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Hummingbirds in the ‘hood

It’s been a crazy busy visit to el norte gratefully sprinkled with some fun with family and friends. However, now I’m getting ready for my return to Oaxaca and the hummingbirds in my Jalatlaco ‘hood.

The last image is a commissioned watercolor by Raul Baños hanging in my living room. How many colibríes (hummingbirds) can you see?

Day of the turkey

It’s Thanksgiving Day (known as Día de Acción de Gracias in Mexico) in el norte and I’m thinking guajolote thoughts. When you sit down to your turkey dinner you will be following in the footsteps of the original inhabitants of the valley of 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.”

An imperious guajolote at the Villa de Zaachila Thursday market.

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.

Guajolotes looking cute at the Villa de Zaachila Thursday market.

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!

Send in the clowns

Just because, up here in el norte, life seems a bit more intense…

I say, send in a few of Oaxaca’s payasos.

I’m in el norte visiting family, getting my Pfizer booster, and seeing friends. Today, it’s chilly and grey, so I’m letting the crystals I hung in the new Casita Colibrí’s entry window cast their magic.

In morning, as the sun pours in, they paint rainbows all over my home.

And, I’m singing along to the John Sebastian tune, I’ll Paint Rainbows All Over Your Blues. (Click the YouTube link, it will make you smile.)

Day in the country, part 4

Our Day in the country’s final destination was San Bernardo Mixtepec. The scenery was spectacular as we drove south from Zimatlán de Álvarez, through the valley, and northeast up into the mountains. It was mid October, nearing Día de Muertos and in the valley there were fields filled with cempasúchitl (marigolds) and cresta de gallo (cockscomb) waiting to be picked for altars. In the meantime, they were being enjoyed by a local grasshopper.

Navigating the narrow, winding, and steep roads, we eventually arrived at the palenque and family home of José Alberto Pablo and his father Mario. Perched on the side of a mountain, it offers stunning views.

Fermentation is done in clay pots in a specially built room, and clay pots are used for distillation. In an eco-friendly feature, he recirculates the condenser water rather than letting it drain into a stream.

At some point in the history of San Bernardo Mixtepc, a persuasive vendor must have introduced the palenqueros to enameled metal condensers. Over time they rust and deposit a small amount of rust into the mezcal — giving it a distinctive yellow-orange color. According to José Alberto, the villagers have become so accustomed to the color, they are reluctant to drink clear mezcal.

José Alberto Pablo, his father Mario, and Craig T. (middle) — a very happy mezcal aficionado.

Yes, we bought! I came away with a lovely rusty tobalá. By the way, they also use stainless and copper condensers to make clear rust-less mezcal — for the less adventurous and to satisfy the mezcal regulatory board.

María amidst the madness

The evening of October 31, I heard the unmistakable sounds of a procession coming down the street — but not the raucous cacophony of a muerteada which, given the date, I was expecting. No, this was the slow dirge-like and repetitive hymn of a religious procession. Needless to say, I grabbed my camera, keys, and cubreboca (mask) and headed out the door. The Catholic church has dedicated the month of October to honor the Virgin Mary with the recitation of the Holy Rosary. This being the last Sunday of October, María traveled through the streets of Barrio de Jalatlaco through the generous mayordomía (stewardship) of the families Robles Tamayo and García Robles.

Upon her return to Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco, she was greeted by a less than solemn scene of Día de Muertos revelers in costumes and face paint, no doubt looking for a muerteada (aka, comparsa). According to the book, Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca, the muerteada allows the dead “to ‘occupy’ a living body, either a muerteada participant or an audience member, for a time, and therefore enjoy the entertainment directly rather than vicariously.” I suspect for some, it was just an excuse to party.

However, a muerteada did come to my neighborhood the following night. Again, I grabbed camera, keys, and cubreboca and ventured out to check it out. The craziness was only just getting started and would undoubtedly go on most of the night. Besides, not even half the people were wearing masks, so, after twenty minutes and twenty plus photos, I went home.

The sacred and profane that is Mexico.

