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Our first stop on day five of B’s Week in Oaxaca was the Palacio de Gobierno to see the magnificent Mural of Oaxaca history.  Ooops!  I had forgotten that the Government Palace was now closed to the public.  However, a polite appeal to see the mural, addressed to one of the guards by a couple of tourists (okay, one tourist and one resident), resulted in the guard receiving permission from a superior to let us in.  We were instructed, mural only!  We obeyed, walking only half-way up the grand staircase to take in the entire work of art.  I love this mural by Arturo García Bustos and hope the palacio will again be opened to the public.

Once we had finished marveling at the Bustos history of Oaxaca, we walked up the Macedonio Alcalá to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO) to check out the Espejos de Cal mural being painted in the courtyard by Jesús González.  Engrossed in watching the mural unfold and fascinated in the technique explained by the artist’s Russian assistant, we never made it inside this treasure of a museum.  Next time!

We strolled further up the Alcalá to the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), founded in 1988 by renown artist, philanthropist, and social activist, Francisco Toledo.  First we wandered through the exhibition rooms and then into the impressive library.  The 60,000+ books on art, architecture, design, photography, and much more is one of the most extensive arts-related collections in Latin America.  A photography professor friend raved to me about finding a book at IAGO that he had been searching for and B (the architect) was ooh-ing and ahh-ing at titles he eyed — and pulled a few off the shelves to leaf through.  IAGO also hosts lectures, conferences, musical performances, workshops, poetry readings, and film showings.

Needless to say, by the time we finally left, we were hungry.  Lucky for us, the acclaimed restaurant Pitiona was only a block away.  Born in Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, Chef José Manuel Baños spent time in Spain under the tutelage of innovative chefs Feran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak.  However, as the name Pitiona (a native herb frequently used in Oaxacan cooking) suggests, the starting point for Baños is local ingredients.  The simple elegance of the old colonial building and attention to detail in table settings, service, and especially food, made for a sublime interlude in the day’s activities.

We descended the stairs of Pitiona to the sound of music coming from the atrium of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán.  It was Saturday and that means wedding day at Santo Domingo – each featuring a band, folkloric dancers, marmotas (giant cloth balloons), bride and groom monos (giant puppets), a wedding procession down the Alcalá, and scores of tourists and locals stopping to watch — which we did, too!

Our final stop was at the photography museum Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo, another brainchild of Francisco Toledo.  The museum has over 18,000 photographs in its permanent collection, including by its namesake Manuel Álvarez Bravo, his first wife Lola Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tina Modotti, Guillermo Kahlo (yes, Frida Kahlo’s father), and Mary Ellen Mark.  Works from the collection and by photographers from all over the world are exhibited in galleries surrounding a beautiful courtyard featuring a reflecting pool.

However, that wasn’t the end.  After a siesta, we gathered with eight other diners for a Waje pop-up dinner.  The June menu was an homage to mole and the setting was at the restaurant Mezquite Gastronomia Y Destilado where Waje chef, José Daniel Delgado is the new chef.  As always, José Daniel and his Waje team provided a creative, delicious, and delightful evening.  An added bonus was being seated across from Jason Cox, co-owner and mezcal steward of El Destilado — a restaurant I definitely need to try.

Only one day left in B’s Week in Oaxaca.  Where to go?  What to do?  Stay tuned!

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Day four of B’s Week in Oaxaca had B relying on yours truly for the day’s sights and sounds.  Where to begin?  The answer, because it was near Casita Colibrí and we had just been to Mitla and Monte Albán, was the Museo de Arte Prehispánico de México Rufino Tamayo (Rufino Tamayo Museum of Prehispanic Art).  The collection is spread over five rooms surrounding a courtyard in a 16th century colonial building.  Each room is painted a different iconic Mexican color, chosen by the late Zapotec Oaxaqueño artist Rufino Tamayo, to highlight the pieces of his extraordinary collection.

