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Another year of Covid-19 means another year without an up close and personal Guelaguetza on the last two Mondays of July. Like last year performances and events are going virtual. However, unlike last year, when video of the dancing was taken from the years 2017 to 2019, this year the delegations will be performing live from their villages.

La Guelaguetza 2021 schedule of cultural events:

July 19, 2021 – Morning delegations and dances:

July 19, 2021 – – Evening delegations and dances:

July 26, 2021 – Morning delegations and dances:

July 26, 2021 – – Evening delegations and dances:

Transmissions can be viewed at CORTV– on local television, their YouTube channel, and on their Facebook page.

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In Teotitlán del Valle, the fiesta honoring Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo is the most important one of the year. It lasts eight days, includes two convites (processions), several special masses, and (in non Covid years) two fireworks’ displays. However, the highlight for visitors and villagers is the four performances of the Danza de la Pluma by the Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa.

El Picacho, the sacred mountain, watches over the village and the dancers.
The choreography includes athletic leaps, twists and turns, and complex footwork.
Maneuvering the penachos/coronas/headdresses as the dancers navigate the step takes strength and timing.

The Danza de la Pluma is a ritual re-enactment of the Spanish conquest.  The full version is told in 41 bailes (dances) and lasts from early afternoon into the night.  It is danced by folkloric groups throughout the valley of Oaxaca. However, in Teotitlán, it is a three year religious commitment. 

Rattles, paddles, and breastplates of old coins are part of the dancers’ costume.
In Teotitlán del Valle, Moctezuma’s penacho features the symbol of Mexico: Eagle and serpent on a cactus.
Moctezuma, accompanied by a Danzante, with Doña Marina and La Malinche

Moctezuma, Danzantes, Subalternos, Malinche, and Doña Marina are selected years in advance and make a promise to their god and, thus, their church and community to learn and perform the dance at each of the four annual major religious festivals in the village and any other special occasion they are called upon to dance.

La Malinche.
The dance divides the historic person of Doña Marina and La Malinche into two characters.
Doña Marina.

A 20+ piece orchestra accompanies the dancers, playing a musical score mostly comprised of waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, quadrilles, and schottisches. The first time I saw the Danza de la Pluma, I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance at the contrast between the costumes and the music. A little research (after all, I’m a librarian) provided the explanation. At the end of the 19th century, when all things European were being celebrated in Mexico, an orchestra playing European music replaced the original indigenous teponaztli (drum) and chirimía (flute).

Subalterno providing a little comic relief.
Wearing their trademark cross between a boar and bear wooden black masks, Subalternos posing for the camera.
Subalterno taking a break from his Aide-de-Camp duties of offering water to the dancers, dealing with wardrobe malfunctions, clearing debris from dance floor, and entertain spectators.

On two of the days the dancers dance for four hours and the other two, they dance for seven hours. The sun can be brutal and the wind can wreak havoc with the penachos. I don’t know how they do it — their stamina is astounding! I only managed to attend a few hours each at three of the performances. However, I will be back in September for the Natividad de la Virgen María fiesta.

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A much needed pause in nesting at the new Casita Colibrí was in order. Teotitán del Valle’s patronal festival of the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo beckoned. The pandemic had closed the village for many months and precluded attending any of the 2020 fiestas. However, with mask on, I returned to spend three days. First on the schedule was Monday evening’s convite (procession) inviting the community to the fiesta.

Lining up in front of Iglesia Preciosa Sangre de Cristo for the convite.
Canastas ground level before being lifted onto the heads of the young unmarried women chosen to participate.
Cohetero (aka, rocket man) mugging before lighting the fuse.
Anticipating the big bang!
Tambor player who has walked many miles.
Young percussion player with many miles yet to walk.
As the shadows lengthened, the convite wound its way through the streets of Teotitlán del Valle.
Doña Marina, Moctezuma, and La Malinche bringing up the rear.
Villagers gather at their favorite location to watch the passage of the convite.
Convite taking over the main street in Teotitlán del Valle.
Danzantes under the watchful gaze of El Picacho.
Subalterno keeping on keeping up.
The return trip to the iglesia.
After almost an hour, the convite re-entered the atrium of the iglesia.
Watching and contemplating — the end.

The last festival in Teotitlán that I attended, before Covid-19 turned the world sideways, was the Fiesta de La Virgen del Rosario in October 2019. The warm welcome I received at the convite on Monday was incredibly touching and I admit to tearing up a little as it began.

