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 27, 2012


One of the aspects of life in Mexico, in Oaxaca in particular, that I enjoy the most and intrigues me the most, is how differently certain basic things in life are dealt with.  Things like frustration, patience, respect, humor, all have a different flavor here.  It's those cultural differences that I am always talking about and whose depth are plain to see, but whose subtleties are much harder to take in.  I fear I will never really get them, because, hey, I'm not a oaxaqueño.  I am not el zapoteco blanco, even though I try to be.

However, the more I observe, the more I learn and after celebrating several Days of the Dead here, I am more convinced than ever that oaxaqueños and mexicanos, in general, deal with the most basic thing ever, death, much better than we do in El Norte.

While I've been in Boston, I have tried to imagine people filling cemeteries, spending time with their dead relatives.  Joining together, with food and drink and warm shared memories, not only with their families, but everyone else from town or neighborhood.  And guess what?  It just does not compute.  It ain't gonna happen, at least not in prim and proper New England.  And that is too bad, because I think we would all benefit from it.

I always enjoy watching children at the various panteons as they help with the decorations, but invariably end up playing and having fun.  It just seems so healthy and natural.  I am sure they grow up with less fear and a better perspective on life and death.  How could they not?
They keep teaching me and they are pretty good teachers, aren't they?

My new favorite expression

From a story in Noticiasmx, "Le están jalando los bigotes al tigre" meaning, "pulling the whiskers of a tiger," which seems like it could be applied to many issues, but in this case refers to how the teachers and their actions may have a severe backlash.
Autoridades municipales Ánimas Trujano y Santa María Coyotepec, advierten que los paristas de la Sección XXII del SNTE, "le están jalando los bigotes al tigre" y exigen a los maestros cambiar sus tácticas de lucha, porque están tocando fondo al confrontarse con el pueblo.
Ánimas Trujano and Santa María Coyotepec, municipal authorities warn that the paristas of section XXII of the SNTE, "are pulling the whiskers to the Tiger" and require teachers to change their tactics, because they are bottoming out to confront with the people.
Which of course, reminds me of a line from "Apocalypse Now" right after they ran into the tiger, "Never get out of the boat!" "Nice tiger. Bye Tiger."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Santiago Apostol in Daylight

The difference between night and day.  I just posted shots from Atzompa at night.  These are in contrast and are from the panteon in Santiago Apostol, which is a few kilometers west of Ocotlan and San Antonino and little off the beaten track, but always worth a visit.  And it seems we always visit it after going to San Antonino, which is always so vibrant, filled with people and flowers and Santiago Apostol is always in stark contrast. 
There never seems to be anyone there.  If we are lucky, there might be one or two people, but clearly we keep missing the major events.  However, the place has an etheral quality.  Everything is painted white, covered with cal.  Not only the graves and tombs, but many of the pathways, so every now and then one steps in a fresh puddle of the creamy coating. 
After a fresh coat of the pure white, flowers and flower petals are strewn around, candles lit.
The whole experience just reinforces the idea that every village, every panteon, is so different from the next.  Each has a unique atmosphere.  San Antonino is probably only five k., but the differences couldn't be more profound.
Next year, we plan on being there when the cal goes down, which I think is a week or two before El Dia. 

More of the same

Things appear to be getting uglier.
from the LAHT
A section of the SNTE teachers union threatened to call an indefinite strike in all the schools of the southern state of Oaxaca if the regional government does not return to them the centers that it awarded six years ago to another local of the same union.

“If the government continues with the stupidity of knocking us around, of letting Local 59 take over, we’re going on an indefinite strike,” said Cesar Martinez, a member of the center for press and advertising communications at SNTE Local 22.

The warnings came after more than 74,000 teachers took part in a day of blockading 37 highways in protest against the aggression suffered by a group of teachers, Martinez said.

Last Thursday, five teachers were seized and presumably attacked while imposing a blockade on a highway near the municipality of Mitla to protest the taking over of some 60 schools by another local of the union, one that is backed by the state government and SNTE leader Elba Esther Gordillo.