Day of the Dead altars and their offerings to the departed vary from region to region and, within those regions, from family to family. Ofrendas (offerings) are an integral part of Día de Muertos. They are a beacon to the departed, an ephemeral work of art, and the sum of their lovingly chosen parts. As you can see from the photos below from several in Barrio de Jalatlaco, even on public display, they are intensely personal and creative.

Galería Shadai – Flowers, papel picado, candles, incense, pan de muertos, fruit, nuts, a casserole, and beverages.

And, there is a catrina tapete de arena (sand carpet) made of sand, beans, and flowers.

However, the only photo is of Maestro Francisco Toledo placed on a side pedestal.

Los Pilares Hotel and Restaurant – Flowers, papel picado, catrinas and catrins, candles, fruit, pan de muertos, and beverages.

And, there is a beautiful floral arch.

No photos of loved ones, but it’s a love story to the state of Oaxaca.

Family ofrenda – 5 de mayo at the corner of La Alianza. Family photos of the departed take center stage with papel picado, cempasúchitl (marigolds), and skeletons playing supporting roles.

Then there are those magnificent floral candles like one sees in Teotitlán del Valle.

And, lest the departed can’t find their way home in the greatly expanded city, an old photo and skeletons await outside the altar alcove to show the way.

Last but not least, my altar and offerings. It was a creative challenge to set up in the new Casita Colibrí.

It’s smaller than previous years, but I have figured out a way to make it bigger and better next year.

A yellow (color of death in pre-hispanic southern Mexico) tablecloth; papel picado (cut tissue paper) signifying the union between life and death; cempasúchitl (marigolds) and flor de muerto from the Sierra Norte, their scent to guide the spirits; and cresta de gallo (cockscomb) to symbolize mourning. There is salt to make sure the souls stay pure and chocolate, peanuts, pecans, apples, mandarin oranges, and pan de muertos (Day of the Dead bread) to nourish them. The sweet smell of copal incense and its smoke help guide my loved ones to the fiesta I have prepared for them. There is water to quench their thirst, as they travel between worlds, not to mention mezcal and cervesa (beer). And, there are the tangible remembrances of my departed — photos and some of their favorite things.

With candles lit and incense burning, I’m loving it and hoping my very dearly departed will find it warm, nourishing, and welcoming.

My new neighborhood, Barrio de Jalatlaco, has a long history — one that predates the arrival of the Spanish. Community spirit and traditions are strong, including making her departed feel welcome during Día de Muertos. Thus the bright orange and spicy scent of the flor de muerto, cempasúchitl (flower of the dead, marigolds) are everywhere.

Papel picado, in seasonal colors, ripple above the streets and cast fluttering shadows.

Floral arches welcome the living and the departed.

And skeletons are seen hanging out in doorways, windows, and sidewalks.

Tomorrow, altars and their offerings.

Día de Muertos is coming

Oaxaca is getting ready for the annual arrival of her difuntos (souls of the dead), so a pause in the Day in the country posts is in order. Blue sky or grey, ran or shine, and village or city, they come…

Oaxaca City
Villa de Zaachila
Villa de Zaachila

They come to eat and drink…

Villa de Zaachila
Oaxaca City
Villa de Zaachila

They come to sing and dance, contemplate life and death, and be with loved ones.

Villa de Zaachila
Villa de Zaachila
Oaxaca City

Our hearts are filled with joy to welcome them to the fiesta we have lovingly prepared in their honor.

Day in the country, part 3

Flora and fauna and mezcal, oh my! That pretty much sums up the next stop on my day in the country adventure with friends. After leaving Villa de Zaachila, we headed south to Zimatlán de Álvarez and the working farm and palenque of René Parada Barriga (sold under label, Tío René). René was at a meeting, so his son Moisés capably took over the palenque’s touring and teaching duties.

Tithonia diversifolia (aka, Mexican sunflower) reaching toward the sky.
Agave plantlets waiting to be planted.
Nonchalant cattle relaxing in the shade.
Friendly goat saying, “buenas tardes.”
Tools of the trade.
Omnipresent home altar.
Cooking pit awaiting the next batch of agave.
Fermentation vats.
Copper stills.
Moisés offering a taste.
Sophia filling one of our empty bottles.

We came prepared, bringing our own plastic bottles and René’s wife Sophia poured and sold. I bought a lovely copper distilled Cuish and, once home, transferred it into one of my many empty glass bottles — saved for days such as this. Our next (and last) stop was another palenque. Stay tuned!

Day in the country, part 2

Thursday is market day in Villa de Zaachila. Thus, once we turned off the carretera, we crawled our way into town joining scores of other cars, trucks, tuk tuks, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, and the occasional goat. The scenes were pure country village. Once parked, we meandered our way along the street stalls, stopping to examine their wares and chat with vendors.

However, our stomachs were grumbling and our trajectory was set — Zaachila’s mouthwatering barbacoa de chivo (goat) beckoned!

Once sated, we went in search of Zaachila’s beautifully decorated pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread). It was still a little early in the season but, zigzagging up and down the bread aisles, we eventually found a couple of vendors and bought a few to be placed on our ofrendas.

Being members of the “clean plate club” and needing to walk off our very filling lunch, we walked toward the Templo de Santa Maria de la Natividad to begin the Muertos mural walk to the Panteón. However, before even reaching the church, we were stopped in our tracks by this massive and incredibly moving mural dedicated to the victims of Covid-19.

New Day of the Dead murals had been painted along calle Coquiza since I was last in Zaachila two years ago and I will post pictures later. In the meantime, next stop — a mezcal palenque in Zimatlán de Álvarez.

Day in the country, part 1

Oaxaca-loving mezcal afficionado friends are in town and invited me to spend a day with them exploring pueblos and palenques. They hired a double vaccinated/mask wearing driver for the day, so I jumped at the opportunity escape from the city and hang out with them. First on the itinerary was the Mercado de Artesanías in Santa María Atzompa to peruse and purchase some of their green glazed pottery.

Next up was supposed to be Villa de Zaachila, but since they had never been to the Ex-Convento de Santiago in Cuilapan de Guerrero and even though it is currently closed due to Covid-19 precautions, we pulled into the mostly empty parking lot and gazed through the wrought iron fence at the unfinished basilica and monastery that was begun in 1535 and, due to skyrocketing costs, construction stopped in 1570.

We proceeded to walk almost all the way around the outer walls of this massive structure — enjoying views of the sides and back and the flora that surrounds it — something I previously had never done.

While we were definitely not in Oklahoma, the Rogers and Hammerstein song, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” came to mind.

There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,
An’ it looks like its climbin’ clear up to the sky.

Alas, we got trapped on the far side of the ex-convento with no exit and had to retrace our steps back to the car where we turned onto the road and headed southeast to Villa de Zaachila. Stay tuned!

A Pachypodium blooms

After a twelve year wait, my Pachypodium lamerei has bloomed! Though not a palm, you may know it as a Madagascar Palm.

First thing every morning, while the coffee is brewing, I go up on the rooftop to wish my plants a “buenos días” and check to see if the water heater pilot is still lit — but I digress.

Two and a half weeks ago my Pachypodium lamerei surprised me with its first ever flower.

And the blooms keep coming. I think it likes its new home!

Going to work

Opposite Santo Domingo, a bolero (shoeshiner) walks up Macedonio Alcalá to work…

As the faces on the wall cry out, “Because we people of Oaxaca have memory and dignity, we demand justice” for the missing Ayotzinapa 43 normalistas (student teachers).

Why???

Sometime last night, the recently inaugurated mural by the Tlacolulokos was defaced. And we are left asking, why?

The message, purportedly by anarchists (given the presence of their symbol) is calling the artists “Oaxaca indigenous traitors.” Due to their collaboration on the mural with the Canadian government??? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I am sad and angry at this attack on the right of artists to create without censorship or intimidation.

Update: The mural has been repaired. However, click HERE for a communiqué regarding why it was defaced.

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