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These are strange days leading up to our departed coming to call while we are living in the time of Covid-19. With public activities canceled, thus no nightly calendas (parades) filling the streets and our ears, and fewer tourists, Oaxaca is experiencing more peace and tranquility this Day of the Dead season — albeit laced with a touch of melancholy and anxiety.

Masked and shielded, I braved the mostly local crowds south of the zócalo, to shop for cempasuchil (marigolds), cresta de gallo (cockscomb), apples, mandarin oranges, peanuts and pecans, chocolate, and pan de muertos (Day of the Dead bread) — but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as years past.

However, the joy returned when I unwrapped photographs of my parents, grandparents, and other loved ones; selected some of their favorite things to put on my ofrenda; placed the fruit, nuts, bread, and chocolate among the photos; positioned candles, flowers, and incense; and poured my departed a copita (little cup) of water and another of mezcal — all to beckon, entertain, and sustain them during their brief stay.

I’m looking forward to a more personal and reflective Día de Muertos this year.

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Cempasúchil (marigolds), the flowers synonymous with Day of the Dead, have begun appearing throughout the city. Alas, not in the quantity we are used to.

As I have written previously, because of the acceleration of the Covid-19 cases, the City of Oaxaca will not permit public Day of the Dead celebrations and events.

So it’s a subdued Día de Muertos season we are living.

While the yellows and oranges of the marigolds seem to mirror the semáforo amarillo and naranja (yellow and orange Covid-19 traffic lights) we are bouncing between, they brighten the days and impart a familiar and welcome scent.

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More dancing on the walls of Barrio de Jalatlaco from the artist Bouler (Uriel Barragán).

Oaxaca de Juárez, China Oaxaqueña dancer and Mazapán, the dancing dog.
Huautla de Jiménez dancer.
Danza de la Pluma dancer from Oaxaca’s central valley.

Living vicariously in these days of COVID-19 — be it through books, online concerts and museum tours, video events, and photos of people and places we are longing to see.

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To borrow a line from Cole Porter, Oaxaca regrets there will be no Muertos this year, señora.

Due to a rebound in positive Covid-19 cases in both the capital and state (we are back in traffic light orange — with red threatening), yesterday the city council of Oaxaca unanimously voted to cancel all Day of the Dead activities (NVI Noticias). That means there will be no comparsas (parades), altar displays, sand paintings, costume contests, and no cemetery visits. Other municipalities are expected to follow suit. If you have plans to be here for Día de Muertos, I strongly urge you to reconsider.

Given this sad and sobering news and the above Catrín and Catrina seen on this morning’s walk, I keep flashing on the Cole Porter song, Miss Otis Regrets — especially this dirge-like version by Kristy MacColl.

This is serious and no time to let your guard down. Please practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, and for goodness sake, cover your mouth AND nose with a mask when out in public!!!

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Another Sunday, another walk through Barrio de Jalatlaco…

Billar Jalatlaco pool hall.

Bougainvillea in Barrio de Jalatlaco.

Inside the door of El Tendajón, the work appears to be by Lapiztola.

Orange trumpet vine in Barrio de Jalatlaco.

Wear a mask and wash your hands with ZOTE soap — by Efedefroy.

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Hey little Cobra, is that really you in front of Santo Domingo?

Not the usual set of wheels seen on the streets of Oaxaca and neither are these (click images to enlarge).

The Bash Road Tour has roared into town with 50 high performance cars and unlike the above referenced song, this is not a car race.

According to organizers, it’s about coming together and enjoying the beauty of the cars and Mexico for the five days of the tour. They departed from Aguascalientes on September 20, day two they stopped in San Miguel de Allende, day three took them to Puebla, today they are in Oaxaca city, and tomorrow the tour concludes on Oaxaca’s coast in Bahías de Huatulco.

And check out the leader of the pack (above). It’s a Mexican made Mastretta, spectacularly painted by Oaxaca’s own Jacobo and María Ángeles of San Martín Tilcajete, and sponsored by Grupo Amantes whose mezcal making is centered in Tlacolula de Matamoros — an amazing sight brightening this grey day. Now if I can just get “Hey Little Cobra” to stop playing in my head!

h/t: A & C

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While flags are flying, bunting is up, and carts are selling the usual green, white, and red patriotic paraphernalia, it’s not your usual Mexican Independence celebrations.

It is the night before Independence Day, but there are no crowds gathered in the zócalo to hear the governor re-create the Grito de Dolores from the balcony of the Government Palace. Tomorrow there will be no patriotic parade through the streets of the city of Oaxaca. Mexican Independence celebrations during the time of Covid-19.

However, there is a song from Lila Downs…

(ps) The flags above are flying at half staff because the photos were taken on September 13, 2020, the day Mexico commemorates the legend of the 1847 Niños Héroes — boy cadets martyred during the Mexican-American war.