Next we walked down to and through the iron gates, designed by Francisco Toledo, and across the brick pathway of the Centro Cultural San Pablo (Cultural Center of San Pablo).  We explored the interior rooms of this ex-convent, now an academic research and cultural center, that hosts concerts, lectures, exhibitions, and houses a library.  Pausing to rest, we took advantage of the cafe in the courtyard to order a couple of aguas.

Our thirst quenched, we walked around the corner to the Museo Textil de Oaxaca (Textile Museum of Oaxaca) to explore the ground floor and upstairs exhibitions of one of this textile lover’s favorite museums.  One of the exhibits was the stunning “Almas bordadas, vestido y ornamento en el Istmo de Tehuantepec” — displaying the iconic embroidered clothing of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  (Think, the dress of Frida Kahlo.)

Forty-five minutes later, we were certifiably hungry and, lucky for us, Origen, restaurant of Top Chef Mexico 2016 winner, Rodolfo Castellanos, and one of my oft recommended restaurants in Oaxaca, was only a block away.  As always, its relaxing interior, attentive service, and delicious food provided a perfect respite.

Once rested and satiated, it felt good to set feet to pavement for the short walk to the Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption).  The cathedral towers over the zocaló and the Alameda.  The construction of this green cantera (stone) edifice began in 1535 and was consecrated on July 12, 1733.  It is dominated by a spectacular altar and lined, on both sides, with chapels — the most important being that of Señor del Rayo.  In addition, it is home to one of the historic pipe organs of Oaxaca.

After being wowed by the Cathedral’s soaring ceiling, altar, art, chapels, and organ, we crossed Independencia for a taste of the modern — the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños (Museum of Oaxacan Painters).  This, often overlooked, two-story restored colonial era mansion showcases the creativity and talent of Oaxaca’s painters.  I had been to the museum only a month before, but the exhibitions are ever-changing, and new artists were on display.

Of course, no day in Oaxaca is complete without a parade and we were not disappointed.  We departed the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños to be greeted with a calenda (parade) by “Ranchu Gubiña” from Union Hidalgo in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region — attired in clothing similar to that which we had seen earlier in the day at the textile museum.  We had come full circle!

Another long day’s journey into evening….  However, we weren’t finished yet; two more days await!

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Whether just passing by…

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Or, stopping to study…

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Even black and white stencils add color commentary to the walls of Oaxaca.

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On day three of B’s week in Oaxaca, Benito (Discover Oaxaca) returned to pick us up a little after 9:00 AM.  We wound our way up to the archeological site, Monte Albán — the imposing former capital of the Zapotecs.  Construction of this commanding site, on top of an artificially flattened mountain, began around 500 B.C.  By 350-550 A.D., it had become the economic, political, and religious center for the Zapotecs, and one of the first urban complexes in Mesoamerica.  Though we were only there for two hours, I learned more from Benito than I had on my previous five or six unguided visits.  While we were there, a specially fitted drone (archaeocopter) was being used by archaeologists — the sound was annoying, but once we figured out it was for research, it became more tolerable and rather intriguing.  There is still so much to be uncovered!

Monte Albán – looking down onto the main plaza.

Coming down off the mountain, we took the scenic route, circling around the western base of Monte Albán, often bouncing along on dirt roads as we headed south to the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapam de Guerrero.  Construction began on this massive and elaborate Dominican complex in 1556 but was temporarily halted in the 1570s and never resumed — leaving behind a towering roofless basilica, ornate frescoes, and a magnificent Gothic cloister.  There are several theories as to why it was never finished — lack of funds due to the extravagance, a dispute over land ownership, the decimation of the local indigenous population from 43,000 in the 1520s down to 7,000 in 1600, leaving few workers to construct it and natives left to convert.  Climbing the stairs up to the second story terrace yields an impressive view and site from which to contemplate the impact of the Spanish conquest.

