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

Friday, January 30, 2015

It's an art....

They are restoring some of the streets in Jalatlaco, one of Oaxaca's oldest neighborhoods.  They have been working for several months and the results are simply gorgeous.
The medium sized smooth stones are embedded in cement to make a classic cobblestone look.
The red bricks laid lengthwise complete the look. 
I should have taken a shot of a completely finished product, but I missed it....uh, I was only standing on it, right behind me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Dios mio!  If you are familiar with Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the whole story is about the old gods being replaced by the new and these car stickers sure made me wonder.
Of course, to complicate things, besides being the name of a Nissan car model, Tsubame is a god in her own right.... well, more like a cute ninja assassin. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Isidoro Cruz Hernandez - San Martin Tilcajete says adios

Yesterday, in San Martin Tilcajete, there was a funeral for the great artist, famed woodcarver, magical character, Isidoro Cruz Hernandez.  I arrived to see the procession coming from his house on its way to the church for mass.  There were lots of towns people and a band, all solemn and slow moving.
The casket arrived at the church door.
Bells, flowers and copal...
After the mass, the procession moved on to the panteon, cemetery.  It was a fifteen minute walk and the band played music that made me feel good.  It was not somber funeral music.  That is the iconic hill that is associated with San Martin Tilcajete in the background.
Arrival at the panteon.
Through the doorway.
There were quite a few wonderful and moving eulogies by his family and friends.  Don Isidoro was highly respected and loved by many.  His brothers spoke amongst others and there were smiles and tears and lots of applause for the departed.  It was a good and proper send-off.  Seeing his hat on his casket brought a real pang to my heart.
He will be long remembered.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Long read, but worth it.

This article from reader Pat Visser is really interesting.

Teachers, Education Reform, and Mexico’s Left by Benjamin T. Smith ▪ October 7, 2013
n early September Mexico’s Senate passed a series of sweeping reforms of the country’s education system, introducing standardized testing for the hiring and promotion of teachers and undermining the power of the teachers’ unions. Although the government bowed to certain union demands, teachers throughout southern Mexico remain on strike. Children in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Guerrero have yet to begin classes this academic year. The striking teachers claim that the reforms discriminate against teachers from poorer, more indigenous regions, and are designed to start the gradual privatization of the Mexican education system... snip

At the heart of the left’s total inability to generate popular enthusiasm for the strike is the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE). Dissident teachers, predominantly from the heavily indigenous southern states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, formed the confederation in 1979 to challenge the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), the official teachers’ union closely aligned with the government’s single-party corporatism. For over a decade, the CNTE struggled against SNTE leadership, eventually ejecting the union’s head during a national strike in 1989. Behind contemporary hostility to the CNTE, many older parents retain sympathy and respect for the teachers of the 1980s. The CNTE was at the forefront of the democratization movement and often allied with other social groups to push for broader reforms.

Friday, January 23, 2015

There was one quiet day this week

And it wasn't today.  Just down the road from me there was a major confrontation between mototaxi drivers and a great number of cops.  Rocks thrown and maybe a couple of shots fired.  I walked through all of it right after it happened and... it was back to normal pretty quickly as soon as the hundred or so police left.  I will see if I can find out what the thing was all about, but the mototaxistas in Viguera are a vocal and feisty group.  They have protested before, however the police presence was something new, mainly because there were so many of them. 

Then there were blockades all over the place today.  The nice thing is that social media is right on top of all of it and within minutes information is circulated and advice given.  Very cool.

Last Wednesday was supposed to be the huge national protest for the teachers, but here in Oaxaca, not enough of them showed up to pull much of anything off.  So today, I read that they are going to vote on whether or not to end the planton, the sit-in, or to continue until..... as I remember this all started last May, I've lost track, so maybe it has already been years.... which it actually has been. These protests started almost 40 years ago.

So maybe things are changing with the locals getting more organized and fed up and a waning of the enthusiasm of Seccion XXII.  It is all getting pretty old.  There has to be a better way.

However, because so many acts of vandalism by various parties have largely gone unchecked and unpunished, so many city-wide disruptions gone unfettered, unchallenged,  so many blockades un-policed, so chaotic, that it all seems to have emboldened even more protestors. We shall see what happens next.

