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Archive for the ‘Celebrations’ Category

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 have be 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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It is a mostly quiet feast day for Oaxaca’s patron saint, La Virgen de la Soledad (the Virgin of Solitude). If you have ever been to Oaxaca you probably visited her at the Basilica built in her honor and seen images of this Reina y Patrona de Oaxaca (Queen and Patroness of Oaxaca) for sale, carried in religious processions, and tucked into niches.

Virgen de la Soledad clay sculpture by Irma García Blanco* in Barrio de Xochimilco

In non Covid-19 times, she is celebrated with anything but solitude. A cacophony of chiming bells, brass bands, crackles, pops, bangs, and whistles from fireworks, toritos, and a castillo fill the air (and severely limit sleep) in the days and nights leading up to December 18. And the aroma of Oaxaca street food from stalls set up to feed the pilgrims who often spend the night of December 17, permeates the neighborhood.

Image of the mule who refused to move located in the garden behind the Basilica de la Soledad

Since her unceremonious arrival 400 years ago on a mule who laid his burden down and refused to get back up, “In critical moments, such as earthquakes, epidemics, droughts, conflicts, social upheaval and others, she has been with us, to give us her company. Not only on her feast day, but almost every day they come to give thanks to Our Lady for continued life and good health.” — Nicolás Ramírez García, Rector de la Basílica Menor. (My translation)

Virgen de la Soledad sculpture in a niche near Jardín Conzatti

This year she has not processed through the city but instead remains behind the closed doors of her home in the Basilica de la Soledad. In order to keep her people safe from the virus, today her bejeweled figure does not preside over open air mass in the church atrium, the faithful are not able to line up to pray before her, light candles, and touch her mantle with bouquets of flowers and traditional herbs. Worshippers have been urged to maintain the faith from their homes and pray in front of their own images of La Virgen.

My Virgen de la Soledad clay sculpture by Irma García Blanco*

The Virgin of Solitude has been my neighbor for more than eleven years and I mourn the unnatural quiet, but look forward to next year — no doubt a celebration magnified in gratitude for surviving the pandemic.

*Irma García Blanco is one of the Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular de Oaxaca and is the daughter of Oaxaca’s grand matriarch of decorative pottery, Teodora Blanco Nuñez.

Update: While the doors were closed, based on photos in this article, apparently a limited number of worshippers were allowed into the Basilica for the mass celebrated by the archbishop.

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The Three Wise Monkeys

See no evil,
Hear no evil,
Speak no evil.

Well, maybe not monkeys! From the Día de Muertos altar “Transitions” by Estudio Dinamo at Voces de Copal Galeria.

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Today, Mexico celebrates the Queen of Mexico, Empress of America, and patron saint of Mexico — Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. Alas, due to Covid-19, all is quiet on the western front.

Calle Garcia Vigil, Oaxaca de Juárez under the arquitos – May 24, 2020.
Somewhere in Barrio de Xochimilco, Oaxaca de Juárez — March 22, 2020.
Calle Netzahualcóyotl at Niños Heroes, Oaxaca de Juárez — November 15, 2020.
Calle de la Constitución, Oaxaca de Juárez – September 27, 2020.

However, no matter the day, Guadalupe is always present on the streets of Oaxaca. But, for goodness sake, please don’t leave her your garbage!

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Save for yesterday’s 5:00 AM jarring explosion of cohetes (rockets — all bang, no bling) and clanging church bells coming from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad heralding the start of the celebrations for the Virgen de Juquila, the last thirty-two hours have been mostly muted, with only the occasional chiming bells and bursting cohetes — very quiet by Oaxaca standards.

Virgen de Juquila mural in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, Oaxaca — seen in 2013.
Procession honoring the Virgen de Juquila in front of the Cathedral in Oaxaca city — seen December 8, 2018.
Parish of Santo Tomás Xochimilco chapel to the Virgen de Juquila in Oaxaca city closed, by order dated March 17, 2020, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 — seen May 24, 2020.

Due to Covid-19 concerns, in consultation with Oaxaca’s health department, the archbishop of Oaxaca cancelled holy processions through the streets and called upon the faithful to forego pilgrimmages. This is especially sad for Santa Catarina Juquila, where Juquila’s shrine is located, as just last week it was announced the town had been designated a Mexican Pueblo Mágico. The archbishop also ordered churches closed, with masses to be celebrated and broadcast from behind locked doors during December’s festivities honoring the Virgen de Juquila (December 8), the Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12), and the Virgen de La Soledad (December 18).

