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Hindsight is the ability to understand, after something has happened, why or how it was done and how it might have been done better.

2020 was a year that most of us would like to forget but that will probably remain vividly etched in our memory banks for the rest of our lives. It was a year our worlds became smaller and forced us to see what was before us. It was a year that we will continue to examine and try to understand. It was a year that has important lessons to teach about who we are individually and collectively.

January 2020 – Visiting very dear friends and getting my Pacific Ocean fix at Avila Beach, California.
February 2020 – New resident in Casita Colibrí’s garden, an Argiope spider.
March 2020 – One of the last calendas of the year, graduation of public accountants.
April 2020 – Morning visitors at Casita Colibrí.
May 2020 – Sunday morning walk past the Xochimilco Aqueduct Arches.
June 2020 – Morning view from Casita Colibrí of Templo de San Felipe Neri.
July 2020 – Balcony garden of greens at Casita Colibrí.
August 2020 – Rainy season morning view of Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad from Casita Colibrí.
September 2020 – Monday morning walk on calle Garcia Vigil, “Together in (healthy) distance.”
October 2020 – Susana Trilling discusses the foods of Day of the Dead at Casa Colonial.
November 2020 – Sunset view from Casita Colibrí of the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad.
December 2020 – Sunday morning encounter with the new sculpture on the Alcalá, “Agaves Contemporáneos Oaxaqueños” presented by the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO).

With a renewed appreciation for the small things that bring joy and give life meaning, on this New Year’s Eve, I wish you all health, peace, and joy in 2021.

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Mountain biking in the city.
Benito (Juárez) knows best.
Riding with the queen (Frida Kahlo).
Masked, they’ll be dancing in the street (with the “Rubios” of Santiago Juxtlahuaca).

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Today Oaxaca regressed to “If you are able, stay in your house” Covid-19 semáforo naranja, seemingly for the umpteenth time, not that it seems to make any difference. A morning walk to Mercado Benito Juárez revealed restaurants continuing to offer indoor dining; a zócalo teeming with people, street vendors, and the tents of a plantón (protest encampment); and a mercado bustling with people. These days I feel like I’m living in Alice in Wonderland’s world…

“Off with their heads!”

Papier-mâché mono de calenda artisan workshop in Oaxaca city — March 7, 2020.

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

Mural on a wall in San Martín Tilcajete — February 25, 2020.

“Little Alice fell
d
o
w
n
the hOle,
bumped her head
and bruised her soul”

A little Christmas humor in Oaxaca city — December 13, 2020.

“What a strange world we live in… Said Alice to the Queen of hearts”

All quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Louis Carroll.

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It is a mostly quiet feast day for Oaxaca’s patron saint, La Virgen de la Soledad (the Virgin of Solitude). If you have ever been to Oaxaca you probably visited her at the Basilica built in her honor and seen images of this Reina y Patrona de Oaxaca (Queen and Patroness of Oaxaca) for sale, carried in religious processions, and tucked into niches.

Virgen de la Soledad clay sculpture by Irma García Blanco* in Barrio de Xochimilco

In non Covid-19 times, she is celebrated with anything but solitude. A cacophony of chiming bells, brass bands, crackles, pops, bangs, and whistles from fireworks, toritos, and a castillo fill the air (and severely limit sleep) in the days and nights leading up to December 18. And the aroma of Oaxaca street food from stalls set up to feed the pilgrims who often spend the night of December 17, permeates the neighborhood.

Image of the mule who refused to move located in the garden behind the Basilica de la Soledad

Since her unceremonious arrival 400 years ago on a mule who laid his burden down and refused to get back up, “In critical moments, such as earthquakes, epidemics, droughts, conflicts, social upheaval and others, she has been with us, to give us her company. Not only on her feast day, but almost every day they come to give thanks to Our Lady for continued life and good health.” — Nicolás Ramírez García, Rector de la Basílica Menor. (My translation)

Virgen de la Soledad sculpture in a niche near Jardín Conzatti

This year she has not processed through the city but instead remains behind the closed doors of her home in the Basilica de la Soledad. In order to keep her people safe from the virus, today her bejeweled figure does not preside over open air mass in the church atrium, the faithful are not able to line up to pray before her, light candles, and touch her mantle with bouquets of flowers and traditional herbs. Worshippers have been urged to maintain the faith from their homes and pray in front of their own images of La Virgen.