However, the last few days has seen an increased police presence so maybe they are going to be involved.  I can't get into the whole politics of what's going on because..... I do not have a clue.

Update:  The action down the road in Viguera was all about pirate taxis and mototaxis.  If you think this is an easy issue, just think about taxi medallions in NYC, a legendary cesspit... easy it ain't.  Buses, colectivos (taxis) and mototaxis are the primary modes of transportation.  Yes, there are plenty of cars, but really, public transportation is huge here.  You can get to the most remote villages via some combination of the three.  So it is no wonder that politics, greed and corruption are interwoven into the system.  The crazy thing yesterday was the number of police.  Here's a video from Noticias of the action.  I walked right through it all a minute or two after it all went down.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Isidoro Cruz Hernandez 1934 - 2015

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Isidoro Cruz Hernandez, the master carver from San Martin Tilcajete, who died recently in California.  Don Isidoro was one of the most important driving forces behind what led to the golden age of alebrijes, the wood carvings for which Oaxaca is internationally famous.
He had a wonderful spirit, really quite cosmic, spiritual with a ever-present sense of humor.  He was born in San Martin and spent his whole life there, although he traveled widely.  I remember walking through the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with him and listening to his observations and opinions.  I loved the guy.
He was out there, a visionary.
This cane, one I possess, depicts the twelve Aztec kings. 
 Siempre picante!
San Martin Tilcajete is one of the most prominent carving villages and Isidoro was to a great degree responsible for this notoriety.  He worked with various arts and governmental agencies in the 60's and 70's to promote local artisans. His carvings are some of the best and most unique.  His masks are all so amazing.  This one hangs in my house in Boston.
As an artist and human being, I looked to him as a mentor and someone I hoped to emulate when I finally matured.  He was intelligent, creative and gifted with all sorts of talents.  I spent many days with him and have plants from his garden in my garden.  One time, we were sitting there and all of a sudden he asked if I knew how to play pool.  I misspent much of my youth in various pool halls, so I said, "No, but I am willing to try." a standard hustlers' line.  He brought this little flimsy table out, maybe a meter long, balls all chipped, and we began to play.  He was very competitive and it was his table, but in the end I won.....  and the prices for the pieces I was buying suddenly went up.. a lot.  That was the very last time I ever won.... I'm not a total fool.  I remember buying him new pool balls and a "taco", a cue, in Waltham. MA and the look on his face when he saw them.  As I say, a truly great man.  I loved him.
My condolences to his family.  However, Isidoro still lives... through his art and in our hearts and memories.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Keep smilin'

Three on a bike, a common sight and most of the time, the mother gets the helmet. 

Imagine what the little tiny baby must feel and get accustomed to, the rushing wind all while being cradled in its mother's arm.
And the smiley face in its many guise, ubiquitous, global.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The struggle - La Lucha

The Sisyphusion nature of life here in Oaxaca contributes to people's attitudes and behavior.  I mean, they keep pushing that rock up that hill and it keeps rolling back down on them.  Yes, there is progress, but it is not the unfettered progress this place deserves.  The teachers.... just think about that... the teachers are doing everything in their power to hold everyone and everything back.  If fact, their actions are regressive.  However, people remain calm and resolute for the most part.   Maybe it is all the area's history or the richness and diversity of the culture that makes Oaxaqueños so strong in the face of such blatant lawlessness and corruption.  It is all fascinating to watch.  Like all places, Oaxaca is a work in progress....  keep pushing that rock.

"Don't hate the media, free it."  I hope that's the right translation, because it works so well with the sat dish behind the razor wire.
La lucha has made Oaxacan street artists internationally famous
I read that a few protesters shut down I-93 in Boston this morning.  They made their point and no doubt, pissed people off.  Then they were peacefully arrested.  If they had used los maestros' techniques, they would have shut down the Mass Pike and all the major roads, gas stations, shopping malls and collected tolls.  All with no arrests.
Keep pushin' that rock...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Open any door

One of the things I love about this place is the use of wood.  All the furniture in my house is real wood, no press board anywhere, all real solid wood.  And if you go to buy lumber, you can find the most beautiful and exotic woods readily.  All the interior trim and windows in this house are so gorgeous and unusual that I would never even dream of putting a nail hole in them.  I have no idea what it is, but it is really nice and like nothing I've ever seen in Home Depot in the States.

