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This morning, Oaxaca began mourning the loss of two of the Zócalo’s iconic and beloved Indian laurels. In less than 48 hours, two of these massive trees, planted between 1875 and 1885, had fallen. Unfortunately, in their untimely demise, they join several other Indian laurels shading the Zócalo and Alameda that have crashed to the ground in the past ten years.

Yellow caution tape at the entrance to the Alameda

The concern is there will be more — thus, today these public spaces have been closed to the public with yellow caution tape and police barring the entrances.

Standing water at the base of an Indian laurel tree on the Alameda.

Ostensibly, the high winds and torrential rain Oaxaca is currently experiencing caused the trees to topple. However, our stormy weather these days is only the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Tending to the hole left by the Indian laurel that fell on Sept. 15, 2020 at the southwest corner of the Zócalo.

Several years ago, as we walked through the Zócalo and Alameda, I remember listening intently as the late artist and tree historian/savior Francisco Verástegui passionately described the indignities these trees had suffered, including disruption to their root systems when, in 2005, a governor attempted to remodel the Zócalo.

Status update at the northwest corner of the Zócalo.

Thankfully, a protest movement stopped that plan, but damage had already been done. What followed, among other things, was improper pruning, inadequate irrigation, faulty drainage, and the use of unsterilized mulch leading to the growth of fungus and causing the roots to rot — all of which contributed to the trees tumbling down.

Indian laurel that fell the evening of Sept. 17, 2020 on the southeast corner of the Zócalo.

And, it’s not only the trees in the Alameda and Zócalo. The director of the civil association Oaxaca Fértil estimates that 90% of the trees in the municipality of Oaxaca have been neglected, are diseased, and run the risk of collapsing. Let us hope that more of the historic trees that contribute to the beauty of Oaxaca can be saved and cared for in the way they deserve.

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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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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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Oaxaca sings in the rainy season. Afternoon clouds gather, the sky darkens, wind picks up, thunder rumbles, heaven sinks closer to earth, and, if Cocijo is answering prayers, the sound of rain falling — El canto del agua; The song of water.

I knew the minute I saw this mural that it was the work of Fabián Calderón Sánchez (Sanez). Over the years, I’ve been captivated by and posted images of his thought provoking, creative, and powerful uses of indigenous imagery. The facade of El Armadillo Negro restaurant on Calle del 5 de mayo 307, Barrio de Jalatlaco, seen on August 4, 2020.

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From the streets of Oaxaca, Benito Juárez is masked and throwing hand sanitizer, as the Covid-19 denier-in-chief looks down from el norte.

Police violence and protests captured on cell phones and broadcast live on the internet fill our screens and walls.

George Floyd, plus countless others, are dead but not forgotten.

There is no joy in Oaxaca as the twin plagues of the virus and racism command our consciousness here, there, and everywhere.

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Dear friends and lovers of Oaxaca,

While the areas where you live may be loosening up on Covid-19 precautions, Oaxaca is not. Cases and deaths continue to rise at an alarming rate and, as a result, a few days ago the governor instituted a ten-day shelter-in-place order. Masks are mandatory in public, we are not to leave our homes except for groceries, medications, or medical treatment, limits have been put on bus service, and the hours and days of the mercados have been significantly reduced.

Photo from Facebook page of the Mexican Dreamweavers

While tourism provides the economic life-blood of Oaxaca and restaurants, hotels, and artisans would welcome your business, the people and medical infrastructure cannot afford the Covid-19 virus that might come along with you and your dinero. Oaxaca is one of the poorest and most indigenous states in Mexico and, as a result of poverty and inadequate health care, it has high rates diabetes and heart disease — both high risk factors for coronavirus mortality.

While right now you can only dream about coming to Oaxaca, there are ways you can help. You can join those of us living here by financially helping out your Oaxacan friends, by donating to your preferred hotels and restaurants, and by placing an order with your favorite weaver, carver, or other artisan. Buying mezcal futures from traditional mezcaleros is even an option — and the bottles will be waiting for you when next you return.

