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Well, actually, they came, they saw, and they set the village straight.

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Stay tuned…

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Besides a mock wedding with men dressed as women, mentioned in my previous post, Carnaval (Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) in San Martín Tilcajete also means young men covered in motor oil (yuck!) and paint running through the village with belts of cowbells ringing.

And, it means muchas máscaras de madera — in this village famous for its fantastical hand-painted alebrije woodcarvings and masks.

Some of my favorite masks and body paint were done by Jesus Sosa Calvo, his talented wife, Juana Vicente Ortega Fuente, and their gifted children.  (See the mask I gave to my son, carved by Apolinar, one of their sons.)  If you are in San Martín Tilcajete, be sure to see their work at Matlacihua Arte (right across from the zócalo on the main street).

The Spanish brought this pre-Lenten tradition to Mexico and, like many 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, motor oil, face and body paint, you name it, disguised and anonymous was the order of the day!

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A jester comes to San Martín Tilcajete…

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The Maladjusted Jester
by Danny Kaye

Your majesty, I have a confession
My secret I must now betray
I was not a born fool
It took work to get this way

When I was a lad I was gloomy and sad
And I was from the day I was born
When other lads giggled and gurgled and wiggled
I proudly was loudly forlorn
My friends and my family looked at me clammily
Thought there was something amiss
When others found various antics hilarious
All I could manage was this? ho ho
Or this? ho waahhh

My father he shouted he needs to be clouted
His teeth on a wreath I’ll hand him
My mother she cried as she rushed to my side
You’re a brute and you don’t understand him
So they send for a witch with a terrible twitch
To ask how my future impressed her
She took one look at me and cried hehehehehe, he?
What else could he be but a jester?
A jester a jester, a funny idea a jester
No butcher no baker no candlestick maker
And me with the look of a fine undertaker
Impressed her as a jester?

Now where could I learn any comical turn
That was not in a book on the shelf
No teacher to take me and mold me and make me
A merryman fool or an elf
But I’m proud to recall that in no time at all
With no other recourses but my own resources
With firm application and determination
I made a fool of myself!

I bought a little gun and I learned to shoot
I bought a little a horn and I learned to toot
Now I can shoot and toot ain’t that cute?  Plbbt!

I started to travel to try to unravel
My mind and to find a new chance

When I got to Spain it was suddenly plain
That the field that appealed was the dance
The Spanish were clannish but I wouldn’t vanish
I learned every step they had planned
The first step of all isn’t hard to recall
Cause the first step of all is to stand
And stand
And stand, and stand, and stand, and stand, and
They sometimes stand this way for days

Then they get very mad at the floor and start to stomp on it

[Smash! Ow!]

After all of my practice the terrible fact is
I made a fool of myself

I sadly decided that dancing as I did
To sing was a thing that was sure
I found me a teacher a crotchety creature
Who used to sing coloratura
She twisted my chin pushed my diaphragm in
With a poker she vocalized me
When she said it was best that I threw out my chest
You may gather that rather surprised me

I was on solid ground till I suddenly found
That in Venice I was to appear
The gala locale was a choppy canal
And me, a high sea gondolier
I nervously perched as the gondola lurched
Before the King’s palazzo
As I started my song my voice it was strong
But my stomach I fear was not so

Oh solo mio, oh
Oh solo ooh  Help!

When I fell overboard how his majesty roared
And before a siesta he made me his jester
And I found out soon that to be a buffoon
Was a serious thing as a rule
For a jester’s chief employment
Is to kill himself for your enjoyment
And a jester unemployed is nobody’s fool

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Fat Tuesday (aka, Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras), the day before the 6+ weeks of Lent begins, means Carnaval in scattered parts of Mexico.  I was supposed to be spending it on the Costa Chica — where Spanish Catholicism meets Mixtec meets Amuzgo meets Chatino meets Chontal meets Zapotec meets Afro-Mexicano — a region with some pretty unique ways of celebrating Carnaval.  Alas, illness (not me) has postponed that trip until next year.