I have been watching this door installation on Independencia in the city.  This was over three weeks ago.  Note the ubiquitous homemade ladder.
Then two weeks ago
And yesterday.
I wonder if they had to take it back to the shop to make adjustments.  Why the metal doorway in the center shot? However, no doubt, it was a tough installation and I bet it was pure grunt work by those three guys

At any rate, that is one heck of a set of doors.  Solid wood and I bet a couple of inches thick.  I will keep my eye to see if they put a finish coat on it. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

All's quiet...

Took a quick trip into the city to check out the zocalo and...
It all looked pretty normal.  No street vendors and just the usual number of teachers' tents. 
However, the south east corner
and the adjacent streets were occupied and closed to traffic.
And there were at least thirty of forty shoe shine guys.  Weird.
They were everywhere.
So things are quiet... how quiet?  No one person in the shot... well, there is one, just to the right of the door.

Give me a hand

How about this?  My first hand of bananas. 
I have no idea if I picked them too soon or if they will ripen successfully, but with luck, I will have other opportunities to learn.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

R. Crumb lives

I am a huge R. Crumb fan.  If you have ever seen the documentary, "Crumb," you know he is one smart, gifted, but seriously out there human being.  Watch the documentary.  He comes from a remarkable family with lots of brilliance and extreme darkness.  I've learned a lot from him, in particular, how to look at my surroundings more closely,  I remember him talking about all the things that are there that we never see, like poles and wires and stuff.

At any rate, this New York Observer interview with him about the cartoonists' murders is amazing, a must read.
So why wouldn’t you just not do it? Why would you go ahead and submit a cartoon like that? Isn’t that really scary and risky?
Well–they asked me to. Liberation called me and said, “Crumb, can you do a cartoon for us? About what you think about this, you know, you are a major cartoonist, and you live in France.” So I thought about it. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’m doing the dishes, or whatever,  I was thinking, “What should I do for that cartoon…” I had a lot of ideas.  Other people come up with these, you know, clever cartoons that comment on it, like…This one guy did a cartoon showing a bloody dead body laying there, and a radical Muslim standing over him with a Kalashnikov, saying, “He drew first!” Stuff like that. That’s good, that’s clever, you know, I like that. But, me? I gotta like, you know, when I do something, it has to be more personal. I said, first: “I don’t have the courage to make an insulting cartoon of Muhammed.”
Then I thought, “OK, I’m the Cowardly Cartoonist…As a Cowardly Cartoonist, I can’t make some glib comment like that, you know? I have to, like, make fun of myself.
To find out what he drew, read the article.

What would you do?

I hate to write this, but things have gotten significantly worse here in the last few days.  Seccion XXII, the teachers, have made life very difficult here once again.  However, for the first time ever, they actually shut down the airport, cancelling incoming and outgoing flights.  Of course, no one knew anything so travellers were on their own with no assistance from the airlines of the government.   In addition, I think they blocked gas stations, roads, shopping malls.  It's a long read but run this story from Noticias through a translator and you can get an idea of just how messed up things are.

I mean, there are soldiers and cops at the airport... with big guns.... and they hid and did nothing.  The teachers have taken over the streets around the zocalo again and businesses are going to start shutting down due to lack of customers or access.  How does all this happen??

Obviously, the fix is in.  It is sickening

And this is supposedly over the fact that the Feds, as a part of reform, now pay teachers' salaries electronically and that over 70 percent received their checks last week and the other 30 percent received them directly.  The teachers just returned from a two week vacation for the holidays and are receiving bonuses for some reason beyond my comprehension.

So what would you do??  As a resident?  A business?  A tourist?

Update: 1:30 PM Sunday.  I just heard a jet take off.  So maybe the airport is back.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The circus is in town

Well, not exactly in town.  This big top is set up just outside Etla on the way to Reyes Etla.
You can see what the weather has been like recently, cloudy, windy, dark, with moments of brilliant sunlight.
A circus to escape the real circus on the outside.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Entre los individuos como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz

"Among individuals, as among nations, peace is the respect of others' rights. "
"Respect for the rights of others means peace."