While I have no place to wear it right now, I bought this beautiful rebozo (shawl) from the Mexican Dreamweavers. Patrice Perillie, the Dreamweavers’ Director, knew I’d been admiring and wanting one for years, so she recently contacted me to (gently) suggest that ordering one now would have a greater and much-needed financial impact on the cooperative’s members. It is made from brown coyuchi cotton, yarns dyed with indigo, purple tixinda, and red cochinilla, and woven by Amada Sanchez Cruz on a backstrap loom. Isn’t it stunning?

 

From the Mexican Dreamweavers “About” page on Facebook”

In the community of Pinotepa de Don Luis, situated on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, artisans of Mixtec origin, masters in the art of weaving on back-strap looms, weave beautiful cloth that they use in different types of dress. There is the posahuanco which is a type of skirt of pre-hispanic origin; the huipil, a tunic dress used for special occasions; and the reboso, a shawl used by the women both for warmth and to carry things, including their babies!

The women weavers of this community have formed a cooperative called “Tixinda” which has over 60 women, both young and old, who are passing down the 3,000+ year old tradition of spinning and weaving from one generation to the next. In addition to producing their traditional dress, Tixinda also produces table linens, bed linens, throw pillows and bags, using both traditional and contemporary designs.

To view the Mexican Dreamweavers inventory and to buy, click their Facebook Shop
For more information, please contact Patrice Perillie, Director:
Telephone USA – (212) 629-7899
Telephone Mexico – (954) 102-1792
Email – mexicandreamweavers@hotmail.com

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From the walls of Oaxaca… mural by artist Efdot.

To the streets of the USA… music and lament by singer-songwriter Alex Call.

The message is the same.

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Wandering around the streets and alleys of the Marcos Perez / Lic. José Vasconcelos neighborhood, I began to see birds gathering — and they seemed to be talking.

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“Ahhh, what a comfortable perch.”

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“Is anybody home?”

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“What did you say?”

And then there were the hummingbirds…

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“Please don’t tie me down!”

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“Come fly with me.”

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“I’ll race you!”

What delightful gifts the Argentinian artist Jesus Flores (aka, Walpaq) has left for the people of Oaxaca!

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It’s official, face masks (cubrebocas/tapabocas) are mandatory. At today’s press conference, the governor of Oaxaca announced the steps the state government is taking now that Mexico has entered Phase 3 of its Covid-19 emergency plan. I must say that I was impressed by the visuals as I watched — reporters, the governor’s team of experts, and even the governor at one point were modeling good mask behavior.

And, street artists have been plastering the walls of the city with mask-wearing messages.

A medical masked Batman says, “stay in the house” — by the artist, Yescka.

Former Governor of Oaxaca and beloved former President of Mexico, Benito Juárez rocking a mask.

Not sure this couple is practicing proper mask protocol, not to mention, sana distancia (physical distancing) — by artist Elise Rubin.

Unfortunately, this last image represents what I have observed in my wanderings through the empty streets of the city. On today’s outing to my neighborhood produce truck and then to various tiendas (corner stores) in search of mineral water, eggs, and butter, at least 30% of the people I encountered were not wearing masks. For the most part, it’s not because they are not available. They are selling for ten pesos each (40¢ US) and there are numerous projects making and distributing free cloth masks, including those spearheaded by my amiga Norma Schafer over at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. I brought a couple of extra masks with me and offered one to the gal at the produce truck, but she declined, saying she already had one. I responded that it was really important that she wear it, but she just shrugged. It’s frustrating!

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Today, I broke my self-imposed social-distancing exile and went for a walk around town. The traffic was unusually light and I wondered if all the tourists had flown the coop, going home while the going was good in the wake of COVID-19 and/or Oaxaqueños were beginning to heed the protective measures issued by the World Health Organization. However, the giant Mexican flag on the zócalo and closed banks, shops, and my dentist’s office tipped me off — today is the day Mexico celebrates her much beloved five-term and only indigenous (Zapotec) president, Benito Juárez. His actual birthday is March 21, but the third Monday of March has been designated as the national holiday. Three-day weekends are popular here, too!

