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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Nothing is Impossible"

“Elba, the Teacher, was toppled,” wrote a columnist for the newspaper Tabasco Hoy, Leobardo Perez Marin. “Nothing is impossible!”

Read more here:

As Joe Biden would say, "This is a BFD." It is the story that everyone is taking about here.  La Maestra has been arrested.  She is easily one of the most despised people in Mexico and representative of so many things that people have been complaining about for years. The details behind the scene are amazing.  And you can see the union money spent to keep her looking exactly the same as when she took over in 1989 really did the job.  And that is just the most minute of things as to how the money was spent.  The jokes abound.
From Tim Johnson at McClatchy
By jailing Mexico’s most powerful woman, President Enrique Pena Nieto removed a potential political obstacle and fired a warning shot at other union leaders not to get in the way of the ruling party.

Mexico’s political world still rippled Wednesday from the imprisonment of Elba Esther Gordillo, the 68-year-old “president for life” of the 1.5 million-member national teachers’ union, the largest such union in the hemisphere.
Gordillo’s arrest Tuesday on corruption charges heartened Mexicans who widely envied her opulent lifestyle, feared her power as a political kingmaker, loathed her stranglehold on the struggling public schools and referred to her by her nickname, La Maestra, or The Teacher.
“Elba, the Teacher, was toppled,” wrote a columnist for the newspaper Tabasco Hoy, Leobardo Perez Marin. “Nothing is impossible!”
Gordillo, who’s ruled the powerful teachers’ union for nearly a quarter century, was the mightiest of the union bosses opposed to education, financial and energy reforms that Pena Nieto proposed when he took over the presidency Dec. 1.
Her detention in the Santa Martha Acatitla women’s prison may galvanize support for the government as it implements reforms, enacted Monday, that give it the ability to hire and fire teachers from the union and set minimum standards for classrooms.
But some analysts and education reformers saw the arrest as more about sweeping away opponents of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party – known as the PRI, for its Spanish initials – than about changing education.....
Gordillo has plenty of dirt on politicians across the political spectrum, and some analysts worried that her eventual successor in the teachers’ union would follow in her footsteps.
“Let’s see if they create another little monster,” said Carlos Loret de Mola, a popular television news anchor and activist for educational reform.
“The great risk is that the PRI recovers control of the union leadership and uses it again for electoral purposes as it has done in the past,” said Monica Tapia, a political analyst who’s a founder of the Citizens’ Coalition for Education. “It’s a good moment for the teachers’ union to democratize. But the Gordian knot is that the union controls the teachers’ jobs. . . . Teachers live under the yoke of their leaders.”
Hope springs eternal.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's all about the dress

Not quite the Oscars, but fashion is always in fashion.  These from Pinotepa Don Luis.
This outfit is made up entirely from chiles, corn and beans. 
It totally works.
The latest news, dresses made from newspapers.
Walkin' the walk on the Red Carpet..... well, almost.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Queens of Carnaval

There is always a queen of carnaval.  In fact, in some places there are multiple queens, as indicated in yesterday's post. 
In Pinotepa Don Luis, there are two queens each year,  the queen
and the indigenous queen.
In San Juan Colorado, the queen, Fany Guadelupe,  had her moment in the sun.
Then moved into the shade out of the intense sun.
I did not get a T shirt.
Quite a dress.
Dig the glitter on her eyes.
A very different look in Puerto Escondido.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ladies of Carnaval

I'm so confused....
One of the most interesting chapters in David Lida's "First Stop in the New World" is the one on sex in Mexico.  If that's not enough of a tease, I don't know what is.

There is a blurring of the sexes here and it was very evident in Pinotepa Nacional and the surrounding villages for carnaval.  There were so many beautiful women... and some of them were men.  It is very common for men to don women's clothing and in the traditional dances, the group is led by a masked man dressed in a classic hupile.
A classic look in Pinotepa Don Luis,
Sometimes, they are alluring,
Others more comedic.  I can't tell you the number of times I got propositioned and attacked, all in good fun.  These two from San Juan Colorado.
I have no idea, but I think most of the women were men in this group.
And after a while, one stops thinking about it.  Beauty is beauty, male or female.
 In each place, there were gay queens of the carnaval.  From Puerto Escondido
Part of her entourage.
 Sometimes it is obvious,
but many times, not so. Who knows?  Who cares.  Beauty is beauty.
The whole scene seemed so natural and open.  One would think that people in Mexico would be conservative and uptight about such things.  Well, think again.  It would be nice if some parts of the world were as happy and tolerant.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Beats me - Tlacamama style

Almost everyday I was on the coast, I made the trek to the villages, more or less to see if anything was happening.  One of the the first villages I passed through was San Miguel Tlacamama and on a couple of days I saw a curious sight.  A small crowd had gathered to watch dancers in traditional garb, but rather than dance, the leaders of the group were smacking people with a stick. 
The stick, gaily painted, looked to be a meter long and about an inch in diameter.  Some of the smacks were light and on padded areas, like the butt or the back, but every now and then, they were painful. 
I saw one young guy catch one directly on the elbow and he let out a long howl and began dancing around, much to everyone's amusement.  That's the thing, everyone was laughing.  There was a whole dynamic at work with twenty young men surrounding the dancers while the villages elders sat in the shade watching. 
There was a constant banter going on between the young guys and the dancers, but at the center of it all were the guys with the sticks.  They worked the crowd, told jokes, passed judgments and periodically smacked someone.  Then, one by one, the dancers knelt and got a lick from the whip.
The second day I watched this celebration, there are a young woman, Jaqueline, who was in there with the young guys giving it as good as she got.  That's her getting the blessing of the whip and that's her mother standing smiling in the doorway. 
She told me it was kind of like penance, that before they could dance they needed to suffer and atone.  I am not sure if I got all that right.  If someone knows what really is happening, by all means, write in.
And I thought about getting a whack, a blessing, myself, but that stick looked big and hard and I have learned from past mistakes, not to put myself in a spot of having someone take an open shot.  It would be just my luck to get some guy who was politically aware of say, Sheriff Joe, and wanted to get a good lick or two in. I mean, these guys were not messing around.  Some of the smacks were really hard.... and the hits just keep on coming.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Musicos de Carnaval

The music that is danced to by many of the groups in the Pinotepa area is a strange drone-like combination of violin and guitar, although many times it is just solo violin.
As a trained musician and as one who basically enjoys everything, I absorbed it, drank it in, but did not analyze the sounds.  All I can say is that it is a strange sound, rough and crude, but mesmerizing.
With the never ending pulse of the sonajas, the shakers. the effect is trance-like, akin to Eastern Indian music.  Every now and then a singer will join in while playing drums on a wooden box. These guys were very funny, no-nonsense leg pullers.
The dancers cry out together on a strong beat every thirty seconds or so and someone periodically makes the sound of a rooster.  Those are all rooster plumes on the headdresses the dancers are wearing.
There were young players this year but the sound was the same, the violin creating that curious trance.  I got some good recordings with the video and will get them up soon.

Friday, February 15, 2013

All dressed up for the Palm

Just going through all the photos and will start posting more tomorrow, but the magnificent dress made from palm leaves for this girl in Pinotepa Don Luis keeps catching my eye.  The work is just beautiful.
 So chic and fashionable, right down to her shoes.  It would work on a runway.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The road back...

Whew!  The drive back from Pinotepa Nacional was remarkable.  It is really hard to describe how many different types of countrysides and climates I drove through.  From beach to coastal plain, through dry foothills, ever climbing into huge, green lush forests, then pine scented expanses, over the mountains and finally into the valleys that lead back to the city. 
The trip back is almost 400 k, and google says it can be done in five hours.  ¡Ja!  More like nine, but I made it in seven.  My car has a tendency to run hot, so I was a bit concerned as the road has some serious climbs, but I was well stocked with extra coolant, so it was onward and upward.  I came down the coast until just before Rio Grande and then cut an hour or so off by not going all the way down to Puerto Escondido. 
This way is not as heavily used and I can see why, but it is still kind of a miracle that it even exists.  It is certainly one hell of a construction project.  There are stretches of really rough road and at times there is only half a road as the other half has fallen off the mountain.  There are switchbacks after switchbacks, fallen rocks and landslides, but wow, what a way to see the county.  The villages one encounters are far apart and few in number.  I could only imagine what it was like to live there.  And driving was fun, passing lumber trucks and slow moving buses on hairpin curves.  It's that or else go five kph.  Periodically I would follow something like this.
I had been planning this trip for a couple of years and had it plotted out pretty carefully and well, it all worked like a charm.  Traveled light, but with the right cameras and equipment.  As I say, I was worried about the car and I think I put about 1000k on it, but it worked like a charm.  At one point, while climbing up the mountains, I started smelling antifreeze, but the car was not overheating.  It gave me a little adrenaline buzz and made me worry a bit, but I kept on going.  No harm, no foul.  When I got back to the house, I discovered that the extra bottle of coolant I had in the trunk had leaked and that had been nothing to fret about.   Must have been all those topes that snuck up on me.

