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Besides a mock wedding with men dressed as women, mentioned in my previous post, Carnaval (Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) in San Martín Tilcajete also means young men covered in motor oil (yuck!) and paint running through the village with belts of cowbells ringing.

And, it means muchas mascaras de madera — in this village famous for its fantastical hand-painted alebrije woodcarvings and masks.

Some of my favorite masks and body paint were done by Jesus Sosa Calvo, his talented wife, Juana Vicente Ortega Fuente, and their gifted children.  (See the mask I gave to my son, carved by Apolinar, one of their sons.)  If you are in San Martín Tilcajete, be sure to see their work at Matlacihua Arte (right across from the zócalo on the main street).

The Spanish brought this pre-Lenten tradition to Mexico and, like many other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.”  Apparently, 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.”

Masks, motor oil, face and body paint, you name it, disguised and anonymous was the order of the day!

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Among other highlights, Carnaval/Carnival in San Martín Tilcajete features a mock wedding, quinceañera, and beautiful fabulously dressed and accessorized “women.”

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The day before Lent in San Martín Tilcajete 2017.  As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

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Slowly the cars began to move.  Slowly they climbed the steep hill.  As they climbed, each little steam engine began to sing:  “I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I think I can – I think I can – I think I can I think I can–”  (The Little Engine That Could)

In this case, the little engines that could are Volkswagen Beetles, known in Mexico as vochos.  These indomitable VW Bugs are ubiquitous on the streets of Oaxaca — in a rainbow of colors and in every stage of repair and disrepair imaginable.

Fuschia vocho parked on street

They can even be spotted traveling along the walls…

“Vocho art” isn’t limited to murals on street corners.  Check out this Huichol beadwork “Vochol” I saw on exhibit at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City last October.  It is the work of Francisco Bautista, Kena Bautista, Roberto Bautista, Diego Díaz González, Emilio González Carrillo, Víctor González Carrillo, Alvaro Ortiz, and Herminio Ramírez.

And, that isn’t all…  Mexican artist, Héctor Garnelo Navarro has covered a 1994 VW Beetle  with “19,800 semi-precious stones (e.g., obsidian, jade) that form images of pyramids, animals, ancient deities (Quetzalcóatl [Feathered Serpent, Creator God] and the Mictlantecuhtli [God of the Underworld]).”  It is known as the Vocho Teotihuacano (Teotihuacán Beetle) and according to this article, he is finishing a Vocho Maya and is considering a Vocho Alebrije — the latter inspired by the wood carvers and painters of Oaxaca.  So, keep your eyes open!

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For years, I’ve gazed at the bell towers of Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo in Teotitlán del Valle and wanted to go up there.  I mused that the views must be spectacular.

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I struck it rich a couple of weeks ago when visiting gal pals and I were wandering around the church and were asked if (for a small donation) we wanted to go up to the top.  We didn’t have to be asked twice.

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It was well worth the climb up the narrow, winding, and steep stone staircase.

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There I was, up close and personal with features I’d never before noticed.

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Overcoming a moderate case of acrophobia, I even ventured out between the towers and the dome.

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Despite a dry season haze that hung over the valley, the views in every direction were spectacular.

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A bird’s-eye view!

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It was great fun trying to pick out the homes of friends.

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The icing on the cake:  The bell-ringer emerged, grabbed a couple of ropes, and the bells began to chime.

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It was really loud (bordering on deafening) and lasted a long time!!!  But, we wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

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Oaxaca seems to invite and inspire creativity.  Thus, for twenty years distinguished photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, who “considered Oaxaca her second home,” brought students here and conducted workshops at the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo.  Now, seven photographers, Björn Árnason, Lori Barra, Ina Bernstein, James Carbone, Chae Kihn, Tim Porter, and Jody Watkins, are honoring their late mentor with an exhibition, Nuestra Oaxaca, at the Centro Fotográfico.

The exhibition opened on January 20, 2017, but it was the coming together by the seven and their very personal remarks during the artist reception and panel discussion on February 25 that revealed the impact Mary Ellen Mark had on their lives and work.  She was a dedicated and demanding teacher” who pushed them to know themselves in order to authentically see and capture the people and places on the other side of the lens.  They also offered glimpses into Mark’s playful side and wit, along with how meaningful her friendship was to each of them and their profound sense of loss at her passing in 2015.  I wasn’t the only one who blinked away tears.

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(L->R) Björn Árnason, Lori Barra, Ina Bernstein, Chae Kihn, James Carbone, Tim Porter, Jody Watkins, and translator, February 25, 2017.

In the words of Tim Porter, spoken at the opening of the exhibition on January 20, 2017:

We seven photographers are all different. Some of us are professionals who work for newspapers or do commercial work. Some of us are amateurs who simply love photography. Some of work in a documentary or journalistic style. Some of us make more interpretative images. We live in New York, in Los Angeles, in Iceland and in San Francisco. Some of us have been coming to Oaxaca for decades. Some of us for only a few years.