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On this second Día del Trabajo during the pandemic, let us recognize and give thanks to the workers of Oaxaca and the world who continue to keep the wheels turning.

Repairing the bell tower of Templo de San José.
Digging out the roots of a fallen Indian Laurel tree on the zócalo.
Preparing to sweep the sidewalk in Barrio de Jalatlaco.

Happy International Workers’ Day!

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Easter Sunday, Peter Cottontail, with a little help from his friends, hippity hopped his way to Casita Colibrí, bringing platters full of Easter joy.

Easter eggs dyed with hibiscus, chili, turmeric, and beets with designs imprinted by cilantro, parsley, epazote and bougainvillea.
Marinated and roasted pork shoulder with organic baby carrots, potatoes, and shallots from the Sierra Norte.
Peter Cottontail’s favorite salad of radishes, cucumber, bell peppers, onions, and lettuce.
Choux pastry filled with creamy coffee with caramelized peanut cream.

A muchisimas gracias to my many-times-mentioned friend, neighbor, and talented cocinera, Kalisa, who dyed the eggs and prepared all but the dessert. The latter yummy decadent delight was purchased from Masea Trigo y Maíz. To quote another rabbit, “That’s all folks!”

(ps) My alebrije rabbit is by Bertha Cruz from San Antonio Arrazola, Oaxaca.

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Alas, another silent Viernes Santo in Oaxaca due to the pandemic. No early morning processions from churches throughout the city converging in front of the Cathedral to reenact the encuentro where Jesús meets María going towards Calvary. No worshipers praying and reciting appropriate devotions as they moved from one sidewalk Estación de la Cruz (Station of the Cross) to another. And, no rhythmic beat of a tambor, high-pitched tones of a chirimía, and the sputtering sounds of rachets punctuating the hush of the crowds gathered along the route for the early evening Procesión del Silencio (Procession of Silence).

Only silent sacred vignettes accompanied yesterday morning’s Good Friday walk through Barrio de Jalatlaco…

Unlike last year when church doors remained closed and services were broadcast remotely, the Archbishop announced that this year the churches will be open for liturgical acts on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, albeit with a “limited presence of the faithful.”

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March 8 is International Women’s Day. In the words of a recent article by Nancy Rosenstock, a woman I knew back in the day, “In these challenging times, all women — from those of us who were involved in second-wave feminism to those just entering the struggle — need to come together as equal fighters and chart a course forward.”

We may have come a long way, but the struggle for equal rights, respect, freedom from violence, and control of our own bodies continues and the women of the walls of Oaxaca are not silent.

Many of the images also carry a written messages. Below, Nuestros sueños no caben en sus urnas / Our dreams do not fit in their ballot boxes carries an indictment against the capitalist political parties.

The next one lets the symbols of the ancestors speak.

From a women’s graphic campaign that seeks to express “what our bodies go through every day and what we are seeking when we scream: Vivas Nos Queremos / We Want Ourselves Alive.

And, a promise that women will not be silenced and will march forward Sin miedo / Without fear.

Then there is the mural, La Patria / The Homeland, which adorns the wall of a school in Barrio de Jalatlaco. La Patria, originally a painting by Jorge González Camarena of an indigenous woman surrounded by patriotic imagery, graced the covers of textbooks from the 1960s into the 1970s.

To honor and celebrate International Women’s Day, on March 8, La Mano Magica Gallery/Galería inaugurates an exhibit of women artists, Exposición de Arte Colectiva Mujeres Artistas, curated by Mary Jane Gagnier, at their gallery in Oaxaca and online on their Facebook page.

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If all was right with the world, on this Día de Carnaval (aka, Carnival, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday), the day before Christians celebrate the beginning of Lent, I would be in San Martín Tilcajete — where the streets would be alive with the sound of bells, as los encabezados (guys covered in motor oil or paint and wearing cowbells tied around their waist) roam the streets startling the unaware, making mischief, and welcoming all to the festivities.

2014

2015

This predominately Zapotec village has seized on the holiday, brought to Mexico by Spanish Catholicism, to create elaborate masks to showcase its woodcarving skills. It is no coincidence that Carnival conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.” It is also no surprise that it caught on, “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities” — and make fun of them.

2016

2017

The festivities revolve around a mock wedding — a parody of a traditional village wedding. It includes much pomp and circumstance, hilarity, music, food, and fireworks. Young and old move from the houses of the principal players to City Hall for the “civil ceremony,” dancing in the plaza, followed by another procession through the streets to another house where the happy “couple” kneel before a “priest” for the religious ceremony. You might want to take a second look at those beautiful wedding guests with the smoldering eyes and modeling the gorgeous gowns.  They are not what they seem — and neither is the bride.

