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Holiday still life

A sign of the times… Navidad (Christmas) must be coming!

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An empty bottle of Noche Buena cervesa sitting on a sill outside of Templo de San Jose.  Noche Buena is the much-in-demand seasonal bock-style beer from Heineken Mexico. Its appellation, besides meaning “good night,” is also the name for the poinsettia plant and the word for Christmas Eve in Spanish.

Juquilita: Dear dark one

December seems to be el mes de las vírgenes (the month of the virgins) in Oaxaca.  Early this morning cohetes (rockets) and church bells announced the first of the month’s three virgin days; the feast day of la Virgen de Juquila.  And, this afternoon, on the Alameda in front of Oaxaca’s cathedral, a small procession gathered.

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According to legend, in 1633, when a fire burned the small Chatino village of Amialtepec to the ground, a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary was rescued amidst the ashes.  She was undamaged, save for her light skin color, which was permanently darkened by the smoke, causing her to more closely resemble the Chatino people, who live in this remote mountainous region.  Local priests declared her survival a miracle and she has been venerated ever since.

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Alas, that wasn’t the end of the story; the priest in the village of Juquila convinced the “powers that be” that she should be moved to the bigger and better church in Juquila.  She, however, had other ideas and returned to Amialtepec.  This back and forth continued another three times.  Finally, in 1719, La Morenita (the dear dark one), as she had come to be known, gave up her traveling ways and agreed to call Santa Catrina Juquila her permanent home.

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The faithful make pilgrimages to both her old and new mountain homes (about four hours southeast of Oaxaca city).  They come year round on foot, on bicycle, and in all other manner of transport, to make offerings and pray for miracles, but especially during the days leading up to December 8.  October 8, 2014 marked her crowning achievement; in a grand ceremony, she received a papal coronation, joining her previously crowned (1909) Oaxaca sister, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.

First stop: mi mercado

I returned to Oaxaca late Sunday night, a little dazed and confused.  Of course, getting the dreaded “red light” at customs didn’t help.  All was fine, though the word “bagels” didn’t register until someone behind me offered the word “pan” (bread), I nodded my assent, and the customs officer smiled and nodded hers.  Whew!

First on Monday morning’s “to do” list was a trip to my local market, Mercado Sánchez Pascuas.  It felt SO good to be walking again, even up hill!  Reaching my destination, completely unbidden, an “expletive deleted” popped out.  How could I have forgotten?  The mercado was in the midst of a month and a half renovation!

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This is a three million peso project that includes replacement of the roof, waterproofing of the slab area, and structural maintenance.  Most of the approximately 100 stalls have been relocated to the patio in front of the Tinoco y Palacios entrance and the parking lot at the Porfirio Díaz entrance.  The latter, I was pleased to see, found room for the annual display of poinsettia.  I will return!

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But first and foremost, food!  I found (or they found me) my favorite vendors.  They may not know my name, but they recognized and called to their gringa customer, who they haven’t seen for almost a month.  Quesillo (Oaxaca string cheese), verduras (vegetables), fruta (fruit), tamales (mole, verde, amarillo, and rajas), and salsas (green and chipotle) were purchased.

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My two shopping bags filled, I headed back down the hill to home, sweet, Oaxaca home.  It’s great to be back!  The icing on the cake, especially coming on top of the sticker shock of el norte, was the above, plus 8 bottles of beer, came to a grand total of 335 pesos — that’s $16.42 (US dollars), at today’s exchange rate.

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Bike city

Prior to heading to el norte, I stumbled on the delightful exhibition, Ciudad BICible, at the Casa de la Ciudad.  It is a glimpse into the history of the bicycle — its role in society, culture, and its importance today as a means of transportation in the city.

The exhibition invites visitors to reflect on how the bike has managed to point cities towards a more tolerant, healthy, equitable, and human way of living, and how we can make Oaxaca a “Bike City.”

Ciudad BICible opened October 7, 2016 and runs until January 29, 2016.  The Casa de la Ciudad is located at Porfirio Díaz 115, at the corner of Morelos in Centro Histórico, Oaxaca.

