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Archive for the ‘Libraries’ Category

Residents and visitors, alike, have been in mourning for a couple of years — ever since Margie Barclay retired from publishing her extremely popular and informative Oaxaca Calendar.  While others, like Que Pasa Oaxaca, have tried to pick up the slack, nothing else has quite measured up until now.  There is a new calendar in town — OaxacaEvents!!!

OaxEventsCalendar

As you can see, it’s visually easy on the eyes and I can assure you it’s also easy to use.  For example, clicking the “View” arrow links to event details.  Though the default is “All,” by clicking on a menu bar selection, you can specify a type of event for which you want to see listings (Music, Art, Dance/Theater, Food/Drink, Sports/Fitness, Learning, Groups/Mtgs, or Festivals).  You can also elect to see event listings for a particular date, use the search feature, and (drum roll, please), if you know of an event that isn’t shown, you can “submit an event” — harnessing the power of crowd-sourcing!  Pretty cool, yes?

The OaxacaEvents calendar is a volunteer effort by Dottie Bellinger and Teri Gunderson in partnership with the Oaxaca Lending Library.  If you’re in the neighborhood, please be sure to thank them, including Margie Barclay who briefly came out of “calendar retirement” to lend her expertise in the initial setup.

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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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What can one say about a country that celebrates a poet/essayist/philosopher/journalist as a national hero?  Granted, José Martí was also a fierce fighter for Cuban independence from Spain and died in battle on May 19, 1895, shot by Spanish troops in Dos Ríos, Cuba.

However, it is his writings that appear to be his most powerful and lasting legacy.  Exiled from Cuba due to his political activity against Spain, he spent many years in the United States and while there, he wrote a passionate report following the 1886 execution by hanging in Chicago of the Haymarket martyrs.  And so, let’s commemorate this May Day with words from José Martí…


Every human being has within him an ideal man, just as every piece of marble contains in a rough state a statue as beautiful as the one that Praxiteles the Greek made of the god Apollo.  — José Martí

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Memorial José Martí, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana

To educate is to give man the keys to the world, which are independence and love, and to give him strength to journey on his own, light of step, a spontaneous and free being.  — José Martí

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Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Men are like the stars; some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive.  —José Martí

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Display at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Man can never be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns us with the same light that warms us. The sun has spots (stains).  The ungrateful only talk about the spots (stains). The grateful talk about the light.  — José Martí, La edad de oro

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Courtyard of El Sitial Moncada, Havana

In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.  — José Martí

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Bookseller stall in the Plaza de Armas, Havana


I have a white rose to tend
In July as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.  — José Martí

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Dagoberto, our waiter at a bar on the grounds of Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, Havana — the white rose he made and presented to me

If translated back into Spanish, those last words may sound familiar to you…

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

This Playing for Change YouTube video may refresh your memory, then there is Pete Seeger.  The above is one of four stanzas from Martí’s Versos Sencillos that are often used as lyrics to Guantanamera.

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4:40 PM - Bloqueo by motos at  the corner of Morelos & Crespo

4:45 PM – Bloqueo (blockade) by moto-taxis at the corner of Morelos & Crespo

5:10 PM - Lucha Libre presentation at Oaxaca Lending Library by artist Charles Barth

5:10 PM – Lucha Libre presentation at Oaxaca Lending Library by artist and Lucha Libre fan, Charles Barth

6:50 PM - Fire above Xoxocotlán seen from Casita Colibrí.

6:45 PM – Fire above Xoxocotlán seen from Casita Colibrí.

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This librarian couldn’t let this go by without a mention… Today is World Book Day and, naturally, Oaxaca celebrates with music!   Under the shade of 130+ year old Indian laurel trees on the zócalo, the State Marimba Band opened the festivities.

P1030861According to the SECULTA website, the celebrations also include storytelling and a marathon of reading aloud from works by Octavio Paz, José Emilio Pacheco, José Revueltas, Julio Cortázar, Efraín Huerta, Juan Gelman, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and by the recently deceased and much revered, Gabriel García Márquez.

While the zócalo and Alcalá are the settings for book fairs several times a year, most of the public libraries are inadequate to fulfill their designated tasks and the price of books (200 to 300 pesos) is way beyond the reach of most of the state’s residents.  Thus, it should surprise no one that reports show Oaxaqueños read an average of only one book per year.   The secretary of Cultures and Arts of Oaxaca ( SECULTA ), Francisco Martínez Neri, acknowledged, “A people with few economic opportunities read little, so it requires the creation of public policies to have books at affordable prices.”  Programs like Libros Para Pueblos, try to fill the gap, but it’s only the proverbial drop in the bucket.

I’ve previously mentioned the controversial “education reform” program of Mexico’s current president, Peña Nieto.  Perhaps, a massive nationwide literacy campaign modeled after the wildly successful, Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961 would be a good place to start.  Maybe the education reformers should read, Latin lessons: What can we learn from the world’s most ambitious literacy campaign?