I don't get it

Fortunately, I'm an idiot, so it is not unexpected that I can't figure things out.  First, there is this story from the LAHT
Well over half – 59.7 percent – of the 16,283 applicants for more than 5,000 open teaching positions in Mexico’s public schools received failing scores in the second round of competitive examinations, the government said Thursday.

Only 6,564 people qualified as “suitable,” the National Registry of the Professional Teaching Service said.

Among the suitable applicants, a mere 280 earned the highest qualification, defined as a sufficient command of the necessary knowledge and skills and the ability to apply them in a range of different situations.

Around 60 percent of the 79,000 people who took part in the first round of competitive exams, held last August, also fell short.

Applicants who pass the exam must survive two additional evaluations to enter the National System of Teachers, where new instructors undergo a three-year probationary period before being confirmed in a teaching post.
Then there is this to look forward to (from Noticias)
Después de casi 7 meses de que los maestros de la Sección 22 del Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) instalaron su plantón en el zócalo, mañana hacen un relevo con la llegada de los profesores de la región de Valles Centrales quienes extenderán el campamento que crecerá al menos cuatro calles en el Centro Histórico.
After almost 7 months that teachers of section 22 of the National Union of education workers (SNTE) installed its sit-in in the zocalo, they make tomorrow a medley with the arrival of the professors of the central valleys region who extend the camp which will grow at least four streets in the historic centre.
And then there is this (Noticias)
El Instituto Estatal de Educación Pública de Oaxaca (IEEPO) informó que entre este jueves y viernes, más de 81 mil empleados de la Sección 22 del Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) recibirán el pago correspondiente a la segunda parte del aguinaldo.
El IEEPO precisó que la cifra que contempla el magisterio es la misma que asume el gobierno estatal y federal, por lo que descartó que haya docentes o empleados administrativos que no reciban la bonificación anual.
El monto equivale a 45 días de salario, respetando la forma de dispersión de los recursos; el 70 por ciento de los empleados recibirán cheques que podrán cobrar en sucursales Bancomer, mientras que el 30 por ciento restante, podrá hacerlo a través del sistema de nómina electrónica recibirá en su cuenta el depósito de su salario.
The State Institute of public education in Oaxaca (IEEPA) reported that between this Thursday and Friday, more than 81 thousand employees of section 22 of the National Union of education workers (SNTE) will receive the payment for the second part of the bonus.

The IEEPA pointed out that the figure that contemplates the Magisterium is the same the State and federal Government therefore ruled out that teachers or employees administrators who do not receive the annual bonus there are.

The amount is equivalent to 45 days of salary, while maintaining the shape of dispersion of resources; 70 per cent of the employees will receive checks that may collect in Bancomer branches, while the remaining 30 per cent, can do so through the payroll system Electronics will receive a deposit to your paycheck.
So over half failed to meet competency standards and only 280 attained the highest qualification.  And the planton, sit in, sleep-in, protest continue about these reforms and it appears like the strikers will received a preordained bonus.  What am I missing here?  And yes, I know that reforming education is a real problem, both in Mexico and El Norte, but something has to happen.  An educated workforce is the key to progress and prosperity and it ain't happening in either place nationally.

It was nice while it lasted.  The ambulantes or street vendors will be back shortly.  How sad the whole affair is.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

More Atzompa

I mentioned the other day how from my roof I can see Atzompa and how it calls to me.  Well... "Your call is my command."  I really do it for the exercise, which is both physical and spiritual.  The weather has been so dynamic the last few days that I wanted to see the views and experience being buffeted by the strong steady winds.  You can see the wind here.  Blown away.
 This is the upper most plaza, at the very top looking north.  Right now they are still restoring the plaza.  I wonder if we will be able to climb it when they are done.  I hope so.
Behind it, a panoramic view giving the viewer miles and miles of perspective, not bad for seeing anyone approaching from the north, if one was into that.
 To the south, Monte Alban
Then, I thought I would drive to Reyes Etla, which is about 12 miles due north and see Atzompa from the other side of the valley.  That's it, dead center.
Reyes, Etla is famous for the little church which was featured in Nacho Libre, but for me, it the very place for dancing before the gods.  Look at this place! They have a Guelaguetza there every year, but they put up a canopy.  I would brave the sun just to see it out in the open.
 Driving back, one gets a beautiful view of the church in Etla set against the mountains.