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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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In Mexico, the hummingbird (colibrí) is known as the protector of warriors and messenger of the gods — two of the most revered roles in indigenous cosmology. How lucky I am that several of the varieties seen on the poster below continue to capture my attention and fill my heart with joy as they flit from tree to fence to fountain for a bath and zigzag across my terrace playing their version of tag and king of the hill.

Hummingbirds of Mexico and North America poster

Muchisimas gracias to my friend K for the link to this poster from CONABIO (National Commission for Biodiversity). In addition, if these tiny creatures also captivate you, a PDF of the CONABIO book, Colibríes de México y Norte América / Hummingbirds of México and North America is available online with text in both Spanish and English (click title link).

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Open doors always draw the eye; you never know what you will see.  Peering through doorway of the Biblioteca de la Fundación Bustamante Vasconcelos, never disappoints.  Across the courtyard, seasonal book sculptures can often be seen.  Currently, celebrating July’s Guelaguetza, a Tehuana’s bookish hand holds her jicapextle aloft.

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Last October, with Día de Muertos coming up, a calavera was a book work in progress, with William Shakespeare playing a bit part.

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Guelaguetza 2017 brought a danzante from the Danza de la Pluma — his neck braced by the blue and rather appropriate book, “El Tesoro de Monte Albán.”

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There have also been Christmas trees and crosses, so stay tuned.  And, if you are in town, stop by the Biblioteca de la Fundación Bustamante Vasconcelos at Labastida 117 (across from the plazuela) — even if there isn’t a book sculpture, there are usually artisans set up in the entrance, and there is always the library to check out, says this librarian.

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Female and male, big and small, menacing growlers and annoying yappers, the roof dogs of Oaxaca are on the job patrolling rooftops in the city and in the countryside.  They are so ubiquitous, San Pablo Etla, Oaxaca is the setting for an illustrated children’s book, Pipiolo and the Roof Dogs.

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But sometimes one has to ask, “Is it real or is it Memorex?”

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What do you think?

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Several months ago, friend and longtime (35 years!) regular visitor to Oaxaca, Charles Kerns, asked me to write a review of his first work of fiction, Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca.

Cover of book, "Santo Gordo" by Charles Kerns

He sent it to me in June, when I was up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it proved to be the perfect reading material for my SFO –> IAH –> OAX return trip.  Once back, I mentioned Santo Gordo to friends, loaned it, got it back, only to loan it again.  With Santo Gordo again in my hot little hands and after many months of delay, today I finally posted the following review on Amazon.com.

A botana of Oaxaca

Much as it has done to Charles Kerns, Oaxaca has captured my heart and three years ago I began living an expat life there. Thus, I can assure you reading Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, will give you a botana (a small snack) of life in Oaxaca as seen and experienced by a gringo — well, not the witnessing an assassination part!

However, first time mystery writer Kerns does offer a glimpse at an underbelly few tourists are ever aware of and many expats choose to ignore – it’s history, complexity, and expression being too much to comprehend.

Kerns has crafted a mystery where place, in this case Oaxaca, is a leading character — much as Donna Leon, with her Commissario Brunetti mysteries, has done with Venice. Kerns has captured rhythms, rituals, sweetness, dangers (treacherous sidewalks, not murders, being at the top of the list), and bewildering aspects of life in Oaxaca, all the while telling a plausible tale with a very likable main character.

Now that the review has, at long last, been written, my copy of Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, will be donated to the Oaxaca Lending Library — as I promised Chuck many months ago.  Sorry I kept you waiting and ¡Feliz cumpleaños mi amigo!

(ps)  Check out the San Jose Mercury News interview with Chuck, Alameda writer pens Oaxaca mystery.

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Carlos Fuentes, one of Mexico’s most revered writers, died yesterday at the age of 83.

It was the California connection that allowed for my introduction to the writings of Fuentes.  The acquaintance came through The Old Gringo, a fictionalized story of  the disappearance in Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution, of real life writer and US Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce.  Following the Civil War, Bierce wound up in California, where he was a contributor to the literary journal, The Argonaut, founded and edited by one of my relatives, about whom, Bierce wrote a typically acerbic epitaphHere lies Frank Pixley — as usual.  So, in my ongoing attempt to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding living and being in Mexico, reading the The Old Gringo was a no-brainer.  As The Guardian’s obituary of Carlos Fuentes concludes,

Throughout his life, wherever he lived, Mexico was the centre of Fuentes’s artistic preoccupations. In his late 70s, he provided a typically graphic description of the attraction he felt for his own land: “It’s a very enigmatic country, and that’s a good thing because it keeps us alert, makes us constantly try to decipher the enigma of Mexico, the mystery of Mexico, to understand a country that is very, very baroque, very complicated and full of surprises.”

Carlos Fuentes is not uncontroversial, but you should see for yourself.  If you are not familiar with his writings, you might want to visit your local library and checkout a book or two.  For those in Oaxaca, the Oaxaca Lending Library has the following titles:

Fiction
Adan en Eden
Baroque Concerto
Burnt Water
Cuerpos y Ofrendas
Campaign
Cantar de Ciegos/To Sing of the Blind
Change of Skin
Christopher Unborn
Constancia: y Otras Novelas para Vírgenes
Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins
Crystal Frontier
Diana the Goddess Who Hunts: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
The Death of Artemio Crus:  A Novel
Destiny and Desire:  A Novel
Diana o la Cazadora Solitaría
Distant Relations
The Eagle’s Throne
Good Conscience
Gringo Viejo
Hydra Head
Muerte de Artemio Cruz
El Naranjo
Old Gringo
The Orange Tree
La Region Mas Transparente
Terra Nostra
Where the Air Is Clear
Years with Laura Diaz Fuentes
Cabeza de la Hidra
Vida Está en Otra Parte

Non Fiction
Aura
The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World
En Esto Creo
Latin America at War with the Past
Mexico:  Una Vision de Altura:  Un Recorrido Aereo de Pasado Al Presente
Myself with Others
This I Believe
Todos los Gatos Son Pardos
The Diary of Frida Kahlo:  An Intimate Self-Portrait
New Time for Mexico

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for almost two months…

Back in February, when L was visiting, we, along with thirty or so other curious and interested (mostly) gringos, toured two of the libraries Libros Para Pueblos has established — one in Santiago Etla and another further up the valley in San Pablo Huitzo.  Local officials and library staff welcomed us and school children read from story books, gave book reports, and performed skits.  It was a non-touristy introduction to Oaxaca for L, and a moving, informative, and inspiring experience for both of us.

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Libros Para Pueblos is a program of the Oaxaca Lending Library and is staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, spearheaded by Janet Stanley, a one woman dynamo!  Its mission is, “putting books into the hands of the children of Oaxaca” by establishing  libraries in the villages of the state of Oaxaca, thereby encouraging a love of reading and promoting education.

As I explained in my previous post, Books… children… What’s not to like?!, the need in this state is enormous.  Little by little, progress is being made and over the past ten years, Libros Para Pueblos has set-up, always with the support and participation of the local communities, over 40 libraries.  It is a much-needed program and well worth supporting.

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