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Semáforo amarillo (yellow traffic light), we hardly knew ya. According to this article, due to the resistance and indiscipline of the citizens to maintain prevention measures, as of Monday, September 14, Oaxaca is back in the Covid-19 semáforo naranja (orange traffic light) — meaning a high risk of contagion. Alas, this does not come as a surprise.

As previously mentioned, the semáforo designation is based on ten criteria by the federal government. However, it’s my understanding the implementation is left up to states and municipalities, which means concrete answers as to what this entails is fuzzy — to say the least! Color me orange with big eyes and clenched teeth.

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Over these seemingly countless Covid-19 months, instead of frequently running into friends on the streets, these are the familiar faces that make me smile and help keep me feeling rooted to place.

They may not talk, but they do speak to me.

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This morning, the steps leading into the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO) were a reminder that it was one year ago today that Oaxaca and the world lost artist, philanthropist, and fighter for social justice and the environment, Francisco Toledo.

The Maestro can still be seen along the streets of Oaxaca — his creative spirit lives on.

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Entering La Cosecha Oaxaca farmer’s market, look to the left and you will see…

… murals by Ulises Martinez celebrating the gift of maíz.

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Beginning tomorrow, Oaxaca’s Covid-19 status moves down to Semáforo Amarillo (yellow traffic light) — meaning that in the state of Oaxaca one is now at medium risk for contracting the virus. The methodology used by the federal government to go from one color traffic light to another has expanded and is now based on criteria having to do with case numbers, reproduction rates, percentage of positivity, hospitalizations, hospital occupancy rates, and mortality percentage per 100,000 people. However, judging from comments on the Facebook page of the Servicios de Salud de Oaxaca (Oaxaca Health Services), it’s a controversial move (my translation):

  • With so much infected and now we are going to yellow traffic light?
  • They are not real figures, many towns do not appear [on the case list] even though there are new cases.
  • Covid is still active, the only thing that changed is that they gave you permission to go out and look for it.
  • It makes a whole economic political show without caring about the health of the Oaxaqueños.

According to the government’s corona virus website, yellow means all work activities are allowed and public spaces can be open — albeit all activities must continue to be carried out with basic preventive measures (masks, hand hygiene, social distancing) and consideration for people at higher risk. However, it won’t mean the reopening of schools; that has to wait for the green light.

In the meantime, I am thrilled with my new Covid-19 themed clay sculpture by Concepción Aguilar, a member of the iconic Aguilar family of potters from Ocotlán de Morelos. It was a “thank you gift” from the Support for the Folk Artists of Oaxaca, Mexico fundraising effort. The artisans are an integral part of the specialness of Oaxaca. Make a contribution, if you can!

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What can I say?

I am so…

With…

From yesterday’s walk, the walls seemed to read my mind.

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Conventional wisdom in Oaxaca: “For everything bad, drink mezcal; for everything good, you also should.”

Lest we forget, the walls of Oaxaca are always there to remind us.

My copitas (little cups) by maestro Vicente Hernandez are always ready for a gotita (a little drop) or two on good days, bad days, and especially days when friends stop by.

Day trips to my favorite mezcal making villages and their mezcaleros, like Berta Vásquez (above) in San Baltazar Chichicapam, were frequent enough to keep the liquor cabinet stocked with a variety of artisanal mezcal made from one or more kinds of maguey (AKA, agave) — arroqueño, barril, cuixe, espadín, jabalí, tepeztate, tobalá, and tobasiche, to name a few!

Alas, since Covid-19 hit the scene, many of the villages are closed to outsiders and, even if they were open, I wouldn’t go — for their health and safety and mine.

However, mezcal aficionado and tour guide Alvin Starkman came to the rescue. Through him, I was able to buy five bottles of mezcal from several different villages and he delivered!

In the event you are trying to read the labels, left to right: Tobalá, Manuel Méndez, San Dionisio Ocotopec; Mezcal destilado con mota (yes, it’s a thing), Rodolfo López Sosa, San Juan del Río; Arroqueño, Fortunato Hernandez, San Baltazar, Chichicapam; Tepeztate, Manuel Méndez, San Dionisio Ocotepec; Espadín, Celso Martinez, Santiago Matatlán.

¡Para todo mal, mezcal; y para todo bien, tambíen!

(ps) This just in! Mezcal Tour Supports Advancement of Indigenous Women — an article about the wonderful ongoing work the above mentioned Alvin Starkman, his wife Arlene, and Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca are doing.

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A mural in progress. Jorge kept working…

… while Javier paused to chat and pose.

Also seen August 4, 2020 in Barrio de Jalatlaco, this time on Alianza.

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