My Virgen de la Soledad clay sculpture by Irma García Blanco*

The Virgin of Solitude has been my neighbor for more than eleven years and I mourn the unnatural quiet, but look forward to next year — no doubt a celebration magnified in gratitude for surviving the pandemic.

*Irma García Blanco is one of the Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular de Oaxaca and is the daughter of Oaxaca’s grand matriarch of decorative pottery, Teodora Blanco Nuñez.

Update: While the doors were closed, based on photos in this article, apparently a limited number of worshippers were allowed into the Basilica for the mass celebrated by the archbishop.

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The Three Wise Monkeys

See no evil,
Hear no evil,
Speak no evil.

Well, maybe not monkeys! From the Día de Muertos altar “Transitions” by Estudio Dinamo at Voces de Copal Galeria.

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Today, Mexico celebrates the Queen of Mexico, Empress of America, and patron saint of Mexico — Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. Alas, due to Covid-19, all is quiet on the western front.

Calle Garcia Vigil, Oaxaca de Juárez under the arquitos – May 24, 2020.
Somewhere in Barrio de Xochimilco, Oaxaca de Juárez — March 22, 2020.
Calle Netzahualcóyotl at Niños Heroes, Oaxaca de Juárez — November 15, 2020.
Calle de la Constitución, Oaxaca de Juárez – September 27, 2020.

However, no matter the day, Guadalupe is always present on the streets of Oaxaca. But, for goodness sake, please don’t leave her your garbage!

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Save for yesterday’s 5:00 AM jarring explosion of cohetes (rockets — all bang, no bling) and clanging church bells coming from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad heralding the start of the celebrations for the Virgen de Juquila, the last thirty-two hours have been mostly muted, with only the occasional chiming bells and bursting cohetes — very quiet by Oaxaca standards.

Virgen de Juquila mural in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, Oaxaca — seen in 2013.
Procession honoring the Virgen de Juquila in front of the Cathedral in Oaxaca city — seen December 8, 2018.
Parish of Santo Tomás Xochimilco chapel to the Virgen de Juquila in Oaxaca city closed, by order dated March 17, 2020, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 — seen May 24, 2020.

Due to Covid-19 concerns, in consultation with Oaxaca’s health department, the archbishop of Oaxaca cancelled holy processions through the streets and called upon the faithful to forego pilgrimmages. This is especially sad for Santa Catarina Juquila, where Juquila’s shrine is located, as just last week it was announced the town had been designated a Mexican Pueblo Mágico. The archbishop also ordered churches closed, with masses to be celebrated and broadcast from behind locked doors during December’s festivities honoring the Virgen de Juquila (December 8), the Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12), and the Virgen de La Soledad (December 18).

Now if only other people and places would take this pandemic as seriously.

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Real and imagined, fauna are alive and well in the city.

Hummingbirds, squirrels, and butterflies live, play, and love among the trees, dogs, humans, and on a utility box in Jardín Conzatti.

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I’m always trying to find ‘connections’ between things. That art is the juxtaposition of a lot of things that seem unrelated but add up to something recognizable. –Pat Metheny

The taste for quotations (and for the juxtaposition of incongruous quotations) is a Surrealist taste. –Susan Sontag

I get the same charge from juxtaposition of colors as I do from juxtaposition of chords. –Joni Mitchell

Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition. –Max Ernst

I love the juxtaposition of a sweet little blouse with a motocross look. –Melissa McCarthy

Cities are about juxtaposition. In Florence, classical buildings sit against medieval buildings. It’s that contrast we like. –Richard Rogers

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What an unusual yet lovely (and delicious) Thanksgiving 2020 was.

Cranberry/pear relish bubbling on the stove.

After the fact, I realized this was only the second Thanksgiving I’ve shared with just one other person. Childhood dinners were filled with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even the Thanksgiving I spent in Denmark, the international school I attended prepared a turkey with all the fixin’s dinner — to the delight of the American students and curiosity of the other international students and Danes. Once married, we hosted or joined family and/or friends — and that has been my tradition ever since, even here in Oaxaca.

Sage dressing with whole wheat bread, celery, onions, and carrots.