Murals inside the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol, Cuilapam de Guerrero.

After an hour of roaming through the unfinished remains of the Ex-monastery, we returned to the van for the 4-mile drive to Villa de Zaachila.  Thursday is market day and the village was alive with shoppers.  From where we parked, we walked through the market, with B marveling at all there was for sale — from fresh fruits and vegetables to tools and kitchen ware to clothing and needlework to…. And, we never even made it to the livestock market.

Moto taxis taking people to and from the tianguis on market day in Villa de Zaachila.

Once through the market, we walked past the church and up a hill to the small archaeological site of the last capital of the Zapotecs and later conquered by the Mixtecs, not long before the Spanish arrived.  It is mostly unexcavated, but has two small tombs that can be accessed.

Tomb 1 – The Owl (Tecolote, Búho) of Zaachila.

We were about to head to lunch, when we were waylaid by Benito’s inquiry if we knew about and would like to see the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) murals decorating the walls of Calle Coquiza — a street that connects the church with the municipal cemetery.  Of course we responded that we would love to see them!  If you are in Zaachila, they are worth checking out.  You can see more of the murals on my blog post, Muertos murals in Zaachila.

Muertos mural along Calle Coquiza, Villa de Zaachila.

We were starving by the time we had walked the length and back of Calle Coquiza, so we made a beeline for the van that would take us to Restaurante La Capilla de Zaachila.  It felt so good to sit, relax, and eat!

Tortilla Zachileña de guisado al horno.

It was a fairly quiet return to the city — we were satiated by food, sights, and information.  However, following a few hours of rest, B and I met up again to stroll down to the zócalo, sip mezcal on rooftop terrace of Casa Crespo  — though the music was a bit loud, the mezcal was good and the view of Santo Domingo couldn’t be beat.

By the way, this day’s travels took us to many of the major sites where the legend of Donaji takes place.

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As the name implies, the Feria del Tejate y el Tamal also featured tamales, along with yesterday’s blog post subject, Tejate, “Drink of the Gods”.

embroidered tea towels

Tamal vendors from San Andrés Huayapam stood behind long tables lined with tin buckets, giant pots, and baskets covered with colorfully embroidered towels hiding every kind of tamal imaginable.  There were mole negro (black mole) tamales wrapped in banana leaves…

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And… flor de calabaza (squash blossom), amarillo (yellow mole), verde (green mole), chapulín (grasshopper), frijol (bean), and chepil (a wild herb) wrapped and steamed in corn husks.  The local newspaper reports there were also fish and shrimp tamales.  Darn, I didn’t even see them!  Though not a surprise because it was quite a scene as crowds amassed in front of the vendors placing their orders.  It reminded me of the lyrics from the Neil Diamond song, Sweet Caroline:  Hands, touching hands, reaching out…

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I don’t really have a favorite — they are all so uniquely special.  However, because chichilo mole originated in San Andrés Huayapam and is only served on special occasions (weddings, christenings, harvesting of crops), I always make sure to bring home a couple.  Chichilo mole is made from chilhuacle negro, mulatto, and pasilla chiles; blackened tortillas and seeds of the chiles; and avocado leaves, the latter imparting a subtle anise flavor.  They are so yummy!

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The prehispanic riches of tejate and tamales — a couple of reasons why Oaxaca is a food lovers paradise.

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This morning, the Feria del Tejate y el Tamal opened at the Plaza de la Danza — with live music, speeches, scores of tejate and tamal vendors, and hundreds of happy, hungry people.  In the event you are unfamiliar with tejate (which is probably the case if you have never been to Oaxaca), it is a very popular frothy, refreshing, nutritious, and (supposedly) aphrodisiacal non-alcoholic prehispanic beverage.  It is made from corn mixed with tree ash, cacao beans, mamey seeds, rosita de cacao (Quararibea funebris) flowers, and peanuts or pecans (depending on the season).