Missing the color

I’m still on the East Coast, now outside of Boston.  It’s cold (not freezing, thank goodness), dark by 4:30 PM, and colors are bland.  Today, as we dashed down an alley, dodging raindrops, from parking lot to restaurant, I caught a brief glimpse of a mural on the side of a building, but it seemed rather lackluster compared to the walls of Oaxaca.

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Calle de Tinoco y Palacios, Oaxaca de Juárez — Oct. 31, 2016

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Calle de Ignacio López Rayón, Oaxaca de Juárez — Nov. 9, 2016

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Emiliano Zapata (corner of I. López Rayón), Oaxaca de Juárez — Nov. 9, 2016

While I LOVE (I think that’s what the last one says) seeing my family and appreciate (more than a little) paper towels that don’t disintegrate, drinking water from the tap, and plumbing that can handle toilet paper, I’m homesick for Oaxaca.  Soon!

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Fidel Castro, presente!

I read the news today, oh boy…

Fidel Castro, Leader of the Cuban Revolution Dies at 90.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana -- April 2016.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana — April 2016.

The revolutionary’s achievements in the face of US meddling made him a powerful symbol of resistance against hegemony.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana -- April 2016.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana — April 2016.

Cuba Declares 9 Days of Public Mourning to Honor Fidel Castro.

"As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied."  On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana -- April 2016.

“As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied.” On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana — April 2016.

And, from the personal poster collection of my friend, archivist and librarian, Lincoln Cushing, Castro’s Revolution, Illustrated.

Farewell Fidel and thank you for standing up to US imperialism.  May the Cuban people continue to stand strong.

Grateful for guajolotes

When you sit down to your turkey dinner tomorrow, you will be following in the footsteps of the original inhabitants of the valley of Oaxaca.

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Guajolotes on the doorstep. San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of turkey domestication 1,500 years ago in the in the valley of Oaxaca’s Mitla Fortress.  And, according to Gary Feinman, Field Museum curator of Mesoamerican anthropology, “It’s a bird very, very similar to what a lot of people are going to eat on Thursday.”

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Guajolotes waiting for a ride, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.

Turkeys, or as they are commonly known in Oaxaca, guajolotes, continue to play a special role in many of Oaxaca’s indigenous communities.  Turkey mole is prepared and served during religious festivals and weddings, among other special occasions.  They are also given as gifts and the downy feathers under the wings are dyed and used to make penachos (headdresses) for the danzantes of the Danza de la Pluma.

So, to those in el norte, while you are enjoying your Thanksgiving turkey, give a little thanks to the Zapotecs of the valley of Oaxaca.  ¡Buen provecho!

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Zancudos on the loose

It was early evening last Monday, all my bags were packed and I was ready to go, when the the sounds of a parade began getting closer and closer.  I grabbed the little Lumix and headed into the streets.

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Zancudos, not autos, on Av. Morelos

Yikes, Zancudos had taken over the street.

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Low bridge!

As you can see, we are not talking about mosquitoes; these Zancudos are stilt walkers.

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Approaching the Plaza de la Danza

The two contingents of Zancudos were part of a calenda kicking off UABJO (Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca), Semana Cultural, Deportiva y Científica (Culture, Sport, and Science Week).

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About to tackle the stairs

The five-day program of events included competitions in singing, chess, oratory, and science experiments; film and theater presentations; along with zumba, self defense, and aerobics demonstrations.

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Dancing and prancing on the Plaza de la Danza

Reason #980 why I love Oaxaca:  You just never know when a calenda will break out!

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Rest time, after walking and dancing their way through the streets

It was a great memory to carry with me, as I boarded the plane the next morning en route to el norte.

If the walls could talk…

The US election results had come in and, with mixed feelings, I was preparing for a trip up into the belly of the beast, to visit family.  A mural seen shortly before I left, on the wall of contemporary art space La Curtiduria on 5 de mayo in Jalatlaco, seemed to speak to me.