What we all share is Mary Ellen. She brought us together. Through her we became friends. Because of her we became better photographers. With her in mind, we come back – to pursue the work we started here, to become the photographers she believed we could be, to honor her passion and, perhaps, to find hope and inspiration in it.

If you are currently in Oaxaca or plan to be before the exhibition closes on April 7, 2017, I highly recommend paying it a visit; the images from each of the seven photographers will reveal Oaxaca in a new and thought-provoking light.  In addition, you can also see the work of their mentor, Mary Ellen Mark, that is part of the Colección Toledo/INBA.

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Sunday afternoon at Casa Colonial in Oaxaca:  Sun filtering through the trees of a lush tropical garden, the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs grilling on a barbecue, a friendly bartender, and a great jazz combo.  What more could anyone want?

Thank you to the Casa’s owner Jane Robison and manager Amado Bolaños.  It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday.

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Yes, we know… ephemeral it may be; effective it is.

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As do the artists of Gabinete Grafico, who bring their woodcut art to the streets.

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And yesterday, Gabinete Grafico’s artists inaugurated a brick and mortar gallery at Calle de M. Bravo 216 in Oaxaca city.

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From the outdoor kitchens of Fidel Cruz and María Luisa Mendoza of Casa Cruz and Bulmaro Perez Mendoza, a three-day feast came forth to celebrate the mayordomía (stewardship) of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Teotitlán del Valle.

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The roles are set in the stones of the metates…

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But, it’s the hands of generations of women…

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who continue to shape traditions and nourish bodies and souls.

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With apron strings tied, the women of Teotitlán del Valle, from celebrated cocinera Abigail Mendoza…

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to her sister, María Luisa Mendoza…

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to the abuelas…

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and their hijas, nueras, nietas, and sobrinas.

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It takes a village of women to make feast.

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Yellow is the color of winter in Oaxaca, be it flora, fauna, or nature-inspired human intervention…

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Primavera amarilla (Tabebuia chrysantha) on Calle Porfirio Díaz.

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Corner of Calle Porfirio Díaz and Calle de M. Bravo.

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Great Kiskadee sitting in the tree next door surveying the scene.

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Emiliano Zapata looks out from above the entrance to Espacio Zapata and Atila del Sur restaurant.

A. M. A. R. I. L. L. O.
by Edward Kofi Louis

Aim high in life and, always seek for peace!
Making it possible to share with others;
As the sun always rises from the east! !
Resting down west to respect the muse of nature.
In the light of Life,
Lights in the sight of the truth! !

Living with positive morals,
Onward with the joy of life.

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The walls of Oaxaca are speaking…

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No comment necessary.

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If it’s the end of January into the beginning of February, it must be time for the Feria del Carrizo in San Juan Guelavía.  About twenty minutes east of the city, this village was known for their beautiful and functional baskets hand-woven from carrizo (Arundo donax, Spanish cane, Giant cane, Wild Cane, and Colorado River weed), a tall perennial cane that grows along river banks. p1240717

These baskets have traditionally been used as carriers and storage bins since before the Spanish set foot on the soil that became Mexico.  However, their popularity and demand took a nosedive, along with the economy of San Juan Guelavía, upon the arrival of plastic baskets.  The answer, in 2012, was to promote these artisans, their wares, and their creativity with a fair.  Several days preceding Sunday’s inauguration of the 6th annual fair and sale, there were misas (masses), parades, and fireworks.

As with all festivals and fairs in Oaxaca, there are folkloric dance performances.

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And, artfully positioned decorations adorning walls and gates and hanging from the ceiling.p1240705

There is barbacoa and tortillas hot off the comal.p1240697

And, impossibly adorable children carrying on traditions.p1240738

The fair was in full swing when we arrived in late morning (note to self, get there earlier next year) with carrizo woven baskets, birdcages, bottles, and baby cradles piled high.p1240718So many choices…  Is it too early to begin Christmas shopping?p1240715I kept my eye out for Teresa, who made beautiful lampshades for me two years ago.  However, it wasn’t easy as there were so many people coming and going and crowded around all of the vendor tables.p1240706
It took a while but, on the second pass around, I finally found her and her delightful family.  There was much handshaking, cheek kissing, and catching up.p1240714And, more than a little laughter about her fowl friend, who was keeping watch under the table.p1240712

Another wonderful, warm, and welcoming day in one of the villages in the valley of Oaxaca.  The fair continues this week with a 4-day jaripeo (rodeo) and closes on February 5, so you still have time!  Never fear, if you miss it, these carrizo treasures can often be found at the weekly Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

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Even in Oaxaca, Chinese New Year is being celebrated.

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A Taekwondo school brought the Year of the Fire Rooster to the zócalo late this afternoon, replete with a Taiko Drum and Dragon and Lion dance.

