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, August 28, 2013

Art shots

I forgot my trusty Lumix and was forced to take these with an itouch.  I have not shot many pictures with it and frankly, I am not that impressed.  I suppose I just need to practice with it.  Any suggestions on how to improve quality?  I have done a search and found a few things, but they require unlocking the machine.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller...?
At any rate, these are from the wall by the entrance to Sanchez Pasqua market.
The art works well with its surroundings.
A tranquil spot for a siesta
 Kids being kids. Is that me in that shot?
 Interesting contrasts.
This is one of those classic shots, "Hey, don't take my picture." "I'm not taking your picture, I am taking a picture of the art behind you." all the while taking a picture of them.  I know, I know, I am a horrible person.
I was honest and said that they were as interesting as the art.  "You are art, too."

Mess cont...

Here, parents continue to organize, try to teach, contemplate the next steps, while in Mexico City...

from Tim Johnson at McClatchey (emphasis added)
For a week now, striking teachers have brought much of Mexico’s capital to a crawl with traffic-snarling protests, and the unrest looks likely to expand in coming days to capture discontent far beyond mandatory teacher evaluations.
The unrest is offering a major challenge to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s drive not only to improve schools but also to boost Mexico’s economic growth rate by restructuring the state energy sector and the way Mexicans are taxed.
For the past week, tens of thousands of striking teachers have converged on – and disrupted life in – Mexico City.
Most of the teachers have thronged to Mexico City from the outlying states of Michoacan and Oaxaca, though more are expected from other states.
Strikers Tuesday swarmed outside the installations of Televisa, the media conglomerate, a day after they shut down the capital’s main boulevard. Last week, teachers – some of them smashing windows or tearing down fencing – blocked sessions of the two chambers of Congress, forcing legislators to convene across the city in a convention center, and hindered access to the international airport.
Squads of riot police have not moved against the protesters even though 29 police suffered injuries last week. Analysts said a police allergy to confrontation has emboldened striking teachers, increasing chances of greater violence.
“There is a strong sense that this group is trying to figure out a way where they could have a martyr,” said Ana Maria Salazar, a political analyst and television commentator.
In one of his first achievements as president, Pena Nieto in February enacted a sweeping education reform that sailed through Congress. Legislators last week took up secondary legislation, passing two laws but not a critical third one that would mandate teacher evaluations and regulate hiring and firing.
“If you don’t pass on your second evaluation, you lose your job. How is this possible?” asked Vicenta Velazquez Reyes, a striking teacher from Zitacuaro in Michoacan state who led an encampment of strikers outside the Senate.
Pena Nieto and Congress have a packed political agenda in coming weeks. The president offers his first state of the nation speech Sept. 1, and a week later will present a fiscal reform that is rumored to contain taxation on some foods and medicines, a move not likely to find many champions.
A two-time leftist presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has convoked a massive Sept. 8 rally for opponents of a sweeping proposal announced earlier this month to open up Mexico’s oil industry to foreign investment.
“The next couple of weeks, two or three weeks, could potentially be very, very difficult in terms of mobilizations here in Mexico City,” Salazar said.
Pena Nieto vows not to back down. “We are clear that all change invariably will bring resistance,” he said Monday.
Especially in outlying states, Mexico’s teachers are seen as a voice for the poor even as their national union – at one time the largest in Latin America – became a formidable political force and a bastion of corruption.
Pena Nieto’s government arrested the teachers union boss, Elba Esther Gordillo, in late February on corruption charges. She remains in jail.
Even as leftist sectors applaud the opposition to some of Pena Nieto’s proposals, the road blockages and snarled traffic in the capital have exasperated many citizens and business owners.
Some 16,000 stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses in central Mexico City have been harmed in the past week, seeing business fall by as much as 87 percent, says the Mexico City Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism.
“What are we asking for? That police clear the streets so that we can transit them,” said Gerardo Lopez Becerra, the chamber’s president. “It’s not repression we are asking for. It’s the exercising of authority.”
The main plaza of Mexico City, known as the Zocalo, is now a sea of colorful nylon tarps and tents, taken over by striking teachers, who are nearly all from outside the capital.
A poll published Monday by the El Universal newspaper said 82 percent of city residents do not believe authorities should permit marches that block roads.
Pressure is growing on Mexico City Mayor Miguel Mancera to limit disruptions. A prominent member of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, Mancera does not want to antagonize his party’s grassroots base, even if that means that the metropolitan area’s more than 20 million residents are inconvenienced.
“I reiterate that we will protect the physical integrity of the citizens, of their belongings,” Mancera said Tuesday, as he acknowledged that “we know there is a convocation so that more people come” to protests in the capital.
While the teachers protest in Mexico’s capital, some 2 million of Mexico’s 26 million or so public school students are unable to attend classes.
Some Mexicans believe hidden forces are behind the unrest, seeking to derail Pena Nieto’s proposals for lessening the power of the national teachers union, opening up of the state oil sector to foreign investment and increasing taxes.
“Who is paying for the hundreds of buses that the protesters use to move about? Who is paying for their meals?” wrote Luis Apperti, a columnist for Milenio newspaper.
Mexico has the lowest tax collection rate of all 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a forum of democracies with developed market economies. Mexico collected 9.8 percent of its of economic output in taxes in 2012.