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Today, after hearing of the death of Mose Allison, another musical great I had the privilege of seeing in person several times, I’m thinking the wall could very well have been singing…

Your Mind Is On Vacation
by Mose Allison

You’re sitting there yakkin’ right in my face
I guess I’m gonna have to put you in your place
Y’know if silence was golden
You couldn’t raise a dime
Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is
Working overtime

You’re quoting figures, you’re dropping names
You’re telling stories about the dames
You’re always laughin’ when things ain’t funny
You try to sound like you’re big money
If talk was criminal, you’d lead a life of crime
Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is
Working overtime

You know that life is short and talk is cheap
Don’t be making promises that you can’t keep
If you don’t like the song I’m singing, just grin and
Bear it
All I can say is if the shoe fits wear it
If you must keep talking please try to make it rhyme
‘Cause your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working
Overtime

Teotitlán, as promised

After the wretched week that was (RIP Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, not to mention the USA elections), reviewing my Día de Muerto photos from Teotitlán del Valle was the ideal tonic.

On November 1, as I previously mentioned, after strolling and sitting and contemplating and conversing our way through the panteón in Tlacolula de Matamoros, we drove to the home of friends, Zacarias Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez, in Teotitlán.  Arriving at 3:00 PM, we were just in time to join the family and other guests, as Zac gave words of welcome to the difuntos, who had also just made their appearance.

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Our pan de muerto and mezcal joined the other offerings on the altar to provide nourishment to the departed while we, the living, sat down at the long table for a little cervesa, mezcal, and more than a few of the 500+ tamales Emilia had made.  After lots of eating and conversation, we walked across the courtyard to give our regards to Antonio Ruiz (weaver of one of my treasured rugs), wife Claudia, and their children (the beautiful Beatriz and her lively brothers, Diego and Antonito), and to see Antonio’s new showroom (Chris has a photo in his Familia blog post) and their altar.

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Invited to return to the Ruiz home the following day for Emilia’s famous mole negro, we also stopped at the village panteón to listen for the wind that signals the departure of the difuntos at 3:00 PM on November 2.

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We also stopped to pay our respects at the grave of Arnulfo Mendoza, though it took a little searching to find it, as the large tree that stood next to it had fallen, leaving only a stump.

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Both days, the drive back to the city was filled with the warmth, peace, and joy that Teotitlán del Valle always seems to impart.

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Under the strong and comforting gaze of Picacho, who could ask for a better resting place.

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Watching the birds

The view from Casita Colibrí after the election in el norte…

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What are you looking at?

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Not liking what I’m seeing.

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Contemplating the future…

Bird On The Wire
by Leonard Cohen

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.
Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

Oh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Rest in peace, Leonard Cohen.  Thank you for your poetry, your music, your voice, and your grace.

The dead don’t arrive in the valley of Oaxaca all at once.  The cosmic difunto air traffic controller has scheduled their arrival at different times on different days, from October 31 through November 3, to avoid celestial congestion.

Santa María Atzompa’s departed are among the first to return, arriving on the night of October 31.  Flower and food vendors line the walkway leading to the panteón as grandparents, parents, teens, and small children stream in with arms full of flowers, candles, buckets, and brooms.  Because is built on a slope and there are almost no paths, footing can be treacherous, especially in the dark when only candles on the graves light the way.  At one time, perhaps tombs were positioned on a grid, but no more and it seems to be filled to capacity.  I guess that’s why one side of the panteón has been opened up (one of the walls removed), the field beyond leveled, and a new wall around the field, connected to the old, constructed.  (You can click on images for a larger view.)

On November 1, in the early afternoon, it has become our custom to visit the cemetery in Tlacolula de Matamoros, before bringing pan de muerto and mezcal to the home of friends in Teotitlán del Valle.  In contrast to the higgledy-piggledy of Atzompa, the panteón in Tlacolula emanates a sense of order and serenity.  I wonder, could the tranquility comes from the 500 year old ahuehuete trees (hijos of el Tule, we were told) that reign over the tombs of the departed and make for an amazing play of light and shadow throughout?