Keeping Covid-19 protocols in mind, Kalisa, my (now famous) friend, neighbor, and cocinera extraordinaire and I decided we would persevere in an attempt to carry on with an albeit downsized celebration of just the two of us on my terrace. For the main course, we ruled out turkey, discarded chicken as not special, and settled on repeating the success of rabbit — concluding it would go well with my cranberry/pear relish and sage dressing. And, who knows? The indigenous peoples may have proffered rabbit to the starving and clueless foreigners.

Roast rabbit à la Kalisa.

So, we made our own pilgrimage up to Pochote Mercado Orgánico in Colonia Reforma to again purchase the criollo rabbit Kalisa would be preparing. A couple of days later, at Mercado IV Centenario, we happened upon camotes/sweet potatoes to be used for her “pumpkin” cheesecake. Unlike my first several Thanksgivings here, when bags of fresh cranberries could only be found at Mercado Hidalgo, I was able to purchase all the ingredients for my cranberry/pear relish at Mercado Benito Juárez. As for the dressing, I still had some Bell’s Seasoning brought from the USA a couple of years ago, and the rest was easily found. Looking at our menu, it occurred to me that perhaps we needed something green. That was easily solved with some baby lettuce from my garden (alas, no photo).

Pumpkin cheesecake with caramel topping.

And so it was, a Thanksgiving where two friends gave thanks for our very present blessings — friendship, health, abundance, and being welcomed into the beautiful and loving arms of Oaxaca.

Two friends giving thanks on a rooftop terrace in Oaxaca.

By the way, the place settings were for photo-op purposes only. We retired with filled plates and glasses of wine to the south end of the terrace where we could sit and eat 8 feet apart.

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It’s been a whole month since I’ve delved into the food porn photo archive. With Thanksgiving only two days away, what better time for a few of my dinners from the past ten days.

Rabbit served on a bed of fettuccine.
Eggplant, anchovy, and goat cheese pizza topped with arugula.
Roasted chicken served with tortillas (of course), guacamole, pickled red onions, and green salsa.

And, what better time to express my gratitude for having such a great and talented friend and neighbor who delights in sharing her culinary artistry with others. ¡Muchisimas gracias Kalisa!

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The walls of Oaxaca have a theme going on…

I think they have been watching too much “el norte” news!

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Yesterday, Mexico celebrated the National Day of Mexican Gastronomy and the tenth anniversary of traditional Mexican cuisine being designated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Due to pandemic restrictions, in the absence of being able to savor the sights, smells, and flavors of a food festival, I honor the day with a photo of one of Oaxaca’s ubiquitous street food stalls.

This one, at the corner of Matamoros and García Vigil, always has customers — big and little, seated and standing, human and canine.

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Living and being in Oaxaca during the Días de los Muertos is hard to put into words. There is so much to experience and to think about. It is the ofrendas that touch me the most — they are all so personal, even those on display to the public. And, one of the unexpected delights of tracking down the chairs of the Silla Calavera project, was to see the Day of the Dead ofrendas constructed by the hotels and restaurants also displaying the chairs.

Casa Antica, Av. José María Morelos.
Plaza Las Vírgenes, Calle Labastida. Only very occasionally do fires break out!
Utilitario Mexicano, Mariano Matamoros.
La Casa de las Artesanías, Mariano Matamoros.
Hotel Casa Garay, Calle Miguel Cabrera.
On the Zócalo, ofrenda for Tomás Martínez, a leader of the Frente Popular Revolucionario.
La Mano Mágica, Calle Macedonio Alcalá. Photo of Arnulfo Mendoza on the top right. I can’t believe it’s been 6-1/2 years since his passing.
Hotel Trébol, Ricardo Flores Magón.
Hotel Casa Vertiz, Calle Reforma.
Hotel Marqués Del Valle, bordering the Zócalo.
Jardín Sócrates neveria next to Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad.

Sensory overload challenges the limits of heart and mind and, especially this year, my emotions ran the gamut from extreme exhilaration to quiet joy to being moved to tears.

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The stencil, seen on Sunday’s walk along Av. José María Morelos, may be of women from San Miguel del Valle, but the words speak to women everywhere.

We are the struggles won by our ancestors.

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