 

 

The preparation takes at least twelve hours, as the beans, seeds, flowers, and nuts must be toasted on a comal and corn must be nixtamalized.  Ingredients are taken to a molino to be milled, then kneaded together, left to cool, eventually being hand-ground on a metate to make a thick paste — which is what one sees in the mercados being thinned with water and (literally) mixed by hand.  For a blow-by-blow photo essay of the process, check out Making Tejate for the Market.

 

 

In days gone by, this exquisite beverage was reserved solely for Zapotec royalty.  However, today tejate is for the masses, with tejateras and their massive clay ollas set up at almost every mercado and festival you run across.  One frequently sees tejate poured into colorfully painted gourds and, of course, it tastes even better when served that way!

 

 

The sale of tejate is the main economic activitity in San Andrés Huayapam, located about 7 miles northeast of Oaxaca city.  It is prepared and served by the tejateras of the Unión de Mujeres Productoras del Tejate.  At the Feria, many of the tejateras were young — it is good to see the ancestral recipes and skills being passed down to the next generation.

 

 

The Feria del Tejate y el Tamal runs through tomorrow (July 26, 2017).  If you are in town, don’t miss it!  Oh yes, there were tamales, so stay tuned…

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The Guelaguetza Muy Especial, danced by Los Ángeles de Luz, gets bigger every year.

Convite – China Oaxaqueñas, City of Oaxaca

Early yesterday evening, all seating was filled and it was standing room only at the Plaza de la Danza — and that is a very good thing because Los Ángeles de Luz is group of 18 children and young people with Down’s Syndrome.

Jarabe – Ejutla de Crespo, Valles Centrales region

It was formed in 2003 with the purpose of facilitating the integration of people with Down’s syndrome and offering them creative experiences that exercise their motor skills, intelligence, language, and sensitivity in an environment of respect, trust, and love. (Ángeles le dan luz a las fiestas del Lunes del Cerro, 07/25/2016)

Jarabe – Tamazulapam Espiritu Santo, Mixe region

Their talents also extend to theatrical productions, including performances of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Romeo and Juliet.”  In addition, they have mounted an interdisciplinary spectacular, “Ellos le bailan a México, a un México muy especial.”

Wedding jarabe – Huautla de Jiménez, Cañada region

At the Guelaguetza Muy Especial, these young people make the requisite costume changes and perform traditional dances from the eight regions of Oaxaca.

Jarabe – San Melchor Betaza, Sierra Norte region

This year’s show brought Oaxaca’s dignitaries, including Diosa Centeotl, Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez — she looked incredibly moved when they performed dances from her town of San Melchor Betaza.

Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez – Diosa Centeotl 2017

As I have mentioned before, perhaps it is because I have a special needs nephew or that both my sister-in-law and daughter-in-law are special education teachers, that I am drawn to this event every year.

Jarabe – Pinotepa Nacional, Costa region

Tears always well up in my eyes as I share in the joy and pride exhibited by the dancers from Los Ángeles de Luz.

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To watch last week’s Desfile de Delegaciones (Parade of Delegations), Donají…La Leyenda, and both the morning and evening Guelaguetza performances at the Auditorio Guelaguetza on Cerro del Fortín:  http://www.viveoaxaca.org/2017/07/EnVivo2017.html.

This week, the same link should be live streaming tonight’s Desfile, tomorrow night’s Donají, and both Guelaguetza performances on Monday.  If not, check the CORTV TV en Vivo link:  http://www.cortv.oaxaca.gob.mx/tv-en-vivo/.

July 22, 2017 at 6:00 PM – Desfile de Delegaciones

July 23, 2017 at 8:00 PM – Donají… La Leyenda

July 24, 2017 at 10:00 AM – Guelaguetza 2017 morning performance

July 24, 2017 at 5:00 PM – Guelaguetza 2017 evening performance

(Times given are USA Central Daylight Savings Time)

This week’s list of delegations:

July 24 morning

July 24 evening

¡Desfruta!  (Enjoy!)

