  They all get to write books and cash in.  Uh, I am not naive enough to realize that that kind of also stuff goes on here, only here it is an art  form.  Maybe the politicians, just like the police are learning from their Mexican counterparts.

Monday, May 21, 2012

They're baaack...

Here we go again.  The teachers have taken over the zocalo and the surrounding streets in their annual protest.  At least, I am learning how to deal with the chaos that these protests cause.  I waited until the massive march, or make that, the five massive marches, well coordinated, all starting from different points surrounding the city and then converging in the center, were over.  They started at 9 AM and I drove in at noon to check things out.

This is Alcala, the pedestrian walkway a couple of days ago.

And today.  No one and I mean, no one, ever parks their cars there.

This is the same location as the police shots in the previous post.  Nary a cop in sight today.

They are here for eight days or longer depending on various factors.  The northwest corner of the zocalo.  Casa de mi Abuela restaurant in the background.

The north entrance to the cathedral.
More tomorrow.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The smell of fear"

That is the headline to this story from Noticias, one of Oaxaca's leading newspapers.  You will have to translate it yourself, but you know how to do that.  Most times, I accentuate the positive, but in all things, all places, there is another side.  This article has some dismaying facts and figures.  If one chose to, one could/should take pause... and ponder....where will it go from here?

I am a guest here, an alien.  There is much I don't know and much I don't understand.  I do try to stay abreast with what is happening.  I ain't seeing nuttin'.  I keep going into the city, but aside from some small protests, I have not seen the massive marches or sit-ins that were so prominent and disruptive last year.  I read that they may kick in tomorrow.  We will just have to wait and see.

But for now, things are quiet.  Understand that there is always a police presence here, so seeing these guys lined up is not that much of a rarity.  I asked them, "What's up" and they answered that they were there to protect the tourists.  I said, "From what?"

Really nothing out of the ordinary as you can see.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Mayan Year begins... or repeats

This is a very interesting story from the LAHT
“The idea is to recover something that belongs to us Quintana Rooans that was lost for many years. Today Quintana Roo is populated by immigrants and we need events that anchor us to what is really ours, to something that belongs to our communities, and that is what we seek with this crossing,” the Xcaret communications and public relations director, Iliana Rodriguez, said.

And that’s why everyone taking part in the activities is a volunteer from one of the indigenous communities that still preserve many of their ancestral customs and languages.

On Thursday a market was installed to sell products made with ancestral ingredients like maize and cocoa beans – in fact the latter were once used as money for making payments.....
“This year’s crossing is to prepare ourselves to end this cycle and begin the one that follows,” Rodriguez said, adding that despite popular belief that the Mayas predicted the end of the world this year, that’s not what they were saying.

Unlike current thinking that time is lineal, for the Mayas, she said, it was circular and everything would be repeated.

“When you look back on your past, you have the chance to prepare yourself for the future and perform certain rituals to prevent the bad things” from happening again, she said.
The Mayans never faded away and disappeared.  They are still there, all across the Yucatan.  It is a remarkable section of Mexico.  One could take weeks exploring the ancient cities, enjoying the beaches, the people, the food.   But it is hot.  Always makes me think of the lyrics, "Hot time, summer in the city.  Back of my neck feelin' dirty and gritty."  I like to describe Merida as it is like Bangkok, only with Mayans.

This story reminds me how special Oaxaca is in that its history is celebrated all the time, everyday.  History and traditions are very much alive here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ahhhhhh.... lluvia (rain)

Water coming down from the sky is such a blessing here.  Oaxaca goes through a long dry season each year and how/when it ends is always on peoples' minds.  After all, this is an agrarian part of the country and rain means the growing season kicks in. 

This year has been a little different in that we had some nice early rains five or six weeks ago when everything began to green up and then it turned very hot, hazy and dry.  The plants withered and went back into waiting mode, as did the rest of us.

For the past couple of weeks, it has rained at times, but often very localized.  It poured in the city a few days ago, but not a drop here.  I could see it, but it never made it here.  That's how it is lots of times.

Yesterday evening there was a wonderful rain that lasted for a few hours.  Here, it was a light steady rain, but in the city I heard it came on like gangbusters with some initial heavy downpours.

Maybe it was the rain that really wakes up the land.  There is always one that does and everything and everyone sighs with relief..... until it goes monsoon on us.

It is cool and moist this morning.  Checking the weather map, it looks like there may be more coming this evening.

Still rainin', still dreamin'.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hey, look what I've got

This girl was radiating such joy and happiness.  I wanna be that happy.
Of course, I do have a gadzillion shares of Looney Tunes stock so I am not too bummed.