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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Open doors always draw the eye; you never know what you will see.  Peering through doorway of the Biblioteca de la Fundación Bustamante Vasconcelos, never disappoints.  Across the courtyard, seasonal book sculptures can often be seen.  Currently, celebrating July’s Guelaguetza, a Tehuana’s bookish hand holds her jicapextle aloft.

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Last October, with Día de Muertos coming up, a calavera was a book work in progress, with William Shakespeare playing a bit part.

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Guelaguetza 2017 brought a danzante from the Danza de la Pluma — his neck braced by the blue and rather appropriate book, “El Tesoro de Monte Albán.”

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There have also been Christmas trees and crosses, so stay tuned.  And, if you are in town, stop by the Biblioteca de la Fundación Bustamante Vasconcelos at Labastida 117 (across from the plazuela) — even if there isn’t a book sculpture, there are usually artisans set up in the entrance, and there is always the library to check out, says this librarian.

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What can one say about a country that celebrates a poet/essayist/philosopher/journalist as a national hero?  Granted, José Martí was also a fierce fighter for Cuban independence from Spain and died in battle on May 19, 1895, shot by Spanish troops in Dos Ríos, Cuba.

However, it is his writings that appear to be his most powerful and lasting legacy.  Exiled from Cuba due to his political activity against Spain, he spent many years in the United States and while there, he wrote a passionate report following the 1886 execution by hanging in Chicago of the Haymarket martyrs.  And so, let’s commemorate this May Day with words from José Martí…


Every human being has within him an ideal man, just as every piece of marble contains in a rough state a statue as beautiful as the one that Praxiteles the Greek made of the god Apollo.  — José Martí

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Memorial José Martí, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana

To educate is to give man the keys to the world, which are independence and love, and to give him strength to journey on his own, light of step, a spontaneous and free being.  — José Martí

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Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Men are like the stars; some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive.  —José Martí

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Display at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Man can never be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns us with the same light that warms us. The sun has spots (stains).  The ungrateful only talk about the spots (stains). The grateful talk about the light.  — José Martí, La edad de oro

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Courtyard of El Sitial Moncada, Havana

In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.  — José Martí

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Bookseller stall in the Plaza de Armas, Havana


I have a white rose to tend
In July as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.  — José Martí

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Dagoberto, our waiter at a bar on the grounds of Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, Havana — the white rose he made and presented to me

If translated back into Spanish, those last words may sound familiar to you…

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

This Playing for Change YouTube video may refresh your memory, then there is Pete Seeger.  The above is one of four stanzas from Martí’s Versos Sencillos that are often used as lyrics to Guantanamera.

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Last Sunday morning.  What can I say?  Sometimes the light…

Pink tinged mountains & sky with church in foreground

Painting its own time zone… dawn summons us to a world alive and death-defying, when the deepest arcades of life and matter beckon.  Then, as if a lamp were switched on in a dark room, nature grows crisply visible, including our own nature, ghostly hands, and fine sediment of days.

Diane Ackerman, Dawn Light:  Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day.
(New York:  W. W. Norton, 2009), xiv.

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This librarian couldn’t let this go by without a mention… Today is World Book Day and, naturally, Oaxaca celebrates with music!   Under the shade of 130+ year old Indian laurel trees on the zócalo, the State Marimba Band opened the festivities.

P1030861According to the SECULTA website, the celebrations also include storytelling and a marathon of reading aloud from works by Octavio Paz, José Emilio Pacheco, José Revueltas, Julio Cortázar, Efraín Huerta, Juan Gelman, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and by the recently deceased and much revered, Gabriel García Márquez.

While the zócalo and Alcalá are the settings for book fairs several times a year, most of the public libraries are inadequate to fulfill their designated tasks and the price of books (200 to 300 pesos) is way beyond the reach of most of the state’s residents.  Thus, it should surprise no one that reports show Oaxaqueños read an average of only one book per year.   The secretary of Cultures and Arts of Oaxaca ( SECULTA ), Francisco Martínez Neri, acknowledged, “A people with few economic opportunities read little, so it requires the creation of public policies to have books at affordable prices.”  Programs like Libros Para Pueblos, try to fill the gap, but it’s only the proverbial drop in the bucket.