Read more here:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More mess...

This is going to go on for some time, but it has the potential to be quite dynamic.  I hasten to add that I am not fluent on all the issues. There is too much history and there are way too many aspects to the whole education problem for me to opine intelligently... like that stopped me before.

However, what is happening in several villages including Etla, Zimatlán, Arrazola and Trinidad de Viguera is that ultimata are being delivered.
From Noticiasmx, the story in Spanish.

The photo is from Viguera, just up the street, and seems to be in several papers.  Parents are pissed and are threatening to switch to teachers from Section 59, the arch enemies of Section 22.  Yes, these are teachers unions we are talking about.  They are in a constant war with each other and, as in all wars, there are casualties.   In answer to the demands of the parents, Section 22 has basically blown them off.  It is going to get even more interesting in the next few days.

The sign says, "Enough already! Solution: return to classes immediately."

Unions are important here, so there is the whole workers' rights aspect to the issue.  They still have power here, unlike in El Norte.  As Anonymous commented earlier, they are still getting paid and in fact, even got bonuses.

from Imparcil:
The State Institute of public education in Oaxaca (IEEPA) will travel to Mexico City to give bonuses for "calendar setting" teachers who are in the encampment of the Zócalo, according to the newspaper El Universal.
This bonus, which goes between the 2,000 and 3,500 pesos, serves to compensate for those months of the year which do not have 31 days, according to officials of the IEEPA.

The payment is intended for the 73,000 teachers throughout Oaxaca and it will be partitioned by around 1,000 payers.
 Nice work if you can get it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rufino Tamayo Day on Google

One click takes you here.
Rufino Tamayo, artist, musician, zapoteco, oaxaqueño, the museum which bears his name is a must see here in the city.

It's a mess.....

Think about this.  Imagine if most of the teachers in the entire country went on strike just at the beginning of the school year.  There are lots of threads there and the newspapers are full of stories about how the strike is messing with people's lives.  School uniforms, restaurants, transportation, not to mention the kids not getting an education or parents having to deal with children at home when they should be in school.

Just up the street from me in Trinidad de Viguera, the parents are demanding the teachers return or else they will close the school.

In Huajuapam, the economy is taking a major hit.

Tim Johnson from McClatchey has a good post about the action in Mexico City.

And there is this from Al Jazeera:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Artists and their art - Christian Thornton