2018

2019

2020

San Martín Tilcajete isn’t the only village in Oaxaca that celebrates Carnaval in its own wild and wacky way. Beginning in 2019, in an effort to promote tourism to other villages, residents and visitors in Oaxaca city have been treated to a boisterous parade down the Macedonio Alcalá on the Saturday preceding Fat Tuesday sampling the pre-Lenten traditions from various parts of the state. Though festivities were canceled due to Covid-19, the city’s tourism department put together a video of celebrations from past years by several villages.

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February 14th isn’t just a day for lovers. In Mexico, Valentine’s Day is known as the Día del Amor y la Amistad — Day of Love and Friendship.

By the artist known as ARCH

Decorations have gone up and I have no doubt kilos of chocolate, bouquets of flowers, and heart shaped balloons with confessions of amor will be purchased.

Unfortunately, with the virus continuing to rapidly spread and Oaxaca still under semáforo naranja/orange traffic light (though many think it should be rojo/red), I’m not sure restaurants will or should be filled to capacity with friends, sweethearts, and families.

By the artist known as Efedefroy

Given the trauma and uncertainty the world has experienced over the past year, I hope we have learned to cherish our friends and family and to let them know how much they mean to us every day. Let us celebrate days of love and friendship and not just limit it to one day a year.

And, if you would like to say I love you (te amo) in 7 of the 69 indigenous languages spoken in Mexico — including several spoken in the state of Oaxaca — click HERE.

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It’s been a whole month, so I figured it’s about time to again showcase the culinary creations by my friend, neighbor, and cocinera extraordinaire, Kalisa. If you can’t take the mouthwatering temptation, I advise you to step away from the blog post now.

January 4, 2021 – Flor de Frijolón salad.
January 4, 2021 – Pork pozole.
January 10, 2021 – Quiche Lorraine.
January 10, 2021 – Chicken wings.
January 17, 2021 – Cassoulet with duck, sausage, pork, and organic French Tarbais beans.
January 23, 2021 – Picadillo stuffed cabbage leaves.
February 3, 2021 – Pan seared Norwegian salmon in brown butter lemon sauce accompanied by baby new potatoes and carrots.
February 3, 2021 – Mixed berry tart.

Just so you know, the last two are not everyday fare — they were for my birthday. (Please, don’t ask.) I think Kalisa outdid herself!

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Today, besides being Groundhog Day, it is the Christian holy day, Día de la Candelaria (aka, Candlemas, Presentation of Jesus at/in the Temple, and Feast of the Purification of the Virgin). In Mexico, tradition calls for families to bring their Niño Dios (baby Jesus), decked out in new clothes, to the church to be blessed. Alas, in the time of Covid-19, the Servicios de Salud de Oaxaca (health department) has called upon Oaxaqueños not to gather this year and, while the doors of the Cathedral will be open, the faithful are asked to stay home if their Niño Dios was blessed in previous years.

Tamales from Levadura de Olla Restaurante: Tamal Adobo, Tamal Chile Ajo, Tamal Mole Negro, Chancleta Guajolote, and Tamal de Fiesta (not in order)

Custom also calls for the person who bit into the baby Jesus figurine hidden in the Rosca de Reyes (3 Kings Cake) during Día de los Reyes Magos to host a tamalada on Candelaria. As I write, tamales are steaming all over the state. The virus will not stop the cocineras of Oaxaca from rising before the crack of dawn to make and serve tamales. As I previously mentioned, I munched down on a figurine. And I wasn’t the only one — my neighbor and friend Kalisa also had the “pleasure.” I must confess, we took the easy way out and pre-ordered our tamales from Levadura de Olla Restaurante. I can’t wait to eat them!

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Feliz Día de los Reyes Magos / Happy Three Kings day! Today is the day Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar bring gifts to the children of Mexico. In normal, non Covid-19 times, the municipal DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) agency and private organizations sponsored a toy drive. Toys filled the Alameda to be given to the city’s disadvantaged children, along with milk and juice. Crafts, games, and music were set up to entertain. I haven’t seen or heard of any evidence it is happening this year. Let’s hope these children have not been forgotten.

In addition to kings bringing kids gifts, January 6 also calls for a special cake — the wreath shaped Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings bread). This morning, I walked up to Pan con Madre bakery to buy mine to share with apartment staff and friends.