I’ve previously mentioned the controversial “education reform” program of Mexico’s current president, Peña Nieto.  Perhaps, a massive nationwide literacy campaign modeled after the wildly successful, Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961 would be a good place to start.  Maybe the education reformers should read, Latin lessons: What can we learn from the world’s most ambitious literacy campaign?

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Several months ago, friend and longtime (35 years!) regular visitor to Oaxaca, Charles Kerns, asked me to write a review of his first work of fiction, Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca.

Cover of book, "Santo Gordo" by Charles Kerns

He sent it to me in June, when I was up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it proved to be the perfect reading material for my SFO –> IAH –> OAX return trip.  Once back, I mentioned Santo Gordo to friends, loaned it, got it back, only to loan it again.  With Santo Gordo again in my hot little hands and after many months of delay, today I finally posted the following review on Amazon.com.

A botana of Oaxaca

Much as it has done to Charles Kerns, Oaxaca has captured my heart and three years ago I began living an expat life there. Thus, I can assure you reading Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, will give you a botana (a small snack) of life in Oaxaca as seen and experienced by a gringo — well, not the witnessing an assassination part!

However, first time mystery writer Kerns does offer a glimpse at an underbelly few tourists are ever aware of and many expats choose to ignore – it’s history, complexity, and expression being too much to comprehend.

Kerns has crafted a mystery where place, in this case Oaxaca, is a leading character — much as Donna Leon, with her Commissario Brunetti mysteries, has done with Venice. Kerns has captured rhythms, rituals, sweetness, dangers (treacherous sidewalks, not murders, being at the top of the list), and bewildering aspects of life in Oaxaca, all the while telling a plausible tale with a very likable main character.

Now that the review has, at long last, been written, my copy of Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, will be donated to the Oaxaca Lending Library — as I promised Chuck many months ago.  Sorry I kept you waiting and ¡Feliz cumpleaños mi amigo!

(ps)  Check out the San Jose Mercury News interview with Chuck, Alameda writer pens Oaxaca mystery.

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Carlos Fuentes, one of Mexico’s most revered writers, died yesterday at the age of 83.

It was the California connection that allowed for my introduction to the writings of Fuentes.  The acquaintance came through The Old Gringo, a fictionalized story of  the disappearance in Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution, of real life writer and US Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce.  Following the Civil War, Bierce wound up in California, where he was a contributor to the literary journal, The Argonaut, founded and edited by one of my relatives, about whom, Bierce wrote a typically acerbic epitaphHere lies Frank Pixley — as usual.  So, in my ongoing attempt to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding living and being in Mexico, reading the The Old Gringo was a no-brainer.  As The Guardian’s obituary of Carlos Fuentes concludes,

Throughout his life, wherever he lived, Mexico was the centre of Fuentes’s artistic preoccupations. In his late 70s, he provided a typically graphic description of the attraction he felt for his own land: “It’s a very enigmatic country, and that’s a good thing because it keeps us alert, makes us constantly try to decipher the enigma of Mexico, the mystery of Mexico, to understand a country that is very, very baroque, very complicated and full of surprises.”

Carlos Fuentes is not uncontroversial, but you should see for yourself.  If you are not familiar with his writings, you might want to visit your local library and checkout a book or two.  For those in Oaxaca, the Oaxaca Lending Library has the following titles:

Fiction
Adan en Eden
Baroque Concerto
Burnt Water
Cuerpos y Ofrendas
Campaign
Cantar de Ciegos/To Sing of the Blind
Change of Skin
Christopher Unborn
Constancia: y Otras Novelas para Vírgenes
Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins
Crystal Frontier
Diana the Goddess Who Hunts: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
The Death of Artemio Crus:  A Novel
Destiny and Desire:  A Novel
Diana o la Cazadora Solitaría
Distant Relations
The Eagle’s Throne
Good Conscience
Gringo Viejo
Hydra Head
Muerte de Artemio Cruz
El Naranjo
Old Gringo
The Orange Tree
La Region Mas Transparente
Terra Nostra
Where the Air Is Clear
Years with Laura Diaz Fuentes
Cabeza de la Hidra
Vida Está en Otra Parte