On Sunday the teachers plan to stage a “megamarch” in the state and afterwards will hold an assembly to decide if they will again call an indefinite strike.
I still think that at some point, these protests will cause a significant backlash.  Years ago, people might have been sympathetic to some of the teachers demands, but those days are gone.  The negative impact these blockades and marches have upon peoples' lives and livelihoods is just too much to take for much longer.  Yes, there is a right to protest and oaxaqueños honor that right as well as exercise it passionately, but as I said in yesterday's post, things are changing and people want to move forward, not continue the old arguments that seem to go on forever.  If los maestros continue to shut down the economy, to prevent people from getting to work or doing business, to prevent the free flow of goods and people within the transportation system, well, what would you?  What should the government do?

Meanwhile, the kids experience yet another year, in which they do not get the education they and the state so sorely need.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

One thing to another

Man, oh, man.  It seems like I just go back and forth, from Oaxaca to El Norte, trying to solve all the problems that seem to keep cropping up.  I mean, I came up here to vote and well, clearly my vote was the deciding factor on all the key issues.  With that done, there was a bit of a lull and things have calmed down for the time being (if you ignore reality).  I can head back.

And it is a good thing, because while I've been gone, the teachers have been up to their old tricks and are shutting down the entire state with blockades and protests today.  Yesterday, they shut down the city.  The taxi drivers also had their own actions and stoppages.

from Imparcial
Un severo caos en las principales vialidades de la entidad, suspensión de clases y daños a la economía de miles de oaxaqueños dejó como saldo ayer la protesta de la Sección 22 del SNTE, para exigir la renuncia de funcionarios y reparación de daños por los hechos de violencia en Mitla.
The taxisitas are pissed because of other taxistas who operate without documentation.  This conflict is a constant in life here.  Transportation issues are as important here as anywhere.  There are more cars, more buses, more motos, more potholes, more road projects, more people relying on collectivos, and all are part of a system which is overtaxed and doing its best to keep up with a changing society.  Behind it all, are the power brokers about whom, just like Sgt. Schultz, "I know notting... notting."

And it is the same with the teachers.  It is all about power and conflict.  Section 22 vs the world.  The history is too long, too sordid and too tragic to go into.  Like so many things here, there are threads that lead everywhere, into all aspects of life here.  My bottom line is always the kids.  I wish they could get the same education that kids get in, say, Korea.   If they did, it would transform the country.

But for now, it is the same old same old, however there is a change in the air.  Yes, I am looking at you, the Yo Soy 132 generation. Whether it is here, in Egypt, or in Walmarts, there is definitely stuff goin' on.  Issues ranging from gay rights to climate change, immigration reform, pick an issue, all are being changed by generational shifts.  Hey, I'm a boomer, but I love seeing the twitter universe and Facebook world implement change and exercise power.  Let's face it, if you do or say something incredibly bright or incredibly stupid, there is a good chance that the whole world may find out about it.

I have to admit, I don't do much on Facebook and can't imaging tweeting, like someone might care what I had for lunch or what was was thinking right.... now.  That's why I have this blog.... which is so last decade.

Hmmm..  as they say, "Better to be thought a fool, rather than open your mouth and confirm it."  Nuf' said.

Live wisely, mis amig@s

This is what I'm talkin' about.  Things are changing and IMHO, all for the better.

Which is a play off of this one.

You would not believe the number of parodies and versions that are out there, all off the original.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


It was sixty degrees in Boston today, so I enjoyed the day working in the yard, prepping for winter.  I planted this Japanese maple years ago.  Now it is a tall beauty.  And the pachysandra that I planted twenty years ago and that nurseries sell as an expensive ground cover, now has to be treated like a weed, as it has taken over what should be paths.  Normally, I dig it up and give it to neighbors, but there is just way too much of it this year.  This is just another lesson that gardening teaches us.... sometimes even the best of intentions get out of control. riches can turn into trash, sometimes you have to reassess and get in there whack things back.

At least I am not doing this.  This was happening yesterday as I jet-packed over the Mass Pike... I mean, as I walked over the Pike.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

¡Viva Ciencia!

Yay!  Another win for fact based reality and science, physics and math.

Water is such a huge problem in Oaxaca.  This remarkable 14 year old, Deepika Kurup, has come up with a water purification method tthat might just be the answer.  Watch this!  She is amazing and so is her process.  I had to laugh at times, when her analysis was at such a high level, it was difficult to comprehend.