And, surprise, there is a plastic Niño Dios figurine hidden in each Rosca de Reyes, remembering Mary and Joseph concealing baby Jesus from King Herod. If you are the “lucky” person to bite into it, you must host a tamales and atole party on February 2 — Candelaria (Candlemas).

Guess who the lucky person was? Yes, it was me!

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Hindsight is the ability to understand, after something has happened, why or how it was done and how it might have been done better.

2020 was a year that most of us would like to forget but that will probably remain vividly etched in our memory banks for the rest of our lives. It was a year our worlds became smaller and forced us to see what was before us. It was a year that we will continue to examine and try to understand. It was a year that has important lessons to teach about who we are individually and collectively.

January 2020 – Visiting very dear friends and getting my Pacific Ocean fix at Avila Beach, California.
February 2020 – New resident in Casita Colibrí’s garden, an Argiope spider.
March 2020 – One of the last calendas of the year, graduation of public accountants.
April 2020 – Morning visitors at Casita Colibrí.
May 2020 – Sunday morning walk past the Xochimilco Aqueduct Arches.
June 2020 – Morning view from Casita Colibrí of Templo de San Felipe Neri.
July 2020 – Balcony garden of greens at Casita Colibrí.
August 2020 – Rainy season morning view of Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad from Casita Colibrí.
September 2020 – Monday morning walk on calle Garcia Vigil, “Together in (healthy) distance.”
October 2020 – Susana Trilling discusses the foods of Day of the Dead at Casa Colonial.
November 2020 – Sunset view from Casita Colibrí of the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad.
December 2020 – Sunday morning encounter with the new sculpture on the Alcalá, “Agaves Contemporáneos Oaxaqueños” presented by the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO).

With a renewed appreciation for the small things that bring joy and give life meaning, on this New Year’s Eve, I wish you all health, peace, and joy in 2021.

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Poinsettia, also known as Nochebuena

While there may be no life-size nacimiento (Nativity scene) or towering Christmas tree standing in Oaxaca’s zócalo this year, mine in miniature have been retrieved from the storage closet and sit atop the sideboard of my great room.

In this challenging holiday season, may this newly remastered version of “Pancho Claus” by Chicano musical legend Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero and sung by Irma Garza bring you a chuckle or two on this Christmas Eve — known in Mexico as Nochebuena.

Pancho Claus

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa
Mama she was busy preparing the masa
To make the tamales for the tamalada

And all the ingredients for the enchiladas

Papa in the front room with all the muchachas
Was dancing the mambo and doing the cha cha
My brothers and sisters were out in the hall
Listening to Elvis singing rock ‘n roll

When all of a sudden there came such a racket
I jumped out of bed and I put on my jacket
I looked out the window and in front of the house
Was my old uncle Pedro as drunk as a louse
He ran in the casa he grabbed the guitarra
He let out a yell and played “Guadalajara”

I was starting to wonder as I lay there alone
How old Santa Claus was to visit my home
With all of this noise they would scare him away
When all of a sudden I hear someone say
Hey Pablo, Chuchito Hey! Arriba! Gordito, Jose
Get up there you bums or you don’t get no hay

And then to my wondering eyes did appear
Eight cute little donkeys instead of reindeer
They pulled a carreta that was full of toys
For all of us good little girls and boys

The fat little driver waved his big sombrero
And said Merry Christmas! Feliz Año Nuevo!
That means “Happy New Year”
And then I hear him sing

I am Santa’s cousin from south of the border
My name’s Pancho Claus and I bring you your order
I hear him exclaim as he drove past the porches
“Merry Christmas to all and to all Buenas Noches”

Even my Olive tree is decorated with ubiquitous tin ornaments

From my home to yours, I wish you good health and Felices Fiestas!

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Today Oaxaca regressed to “If you are able, stay in your house” Covid-19 semáforo naranja, seemingly for the umpteenth time, not that it seems to make any difference. A morning walk to Mercado Benito Juárez revealed restaurants continuing to offer indoor dining; a zócalo teeming with people, street vendors, and the tents of a plantón (protest encampment); and a mercado bustling with people. These days I feel like I’m living in Alice in Wonderland’s world…

“Off with their heads!”

Papier-mâché mono de calenda artisan workshop in Oaxaca city — March 7, 2020.

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

Mural on a wall in San Martín Tilcajete — February 25, 2020.

“Little Alice fell
d
o
w
n
the hOle,
bumped her head
and bruised her soul”

A little Christmas humor in Oaxaca city — December 13, 2020.

“What a strange world we live in… Said Alice to the Queen of hearts”

All quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Louis Carroll.

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