Non Fiction
Aura
The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World
En Esto Creo
Latin America at War with the Past
Mexico:  Una Vision de Altura:  Un Recorrido Aereo de Pasado Al Presente
Myself with Others
This I Believe
Todos los Gatos Son Pardos
The Diary of Frida Kahlo:  An Intimate Self-Portrait
New Time for Mexico

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Last night I joined a standing-room-only crowd for the book launch of Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular de Oaxaca (Grand Masters of Folk Art of Oaxaca) at the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo, in Oaxaca city.  This beautiful 340+ page book was the joint effort of the Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú, Fomento Cultural Banamex, the State of Oaxaca, and CONACULTA (National Council for Culture and the Arts).

Cover of the book

The press was there in full force, as was governor Gabino Cue, benefactor Alfredo Harp Helu, and a number of other movers and shakers on Oaxaca’s cultural scene.  Many of the artisans were also in attendance and several posed for photographs holding their copy of the book at the reception that followed.

One of the artisans who was not there was the late potter, Dolores Porras from Santa María Atzompa, as Parkinson’s disease had claimed her on November 1, 2010.  Four pages in the book are devoted to this maestra of pottery and her pioneering work with glazes.  Examples of her work can be seen all around Oaxaca, including these scattered in the garden at the hotel, Las Golondrinas.

Vase in the shape of a woman's face and rounded body

Her work has inspired imitation, but as is evident in these pieces, her whimsy, creativity, and sense of proportion would be difficult to match.

Urn with the face of a woman.

I want to thank potter Michael Peed for pointing out these hidden treasures…

Tall vase in the shape of a woman.

following a showing of his loving documentary, Dolores Porras: Artista Artesana de Barro Santa María Atzompa.  (Click here for an excerpt on YouTube.)

DVD front and back covers

And then there is this one, I discovered on my own, the very next day — on a bathroom shelf, no less — at Casa Linda

Vase with image of a woman, with pointy breasts.

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With a nod to Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca:  Of all the volunteer opportunities, in all of Oaxaca, why did I walk into the Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL)?   For the answer, you will have to check out my newly published (yippeee!) article on volunteering at the Oaxaca Lending Library on the Go Overseas website.

The article mentions the various and sundry activities organized by the OLL.  So, I thought I’d give you a taste:

Volunteering at the OLL has introduced me to an incredibly diverse, knowledgeable, and talented group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Be they native Oaxaqueños, year round ex pat residents, or yearly “snow birds,” many have become part of my community and support system.  A library —  what better place to get your questions answered about the who, what, where, why, and how of living and thriving in an unfamiliar culture?  People and books are there to assist with navigating the challenges, celebrating the differences, and exploring the surroundings.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion at the library commemorating fifty years of the Peace Corps.  Two of the speakers had been among the original Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s, one to Africa and one to South America. The third speaker is an 85-year-old woman who was a Peace Corps volunteer when she was 60+ years old!  All have been living in Oaxaca for a number of years, and credit their Peace Corps volunteer experiences with broadening their horizons and realizing their power to have a positive impact in the world, even if it is just one person at a time.  All continue to find ways to offer their time, energy, and talents to assist various people and communities of Oaxaca.

According to a recent International Community Foundation report on US retiree trends in Mexico:

• Nearly 60% of respondents volunteer their time to a charitable cause in Mexico and over 29% volunteer at least once a week or on a regular basis. Respondents engage in a wide range of volunteer activities, most prominently with education-focused charities, community projects, and the environment.

• U.S retirees in Mexico volunteer because of their strong sense of social responsibility and desire to make a difference in their adopted communities. Survey respondents reported that their volunteer efforts increase their sense of belonging in Mexico, and contribute to an increased sense of community among local neighbors and friends.