Drink wisely, mis amig@s.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Atzompa at Night

As I have mentioned before, each panteon or cemetery has a different aura or atmosphere during Day of the Dead.  Atzompa is known for it ceramics, but for El Dia, it is famous for its velas or candles.
The candles can be quite large and at the height of the celebration, the entire panteon is bathed in this incredible light.  The graves are decorated in traditional ways, but it is the candlelight that makes the whole experience otherworldly and special. 
We arrived early enough to watch people place the candles around the graves. 
As we were leaving a busload of tourists arrived.  I guess the word got out that this is one of the magical places to visit.
 And an excellent place to practice shooting at night.  Such a beautiful experience.

Catholic Church Says Mexico’s Economic System Creates Poverty and Violence

I dunno, it also might have something to do with how the church has conducted its own business over the last few centuries.  I am sure it has nothing to do with all the gold in the churches.  I'm sorry, but actions speak louder than words.
From the LAHT
Mexico’s economic system has produced extreme poverty, unemployment, low wages, layoffs, discrimination and forced migration, leading to high levels of violence in the country, the Mexican Catholic Church said in an editorial.

“It would be worth it to devote special attention to the factors behind the extreme poverty and social exclusion that are present among a large part of the Mexican population and that constitute a medium for violence and hate,” the Archdiocese of Mexico City said in Sunday’s edition of Desde la fe.

Mexican bishops have warned that the economic system is behind these factors, “and attention is urgently needed to more effectively address this difficult situation,” the editorial said.

Mexico’s institutions “appear too weak and vulnerable in the face of pressure from criminal organizations, which have ended up defeating and corrupting everything,” the editorial said.

Society also cannot ignore the “substantial costs” in terms of “the legality and morality of the actions of the security forces in this country, mainly in the area of violations of human rights, as has been seen clearly on some occasions,” the editorial said.
I am not catholic, but at some point, one must question the credibility of the church on this and many other issues.  Remember, I am in Boston for the moment, the place where the whole sex scandal blew up.  It turned out to be a global and chronic problem with for which they have yet to confess or atone.  The hypocrisy and blindness on that issue, as well as their political aligning with the right in the US and elsewhere, makes it hard to believe the words that come out of their mouths. 

Of course, I know there are good priests and good Catholics in the world, but if the hierarchy really wanted to help the poor, in particular the children of the world, they could do much more that pontificate.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What I am not having for dinner

What was I (th)inking?

Tattoos are so in.  There are reality shows about them now.  However....
 Let my love take you higery... amen to that.
Ink carefully, mis amig@s.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mas muertos

Experiencing Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos," especially in Oaxaca, changes one's perspective on life and death, the whole cycle.  So it is with that mind set that I passed through the amazing Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston.  No matter how or when, it is a powerful experience.  I am always moved to tears and I have walked through it many times.
I remember walking under them with students through the years.  So it was even sadder this time as I remembered one of my former students, Paul Roy, who died this week.  He played sax in the band at school and was the best of the lot while he was there, the driving force in the group. As one who eulogized far too many students, it just ain't supposed to be this way.  No, they are supposed to eulogize us, but....
Think of the millions of Pauls in these pictures......

Un Buen Fin :)?

It is a bit strange and at the same time, enlightening, to bounce between two such different cultures, Boston and Oaxaca.  After spending so much time in Mexico, I have a much better appreciation of how different it can be just from village to village, from town to town, region to region, state to state.  One thing I definitely notice is that El Norte is a consumer nation.  We like our stuff and we are constantly bombarded by ads and campaigns to get out there and spend even if we don't need the stuff or don't have the money to buy it.

I see it in the TV shows I get trapped into watching.... and liking.  Shows like "Antiques Roadshow," "American Pickers," Storage Wars," and "Pawn Stars," all are about stuff, our stuff.  We've got so much stuff, we don't have room for it and we don't even know what we have some of the time.
Now, here I am as Black Friday approaches, make that Black Friday month.  Sorry, I am all shopped out... well, maybe just a couple more things.  And I don't want to say that Oaxaca is not consumer driven as well, but nowhere near as much.  It was disconcerting to see Christmas stuff up in the stores before I left a week or so ago.  But let's face the US is in a different league when it comes to stuff.  It is that whole American Exceptionalism" in a different form.

So it is a little troubling to see Mexico making such a big push to catch up.
This story from the LAHT
For Mexico’s big retail chains, this is the beginning of “The Good End,” four days of offers and discounts on products and services that aim to boost domestic consumption.

Self-service and department-store chains are set to kick off this shopping binge from Friday to Monday, a holiday in Mexico, for a long weekend considered the bargain of the year for the countless discounts being offered.