Looking up today in Parque Labastida.

In these trying times, we would all do well to remember his famous words: Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz. (Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.)

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Aguas, atole, aguardiente, cafe, chocolate, compuestos, destilados, pulque, tejate, tepache, and té, oh my! Those are only fraction of the 72 beverages (alcoholic and non) found in the eight regions of the state of Oaxaca and featured in the “hot off the press” book, Bebidas de Oaxaca. Authors, Salvador Cueva and Ricardo Bonilla spent a year traveling up and down and over and through the mountains, valleys, and coastal regions of this most diverse, both geographic and cultural, state.

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Ricardo Bonilla and Salvador Cueva.

They met the indigenous men and women whose families have handed down through countless generations the recipes for everyday and ceremonial beverages. Most of all they got to know, learn from, and appreciate the people and their traditions. A poem, composed and recited by Emma Méndez García from Huatla de Jiménez, expressed the pride and strength of the rich cultures of those who contributed their time, histories, and knowledge to the project.

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Emma Méndez García (Huautla de Jiménez) reciting the poem she wrote in honor of the occasion.

The relationship the authors developed with their subjects was obvious at Saturday afternoon’s book presentation at the gloriously dilapidated and magical Proyecto Murguia (site of the 2012 El Sueño de Elpis). They presented each of the cocineras and cocineros featured in the book with the book, a book bag, a mug, and much gratitude and appreciation.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Jovita López Cruz (Unión Nacional Zafra), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Carina Santiago (Teotitlán del Valle), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Catalina Chávez Lucas (Tlacolula de Matamoros), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Reyna Mendoza (Teotitlán del Valle), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Celia Florian (La Ciénega, Zimatlán), and Salvador Cueva.

Following the formal presentations, 20 of the beverages were free to sample and purchase directly from their makers.

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Mezcal from Graciela Ángeles Carreño (Santa Catarina Minas).

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Pinole prepared by Elisa León Pérez (Santa Catarina Ixtepeji).

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Estella serving Chocolateatole con cacao blanco by Carina Santiago (Teotitlán del Valle).

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Tepache con rojo by María Díaz Cortés and Juana Gallardo Jiménez (Santa María Tlahuitoltepec).

Bebidas de Oaxaca is available in Spanish and English and in hard and softbound editions. For information regarding purchasing the book, go to their website. Or, if you are in Oaxaca city, attend the book talk at La Jícara (Porfirio Díaz 1105) on Thursday evening, March 5, 2020 at 7:00 PM. A percentage of the sales of the book will go to the Bebidas de Oaxaca foundation to support the people and families who participated in the book.

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Día de Carnaval (aka, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival) in Oaxaca is muy especial — especially in the village of San Martín Tilcajete. The Spanish brought the tradition to Mexico and, like may 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 waiting to be worn at the workshop of Victor Fabián Ortega (click on image to enlarge)…

Not only were there masks at the workshop, there were bodies to be painted and it was a family affair — brothers, sisters, cousins, children, wives, and Victor himself who painted, was painted, and donned a mask.

Other family members (including women, new in the past couple of years) came painted and masked to gather to begin roaming through the village with other families, inviting one and all to the festivities!

And, it’s not just the adults. As with all celebrations and rituals in Oaxaca, children are encouraged to appreciate and participate — hopefully, ensuring these traditions continue.

The devils of San Martín Tilcajete laughed at everything: baptisms, weddings, solemn acts. Surrounded by devils with masks, old shoes, clothing of sacks, paintings that come from the earth and ancestral plants, they roam the streets chattering and everywhere they walk the streets laughing and appear either as devils or animal spirits.