• 42% of American retirees surveyed are actively involved in at least one or two Mexican charities in their adopted communities, while another 11% are affiliated with more than three.

Ten years ago, I never dreamed I would be living an ex pat life in southern Mexico.  Funny how life’s curves can lead to opportunities….

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A few weeks ago, my neighbor gave me the following poem based on the Clement C. Moore classic, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  The author, she said, was unknown.  The reference librarian in me couldn’t resist doing a little digging and found that this is Texas Public Radio DJ Ernie Villarreal’s version of the song, Pancho Claus, by Chicano music legend, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero.

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‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through la casa
Not a creature was stirring, Caramba! ¿Que pasa?

Los ninos were all tucked away in their camas,
Some in vestidos and some in pajamas.
While Mama worked late in her little cocina,
El viejo was down at the corner cantina.

The stockings were hanging con mucho cuidado,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would feel obligado
To bring all the children, both buenos y malos,
A Nice batch of dulces and other regalos.

Outside in the yard, there arouse such a grito,
That I jumped to my feet, like a frightened cabrito.

I went to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world, do you think que era?

Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero!

And pulling his sleigh instead of venados,
Were eight little burros approaching volados.

I watched as they came, and this little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre.

¡Ay, Pancho! ¡Ay, Pepe! ¡Ay, Cuca! ¡Ay, Beto!
¡Ay, Chato! ¡¡Ay, Chopo! ¡Maruca
and ¡Nieto!

Then standing erect with his hand on his pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.

Then huffing and puffing, at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala.

He filled the stockings with lovely regalos,
For none of the children had been very malos.

Then chuckling aloud and seeming contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.

And I heard him exclaim and this is VERDAD,
Merry Christmas to all, And to All ¡Feliz Navidad!

~~~

Multicolor star-shaped piñata against blue sky.

Piñata at the southeast corner of the zócalo in Oaxaca.

Paz y alegría a todos  ~~  Peace and joy to all.

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My Spanish language abilities are progressing little by little (poco a poco).  However, one thing my wonderful and extremely patient Spanish teacher, Laura Olachea, has neglected to cover is Madre-isms; those too numerous to count and unique to Mexican Spanish, expressions that the mamas, hijas, and hermanas for the most part never use, at least not in mixed or polite company.

Of course, being that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, I was oblivious!  Oblivious, that is, until I read Norma Hawthorne’s review of the new book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell.  Intrigued, I purchased the book when I was in el norte in June and immediately plunged in.

Cover of book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell

In July, while I was immersed in the “madre” minefield, Liza arrived in Oaxaca for some much-needed R & R, to write an article or two, and to promote her book.  I had the pleasure of getting to know her (she’s warm, smart, and funny), eat one of Aurora’s (you will meet her in the book) empanadas, and assist with setting up a couple of speaking engagements.  The first, in English, was at the Oaxaca Lending Library, where the audience was overwhelmingly women and, as expected, mostly gringas.  There was much surprise and laughter as Liza read excerpts from the book, expanded on points, and answered numerous questions.

Liza Bakewell at the Oaxaca Lending Library showing her book, Madre...

The second speaking engagement, the following evening, was at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO) and was conducted all in Spanish.  And here, surrounded by the Rini Templeton exhibit, I looked around and noticed the majority of people attending were Mexican men.  However, like Guillermo Fricke, Director of IAGO, people listened closely, occasionally chuckled knowingly, and stayed to ask questions and make respectful and thoughtful comments.

Guillermo Fricke listening to the talk by Liza Bakewell at IAGO

It was a much more reserved gathering than the day before, but no less attentive and appreciative.  And, reflecting on previous events and observations and now reading Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz, I’m coming to understand, except for fiestas, that is the Mexican way.  Though, I wonder, if it had been all Mexican women in attendance, would it have been different?  I think so.  There is something about the bond women share that crosses boundaries and cultures….

However, thanks to Liza, at least while in Mexico, I may never utter the word, madre, again!

(ps)  If your local library doesn’t have Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, ask them to order it!

(pps)  Another insightful review of Madre has just appeared on GlobetrotterGirls.com

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