Now if only other people and places would take this pandemic as seriously.

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What an unusual yet lovely (and delicious) Thanksgiving 2020 was.

Cranberry/pear relish bubbling on the stove.

After the fact, I realized this was only the second Thanksgiving I’ve shared with just one other person. Childhood dinners were filled with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even the Thanksgiving I spent in Denmark, the international school I attended prepared a turkey with all the fixin’s dinner — to the delight of the American students and curiosity of the other international students and Danes. Once married, we hosted or joined family and/or friends — and that has been my tradition ever since, even here in Oaxaca.

Sage dressing with whole wheat bread, celery, onions, and carrots.

Keeping Covid-19 protocols in mind, Kalisa, my (now famous) friend, neighbor, and cocinera extraordinaire and I decided we would persevere in an attempt to carry on with an albeit downsized celebration of just the two of us on my terrace. For the main course, we ruled out turkey, discarded chicken as not special, and settled on repeating the success of rabbit — concluding it would go well with my cranberry/pear relish and sage dressing. And, who knows? The indigenous peoples may have proffered rabbit to the starving and clueless foreigners.

Roast rabbit à la Kalisa.

So, we made our own pilgrimage up to Pochote Mercado Orgánico in Colonia Reforma to again purchase the criollo rabbit Kalisa would be preparing. A couple of days later, at Mercado IV Centenario, we happened upon camotes/sweet potatoes to be used for her “pumpkin” cheesecake. Unlike my first several Thanksgivings here, when bags of fresh cranberries could only be found at Mercado Hidalgo, I was able to purchase all the ingredients for my cranberry/pear relish at Mercado Benito Juárez. As for the dressing, I still had some Bell’s Seasoning brought from the USA a couple of years ago, and the rest was easily found. Looking at our menu, it occurred to me that perhaps we needed something green. That was easily solved with some baby lettuce from my garden (alas, no photo).

Pumpkin cheesecake with caramel topping.

And so it was, a Thanksgiving where two friends gave thanks for our very present blessings — friendship, health, abundance, and being welcomed into the beautiful and loving arms of Oaxaca.

Two friends giving thanks on a rooftop terrace in Oaxaca.

By the way, the place settings were for photo-op purposes only. We retired with filled plates and glasses of wine to the south end of the terrace where we could sit and eat 8 feet apart.

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Yesterday, Mexico celebrated the National Day of Mexican Gastronomy and the tenth anniversary of traditional Mexican cuisine being designated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Due to pandemic restrictions, in the absence of being able to savor the sights, smells, and flavors of a food festival, I honor the day with a photo of one of Oaxaca’s ubiquitous street food stalls.

This one, at the corner of Matamoros and García Vigil, always has customers — big and little, seated and standing, human and canine.

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Living and being in Oaxaca during the Días de los Muertos is hard to put into words. There is so much to experience and to think about. It is the ofrendas that touch me the most — they are all so personal, even those on display to the public. And, one of the unexpected delights of tracking down the chairs of the Silla Calavera project, was to see the Day of the Dead ofrendas constructed by the hotels and restaurants also displaying the chairs.

Casa Antica, Av. José María Morelos.
Plaza Las Vírgenes, Calle Labastida. Only very occasionally do fires break out!
Utilitario Mexicano, Mariano Matamoros.
La Casa de las Artesanías, Mariano Matamoros.
Hotel Casa Garay, Calle Miguel Cabrera.
On the Zócalo, ofrenda for Tomás Martínez, a leader of the Frente Popular Revolucionario.
La Mano Mágica, Calle Macedonio Alcalá. Photo of Arnulfo Mendoza on the top right. I can’t believe it’s been 6-1/2 years since his passing.
Hotel Trébol, Ricardo Flores Magón.
Hotel Casa Vertiz, Calle Reforma.
Hotel Marqués Del Valle, bordering the Zócalo.
Jardín Sócrates neveria next to Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad.

Sensory overload challenges the limits of heart and mind and, especially this year, my emotions ran the gamut from extreme exhilaration to quiet joy to being moved to tears.

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