That is why in SMT in carnival, it becomes a poetic dimension of shapes, colors and sounds; a fun and educational community that teaches us how imperfect we are, and to ask the good not to be so solemn and boring. Chamucos: Carnaval de San Martín Tilcajete Oaxaca, by Adolfo Pérez Butrón. (My translation.)

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I’m in el norte and it is all quiet on the norther front on this day honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. In fact, the sound of silence was one of the things that struck me as the taxi drove me and my luggage through the streets of my little hometown at the base of Mount Tamalpais. The Oaxaca I left a few days ago, was a cacophony of rocket booms and bangs, church bells ringing, processions with enthusiastic bands, and barking dog. From my terrace, yesterday and today, I would have been treated to sound on steroids honoring Guadalupe. Funny what one gets used to…

The above images of the Virgin of Guadalupe were created for an altar dedicated to Guadalupe at the Roses and Revelations textile exhibition and are by painter and sculptor, Demetrio Garcia Aguilar, a member of the talented Aguilar family of potters of Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca. The indigenous symbols used pay homage to the pre-Hispanic fertility and earth goddess, Tonantzin (“Our Sacred Mother” in the Nahuatl language), whose temple at the top of Tepeyac Hill had been destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. Syncretically, this became the site where the apparition the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego asking that a church be built on that site and thus the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe began — another step in the blending of the old and new religions and the original peoples and the Spanish newcomers.

By the way, the Roses and Revelations exhibition is on tour and is currently at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Popular in Coyoacán, in Mexico City. It will run to April 19, 2020.

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What can I say? The poster for the 4th Annual Mezcal Fair in Santa Catarina Minas came across my Facebook page and I said, let’s go! Thus, friends and neighbors rented a van (with non-drinking driver) to head an hour south of Oaxaca city for day two of the 2-day fair.

A barro for distilling mezcal enhancing the basketball hoop.

Naturally, it was held in the municipal basketball court, adjacent to the church!

Food vendor and family member setting up.

Of course, being gringos, we were early, so we headed for the food stalls (all the better to absorb the mezcal to come) — including empanadas from San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Though, in all honesty, they weren’t nearly as good as the gal we usually go to in San Antonino.

Maestro mezcalero, Don Pablo Arellanes Ramírez.

The mezcal stalls hadn’t quite begun to be staffed.

Luis Arellanes Cruz atop the outdoor oven pit used to cook the agave piñas.

However, thanks to mi amiga K, who went in search of cervesa (beer) to wash down our empanadas, we were introduced to Luis Arellanes Cruz, who then took us to the Los Arellanes palenque, explained the process of turning agave piñas into mezcal to the new initiates among us, and introduced us to maestro mezcalero, Rufino Felipe Martinez.

Félix Ángeles Arellanes

Returning to the feria, several of us were delighted to renew our acquaintance with Félix from Mezcal El Minerito where, the last time I was there, friends and I watched the process of layering agave piñas, bagaso, and a tarp to begin the cooking process.

Folkloric dancers from Sección XXII of the teachers’ union of the City of Oaxaca.

Of course, no feria would be complete without entertainment. According to the schedule, there were bands and presentations and parades and dancers and…

The road out of town.

After three hours of wandering, eating, tasting, and enjoying, it was time to head back to the city. As they say, a great time was had by all!

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Today, November 3, blogger buddy Chris and I made our annual pilgrimage to experience the flowers and families of the panteón in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. We have been doing this for many years and are always surprised and delighted by the creativity of the living, as they decorate the graves of their departed. This year was no exception — especially the sculptures on two of the graves. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Below, the plaque on the simple wooden cross read, 1994 – 2018 Fernando Moctezuma Valencia García “Tachuma” Te amoremos por siempre, tu familia (We love you forever, your family). A little internet research revealed that the young Fernando was already a talented ceramicist.

The hands of a loved one honoring Fernando by creating this exceptional sculpture on his grave, moved me to tears.

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