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About two months ago, new street signs began appearing in Oaxaca on each side of each street corner.  Eight signs per each 4-way intersection, in Spanish and Braille, are at hand touch and wheelchair eye level, and provide arrows to make it clear if the traffic flows this way…

Mariano Matamoros; esq. M. Garcia Vigil; circulacion -->

… or that.

M. Garcia Vigil; Esq. Mariano Matamoros; Circulacion <--

By the way, Oaxaca has a library for the blind and visually impaired — the Biblioteca Jorge Luis Borges, housed in the Biblioteca Infantil in the Barrio de Xochimilco.  Named after the blind Argentine writer, the library was founded in 1996 by world-renowned Oaxacan artist, Francisco Toledo.  It houses his collection of books in Braille, a permanent workshop teaching Braille, computers with special programs for the blind, and scholarships to outstanding visually impaired students.

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With a nod to Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca:  Of all the volunteer opportunities, in all of Oaxaca, why did I walk into the Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL)?   For the answer, you will have to check out my newly published (yippeee!) article on volunteering at the Oaxaca Lending Library on the Go Overseas website.

The article mentions the various and sundry activities organized by the OLL.  So, I thought I’d give you a taste:

Volunteering at the OLL has introduced me to an incredibly diverse, knowledgeable, and talented group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Be they native Oaxaqueños, year round ex pat residents, or yearly “snow birds,” many have become part of my community and support system.  A library —  what better place to get your questions answered about the who, what, where, why, and how of living and thriving in an unfamiliar culture?  People and books are there to assist with navigating the challenges, celebrating the differences, and exploring the surroundings.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion at the library commemorating fifty years of the Peace Corps.  Two of the speakers had been among the original Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s, one to Africa and one to South America. The third speaker is an 85-year-old woman who was a Peace Corps volunteer when she was 60+ years old!  All have been living in Oaxaca for a number of years, and credit their Peace Corps volunteer experiences with broadening their horizons and realizing their power to have a positive impact in the world, even if it is just one person at a time.  All continue to find ways to offer their time, energy, and talents to assist various people and communities of Oaxaca.

According to a recent International Community Foundation report on US retiree trends in Mexico:

• Nearly 60% of respondents volunteer their time to a charitable cause in Mexico and over 29% volunteer at least once a week or on a regular basis. Respondents engage in a wide range of volunteer activities, most prominently with education-focused charities, community projects, and the environment.

• U.S retirees in Mexico volunteer because of their strong sense of social responsibility and desire to make a difference in their adopted communities. Survey respondents reported that their volunteer efforts increase their sense of belonging in Mexico, and contribute to an increased sense of community among local neighbors and friends.

• 42% of American retirees surveyed are actively involved in at least one or two Mexican charities in their adopted communities, while another 11% are affiliated with more than three.

Ten years ago, I never dreamed I would be living an ex pat life in southern Mexico.  Funny how life’s curves can lead to opportunities….

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… in all manner of ways; there’s a lot of that here.  Successful meetings between old and new are a matter of debate.  The newly renovated Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo is no exception.  It was acquired, designed by architect Mauricio Rocha, renovated, and repurposed by the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation.

Located in the heart of the historic district, between the Museo Textil and the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá, this former Dominican convent, originally established in 1529, has been one of those ubiquitous crumbling and peligrosos buildings for a long time.  In addition, to the features of the original cloister, archeological remains from 2,500 years ago were uncovered and have been preserved.

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The buildings will house a research center (including a library), dedicated to the study of the languages and cultures of the indigenous of Oaxaca, serve as a venue for cultural presentations, and provide exhibit space for the philanthropic endeavors of the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, which (among several others) includes the Textile Museum, Museum of Philately (stamps), Institute of Oaxacan Historic , and Children’s Library.

The grand opening, with all the requisite fanfare and dignitaries, was November 26.  Alas, I missed it!  However, the courtyard provided the setting for several performances during the Instrumenta Oaxaca 2011, a 2-week long chamber music festival that ran from November 3rd to the 18th; two of which I attended.  I was dazzled by the setting (and the acoustics weren’t bad, either) and was especially gratified that the library, which the seating faced, presented a prominent and dramatic architectural feature.

Written on the wall of the building housing a small collection from the BS: Biblioteca Infantil (Children’s Library), a quote from Dostoyevsky (of all people):  Los libros son mi aliento, mi vida y mi futuro.  In English:  Books are my breath, my life and my future.

For more (in English) about the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo, see Norma Hawthorne’s article, Oaxaca Center Promotes Indigenous Language and Culture, Opens November 26, 2011.

Update:  Read how this cultural and historical gem, lost in plain sight.

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