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Another day, another parade.  Today, the Gran Calenda del Mercado de Abastos (parade of the markets) passed within a block and a half of Casita Colibrí.  I couldn’t miss it — the cacophony of multiple bands, cohetes (rockets), and honking horns announced its arrival in my ‘hood!  In the words of Octavio Paz, from The Labyrinth of Solitude

“The solitary Mexican loves fiestas and public gatherings.”

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“The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico.”

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“Our poverty can be measured by the frequency and luxuriousness of our holidays.”

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“Do they forget themselves and show their true faces?  Nobody knows.  The important thing is to go out, open a way, get drunk on noise, people, colors.”

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“In the confusion that it generates, society is dissolved, is drowned, insofar as it is an organism ruled according to certain laws and principles.”

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“Everything is united: good and evil, day and night, the sacred and the profane.  Everything merges, loses shape and individuality and returns to the primordial mass.”

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“The fiesta is a cosmic experiment, an experiment in disorder, reuniting contradictory elements and principles in order to bring about a renascence of life.”

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The dancers get most of the press, but the musicians are some of the unsung heroes of all the Guelaguetza performances.  And, I have to say, yesterday the Banda Oro Blanco at the Guelaguetza at “Las Peñitas” in Reyes Etla played a leading role.  And the view wasn’t bad either!

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What can I say about this clarinet player?  At one point he played off a fake book on a smart phone and he was on fire!!!

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On Friday, Diosa Centéotl was selected to reign over the Guelaguetza festivities.  The eight regions of the state of Oaxaca were all represented by the 33 contestants competing for the honor.  (My photos of each of the contestants are from the morning phase of the competition.)

First a little history…  According to the pamphlet that was distributed to the hundreds of locals, family and friends of contestants, and tourists attending the competition at Jardín el Pañuelito, the little “pocket” garden along the side of Santo Domingo de Guzmán:

“In the pre-Hispanic worldview, Goddess Centéotl possessed the divine power to germinate corn and all the plants of the milpa:  tomato, squash, chile, quelites, beans, and other vegetables that constituted the Mesoamerican diet….”

“For that reason, prayers, dances, music and flowers were offered in each planting cycle…”

“[Later] the relationship between peoples, nature and the gods was manifested through a liturgical calendar carried out with much scrupulousness by both priests and the common people, for the survival of all was at stake, since a failed crop condemned them to famine, disease and moral suffering.”

“By contrast, an abundant harvest filled the people with happiness and they understood that the Goddess of Fertility – Centéotl – had listened to their requests.”  — my translation from the Spanish

The competition to be Diosa Centéotl is not a Miss Universe/Miss America style beauty pageant.  Dressed in the typical costumes of their villages or neighborhoods, these young women had to communicate their knowledge of their communities. They were required to give two 4-minute oral presentations in front of five judges:  Jorge Bueno Sánchez (city chronicler), Celia Florián (chef/owner of Las Quince Letras), María Concepción Villalobos (coauthor of Centéotl en los Lunes del Cerro), María Concepción Guzmán Concha (textile expert), and Claudio Sánchez Islas (writer and journalist).

In the morning session of the competition, each was required to speak about their traditional cuisine, crafts, festivals, customs, myths and legends, or tourist attractions. During the afternoon stage, each had to discuss the history, composition, elaboration, and utility of their costumes.  In addition, as Oaxaca has sixteen distinct ethnolinguistic groups, contestants from the various indigenous communities spoke several lines in their materna lengua (mother tongue).

It is in the dignity, pride, and poise expressed by each of the contestants where we see the essence of their beauty expressed.  And the winner is…

Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez, San Melchor Betaza

Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez, from San Melchor Betaza in the Sierra Norte region of the state.  At being selected she exclaimed, “Doxhkenho dazhan” —  Muchas gracias in Zapoteco.