Yesterday we were lucky to attend the opening of an exhibit at CASA in San Agustin Etla, by Christian Thornton, a renown glass artist who has a studio in nearby Etla.  His work is really spectacular and he pushes the limits of new techniques in glass.  As noted before, the contemporary visual arts scene is really happening here, more vibrant than anywhere I been.  So it was a crowded gathering at the noon opening. Thornton is a co-founder of Studio Xaquixe and his many years of working with glass are evident in the wide-range of his pieces.  Here he is with maestro Fransisco Toledo to open the show.
In one of the galleries.
There were just enough people there to make me nervous, the whole "bull in a china shop thing."  I did not get enough shots of his art.
Interesting technique of printing on glass.
The artist through his art.
The exhibition is up through September. 
 Congratulations, maestro Thornton, on a great show.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Here is one of my oldest friends in Oaxaca, Victor Vasquez Davila who owns Artesanias Teresita, located at Murgia #100B.  He has been selling alebrijes, wooden carvings, for many years.  Although his store is small, I bet he has sent more folkart around the world than anyone else in the city.  He still makes regular trips to the carving villages of Arrazola, San Martin Tilcajete and La Union to see what the artesanos have made, but in truth, the market for carvings has really crashed in comparison to the mid-90's.  The political unrest of 2006 did a severe number on all the folk arts, but Victor keeps the faith and the business going.
 And speaking of politics...... invaded by gringos with calves the size of cantalopes.... jajajajaja

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Artists and their art - Alfonso Castillo Orta and family

The family of Alfonso Castillo Orta from Izuca de Matamoros, Puebla is quite famous and their pieces are very highly regarded and valued. Don Alfonso died in 2009, but his large family continues the work. In fact, they have been producing fine ceramics for six generations. Their work can be found in museums and collections all around the world. Their ornate skulls are signature pieces.

 They come in many forms.
 These are for sale at La Mano Magica in case you are interested.
Don Alfonso was renown for his Arboles de Vida or Trees of Life, which come in many forms.
 Love the kitchen in this variation.
As a part of Arnulfo Mendoza's ongoing project, I was lucky to be afforded the opportunity to shoot some photos of Martha Hernández Baez, Don Alfonso's longtime partner and some of their remarkable ceramic pieces.
Unfortunately, I did not get the names of her two companions, who I'm guessing have to be family.

The tradition continues.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Oil and Education

Like most countries, Mexico has its persistent problems.  I guess, as with lots of places, the list could be quite long, including poverty, corruption, human rights, the normal nagging and frustrating ones.  However, leading in the headlines these days are two of the big ones, oil and education.  It seems the teachers are going on indefinite strike just as the school year is about to starting on August 19.   They want the reforms enacted last year to be repealed or withdrawn.  Of course, the system needs reform, everyone acknowledges that, but in what form?  These are very long standing problems, decades old, and who suffers the most?  The children.
And then there is oil and the current administration's reform of the industry that would open up opportunities for private businesses to get in on the action.

from Noticias Mx
The President of the National Council of the movement of national regeneration (Morena), Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called the mazatecos to fight so that oil is not delivered to foreign companies, as President Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed in the energy reform.

The former presidential candidate said on his visit to the so-called "land of María Sabina", where he took protest Morena municipal Committee, that if article 27 constitutional amending oil handed over to foreigners and this would eventually destroy Mexico, because "you mortgage the future of new generations".
Right now, Pemex belongs to the people of Mexico and obviously, that money is crucial to the national economy.  Let Big Oil in? Gee, I dunno.  Their track record is somewhat suspect.  Would Mexico give them the same tax breaks as in El Norte?  It certainly opens up the discussion on nationalization/privatization of resources.  Who owns what?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I've just seen a face

Going through the photos from the recent guelaguetza in Etla I came across this dancer's face several time each in a different outfit.  Sorry, I don't know her name.
Many of the dances were performed by a folkloric group from Etla, so one could see them in the various regional trajes or outfits.  They were quite good dancers and this seems to be standard practice in the village guelaguetzas, each having a local group perform many of the dances.  However, there are always a few dances performed by other groups who may specialize in that particular dance.
Obviously, this woman is highly photogenic and her pictures really popped. 
I think I remember her from last year, too.  I will have to check.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Taking a break

Time to get out of the house.  The sights that are uniquely Oaxacan.  Graffiti on banks.
"Whaddya mean?  They copied me, Mel!"
An everyday sight here. How about where you are?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vistas buenas

One of the nice aspects of this new place is the view you get from any side.  West
It feels great to be a little higher up the mountains.  I was very near the valley bottom before, which had its advantages, like a well that never ran dry, but ahhh.... nothing like this, looking north.
So now I have a rain collection system and pray for rain everyday, but it ain't happening.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Still in a whirl

Well. it has been one heck of a week.  What can I say?  I am one of those people that needs to have things in their proper places before I can rest and there is always a never-ending list of things to do when one moves...... still, I have made progress..... not without a few setbacks, like the fact that the screen went dead on my main computer and that required making extra backups of the important stuff like all the Oaxacan photos and videos.  Backing up files and washing windows.... it is all a blur.
 Remembering the colors whirling at the recent Guelaguetza in Etla.
Computer crashes are a drag.  I am forced to go back to a much earlier version of Photoshop and find I can still do the important things as easy as ever.
However, there are a few things that one cannot do easily, like isolate the dancer and her skirt.  I'll have to rework this one on a different machine. 
Hmmm.... here's the same shot from a different machine.
I'll post some pics of the new house soon.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mexicans get shit done!

I can never believe it when people say that mexicanos are stereotypically lazy.  The negative images that these people project (yes, I'm looking at you, Steve King R-Iowa) are in direct opposition to the truth, as far as I see it.  The vast majority of the folks I know, see and meet here are incredibly hard working, incredibly hard working.  The average daily pay is around $4 US.  Four dollars US!  And yet, these folk bust their asses every single day, often with a smile and a joke.  Time and time again, I have watched people do the job by simple back-breaking work, like digging wells by hand or carrying buckets of cement, hand working the fields and in their homes.  Not many machines here to ease the load.

But really this post is about the two men who helped me move.  Let's call them Juan and Juan, because those are their real names. 
I have known them for a few years and they have proven themselves to be the most honest, reliable and thorough workers one could ever hope to find.  Between the two, they can do anything... well, they never worked on my car, but I bet they could.  Plumbing, electrical, construction, gas, you name it, they do it and do it well.
They showed up last Friday bright and early with their two pickups and immediately starting moving furniture out of the house.  They knew what they were doing and slowly assembled towering sculptures of all my stuff.  If you have ever seen mexicanos moving, then you know what it looked like.  Classic!  And it happened fast.  The whole thing was done in four hours and that was two loads each, driving to San Pablo Etla, (15 min) and unloading.  Four hours!  They got everything in the house and carried the beds upstairs, got the refrigerator in, unpacked the stove I had just bought.  And on the way back to pick up the second load, they stopped and picked up the parts to connect the stove without me even asking.  By the time the second truckfull was being unloaded, Juan had hooked up the stove.  They finished up and I paid them gratefully and generously.  Then they were off to do their normal full day of work. 

Juan stopped by a couple more times to help with the remaining stuff at the house, including a load of bricks and lots of plants.  And the other Juan is making me ladders and is stopping by this morning to check the hot water heater.

I love these guys.  Saludos, Juan y Juan!

Update:  Both Juans just showed and fixed the hot water heater.  It had not be cleaned in quite awhile and the amount of mineral buildup was amazing.  So no need for a new hot water heater.  I asked them to listen to the pump that send water up from the cistern to the tank on the roof.  It is real noisy.  Without batting an eyelash they started to install a relatively new one I had that is virtually silent.  And they managed to change an incredibly stubborn drain in the kitchen sink.  It took two guys with the right tools so I don't feel too bad that I could not do it myself.  I sure tried.  Did I tell you that I love these guys.
One additional note:  I had to buy a stove and some kitchen storage units.  I did my research and knew what I was going to buy and where.  The two stores were right next to each other.  I started with the furniture and completed the purchase in less than five minutes.  They called for a truck and I went next door to Electra to buy the stove and did so in about ten minutes.  They loaded the stuff on the truck and it followed me home, where we unloaded it and it was in the house in minutes.  Think about that!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Casa Update

Oops... I forgot to take before pictures. so here are some current shots.  You can see I have been busy. The place is very tranquil compared to San Sebastian.  And I have a gate... and a big friggin' wall.... oops, again.  The views are nice, but they can wait.  Here's the front entrance.
The living room filled will huipiles and trajes.... and good music.  I have speaker set up everywhere,  What can I say, I remain a sound nut. To the right...
And the left.
The hall is made for this piece.  The rug is by good friend, Antonio Ruiz.
The morning sun comes in my bedroom and the view is rapidly climbing hills into the mountains.
I will be there very shortly................... more in a bit.