In the meantime, the show must go on!  Thus, we returned to San Martín Tilcajete, one of the villages in the valley of Oaxaca, known for fantastical wood carving and surreal decorative painting, that result in alebrije and masks.

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And, it’s the masks that take center stage during Carnaval.

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The day before Lent in San Martín Tilcajete, Oaxaca.

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Stay tuned… More masks and mayhem to come!

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A friend (who shall remain anonymous) was persuaded to model the mask I gave one of my sons for Christmas.

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It is the work of Apolinar Sosa, the son of distinguished carver Jesus Sosa Calvo and Juana Vicente Ortega Fuentes of San Martín Tilcajete.

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This mask won a prize and had actually been worn during the unique Carnaval celebration in the village.

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Don’t you love the tongue of dried chiles?

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I love the carved masks worn in many of the traditional dances in Mexico and, thus, made a bee-line to the current exhibition at the Palacio de Gobierno, Máscaras de Juxtlahuaca — part of the month-long celebration of Guelaguetza.

Most of the masks in the show are the work of  Alejandro Guzman Vera, a native of Santiago Juxtlahuaca in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca.  He was born in 1972 and, as a young child, made his first mask of cardboard and painted it with crayons.  At age 12, he carved his first wooden mask.  He went on to study at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas and has become one of the premier mask-makers in Mexico.  He has exhibited world-wide and is one of the honored Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular de Oaxaca, profiled in the book by the same name.  By the way, he is not only a mask-maker, but also an accomplished musician and is playing a role in the rescue of the traditional music of Juxtlahuaca.

(Click on an image to enlarge it and to enable a slideshow.)

Dancers from Santiago Juxtlahuaca will be performing the Danza de los Rubios in the morning Guelaguetza presentation on July 27 and will, no doubt, be wearing masks, cracking their whips, and jingling their spurs during the Procession of Delegations on the preceding Saturday.  For a glimpse at the Danza de los Rubios and to get a feeling for some of the music Alejandro Guzman Vera is involved in saving, here is a snippet from last year’s Guelaguetza performance:

Masks are donned not only for the Danza de los Rubios, but also for the Danza de los Diablos and the Danza del Macho, which are performed at various annual festivals in the region.  Once carved and painted, the wooden masks can be embellished with glass eyes and real animal teeth and horns of bulls, goats, or deer.  They are an amazing sight to see!

The Máscaras de Juxtlahuaca exhibition at the Museo del Palacio in Oaxaca city closes August 28, 2015.

(This blog post is especially for you, Jane and Ken!)

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In my last blog post, I mentioned Teotitlán del Valle does not go on Daylight Saving Time.  And, they are not alone!  As the article, Clocks don’t change where sun keeps time, most of Mexico didn’t adopt DST until 1996 and given the autonomy guaranteed to indigenous communities, “70% of the entire indigenous population of Oaxaca” have chosen to follow the sun — the “King of the Sky.”

Ojala, blogger buddy Chris (who doesn’t change his watch to DST either) and I will be returning to Teotitlán del Valle for the final day (into night) of the Baile de Los Viejitos, (the Dance of the Old Men) this time hosted by el quinto (5th) sección.  However, before we go, a few more scenes from Tuesday’s fiesta, put on by the segunda (2nd) sección.Viejito with cane

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I say, “ojala, ” because several marches and blockades are currently in progress throughout Oaxaca and on the carreteras into and out of the city.  Alas, the video I shot on Tuesday of the Baile de los Viejitos may be as close as I come to the dancing action until next year.

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It’s Carnaval time in Teotitlán del Valle.  Yes, I know, Easter was last Sunday and Lent is over.  However, like many other things (e.g., not going on Daylight Saving Time), this Zapotec village does things their own way.  Thus, instead of celebrating Carnaval the day before Lent begins, they celebrate for the five days following Easter!  As I’ve written about previously, Carnaval in Teotitlán is a major production that indeed takes a village; young and old, female and male all have parts to play in the festivities that include music, masked men, mezcal, and mouthwatering mole.

