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Wedding wheels in Oaxaca…  Some are big

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And some are small.

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Though Santa Claus is making inroads into Mexico, it is today’s early morning visit by Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings, Wise Men) that children anxiously await, as it is Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar who bring gifts on January 6 — Día de los Reyes Magos (aka, Epiphany).

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Yesterday, the municipal DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) agency and radio station “La Zeta Noticias,” sponsored a kilometer of toys — an annual toy drive for Oaxaca’s disadvantaged children.  More than 3000 toys were collected to be distributed in a number of city and surrounding area neighborhoods. (Alas, only a fraction of the one million plus, 0 – 17 year olds, living in poverty in the state of Oaxaca.)

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Today, the Alameda and zócalo were filled with activities and freebies for kids.  At the booth below, each child received a toy and a carton of milk.

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San Antonio Arrazola and San Martín Tilcajete, the wood carving villages known for their fantastical alebrije, distributed paints, brushes, and paper for the artistically inclined.

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There were chess boards set up to play this most serious of games.

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And, the nacimiento (nativity scene) in the zócalo provided a popular “posing with the Tres Reyes” point.

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In addition to kings bringing kids gifts, January 6 also calls for a special cake — Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings bread).  Bakeries have been working overtime and temporary stalls were set up on a block of Calle Flores Magón — closing it to auto and truck traffic (though motorcycles were a different story).

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Of course, I bought one — though not the large family-size above!  The tradition is to eat and dunk in hot chocolate, but I opted to dunk in my usual half coffee/half chocolate morning beverage.

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By the way, 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 Candelaria (Candlemas), February 2nd.

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Three Kings Day is drawing to a close and the kings are returning to from whence they came.  I think Melchor is driving — hopefully he has GPS.

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I hope you will permit me just one more Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) post.  The Totomoxtle Decorado category wouldn’t be complete without showing this year’s entry, “Los huehuentones de Huautla de Jiménez” by Moisés Ruíz Sosa, last year’s first prize winner, who just happens to be the brother of this year’s winner, Marco Antonio Ruíz Sosa.

Much of the work by Moisés, at least that I have seen, uses natural and dyed corn husks to recreate traditional dance scenes.  This year’s inspiration came from the Mazateco Day of the Dead celebrations.

After the souls are released, their spirits are transformed into different forms personified by the Huehuentones (people of the navel — born from the center of the earth) who serve as a link between the departed and the living.

Beginning October 27, they roam the streets and visit families, house by house, to play and sing Mazatec themes of family, famine, traditions, customs, current events, politics, etc.

What captivates me most is the attention to detail and reverence for traditions by Moisés.

Learning their craft from their mother, Moisés and Marco are a couple of very talented brothers!

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A challenging year 2017 was — for Oaxaca, Mexico, USA, and the world.  However, lovely Oaxaca continues to survive with beauty and grace and helps keep me focused on trying to do the same.  I am grateful to her every day.  Thus, my New Year’s gift to you — sharing a month-by-month look back at the little things in 2017 that nourished my body and soul.

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January 2017 – Shibori flags flying over the courtyard of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca

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February 2017 – Agave somewhere between San Dionisio Ocotepec and Ocotlán de Morelos

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March 2017 – Quinceañera celebration in front of Santo Domingo de Guzmán

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April 2017 – Chapulines at the first Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales Oaxaca

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May 2017 – Teotitlán del Valle’s garbage truck.

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June 2017 – Grinding lime tree leaves for té de limon in Teotitlán del Valle

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July 2017 – Six layer rainy season view from Casita Colibrí

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August 2017 – Unión de Palenqueros de Oaxaca — and that means mezcal!

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September 2017 – Chickens roasting at earthquake relief benefit at Criollo restaurant

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October 2017 – Grilling at an outdoor “hall of smoke” in Villa de Mitla

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November 2017 – Dried chiles at Mercado Benito Juárez

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December 2017 – Decorated molinillos at the Feria del Pan y el Chocolate in Tlacolula de Matamoros

In the words of Linda Oaxaca, “Oaxaca you live in me.”  From my home to yours, adiós 2017 and bienvenidos 2018!!!