(ps)  If anyone has or can find a list of all the contestants, I would really love to add their names and communities to each photo.  I think they all deserve to be recognized.

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This evening, the rain began falling as the delegations for the first Saturday Guelaguetza desfile began gathering.  Are we having fun, yet?

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However, just like last year, the show must go on and the dancing must be done.

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Some even looked like they were having fun.  Of course, they were well covered!

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I wasn’t, so this wimpy gringa headed back to her casa and a glass of wine (insert smiley face).  By the way, to add insult to injury, tonight’s press is reporting that the route was changed — and it wasn’t just me who was clueless.  Ahhh… Oaxaca!!!

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While there have been pre-Guelaguetza calendas for the past couple of weeks, for me, the festivities really begin tomorrow — with the Festival de los Moles.  Last year, at least 20+ moles were presented at the “all you can eat” buffet in the Jardín Etnobotánico.  Ticket in hand, I’m ready!

P1200532 (1)In addition, tomorrow Diosa Centéotl (Corn Goddess) will be selected to preside over La Guelaguetza.  Beginning at 10:00 AM, contestants from the eight regions of the state of Oaxaca will showcase and explain the costumes and traditions of their communities, both in Spanish and their materna lengua (mother tongue).

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The schedule of activities during these next two weeks is always jam-packed, entertaining, and exhausting.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the official schedule below.

Calendario Guelaguetza2017

That’s not all, folks!  There are additional Guelaguetza dance performances, expo-ventas, and fairs in the surrounding villages.  And, best of all, residents and visitors will not be navigating along sidewalks piled with garbage.  A temporary Guelaguetza truce to the almost two-week dispute that has prevented garbage from being delivered to dump, was agreed to last night.

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This afternoon, this guy’s garbage cart was SO full, he was having a hard time pulling it over the cobblestones.  He is my hero of the day!

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Many thanks to Surviving Mexico for considering “View from Casita Colibrí” a blog about Mexico worth reading! The feeling is mutual, as I continue to enjoy reading about their “adventures and disasters” living in Mexico. 😉

Surviving Mexico

Shannon writes at Casita Colibrí, another long-time favorite of mine.

IMG_5418_2What brought you to Mexico?

Even though I grew up in California, my first trip to Mexico was in 2007, when I came to Oaxaca to visit a friend. I immediately fell in love with Oaxaca, returned a couple more times, and considered eventually retiring there. The privately funded library where I’d been the director for almost 13 years lost its funding and closed in spring 2009.Full-time jobs for librarian/archivists in the San Francisco Bay Area were almost non-existent. Faced with the choice of working multiple part-time and substitute jobs to barely keep my head above water, versus renting my house and moving to Oaxaca to live a downsized and simplified life, in a culturally rich, full of life city, I opted for the latter.

What was the inspiration behind the name of your blog?

Casita Colibrí is…

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The Guelaguetza 2017 delegations were announced late this morning.  While there will be four presentations of the Danza de la Pluma, this year Teotitlán del Valle will not be one of them and I’m disappointed —  this group of danzantes de promesa are SO good, they were such a hit last year, and I don’t know how much more “traditional” you can get.  In addition, social media tweets and comments in Oaxaca are flying fast and furious regarding the absence of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional and Juchitán de Zaragoza.  However, the good news is that there are some new groups this year, including Santiago Niltepec, Santo Domingo Chihuitán, Santa Catarina Ticua, and Santa María Huatulco — and their supporters are thrilled.

July 17 morning

July 17 evening

July 24 morning

July 24 evening

Reserved seat tickets have been sold out for weeks.  However, if you don’t mind standing in line for hours, tickets for the “free” sections in the upper level of the Guelaguetza Auditorium are available before each of the four performances.  In addition, it will, no doubt, be shown on local TV and live-streamed on the internet.  I will post the link, when it becomes available.

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