According to Huffington Post Canada, people born under this sign “are considered trustworthy and responsible, with a strong sense of timekeeping.”  However, “they can be ‘overly blunt'” and, beware, they are not very compatible with people born in the Year of the Rat.  ¡Feliz Año del Gallo!

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It has been six days since the voices of women, and those who love and respect them, rose as one throughout the world.  Email, Facebook postings, Instagram photos, YouTube videos, memes, and tweets have been circulating the globe, resistance is rising, and unity is being forged.

Here in Oaxaca, we have been overwhelmed by the messages of support for our Women’s March Oaxaca, tee shirt sales (175-200), inquiries of “what next?” and we have been blown away by the final police and media count, that puts the total between 2000 and 3000.  Amazing!!!  We have added press reports about our march to the website, along with photos and video of it.

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And, it has been seven days since the toxic, twittering human smokestack of polluted right-wing demagoguery was sworn in as the 45th president of the USA.  This single week has been marked by a flurry of executive actions — and lots of bombast and argument with the press and, among other things, the launching of a war against truth, facts, science and transparency, women’s rights, the environment, healthcare, Muslims, not to mention disrespecting Mexico and opening up the possibility of a trade war with the USA’s third-largest goods trading partner.

Mexicans are incensed and hoping their president Peña Nieto’s newly-found backbone continues to hold.  And, a grassroots effort among Mexicanos has been launched calling for boycotts of U.S. companies in fury at Donald Trump.   I think now is a good time for El Demagogo (The Demagogue) by Lila Downs (lyrics in English below).

The Demagogue

by Lila Downs

At the edge of the world
Where the factories are
There’s a burning of hatred
That’s crossing the lines

There’s a blue eyed devil man
Thinks he’s king of the world
He’s a bully, a salesman
Selling fear and hate

Who do you think you are?
He plays us with his hate
Turns man against man
But it’s really not a game

And I pray to the ancestors’ love
Do not be fooled by this man’s foolish talk
The serpent woke again
In different times and places
There’s a burning cross
Leading the mob
People in chains
He’s a Quak circus act creeping from the past
He’s the symbol of the monster we no longer want to be
(what we used to be…)
The earth trembles with these names
Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, Pinochet

No respect for woman, no respect for race
No respect for anything that lives, the human race
But he cannot buy our soul

(CORO:)

NO A ESE MURO
Voy cortando el odio
Voy sembrando amor

NO A ESE MURO
De la explotación
Pero es mi casa

NO A ESE MURO
La luz de la mañana
El lugar de mis ancestros
Las flores del desierto

NO A ESE MURO
Gonna show that my love
Is much stronger than hate
I’m gonna call to the four winds
I’m gonna change my fate
I’m gonna rise up singing
I’m gonna stand for this place
It’s a long time, Mi Gente

There’s no turning back
There’s no turning back
There’s no turning back

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Blogger buddy Chris and I were filled with wonder and gratitude to be invited to the home of Fidel Cruz and María Luisa Mendoza, primero (first) mayordomías (sponsors/stewards), for a 3-day fiesta honoring the Virgen de Guadalupe.  There were orchestrated rituals of seating, music, and dance; a bounty of some of the best cocina Zapoteca food one could ever hope to eat; hundreds of people from small children to great grandparents; and the most amazing warm, welcoming, and communal spirit.

El atole de espuma

El atole de espuma

Higaditos waiting to be served

Higadito waiting to be served

Poultry hanging around, awaiting their turn

Poultry hanging around, awaiting their turn

Canastas (baskets) used to bring food, dishes, and serving pieces

Canastas (baskets) used to bring food, dishes, and serving pieces

Chile spiced oranges and cucumber to cleanse the palate

Chile spiced oranges and cucumber to cleanse the palate

Never ending piles of dishes waiting to be washed by a myriad of women's hands

Never ending piles of dishes waiting to be washed by a myriad of women’s hands

It was an amazing couple of days!  And these still lifes only begin to tell the story.  I promise more, but in the meantime, check out Oaxaca-The Year After.

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The Women’s March Oaxaca was an overwhelming success!  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, pussy hats were present, and estimates put the crowd at almost 2,000 people from the USA, Canada, Mexico, and a few other countries.  We even made the front page of Noticias, one of Oaxaca’s major daily newspapers.

I was helping to hold the lead banner, so my photos only begin to tell the story of this amazing event.  To tell you the truth, I got teary eyed at the feeling of solidarity from those who marched, those on the sidewalks, and those watching from windows and doorways.

Why did I march?  I marched because I want a future for my grandchildren that is not based on hate, fear, and environmental catastrophe.

I marched because, in the 7+ years I have lived in Oaxaca, I have been treated with kindness, generosity, and respect and I want the same for Mexicans and all other immigrants (with and without papers) living in the USA.

I marched because I believed those words on the Statue of Liberty my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Robinson, had us memorize:

The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

See the Women’s March Oaxaca website for more photos, videos, and press reports.

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