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I always prefer to go down to Oaxaca’s zócalo in the morning of December 23rd to watch the Noche de Rábanos artisans bring their creations into being — and before the masses descend.  At this year’s 120th annual Rábanos the crowds had already begun to gather behind the barriers by 10:30 AM.  Of course, the downside to going early is that some of the artisans are further along in their work than others.

Alas, in the category of Rábanos Tradicional (radishes representing traditional subject matter), the eventual first prize winner had only just begun…

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“Nacimiento Tradicional” by Hermenegildo Contreras Cruz

However, when I passed by, the eventual first prize winner in the category of Rábanos Libre (radishes free subject matter) was almost finished and the dragon was about to be slayed.

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“Corazón de Dragón” by Salvador Yrizar Díaz

In the Flor Inmortal (dried flower) category…  How could I have missed 2/3rds of the entries?!!  However, I did manage to capture the 2nd prize winner.

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“Una tarde en el Templo de Santo Domingo” by Rosalía Santiago Cornelio

Then there was the Totomoxtle (corn husks)…  Second place in the Totomoxtle Natural (natural husk color) category went to this delightful depiction of Oaxaca’s version of a county fair that even included a House of Horror and a Tilt-A-Whirl.

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“Feria Popular” by Jorge Ramos Gallegos

First place in the category of Totomoxtle Natural was awarded to…

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“Buscando la paz hastati. Virgencita de Juquila” by José Méndez Miranda

And, what can I say about “Nahualli” by Marco Antonio Ruíz Sosa, the winner of the Totomoxtle Decorado (dyed corn husks)?

Do you think Lewis Carroll was channeling shadow souls when he wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?  Kenneth Grahame when he wrote The Wind in the Willows?  Was C. S. Lewis guided by a nahualli when he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?  And, what about Beatrix Potter???

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May Ernie Villarreal’s version of Pancho Claus by Chicano music legend, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero, bring the gift of joy to those near and far on this Nochebuena.

 

Pancho Claus

‘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!

 

Felices fiestas to all my wonderful readers — you and Oaxaca inspire me each and every day!!!

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I think I spied some familiar figures in the radishes at this year’s Noche de Rabanos.  Could this be carver, Zeny Fuentes?

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“Alebrijes de San Martín Tilcajete” by Sergio Luís Raymundo Sánchez

Oaxaqueños can tell you, this is their own, Señor del Rayo.

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“Señor del Rayo” by Gabriela Nayelly López Vásquez

And then there is this guy.  I’m guessing Maestro Francisco Toledo.

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“Oaxaca de mis amores” by Omar Díaz Ventura

What do you think?

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The 120th edition of the “only in Oaxaca” Noche de Rábanos is coming.  Tomorrow (December 23) the zócalo will be filled with radishes carved into religious, cultural, and fantastical creations.

Scenes from last year…

And, it’s not just a night of radishes, there will also be flor inmortal (a type of dried flower) and totomoxtle (corn husk) artisan creations on display and competing for prizes.  Not to be missed!

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All is quiet now, but for the last few days (and nights!) there has been no solitude for Soledad, or her neighbors (of which I am one).  For several days leading up to December 18, the feast day of the Queen of Oaxaca, La Santísima Virgen de La Soledad (Virgin of Solitude), Oaxaca has been celebrating.  For those unaware of this virgencita, Soledad is adored and venerated in a manner similar to the Virgin of Guadalupe and is carried through the streets of Oaxaca (both city and state) during many religious celebrations.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

She resides in the church dedicated to her, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.  Designed by Father Fernando Méndez, construction began in 1682, it was sanctioned by the Viceroy Tomas Aquino Manrique de la Cerda, and consecrated in 1690 by Bishop Isidro Siraña y Cuenca.

Castillo spelling out, “Viva La Virgen de la Soledad” (Long live the Virgin of Solitude) and “Nuestra Senora de Oaxaca” (Our Lady of Oaxaca).

