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A couple of weeks ago, my friend K and I spent the day in the land of red clay, San Marcos Tlapazola, at the home of potter, Valentina Cruz. I have accumulated quite a collection (though not nearly as much as K) of barro rojo and several of my favorite pieces are by Valentina.

Getting there was quite the adventure. Leaving from Teotitlán del Valle (where I was spending a long weekend), the journey entailed taking a 3-wheeled moto (aka, tuk-tuk) to the highway, catching a bus to Tlacolula de Matamoros, multiple times asking for directions re where to find transportation to take us to Tlapazola, a bit of wandering around, ten blocks of walking, followed by waiting and wondering if we were in the right place. After 1/2 hour, a combi (a glorified pickup truck with wooden benches in the truck bed) arrived and took us up towards the mountains. Needless to say, the bouncing caused by the dirt roads and potholes were felt! Unfortunately, because the back of the truck was covered, we couldn’t even enjoy the views — that had to wait until we finally arrived at Valentina’s home/workshop/store.

The red clay soil isn’t just good for making pottery. Agave, cactus, corn, and squash also seem to thrive under the tender loving care of Valentina and her husband, Don Luis.

When we arrived, Valentina was busy at the tortilla press and comal — making tlayudas (large crispy tortillas) to accompany the chicken soup prepared by her daughter. After we all finished eating comida, we watched as Valentina took out a smooth river rock and began to burnish several pieces. This extra step puts a lovely sheen on her pottery and is one of the things that makes her work stand out.

Of course, I couldn’t resist buying the two horn-playing rabbits (top photo) at the tienda in her home. They join the face with the lid (also in top photo), among my many utilitarian pieces expertly crafted by Valentina. She and her beautiful barro rojo pottery can also be found at the weekly Sunday market in Tlacolula. After this lovely, but long day, we opted for her to call us a taxi to drive back to Teotitlán.

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Late yesterday afternoon… What was that smell? What was that sound? I climbed the spiral staircase up to the rooftop terrace and what did I see?

The little dark dots on the terrace floor confirmed my suspicion. The smell was rain, the sound was rain, those spots on the terrace floor were rain drops, and there was even a hint of a rainbow!

I stood watching and listening and savoring this infrequent, but much welcome, dry season development, when the clouds moved to reveal the rising moon.

The old Blood, Sweat & Tears tune began playing in my head, Sometimes in Winter. Thank you Steve Katz for your beautiful and evocative song.

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On International Women’s Day, a mural in Barrio de Jalatlaco…

Girls have the power

Mural by the Mad In crew celebrating the life of María Antonieta Chagoya Méndez, a lawyer who, among many other notable activities, shared her legal knowledge with civil associations and founded the Rotary Center for Autism Intervention, which served children with special needs.

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Rufino Tamayo’s iconic sandía paintings and the thirtieth anniversary of the Oaxaca painter’s death, provided the inspiration for a tribute to the artist commissioned by promoter and curator, Nancy Mayagoitia. In an homage, thirty artists, all with connections to Oaxaca, interpreted large sculptural watermelon slices. The free public exhibition opened at the end of October 2021 in the Plaza de la Danza and then moved outside Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán adjacent to Oaxaca’s walking street, Macedonio Alcalá — where, as of a few of days ago, it continues to reside.

“Nuevo amanecer y eclipse” by Felipe Morales
“Tamayo coleccionista” by Guillermo Olguín
“Reunión de cinco reinos” by Román Llaguno
“Tierra del sol” by Eddie Martínez
“Sonata para Tamayo” by Ixrael Montes
“Gallos y mujer sin mandolina” by Saúl Castro
“El rockanrolero y sus fans” by Hugo Vélez

After working on this blog post, I can’t get “Watermelon Man” by Mongo Santamaria out of my head. The link is from their performance at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. If you want to watch something singularly special and significant, I highly recommend that you to check out Summer of Soul, a 2021 documentary that beautifully chronicles the festival.

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Under the shade of the 361 year old Coquito de la Iglesia de Jalatlaco tree, onlookers (and bloggers like yours truly), dignitaries, media, and the artists of the Tlacolulokos collective gathered for the inauguration of the previously mentioned new mural in Jalatlaco.

“Nuestro sol se ha ido” mural in Barrio de Jalatlaco.

The mural, “Nuestro sol se ha ido” (Our sun has gone) is a collaboration between Rolande Souliere of the “Anishinaabe” people in Canada and the Zapotec Tlacolulokos urban art collective from Oaxaca’s central valley.

Indigenous Encounter Canada/Mexico, “Our sun has gone” by Tlacolulokos and Rolande Souliere.

The mural’s inauguration was live streamed on Facebook on the Secretaría de las Culturas y Artes de Oaxaca page.

Media and dignitaries gathered in the atrium of the Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco.

Unfortunately, Rolande Souliere could not travel to Oaxaca. However she described some of the symbolism of the mural: “We decided to portray the mythological beings of the Canadian thunderbird and the Zapotec deity of the Cosijo throne, these fantastic beings are responsible for the thunder and rain that the world experiences and that come together thanks to the clouds…. symbolic imageries such as Zapotec patterns, the route of thunder and the four directions of the first nations represented by the colors red, black, yellow and white… important signifiers in both communities since they represent the continuation of indigenous culture in contemporary society.”

Inaugural ribbon cutting (Canadian Ambassador wearing white shirt in center and artist Dario Canul on the far right) for the “Nuestro sol se ha ido” mural.

Dario Canul, representative of the Tlacolulokos colective further explained, “The mural, ‘Our sun has gone,’ is a representation of celebration, life, rain, thunder, and tears that all indigenous peoples have shed over time.”

Drone filming the inauguration of the “Nuestro sol se ha ido” mural.

The inauguration launched the 2-1/2 week long Encuentros indígenas: Canadá-Oaxaca 2021 (Indigenous encounters: Canada-Oaxaca 2021) — a series of activities in Oaxaca city and surrounding villages — that runs from September 20 to October 8, 2021.

Tlacolulokos artists in front of the mural, “Nuestro sol se ha ido” mural.. Dario Canul (center).

In remarks by Graeme C. Clark, the Canadian Ambassador, at the inaugural event and reports from this article, the collaboration seems to be an expression of the mea culpa by the Canadian government with regard to their historic treatment of the first peoples of the territory that is now called Canada. Better late than never. The indigenous peoples of the USA are still waiting.

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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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