On November 2, we returned to Teotitlán, but I will save that for another blog post.  However, that was not the end of the road.  In the category of, no rest for the living, the following day we drove south to San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  This is the village known for their beautiful flowers and exquisite floral embroidery.  And, it is said that because the living are so busy providing flowers to other parts of the valley, the departed wait until November 3 to return. (See the book, Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca by Shawn D. Haley and Curt Fukuda.)  I’m sure, like we, the difuntos are dazzled by the intricacy of floral designs that family members have created to decorate their tombs in welcome.

Octavio Paz writes in The Labyrinth of Solitude, “Life extended into death, and vice-versa.  Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.”

Gone with the wind

A pause in the Día de Muertos coverage for breaking news!!!

A few months ago, I replaced the small lightweight plastic table, that came with my apartment, with a larger dark green/black wrought iron one.  A couple of weeks ago, I exchanged the faded blue umbrella for a dark green one.  However, blue plastic chairs continued to surround the table — dark green chairs remained elusive, until today.  All was now color-coordinated perfection.

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Then, late this afternoon the winds came, the umbrella took flight, and disappeared

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Up, up, and away over the terrace it sailed, landing on the rooftop of the apartment compound bodega.  Thank goodness it didn’t leave the property!

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However, there is good news — with the aid of an extension ladder, long pole, and another gust of wind, my neighbor D freed it from the tree limb and its new rooftop perch.  Intact, it slowly glided down to the driveway.  It is now back, standing in the center of the table — albeit collapsed and fastened with a bungee cord.  Great minds are working on ways to better secure it.

My offering to the departed

Poco a poco (little by little) my ofrenda has been constructed and composed.  A yellow (the color of death in prehispanic southern Mexico) cloth covers two chests and papel picado, signifying the union between life and death, has been added.

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Photos of departed loved ones have been placed, along with apples, oranges, and nuts to nourish the difuntos, sal to make sure the souls stay pure, cempasúchitl and veruche (domesticated and wild marigolds) — their scent to guide the spirits, cockscomb to symbolize mourning, the previously mentioned flor de muerto from the mountains above Díaz Ordaz, and copal incense to draw the spirits home and ward off evil.

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Sugar skulls, catrinas, and a few of the favorite things of my parents, grandparents, and in-laws have also been added.  Lest the spirits become thirsty, there is water, mezcal, cervesa, and a bottle of port (for my mom) to drink.

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Last night, the candles and copal incense were lit to guide my loved ones to my Oaxaca home and, just to make sure, I sprinkled some cempasúchitl petals outside to help them find their way.

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It may not be the house where they lived, but I’m hoping they too believe, When you live in your heart, you are always home.

Preparing and waiting

October 30, 2016, around and about the valley of Oaxaca, preparations were underway for Día de Muertos.  Bread, fruit, chocolate, nuts, and flowers for sale spilled from mercados into the streets; the difuntos must be fed… and only the best!

Our first stop was Villa Díaz Ordaz for their first Expo Festival del Pan de Muerto.  It was day two of the 3-day festival and, of course, we were there early (around noon), but everyone was so warm and welcoming.  Hopefully, it will continue to grow in future years, as this is a sweet village in a picturesque setting at the base of the mountains.

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In Díaz Ordaz, they call these tiny, spicy-scented, lavender flowers “flor de muerto” and we were informed that they are even more important than cempasuchil (marigolds).

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After buying some surprisingly flavorful (whole grain!) pan de muerto for my ofrenda, we headed off to San Pablo Villa de Mitla.  Mitla has the most beautiful pan de muerto and two years ago we stumbled on their Pan de Muertos festival and competition.  A dazzling display of intricately decorated breads lined the sidewalks under the portales.  Alas, the festival was not continued, as their bread is in such demand, the bakers were too busy to take time out for an expo and competition.  So, like last year, we just enjoyed the sights and aromas of their bustling mercado.

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Have you ever seen so many varieties of bananas???  And, now for the famous  pan de muertos…

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Returning home, I added the bread and flor de muerto to my ofrenda.  Following a siesta, I ventured out into the streets of the city in search of a comparsa.  I never found it, but, as you could see from my previous post, the city was teeming with people and activity.  However, amid the merriment and mayhem, there were scenes of tranquility.

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A catrin ejecutivo?

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The copal incense beckoned the difuntos…  They began arriving this morning, seconds after midnight.

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