Being that this is Mexico and Catholicism is tempered (enriched) with indigenous practice, the night of December 17, after religious rites and rituals were performed at said Basilica, there were fireworks in the church atrium, including toritos and a castillo, in honor of La Reina de Oaxaca.  Despite the late hour, I managed to leave the comfort of my rooftop and head over to the Plaza de la Danza to watch — and they were spectacular, as always.

Many of the faithful spent the night in the Basilica’s atrium.

Alas, I didn’t have any energy left to stay and hear the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca) Tuna band serenade Soledad with a concert inside the Basilica at midnight.  Silly me!  I was dozing off to sleep at midnight when the Basilica’s bells began chiming furiously and cohetes (rockets) sounded and I woke with a start.  Next year, I’m staying up!

Prayers before the La Virgen de la Soledad.

Sleep finally returned, only to be interrupted about 4:15 AM with more cohetes and a band and then again around 6:30 AM.  Needless to say, I gave up on sleep and got up.  All during the night La Virgen was not alone.  The faithful, coming from near and far, spent the night in the atrium of the church, food stalls set up on the stairs leading down to the church fed one and all, and live music entertained her all night long.

The ever-present vendors selling flowers to the faithful.

Like most, her story has several versions.  According to one legend, in 1620 a mule train bound for Guatemala camped outside the city of Oaxaca, discovered an extra mule which did not belong to anyone in the group.  The mule refused to move and when prodded rolled over and died.  When the pack it carried was opened, it was found to contain the statue of La Virgen de la Soledad. Taking this as a sign from heaven, the inhabitants built a shrine, later a church, and finally the imposing Basilica.

Food vendors lined the stairs down to the Basilica’s atrium.

In another story, a muleteer from Veracruz, en route to Guatemala, noticed he had one too many mules in his pack upon his arrival in Oaxaca.  Outside the San Sebastian hermitage, the mule collapsed under the burden it was carrying.  All attempts by the muleteer to get it back on its feet were futile; to avoid punishment, he notified the authorities.  When he lifted the load off the mule, it got up but then immediate died.  The burden was inspected and an image of the Virgin, accompanied by Christ, along with a sign that said, “The Virgin by the Cross.”  Faced with this momentous event, Bishop Bartolome Bohorquez ordered a sanctuary to be built in honor of the divinity.

La Santísima Virgen de La Soledad inside the Basilica wearing her gold, diamond, and pearl encrusted vestments.

Still another legend:  a heavily laden burro of mysterious origin appeared outside of town in 1534, fell to the ground, spilling its load next to a rock (still on-site) containing the beautifully carved Virgin (thought to be carved in Guatemala or the Philippines) and a chapel was built on the spot.  However, apparently there was an adobe shrine to the Virgin of Solitude atop Cerro Fortín as early as 1532 — and the rock may have even been moved from the mountain in 1617 to the current site (immediately to the right as you enter the Basilica).

La Santísima Virgen de La Soledad (body double) under the tree in the atrium of the Basilica — wearing the traveling attire.

Her vestments are encrusted with pearls and 600 diamonds — and she wears a 4-lb gold crown.  As all that bling is quite heavy and valuable, she has a body double who wears a velvet mantle and crown that aren’t quite so ostentatious.  It is she who is carried through the streets during processions and has been residing in the church atrium during the festivities in her honor.

All was not completely serious yesterday at the Basilica — there was also entertainment.  In the late afternoon, Soledad was treated to a command performance by the Cuadrilla de Mascaritas from Asunción Nochixtlán, in the Mixteca.  I had never seen nor heard of this dance before.  According to this article (in Spanish), in 1865, a year after the defeat of the Franco-Austrian army at Las Tres Cruces (between Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán and Asunción Nochixtlán) by the joint forces of the Mixtecs and General Porfirio Diáz, Mixtecos commemorated the victory with the mascaritas dance, which ridiculed the supposedly invincible enemy.  I learn something new every day!