Added to the event on its second time around are numerous tourism agencies, restaurant chains, car distributors, all kinds of service companies like hotels, and many independent firms.

Even official institutions like the National Culture and Arts Council, or Conaculta, are plugging offers on cultural goods like excursions, book discounts, theater tickets and more.

“The Good End” was first launched in 2011 and caused such a powerful hike in demand for goods and services nationwide that it scored a 40-percent sales increase over the same days in 2010.

The government has announced that state employees will get their Christmas bonuses significantly earlier this year, and discounts on goods and services bought on credit will be raised for workers in more than half a million establishments.

Retail chains and other business with something to sell have blanketed the country with ad campaigns in recent weeks to publicize their products with discounts from 20 percent to 70 percent, while allowing as long as 48 months to pay.
 Now where is that UPS truck with my new ipad???

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cubrir la tierra

If you ask someone, "Where can I get some paint?" most likely they will point you in the direction of a Comex store.  These places are everywhere, in every city right down to lots of the smallest villages.  It is like Xerox, which became the word for copy.  "I need a xerox of this thing."  Comex = paint in Mexico.  So, in another example in the series of the shrinking choices we all have in a global economy, here's a story from the LAHT.
The Sherwin-Williams Company has agreed to buy Mexican paint and coatings firm Consorcio Comex, S.A. de C.V. for $2.34 billion, the parties announced Monday.
The U.S. company is a global leader in coatings and related products.

With 7,200 employees, Comex produces paint for construction and industrial uses at 16 plants, including five in the United States and three in Canada.

Comex was founded in 1952 and had total sales last year of $1.4 billion.
 No matter what, you will still need two coats to cover whatever you are painting.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Muerteada - Day of the Dead Dance

A real battle of the bands!
Early on the morning of November 2, we caught up with the dancers from San Agustin Etla, who had already been dancing and general partying for over twelve hours.  I like to catch them as the sun comes over the mountains and hits the mirrors and bells on their outfits.  This is one of the best and most fun events of the entire week... make that the entire year.  These guys are crazy!  They walk from house to house, at each of which they get some food and drink.  The band plays some fast infectious music and they dance like there is no tomorrow..... which there definitely is. 

They might imbibe some mezcal and beer along the way, but rest assured, their wives and mothers are there to keep an eye on them.  "Mi amor, I really think you should eat something and please, no fistfights with your brother this year."  There are about twenty five guys who act as security and do a fantastic job of controlling the mayhem. They all have on matching t-shirts and most have small whips, but I've never seen them use them.  They do descend en masse on anyone who gets rowdy.

At the same time, there is another group of dancers along with their band, who come from the barrio San Jose at the base of the hill.  They have also been dancing and partying all night with extreme prejudice and at ten in the morning the two groups come together.... well, they are separated by a one foot demilitarized zone.  These guys do not like each other and they go at it, but in an unusual way.  The security guys line up and lock arms and the bands lead their groups in.  Each band had six tubas and they go face to face, basically swearing at each other through their instruments.  There are moments of intense insanity.  It is like a scrum or a mosh pit. 

I've been in the perfect spot three times now, at the exact point where it is the craziest.  The first time, I was scared because I couldn't believe it was happening.  Plus, they are throwing stuff, pushing and shoving, and totally smashed.  Good times.  However, there are kids dancing and it really is a family affair.  The spectators fill the streets and watch from roof tops and many join in with the dancing.  The music is just amazing, especially when the two bands are both playing at the same time.  I don't know if they coordinate, but they sure lay down a beat that makes you move.  Gotta dance!

After it is all over, both groups head home, after a little more food and dance.  The group we were with has to walk up a long steep hill.  I don't know how they do it.  I was tired and I missed the first 14 hours.  This is a must see/experience event and there were no tourist there at all.  However, there were two blogging gringos there having the time of their lives.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Truer words were never spoke

Just going through the shots from last week.  We visited so many different places, it is hard to keep track of which shot is from where.  Like this shot, which was taken as we stopped to try to figure out just exactly where the heck we were.  It turned out to be San Pablo Huixtepec.  My eye is always drawn to graffiti and invariably there is an electric meter in the shot.
This is a common phrase, normally reading, "Los verdaderos amigos se lastiman con la verdad para no herirse con la mentira." which translates to "True friends hurt each other with truths so as not to hurt each other with lies."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Where am I?

And who are all these people? 