Of course, I had an audio book to listen to and an ipod full of music, so that aspect of the trip was sublime.  At one point, after leaving the heat and humidity behind and getting into the cool clear air of the high mountains, the car, in second gear, climbing without a problem, James Taylor came on singing, "How sweet it is"  and I just burst out smiling.  Amen, to that.

Also, too, my Tomtom GPS actually did an amazing job on these roads.  I would be in the middle of absolute nowhere and it would say, "Take a sharp right" and the road would have a hairpin turn.  The unit never missed a beat.

I came back with lots of photos and video and even more "moments" - like, Is this really happening?  Is this my life?  Oh, and I bought this bag in San Juan Colorado.  It is the classic color and style of the pozahuancas which are so prominent int the area.  I will use it with pride even thought I think it is for women only.  They said the bag took a month to make.
 Much more in the coming days.  Live freely, mis amig@s.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Proof of Carnaval

This is one of the final shots of the day from the crazy scene in the zocalo in Pinotepa Nacional thanks to some guy standing next to me.  Notice that I am with a small young one and holding his arms tightly, as the large ones in this troupe tend to kick, punch and ask for money.  I was leery of these guys because the last time I was here, I was shooting some video of them and basically got mobbed and hit in the family jewels, much to everyone's amusement.  Not a big deal, as this is pretty standard practice for them.  This time I almost escaped, but not quite.  At least I was not writhing on the ground or picked up and carried around as were a few others.  I am headed back over the mountains tomorrow, but this was a really fun and successful trip although it would take time to get used to the heat and humidity.  More when I get back.

The road to Corralero

 I am sure there are many more desolate spots on the western coast of Mexico, but the beach at Corralero is as far afield as I have gone.... yet.  It took about an hour on pretty funky roads to get there from Pinotepa Nacional.  Everyone gives directions here and most of the time they just say, "Derecho. Just go straight ahead."  Never mind that there are forks and turns, just go straight. And we are talkin' rough roads with washouts, topes, speed bumps, and vados (dips in the road to slow you down or for drainage) which are always hard to see.  The countryside is very different.  One leaves the hot dry city and then winds through some small hills and then things change.  There are green valleys and some fresh water and then into the coastal plain and the the ocean.  I did make it to Corralero, which sits by a large lagoon, but my destination was the other side of the lagoon.  Of course, I missed the turn and went into the village, but I knew it right away and turned around, made the turn and headed to my final destination.  The road was ridged like those sections to warn you that you are approaching toll booths in the States, really bumpy so as to wake you up.  Sand to right of the road, sand to the left, but the road itself was bone rattling.  I drove another twenty minutes past cattle, cactus and burros.  The lagoon was to my left and the ocean to my right.  At the end of the road, I was greeted by two beautiful young women, really the equivalent of sirens, who waved me into a parking spot.  It was one of a few open air restaurants, which must have some business at some time, but there was no one else there except family.  They proceeded to cook me an absolutely delicious fried fish smothered with salsa diablo.  It may have been the best fish I have ever had.  They asked me where I was from.  "Boston."  "Never heard of it."  I told them their lives were perfect.  They seemed skeptical.  The ocean is pretty fierce there and most people swim in the lagoon, but it was late in the day, with the sun setting, so I passed on the swim.  I wanted to make the journey back with a little light.  As I headed back to the fabulous Hotel Pepe, $35 US with A/C, with the sun setting behind me, my belly full, Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" blasting out of the stereo, it occurred to me..... Ahhh... this may have been the best moments of my life.