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Tonight, the streets of Oaxaca are alive with the sound of music and cohetes (rockets) as a calenda (parade) in honor of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Our Lady of Solitude) celebrates the approach of the feast day of the mother, queen, and patroness of Oaxaca.

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A young Soledad making the rounds on a float.

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Accompanied by an angel.

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Monos taking a break in front of the Basilica de la Soledad.

There will be no solitude for Soledad during the next couple of days and nights.  If you don’t believe me, check out her festival schedule.

virgen de la soledad programa 2017

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In Teotitlán del Valle, waiting for last Sunday’s convite, honoring the Virgen de Guadalupe, to begin.

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Watching and waiting from the best seat in the house!

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Waiting to process in the traditional red wool skirt and embroidered blouse.

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Little boys waiting to lead off the procession.

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Even a couple of little Juan Diego’s were ready and waiting.

The patience of the people of Oaxaca, even the kids, never ceases to amaze me.

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Artificial Christmas tree vying for top honors with an Indian laurel on the Alameda.

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Baby Jesús wearing his flor inmortal diapers in the courtyard between Del Maguey and Los Baúles de Juana Cata.

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“Star of wonder, star of light” above Amate Books on the Alcalá.

And, yes, the sky really was that blue today.

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For anyone who still wonders why in the world I have chosen to live in and thrive in Oaxaca, go see the latest Pixar movie, Coco.

Entrance to the Panteón de Xochimilco, Oaxaca – Oct. 31, 2017

The filmmakers “based the Rivera family — a multigenerational matriarchy headed by Miguel’s formidable abuelita, or grandmother — on real-world families with whom they embedded while visiting the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guanajuato between 2011 and 2013.”  (How Pixar Made Sure ‘Coco’ Was Culturally Conscious)

Panteón in San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

From the elaborately embroidered blouses and animated fantastical alebrije to the cemeteries and “life” of Día de los Muertos, Oaxaca provided an inspiration for the film.  (Coco, la nueva película de Disney-Pixar inspirada en Oaxaca)

Panteón San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

It is the music and messiness, color and cacophony, and finding joy in just being.

Panteón San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

“We absorbed details in every place that we visited, but the most valuable thing was the time we spent with Mexican families.”  (How Coco’s Directors Celebrated the Film’s Mexican Heritage)

Ofrenda display in the Biblioteca Pública Central de Oaxaca Margarita Maza de Juárez – Oct. 31, 2017

It is the Oaxaca of fiestas, street dogs, and papel picado.

Papel picado projected on the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Oaxaca – Oct. 30, 2017

Above all, it is about the importance of family, living and dead…

Public ofrenda in the atrium of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Oaxaca – Oct. 31, 2017

“With all of its music and folklore and artwork, and the story itself, audiences so far feel Coco respects their families, living and remembered.”   (Mexico, Music And Family Take Center Stage In ‘Coco’)

Panteón Municipal de Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca – Nov. 1, 2017

And, respect for one’s heritage and traditions.

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This is the Oaxaca I fell in love with and treasure.

Panteón San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

This is the Oaxaca that captured by heart, daily enriches my life, and I call home.

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In Oaxaca, the sound of rockets and music in the streets means there must be a calenda — and early last evening, one seemed to be only a few blocks away.

It was the ideal excuse for putting off emptying my massive wooden kitchen counter for the termite extermination crew’s arrival the next morning.

To what, or who, did I owe this timely interruption?  Saint Cecilia!  November 22 is her feast day and, at least in Mexico, festivals to the saints aren’t just one day events — hence  yesterday’s mass at Iglesia de San Felipe Neri, followed by the calenda.

And, by the way, Santa Cecilia isn’t just any saint, she is the patrona de los músicos (patron of musicians) and so, of course, there were two bands playing in the church atrium.

Alas, though the party was only just getting started, given the chore that awaited me at home, I forced myself to leave after a half and hour.  However there is more on Santa Cecilia’s dance card today and tomorrow…

 

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Looking back, in black and white…

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Magna Comparsa Oaxaca through the streets of the city on October 28, 2017.

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