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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

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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A mural celebrating the life and music of composer and violinist Macedonio Alcalá has joined a bust of fellow Oaxaqueño composer Álvaro Carillo in the Jardín Carbajal (Macedonio Alcalá at Cosijopi).  The mural by Uriel Barragán Bouler was unveiled August 22, 2019 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death Macedonio Alcalá. The composer is best known for his piece, “Dios nunca muere” (God Never Dies) — a song that has become Oaxaca’s unofficial anthem and provided the artist with the theme of the mural.

Mural of composer Macedonio Alcalá

According to one legend: While Macedonio Alcalá was convalescing from a serious illness, he was visited by a group of indigenous people from Tlacolula de Matamoros, who asked him to compose a waltz for their festival of the Virgen de la Asunción. Subsequently, the flutist José Maqueo went to see him, and noticing the poverty stricken situation of Macedonio Alcalá, without him noticing Maqueo left twelve pesos under the pillow. The next day the composer found the money and told his wife: “Look, God never dies, always comforts the afflicted,” and he immediately began writing “Dios nunca muere.”

Whether it’s true or not, it’s a lovely story to accompany a lovely waltz.

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Oaxaca is in mourning. Last night, word of the passing of one of her greatest champions, Maestro Francisco Toledo was announced by Mexico’s president — an indication of the importance and esteem the Maestro is held. Born in Juchitán, Oaxaca on July 17, 1940, Toledo died in Oaxaca city on September 5, 2019, at age 79.

This morning outside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), which he founded and funded.

Besides being a world renown artist, he was a fighter for social justice and the environment, a very generous philanthropist, and crusader for the respect of indigenous peoples and character of Oaxaca. People are still chuckling over the unique form of protest he led when a McDonald’s threatened to open in the zocaló.

This morning, inside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO).

We awoke this morning to see the gigantic Mexican flag that flutters above the city of Oaxaca flying at half staff and large black bows, indicating a family in mourning, had been fastened above many of the institutions that benefited from Toledo’s philanthropy.

Biblioteca Pública Central Margarita Maza de Juárez – Oaxaca’s main public library.

The streets of Oaxaca are little more subdued today — less laughter, music muted, and even the traffic doesn’t seem as chaotic.

On the sidewalk outside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO).

A public tribute to the Maestro is scheduled for 2:00 PM today at the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá.

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It’s Guelaguetza time in Oaxaca… so many festivals, parades, and food festivals. However, not so much time to blog.

July 18, 2019 – Olga Cabrera (Tierra del Sol) and Carina Santiago (Tierra Antigua) following their mole demonstrations.

July 19, 2019 – Festival del los Moles at the Jardín Etnobotánico.

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July 20, 2019 – Mariachi concert at Hotel Las Golandrinas, in honor of founders, Señor and Señora Velasco.

July 20, 2019 – Gathering, in the rain, of one of the China Oaxaca delegations at the Guelaguetza desfile.

July 21, 2019 – Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (wild mushroom festival) in Cuajimoloyas, in the Sierra Norte.

So much fun and so much more to do! Stay tuned…

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Yesterday, friends from California invited me to accompany them on one of their favorite pastimes — going to the source for artisanal mezcal. At our first stop, the palenque of Félix Ángeles Arellanes, Mezcal El Minerito, we were just in time to watch the beginning of the process of cooking the agave piñas.

The art of making mezcal at the palenque, Mezcal El Minerito.

Piling river rocks onto the red and white hot coals in the earthen pit that functions as the horno (oven).

Covering the rocks with bagaso (recycled crushed agave fibers).

Putting the long tobasiche agave piñas into the oven.

Adding the more rounded jabalí and tobalá piñas.

Topping it off with more tobasiche piñas.

Covering the piñas with more bagaso.

Félix’s sons worked nonstop — an hour and fifteen minutes from the time of the first photo, they covered the mound with tarps to enclose the oven. Though we didn’t see it, I suspect this was then sealed with soil.

Félix pours the “Nectar of the Gods” — a multilayered and complex artisanal mezcal.

Nothing like being at the right place at the right time. And, yes, we not only watched, we tasted and we bought!

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While Juana was wrapping the branches and trunk of my newly acquired hat stand (my aforementioned decade-in-Oaxaca anniversary present to myself), I wandered around Matlacihua Arte.  My eyes and feet kept drawing me to a back corner of the showroom where a lamp, assembled from three intricately carved and painted jícara gourds, beckoned.

It is the work of Gabriel Sosa Ortega, the son of Jesus and Juana.  Working in a variety of mediums, Gabriel is one of the up and coming talented young artists being recognized in the state.  He was part of the Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art (FOFA) exhibition of young artists at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular Oaxaca (MEAPO) and he collaborated with Jesus Sosa Calvo (his father) and US-based artist Joe Lewis in a piece for the Bajo la bóveda azul cobalto/Under the Cobalt Blue Sky — an exhibition of international collaboration at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO).

Gabriel’s lamp made me an offer I couldn’t refuse!

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As of today, it has been ten years since I, accompanied by two suitcases and a backpack, arrived to begin making lemonade out of lemons by moving to Oaxaca.  And, in case you haven’t guessed, I haven’t regretted it for a minute.  Oaxaca, how do I love thee?  There are too many ways to count!  However, being embraced by the warm and welcoming arms of Oaxaqueños and being surrounded by art, culture, and history are at the top of my list.  So, what better way to celebrate the past ten years than to commission a piece of functional art — a hat stand — from the San Martín Tilcaje workshop of Jesus Sosa Calvo.

Juana Vicente Ortega Fuentes and Jesus Sosa Calvo with my new hat stand.

Sunday, blogger buddy Chris and I pointed his little Jetta towards San Martín Tilcajete to pick it up.

When I discussed the piece with Jesus, my only instructions to him were that he incorporate hummingbirds (colibries, en español) in the design — and he certainly did! (Click on images to enlarge.)

The initial plan had been for the hat rack to reside in my bedroom.  However, it was way too beautiful not live near the entrance to Casita Colibrí, for all visitors to see.

My new piece of functional art already looks at home in Casita Colibrí.

Muchisimas gracias to Oaxaca and her people for enriching my life for the past ten years.  Here is to many more!!!

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