Yesterday, rather than sitting with the men and scattering of male and female extranjeros, gal pal J and I hung out with the women and children in the outdoor kitchen that had been set up in the back of the large earthen courtyard.  There the women prepared enough chicken, mole amarillo, and tortillas to feed one hundred!

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The seemingly always well-behaved kids played and took care of the babies while their mamas and abuelas worked.

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Muchisimas gracias to the women and children of Teotitlán del Valle’s Segunda Sección for being so gracious and welcoming.

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It’s been one year since the passing of maestro Arnulfo Mendoza Ruíz.

Tejedor de los sueños by Charles Barth

Tejedor de los sueños by Charles Barth (alas, with reflections from other pieces)

To honor his life, an exhibit of works by his friends, colleagues, and family was inaugurated at La Mano Mágica on March 13, 2015.

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His older son, Gabriel Mendoza Gagnier, curated this amazing collection of paintings, weaving, and artesanía.

Assisted by Arnulfo’s companion, Yukiko, the opening featured, not only amazing art, but also mezcal, tamales, and surprise entertainment by Carnaval dancers from San Martín Tilcajete, wearing masks carved by some of the well-known carvers from the village, including Inocenio Vásquez and Jésus Sosa Calvo.

Jésus Sosa Calvo had carved the signature entry sign for La Mano Mágica and recently, unasked, came by to freshen up the paint that had faded over the years under the intense Oaxaca sun.

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While, in the words of Manuel Matus Manzo,  Arnulfo Mendoza may have gone on “to meet the Jaguar and the god Murcielago,” the dreams of his magical hands remain.

Finally, this beautiful poem by Alberto Blanco from the exhibit’s catalog…

Mitades a Arnulfo

I
La mitad de la tierra
no sueña con la luna.
La mitad de la luna
no sueña con el sol.

Si la luna es la trama,
y si el sol es la urdimbre,
esa tierra es la tela
donde acaso se vive.

II
La vida es la comedia
ya la muerte es el drama,
pero el textil de siempre
es la urdimbre y la trama.

La mitad de la vida,
la mitad de la muerte:
una tela tejida
con un hilo de suerte.

 

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Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete means devils…

Pirates and clowns…

Unknown creatures from the imaginative minds of their creators…

And these masterpieces from this village known for its wood carving…

Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete also means men dressed as women, a mock wedding, and young men covered in motor oil running through the village with belts of cowbells ringing.  Stay tuned…

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Who were those masked men?

From the Guelaguetza desfile, July 19, 2014

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Another day… another celebration… another adventure!  Yesterday was Día de Carnaval (aka, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival), a day to let the good times roll before the sacrifices of the Lenten season.

As you have probably surmised, the Spanish brought the tradition to Mexico.  Like many 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.”

And so, off we went for Día de Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete (28 km south of the city), a village known for its fancifully painted wood-carved alebrije and masks.  We are still doing May weather in March and, thus, it was hot and shade was in short supply.

In the morning, a bride and groom were chosen, villagers gathered for a boisterous and hilarious ceremony in the courtyard, they danced, and then all processed through the streets of San Martín Tilcajete to a designated location where the happy “couple” knelt before a jolly looking “priest.”  By the way, those beautiful “women” in gorgeous gowns aren’t what they seem!

Young and old, the “guests” were a colorful crowd.  Many of the diablos and diablillos covered their faces with colored pigments and their bodies with red or black oil — rumor has it, motor oil is sometimes used.  Yuck!

I’d been to San Martín Tilcajete many times — to go from one workshop to another in search of the perfect alebrije for a gift or to add to my collection — but never before for Carnaval.  It was great fun and the photo ops were endless.

As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

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