I am happy to say that my house near Boston survived Sandy and the Nor'easter just fine.  It was a bit strange to go from warm sun and clear skies to cold gray with howling winds and snow, but it sure makes life interesting.  Today, the skies are clear.  It's a day in late autumn in New England.  The killing frost has yet to come.  Unfortunately, the storms did not blow all the leaves into my neighbor's yard, so it is time to rake, but that is always a nice meditation.

And very interesting to be here on Election Day.  It was not that log ago when I got to experience one in Mexico.  Remember Pena Nieto won with only a third of the votes and lots of accusations of skullduggery and overtly buying votes and the election.  Well, at least in the States, it would appear that elections are not so easily bought.  However, someone definitely made some dinero in the whole affari.  They don't call it grifting for no good reason.  Grifters gotta grift.

As one who follows these things way too closely, I have plenty of thoughts, but really, who cares what they are?  Now, it looks like immigration reform is an instant priority.  Good, we need it.  And you might as well end the Drug War while you're at it.  That is so mid-20th century and has proven to be a total waste of time, money and lives.

Here's a thought.  Instead of following the sun, the snows or festivals around the world, why not go where ever there is an election happening.  It would certainly be an interesting way to see a country.  Something tells me that winning is always better than losing no matter where you are, but who knows maybe that was the plan all along with this year's election in the US.  I mean, it is much easier and more fun to sit on the sidelines and kvetch and obstruct, especially when you have just made millions fleecing the donors and embarrassing the pundits.

In the meantime, it is time to renew my passport and get on The Global Online Enrollment System.  Why?  The lines at immigration were so long, it only makes sense to bite the bullet and go through the process.  It could ultimately end up saving me many hours in line.

Videos of Muertos to come in a few days now that I have fast upload speeds. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No room at the inn...

Entered without comment..... when I flew into Logan last night there was no room for my Learjet because the place was already packed with private planes whose owners were here for the Romney victory party.

Actually, I was in with the sardines in coach and when I got here, there were no cabs.  I lucked out and snagged one, told the driver to haul because I needed to get to the polls.  He did and I made it with 23 minutes to spare.  No line at all.  Over and done in less than two minutes.  I was so dazed and surprised I did not even buy something from the bake sales they always have out in the halls of the school, my local polling place.

Now to bathe in the tears of the defeated.

Monday, November 5, 2012

After all the parties are over

Whew!  What a week!  It will take a few days to recover and go through photos and video.  Plus, I have to head into that alternate universe known as El Norte to vote tomorrow.  Right now I am like these folks, exhilarated, but a tad bit wiped out. 
Make that, totally wiped out.
Nuf' said.
However, if there was more Muertos celebrations tomorrow, I would be there with bells on.
You really have to come to Muertos in Oaxaca at least once in your life.  It just gets better and better.  I am so ready for next year already.

Muertos Lives!

My little offrenda... the chocolate skulls look and smell wonderful, but they were inedible, although I don't think they were intended to be that way.   Maybe it is an acquired taste.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Blog or Live - Muertos Style

Sometimes you just gotta choose between blogging and living and this one was easy.  El Dia de los Muertos is simply an amazing celebration.  One has to go full bore and most people do.  One's emotions and thoughts run the gamut, from contemplative sorrow to uninhibited insane joy and everything in between.  You may well ask, "How is this possible? but really you should be asking "How could I have missed it?"  or better yet, "If it was so great, how the hell are you even writing this?"  Good question!

I would have to say we did it just about right thus far with one more day to go.  So many wonderful experiences, wonderful people and places.... and close to a thousand photos to go through and some mighty fine video.
If I said I was in a mosh pit scrum with twelve tuba players early this morning would you be intrigued.  All I will say for now is that I survived and it was frickin' off-the-charts fantastic!!! 
At the opposite end of the spectrum, this remarkable sand painting on a grave in the Panteon General in the city.
Just incredible work.
There is so much more, but for now I am going to follow this child's example so I am recharged for tomorrow's adventures.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Death waits.... a little longer

From Tim Johnson's Mexico Unmasked:
It’s a good time to talk about death. Day of the Dead is just around the corner.  Older Mexicans have seen an astounding transformation in when their day of reckoning comes.
In 1930, life expectancy for Mexicans was 34 years. By 2010, Mexican men were living an average 73.1 years while Mexican women were hitting 77.8 years.
Now, that is amazing progress, isn't it?  Live wisely, mis amig@s.

Read more here: