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It’s Domingo de Ramos and in pre-COVID-19 times, from my terrace I would hear an outdoor morning mass being said in the atrium of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. And then, for the past eight years, blogger buddy Chris and I would drive to San Antonino Castillo Velasco for one of the most magical days of the year. However, all was silent this Palm Sunday. So, donning my mask, I went for early Sunday morning walk with my neighbor K. Lonely and poignant scenes met us everywhere our wanderings took us.

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Lonely palm fronds in window of Hospital Ángel Vasconcelos on Av. José María Morelos

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Doors of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción were shuttered.

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The doors of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán were open, but nary a soul was in sight.

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A mass was being said at Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco, but the doors were shut tight.

However, no sight we saw this morning was as moving as this one posted to the San Antonino Castillo Velasco Facebook page.

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San Salvador bereft of his usual bounty stands alone in the atrium of the church in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

To see San Salvador in his usual Domingo de Ramos splendor and the village procession that takes him, laden with donated fruits, vegetables, herbs, and bread, from the panteón to the church, click HERE.

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We couldn’t put it off any longer, non-perishables were needed! Thus, instead of another long leisurely Sunday stroll like last week, my neighbor and I walked (keeping two meters apart) down to Soriana, our local supermarket. We went early in the morning and the streets were mostly empty — making it a piece of cake crossing a particularly dicey intersection. Ready to do battle with the virus, we came armed with alcohol wipes and shopping, paying, and bagging strategies. However, Soriana also was on emergency preparedness alert. Once inside the door, hand-sanitizer was pumped into our hands and the handles of our carts were wiped down with disinfectant.

As we had hoped, there were very few other customers and most seemed very conscious of maintaining social distancing protocol, — the workers stocking the shelves, not so much. There were signs posted limiting the quantities one could purchase of certain items and there were taped lines on the floor in front of the check stands indicating how far apart to stand. Though, one guy didn’t get the message and cut in front of me. I snapped, “sana distancia” at him, he glanced back at the crazy gringa and went to a different line.

My route to Soriana, usually consists of cutting a diagonal across the Plaza de la Danza, walking down the ramp to Jardín Sócrates, and crossing the atrium of the Basilica de la Soledad before tackling the steep stairs down to Av. de la Independencia. Alas, this trip, it wasn’t to be — the atrium doors facing the Jardín were locked up tight, as were the ones at the top of the stairs on Independencia.

Signs were tacked to the massive doors indicating all masses had been suspended until further notice. It was all quiet on the church front and the realization hit me that I hadn’t heard a single church bell in days, if not a week — which sounds about right because, on March 21, the Archdiocese of Oaxaca announced the suspension of all Eucharistic celebrations, including Easter. In addition, the Archbishop has called on Catholics to stay home during Holy Week, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 between people and communities.

Health officials have been running public service announcements on the TV telling people to stay home and advising them, if they must go out, on methods to avoiding catching and spreading the virus. And, yesterday the Mexican government declared a state of health emergency and ordered a suspension of all non-essential businesses and activities until April 30th. For businesses, the restrictions are mandatory, however for people it is an “emphatic invitation.” President Andrés Manuel López Orbrador’s gradual approach to the pandemic has been highly criticized in some quarters, though the strategy has been praised by representatives of the World Health Organization. However, most agree that stricter measures will have to be implemented once the pandemic really hits.

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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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Today Mexico is celebrating el Día de los Reyes Magos. Traditionally, it is the Three Kings — Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar — who bring gifts to children on Epiphany (aka, Twelfth Night — yes, that Twelfth Night).

Tres Reyes in totomoxtle (corn husks) – Noche de Rabanos 2012

According to Oaxaca Día a Día, over 5,000 toys have been donated by individuals, companies, public servants, the media, and the governmental DIF Oaxaca. 1.2 kilometers of dolls, balls, games, stuffed animals, and other toys line the Plaza de la Danza to be distributed today to disadvantaged school children.

By the way, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, events celebrating el Día de los Reyes Magos are also happening.

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Not seeing sights like this up here in el norte…

Ahhh… finding one’s niche in Oaxaca!

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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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It began long before dawn this morning; the cohetes (rockets) announcing the celebrations of Oaxaca’s three virgins. First up is the Virgin of Juquila on December 8.

Image of la Virgen de Juquila at a palenque in Santa Catarina Minas.

Next up is the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12.

Decorative image of la Virgen de Guadalupe at the Museo Belber.

And, to top the celebrations off, the feast day of the Queen of Oaxaca, the Virgin of Solitude on December 18.

La Virgen de la Soledad through the window of a store on Abasolo.

December may not be quiet, but the celebrations are amazing!

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On October 21, after running errands, I made a beeline to the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. As I had hoped, it was all dressed up and ready for Señor del Rayo’s day on October 23.

Pews had been removed from his chapel (last capilla on the left) to allow the faithful to process past his glass enclosed home. Many stopped to light a candle at a couple of tables placed outside his chapel for that purpose.

By the way, El Señor has a body double. The original, given it’s importance and value, remains protected in the chapel. His replica was standing in a place of honor on the Cathedral’s main altar.

If you are not from Oaxaca, you may be asking, who is El Señor del Rayo? He is a wood-carved Christ on the Cross figure that was brought from Spain in the 16th century — a gift to Oaxaca from Charles V. The image was placed in the temple of San Juan de Dios, a church with adobe walls and a straw (or possibly wood) roof. According to legend, lightning struck the church and everything was destroyed, save for this figurine. It was a miracle so momentous that the figurine became known as El Señor del Rayo (the Lord of Lightning) and was given its own chapel in Oaxaca’s newly built Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

Like La Guelaguetza, Noche de Rabanós (Night of the Radishes), and Día de la Samaritana (Good Samaritan Day), this is an only in Oaxaca celebration and Oaxaqueños honor El Señor del Rayo with a special fervor, reverence, and pride. Thus, when I returned to the Cathedral at noon on October 23, it was standing room only — not an empty pew in sight, not even in the numerous side chapels.

Like most important festivities in Oaxaca, be they religious or secular, the Lord of Lightning’s celebration was heralded with a calenda (parade) on October 21 and concluded a little before midnight on October 23 with a castillo and fireworks — despite a several hour surprise downpour earlier in the evening. The show always goes on in Oaxaca!

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If it’s Sunday, it must be market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros. However, yesterday wasn’t just any Sunday. The second Sunday in October marks the community’s most important feast day — honoring El Señor de Tlacolula.

Marmota at rest in the church atrium.

As with all patronal festivals, this one lasts several days. In addition to Sunday’s masses, the highlights were a calenda through the streets on Friday featuring marmotas (giant and tiny), several bands, the image of Christ, and women carrying baskets atop their heads. On Saturday night here was a castillo and fireworks.

Order of delegations for the calenda.

In the back of my mind, I knew it would be crowded, but I was amazed at how many people had already poured into Tlacolula by 9:30 AM. It was hard to navigate one’s way to the market as, besides masses of people, a carnival had been set up along the main street and a side street or two.

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Señor de Tlacolula decorations at the entrance to Templo de la Virgen de la Asunción.

The church, Templo de la Virgen de la Asunción, was teeming with an overflow crowd of the faithful listening to mass being said from the side chapel of El Señor de Tlacolula. Legend has it that when this sculpture of Jesus, being brought south by muleteers in the sixteenth century, arrived in Tlacolula for a rest stop, overnight it gained so much weight that in the morning it could no longer be lifted. A miracle! Thus it was decided a chapel should be built to house the sculpture right on the spot.

Capilla de Señor de Tlacolula, the faithful wait to touch the image.

What a chapel it is! A feast for the eyes from floor to ceiling, filled with gold and silver gilding, carved angels and saints, paintings, and mirrors. On this day, pews had been removed so worshipers could have a personal interaction with the Lord of Tlacolula. In addition, an altar and hundreds of folding chairs had been set up in the atrium for an outdoor mass.

In the atrium, the altar on a replica of the church.

The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico. There are few places in the world where it is possible to take part in a spectacle like our great religious fiestas with their violent primary colors, their bizarre costumes and dances, their fireworks and ceremonies and their inexhaustible welter of surprises: the fruit, candy, toys and other objects sold on these days in the plazas and open-air markets. Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude.

Mural on outside wall of the market.

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At the crossroads.

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Morning walk in Teotitlán del Valle.

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Yesterday, Teotitlán del Valle’s new Grupo de Promesa de la Danza de la Pluma 2019-2021 did battle, not only with Cortes, but also with the wind — which grabbed their penachos/coronas/headdresses like sails, challenging their balance, intricate footwork, and Busby Berkeley-like choreography.

Moctezuma holding on to his penacho/corona/headdress

Danzantes holding on to their penachos/coronas/headdress

Danzante appealing to the gods to stop the wind?

Throughout the day, wind continued to challenge the danzantes

Grasping their penachos/coronas/headdresses, Moctezuma, his warriors, and allied kings kept to their feet

The danzantes of Teotitlán del Valle didn’t miss a step at this most important festival day honoring the patron saint of their village, La Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.  Alas, the wind didn’t bring much needed rain to this agricultural community.

Stay tuned, the festivities continue for another three days.

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Late afternoon on Viernes Santo (Good Friday), images of Jesús and María gathered, blessings were offered, and all began to assemble on the Alcalá for the Procession of Silence.

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Inside Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, as the Archbishop called upon the people to reflect on the day and improve as people.

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Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Our Lady of Solitude) arrives to take her place on the procession route.

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Standard bearers line the Alcalá to honor the arrival of the images of María and Jesús.

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San Pedro (Saint Peter), the only apostle to arrive.

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Jesús waiting in the Templo del Carmen Alto before he ventures out to take his place in the procession.

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Another Jesús image emerges from the Templo del Carmen Alto to take his place on the Alcalá for the procession.

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El Señor de Esquipulas ventures out onto Calle García Vigil, from the atrium of Templo del Carmen Alto, for his journey to join the procession on the Alcalá.

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And now, please keep silent, the procession is approaching.

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The sounds of this morning’s Santo Viacrusis (Stations of the Cross) moving closer, brought me into the mostly deserted streets before 9:00 AM.

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A block away, I found Jesús, La Virgen María, a priest, acolytes, the faithful, and a loudspeaker on the back of a pickup truck.

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Led by the children, images of María and Jesús from churches throughout the city had taken to the streets.

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Stopping along the way to pray and sing, the solemn throng made their way to the Cathedral for a farewell encounter between Mary and Jesus.

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It will be a long day for all concerned.  Following the encuentro, they will process back to their churches for a bit of a rest before this evening’s grand Procession of Silence.

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It takes 30+ men, doing some heavy lifting, to carry San Salvador, his burro, and Palm Sunday bounty the kilometer between San Antonino Castillo Velasco’s cemetery and village church.

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The strength of their devotion.

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Yesterday was another special Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  This is a Zapotec village famous for the cultivation of flowers and exquisitely embroidered blouses and dresses, inspired by said flowers.  Returning year-after-year, I never cease to be uplifted by the warmth of the people and the bounty they bring to the image of San Salvador sitting atop his little burro outside the panteón.  The best of their fruits, vegetables, herbs, livestock, clothing, flowers, and much more are gratefully received by a committee, priced, and later-in-the-day, sold to raise money for a designated project.

A little after noon, San Salvador (his burro now filled to the brim), offerings, and the faithful were blessed by the priest.  Fireworks exploded, rhythmic sounds of the traditional teponaxtles (drums) and chirimía (small oboe) sounded, and led by a trail of bougainvillea bracts and the smoke of copal, the litter of San Salvador atop the burro and carried by 30+ men, set off on a journey to the atrium of the church.  They were followed by villagers and visitors carrying the remainder of the goods collected — a ritual reenactment of the Biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

The procession successfully navigated overhead wires above and heeded warnings of “topes” (speed bumps) below.  A kilometer down this perilous route, San Salvador and the faithful, young and old, approached the atrium of the church, San Salvador was set on the stage where an outdoor mass was to be said, and on the opposite side, the hand-and-head-carried offerings were to be sold.  I cannot begin to express how warm and welcoming the people of San Antonino Castillo Velasco were.  Wearing a blusa from San Antonino, that I purchased several years ago, I was smiled upon and, as I was taking photos, officials and other villagers ushered me to the front.  Again, I ask, how many magical moments can one person have?

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